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Friday, April 23, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 22, edition 000488, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

      For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. A PERVERSE RELATIONSHIP
  2. DEALING WITH IRAN
  3. OBAMA PANDERS TO PAKISTAN - SHOBORI GANGULI
  4. GANDHI REVERED, NOT HIS VALUES - SUDHANSU R DAS
  5. SCAM CALLED VEDANTA - SASWAT PANIGRAHI
  6. ONE GIANT STEP BACK - GWYNNE DYER
  7. BANK HELPS THEM WEAVE DREAMS INTO REALITY - NUSRAT ARA

MAIL TODAY

  1. DON'T SUBVERT DUE PROCESS TO GO AFTER LALIT MODI
  2. A PRICE WORTH PAYING
  3. DRUNK ON POWER
  4. POPULIST HIJACK OF UPA AGENDA - BY MANOJ JOSHI
  5. BOOMTOWN RAP - MAX MARTIN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. LEGALISE GAMBLING
  2. NO TRAVEL BANS, PLEASE
  3. MAKE ATTENDANCE COMPULSORY -
  4. LEGALISE GAMBLING
  5. MY FLAMINGO FAMILY - BACHI KARKARIA
  6. TAKE TRASH SERIOUSLY, OR IT WILL KILL YOU - RAJESH KALRA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THAILAND IN A RED CURRY
  2. TAKE COVER!
  3. LESSONS FROM ATISH - MN KUNDU
  4. STILL CUTTING EDGE
  5. ANURADHA SRIVASTAVA
  6. IPL? LET'S GET REAL - SAMAR HALARNKAR

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. COURTING TRAUMA
  2. PARTY FAVOURS
  3. AT SILLY POINT
  4. I-BANKS' IPL MOMENT - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
  5. EXPERIMENTS WITH TWITTER - COOMI KAPOOR
  6. THE SPECTRE OF NAZ - VINAY SITAPATI
  7. IN THE CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA
  9. READING TIGER WRITING DRAGON

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. BOOST TO INFRA
  2. THE RIGHT ROAD
  3. STILL LEANING ON THE SIDE OF GROWTH - MAHESH VYAS
  4. WHAT APPLE SAYS ABOUT INNOVATION - KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
  5. REGULATING THE DISTRIBUTORS - K MUTHUKUMAR

THE HINDU

  1. WHY WE NEED AN ANTI-TORTURE LAW
  2. WALK THE TALK
  3. TO BANGALORE, WITH HATE - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  4. PAID NEWS UNDERMINING DEMOCRACY: PRESS COUNCIL REPORT - P. SAINATH
  5. FAITH IN KABUL AT A NEW LOW IN KANDAHAR
  6. RICHARD A. OPPEL JR. AND TAIMOOR SHAH
  7. GOOGLE HITS BACK IN PRIVACY ROW - CHARLES ARTHUR
  8. U.S. NAVY PLANNING "GREAT GREEN FLEET" - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. IPL, BCCI PROBE MUST BE THOROUGH
  2. EMPOWERING OR OPPRESSIVE?
  3. RIGHTS OF EARTH

DNA

  1. ENERGISING BABUS
  2. BEYOND THE ASHES
  3. THE ICEBERG FORMULA - R JAGANNATHAN
  4. BEG YOUR PARDON, WHAT'S IPL? - ANTARA DEV SEN

THE TRIBUNE

  1. ARMY CHIEF IN J&K
  2. N-CHOE KINDLES HOPE
  3. MAKING VOTING COMPULSORY
  4. AFPAK: WILL THEY, WON'T THEY? - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. CANINE LOVE - BY SURINDER GOSAIN
  6. OF NEWS AND TRIVIA - BY SAJLA CHAWLA
  7. ONLY MAVERICKS TRIGGER REFORM - BY CHANDRA MOHAN
  8. BANGALORE DIARY

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. WOODPECKER AND MISTLETOE

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. FERTILISER PRICE MISMATCH
  2. BECAUSE THEY ARE THERE!
  3. INDIFFERENCE ABOUT THE BIG RUPEE RISE? - SHANKAR ACHARYA
  4. A WORLD TOO FLAT FOR COMFORT - ARVIND SINGHAL
  5. TOILERS OF THE SEA - BARUN ROY
  6. WHY, HOW AND HOW MUCH? - ANSHU BHARADWAJ

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. LIVE AND LET DIE
  2. DÉJÀ VU ON RESERVATION
  3. MARKET STABILISATION BONDS
  4. THE FATE OF A MEGAPOLIS - PRABHA JAGANNATHAN
  5. BALANCING THE OPPOSITES - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  6. CENTRAL BANK HAS TRIED TO BALANCE LIQUIDITY AND INFLATION
  7. THE RATE HIKE IS AIMED AT TAMING INFLATION AND SUPPORTING GROWTH
  8. DHARMAKIRTI JOSHI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, CRISIL LTD
  9. CONSUMER PROTECTION A FAR CRY IN HOUSING MKT - PARRY SINGH, MD, RED FORT CAPITAL
  10. CONSUMER PROTECTION A FAR CRY IN HOUSING MKT
  11. NIRANJAN HIRANANDANI, MD, HIRANANDANI CONSTRUCTION
  12. FOR A SINGLE FINANCIAL REGULATOR - T K ARUN
  13. STRONG MARKET, HIGHER PRICES HELP LIFT MARGINS: SESA GOA MD
  14. ASIA TO DRIVE GLOBAL GROWTH, BUT US MAY SURPRISE ON THE UPSIDE' - APURV GUPTA
  15. RE PLAYS SPOILSPORT FOR HCL TECH, BUT FOCUS ON GLOBAL MARKETS SAVES THE DAY - ANDY MUKHERJEE
  16. IS A PILLAR OF FUTURE GROWTH: THE BODY SHOP - AMIT SHARMA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. IPL, BCCI PROBE MUST BE THOROUGH
  2. RIGHTS OF EARTH - BY VANDANA SHIVA
  3. HOW OBAMA MADE US INDISPENSABLE AGAIN -BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. EMPOWERING OR OPPRESSIVE? - P.P. RAO
  5. WHO KILLED BENAZIR? - BY MAHIR ALI
  6. DON'T YOU SEE GOD IN OTHERS? - BY FRANCIS GONSALVES

THE STATESMAN

  1. DANTEWADA~II 
    UN INDICTMENT
  2. SECOND TERM
  3. MAOISTS AND IPL - RAJINDER PURI
  4. ASIANS MUST THINK FOR THEMSELVES
  5. THE HOSTESS BITES BACK
  6. SEASON OF JOY - PARAMANANDA PAL

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. INFLATION WORRY
  2. PARTY TIME
  3. VIABLE UNIVERSITIES  - ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE
  4. DYING FLAME - SUMANTA SEN
  5. RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
  6. THE MANY WINDING WAYS TO CLOSURE - INSIYA POONAWALA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. REASON TO REJOICE
  2. STEADY APPROACH
  3. MANAGING WITH 'GURUS' - BY ALOK RAY
  4. TURKEY'S EU ENTRY MAY SUFFER A SET BACK - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. NRI SABOTEURS - BY MEERA SESHADRI

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. CANDIDLY SPEAKING: EXPOSING HYPOCRISY, CANT, FALSEHOOD - BY ISI LEIBLER
  2. IPAD IMBECILITY - BY JPOST EDITORIAL STAFF
  3. RATTLING THE CAGE: YASHER KOAH, JUDGE GOLDSTONE - BY LARRY DERFNER
  4. COULD WATER IGNITE THE NEXT WAR? - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
  5. DID BUSH SAVE AMERICA? - BY OFER ISRAELI
  6. THIS ISN'T ABOUT GOLDSTONE, IT'S ABOUT JUDAISM - BY WARREN GOLDSTEIN

 HAARETZ

  1. AN ONEROUS SECURITY BURDEN
  2. OBAMA MUST STOP DEMANDING THE IMPOSSIBLE FROM ISRAEL - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. THE COLLAPSE OF RELIGIOUS ZIONISM - BY SHAHAR ILAN
  4. THE OTHER END OF THE CORRIDOR - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
  5. DIASPORA JEWS SHOULD STOP TRYING TO FIND ISRAEL'S FLAWS - BY ISRAEL HAREL

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. AFTER GOLDMAN
  2. 264 DAYS AND COUNTING
  3. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
  4. A CHILD'S BEST INTEREST
  5. OBAMA BACKS DOWN ON SUDAN - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  6. DANCE OF THE DERIVATIVES - BY GAIL COLLINS

USA TODAY

  1. EARTH DAY: SMILE, DON'T SHUDDER - BY BJORN LOMBORG
  2. OUR VIEW ON FINANCIAL REFORM (PART I): REIN IN WALL STREET BEFORE HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
  3. OUR VIEW ON CAMPUS CLUBS: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM? YES. BUT DON'T FUND DISCRIMINATION.
  4. HOW BAD SCIENCE OPENED DOOR FOR MALARIA - BY RICHARD TREN AND DONALD ROBERTS

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. WHAT LINKS THE BANKING CRISIS AND THE VOLCANO? - BY GEORGE MONBIOT

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A THANK YOU TO OUR 'ACCIDENTAL READERS'
  2. GÜL'S CALL FOR CONCILIATION REMAINS UP IN THE AIR - SEDAT ERGİN
  3. IS TURKEY TRYING TO DO BETTER?
  4. IN DEFENSE OF BLASPHEMERS - ELDAR MAMEDOV
  5. MILITARY SERVICE BY PAYMENT: A LIE - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. THE NEW BOOM IN MALARIA - PHILIP STEVENS
  7. TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE PALESTINIAN REFUGEES - ALON BEN-MEIR
  8. ALARM BELLS ARE RINGING - YUSUF KANLI

I.THE NEWS

  1. MEETING ON THE BRINK
  2. FACE IT!
  3. A FRIEND IN NEED
  4. REDEFINING NATIONALISM - DR MUBASHIR HASAN
  5. NAME CHANGE, NAME-CALLING - FASI ZAKA
  6. THE TEXT BEHIND THE PRINT - KAMILA HYAT
  7. ON JCSC CHAIRMEN - IKRAM SEHGAL
  8. MYSTIC VIEW - AMAR JALEEL
  9. TURKISH LESSONS - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. SHAMEFUL SITUATION, SHAMEFUL APPROACHES
  2. WE WISH CM RAISANI WAS RIGHT
  3. RESIGNATIONS OF FAKE DEGREE HOLDERS
  4. WAGING WAR AND MAKING PEACE - HAMID ALVI
  5. DISGRACING DEMOCRACY
  6. BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  7. AFTER A DECADE OF US WAR
  8. SYED M TARIQ PIRZADA
  9. AMBASSADOR OF MUSLIM-HINDU UNITY - YASIR ALI KHAN
  10. SETTING THE TRAP ON IRAN - DAVID IGNATIUS

 THE INDEPENDENT

  1. SLAIN POLICE
  2. RODENT INVASION
  3. A FREE COUNTRY..!
  4. WORSENING ELECTRICITY CRISIS - DR. MOHAMMED NAWAZISH
  5. BRITAIN'S NO-WIN ELECTION?  - ROBERT SKIDELSKY

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. FIRST STEPS ON THE LONG ROAD TO HOSPITAL REFORM
  2. NO MORE EXCUSES IN VICTORIA
  3. FORGOTTEN BATTLE REMEMBERED
  4. MORE MONEY BUT NOT BIGGEST CHANGE SINCE MEDICARE
  5. RUDD STILL HASN'T SET COURSE FOR REFORM
  6. HARSH BUT EFFECTIVE POLICY

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. MORE PILLARS NEEDED IN FINANCE
  2. EDUCATION'S LEVEL PLAYING FIELDS
  3. PROBLEM GAMBLERS AT BREAKING POINT
  4. SAFE CITY ABOUT MORE THAN POLICE NUMBERS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. LABOUR: ALL QUIET ON THE PROGRESSIVE FRONT
  2. BANKS: THE TAXMAN COMETH
  3. IN PRAISE OF … ROBINSON THE GREAT

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. IMMIGRATION POLICY SHOWS CLEGG IN HIS TRUE COLOURS
  2. A TALE OF ASHES AND ASSES
  3. IMMIGRATION POLICY SHOWS CLEGG IN HIS TRUE COLOURS
  4. AT LAST THE TORIES GRASP THE NETTLE OF WELFARE REFORM - BY LEO MCKINSTRY

THE GAZETTE

  1. CAN QUEBEC SHOW SOME IMAGINATION ON SCHOOL LANGUAGE?

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. MINI-FINANCIAL CRISIS AGAIN?
  2. BY LEE CHANG-SUP
  3. WALL STREET FLAP COLORS CALIFORNIA RACE. - BY DAN WALTERS
  4. IT'S WHAT THEY DIDN'T SAY! - BY ANTHONY HEGARTY

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. FTA WITH CHINA.
  2. TRULY SHAMEFUL
  3. JUSTICE MINISTER BLIND TO ETHICAL DILEMMAS
  4. CHINA MUST PROTECT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
  5. IRANIAN THREAT COULD BE EXAGGERATED
  6. GREEK MATH ADDS UP TO DELUSION, DEFAULT
  7. TOYOTA SHOWCASES JAPAN, INC.'S COMMUNICATION GAP
  8. CHALLENGES TO MULTIPOLAR GLOBAL ECONOMY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THE FIELD OF PARTIES THICKENS
  2. HELPING POST-CONFLICT COUNTRIES
  3. A PIG'S BREAKFAST IN EUROPE - BY HOWARD DAVIES

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. INCENTIVES FOR THE EARTH
  2. NO IRONY OF WOMEN'S EMANCIPATION: A DISCOURSE
  3. WHAT OUR ACFTA CRITICS USUALLY OVERLOOK - AKHMAD RIZAL SHIDIQ
  4. USERS AND DISAPPEARING WATER - AMREETA REGMI

CHINA DAILY

  1. DONATIONS THAT COUNT
  2. EXPORTING FOR THE WORLD
  3. UNDERSTAND CHINA BETTER
  4. HIGH LEVEL OF RESCUE GOES BEYOND ALTITUDE - BY XIONG LEI (CHINA DAILY)
  5. CURBING PROPERTY SPECULATION - BY YI XIANRONG (CHINA DAILY)
  6. PSYCHOLOGIST MINISTERS TO STUDENTS - BY KU MA (CHINA DAILY)
  7. TIME FOR A NEW BRETTON WOODS - BY ADLAI E. STEVENSON (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SMALL COUNTRY, BIG HEART
  2. VICTORY IS A CURSE WITH MANY DIMENSIONS
  3. A GAME CHANGER: NEW POLITICS
  4. THE SHIP OF STATE MEANS STATESMANSHIP
  5. DAYS OF THE ASH ARE OVER  - BY DILINI ALGAMA

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. COALITION OF THE WILLING MODERNIZERS - BY KONSTANTIN SONIN
  2. NATO'S COMMON EUROPEAN ROOF  - BY ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. MISSING MATURITY
  2. EARTH DAY: A DAY OF CELEBRATION
  3. SCOTT H. DELISI
  4. TOPICS: MOTHERS IN DISTRESS - DURGA INNANI
  5. BLOG SURF: BREATHING - TWEAKFIT.COM
  6. CREDOS: I AND YOU—X - MARTIN BUBER 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A PERVERSE RELATIONSHIP

BABUS, CONTRACTORS COLLUDE TO CHEAT INDIA


The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture of Parliament is welcome to feign surprise over a senior bureaucrat's candid admission of how babus collude with contractors to delay road projects under the National Highways Development Programme to ensure cost escalation and hence higher profits for those who are awarded contracts, but there really is nothing new about this nefarious nexus. The senior bureaucrat was merely reiterating a well-known fact which, in this particular case, adversely impacts the National Highways Development Programme and slows down both ongoing and proposed projects. But the nexus between babus and contractors (and, at times, politicians and criminals) is virtually all pervasive at the Centre as well as in the States. It's a strange, perverse relationship that thrives on slowing down India's progress, thus denting its growth prospects, and feeds on the public exchequer, or, more precisely, the tax-payers' money. It is anybody's guess as to how much money is lost on account of delayed road projects, but it would not be inappropriate to suggest that the pay-out due to cost over-runs could have been better utilised by way of adding to our physical infrastructure or improving the quality of roads and bridges that are being built. We should, however, not limit the damaging impact of the nexus between babus and contractors to roads and bridges alone. Every scheme of the Government, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, falters at the implementation stage because of this odious relationship. If sub-standard or fake medicines are being supplied to health care centres and hospitals, then the reason can be traced to babus colluding with suppliers. If textbooks that are meant to be distributed free of cost to students do not reach schools in time — they often reach well after the academic session has begun — it's because babus have struck a deal with the printers and distributors. If only 10 per cent of the funds meant for social welfare schemes for the poorest of the poor reach the beneficiaries, then it is because babus and contractors have entered into a compact to feather their own nests. These are only illustrative examples; the list is far too long to be replicated here.


This is not to suggest that every babu has his snout in the trough. There are honest bureaucrats but they are rarely heard of, leave alone seen, because they would rather not rock the 'system' which can ruthlessly punish those who break ranks. Whistle-blowers are treated as outcasts and made to rot in irrelevance and worse. The food chain may begin with contractors but it does not end with babus — it extends well beyond the bureaucracy and keeps politicians in comfort. Yet, it need not be so. If there is sufficient political will, the obstacles raised by corrupt babus and greedy contractors can be overcome. The NDA Government demonstrated that this is possible through its road-building programme; the Government of Gujarat has shown that babus can be kept on a tight leash and made to deliver on the ruling party's promises to the people. What the Congress-led UPA regime clearly lacks is political commitment and the courage to take on vested interests. Some critics would argue that the Congress has never discouraged babus from colluding with contractors as this serves its own narrow interests which do not require elaboration. That in the process India suffers is of negligible concern to the regime of the day.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DEALING WITH IRAN

EXPOSE, CHECKMATE ITS N-PROGRAMME


As the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany mull a fresh round of sanctions against Iran for what they say are efforts by the Islamic Republic to produce a nuclear bomb, it is fast becoming apparent that the US's views on the subject are hardly helping matters. Although it recently held a Nuclear Security Summit to secure the world's existing nuclear stockpile in four years time, the Obama Administration chose to snub the two countries that according to its own reading present the biggest challenge to tackling nuclear proliferation — Iran and North Korea. The two countries were not only not invited to the summit — something that did not go down well with the Iranian regime which held its own rival nuclear summit a week later and, unsurprisingly, did not invite the US — but the Americans also made it clear that they would like to see more punitive action against Tehran for being opaque about its nuclear programme — Pyongyang, it seems, has been left alone for the moment given the Chinese angle. Predictably, this has only hardened the resolve of the Iranian regime to pursue its nuclear programme with greater vigour. What this fundamentally represents is a huge lack of understanding on the part of the US. Even if Iran is pursuing a military nuclear programme — new secret nuclear fuel enrichment facilities were discovered there last year — it hardly pays to enforce sanctions and push the programme underground. Iran's nuclear programme has now achieved enough critical mass to withstand targeted economic or military sanctions. In fact, sanctions that target the import of oil products will only hurt the Iranian people, not the Iranian regime. On the contrary, given the vice-like grip that the Iranian Government has on that country, it is more likely that sanctions will be portrayed as American attempts to subvert Iran's sovereignty.


It would be prudent for the Americans to view the Iranian nuclear issue as a derivative of Iran's autocratic political system. To begin with, it would be a better idea for the US to work with Russia and China to expose Iran. For, if the Iranians have been guilty of not being transparent about their nuclear programme, the Americans have been guilty of being paranoid. The latter have to be more flexible and directly engage the former. If Tehran persists with its defiance, then Washington, DC will have greater support from the international community to enact policies to isolate Iran. Simultaneously, the US Administration really needs to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and work on Saudi Arabia to prevent the production of an 'Arab Bomb'. The bottomline is that if isolation of Iran is indeed the punishment that the US seeks, it will have to do the ground work and get the international community on board first.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

OBAMA PANDERS TO PAKISTAN

SHOBORI GANGULI


So besotted the Indian media has been with the IPL controversy surrounding Mr Shashi Tharoor and now Mr Lalit Modi that it ignored some extremely important signals that came India's way during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States last week. In his inaugural speech at the nuclear security summit in Washington, attended by 46 countries including India and Pakistan, US President Barack Obama made it known in no uncertain terms that the possibility of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon is "the single biggest threat to US security". No issues with this assertion, except that the possibility of such a scenario obtaining in Pakistan did not strike Mr Obama. That was the first signal.


Then followed news of US Deputy Secretary James B Steinberg's visit to India this week, ahead of which White House admitted to "talking to both India and Pakistan about their nuclear programmes and the responsibilities that come with them". Clearly, India's responsibilities as a nuclear power are of a significantly different nature from Pakistan's. Yet, "talking to both" was a subtle yet sure re-hyphenation of India and Pakistan in America's South Asia policy, a signal that was sent out more clearly in the bilateral meetings Mr Obama held with Mr Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the summit. Amid reports that the US is putting pressure on India to resume normal diplomacy with Pakistan to best serve American interests in Afghanistan, the content of Mr Obama's meetings with the two South Asian leaders held significant indicators.


Indeed, India had already displayed its abject surrender to Mr Obama's AfPak policy this February when it agreed to the resumption of Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan despite the latter's intransigent refusal to address India's post-26/11 concerns. Then followed the US-India and US-Pakistan bilaterals in Washington. The White House readouts of the two meetings amply sum up the nature of US engagement with the two South Asian neighbours. A nearly 500-word readout on the Obama-Gilani meeting states how "very fond of Pakistan" Mr Obama is, what with the nostalgia of "having visited the country during college". Noting the "positive relations between the US and Pakistan", it said both countries are working "against extremists operating in South Asia", and that they are "truly facing a common enemy". Mr Obama observed that Pakistan's participation in the nuclear summit "comes at a time when popular support for the US-Pakistan relationship is growing". He also reiterated America's commitment to $ 125 million worth energy-sector projects in Pakistan. Finally, what must sound intensely shocking to India, Mr Oabma lauded Pakistan for taking "nuclear security seriously" and said he was certain that it has "appropriate safeguards in place".


Now sample the White House's 170-word readout on the Manmohan-Obama meeting. The two leaders agreed to "continue to strengthen the robust relationship between the people of their countries" and "work together on global development issues, including economic infrastructure, food security, and poverty reduction". On Afghanistan, it said the two had a "shared vision for a strong, stable, and prosperous South Asia", wherein Mr Obama lauded the "humanitarian and development assistance" provided by India in Afghanistan. Starkly absent was the mention of a "common enemy" whom Mr Obama had so clearly identified with Pakistan. The two merely discussed "a number of regional and global issues, including counter-terrorism and nonproliferation". Significantly, there was no talk of "working together" against extremists in South Asia, particularly Pakistan, who threaten India far more directly than they do the US. All this was topped up by vague assurances about India gaining access to Mumbai mastermind David Headley, a "sensitive issue" for the Americans. Despite such an obviously tepid meeting, Mr Singh gushingly told Mr Obama that he had "caught the imagination of millions around the world, including the people of India who were anxious to see him soon in our country".

Admittedly, Mr Obama, since June 2009, has been consciously reworking America's attitude to Muslims the world over. Following his much-hyped policy statement in Cairo last year, the US President is going to great lengths to reach out to the domestic American Muslim constituency. In recent months, his Administration has indicated that it would like to change the vocabulary it has reserved for Muslims since 9/11. For instance, the National Security Strategy document has dropped the term "Islamic radicalism" from its guidelines. Officials have also reversed a Homeland Security guideline that earlier subjected visitors from 13 Islamic countries to mandatory screenings. American Nobel Prize winners have been despatched across the Muslim world to advise its scientists, researchers and economists on excellence and Muslim entrepreneurs are being invited to America for seminars and workshops.

 

Although the fruits of this re-engagement are yet to become visible, Mr Obama seems seriously committed to wooing the American Muslim constituency, one that looks at improved and growing relations between the US and Pakistan as a very positive step. In fact, such is Mr Obama's determination to revamp America's image in the Muslim world that his Administration is willing to disregard American military and intelligence inputs on how the CIA-ISI partnership in Afghanistan is crumbling and how sections of the Pakistani establishment, particularly the ISI, are working with, not against, the Afghan Taliban. Specific reports suggest that the Pakistani establishment would like to keep this channel alive in case the Americans simply leave and there is a Taliban takeover of Kabul. Despite these shocking revelations, the Obama Administration seems determined to humour Pakistan, only so that the post-9/11 US-Muslim face-off gets a cordial touch.


In the above context, Mr Obama's rather warm meeting with Mr Gilani last week appears understandable. What is, however, infinitely shocking and unacceptable is India's surrender to America's urge for Muslim appeasement that overlooks the clear and present threat India faces from terror groups operating out of Pakistan under the aegis of its military and security establishment. Ideally, a nuclear security summit of the scale held last week in Washington ought to have witnessed a strong and unequivocal Indian statement on how Pakistan's nuclear weapons are never too far from its terrorists simply because the establishment in custody of those weapons is aligned with the terrorists. Instead came Mr Singh's meek assertion that, "There should be zero tolerance for individuals and groups which engage in illegal trafficking in nuclear items." What stopped him from mentioning Pakistan's name if that is indeed the threat India faces? Perhaps the answer lies in what the US ordered. After all, Mr Obama lauded Pakistan for "taking nuclear security seriously" and "keeping safeguards in place". Could Mr Singh have dared differ?


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

GANDHI REVERED, NOT HIS VALUES

SUDHANSU R DAS


It was an unassuming, little man who picked up a pinch of salt at the sea near Dandi that rocked the British empire. This was the magical effect of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The man drew his strength from truth, purity and integrity which he cultivated every day of his life. Gandhi was undoubtedly the greatest politico-spiritual leader of the past century. In fact, a leader's charisma develops when he takes pains to connect with his people. In exchange, he gains first-hand knowledge of the condition of the common folk and political capital to serve them. Gandhi's extraordinary zeal to traverse the length and breadth of the country was due to his spiritual energy.

After his death, his followers went into oblivion because no one wanted to emulate his simple way of life. Leaders cleverly distanced themselves from Gandhi by declaring him a Mahatma so that they could escape the 'hardship' of travelling in ordinary train coaches, walking long hours in the remotest of villages, living in ashrams, eating simple food and cleaning toilets.


In the process, they also lost sight of the common man's problems. Gandhi's knowledge about grassroot issues inspired him to launch the Swadeshi movement which saved the livelihood of millions in the cottage industry. But today, politicians want to be mass leaders through TV shows and aimless debates. Few of them have the guts to take up economic and social issues like price rise, starvation deaths, malnutrition, terrorism, internal security, corruption and poverty. It is when leaders fail to reach the masses that they spend tax-payers' money to roll out social sector schemes. And these are just instruments for furthering vote-bank politics.


In order to escape from this mess, our present political leadership should adopt a resolution to choose and promote only politico-spiritual leaders for the future of this country. For, only individuals who can transcend the barriers of caste, religion and language to achieve inclusive growth and national integration should lead this country. India might be the land of spirituality, but Indians seem to have become impervious to it.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SCAM CALLED VEDANTA

THE RECENT LOK PAL REPORT HIGHLIGHTING GROSS IRREGULARITIES COMMITTED TO FAVOUR THE VEDANTA GROUP WITH REGARD TO ITS 'WORLD-CLASS' UNIVERSITY PROJECT IS A STRONG INDICTMENT OF THE BJD GOVERNMENT IN ODISHA. IT'S TIME NAVEEN PATNAIK COMES CLEAN ON THE ISSUE

SASWAT PANIGRAHI


Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is in trouble again. This time for the biggest land grab scam in independent India. As much as 6,000 acre of three-crop agricultural land has been allotted by the State Government to the London-based Vedanta foundation, purportedly for establishing a 'world-class' university on the Puri-Konark marine drive. The recent order of Odisha Lok Pal Justice PK Patra in response to a petition filed by trade union leader Dwarika Mohan Misra is a strong indictment of the functioning of the State Government. As brought out by the findings of the Lok Pal, the whole idea of Vedanta university was conceived in the Chief Minister's office.


Mr BK Patnaik, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, had initiated a file relating to the establishment of Vedanta university by putting up a note which was signed by the Special Secretary of Finance, the Agriculture Production Commissioner, the Minister for Higher Education, the Minister of Finance and the Chief Minister on July 13, 2006. Just six days after the initiation of the file, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on July 19, 2006, between the Odisha Government and the Vedanta foundation for the establishment of a 'multi-disciplinary' university.


"The MoU in question signed by the parties does not constitute a legally enforceable contract. It appears from the records that the officials of the Government of Odisha had acted in haste to accede to the request of the foundation," says the Lok Pal in his 26-page order.


The Lok Pal's findings clearly indicate that 6,000 acre of agricultural land — which includes 1,300 acre of arable land belonging to the Jagannath Temple that farmers linked to the seva of the temple cultivate, and another large stretch of land containing huge quantities of thorium and other rare minerals — is in the process of being acquired by Vedanta Foundation. This violates the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and the Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954, the Lok Pal observes.


There is also a huge chasm between the land required and the land grabbed. The Lok Pal agrees that such a vast track of land would not be required for the establishment of the proposed university, as even world-class universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard are built on lesser land space. This clearly points to an ulterior motive behind the acquisition.


The project will affect at least 50,000 people across 22 maujas (villages) of Puri district who depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood. Also, the land in question comes under the Costal Regulation Zone and is situated adjacent to the sweet-water zone of Puri district which stands to be adversely affected if the project is operationalised.

It is interesting to note that following the proposal for Vedanta university, the foundation has changed its name thrice. It was originally named Sterlite Foundation but later changed to Vedanta Foundation and then again to Anil Agarwal Foundation. It has been further revealed that Anil Agarwal Foundation is not a public company but a company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.


The State Law Department clearly stated that the acquisition of land for Vedanta university would require the change of status of the foundation from 'private company' to 'public company', and only then would it meet the qualification prescribed by the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. "But the views of the Law Department appear to have been misread by the public servants concerned," the Lok Pal says.


The foundation submitted erroneous documents with regard to the change of its legal status from private to public, and thus, cleverly hoodwinked the core committee comprising senior bureaucrats of the State and influenced them to believe that the Section 25 company had been converted to a 'public company'. Following this, the core committee rendered all assistance to the foundation even without complying with the statutory requirements.

"From the materials available on record it is clear that the representative of Anil Agarwal Foundation was able to manoeuvre or influence, mislead and misguide senior bureaucrats of the State who had acted without application of mind," the Lok Pal judgement says, adding, "Steps had been taken in extending the helping hand in haste to Anil Agarwal Foundation in various ways."


Citing the Supreme Court verdict that says imparting education is essentially charitable in nature and educational institutions should not be established with the motive of earning profits, the Lok Pal has raised a cloud of doubt on the motive of Anil Agarwal Foundation in establishing the proposed international university. The foundation has so far not defined an international university, further putting a question mark on its intention.

The Lok Pal has made a series of recommendations to the Odisha Government on the university project. It has recommended that the Chief Minister consider a moratorium on the project until compliance with the legal provisions for conversion of Anil Agarwal Foundation from a private to public company was met.


It has also asked the State Government to constitute a vigilance cell to monitor the progress of the project and to see to it that the land acquired and delivered to the foundation is done so in phases and not utilised for purposes other than education. Besides, it has directed the State Government to ensure payment of adequate compensation by the foundation to those affected by the project.


Meanwhile, the Lok Pal order has triggered strong reactions from the Opposition. The BJP has rightly raised the issue in the national domain. The party has also demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister on moral grounds.

Shamed by the Lok Pal order and worried over its political ramifications, the Odisha Government has come out with a Press release which says that the media cannot publish the Lok Pal judgement as it has not been tabled in the Odisha Assembly — a logic strongly contested by the BJP which says that it is not the proceeding but the findings which the media should be able to report. The State Government has also written to the Lok Pal's office, urging the latter to restrain the publication of the report.

 


THE PIONEER

OPED

ONE GIANT STEP BACK

TRIMMED NASA BUDGET SPELLS DOOM FOR US'S MARS PLAN

GWYNNE DYER


In the movies, all the spacemen are Americans, but that's just because Hollywood makes the movies. In the real world, the United States is giving up on space, although it is trying hard to conceal its retreat. Last week, three Americans with a very special status — they have all commanded missions to the Moon — made their dismay public.

In an open letter Mr Neil Armstrong, the first human being to walk on the Moon, Mr Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, and Mr Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, condemned US President Barack Obama's plans for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as the beginning of a "long downhill slide to mediocrity" for the US.


The letter was timed to coincide with Mr Obama's visit to Cape Canaveral to defend his new policy, which abandons the goal of returning to the Moon by 2020, or indeed ever. Mr Obama insists that this sacrifice will allow the US to pursue a more ambitious goal, but his plan send Americans to Mars by the late 2030s has the distinct political advantage of not needing really heavy investment while he is still in office — even if he wins a second term.


The 'Constellation' programme that he scrapped had two goals. One was to replace the ageing Shuttle fleet for delivering people and cargo to near-Earth orbits. The other was to give the US the big rockets it would need to meet Mr George W Bush's target of establishing a permanent American base on the Moon by 2020 where rockets would be assembled to explore the Solar System.


That programme's timetable was slipping and would undoubtedly have slipped further, as such programmes often do. It would have ended up costing a lot: $ 108 billion by 2020, as much as the Pentagon spends in three months, with the possibility that it would have ended up costing one or two more months's worth of the defence budget. But it would have kept the US in the game. Mr Obama's plan only pretends to.


He says all the right things: "Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space, than I am, but we've got to do it in a smart way." He talked about a manned mission to some asteroid beyond the Moon by around 2025, and another that will orbit Mars for some months in the mid-2030s — "and a landing on Mars will follow."


Those are indeed ambitious goals, and they would require heavy-lift rockets that do not yet exist. But the "vigorous new technology development" programme that might lead to those rockets will get only $ 600 million annually (the price of four F-22 fighters) for the next five years, and actual work on building such rockets would probably not begin until 2015.


In the meantime, and presumably even for some years after Mr Obama leaves office in 2016 (should he be re-elected in 2012), the US will have no vehicle capable of putting astronauts into orbit. It will be able to buy passenger space on Russian rockets, or on the rapidly developing Chinese manned vehicles, or maybe by 2015 even on Indian rockets. But it will essentially be a hitch-hiker on other countries' space programmes.


Mr Obama suggests that this embarrassment will be avoided because private enterprise will come up with cheap and efficient "space taxis" that can at least deliver people and cargo to the International Space Station once in a while. And he's going to invest a whole $ 6 billion in these private companies over the next five years.


These entrepreneurs are mainly people who made a pile of money in the dotcom boom or in computer game design, and now want to do something really interesting with some of it: People like Amazon president Mr Jeff Bezos, Mr John Carmack, programmer of Doom and Quake, Mr Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, and of course Mr Richard Branson of Virgin Everything. "Our success is vital to the success of the US space programme," Mr Musk said recently.


No doubt they will get various vehicles up there, but if they can build something by 2020 that can lift as much as the ancient shuttles into a comparable orbit, let alone something bigger that can go higher, I will eat my hat. Space technology eats up capital almost as fast as weapons technology, and these entrepreneurs have no more than tens of billions at most.


Does Mr Obama know this? Very probably, yes. One suspects that he would actually be cutting NASA's budget, not very slightly raising it, if its centre of gravity (and employment) were not in the swing state of Florida, where he cannot afford to lose any votes. What is going on here is a charade, which is why normally taciturn astronauts — including the famously private Neil Armstrong — signed that open letter.


So for the next decade, at least, the US will be an also-ran in space, while the new space powers forge rapidly ahead. And even if some subsequent administration should decide it wants to get back in the race, it will find it almost impossible to catch up.


Which is why the first man on Mars will probably Chinese or Indian, not American.

 

The writer is an independent journalist based in London.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BANK HELPS THEM WEAVE DREAMS INTO REALITY

DASTKAR SCHEME PROMOTES THE ART AND CRAFT OF JAMMU & KASHMIR, WRITES NUSRAT ARA


A muddy lane at Hardshura village on the Srinagar Gulmarg highway in Kashmir leads to a single-storeyed mud and wood house of Ghulam Nabi Malik. On the threshold, Malik's three daughters sit working with nimble fingers on shawls spread across their laps. Malik and his wife are old sozni embroiders. Being in the craft for 30 years, they have now passed on the art to their daughters. The craft, prized the world over, is unique to Kashmir. Sozni involves the making of beautiful intricate colourful patterns using a needle and colourful threads on a shawl, stole or a garment.


Ironically, shawls embroidered by Malik made to global showrooms bringing fortunes for traders while he found difficult to make ends meet. Malik and artisans like him worked for meagre wages that rarely comes on time. The trader, the Malik family worked for, would pay him according to his whims, often delaying payments. At times, if he did not like the work, he had commissioned, the trader would simply not pay or Malik would have to pay a penalty. This way Malik ended up sharing the cost of raw materials which was supposed to borne by the trader.


"If I refused to bear the cost of raw materials, he would ask us to sell it ourselves," Malik rued.


The global meltdown strained Malik's prospects further. Kashmir's handicrafts which have a huge market in Europe, the United States and West Asia were hit by the recession. With vanishing buyers, exporters and traders felt the heat.


The situation remained grim for Malik and some 180 families engaged in crafts like Sozni and carpet weaving until one day the Jammu & Kashmir Bank launched Dastkar Finance scheme which aimed at extending the benefits of banking to them. The scheme is geared towards artisans like carpet weavers, shawl embroiders and kani shawl weavers. This way the bank aims to promote, professionalise and institutionalise the arts and crafts of Kashmir.


The scheme provides a fixed capital for loom, tools and design plus working capital for raw material, wages and others. The disbursement is phased in quarterly installments subject to verification of the status of work in progress. This would in turn provide a breather to the artisan community by way of better income, improved life standards and launching pad for entrepreneurial ventures.


This is not all. Moving beyond its conventional contours, the bank has promised to help in marketing the products made by the artisans. The bank is prioritising direct and micro-lending with the aim of doing away with middlemen. The chain goes even further with the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries agreeing to be the buyers of the products, as a last resort.

 

Malik family now embroiders shawls and stoles owned by them as well as parcel out work to other artisans. He manages to make a neat profit. "My monthly income has doubled" said Malik. With their hearth fires burning, Malik, father of five has taken steps to ensure education of all his children. His eldest daughter Rifat is in the final year of her graduation. Her expenses and education are funded by the craft she engages in. His second daughter Afroza too finds satisfaction in being able to finance her own education and helping her family too.

Malik's neighbour Manzoor Ahmad Parray has also benefited from Dastkar Finance scheme. Parray has moved from being a wage-earner to being his own master. Today he not only embroiders shawls and stoles but is engaged in their sale as well. "My shawls are sold in Mumbai, Kolkata and Himachal Pradesh. My shawls are also bought by a trader who exports them abroad. I want to export shawls on my own one day" he says, acknowledging that timely finance provided wings to his dreams.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

DON'T SUBVERT DUE PROCESS TO GO AFTER LALIT MODI

THE timing of the probe into the allegedly murky financial deals of Indian Premier League ( IPL) commissioner Lalit Modi comes too soon after the Shashi Tharoor affair to not raise suspicions that the high- profile cricket administrator is paying for embarrassing the government of the day. No one will argue that the tax authorities should not look into the affairs of Mr Modi and the IPL. But the events of the past few days do raise the issue of due process. Even if he is guilty, is he getting a fair shake? The IT authorities have the right to check everyone's tax returns and compliance with the tax laws of the country. But surely the process could have been done as it is in the case of other citizens— through the serving of a notice first, and thereafter if the right answers are not forthcoming, escalating to raids and seizures.

The worrying aspect of the move to oust Mr Modi — Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram virtually arm- twisting Sharad Pawar to perform the hangman's role on Mr Modi and the flurry of activity by tax officials and investigating agencies — is the underlying message that those who take on state power will have to face its full fury.

Roping in Mr Pawar to organise his ouster lends credence to the view that the IPL chief is being fixed for ensuring the downfall of a member of the establishment.

The cases against Mr Modi could be serious. But, the due process of the law should be followed to probe his case too. Procedural due process or the avoidance of arbitrary procedure, is the very foundation of democracy.

However, what we are witnessing is the kind of " raid Raj" that characterised the deeply flawed governance style of Indira Gandhi.

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

A PRICE WORTH PAYING

IT IS perhaps a measure of the inertness of the literate classes that newspaper reports on Wednesday morning focused on the traffic chaos that was going to result from the mega rally organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party rather than price rise, the issue over which it had been organised. Traffic movement was certainly a problem on Wednesday but this is a price that citizens have to pay to enable the right of protest, a key pillar of democracy. No doubt the BJP seeks to capitalise on the failure of the government to curb the high prices of essential commodities, but this, too, is a legitimate part of the democratic political process.

In any political rally, there is a good lot more at work than the simple outrage of common people. For instance, the rally was an opportunity for the new party president Nitin Gadkari to strut his stuff — it's another thing that the blistering heat made him faint in the process. But this being true of most forms of mobilisation does not detract from the central issue which inspired Wednesday's rally.

Of course, there is a need to ensure that protest, political or otherwise, does not greatly impact on the normal functioning of the city. This is as much the responsibility of the BJP as that of New Delhi's police and government authorities.

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

DRUNK ON POWER

NON- RESIDENT Indian Sajendra Bihari Singh — who ran a business in Russia — was hoping to come back to his home state Bihar and set up a restaurant. Little did he know that merely overtaking the car of a probationary officer of the Indian Police Service would bring his hopes to a cruel end. He was chased right to his doorstep, taken to the police station and assaulted.

It is probably unfair to draw generalisations about the police as a whole because of a handful of sadistic policemen. But that an officer still on probation was so intoxicated with his authority does reveal the culture of impunity and ethical vacuum in which the police operate. This can also be seen from the fact that the police refused to lodge Mr Singh's complaint as it was against a police officer. There should be zero tolerance towards the guilty in such cases and an example must be made of the officer concerned.

Mr Singh's bruises will heal soon. But it is up to the authorities to restore his faith in the system.

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

POPULIST HIJACK OF UPA AGENDA

BY MANOJ JOSHI

 

A YEAR into the second United Progressive Alliance government and the overwhelming feeling you get is one of drift. Or is it that too many people are grabbing at the steering in the boat called the UPA preventing it from navigating a clear course? The Congressled government seems to be a victim of its own success. While the success is partial, considering its coalition- based majority in Parliament, the demands seem to be total, from those who want to cash in on a dividend that has yet to be put in the credit column of the bank ledger.

 

Primary among these are from the liberal or " socialistic" wing of the party who want the rising monetary resources of the government to be used in ever- greater quantities for social welfare programmes. In the process, not only do they insist on putting fiscal stress on the country's financial system, but also, and more importantly, ensuring that the country cannot exploit the tiny window of opportunity that has opened up to get on to the track of double- digit economic growth. So we have the spectacle of tens of thousands of crore rupees being shoveled into programmes that neither create assets to transform the countryside, let alone ever reach the people it is intended for.

 

Poverty

 

The issue is not that we should not feed the starving or provide succour to the needy, but of the need to evolve processes which will transform them into productive and fulfilled members of society. India's socialistic bleeding heart policies seem aimed at keeping people permanently dependent on the hand- out mode.

 

Last week in a move to shovel some more money, the number of poor in India formally went up by 100 million. The Planning Commission issued a fiat that declared that 37.2 per cent of Indians were below the poverty line, not 27 per cent.

 

Every country has a BPL line, even the rich Americans and Europeans, and there is an arbitrariness in the process of defining who is poor in a particular society. But in the case of India, the whole process is a hit and miss affair.

 

As an article by V. K. Ramachandran et al in Tuesday's The Hindu pointed out, the official BPL figures are probably not worth the paper they are written on. The sad truth is that while all the Jawaharlal or Rajiv yojanas look grand on paper, there are serious question marks about their efficacy. Grand legislation of the Bismarckian variety promising universal education, the right to work and food is good politics, but poor policy. The tawdry reality sinks in when you stir out of New Delhi and find the money for the schemes going into an endless sink of corruption.

 

Earlier this week, the authorities caught three senior income tax officers taking bribes. Sadly, they are the norm rather than the exception and their fault happens to be that they were caught. Anecdotal evidence suggests that corruption has now become all pervasive and leaves nothing untouched from mega- projects to the office stationery. Most social welfare schemes are prone to the crassest kind of corruption because they steal from the poor and the needy.

 

It is true that it is easier to point to the faults than to provide a remedy. The fix cannot be found in technology options such as e- governance or coupons. In the Indian context, even they will be corrupted.

 

It lies in liberating the people from the feudal patronage system of the government.

 

Through history the feudal system worked in such a way that down the line each feudatory kept what he wanted for himself as part of the largesse; the people fended for themselves.

 

No one will argue that malnutrition, hunger, human rights abuses do not exist, and that the Indian state should not make any effort to ameliorate them.

 

Leave alone the moral imperative, the state should act from the pragmatic impulse which understands that only better fed, healthy and educated citizens can become productive members of society.

 

However, the issue is the balance that must be struck at any given point in time between what can be spent on a social safety net, and what is needed to ensure a productive and growing economy which enables people to look after themselves.

 

There has to be an effort to understand that we cannot live on a diet of populism alone, that there must be a concept of short- term sacrifice for long- term gain.

 

Gujarat

 

Take the challenge of stagnant agriculture that we are confronting today. We need deep reform involving water management, electricity pricing, market mechanisms, and so on to make our agriculture productive.

 

Just what can be done, too, is staring us in the face. The Gujarat state has had a growth rate averaging 9.6 per cent in the past decade because it has acted in these areas according to a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly written by Tushaar Shah, Ashok Gulati et al in December 2009. Remarkably the paper points out that the major locus of growth was the arid Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat, and not the command area of the Narmada dam. According to the authors, the BJP government " has actually devoted a great deal of energy and resources to accelerating agricultural growth through a broad spectrum of policy initiatives." These include 1) creating more than 1 lakh water bodies allowing groundwater to be recharged and therefore allowing 2) multiple cropping and higher value agriculture; ( 3) market access; ( 4) road and other infrastructure. " Gujarat is the only state whose groundwater balance has turned positive in recent years," state the authors. There are, of course, specificities that have been responsible for the Gujarat success story such as the use of Bt cotton and generally good rainfall, but a key cause was better water management.

 

State chief minister Narendra Modi may be rightly reviled for the 2002 massacre of Muslims, but this is no reason why the lessons from the Gujarat agricultural " miracle" cannot be applied elsewhere.

 

Reform

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is someone who understands the issues well and knows what must be done. There is a limited window that the country has to remain on the path of sustained high economic growth. To provide immediate relief to the poor and to permanently change their situation through better healthcare, education, skills and quality jobs, you need a booming economy which has its own and urgent need for resources.

 

But the party seems unclear about the path it must take. Bleeding heart populism has been a part of its DNA. But there is only so much that throwing money at a problem, or raising slogans and creating statutes, can achieve.

The country needs much more extensive reform of its governing structures for solutions to problems which are structural and chronic. A corrupt and inept bureaucracy cannot deliver anything and prevent everything from happening. The solutions lie at the very fountainhead of the system— in the conduct of politics and governance of the country.

 

This is the challenge the Congress confronts.

 

But as of now it seems to be more taken up with the shenanigans of the IPL rather than the slew of weightier issues that are there.

 

manoj.joshi@mailtoday.in

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

BOOMTOWN RAP

MAX MARTIN

 

NO MORE SUNSHINE, GIVE US SOME RAIN!

TODAY is Earth Day. This is the time when ardent greens advise us about ways to make the earth a better place to live in, and perform symbolic acts – such as dressing up as polar bears.

 

Over here in Bangalore we cannot dress up as any animal. We cannot dress up, period. It is so hot most of the time. Not oven hot as it used to be till last week – just plain hot and humid.

 

Senior citizens here tell us that during their childhood their houses did not have fans. In their youth, Bangalore was still called an ' air- conditioned city'. Even in the late 1980s, we used to pack sweaters for trips to Bangalore. Today hardly anyone uses sweaters in public. In our apartment block, anybody who is somebody, has at least one air- conditioner. And they all run it at night. Scientists tell us that this is not such a good idea. Too many air- conditioners actually warm up the ambient air – contributing to ' heat islands' ( hot spots), along with choc- a- bloc construction, tarred roads, paved parking lots, treeless surroundings and so on.

 

When temperature rose unusually high across India recently, it soared in Bangalore too. On April 11, the city recorded its highest in 25 years.

 

Met officials say that the heat island effect has caused a two degree increse.

 

In a recent study using satellite data, Prof T V Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science and a colleague have painted a rather grim picture of the city. In the study titled, ' Greater Bangalore: Emerging Urban Heat Island', they show how the city has dramatically lost its green cover and lakes.

 

Greenery has decreased by 32 per cent from 1973 to 1992, by 38 per cent from 1992 to 2002 and by 63 per cent from 2002 to 2009.

 

More than half the lakes face encroachment and illegal construction around them. A field survey shows that 72 lakes are showing a decrease in their catchment area. As a result, the city has witnessed an increase of about 2 to 2.5 degree Celsius during the last decade, as the study shows.

 

There have been efforts to plant more trees and restore lakes – but such small initiatives cannot outpace the rapid growth of this city. Bangalore has become ' hot' property in every sense of the phrase! The more modern it gets, with allglass constructions, bumper- tobumper traffic, and parks turning into paved parking lots, the warmer it becomes.

 

A word of caution, though. Do not compare Bangalore temperatures with Delhi figures. Our summer temperature ranges from 18 to 38 degree Celsius and winter temperature ranges from 12 to 25. We hardly get the 12 degree bit anymore, though.

 

As I write this column on Wednesday evening, a cool shower is bringing the temperature down here. Our photographer wonders if a hot Bangalore shot will make any visual sense anymore. So as a compromise, he has chosen a picture of children playing in a lake on a hot day.

 

Experts and old- timers tell us that Bangalore always had this cooling mechanism – whenever it gets hot beyond a point it rains here. That is because the city is situated in the middle of the Arabian Sea ( don't stop here) and the Bay of Bengal.

 

Atmospheric phenomena over these seas influence the weather here. When it was scorching hot here( by our standards, that is 37.6 degrees) Met department officials consoled us saying, " Don't worry, there will be rain." The problem is that rains have become erratic of late. And the cooling evening showers are now rare. But then that is another story.

 

NO IPL HERE, NO KUMBLE A DOUBLE WHAMMY

 

CRICKET lovers in Bangalore are sad that the city has lost a chance to host the semi finals of the IPL thanks to a couple of minor blasts and a few dud bombs.

 

The saddest people were those who bought the ticket in black. Obviously the refund does not cover the illegal premium.

 

Not ones to miss the action, several fans have flown to Mumbai to cheer the Royal Challengers led by city boy Anil Kumble. Kumble is so popular here that there is a circle named after him just outside the cricket stadium – the spot where one of the bombs burst. We often find him at social gatherings and cinemas, standing head and shoulders above the crowd. He mingles with people easily.

 

Maybe it is part of his net practice for a future political career in the BJP. Apart from his saffron overtones, Kumble also has a green side. He recently adopted a giraffe calf at the Mysore zoo. Giraffe, as it happens, is the tallest animal on land.

 

As for the blasts, Home minister V S Acharya says that it is part of a conspiracy – to rob Bangalore of its title as the cricket capital.

 

Only further investigations will reveal whether the miscreants had a political agenda or they mainly wanted a change of venue.

 

DGP Dr. Ajay Kumar Singh said that there were no security lapses. Lets hope the investigations don't prove to be like Kumble's googly for the police.

 

SATHYU TOUCH TO A GRIM REALITY

FILMMAKER M S Sathyu is making a commercial film after a 12- year hiatus. His new film ' Ijjodu', addresses the practice of ' devadasi' ( a tradition of temple dancers which deteriorated to sexual exploitation).

 

After initiation as devadasis, many women migrate to cities and get drawn into commercial sex rackets.

 

Despite the grim subject, Sathyu has made the film into a beautiful fare with some good dance performances and music. Meera Jasmine plays a devadasi and Anirudh a photographer who tries to save her.

 

Sathyu, entered the world of films in the 1950s. His best known film is Garam Hawa ( 1973). Sathyu is active in Kannada theatre and television.

 

He also runs workshops for young artistes. A staunch critic of linguistic chauvinism in the state, he raises his voice on various social issues.

MARTYR OF THE TWITTERLAND

THE twitteratti in Bangalore are still batting for Shashi Tharoor. Some of them offer " unrelenting support for you to bounce back". A fan calls him " one of the very few politicians who work for the country". On his part, Tharoor on Wednesday morning thanked all the supporters from Bangalore to Birmingham for their kind words posted in the website: http:// supporttharoor.

 

org/. This tweet came after a news item reported that he was ' silent'. The website is anything but silent. In bold, block letters, it offers Tharoor the support of " we the people". It invites you to make a pledge: " We are here to say, ' we support you Shashi Tharoor. Don't let them pull you down for you will take our hopes and dreams for a better and brighter India with you. You bring to India everything we had ever hoped would change, and we stand by you". An earlier tweet of Tharoor on Apil 16 morning, the day he addressed the Parliament, was a take on US President Barack Obama's election campaign: " U folks are the new India. We will ' be the change' we wish to see in our country. But not w'out pain!". The former minister seems to be right, at least about the last word.

 

One tweet called him " Twitterland ka pehala shaheed." With such popularity in Bangalore, it is a pity that Tharoor took all this trouble for Kochi.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

LEGALISE GAMBLING

 

Ever since Delhi police recorded a conversation between Hansie Cronje and a representative of an Indian betting syndicate Cronje was subsequently banned from playing cricket for life and Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin too implicated in the ensuing scandal rumours about match-fixing have been rife. They have resurfaced with the current IPL. Should any concrete evidence emerge it would ruin the sanctity of the game in public perception. That prospect should be the catalyst for ushering in a reform that would have many positive spin-off effects, not confined to cricket: legalising gambling in India.


As with the consumption of alcohol the simple truth is that when it comes to gambling, criminalising it does nothing to actually cut down on it. All it does is drive it underground, thereby ensuring that the only providers of that particular service are criminal elements. Massive amounts of cash are siphoned off into these networks, white money turning into black. It is more than likely that these resources are then used to fund other illegal activities ranging from the drug business to terrorism. The failed experiment of prohibition in the US is a prime example of unintended consequences. It had little effect on consumption of alcohol and ended up funding the rise of mafia bosses instead.


By legalising gambling and bringing it above ground the government can begin to reverse the process, breaking the monopoly of the betting cartels and turning black money into white that can be taxed. It will also enable independent bodies to regulate the activity. In most western countries, this is now the case, with the size of the gambling sector accounting for 1 per cent of GDP on average. As for the specific instance of the IPL, with the option to make money legally through betting, the risk-reward equation for match-fixing would be altered, disincentivising it.


Being able to establish casinos in India would act as a force multiplier for the tourism industry, generating additional revenue and jobs. Gambling addiction is a real problem, of course. But criminalising gambling does nothing to address it, merely making it more difficult for those suffering from it, either directly or indirectly, to get help. If it is legalised, checks and balances can be put in place to minimise the risks of addiction, as has been done with the lottery system. Instead of squandering resources and time on suppressing gambling, it is issues like these on which the government should focus.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

NO TRAVEL BANS, PLEASE

 

As a Union minister, DMK's M K Alagiri is answerable to the government. As an MP, he's accountable to Parliament. So, there's no disputing that his holiday in Maldives during an important Lok Sabha session was thoughtless. Understandably, it would irk the PM and the Congress chief. But does one MP's irresponsible behaviour mean that all parliamentarians are incapable of professionalism? Can it, moreover, justify any blanket ban on travel by MPs when the House is in session? If the first is not fair, the second is neither fair nor feasible.


Alagiri reportedly avoids both cabinet brainstorms and Parliament thanks to his problems with speaking Hindi and English. Insisting on using Tamil, he represents a special case that UPA bosses must deal with so far as the issue of cabinet meetings is concerned. In Parliament, he should be ticked off by relevant authorities without making others suffer. Recall that Lata Mangeshkar was once criticised for missing Rajya Sabha sittings. Other Upper House members weren't inconvenienced for her absenteeism.


Politics isn't just about attending Parliament. MPs may be required to be present in their constituencies or have to go abroad for conferences and the like. We can't expect the dates of work-related tours, emergencies or foreign trips to not clash with parliamentary sessions as a rule. MPs, moreover, aren't adolescents whose movements must be monitored. Media glare provides enough indirect pressure to keep politicians on their toes. Finally, the majority of elected people's representatives are surely qualified to use their own judgement concerning the work ethic demanded of them. In any case, MPs are finally accountable to the people who elected them. In case of mess-ups, leave it to voters to decide the fate of their representatives in Parliament.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

MAKE ATTENDANCE COMPULSORY

 

Parliament is in session, but M K Alagiri, senior DMK leader and Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers, is missing. The minister, according to reports, is holidaying in Maldives. The decision of a cabinet minister to travel when the House is in session is highly improper. That he may have got the mandatory permission from the government doesn't make it any better.


Legislating is the primary responsibility of MPs. The business of politics extends beyond parliamentary duties, of course. But once elected to Parliament, parliamentary duties override a politician's responsibility of nurturing his constituency. To put it simply, an MP nurtures his constituency by carrying out his duties as a parliamentarian. These duties include attending Parliament and participating in activities that contribute to the making of public policies. Moreover, a parliamentarian is accountable not just to voters of his constituency but also to the whole country. He gets a salary and other entitlements like free housing, and enjoys special privileges as an MP.


Unfortunately, our MPs don't care much about their role in Parliament. Absenteeism is rampant when Parliament is in session. In recent times, the absence of MPs in the House has led to the collapse of the question hour forcing party heads like Sonia Gandhi to threaten action against the missing members. The Rajya Sabha chairperson has lamented the lack of interest among MPs in attending the House. Remember, the government spends nearly Rs 14 lakh of public funds every hour when Parliament is in session. It's colossal waste of tax payers' money if MPs skip Parliament.


Since polite requests, laments and admonitions from various quarters have failed to change the situation, it's time the government brings in more stringent measures to penalise absent MPs. There's a job to be done in Parliament and MPs are paid for doing it. Attendance in Parliament must be made compulsory for MPs except in emergencies.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

LEGALISE GAMBLING

 

Ever since Delhi police recorded a conversation between Hansie Cronje and a representative of an Indian betting syndicate Cronje was subsequently banned from playing cricket for life and Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin too implicated in the ensuing scandal rumours about match-fixing have been rife. They have resurfaced with the current IPL. Should any concrete evidence emerge it would ruin the sanctity of the game in public perception. That prospect should be the catalyst for ushering in a reform that would have many positive spin-off effects, not confined to cricket: legalising gambling in India.


As with the consumption of alcohol the simple truth is that when it comes to gambling, criminalising it does nothing to actually cut down on it. All it does is drive it underground, thereby ensuring that the only providers of that particular service are criminal elements. Massive amounts of cash are siphoned off into these networks, white money turning into black. It is more than likely that these resources are then used to fund other illegal activities ranging from the drug business to terrorism. The failed experiment of prohibition in the US is a prime example of unintended consequences. It had little effect on consumption of alcohol and ended up funding the rise of mafia bosses instead.


By legalising gambling and bringing it above ground the government can begin to reverse the process, breaking the monopoly of the betting cartels and turning black money into white that can be taxed. It will also enable independent bodies to regulate the activity. In most western countries, this is now the case, with the size of the gambling sector accounting for 1 per cent of GDP on average. As for the specific instance of the IPL, with the option to make money legally through betting, the risk-reward equation for match-fixing would be altered, disincentivising it.


Being able to establish casinos in India would act as a force multiplier for the tourism industry, generating additional revenue and jobs. Gambling addiction is a real problem, of course. But criminalising gambling does nothing to address it, merely making it more difficult for those suffering from it, either directly or indirectly, to get help. If it is legalised, checks and balances can be put in place to minimise the risks of addiction, as has been done with the lottery system. Instead of squandering resources and time on suppressing gambling, it is issues like these on which the government should focus.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

MY FLAMINGO FAMILY

BACHI KARKARIA

 

Migrant flamingos and migrated family fly into Mumbai every winter.  To our great regret, No. 1 Son and his newish wife stay for a far shorter time than that magnificent mass of birds, but, fortunately, they have more manageable tastes in food.

 

Their pink colouring comes from the Atlanta winter not from snacking on algae, and though Urvaksh and Anisha share the avian' addiction to crustaceans, they go for the larger crabs and shrimp. They certainly don't demand the minuscule molluscs which the flamingos scoop up  with their strange, downwardly curved beaks.

 

The flamingos who descend on Mumbai in their thousands probably outnumber all the residents of all the Parsi colonies here. My personal migratory record is abysmal. Our immediate - family-from-afar comprises the measly two mentioned above, but hopefully they will make the number less dismal by adding some nestlings soon.

 

We will welcome that stork with considerably greater enthusiasm than the flamingoes show towards the lone ones which wade in their midst. Water birds of many a feather flock together on this eastern shore-line. The massed flamingos are punctuated by solitary herons and egrets, waiting patiently immobile, gingerly picking their long-legged way through Sewri's low-tide  slime and calling out in a Babel of beaks.

 

Our immediate emigrant family is singularly modest. It actually comprises only No.1 Son, since d-i-l Anisha is as much Georgia Girl as Guju Girl, having being born in the USA. However, when it comes to the larger family, we can muster a respectable count of emigrant members - just like so many other Indian families, rich or poor, rural or urban, Sikh, Shaivaite, Shia, or Seventh Day Adventist.

 

Our grand-uncle was the first recorded adventurer. This modest Calcutta lad went to Hong Kong as a 'ghar jamaai', and developed a penchant for bespoke three-piece suits, two-toned spats, manicured nails and Crepe de Chine cologne. For us, as children, he was as exotic as the latter-day flamingoes. Like them, Mamaji came back every winter, bearing exquisite but totally impractical gifts, most memorably tiny, embroidered silk bras for my bosomy mother and aunt.

 

Cousin Khorshed was next. Her American boss helped her to get a job in  New York. She impulsively hitched a ride to San Francisco in his daughter's red Mustang, and stayed on in sunny California for the next 40 years turning into Mrs Dodge. Her sister went to Australia soon after, and, three decades later, mine emigrated to New Zealand. Our No.1 Son went to study in Fort Wayne, pretentiously introducing himself as being from 'India-slash-Indiana'. Getting a green card, he moved to flamingo-country Florida before switching jobs, states and marital status all in a six-month span.

 

Mumbai's flamingoes fly in from West Africa; we developed family ties with its eastern wing in quick and co-incidental succession. No.2 Son's Saraswat 'm-i-l', Gita, was raised in Kenya; No 1 Son got married three years later, and his 'f-i-l', Kirti, was from Tanzania. We added Uganda in 2009, courtesy my nephew, Devapriyo, who joined his Danish NGO wife there.


Like the flamingoes, Urvaksh and Anisha have coloured our routine. Like them, they chatter in exotic accents ( he Twitters as well). Both top up their flamboyance; the birds with what they feed on; the kids with the baubles they shop for. 

 


Both have escaped the cold of the places they call home, and they warm up our lives. The children naturally. The flamingos mystically.  If these alien birds fly thousands of kilometers each year to a city that grows increasingly more inhospitable, there must surely be some magic still left in Mumbai.

 

Even if we can't decipher the message in the roseate dawn they bring, we still await them eagerly. For, if the flamingos come, can our faraway children be far behind?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TAKE TRASH SERIOUSLY, OR IT WILL KILL YOU

RAJESH KALRA

 

The government in the national capital is clueless as to where the radioactive Cobalt 60 that surfaced in a scrap dealer's yard came from. Even as the unfortunate dealer struggles for life in a Delhi hospital, and his equally clueless family worries about how it would foot the ballooning bill of the corporate hospital, others are showing symptoms of radiation.


As of now, everybody seems to be looking for a needle in the haystack. Teams from various government bodies can be seen active in the area that has been barricaded, supposedly to prevent others from getting exposed. Looking at the way they go about their task, with no protective clothing, one almost feels sorry for them. While one would assume that they know what they are doing, prime facie, it seems they are exposing themselves to radiation too.


This leads us to the bigger issue of how we generally handle any waste, be it toxic or radioactive or medical or even the most basic. I wouldn't be wrong if I say we are the most unhygienic, and insensitive nation in the world, especially in the way we dispose our trash. And it is getting worse.


As we increasingly become slaves to conveniences, we have discarded all our time-tested, environment-friendly practices of the past. And it is not just cities where the rot can be seen. Travel to the most scenic, even remote places of the nation and you'd know what I am saying. Plastic cold drink bottles, tetrapacks, potato-chips packets, polythene bags and 'gutka' pouches litter the most unlikely of places.


What is the solution, or is there a solution? For all the pessimism that I exude, I think we really have no option but to do something about it. To begin with, we should educate our masses as to why it is necessary to be careful with the way we discard our waste.


The government spends a lot on issuing ineffective advertisements on the subject. Wouldn't it be great if it got some professional help in this regard? The online space is full of excellent attempts by individuals and private entities on how to safeguard our environment. And no, I am not referring to save-tree or save-tiger attempts by mobile companies. I am not even referring to celebrities extolling the masses to do something, especially since we often know how shallow all this is. Believe me, most people can see through this 'tamasha'. The ridiculousness of celebs endorsing Earth Hour to 'save our beautiful planet' and then sitting up and watching floodlit cricket, or playing night golf in exclusive courses is something that is not lost on the masses.


Coming back to educating the masses, I strongly feel a direct message to the masses will be more effective, the like that Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' sent. It scared viewers, but made a point, and tellingly. This country has hordes of NGOs involved in such work. The close, person-to-person contact that they can do will be extremely effective too. Once a person begins to realise that sustainable development is the key, and that his kids will suffer if he does not change his ways, he is more likely to pay heed.


But all this will need to be supported by a proactive government. We invariably try to form rules after a mishap and are never prepared for something in advance.


Where is the guarantee that other scrapyards in the country do not have radioactive substance in their bellies? Do we have safeguards to stop their recurrence? If one were to assume that it came from someplace within India, what sort of safeguards are followed by those who are legally using the substance? Are there rules for safe disposal?
 
Apparently there is no black-and-white procedure for a lot of these things. But even more than rules, the challenge in our context is their implementation, and that is where the government has to show the will and determination.
 
Provide that, and you will see the results. The state of Sikkim, for example, has banned use of plastic bags. And this ban is not implemented the way Delhi has gone about it. There is nothing half-hearted about it and it shows.


This will and determination needs to percolate down to others too. Ban of plastic is relatively rather much simpler to enforce, but when it comes to radioactive material, their usage, disposal etc, the expertise required is of a different level. And, for that, the government needs to educate, and train itself first and then show the will to implement what it has learnt.


Ultimately, we all (government included) need to realise that we are beyond the critical stage. The delay has already played havoc with our environment. So far, it is an unfortunate scrap dealer in Delhi or thousands who are forced to drink contaminated groundwater who suffer. For most, it is just a story, yet. But it won't be long before more among us become part of this story.


Here's hoping that good sense will prevail.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THAILAND IN A RED CURRY

Befitting a nation that promotes its beaches and smiles, Thailand is undergoing a social revolution in slow motion. Though there was bloodshed in Bangkok the past few weeks, political deaths have been a rarity in the struggle between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his exiled predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra. But the larger backdrop to their battle means Thailand won't experience peace for some time now. Political patch-ups will be temporary as Thailand is now a nation deeply divided over the future character of its society.

Until recently, Thai politics was seen as an unserious combination of uncompetitive democratic parties and a mild military, overseen by a benign monarchy. The past five years showed that all this hid the existence of two Thailands. One was a Bangkok Elite that controls the institutions of government and preserves its domination through selective repression. The Other Thailand was revealed in the successive election victories of Mr Shinawatra. This was a largely rural populace, untouched by Thailand's economic success and denied a genuine political voice for decades. Mr Shinawatra's populist measures and anti-establishment rhetoric aroused the political consciousness of this formerly passive Thai underclass. Regional and class lines have now hardened to the point that Mr Vejjajiva's own populist palliatives are failing to paper over these differences.

Thailand is ripe for revolution. If its establishment is intelligent about it, it can ensure this social change is nonviolent. The continuing strength of 'red-shirt' support among the peasantry of the Isaan region and Bangkok's working poor indicates that the social genie can't be put back in the bottle. There needs to be a recognition that a society where the top fifth of the population controls two-thirds of all wealth isn't sustainable. And that a system where citizens of certain class and regional backgrounds had no representation in the ruling structure is doomed. Compromise won't be easy. Mr Shinawatra was rightly criticised for authoritarian tendencies when in power. The evidence of a new red-shirt leadership is a positive fallout. But will there be anyone among Bangkok's ancien regime who is prepared to grasp the nettle of change — before violence becomes the norm rather than the exception in the Thai revolution? Let's hope so.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

TAKE COVER!

Iranian cleric Kazem Sedighi has an unlikely ally in the irreverent Mae West. She once said, "You can say what you like about long dresses, but they cover a multitude of shins." In Sedighi's case, make that sins. In an astounding scientific discovery, the cleric has pronounced that women in immodest clothing are causing earthquakes. We bet this is making all those seismologists who having been pouring over charts and graphs look a little stupid. There they were measuring tremors and studying the quality of soil when the answer was right under their noses. Let's see how they cover this one up.

On the question of covering up, support for Sedighi comes from an unlikely Indian quarter and it's not dear Muthalik of the Ram Sene or the sartorially suspicious VHP. It is from that doyen of modesty Rakhi Sawant. With the fervour of a Medici pope, the lady once known for the few centimetres of clothing that adorned her person, has informed us that the Bible feels that nudity leads to sin. Now, she may be right there. If, say, Cindy Crawford were to appear starkers in the middle of one of our cities, chances are that less than clean thoughts would pop into the heads of our lads. Having come to this realisation as Saul on the road to Damascus, old Rakhi has been making sure that none of her substantial assets are on view any more.

We would like to hear more from Sedighi. With his vast knowledge of the causes of natural disasters, he could be useful on how to deal with the Icelandic volcano that is causing such havoc. If the solution is a simple thing like adding an inch or two to your hemline, then so be it. Could it be that women in bathing suits are causing tsunamis? Sedighi is also a boon to a recession-hit fashion industry. Now all the top cats of couture can come out with a new version of the little black dress, the long black dress. Don't want to expose anyone to temptation, not even Nature, do we?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

LESSONS FROM ATISH

MN KUNDU

When Atish Dipankar, a realised master from Nalanda University, reached Tibet, he instantly got royal patronage. Naturally, he had to face tremendous hostility from the jealous local monks. They decided to learn his meditation secrets to prove that he was no better and sent a scholarly monk for this purpose.

As a compassionate Buddhist, Atish accepted him well and called for tea. When the teapot was brought, he started pouring. The cup became full but he continued to pour. The monk intervened, "What are you doing. The cup is full." Atish replied, "So is your mind.  How can you receive anything more unless you make it empty?" The monk promised to be receptive.

Atish advised, "No one can perfect in meditation without attaining perfection in work. Worship must follow work for service to humanity. Go to the kitchen and help." The monk was not reluctant to work but he expected some dignified activity. But Atish was adamant, "No work is negligible. Do what I say and report your progress after seven days." Finding no other way, the monk continued. After seven days, he expressed dissatisfaction  but had to repeat it time and again. 

The monk lost his patience and thought that Atish was simply playing a trick. He would never teach. So he must quit. Now Atish greeted him with a smile, "you are ready for higher lessons because of your aspiration. Listen carefully." The unprepared monk wanted to write down. But Atish said, "My lessons are simple as truth is. Next seven days, don't think of any monkey."

After a week, Atish asked, "I hope you have not thought of any monkey these days? If so, the next lesson will follow." The monk morosely replied, "Sorry, all these days I have always thought of monkey and nothing else."

Atish said, "It is difficult indeed to control the mind. Meditation follows that. It is the last step of sadhana. You cannot reach the roof without climbing the stairs. It calls for self-purification and thereby withdrawal of mind from sense objects and thought waves."

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

STILL CUTTING EDGE

ANURADHA SRIVASTAVA

In a progressive move, the University Grants Commission (UGC) is considering banning animal dissections from the zoology and life sciences curricula. As a veterinarian and someone who cares about both animals and science, I urge the UGC to make the progressive and scientifically sound decision to end the cutting up of animals in classrooms. Banning dissection would not only save the lives of countless animals every year, but it will also ensure that every student benefits from the very latest and most effective teaching methods.

It has been repeatedly demonstrated that even those students who have not thought about the moral implications of harming animals as part of their coursework may not be learning to their fullest potential when dissection is part of the course. Dozens of studies show that non-animal teaching methods — like virtual dissection software — have an equal or even superior ability to provide students with an understanding of anatomy and complex biological processes.

A recently published peer-reviewed report examined 17 studies and found that the results associated with the non-animal method of instruction were, in each case, as good as  — and in some cases better than — the results associated with dissection. Non-animal teaching methods are also associated with increased learning efficiency, higher examination scores, student confidence and satisfaction.

The use of non-animal learning methods also improves the preparedness of students pursuing careers in medicine. Nearly 95 per cent of America's medical schools, including institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford, have discontinued the use of live animals in teaching. No US medical school expects or requires students to have dissected animals.

Students forced to dissect animals when they ethically oppose to it may lose interest in pursuing scientific careers, according to a number of published research articles. Imagine the contributions from thoughtful, compassionate and promising young scientists we have lost because these young people would not consider the thought of violating their principles?

A one-time purchase of a computer programme can be used to teach an unlimited number of students for years on end. Ending dissection is the right choice for universities, students, animals and the future of scientific research.

Anuradha Srivastava is Vivisection Campaign Coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India

The views expressed by the author are personal


 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

IPL? LET'S GET REAL

SAMAR HALARNKAR

So, Shashi Tharoor has gone. Lalit Modi may follow. Or not. Cricket's great jamboree may be cleaned up. Or not.  Does it matter so much?

The Indian Premier League (IPL) brouhaha could not have come at a worse time. India was, finally, if reluctantly, starting to focus on long-festering-but-urgent issues that prevent this country from being a just, equitable democracy.

As Tharoor and Modi self-destructed, the circus around them diverted all attention from the perfect storm gathering over India. The tempest is a mélange of enduring destitution, growing violence and environmental disaster. The ominous acceleration in these issues, interlinked more than ever, requires urgent national discussions, broad consensus and a grand vision.

If you were not following the poverty debate unfolding between the top echelons of government and a small band of powerful civil-society activists last week, you might wonder how India agreed, almost overnight, to add 100 million to the 300 million people who live below the official poverty line (the ability of a person to spend Rs 17 per day in urban areas and Rs 12 in rural areas).

With pressure growing from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to recognise hunger and poverty as national issues, the government and its Planning Commission — the body that sets the poverty line — set about reviewing the absurd figure of less than 300 million poor Indians, eligible for benefits from a slew of social-security programmes, which, theoretically, run from cradle to grave.

The new figure of 400 million poor may sound like a lot in a country of 1.1 billion, but every expert will tell you this is a gross underestimation. If you were to raise the poverty line to $2 a day — or Rs 90, inadequate for a coffee at a five-star hotel — the number of poor would cross 800 million.

That's how poor India really is.

These figures are contentious because they determine what the government will spend on social-security programmes.

So, there's a split in the Planning Commission.

Those opposed to increasing the number of poor say the money needed for them will ruin the government's effort to rein in India's already huge fiscal deficit, which soared by 24 per cent to Rs 414,000 crore in 2009-10. (Largely because of the Rs 248,000 crore fiscal stimulus). Their argument: the poor will benefit eventually when the benefits of progress trickle down.

Those in favour of recognising more poor people say India's hunger and poverty are a national shame, and it is imperative to spend more money on social-security programmes, including food subsidies. Their argument: if you give sops to industry and other pressure groups why can't you do the same for the millions who can influence nothing? Consider what the IPL gets: entertainment-tax concessions (in Maharashtra); public security forces at a discount; and its income-tax dues haven't even been assessed in three years.

With Supreme Court commissioners Harsh Mander and N.C. Saxena — both former bureaucrats in the action-now camp advising the highest court on hunger issues — tipped to be on Gandhi's newly-revived National Advisory Council, the government is, for once, listening.

That's how Kavita Srivastava of the dogged Right-to-Food campaign got a call from the Prime Minister's Office on Monday asking what she opposed about the new poverty line. In another age, people like Srivastava would be ignored and reviled, much like Medha Patkar, the big-dam objector, once was.

As this newspaper's 'Tracking Hunger' campaign shows, deprivation is endemic, exacerbated by a looming collapse of India's social-security network. Since March 24, when the series began, my colleagues found: children eating mud to quell hunger in Jawaharlal Nehru's old constituency in Uttar Pradesh, mass migrations and slow-malnutrition deaths of men and women in their 30s and 40s in Bolangir, Orissa, children eating wild berries and red ants in Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district, children with distended bellies caused by disease and malnutrition lanced through their stomachs with red-hot rods — a tribal superstition meant to make them well. You can read these horror stories and the complex issues facing India at www.hindustantimes.com/trackinghunger.

Linked to this widening collapse of governance is the inexorable rise of the Maoists, who will again exploit our short attention span as they spur the rebellion with greater confidence and cunning.

On Tuesday, emboldened by the slaughter of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers in an April 6 ambush in central India, the rebels launched heavy frontal attacks on CRPF camps in Chhattisgarh. In Bengal, the Maoists have successfully taken over the administration of a State school, ensuring it does not fall into decay.

The government considered drones and new approaches to confronting the Maoists only after the April 6 ambush. If the IPL or the next empty scandal grabs our eyeballs, the public pressure needed to keep India focussed will rapidly evaporate.

Hunger and Maoist violence are not unique to — but are largely centred on — India's tribal lands, once home to the nation's densest forests, systematically exploited by local governments, officials and private interests.

With the State in retreat, it's no surprise that the national animal is fading from sight. The tiger's decimation — 1,000 or less may be left — is so acute that the prime minister this week appealed to states for an extraordinary effort to save the predator that serves as a barometer for not just the health of the nation's natural wealth but also of grassroots governance.

When was the last time you discussed how saving the tiger can save India?

Let's talk — when we tear ourselves away from the IPL.

 

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Man proposes; nature disposes. We are seldom more vulnerable than when we feel insulated. The miracle of modern flight protected us from gravity, atmosphere, culture, geography. It made everywhere feel local, interchangeable. Nature interjects, and we encounter -- tragically for many -- the reality of thousands of miles of sepa- ration. We discover that we have not escaped from the phys- ical world after all.

Complex, connected societies are more resilient than sim- ple ones -- up to a point. During the east African droughts of the early 1990s, I saw at first hand what anthropologists and economists have long predicted: those people who had the fewest trading partners were hit hardest. Connectivity provided people with insurance: the wider the geographical area they could draw food from, the less they were hurt by a regional famine.

But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard.
The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. This is one of the lessons of the banking crisis. Impoverished mortgage defaulters in the United States -- the butterfly's wing over the Atlantic -- almost broke the glob- al economy. If the Eyjafjallajökull volcano -- by no means a mon- ster -- keeps retching, it could, in these fragile times, produce the same effect.

We have several such vulner- abilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected solar storm -- which causes a surge of direct current down our elec- tricity grids, taking out the trans- formers. It could happen in sec- onds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered.

As New Scientist points out, an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyse oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business -- even the manufacturers of can- dles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. Burnt-out transformers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Over the past year I've sent freedom of information (FoI) requests to electricity transmit- ters and distributors, asking them what contingency plans they have made, and whether they have stockpiled transformers to replace any destroyed by a solar storm. I haven't got to the end of it yet, but the early results suggest that they haven't.

There's a similar lack of planning for the possibility that global supplies of oil might soon peak, then go into decline.
My FoI requests to the British government reveal that it has made no contingency plans. The issue remains the preserve of beardy lentil-eaters such as, er, the US joint forces com- mand. Its latest report on possible future conflicts maintains that "a severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity".

It suggests that "by 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10m barrels per day". A global oil shortage would soon expose the weaknesses of our complex economic systems. As the cultural anthropologist Joseph Tainter has shown, their dependence on high energy use is one of the factors that makes complex societies vulnerable to collapse.

His work has helped to overturn the old assumption that social complexity is a response to surplus energy. Instead, he proposes, complexity drives higher energy production. While complexity solves many problems -- such as reliance on an exclusively local and therefore vulnerable food supply -- it's subject to diminishing returns. In extreme cases, the cost of maintaining such systems causes them to collapse.

Tainter gives the example of the western Roman empire.
In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine sought to rebuild their diminished territories: "The strategy of the later Roman empire was to respond to a near-fatal challenge in the third century by increasing the size, complexity, power, and costliness of... the government and its army. ... The benefit/cost ratio of imperial government declined.
In the end the western Roman empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence." The empire was ruined by the taxes and levies on manpower Diocletian and Constantine imposed to sustain their massive system. Tainter contrasts this with the strategies of the Byzantine empire from the 7th century onwards. Weakened by plague and re-invasion, the government responded with a programme of systematic sim- plification. Instead of maintaining and paying its army, it grant- ed soldiers land in return for hereditary military service: from then on they had to carry their own costs. It reduced the size and complexity of the administration and left people to fend for themselves. The empire survived and expanded.

A similar process is taking place in Britain today: a simplifi- cation of government in response to crisis. But while the pub- lic sector is being pared down, both government and private enterprise seek to increase the size and complexity of the rest of the economy. If the financial crisis were the only constraint we faced, this might be a sensible strategy. But the energy costs, environmental impacts and vulnerability to disruption of our super-specialised society have surely already reached the point at which they outweigh the benefits of increasing complexity.

For the third time in two years we've discovered that fly- ing is one of the weakest links in our overstretched system.
In 2008, the rising cost of fuel drove several airlines out of business. The recession compounded the damage; the volcano might ruin several more. Energy-hungry, weather-dependent, easily disrupted, a large aviation industry is one of the hard- est sectors for any society to sustain, especially one beginning to encounter a series of crises. The greater our dependence on flying, the more vulnerable we are likely to become.

The state of global oil supplies, the industry's social and environmental costs and its extreme vulnerability mean that current levels of flying -- let alone the growth the government anticipates -- cannot be maintained indefinitely. We have a choice. We can start decommissioning this industry while there is time and find ways of living happily with less of it. Or we can sit and wait for physical reality to simplify the system by more brutal means.

The Guardian


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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

COURTING TRAUMA

 

Rape victims in India suffer twice over. Once the crime itself; and twice when a procedure-bound criminal justice system forces them to re-live their nightmare, in full public gaze. Thankfully, a slew of amendments to the Indian anti-rape laws since the '80s have sought to sensitise the judicial system to the vulnerability of rape victims — in theory at least. But the travails of a 13-year-old rape victim in Gujarat expose the gap between theory and practice.

 

Upon taking her to a local clinic for an abortion, her parents, both labourers in Surendranagar district, were told that they needed to get permission from a court. A sessions court denied the victim permission to abort her unborn child since there was no evidence that her health was in danger. For a 13-year-old rape victim and her family to have to go through this is in itself shocking. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act gives a qualified medical practitioner many reasons to conduct an abortion. "Explanation 1" of Section 3(2) of the law explicitly states that for pregnancies "alleged... to have been caused by rape... the anguish caused by such pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman." In other words, as long as rape is alleged, the health hazard to the pregnant woman must be presumed, and abortion permitted.

 

The trauma of a child should be enough cause for compassion.

 

Instead, the trauma of the girl and her family has been stretched in a manner that raises questions. The girl's family has had to traverse India's legal system, first to the sessions court and now to the high court. Apart from apprehending the criminals, it is the duty of the state to rehabilitate the victim; at the very least, not place any obstacles in her way. It is hoped that the Gujarat high court provides much needed relief.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

 

PARTY FAVOURS

 

Mukul Sangma, right after taking over as chief minister of Meghalaya, made a significant statement ordering the "denotification of all political appointees" — that is, he decided to question why the state's current and former legislators were all firmly ensconced in various boards and corporations as chairmen.

 

Sangma has highlighted a damaging trend in our governance — perhaps it is wishful to expect his attack on patronage politics to reverberate elsewhere in the country, but Sangma's course will be keenly watched. This particular form of political generosity is almost taken for granted in our system — what was once visible in the form of ministerial appointments has now been replaced by these comfortable corporate positions. In Indian politics, you are always friends with benefits. Recall Uttar Pradesh in 1997, when Kalyan Singh took this method to grotesque lengths, as the BJP got the support of MLAs from other parties during a vote of confidence, and then accommodated them all in a 93-member council of ministers. Several states, from Bihar to Karnataka, went a similar way. When everyone's angling to be a minister, it skews the necessary tension between executive and legislature, not to mention how much an extra unnecessary minister costs the coffers in terms of staff, cars, accommodation and security. Finally, the NDA in 2003 (with cross-party support) moved to limit the size of the council of ministers at the Centre and states to 15 per cent of the numerical strength of the legislature.

 

Since then, that blatant ministry-padding has been replaced by a flow of other favours, and less visible forms of patronage — political appointments in managerial posts are among the ways in which party advantage is established. However, like all such appointments, the arrangement demoralises the professionals and career executives in these corporations, and is also a drain on their resources. More worryingly, it frays the idea of responsibility to an elected legislature keeping an independent check on the executive. The acceptance of this system, where the victorious political formation divides the spoils and accommodates its supporters in all kinds of paying gigs, has a corrosive effect on the quality of our democracy.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AT SILLY POINT

 

There is immense pressure on the government to clean up the muck that has engulfed the Indian Premier League. And that's a good thing, because there is little doubt that Indian cricket, at the business end of things, desperately needs a clean-up job. But it is important to maintain perspective on the job at hand. What we do not need is what assorted politicians of diverse ideological streams are clamouring for — a ban on the IPL. The IPL cannot be dubbed a dubious product because of its big market and huge potential for profit. Consider the interests of stakeholders other than the bosses of IPL. Consumers in India, and indeed abroad, are enjoying the cricket and the larger entertainment package being offered. Advertisers seem to find it worthwhile to pump in money where there is such a large audience. Broadcasters and franchise owners, and leave aside the murk for just a moment, must also see plenty of potential for profit to have invested so much money in the IPL. And the cricketers involved in actually dishing out the action are all better off (at least financially) from their participation in the league. Purists may worry about the fate of the game as they once knew it, but that is another debate.

 

Those responsible for the clean-up would be wise to keep in mind the "Satyam principle" as they tackle the IPL mess. Satyam was a good company, with strong human resources, an impressive client list and a powerful brand; but it had fraudulent top management. So, the government's decision to save the brand and its other stakeholders while picking out and punishing the fraudsters was an eminently sensible one. In the case of the IPL too, it's well worth saving the product while cleaning up the mess that the financial dealings have proven to be. Actually it's about more than the league alone. An economically healthy cricket set-up could, in fact, be a role model for other sports in India, all of which need to attract more money and interest, not less. The successful staging of the hockey world cup in Delhi recently was a reminder of the untapped potential of that sport.

 

The current investigations into the flawed and opaque business dealings of the IPL are therefore an opportunity to establish best practices for private participation in sport in this country — and to bring transparency in the administration of sport.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

I-BANKS' IPL MOMENT

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI

 

Are Goldman Sachs' current troubles — the bank has been charged with fraud by the US financial regulator — relevant for India? Yes. And for two reasons. Let's first take the reason that's more entertaining, but no less important for it.

 

Post the fraud charge against Goldman, America's investment banks (technically, after the financial crisis I-banks that survived became commercial banks; but the distinction very much survives de facto) are roughly in the same intersection of public policy momentum and public anger build-up as India's IPL. Those of us who rightly believe that entrepreneurial chutzpah, risk-taking and profit-making are socially valuable, those of us who again rightly don't believe in Economics 101's fantasy that politics and business can remain absolutely separate, and therefore those of us who are usually deeply discomfited by reflexive populist rants against wealth find much to admire in both investment banking and IPL.

 

But we must also recognise that right now investment banking, like IPL, deserves to be subjected to some populist demands for bloodletting. Populist anger against Wall Street's establishment, like against our cricket establishment, is in part being informed by the fact that key information has been withheld and key stakeholders have been seemingly duped. These violations should be deemed unacceptable by those of us who value an aggressively entrepreneurial culture. The populist and the so-called elitist are on the same page here.

 

The other binding factor: the rules, regulations and laws governing both I-banks and IPL are important in the current developments. But as important is one simple fact: no half-decent person can find a moral case for certain goings-on in Indian cricket and American finance. Whether or not America's SEC wins the case against Goldman or India's Enforcement Directorate tracks down dodgy money trails in Dubai or Virgin Islands, the correct judgment has been passed in the court of public opinion.

 

Shashi Tharoor said, and continues to say, there's nothing more important than personal integrity to him. Yet, as a minister, he was comfortable with not disclosing that a close friend was getting a sweetheart deal in an IPL venture he "mentored". Simple moral case, no? If there are other people in public office and their close associates in positions similar to Tharoor, then the case is equally simple. If private individuals like Lalit Modi perpetrated the fiction that IPL ownerships and deals were only about blue chip companies and Bollywood stars turned entrepreneurs, it's an equally simple case. Key information was and in some case may prove to have been withheld and key stakeholders — sponsors, paying public, contracted players — taken for a ride for profits that otherwise would not have existed.

 

Goldman Sachs' business principles state that nothing is more important to it than its reputation. Strange then, like in the case of Tharoor, it didn't tell some of its clients that some of the investment products it was asking them to bet on were products that the bank knew (a) were cherry-picked to be vulnerable against an opposite bet and (b) were going to be betted against by another client of the bank who paid a fee to get this deal.

 

This is the simple summary of US Securities and Exchange Commission's complex case against Goldman and no matter which way you cut it, there's a simple moral case against the bank. Clients were deliberately taken to the cleaners. Key information was withheld from them. Banks that produce crazy financial engineering and pose systemic threats — the financial crisis, in other words — are a big problem. But banks that set out to act against the interests of their own clients for making money it shouldn't have are a big blot. The first calls for policy response. The second justifies calls that some heads are seen to roll.

 

Yes, there are less than simple political motivations in the current targeting of I-banks and IPL in, respectively, America and India. Barack Obama's administration needs a smoking gun as it prepares for financial sector reform. The Congress needs a counter-balancing bad guy after its government was forced to sack Tharoor. But the fact that I-banks and IPL have provided smoking guns for ruling political establishments does not make those smoking guns any less real and it does not mitigate the simple moral case against them.

 

This, the intersection of political incentives and public anger, brings up the second reason why the Goldman fraud case is relevant for India — it may set the course for future reform in Indian finance.

 

A very short summary of Indian finance now is this. Look at American finance, and be thankful you (Indians) have Indian finance. This, of course, is dead wrong. The solution to a big financial sector running amok is not a small financial sector that hobbles. But what has been called the Indian financial orthodoxy gets political traction in part because bailed-out American finance seems to have been arguing against changes in how it fundamentally functions. The stench of a discredited ancien régime has been strong.

 

The Goldman investigation should severely weaken banks' status quoist argument because the simple moral case leads to fundamental questions about investment banks. One, should a set-up where banks can so easily sell junk to its own clients be allowed? Two, isn't that set-up directly linked to the bigger set-up that allows banks to prioritise trading over raising money and lending and giving advice? Three, isn't that in turn linked to huge trading profits promised by financial instruments that seem to be nothing more than pure play speculative bets? Four, does not all of this boil down to the argument that American financial reform that does not fundamentally change the way Wall Street works will not be much of a reform?

 

These questions are being asked with a lot more force in America now than before the Goldman morality tale came to be known. The chances for fundamental reform are brighter. And if fundamental reform in American finance happens, the Indian financial orthodoxy will lose much of its sheen. Chances of fundamental reform in Indian finance will brighten.

 

Here's hoping we can say the same thing about Indian cricket.

 

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

EXPERIMENTS WITH TWITTER

COOMI KAPOOR

 

Thanks to Twitter, the ebullient and supposedly savvy former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor built up a following of over seven lakh on the Net. But Twitter, which made Tharoor so popular among the country's urban, educated youth, has also proved to be his undoing.

 

Tweeting and blogging has become a new form of instant communication for prominent personalities. It

establishes a direct rapport with the public at large, sidestepping intermediaries like journalists, public relations officers, press statements and press conferences. When Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik wanted to announce their marital plans, they did so through Twitter. The Bachchan family uses blogs and Twitter to get its political messages across. Shah Rukh Khan gave his take on the My Name Is Khan controversy through Twitter.

 

US President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband are blog and Twitter enthusiasts.

 

But is Twitter a good idea for an Indian politician? Nandan Nilekani, for instance, decided to close his Twitter account once he took up an official position with the government. Omar Abdullah uses the far more restricted Facebook, but even he got flak for an incautious remark about Indian security forces in Kashmir. Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Nitish Kumar have opted to blog, which is more in the nature of a one-way communication. Tharoor, who used new media very effectively during his election campaign in Thiruvananthapuram, opted to continue tweeting after becoming a minister, providing a running commentary on various aspects of his job, his travels and official interactions. He reacted testily to an item in my weekly column about the dangers of a minister tweeting. Today, the aim is for more openness in government, not keeping under wraps what should be in the public domain, he explained. He once headed the UN information department and was conscious of what news was appropriate for public consumption and what was not, he reasoned. And perhaps, his new age approach would see the winds of change blowing through the musty cubicles of Herbert Baker's colonial edifice, I thought. I did not reckon that the winds would sweep the junior minister off his feet so fast.

 

Despite his impressive UN record in dealing with the media and the public, Tharoor could not overcome an old Stephanian's instinct to have the last word, preferably a wisecrack. Tharoor's response to the Congress austerity campaign was downright blasphemous. Asked on Twitter whether he would be travelling cattle class, he replied flippantly, "Absolutely... out of solidarity with all our holy cows." His remark evoked outrage among our humourless political class. How dare he mock economy class travel? Worse, his "holy cows" allusion had an obviously irreverent tone in the family run Congress party. Early this year, Tharoor frankly shared his misgivings about the government's new visa rules in the wake of David Headley's arrest. A minister publicly criticising his own department was a refreshing departure. The fact that his OSD Jacob Joseph was also an avid tweeter and even less circumspect than his boss added to the mounting black marks against the minister.

 

The tweet which finally brought about Tharoor's comeuppance, however, was not his own but that of Lalit Modi's. Apart from a mutual fondness for Twitter, Modi and Tharoor both suffer from a hubris that makes them sail too close to the wind. Not used to being crossed, Modi thought he could get even with Tharoor by bringing to public notice the suspicious shareholding of the IPL's Kochi franchise. He has succeeded in his mission, but in the bargain it looks as if he too will soon come tumbling down from his position as czar of the mighty IPL money-making machine.

 

Surprisingly, for an inveterate tweeter, Tharoor has not been very forthcoming about the trauma of his own resignation. He has restricted himself to posting his speech in Parliament and thanking his Twitter supporters — who, incidentally, include Anand Mahindra and Shekhar Kapur — for all the support and good wishes.

 

coomi.kapoor@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE SPECTRE OF NAZ

VINAY SITAPATI

 

Can words change society? It is a question that is increasingly being asked of our higher judiciary. Their opinions can veer between upbraiding beards to bemoaning cricket's social ills; even serious jurisprudence, on the environment or more recently on legalising gay sex, begs the question: Does it matter? Do their Lordships overestimate their powers of persuasion?

 

It is precisely such a question that has bedevilled the July 2009 judgment of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Union of India. The judges "read down" section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in effect decriminalising homosexuality. The decision is now backed, in the Supreme Court appeal, by an early opponent, the Central government. But so what? Will nosey neighbours or blackmailing beat constables really care what the court thinks? Even if the Supreme Court were to uphold the high court judgment, how much of a game changer will the decision be?

 

Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras provides one answer. Siras taught Marathi at Aligarh Muslim University. Last month, he was filmed in the privacy of his home in a compromising position with a male rickshaw puller. When the video was made public, AMU suspended Siras for "immoral sexual activity". The usual suspects manning India's liberal outposts howled at the travesty: how a man's house was broken into, and why he was being made to pay for consensual private pleasures.

 

But something else happened, something that hasn't happened before. On April 1, the Allahabad High Court ordered AMU to reinstate Siras, holding that his right to privacy had been violated. And now comes news that the Uttar Pradesh police have arrested two of those who broke into Siras's house and filmed him. A third, named in an FIR filed by Siras, is on the run. Many university officials have also been charged with criminal offences. This is not how the story was supposed to pan out. Those who broke into Siras's house and AMU (and there are allegations that they are one and the same) assumed that Siras's transgressions were so repellent, that their own would be forgiven. They now realise that the game has changed.

 

And what is interesting is that the game changers are the courts and the local police, the very institutions that have had, to put it mildly, an awkward relationship with homosexuality. Affidavit after affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court by the petitioners in the Naz Foundation case, documented tales of police brutality, coercion and blackmail. To see this very same institution moving another way shows that something is stirring. To be sure, it was Siras's tragic death, not his original complaint, that was the catalyst. Had the police swung into action soon after Siras filed an FIR, perhaps he would still be alive. Nonetheless, it is inconceivable to imagine the court's verdict and police action taking place in a context in which gay sex was illegal. In the pre-Naz Foundation era, Siras would have been the criminal, the other wrongs mere side shows. The current official narrative — of a victimised Siras, a callous administration and criminal house-breakers — owes much to the Delhi High Court's view that Siras's sexual choice was legitimate.

 

It is too early to tell whether the sea has parted, and homosexuals can live with dignity in India. Progressive court pronouncements and their official enforcement usually have a time lag between them.

 

Take America's experience with Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954, the US Supreme Court held that separate schools for Blacks and Whites were unconstitutional. But official acquiescence is another thing. Southern states were furious. In 1957, the governor of Arkansas openly defied the court order forcing US President Dwight Eisenhower to send in federal troops to guard Black kids attending White-only schools. It took years of legal threats and federal action for all of American officialdom to fall in line. Even after President Lyndon Johnson's sweeping civil rights legislations of 1964, desegregation took many years longer.

 

By that standard, official action in the Siras case, by a state police not known for progressive posturing, has been quick. Perhaps this is because homophobia in India does not run as deep as racism in the United States did; Brown v. Board of Education threatened an entire way of life, which the Naz Foundation case does not. But the point still remains: it takes a while to touch and feel the abstract rights granted in a court of law. Official action against Siras's persecutors shows that the impact of the Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising homosexuality is being felt.

 

In his speech marking 55 years of Brown v. Board of Education, to an audience of Black and White college students in 2009, US President Barack Obama acknowledged his debt "as President and as an African-American" to the case. But he also noted that it took "a number of years [after the court case] and a nationwide movement to fully realise the dream of civil rights for all of God's children." Siras was an unwitting symbol; he is now part of a nationwide movement to realise Naz Foundation's dream. Shortly before he died, Siras told a reporter from this newspaper that "I want to work for the gay community". Despite his tragic end, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras's work continues.

 

vinay.sitapati@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IN THE CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Beware, Lalit Modi: your time has come. Just that like passengers stranded everywhere, your flight has been delayed. But depart you must: not only because television has predicted, demanded, announced your departure since last week but also because you announced you wouldn't be going anywhere. That's precisely what happened to Shashi Tharoor. Last Saturday, he proclaimed he would not be resigning (NDTV 24x7). Within 24 hours that's exactly what he did. So when you told the TV microphones on Tuesday that there was nothing to worry about, we began to worry for you.

 

Television statements can be bad luck charms: the opposite of what you say may happen, especially when it comes to resignations or scandals. As NDTV reminded us, Natwar Singh had also proclaimed his continuance as external affairs minister after his alleged involvement in the Iraqi oil scam, and then promptly tendered his resignation.

 

No, you can't be too careful these days. Small wonder BCCI chairman Shashank Manohar did not respond to any of the questions put to him by a persistent Times Now reporter with anything other than, "I can't answer any of your questions". Small wonder NCP's Supriya Sule, asked by NDTV 24x7 what she would say to Lalit Modi, smiled, replied, "Hi", and wished him well — oh dear, was that a fond farewell? What else could she have done? Cursed him for getting her embroiled in this mess? Nah.

 

It's difficult to believe what you hear on television these days. You are so befuddled by the sheer volume and speed of apparent developments and television's relentless commentary on them. We had yet to recover from the Shoaib-Sania match-fixing tangle when the SMS scandal — as India TV delightfully referred to the Shashi-Modi-Sunanda affair — was breaking sweat across channels — and it had nothing to do with the heat wave.

 

In the last ten days, the facts and fiction surrounding the three, the IPL, and the politicians have merged and occupied airspace like a gigantic ash cloud (all the way from Iceland?) so dense, we can't see or tell one from another.

 

Thus, within a few hours on Tuesday, we went from the meetings of top politicians to the meeting between a top politician and top cricket administrator (fact), to taped conversations of top politicians with Lalit Modi (unsubstantiated), to companies in Dubai and Mauritius being used to launder black money (unsubstantiated), to allegations leveled against Modi in one English newspaper (unnamed) on his disproportionate assets, his "satta" betting, land deals in Rajasthan, match-fixing, to his master plan for his exit (speculation), to the discussions on the business model of the IPL with at least one channel claiming that the IPL was worth Rs 40,000,00 crores!

 

Figures, facts and fiction. The beauty of television news is that it seldom attributes anything to a source or substantiates its claims. It makes announcements and we accept them — with reports flying thick and fast, who can remember who said what when? That's the beauty of television news: you cannot hold it to its word because there's no evidence of what it said unless someone is taping them 24x7.

 

An equally (un)attractive feature is that it latches onto a story like a leech and sucks it dry — and then some. The whole of last Sunday was spent watching Shashi Tharoor's car drive up to the PM's residence, and his disappearance inside because the channels were waiting for him to resign — something the thoughtless fellow didn't do till late at night. Arrgh!

 

You'd have thought the plight of over 40,000 passengers waiting to take off from India throughout the week would have been in focus, but with Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor playing Twenty20? Nah. You'd have thought a sudden shoulder injury to Virender Sehwag could have been the top story of Tuesday and the IPL semi-finals would have been the top story of the week (what an irony!), not to mention bombs at the Bangalore cricket stadium.

 

Well, what can we say but that you would have thought wrong.

 

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

Dithering Congress

Editorials in the latest issues of RSS's English mouthpiece Organiser and RSS's Hindi weekly Panchajanya, are devoted to the Congress stand on Maoist terror. Titled "The Congress is playing a diabolic game", the Organiser editorial says that "it's unfortunate that the Congressmen are fighting among themselves on the question of confronting the Maoist threat to national security". The Panchajanya editorial, on the other hand, is titled "Congress ke aantarik vorodhabhas khatarnaak" (internal contradictions in Congress on this issue are dangerous). The Organiser writes in its editorial: "It's not clear whether people like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar are fighting their inner party feud under the façade of strategy on Maoists. In fact, the Centre has not so far given the impression that it has a strategy in place. In national interest, despite the suspicious record of the UPA, the Opposition parties extended unreserved support to Home Minister P. Chidambaram to firm up a policy against the Maoists. But he is being attacked openly by his own party colleagues in a language that has proved music to the ears of the butchers ensconced in the safety of the thick forests of Dandakaranya". Panchajanya, argues on similar lines. Its editorial says: "The Opposition stands with the government, but the Congress must understand that the party-government divide could prove dangerous for the country, and the fight against the Naxals cannot ever be won with this approach".

 

Happiness index

The Organiser carries two reports about RSS functionaries, in its latest issue. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who was at Haridwar to take part in a discussion on the "Role of Indian culture in global conflict", is quoted as having said: "Earlier we used to live in harmony with nature and there was no thinking of exploitation at all. But modern science not only encouraged exploitation of nature but also ruined rich traditions and values of life. What we need today is to live in harmony with nature if we have to survive".

 

Another news report talks about the release of a book titled A new paradigm of development — sumangalam authored by Dr Bajrang Lal Gupta. Gupta is impressed by the idea of gross national happiness (introduced first in Bhutan), and argues that instead of evaluating development in terms of GDP, it should be evaluated in terms of all-round sumangalam, a concept "which ensures total happiness in life". Gupta is described as an economist in the Organiser report. That he also happens to be chief of RSS's northern India region, besides being one of the six RSS spokespersons authorised to speak to the media, has not been mentioned in the report.

Foreign enemies

Among other themes in the latest issue of Panchajanya, the weekly column by Devendra Swaroop says that the "Pope is encouraging religious conversions across the world. A column by Harbans Dikshit calls for "greater transparency in the judiciary", while another column by Satish Chandra Mittal debates whether "India is a country, nation, or a sub-continent". Swaroop has been a long-time contributor to Panchajanya; columnists like Dikshit and Mittal have not been introduced along with their pieces. The columns in the latest issue of Organiser, are devoted to various subjects — M.V. Kamath asks the question "whether we need foreign universities". Kamath writes: "Oxford can be Oxford only in Oxford and not in Noida. Tip to Kapil Sibal: Help our universities and colleges to upgrade themselves on a regular basis and await results... This is a nation that once produced Nalanda". Jay Dubashi, in his column, argues that "our economic model is designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer". Writes Dubashi: "This is also the model adopted in most affluent countries from which we borrowed it. The gap between the rich and the poor has been widening ever since (Dr Manmohan) Singh and Co. came on the scene and liberalised the economy".

 

Compiled by Suman K. Jha

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

READING TIGER WRITING DRAGON

 

The rapid economic development of Asia since World War II — starting with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, then extending to Hong Kong and Singapore, and finally taking hold powerfully in India and mainland China — has forever altered the global balance of power. These countries recognise the importance of an educated work force to economic growth, and they understand that investing in research makes their economies more innovative and competitive.

 

Beginning in the 1960s, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan sought to provide their populations with greater access to post-secondary education, and they achieved impressive results. Today, China and India have an even more ambitious agenda. Both seek to expand their higher education systems, and since the late 1990s, China has done so dramatically.

 

The results of Beijing's investment have been staggering. Over the past decade, the number of institutions of higher education in China more than doubled, from 1,022 to 2,263. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese who enroll in a university each year has quintupled.

 

India's achievement to date has not been nearly as impressive, but its aspirations are no less ambitious. To fuel the country's economic growth, India aims to increase its gross enrollment ratio in post-secondary education from 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020. This goal translates to an increase of 40 million students in Indian universities over the next decade.

 

Having made tremendous progress in expanding access to higher education, the leading countries of Asia are focused on an even more challenging goal: building universities that can compete with the finest in the world. The governments of China, India, Singapore and South Korea are explicitly seeking to elevate some of their universities to this exalted status because they recognise the important role that university-based scientific research has played in driving economic growth in the United States, Western Europe and Japan.

 

Developing top universities is a tall order. World-class universities achieve their status by assembling scholars who are global leaders in their fields. In the sciences, this requires first-class facilities, adequate funding, and competitive salaries and benefits. China is making substantial investments on all three fronts. And beyond the material conditions required to attract faculty, an efficient system of allocating research funding is also needed.

 

It takes more than research capacity alone for a nation to develop economically, however. It takes well-educated citizens of broad perspective and dynamic entrepreneurs capable of independent and original thinking. The leaders of China, in particular, have been very explicit in recognising that two elements are missing from their universities: multidisciplinary breadth and the cultivation of critical thinking.

 

The traditional Asian approaches to curriculum and pedagogy may work well for training line engineers and midlevel government officials, but they are less suited to fostering leadership and innovation. Students who aspire to be leaders in business, medicine, law, government or academia need "the discipline" of mind — the ability to adapt to constantly changing circumstances, confront new facts, and find creative ways to solve problems. Cultivating such habits requires students to be more than passive recipients of information; they must learn to think for themselves.

 

There has already been dramatic movement toward American-style curriculum in Asia. But changing the style of teaching presents a more challenging problem. It is more expensive to offer classes with smaller enrollments, and it requires the faculty to adopt new methods.

 

Not every university can or needs to be world class. Japan and South Korea have learned this lesson and have well-funded flagship universities. China understands this strategy, too. But India is an anomalous case. It established five Indian Institutes of Technology in the 1950s and 1960s, and 10 more in the past two decades. These are outstanding institutions for educating engineers, but they have not become globally competitive in research. The egalitarian politics of India make it difficult to focus on developing a small number of world-class research universities.

 

In one respect, however, India has a powerful advantage over China, at least for now. It affords faculty members the freedom to pursue their intellectual interests wherever they may lead and allows students and faculty alike to express, and thus test, their most heretical and unconventional theories — freedoms that are an indispensable feature of any great university.

 

As barriers to the flow of people, goods and information have come down, and as the process of economic development proceeds, Asian countries have increasing access to the human, physical and informational resources needed to create top universities. If they concentrate their growing resources on a handful of institutions, tap a worldwide pool of talent, and embrace freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry, they will succeed in building world-class universities. It will not happen overnight; it will take decades. But it may happen faster than ever before.

 

The writer is president of Yale University. The New York Times

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BOOST TO INFRA


The measures taken to boost infrastructure investments in the annual credit policy will go a long way in further accelerating and extending fund flows into this crucial sector. Particularly welcome is the move to liberalise the availability of bank funds to large-scale infrastructure projects by treating annuities from BOT projects and toll collection rights as tangible securities. Equally welcome is the move to reduce the provisioning for substandard infrastructure loan accounts from 20% to 15% under certain conditions that will allow banks to escrow cash flows and also secure a clear and legal first claim on such cash flows. Similarly, the appetite for infrastructure bonds will also be buoyed up by the move to allow banks to classify their investments in non-SLR bonds issued by infrastructure companies in the held-to-maturity category from the mark-to-market category. These steps will not only improve the availability of bank funds, which have shot up by an astounding 42.3% to Rs 1,08,757 crore on a year-on-year basis in the period ending February 2010, but also improve the working of the corporate bond market. This will boost private participation in infrastructure projects, which is crucial for sustaining long-term growth. This is especially the case as India's potential on this count is substantial; the country has already emerged as a world leader in the implementation of infrastructure projects with private participation.

 

Most recent numbers from across the globe show that India has registered impressive gains in investment commitments in infrastructure projects with private participation going up from $20.6 billion in 2000-05 to $24.7 billion in 2006-08 in the telecom sector alone. Gains were much higher in the transport sector, where such investments accelerated from $4.3 billion to $19 billion, and also in the energy sector, where they shot up from $8.4 billion to $28.5 billion during the period. This is in sharp contrast to the trends in other countries like Brazil and China, where the investment commitments in infrastructure projects with private participation came down in the latter half of the decade. The only other major developing country that has been able to improve private participation in infrastructure projects was Russia. But Russian gains were only in the energy segment where the fund commitments increased more than twelve-fold. However, India still has a long way to go before it can rest on its laurels, as the demand for private sector funds is expected to grow exponentially, given that overall funds for development of the infrastructure sector are expected to shoot up from around $500 billion in the Eleventh Plan period to more than a trillion dollars in the next.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE RIGHT ROAD

 

As reported in The Indian Express on Wednesday, the road transport and highways ministry has proposed that the draft National Highways Amendment Bill 2010 should have a clause that will enable the return of unused land acquired for road infrastructure projects to the original owners. If the original owner is willing to return the money paid for the purchase by the government, he or she will not have to pay appreciation monies but only those received when the land was sold to the government. This is clearly a move in the right direction for creating a smoother land acquisition environment, which is critical for so many sectors—not just roads and highways, but also coal, steel, power and so on. The road transport and highways ministry has also proposed that people selling land to NHAI should get solatium for better rehabilitation and resettlement. This, again, is a step in the right direction. Of course, minister Kamal Nath had mooted the idea of returning unused land to the original landowners some months ago but it's good to see that the idea has found its way into the draft legislation.

 

But what's happening with the amendments to the antiquated land acquisition Act, not to mention the rehabilitation and resettlement policy Bill? Both pieces of legislation remain hostage to coalition politics, with certain UPA partners remaining categorically opposed to the government's involvement in land acquisition. Given that an emerging economy like India has little option but to convert agricultural land for industrial use, addressing the land logjam is of vital significance. Tata Motors may have been the first and most high-profile casualty of confrontation over land acquisition in Singur but many more industries are equally affected. Today, for example, ArcelorMittal and Posco projects remain hamstrung by similar concerns. However tricky it may be, unless the government commits itself to clear legislation for reconciling industrial and welfare goals on this front, India's growth story will have a hard time powering ahead. Sure, such legislation will have to address a wide array of concerns. Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy has mentioned how India's floor-area ratio needs to improve from the current 1:1 to 1:15. There is also the question of putting unproductive government land banks to better use. The bottom line is that land reform is important. At least the road transport and highways ministry is thinking creatively on the subject and trying to convert its good idea into legislation.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

STILL LEANING ON THE SIDE OF GROWTH

MAHESH VYAS

 

The token measures taken by RBI in its monetary policy statement acknowledged the concerns of the economists at investment banking firms and yet left the economy free of any threat from high interest rates. Concerns regarding inflation have been greeted with erudite discussion and token action. If the intention was essentially to not disturb the growth momentum by high interest rates, then the objective has been met with élan.

 

If the choice was between high inflation and high interest rates, RBI has effectively chosen high inflation for now. This is because the token measures to raise interest rates or to absorb liquidity are unlikely to raise the interest rates in the economy. Many heads of banks have already stated this in response to the policy statement. If excess liquidity is leading to excessive demand, which, in turn, is leading to high inflation, then this will continue to be so, for now. The expectation is that increased supplies from agriculture and manufacturing will soon match the excess demand and inflation will come down to more acceptable levels.

 

RBI predicts that inflation in the WPI will be down to 5.5% by March 2011. We believe that inflation in the WPI will be lower at 3.8% in the quarter-ended March 2011. RBI has predicted a real GDP growth of 8% in 2010-11. We believe that the economy will grow at a faster 9.2%. RBI's benign intervention ensures that growth will be sustained.

 

During 2010-11, investment demand is likely to continue to remain high. The IIP for capital goods has been showing big increases in recent months. CMIE's CapEx database has also been showing a relentless growth in the creation of additional productive capacities across all major segments. Projects worth Rs 1.1 lakh crore were commissioned during the quarter-ended March 2010. Fiscal 2009-10 saw projects worth Rs 4 lakh crore being commissioned. And, projects worth Rs 6.5 lakh crore are scheduled to be commissioned in 2010-11.

 

The momentum of investments is unlikely to fizzle out soon. This is evident from the fact that Rs 4.3 lakh crore worth of new investment proposals were announced during the quarter-ended March 2010. With this, fresh proposals are back to the levels they were before the 2008-09 crisis that temporarily halted fresh investment.

 

Easy liquidity and capital flows are likely to continue to facilitate this continued investments boom. More importantly, consumer demand is likely to continue to remain robust post the monetary policy statement. A large part of consumer spending in 2009-10 was because of the one-time effect of farm loan waivers and increase in wages of government employees. But, sustained growth in consumer spending is possible only when employment increases.

 

The sustained increase in creation of new capacities (which shows up as lower capacity utilisation in RBI studies) has also created new jobs. These new jobs (for which there is no official data) create new domestic demand. Given that external demand growth is expected to be weak, it is important that the domestic demand growth is sustained. A significant hike in interest rates by banks will hurt this growth in domestic demand.

 

Traditionally, Indian households have been very low on borrowing. The recent trend in banks lending to households for homes, consumer durables, automobiles, education and other expenses has spurred domestic demand. A hike in interest rates is unlikely to hurt the corporate sector's cost structures or profitability directly. Corporates are flush with funds, have a strong balance sheet and command handsome profit margins. A hike in interest rates can be easily absorbed without impacting profit margins too much. Similarly, a hike in interest rates is unlikely to adversely impact costs involved in their expansion plans. It looks like they are on their way to get their pricing power back. But, if investments continue, competition will ensure that this power is under check.

 

Unlike the corporate sector, a hike in interest rates is likely to hurt domestic demand. Households are more sensitive to EMIs than corporates are to interest rates. A hike in interest rates can deplete the demand for housing. The interest-rate elasticity of demand for housing loans is evident in the teaser rates offered by some of the big banks to attract buyers. It is important to sustain this demand rather than curtail it. For if it is curtailed, it will bring down with it the investment demand that is in the pipeline. In India, domestic demand is the single largest determinant of investment demand.

 

Indian households are characterised by high savings, low per capita consumption levels and low borrowings, compared to international standards. A hike in interest rates would further increase their savings and depress consumption and borrowing. It makes sense to let households borrow more and increase their consumption levels. It makes sense to let the investment cycle continue and increase gainful employment. It makes sense to let the economy hum along without government interventions. If this leads to a consensus inflationary expectation of about 5-6% and a growth of 8%, it is a pretty good deal. Although I believe that we have a better deal on hand.

 

The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHAT APPLE SAYS ABOUT INNOVATION

KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN

 

For a company that looked doomed a decade ago, it has been quite a comeback. Today, Apple is an iconic company. Take, for example, the iPad that was released this month. Go into any Apple store in the US and there are at least a dozen stations with people lining up to check the iPad out. What lessons can Indian technology companies learn from the success of Apple?

 

For the most part, Apple's zest comes from its reputation for inventiveness. From its first computer in 1977 to the mouse-driven Macintosh in 1984, the iPod music player in 2001, the iPod Touch and the iPhone in recent years, and now the iPad, Apple has prospered by keeping just ahead of the times.

 

Apple is extremely different from other tech companies. In particular, it inspires an almost religious fervour among its customers. Indian innovation companies can learn at least four lessons from the Apple success story. First, innovation can come from without as well as within. Apple is widely assumed to be an innovator in the tradition of Thomas Edison, locking its engineers away to cook up new ideas and basing products on their moments of inspiration. However, its real skill lies in stitching together its own ideas with technology from outside and then wrapping the results in elegant software and stylish design. The idea for the iPod, for example, was originally dreamt up by a consultant whom Apple hired to run the project. It was assembled by combining off-the-shelf parts with in-house ingredients such as its distinctive, easily used system of controls. And it was designed to work closely with Apple's iTunes jukebox software, which was also brought in and then overhauled and improved. Apple is, in short, an integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists. This approach, known as 'network innovation', is not limited to electronics. It has also been embraced by companies such as P&G, British Telecom and several drugs giants, all of which have realised that not all good ideas start at home. Making network innovation work involves cultivating contacts with academic researchers and start-ups, scouting for new ideas and ensuring that engineers do not fall prey to the 'not invented here' syndrome, which values in-house ideas over those from outside.

 

Second, Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of technology. Too many technology firms think that clever innards are enough to sell their products, resulting in gizmos designed by engineers for engineers. Apple has consistently combined clever technology with simplicity and ease of use. The iPod was not the first digital music player, but it was the first to make transferring and organising music, and buying it online, easy enough for almost anyone to have a go. Similarly, the iPhone is not the first mobile phone to incorporate a music player, Web browser or e-mail software. But most existing 'smartphones' before the iPhone required one to be pretty smart to use them. In other words, most technology firms do not view 'ease of use' as an end in itself.

 

A third lesson from Apple is that innovating companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today. Listening to customers is generally a good idea, but it is not the whole story. For example, the iPod was ridiculed when it was launched in 2001, but Steve Jobs stuck by his instinct. Nintendo has done something similar with its popular motion-controlled videogame console, the Wii.

 

The fourth lesson from Apple is to 'fail wisely'. The Macintosh was born from the wreckage of the Lisa, an earlier product that flopped; the iPhone is a response to the failure of Apple's original music phone, produced in conjunction with Motorola. Both the times, Apple learnt from its mistakes and tried again. Its recent computers have been based on technology developed at NeXT, a company Jobs set up in the 1980s that appeared to have failed and was then acquired by Apple.

 

The wider fourth lesson is not to stigmatise failure but to tolerate it and learn from it. Europe's inability to create a rival to Silicon Valley owes much to its tougher bankruptcy laws. In fact, in my research work, I find that tougher national bankruptcy laws discourage innovation in a country. Thus, from the policymaker's perspective while bankruptcy laws must be tightened for the brick-and-mortar industries, bankruptcy laws should be lenient in the technology sector. Since innovation involves considerable risk-taking, firms will be averse to taking risk if tough bankruptcy laws rob them of a second chance.

 

The author is assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at ISB, Hyderabad

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REGULATING THE DISTRIBUTORS

K MUTHUKUMAR

 

Market regulator Sebi's proposal to regulate the distribution business of the mutual fund (MF) industry is not without reason. Distributors are the final link to retail investors and they are making more profits than asset management companies.

 

In India, ballpark estimates put the revenue market share of distributors in the MF industry at 36%, while it is 64% for asset management companies. But in terms of profits, the distributors' market share improves drastically to a dominant 61%. This, in other words, means that it might be more profitable to be a distributor than a fund manager. A recent Boston Consulting Group report mentions that during the period 1996-2004, market share of distributors in the overall US MF industry revenues increased from 61% to 76%. In FY10, back of the envelope calculations show that the asset management revenues could have been in the range of Rs 3,100 crore. During the same period, distributor revenues are expected to have been around Rs 1,800 crore. While post-entry load ban from August 2009 has hit distributors' pockets, their profits are still estimated to be more than those of mutual fund companies.

 

Anecdotally, a CEO of a large mutual fund mentions that the industry collectively made a net profit of Rs 900 crore in FY09. Assuming a 30% net profit margin—some of the top companies earn that—it is likely that the figure for FY10 will be around Rs 1,000 crore. In contrast, distributors are known to earn net profit margins in excess of 80%—since after the one time sale, the trailing fees they earn comes literally at zero cost. That puts their collective net profit at Rs 1,400-1,500 crore, which is much more than that of MFs. So, in terms of the industry value chain, it is better to be a distributor than an asset manager. That is perhaps the reason why there are more players in the distribution business than in mutual funds.

 

The distribution business is being increasingly conducted by banks. In terms of the channel mix, 43% comprise independent financial advisors, 30% banks, 22% national distributors and 6% direct. As the industry evolves, the third party distribution model calls for greater regulation.

 

muthukumar.k@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WHY WE NEED AN ANTI-TORTURE LAW

 

It is common knowledge that in India torture is professionally sanctioned and practised as a potent means of criminal investigation. There are honourable exceptions of course but in an alarming number of cases, the police and also paramilitary and military forces resort to this barbaric practice as a tool for extracting information from those in custody, circumventing the criminal justice system and undermining the rule of law. India signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in 1997 but is yet to ratify it. The specious rationalisation is that existing laws are sufficient to prevent this gross human rights violation. In a belated but welcome move, the Government of India has now given the nod for an anti-torture Bill that is aimed at harmonising our laws with CAT, a condition that is necessary for its ratification. Under the Prevention of Torture Bill, public servants who obtain a confession by causing grievous physical or mental hurt or danger to the life of any person are guilty of torture and liable for imprisonment up to 10 years.

 

Our existing laws deal with torture as if it were a regular offence. Provisions in the Indian Penal Code such as Section 330 (grievous hurt) may apply to torture cases but are limited in two ways. First, they apply only in situations where specific kinds of physical injuries are inflicted and fail to cover the gamut of ways in which torture is committed. Secondly, for the purposes of such sections, it is of no relevance whether the perpetrator of the offence is a public servant or not. A specific and separate law is necessary in the face of the widespread use of torture and the alarming number of custodial deaths caused by it. Describing torture and death in police custody as the "most heinous crimes," the Supreme Court lamented some days ago that they were on the rise despite constitutional and statutory safeguards. According to the National Human Rights Commission, 2,318 cases of death in police custody and 716 fake encounters have been registered with it since 1993. Such numbers are merely indicative. It is an open secret that custodial deaths are routinely registered as suicides and encounters are frequently staged to murder those under detention. A built-in weakness in the proposed torture law is that the police will continue to have the responsibility of investigating such cases. This is one reason why complaints about torture rarely result in successful prosecution. Even so, the Prevention of Torture Bill can make a worthwhile difference to tackling one of the major issues of policing in India.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WALK THE TALK

 

United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced, to public acclaim in car-dependent America, that bicycle use and walking should be given the same importance as motorised transport in State and local projects. The Government of India took a similar view in its National Urban Transport Policy 2006 (NUTP). But it has been unable to persuade the States to implement the far-sighted reforms needed to make cities people-friendly. Providing a new deal for the cities now depends upon the commitment of the Ministry of Urban Development to pursue the reform agenda. A good place to start is to rate cities for their people-friendly quality. The Ministry has a good grading tool in the form of service-level benchmarks for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transport users, among others. The NUTP unveiled a people-centric vision, yet the large sums of money that have been invested in urban infrastructure, such as flyovers and roads, centre-stage vehicles, not people. These structures are daunting to pedestrians, particularly children, the disabled, and the elderly. State governments have been dragging their feet on a vital aspect of the reform — the creation of a statutory Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) for the bigger cities. Had UMTA come into being, the massive funds granted under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission would have helped improve commuter services.

 

With the necessary legislative sanction to back it, the Authority can bring the major modes of public transport such as rail, bus, and feeder services under a single regulatory framework and make travel on a single ticket possible. This would end the administrative dichotomy of urban railways being run by the central government in some cities and the bus systems coming under State control. There is also a healthy living dimension to modernising public transport services and improving the 'walkability' of cities. According to a well-cited study, "Walking to public transit: steps to help meet physical activity recommendations," reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in November 2005, nearly a third of American commuters who used public transport achieved, by walking to and from transit, the 30 minutes of physical activity a day recommended by the Surgeon-General. To fund urban infrastructure that hinders pedestrian movement is therefore to work against public health. Secretary LaHood summed it up nicely when he said Americans want to get out of their cars, get out of congestion, and have more opportunities for transport and exercise. Same here, Indians would say.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TO BANGALORE, WITH HATE

POLICE HUNTING FOR THE PERPETRATORS OF LAST WEEK'S ATTACKS ON THE CHINNASWAMY STADIUM IN BANGALORE ARE REVISITING THE 2008 SERIAL BOMBINGS IN THE CITY.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

 

"HAPPY Vishu, Malayalees and Pravasees," reads the cheerful red banner running across the web page set up by an enthusiastic resident of Pallikera in Kerala. Photos offer a glimpse of the small town's charms: men with gym-honed biceps, the Bekal fort, and, improbably, photos of two western tourists hugging the billboard of a local celebrity.

 

Fifteen years ago, a young man named Sarfaraz Nawaz left Pallikera on a journey that would lead, step by step, to the serial bombings in Bangalore in June, 2008. From his story, and that of his associates in south India's Islamist networks, investigators have pieced together a fascinating account of how multiple jihadist cells formed across the region; linked to each other only loosely through leaders, who in turn were connected to Islamist groups in the Gulf and the Lashkar-e-Taiba's commanders in Pakistan.

 

But the story also demonstrates disturbing gaps in intelligence; gaps that allowed jihadists to mobilise and recruit members, and prepare for attacks. Following last week's bombings at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, the police in Karnataka have renewed the search for over a dozen individuals linked to Nawaz's networks who eluded arrest after the June 2008 serial bombings in India's information-technology capital.

 

Born in 1977, the quiet, scholarly Nawaz joined the Students Islamic Movement of India in 1995. In 1996, he left home to study at the famous Dar-ul-Uloom Nadwat-ul-Ullema seminary in Lucknow. But he found its clerical austerity stifling, and returned to Kochi to study at Accel Computers. Fluent in Malayalam, English, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic, Nawaz began writing regularly in the SIMI-linked Kerala magazine Nerariv and the pro-National Development Front newspaper Thejus.

 

By March 2000, Nawaz had become SIMI's office secretary in New Delhi. His friends included Safdar Nagori, the imprisoned head of SIMI's jihadist faction; fugitive Indian Mujahideen commander Abdul Subhan Qureshi; and Saqib Nachan, charged with a bombing on a Mumbai train that left eleven dead.

 

In 2001, Nawaz took a job with computer-services firm Future Outlooks at Ibra in Oman. Later, he joined the Ibn Sina Medical Institute in Dubai — a facility run by a former president of SIMI's Kerala chapter, Dr. Abdul Ghafoor — as its public relations officer. Abdul Aziz, another former SIMI member from Malappuram in Kerala, helped Nawaz get a job at the al-Mihad centre in 2006. In July 2006, he shifted to the al-Noor Education Trust in Muscat.

 

Muscat was the hub from which the 2008 Bangalore bombings were planned and financed. In the summer of 2007, Bangalore Police investigators say, Nawaz met Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Mohammad Rehan in Muscat. Introduced by common friends, the two men discussed armed retaliation against anti-Muslim violence in India. Nawaz refused his offer to train in Pakistan but agreed to recruit Kerala residents to the Lashkar's cause.

 

Jihad at the ginger plantation

 

The police do not know precisely what led Nawaz to work with the Lashkar but the fraught communal climate probably was a factor. In 2002, a drunken New Year's fight in the beach village of Marad sparked off violence that lasted a year, claiming thirteen lives. Hundreds of Muslim families fled the area. Nawaz was not in India at the time but he turned to a man who was.

 

Tadiyantavide Nasir joined the far-right Islamic Sevak Sangh in 1991, at just fifteen years of age. Police records document his chaotic, violent life: a murder charge, of which he was acquitted; an abortive attempt to assassinate the former Kerala Chief Minister, E.K. Nayanar; the burning of a Tamil Nadu bus to protest the arrest of ISS leader Abdul Nasser Maudany on terrorism charges; and a bombing outside the Kozhikode Press Club to highlight his cause.

 

Nasir was not a SIMI member but knew many of its members well. From 2005, Nasir began to tap Nawaz for funds to set up a jihad training camp on a remote ginger plantation near Hasatota in Karnataka's Kodagu district.

 

In 2007, the police say, he met key SIMI operative Qureshi — who, using the code-name Tauqir, liaised between the Indian Mujahideen's regional cells. Later, Nasir's cell supplied ammonium nitrate and integrated-circuit timers to the Indian Mujahideen's Mangalore-based commander Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri. Shahbandri's lieutenant Mohammad Zarar Siddi Bawa is the key suspect in the 2010 German Bakery bombing at Pune.

 

In 2007, Nawaz met Nasir in Kerala and discussed plans for an attack on Bangalore. By 2008, investigators say, the Lashkar's Rehan offered some $2,500 to finance the operation. Islamists living in the Gulf, notably fugitive terror commander CAM Bashir, raised additional funds. That March, Nawaz travelled home to Kerala. He also travelled to Bangalore, to look at possible targets. Nasir's group later tested two bombs near Kozhikode.

 

On July 23, 2008, Nasir and his group arrived in Bangalore in a hired Scorpio jeep, loaded with fourteen improvised explosive devices. Nine went off two days later, killing two people, injuring twenty.

 

Later that year, Nasir sent five cadre to Jammu and Kashmir, to train with a Lashkar commander in the Lolab valley near Kupwara. Nawaz had set up the training opportunity but police and Army personnel soon detected the strangers. Abdul Faiz and Mohammad Fayyaz from Kannur, Muhammad Yasir from Kochi, and Abdul Rahim from Malappuram were shot dead. Abdul Jabbar, the fifth volunteer, is under trial.

 

Bus tickets found on the body of one of the jihadists helped unravel the operation. Nasir fled to Bangladesh, aided by Lashkar operatives based out of Dhaka. It was not until last year that the Research and Analysis Wing located Nawaz in Oman, setting off a transnational manhunt that led to the arrest of Nasir and the Lashkar's Karachi-origin resident commander in Dhaka, Mubashir Shahid.

 

SIMI's jihadist faction had hoped the infrastructure set up by Nawaz and Nasir would help a separate cell that it had given birth to in Bangalore a decade ago. In 2000, a young SIMI ikhwan (full time worker) Peedical Abdul Shibli had moved to Bangalore to work at IT giant Tata Elexi. Recruited by the Islamist group in 1997 while he was a student in Thiruvananthapuram, Shibli was among Nawaz's key activists.

 

Shibli soon set up Sarani, a hostel for north Kerala migrants to Bangalore, offering them an Islamic environment. It ran in Bangalore's Vivek Nagar area, before moving to larger premises in Eejipura and then Bismillah Nagar. Kerala SIMI ideologues would often lecture residents here. Few Sarani residents, though, were stereotypical fanatics. Shibli's key recruit, Wipro-General Electric employee Yahya Kamakutty, for example, travelled to the U.S. at least thrice in 2000-2001 alone.

 

In 2001, following its public declarations of support for Al-Qaeda, SIMI was proscribed; but Sarani continued to run. SIMI chief Safdar Nagori visited the hostel in 2002 for three days, as did several other senior ideologues, unmonitored by local intelligence services.

By early 2006, Shibli was working full-time for SIMI's now-covert jihadists. In April 2006, SIMI held a secret meeting in Bangalore. Later, at a meeting held in Ujjain from July 4-7 2006, SIMI committed itself to an Islamist jihad against the Indian state. In April 2007, SIMI held a training camp at Castle Rock near Hubli, under the cover of hosting an outdoors event for Sarani residents. Another camp was held in Bijapur in June 2007, followed by a meeting at Dharwar in August.

 

Police failure

Recruits received bomb-making and firearms instruction from Subhan at camps held near Indore in September and November, 2007. Instruction in assembling fuel bombs was provided in December 2007 at a camp held outside Ernakulam. Of the forty-odd individuals the police believe attended these camps, over half were Bangalore residents. The police arrested several, including Shibly, Kamakutty, Husain and Raziuddin Nasir, who planned to bomb western tourists in Goa in the winter of 2008 but over half are still missing.

 

Many believe Bangalore's police simply did not take the threat seriously enough. No effort was made to install even basic defensive measures like closed-circuit cameras around the Chinnaswamy stadium. But there is a larger failure, too. For all the technological investments in intelligence made since the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai, the attacks in Pune and Bangalore have made clear that the police are yet to penetrate the jihadist cells responsible for the terror offensive from 2005 onwards — a failure that bodes ill for the future.

 

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THE HINDU

PAID NEWS UNDERMINING DEMOCRACY: PRESS COUNCIL REPORT

IT EXPLICITLY NAMES NEWSPAPERS AND CHANNELS — INCLUDING SOME OF THE BIGGEST GROUPS IN THE COUNTRY — SEEN AS HAVING INDULGED IN THE "PAID NEWS" PRACTICE.

P. SAINATH

 

  1. The report traces the emergence of the paid news phenomenon over years and phases
  2. Seeks a pro-active role from the Election Commission in initiating action against offenders

 

"The phenomenon of 'paid news' goes beyond the corruption of individual journalists and media companies. It has become pervasive, structured and highly organised and in the process, is undermining democracy in India." So finds the draft report of inquiry conducted into the phenomenon by the Press Council of India to be discussed by the full Council on April 26 in Delhi. The Hindu has obtained a copy of the report to be put up at that meeting.

 

The report is titled "Paid News: How corruption in the Indian media undermines Indian democracy." It marshals a vast amount of material on the issue and is a compendium of media malpractice. It explicitly names newspapers and channels — including some of the biggest groups in the country — seen as having indulged in the "paid news" practice. The report could run into rough weather for that reason, with a few Council members reluctant about naming names. (Though it gives space and weightage to the denials of the media groups under the scanner.)

 

The "lack of consensus" over naming names also extends to the report's reflection of the views of journalists' unions which have called for strengthening the Working Journalists Act. The unions assert that the contract system of employment now in vogue undermines the independence of the journalist and the primacy of the editor. The Delhi Union of Journalists even informed the Council that "selected journalists had been targeted by managements of media companies for not acquiescing with such malpractices".

 

Interestingly, many prominent politicians and public figures either deposed before the inquiry panel or made written submissions to it. Others also handed the panel their statements on the subject elsewhere. Across the spectrum, points out the report, even politicians normally loath to antagonise the media have complained bitterly about what many of them see as little more than extortion. A Sub-Committee of the Press Council, comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Srinivas Reddy, conducted the inquiry. Their report quotes opposition leader Sushma Swaraj's statement that the "paid news" menace had "started out as an aberration, went on to become a disease and is now an epidemic".

 

The report speaks of the "deception or fraud" that paid news entails as having three levels. First: "the reader of the publication or the viewer of the television programme is deceived into believing that what is essentially an advertisement is in fact, independently produced news content." Second: "By not officially declaring the expenditure incurred on planting "paid news" items, the candidate standing for election violates the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, which are meant to be enforced by the Election Commission of India under the Representation of the People Act, 1951." And third: "by not accounting for the money received from candidates, the concerned media company or its representatives are violating the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 as well as the Income Tax Act, 1961, among other laws."

 

The report notes the "huge amount of circumstantial evidence that has been painstakingly gathered by a few well-meaning journalists, unions of journalists, other individuals and organisations together with the testimonies of the politicians and journalists who have deposed before the Press Council of India." And says this "goes a very long way in establishing the fact that the pernicious practice of paid news has become widespread across media (both print and electronic, English and non-English languages) in different parts of the country. Interestingly, this phenomenon appears to be less pervasive in states (such as Kerala or Tamil Nadu) where the media is clearly divided along political lines."

 

The report traces the emergence of the paid news phenomenon over years and phases including such forms of space selling as MediaNet and Private Treaties. "In pursuing its quest for profits," it says, "it can be argued that certain media organizations have sacrificed good journalistic practices and ethical norms". What began as individual or one one-off transgressions, it points out, became institutionalised over the years. "Private Treaties" involve deals where corporates pay media companies in shares for advertising, plus other, favourable treatment. The "Private Treaties" have also disturbed the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which, as early as July 2009, wrote to the Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice G.N. Ray, that such strategies "may give rise to conflict of interest and may, therefore, result in dilution of the independence of [the] press vis-à-vis the nature and content of the news/editorials relating to such companies". SEBI "felt that such brand building strategies of media groups, without appropriate and adequate disclosures, may not be in the interest of investors and financial markets as the same would impede in them taking a fair and well-informed decision".

 

The "Private Treaties" structure lost its sheen when the stock market crash of 2008 saw those shares acquired from corporates plummet in value. However, the media companies were still to be assessed for tax purposes at the old values prevailing at the time of such contracts. "Paid news" was one way out of this trouble. Since all the transactions were illegal and off the account books, it benefitted both media owners and politicians.

 

The report explores several ways to curb the menace of "paid news". It seeks a far more pro-active role from the Election Commission for instance. It calls on the ECI to set up "a special cell to receive complaints about 'paid news' in the run up to the polls. Where a prima facie case is established, it calls on the ECI to initiate action against offenders.

 

It asks that the ECI nominate independent journalists or public figures to help monitor the phenomenon during elections. It calls upon media organisations to desist from having their correspondents "double up as agents collecting advertisements for their organisations and receiving a commission on that revenue", instead of regular salaries, retainers or stipends.

 

The report also calls for giving regulatory bodies like the Press Council more teeth. It further appeals to media organisations to adopt a number of principles that would curb "paid news". However, it recognises that self-regulation and civil society oversight, while welcome and useful, can tackle the problem "only to an extent". There would have to be effective use of existing laws to "apprehend those indulging in practices that are tantamount to committing a fraud on the public".

 

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THE HINDU

FAITH IN KABUL AT A NEW LOW IN KANDAHAR

THE ASSASSINATION OF THE DEPUTY MAYOR FURTHER ERODED ANY SENSE OF SAFETY LEFT AMONG KANDAHARIS, WHO OVERWHELMINGLY FAVOUR NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE TALIBAN.

RICHARD A. OPPEL JR. AND TAIMOOR SHAH

 

Late on Monday night, Azizullah Yarmal, Kandahar's Deputy Mayor, walked into a large mosque in his city and faced toward Mecca. He knelt down in unison with the others, leaning forward so his head touched the floor in ritual prayer.

 

That was when gunmen, unseen by the bent-over worshippers, shot him to death. Killings of local notables have become a routine occurrence in Kandahar but the slaying of Mr. Yarmal, perhaps the most admired public official in the violent city, shook people to the core.

 

As American and NATO troops prepare for a summer offensive in Kandahar — what could be their most critical push in more than eight years of war — any sense of safety in the area is being worn away by assassinations, bombings and other attacks on American and western contractors, political officials and religious leaders.

 

The violence has further eroded support for the government and foreign forces among a population in Kandahar that remains broadly sympathetic to the Taliban and that more than anything seems to fear continuing conflict.

 

In a recent survey, Kandaharis favoured negotiations with the Taliban by a margin of 19 to 1 over continued fighting. Five of six Kandaharis viewed the Taliban militants as "our Afghan brothers", while four of five also said most members of the Taliban would stop fighting if given jobs.

 

Those views seem certain to complicate the planned large-scale offensive in Kandahar, which aims to use a surge of new foreign troops — and the prospect of more fighting — to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table.

 

The survey was commissioned by the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System, a programme intended to help the military better understand the social and cultural underpinnings of regions where troops are deployed.

 

The study polled almost 2,000 residents in the city of Kandahar and the surrounding Kandahar province, examining security in nine districts of Kandahar, excluding the most dangerous areas. Conducted by Glevum Associates, a Massachusetts research firm, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

 

In five districts of Kandahar, the Taliban has more influence than the government, the study found. And by December — when the survey was conducted — residents were already saying that security was deteriorating.

 

"The situation in Kandahar is getting worse day by day," said Hajji Muhammad Ehsan, a tribal elder and a member of the Kandahar provincial council, in an interview on Tuesday. "People are tense, and there is no safety."

 

Echoing the opinion of many Kandahar elders, he added, "The only way out of this conflict is to talk with the opposition, to bring them into the system and give them an equal portion."

 

Kandahar was the birthplace and power centre of the Taliban before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and in the years of occupation it has gained strength by feeding off a feckless and corrupt government that has favoured a handful of politically connected and powerful tribes.

 

Recognising how central that problem is to Kandahar's chaos, the military plans to hold forums to bring local elders and government officials together in hopes of reconnecting with disenfranchised residents and giving them an alternative to the Taliban.

 

But the Kandahar study, first reported on the Danger Room blog of Wired magazine, illustrates just how tall an order that will be for a generation of Afghans conditioned — with good reason, many NATO officials concede — to believe that a Taliban government is a better deal than the official Afghan administration.

 

While Kandaharis blame the Taliban and other militants for insecurity, slightly more than half say the Taliban are "incorruptible". That is a stark contrast to the local government, whose corruption, the study found, had forced two of three residents surveyed to seek help elsewhere, including from the Taliban.

 

There are exceptions, of course, and perhaps the most notable was Mr. Yarmal. For many Kandaharis it was clear why he was killed: He was one of the few honest, effective and esteemed public officials in the city.

 

The Taliban offered a terse explanation. "We have killed him because he was working for this puppet government," said a spokesmen, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, in a telephone interview. "We will target all those who are working for the government." Taliban spokesmen deny any interest in talks with the government as long as foreign troops remain.

 

In the poll, the Afghan National Army and National Police were the forces most cited for bringing security. But the support was tempered by another finding: Afghan Army and police checkpoints and vehicles were also cited most frequently as perceived dangers while travelling on roads in Kandahar province — ahead of roadside bombs, Taliban checkpoints and criminals.

 

Military officials say the Kandahar findings suggest that security needs to be improved before serious negotiations with the Taliban can take place.

 

"The strong support for reconciliation reinforces our contention that stabilising Kandahar is essentially a political process," said Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley A. McChrystal.

 

"However," he added, "worsening opinion about insecurity caused by the Taliban and criminal elements suggests that the political process has to be supported by some means of improving security — which may be necessary before any meaningful reconciliation is possible."

 

Indeed, the assassination of Mr. Yarmal was not even the only attack of note in Kandahar on Monday. Hours before, militants tied a bomb to a donkey cart and led the donkey to a checkpoint in front of the home of one of President Hamid Karzai's most important political allies in Kandahar, the former governor of the Spinbaldak district.

 

The former governor, Hajji Fazluddin Agha, who had also served as Mr. Karzai's top campaign official in the province, was not hurt when the bomb was detonated using a remote-controlled device. But the blast killed three of his nephews, who were 15, 13 and 12. Two bystanders and two policemen were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

 

In an interview after the attack, Hajji Fazluddin, shaken and panicked, said his nephews were killed because they were playing near the donkey.

 

"When it reached the checkpoint, they pressed a button and it detonated," he said, describing how the militants set off the bomb. "The children were blown to pieces. They had been playing with the donkey." — New York Times News Service

 

(Richard A. Oppel Jr. reported from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar. Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul.)

 

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THE HINDU

GOOGLE HITS BACK IN PRIVACY ROW

REVEALS GOVERNMENTS' OWN EFFORTS TO GET INFORMATION ABOUT USERS.

CHARLES ARTHUR

 

Google has hit out at state attempts to clamp down on the internet by revealing governments' own requests to get information about users.

 

It released a web page on Tuesday with a map showing country by country where it has had government requests or court orders to provide details about users of its services or to remove content from the YouTube video service or its search results.

 

The release of the tool, announced on its official blog, comes as it has had to counter complaints from data protection authorities in 10 countries that its Street View product, which provides pictures of public streets, and its ad hoc social networking service Buzz "were launched without due consideration of privacy and data protection laws" and that Buzz in particular "betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms".

 

Details provided by Google cover requests between July 1 and December 31 2009, and show, for example, that in the U.K. there were 1,166 requests for data about users and 59 requests to remove web pages in Google's services such as YouTube, or from its search results for the web. It complied with 45, or 76 per cent, of the 59 requests, of which 43 were about YouTube videos. It does not specify which government agency — such as the police or others — made the request.

 

Launching the new tool, Google says that "We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship" and links to a list which already shows that Brazil, where Google's social network Orkut is hugely popular, leads the world with 291 removal requests — with Germany, India, the U.S., South Korea and the U.K. behind it. The "censorship" numbers also include non-governmental court-ordered removal of sites or results for defamation or criminal proceedings — though the company will try to clarify that in future updates to the data, probably every six months.

 

However, China has no listed requests because, as the online tool explains, "Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time." If China were included it would almost certainly be in the top spot, because its government only allowed Google to operate inside the country if it hid thousands of web pages from search results.

 

Google portrayed the data release as part of its continuing championing of openness of information, which fits into its mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible". David Drummond, the company's chief legal officer, said in a blogpost about the new tool that while it regularly received demands to remove content such as child pornography (which it has a policy of removing at once), it also receives demands to take down other content to aid police or other enquiries. "The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations," noted Mr. Drummond. "However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available. We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship." A Google spokesman insisted that the timing of the release was coincidental with the privacy complaint in a joint letter from data protection authorities from the U.K., Canada, Israel, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands. "We've been working on this for months and months," he said.

 

But the criticism over Google's data practices, and Street View and Buzz in particular, led data protection authorities to call on Google to collect "only the minimum amount of personal information needed" for a service and to make it clear how that information will be used, as well as offering "privacy-protective default settings", ensure personal data is adequately protected, and make it easy for people to delete accounts.

 

Google is coming under increasing pressure from governments to reduce the amount of data that it keeps about its users, and to reduce the length of time that it stores it.

 

The data provided do not include requests from normal non-governmental users such as individuals or companies for the removal of content such as pictures, blogposts or YouTube videos. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

U.S. NAVY PLANNING "GREAT GREEN FLEET"

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

 

The United States Navy is set to be both green and mean with the dawning of an new eco-friendly assault force that will mind its carbon footprint as it destroys its enemy. It is to launch "the Great Green Fleet", a fighting force of ships, submarines and planes powered entirely by biofuels. The first group will be tested in 2012, and the navy plans for it to be operational by 2016.

 

The push for greener fighting forces runs across the Pentagon. The military accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the U.S. government's energy consumption and the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made strategists acutely conscious of both the massive cost and serious security risks of the gas-guzzling ways of the past. By the time it arrives in the war zone, a gallon of gas can cost up to $400, according to a study by the Pew project on national security, energy and climate. The U.S. military is also anxious to cut down on fuel convoys to reduce troops' exposure to roadside bombs and other risks.

 

While a large proportion of Americans remain sceptical about global warming, the Pentagon does not. Its long-term strategic review earlier this year officially recognised global warming as a security threat. "The Department of Defence takes climate change seriously," said Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy.

 

The Pentagon has committed to procuring 25 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It is also looking to convert its fighting machine to greener sources of fuel.

 

On Thursday, the navy will test an F/A-18 Super Hornet — the biggest gas-guzzler in the U.S. air fleet — powered by a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and camelina, an oil seed grown in Montana. The army is also investing in portable wind generators and working to take its huge base in Fort Irwin California off the public electricity grid in the next decade, using a 500MW solar panel array. The Marine Corps has a campaign aimed at reducing energy and water use over the next 10 years. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IPL, BCCI PROBE MUST BE THOROUGH

 

The suspected sordidness that underlines the leadership of the Indian Premier League under Lalit Modi, and the presumed transgressions of the norms of propriety by Shashi Tharoor when he was in the council of ministers until only a few days ago, are a metaphor for much that is undesirable in public life in India — both in the private sector and in government and politics. Mr Modi, as is appropriate, will get a due hearing, at the level of the IPL council and the wider BCCI board to which he reports in his capacity as IPL commissioner and a BCCI vice-president. On this will depend whether he stays or goes as head of IPL. Given the scale of foul play, and financial and other irregularities being discussed prima facie, the government has mounted a full-scale investigation from commercial and economic angles into IPL affairs, and the heat could be felt by the BCCI as well. The outfit is full of prominent political figures and businessmen and there is no knowing at this stage who might get singed. It is fair and proper, however, that the necessary process is being gone through and no one is being sent home on the basis of whims and allegations, no matter how serious the suspicions of wrongdoing against them. The demand has been made that the affairs of the IPL be scrutinised by a joint parliamentary committee. On the face of it, this is not sustainable. Typically, a JPC is not instituted to look into the affairs of a private enterprise unless governmental wrongdoing is indicated.


In the case of Mr Tharoor, it is good in the end that he did the sensible thing and put in his papers. If he had done so a few days earlier, before the clamour for his head began, he would have been better placed to claim the high moral ground to which he alluded in his statement to Parliament on the circumstances of his departure. But all things considered, the former minister does deserve a chance to clear his name through a proper investigation which he has sought. It is to be hoped that the government will permit him that opportunity. It is only then that the former minister and the IPL chief would have both got an equal hearing. From the government's perspective, Mr Tharoor's resignation was a necessity — not only in the interest of propriety, but also given its political compulsions to keep the Opposition in Parliament in good humour on the eve of the passage of the Finance Bill. Also, Dr Manmohan Singh would not have liked the shadow of taint to appear on his government's record. In the case of Mr Tharoor, there has unfortunately been some snickering on the side by hard-boiled political types. It was said that he had it coming, that he had been slow to adapt to the games that Indian politicians play. These basically amount to an invitation to obscure sleaziness. There is also a subtext here — that successful professionals from other fields are a misfit in public life and should not seek to enter the political arena which must continue to remain the fiefdom of so-called professional politicians. It is to be hoped that the major political parties in the country will give short shrift to any such proposition. In fact, inducting well-educated and public-minded professionals from all fields into our representative bodies and legislatures is likely to raise the timbre of political life in the country.


Soap operas do not raise issues of propriety or criminality. This is why the IPL affair, in which the conduct of a minister came in for critical examination, must not be confused for a soap although it had all the right dramatic ingredients.

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

EMPOWERING OR OPPRESSIVE?

RIGHT TO VOTE = RIGHT NOT TO VOTE


The Gujarat governor returned the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which contained provisions for compulsory voting in elections to local bodies. Though chief minister Narendra Modi appears keen on this, the governor gave three reasons: (i) compulsory voting violates the citizens' right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution; (ii) to punish voters who fail to vote violates their fundamental freedom in the matter of voting; and (iii) experience of other countries shows that it is difficult to implement compulsory voting.


The Supreme Court declared in the  People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) case that "vote" is a form of speech, as the voter indicates his preference for one of the contesting candidates silently. The court was concerned about the voter's right to know the antecedents of the candidates. Article 19(1)(a) says that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The freedom to vote includes the right not to vote. This right is subject to any law made by the state which imposes reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence. Compulsory voting does not fall within the above category.


Former President R. Venkatraman had suggested compulsory voting, but there were no takers.
Democracy is rule by consent of the majority of voters who exercise their franchise. If the candidates set up by political parties at elections are not acceptable to the voters because of their criminal antecedents, corrupt background or incompetence, which are common complaints in India, it would be oppressive and unethical to compel voters to vote.


The right to dissent is basic to democracy. It is a basic human right which includes the right not to vote, although this cannot be compared with right to life which cannot be waived. In P. Rathinam's case (1994) 3 SCC 394, the Supreme Court discussed the legal and ethical aspects of the question of the right to die. Euthanasia is not accepted by several legal systems. In the case of voting, the issue is of freedom to vote. "Freedom" necessarily implies choice and includes the option not to vote.
Our courts are overburdened and unable to enforce criminal law speedily.  If failure to vote is made an offence, it will be impossible to implement. The better way to ensure high polling is by choosing candidates of character and competence with a record of public service. The decision of the Gujarat governor is unexceptionable.


— P.P. Rao is a noted jurist


Will alter caste, religious equations

In a democracy, the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. If that's the case, people must participate in the democratic process by voting in elections. This is an integral part of the democratic process. How can India be an exception to such a proposition?


Voting cannot merely be a right; it must be as much a duty as a right that citizens are entitled to. The passage of the Mandatory Voting Bill in the Gujarat Assembly is the first step towards making voting as much a right as a duty.


Most of the arguments advanced by opponents of the idea are shallow, flawed, and premised on wrong assumptions. Let me clarify here what the Gujarat government wants to achieve through this landmark bill. The intended legislation is a serious attempt to eliminate passive voters who do not go out to vote but crib about politicians. By bringing them to the ballot booth, we want to ensure maximum participation in the democratic process. This will benefit all and cause harm to none.


The measure will also considerably alter the caste equations in politics that currently dominate the country's polity from the bottom level to the top.


It will help in eliminating money and muscle power that is increasingly used by politicians in elections and plays a decisive role at many places.


Two, it will help eliminate the communal aspect of politics as everybody's vote will decide the fate of  candidates, not just the minuscule votes of one or another community.


We have seen low turnouts in many elections in the country. When the polling is only 40 per cent, a person with just 21 per cent gets elected although the remaining 79 per cent may be against such an individual.
Such a skewed arithmetic of politics will undergo a transformation when mandatory voting is introduced.
Let me make it clear that compulsory voting does not mean you have to vote under any circumstances. There are several escape routes available if a person is genuinely not able to exercise his/her franchise, such as being away on work.


To say that mandatory voting violates personal freedom is not true because it does not force you to vote for a candidate.


You can also choose the "none of the above" option. Rules shall be framed about this.
What we are proposing is revolutionary for India. There is no harm in experimenting with it. It will strengthen our democratic process. Let's not forget that several democracies have followed this system for years.


Jaynarayan Vyas is senior minister and Gujarat government spokesman

The Age Debate

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

RIGHTS OF EARTH

 

We need a new paradigm for living on the earth because the old one is clearly not working. An alternative is now a survival imperative for the human species. And the alternative that is needed is not only at the level of tools, it is at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making, resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end.
The world order built on the economic fundamentalism of greed and limitless growth and the technological fundamentalism that there is a technological fix for every social and environmental ill, is clearly collapsing.
The collapse of the Wall Street in September 2008 and the continuing financial crisis signals the end of the paradigm that put fictitious finance above real wealth created by nature and humans, that put profits above people and corporations above citizens. This paradigm can only be kept afloat with limitless bailouts that direct public wealth to private rescue instead of using it to rejuvenate nature and economic livelihoods of people. It can only be kept afloat with increasing violence to the earth and its people. It can only be kept alive as an economic dictatorship. This is visible in India's heartland as the limitless appetitive for steel and aluminum for the global consumer economy and the limitless appetitive for profits of steel and aluminum corporations is clashing head-on with the rights of the tribals to their land and homes, their forests and rivers, their cultures and ways of life.


The tribals are saying a loud and clear "no" to their forced uprooting. The only way to get to the minerals and coal that feed the "limitless growth" model in the face of democratic resistance is the use of militarised violence against the tribals. Operation Green Hunt has been launched in the tribal areas of India with precisely this purpose, even though the proclaimed objective is to clear out the "Maoists". Under Operation Green Hunt, more than 40,000 armed paramilitary jawans have been placed in the tribal areas which are rich in minerals and where tribal unrest is growing. Operation Green Hunt shows clearly that the current economic paradigm can only unfold through increased militarisation and by undermining democratic and human rights.
The technological fundamentalism that has externalised costs, both ecological and social, and blinded us to ecological destruction, has also reached a dead end. Climate chaos, the externality of technologies based on the use of fossil fuels, is a wakeup call —that we cannot continue on the fossil fuel path. The high costs of industrial farming is running up against limits, both in terms of the ecological destruction of the natural capital of soil, water, biodiversity and air, as well as in terms of the creation of malnutrition with a billion people being denied food and another two billion being denied health because of obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases.


I believe that we are all members of the earth family — of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. And as members of the earth family, our first and highest duty is to take care of Mother Earth — Prithvi, Gaia, Pachamana. And the more we take care of her, the more food, water, health and wealth we will have. "Earth rights" are first and foremost the rights of Mother Earth and our corresponding duties and responsibilities to defend those rights. Earth rights are also the rights of humans as they flow from the rights of Mother Earth — the right to food and water, the right to health and a safe environment, the right to the commons — the rivers, seeds, the biodiversity, atmosphere.


I have given the name "Earth Democracy" to this new paradigm of living as an earth community, respecting the rights of Mother Earth.


Earth Democracy enables us to envision and create living democracies. Living democracy enables democratic participation in all matters of life and death — the food we eat or do not have access to; the water we drink or are denied due to privatisation or pollution; the air we breathe or are poisoned by. Living democracies are based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures; a just and equal sharing of this earth's vital resources; sharing the decisions about the use of the earth's resources.


Earth Democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that form the basis of right to life, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods. Earth Democracy is based on the recognition of and respect for the life of all species and all people.


Ahimsa or non-violence is the basis of many faiths that have emerged on the Indian soil. Translated into economics, non-violence implies that our systems of production, trade and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people. Violence is the obvious outcome when our dominant economic structures and economic organisations usurp and enclose the ecological space of other species or other people.


According to an ancient Indian text, the Isho Upanishad, "The universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefits of (all) creation. Each individual life form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relation with other species. Let not any one species encroach upon others' rights. Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence. Non-sustainable consumption and non-sustainable production constitute a violent economic order. A selfish man over-utilising the resources of nature to satisfy his own ever-increasing needs is nothing but a thief, because using resources beyond one's needs would result in the utilisation of resources over which others have a right".


Earth rights are the basis of equity, justice and sustainability. To mark Earth Day 2010, the President of Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, is organising a conference on Rights of Mother Earth. The idea is to start a process for adopting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without earth rights, there can be no human rights.

 

Earth rights are human rights.Today, April 22, is Earth DayDr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

 

Vandana Shiva

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DNA

EDITORIAL

ENERGISING BABUS

NOT MANY PEOPLE WOULD HAVE NOTED THAT APRIL 21 IS CIVIL SERVICE DAY.

 

On this day the prime minister gives away awards to bureaucrats and government officers for good and innovative work done by them. Lack of public interest in the awards, instituted in 2006, flows from the general image that bureaucrats have created for themselves.

 

Among other things, adjectives like tardy, inefficient, unresponsive and even corrupt are tagged to the bureaucracy. As a consequence, the ones who do their jobs well, and even with distinction, get a raw deal.

 

It's a pity, for no good can come from tarring everyone in government service with the same brush.

 

The bureaucracy is the iron frame around which governance is built, and at a time when the talk is of inclusive and responsive government, their role becomes all the more crucial. In this year's awards, there are recipients in varying categories, including bureaucrats who have excelled in promoting communal harmony despite having to demolish illegally-constructed places of worship, and those doling out NREGA benefits in Naxal-affected areas, among other things. No praise is high enough for bureaucrats who execute well in difficult circumstances.

 

The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and various other allied civil services play a disproportionately large role in tackling some of the important issues of development that confront the country. The political class may be the face and voice of the aspirations of a large majority of our people, but it is the faceless bureaucracy which has to close the loop between political promise and ground-level performance.

 

In an ideal world, bureaucracy need not be bureaucratic. But we live in an untidy world, and hence there is need to have proper metrics to evaluate their performance and responsiveness to people's needs. While the experts can surely figure out a way to do this, the key point is to ensure that people who enter the service with zeal and idealism don't lose it somewhere along the way.

 

The world of bureaucracy is full of routine procedures and processes. These may be necessary to ensure accountability, but ultimately what matters is not input but outcome. The awards presented by the prime minister recognise the outcomes of a few spectacular success stories in the bureaucracy, but if the system has to be energised, recognition systems need to be more robust and widespread.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

BEYOND THE ASHES

MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES.

 

The best-laid plans of mice and men… we know all the cliches. And the current travel crisis caused by the eruptions of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallokull — dubbed E-15 by Pentagon officials who have no illusions about their pronunciation skills — shows just how vulnerable we are when faced with nature's fury.

 

Flights over Europe, which have been suspended for more than a week, are only now restarting amidst fears that a new eruption may send another volcanic ash cloud into the atmosphere, affecting visibility even further.

 

An estimated seven million people have been affected, losses for airlines have crossed over $1 billion and the losses to passengers have not yet been tabulated.

 

There is a battle raging over whether excessive safety precautions grounded all flights, without considering the plight of the millions trapped in airports without adequate food and facilities at their disposal.

 

This argument comes up time and again in the face of such calamities. A volcanic eruption can neither be predicted nor controlled, much less contained.

 

Safety then becomes an issue. But when a disaster stops us from carrying on with our busy lives for as long as this one has — with consequences which have a domino effect across the world — then safety for some can easily take a back seat.

 

However, even keeping in mind the problems faced by stranded passengers and the expected economic losses, in such circumstances it is not unusual to err on the side of caution. The alternative is almost too horrific to consider.

 

But what can come in for criticism is that once the extent of the disaster was known, not enough was done to alleviate the problems of the passengers and organise alternative arrangements.

 

Many transit passengers, for instance, were trapped in airports because they did not have visas for the country they were in and so could not leave till the problem was sorted out.

 

Others found that hotels were cashing in on their helplessness. Rather than leave it to individual airlines or airport authorities, this kind of a situation needs a concerted global effort.

 

Meanwhile, the Internet is full of jokes about how the volcanic eruptions are Iceland's revenge on the world for what the banking crisis did to its economy. Somewhere, it seems, the human propensity to see humour in everything can at least be a saving grace until a successful solution is found!

 

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DNA

THE ICEBERG FORMULA

R JAGANNATHAN

 

As more muck emerges from the Modi-Tharoor brouhaha, many people are asking this question: can cricket survive this kind of blatant skulduggery, cronyism and sleaze?

 

It's the wrong question to ask in the Indian context. India is the global headquarters of crony capitalism, and adding cricket to the equation does not make things any different.

 

Let's face it. We have many laws on our statute book, but no Indian businessman has succeeded by sticking to the straight and narrow.

 

We read the rulebooks to see how we can get around them. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has gloriously stuck to the script of mixing business, politics, dubious practices, favouritism and funny money to hit the big time. Since success is its own justification, muck-raking will not do much to dent it.

 

It is best to see the IPL as an iceberg. What you see — entertaining, slam-bang cricket — is only 10% of the reality. Below the surface there is a terrific marketing machine, a giant funding funnel, and extraordinary political and lobbying muscle that makes it all work.

 

The cricketainment works because the subterranean machinery delivers — and not the other way around.

 

So people who ask what will happen to cricket, saintly cricket, because of those "sinners" in IPL are barking up the wrong tree.

 

Take any one element out of the IPL equation and what you would have is a moderately chugging enterprise. You only have to look at how hockey and football are faring to know what would happen to cricket without the funny money fuelling it.

 

If the IPL has gatecrashed into the top five sports business franchises in the world it's because it has put its crony capitalism network to good use.

 

And if we find a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) fighting its own offspring — the IPL and Lalit Modi — it's because the latter have been too successful, and not because they have used rough and ready methods to get there. Everyone wants to hop onto the gravy train.

 

This is also the reason why the bloodletting won't go too far, whatever may be Modi's fate in the short-run. There is simply too much at stake for too many people for anyone to really want to destroy the IPL.

 

The iceberg structure of the IPL is, in fact, the real Indian success formula, whether you are a politician, a businessman, a criminal or even a religious organisation.

 

What differentiates one from the other is what they choose to put on show above the water's surface. In IPL's case cricket is the icing, while the tricky business goes on underneath.

 

This is true for any business. For example, you may see a real estate business at eye level. But its success depends on inputs like political lobbying, financial legerdemain, and an arm's length relationship with bureaucratic sleazeballs and criminal elements. If you are Dawood Ibrahim, what you see is a criminal on top.

 

But Dawood and Chhota Rajan are also running multinational businesses — some legit, others illegit — and private law enforcement agencies whose writ runs with sections of the business, bureaucracy and ordinary people. Businessmen who sometimes cannot sort out their less-than-legal businesses ask the underworld dons for help. As for politicians, they cannot get elected without an underlying business to support them — whether it is land speculation or commissions on contracts or a media empire.

 

The iceberg model is what keeps the government running, too — though government being government, it can legalise its own wrongdoings. For example, the UPA government fudges its budget accounts by pretending that some kinds of borrowings aren't borrowing (oil bonds).

 

It prints notes to pay off its debt, but when Pakistan does the same at its expense and dumps lookalike currency notes in India we call it economic subversion or terrorism. Both counterfeits and excess currency printing cause economic damage, but we choose to call only the former illegal.

 

The unwritten law of success in India is that you need to be part of a club to succeed. The club will try to keep unwelcome outsiders from helping themselves to easy money — till the outsider can demonstrate he has as much power as the club members.

 

The late Dhirubhai Ambani was considered an interloper by Marwari stockbrokers in Mumbai when he first started playing the markets.

 

They tried to destroy him by ganging up against his trades; it was only when he comprehensively defeated them at their own game that he was accepted grudgingly into the club. He went on to create the country's equity cult. This is what the Kochi IPL team should have known before it decided to do its own gatecrashing.

 

The bottomline is this: while success is the result of hard work, hypersuccess needs different methods. Look below the surface and behind every successful big businessman you will find a robber baron. And vice-versa.

 

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DNA

BEG YOUR PARDON, WHAT'S IPL?

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

You would be forgiven for believing that our glorious nation has nothing but crummy corporate cricket to offer.

 

Shashi Tharoor's ouster and the Indian Premier League (IPL) have been dominating our mindspace for days, our energies have been focused squarely on the deeds of this 'outsider' to Indian politics, this curious Keralite-angrez from the United Nations whose penchant for controversy has matured from tweet nothings to a good old corruption charge. But Tharoor may just be a flamboyant appetiser.

 

The main course is the IPL circus, complete with political intrigue, dodgy characters and dubious money. For a balanced diet we have a side dish of Lalit Modi. Yum.

 

From the start, the IPL proved how lopsided our priorities were. The IPL is not cricket — it's a huge entertainment extravaganza. The rich man's game dominates, it even gets tax breaks — Maharashtra alone has lost Rs500 crore because the IPL got a waiver on entertainment tax.

 

Meanwhile the poor have been starving to death in the state and around the country, prices have been spiralling out of control and the nation has been busy sweeping problems under the carpet and polishing its silver for the Commonwealth Games.

 

Is this spectacular show of crippled priorities vulgar, or just the 'New India'? In Delhi, the polishing panic has peaked, the Commonwealth Games are upon us and we are nowhere near ready. To top it all, there are anxious citizens suing in court for a progress report. Last week, the Delhi government had to assure the Supreme Court that it was indeed committed to clearing the Capital's streets of beggars.

 

It had written to ten states asking them to take back their beggars, it said. There were 13 anti-begging teams on the prowl, as well as two mobile courts for speedy trial.

 

No sir, beggars would not be tolerated. They would be swiftly locked up. Biometric machines would catch repeat offenders who would be jailed without mercy. We won't let India down.

 

Foreigners would not come and see our unwashed, unfed, uncared-for poor, they would not be horrified by the odd tug at their sleeves by the snot-faced beggar urchin. They would not be inconvenienced. We would present to them our sparkling silverware.

 

Our priorities define us. And this attempt to criminalise the poor reflects our current priorities. The poor are a burden — they must be trashed. We don't need to look at their rights, or the cause for their misfortune, we don't need to think of who helped create their misery, what pushed them into this grinding poverty.

 

For if we did, we would be looking at us and our shameful priorities.

 

Poverty is not a crime. Beggars are not criminals. They are victims of a criminal system in a democratic nation that robs the poor to serve the rich. Begging is the last resort of the poverty-stricken. They don't do it out of laziness, as we like to believe, they do it for sheer survival.

 

Anti-poor policies push them to the streets. Corrupt police officials who let beggars operate on a commission and help the leaders of beggar mafias keep them there. The utter failure of the State to make beggars' rehabilitation centres into homes for humans nourishes the process of tormenting the disempowered.

 

The beggar is the victim in an endless cycle of exploitation and torment, and now we are wasting taxpayers'

money on mobile courts and biometric machines and anti-begging squads to clap them in jail as criminals.

 

Or to push them into beggars' homes, which may be worse. Those who force them into begging — whether the State or sundry begging mafia dadas — or live off their earning are not punished.

 

Sure, let's clean up Delhi. And the IPL. But first let's clean up our clogged minds and get our priorities in order.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ARMY CHIEF IN J&K

TIME FOR BETTER RAPPORT WITH PEOPLE

 

THE maiden Jammu and Kashmir visit of the new army chief, Gen V.K. Singh, comes at a time when some quarters are clamouring for reducing the strength of the army in the state and withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). On the other hand, the Army wants that it should have a free hand to tackle the problems of infiltration and insurgency efficiently. The suggestion of troop withdrawal is predicated on the supposed reduction in violent activities. But the fact of the matter is that there is no step-down in Pakistani perfidy, and if there is any perceptible lessening of the violence, it is only because of the pressure mounted by the security forces. The enemies of the nation would leave no stone unturned to abet the call for troop withdrawal because that suits their gameplan. The policy touchstone should be safeguarding the interests of India. At least along the LoC, a strong Army presence is inevitable.

 

Gen V.K. Singh has opposed the dilution of the AFSPA and has understandably annoyed the separatist forces by this tough stand. Given the situation prevailing in the Valley, the AFSPA may not be politically correct but is inescapable if the foreign designs are to be defeated. However, he must ensure that there are no human rights violations like the death of a 70-year-old person in the forest area near Handwara town in Kupwara district recently. Each such incident plays into the hands of those hell-bent on discrediting the security agencies.

 

What has to be borne in mind is that the Army is there as the last resort. It can be withdrawn only if the situation actually returns to normal. For that to happen, the Centre and the state government have to join hands to give what the common man wants the most: good governance and development. It is poverty and neglect which have alienated most people. Remove these grievances and the situation will turn for the better. Pakistan can be depended upon to continue with its dirty tricks. So will the confirmed separatists. Yet, the new Army chief and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who is barely 15 months old in the saddle, can together try to bring about many positive changes.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

N-CHOE KINDLES HOPE

THINGS CAN, AND DO CHANGE

 

IF N-choe is Chandigarh's shame, Buddha nullah is a blot on Ludhiana. Given the crumbling urban sewerage, fund-starved municipalities and an apathetic officialdom, almost every city and town in Punjab has its own sorry tale of civic neglect. Barring a few cases of rural facelift by NRIs, villages are filthy and without sewerage. The persistent efforts of The Tribune, citizen activism and the Punjab and Haryana High Court's intervention have awakened the sleepy officials of Chandigarh to the need to clean up the seasonal rivulet.

 

If things could go adrift in a planned city, the plight of other towns is not surprising. Chandigarh, fortunately, has a responsive administration. Not so in Ludhiana, where efforts to clean up Buddha nullah have produced no material change. At stake is the health of 10 lakh people. The Sutlej river too has become a health hazard for the residents of nearby villages. Water-borne diseases are common in the area. The industrial units that discharge untreated effluents in the nullah and the river have the backing of powerful politicians. Now an assembly committee has suggested stiff penalties and non-bailable warrants against the owners of the units that pollute the nullah with impunity. The Punjab and Haryana High Court too is keenly monitoring the Buddha nullah case.

Other cities and towns too have their problems, mostly caused by poor infrastructure. A lot of money is available under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission for clearing the urban mess. But Punjab has not been able to use it because of its failure to meet the prescribed conditions like levying user charges and house tax. Money alone is not a constraint. Poor governance is an issue at various levels. A laid-back administration has got used to things as they are. Media scrutiny and public initiatives too are inadequate. N-choe holds out the hope that things can change — if there is a will.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAKING VOTING COMPULSORY

GUJARAT BILL IS NOT PRACTICAL

 

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's proposal to make voting compulsory in the state for elections to local bodies has hit a roadblock with Governor Kamla Beniwal's refusal to sign it. The State Assembly had passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill last December. Though the Governor's reasons for returning the Bill to the government will be announced in the next Assembly session, she has reportedly said that the Bill violates the Constitution which does not provide for mandatory voting and that no one can be punished for not voting. She has also asked the government to separate the voting Bill from the Bill seeking 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies elections. While it would be interesting to watch the state government's next move, one has to take a realistic view of the matter. In India, voting is a civil right and not a civic duty. Consequently, neither the Centre nor the state can make it compulsory.

 

Mr Modi's enthusiasm to increase the voters' participation in the democratic process may be praiseworthy. But his prescription for mandatory voting to ensure political stability and cut costs due to frequent elections is conceptually flawed. One must also look at the problem of its enforceability. Does the State Election Commission have the necessary staff and resources to enforce the proposal? Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla has expressed his inability to implement mandatory voting at the national level. More important, in April 2009, the Supreme Court has rejected a PIL in this regard, ruling that how seriously a voter takes his statutory right to exercise his franchise is best left to him.

 

Countries like Australia, Brazil and Argentina may have made voting compulsory. However, for improving the voter turnout, what is imperative is spreading voter education and awareness in the country rather than making voting compulsory and even punishing the defaulters, which the Gujarat Bill envisages. Moreover, if voters did not like any candidate in the fray, they should be given the option of negative voting or rejecting all the candidates by providing a button 'None of the Above' in the electronic voting machines. This would ensure that voters turn up at the polling booths unfailingly and register their choice or the lack of it.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AFPAK: WILL THEY, WON'T THEY?

TOWARDS CIVILIAN SUPREMACY IN ISLAMABAD

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE passage of the 18th Amendment by Pakistan's National Assembly, rolling back the authoritarian constitutional provisions imposed by General Musharraf during military rule, has been hailed as a major democratic reform. All people of goodwill will wish Pakistan well. As of now, maybe, no more than two cheers are in order.

 

In a formal sense, there is an appearance of civilian ascendancy. The President has been reduced to a figurehead, though saved from corruption hearings on account of his constitutional position. The military has, meanwhile, regained prestige at home as its Waziristan /Swat campaigns have enabled Pakistan to look the US in the eye and win greater recognition for its frontline AfPak posture.

 

The new amendment allows the Chief of Army Staff a four-year-term, which implies a year's extension in service for General Kayani. But there is no evidence as yet that the military has abandoned control over critical policies pertaining to security, nuclear issues and relations with India, the US, Afghanistan and China. A briefing meeting before the Pakistan delegation, led by the Foreign Minister, left for the recent strategic dialogue with the US in Washington, was taken by General Kayani in Rawalpindi with several Federal Secretaries in attendance! The annual defence budget, largely framed by the military, remains a mere one-line entry and is virtually charged to the exchequer without debate. The Kerry-Lugar amendment imposes conditionalities on how Pakistan utilises US military aid; but it remains to be seen how effective this safeguard proves in practice.

 

Even setting aside past default on this count, how auspicious are the omens even today? The latest UN Report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 on her return to Pakistan from exile is not very reassuring. Almost a year later, the Zardari administration requested Ban ki Moon to hold a UN inquiry as it feared the involvement of local agencies in what it felt was a staged murder. The three-member commission's report was to be presented on March 15 but Pakistan sought some further inquiries. This request was turned down.

 

Pakistan then argued that the Government of Pakistan could alone release the report. This too was rejected and the commission's 70-page findings were finally presented to the media in New York by its chair, Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz, on April 15. The Pakistan Ambassador boycotted the function. According to a columnist of Dawn, Karachi, the Pakistani authorities wished the "establishment" to see the report before they shared its contents with the general public.

 

Why it might have been thought prudent to provide the "establishment" with prior information becomes apparent from the report. It severely indicts the Musharraf regime, of which General Kayani was a part, for wilful negligence and cover-up, as well as the current PPP Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, who was travelling in the stand-by bullet-proof Mercedes car that was, however, found missing from the scene when it could have rushed BB to hospital.

 

The military and the ISI have been virtually accused by the UN Commissioners of preventing an autopsy, hosing down the assassination site, thus removing vital evidence, and obstructing the commission's own inquiries. The report calls on Pakistan to set up a "truth commission" to get to the bottom of the crime. The unfolding in Islamabad will now be watched with interest.

 

Of special concern to India are the UN Commissioners' findings that a probable reason for removing Benazir was her "independent position on the urgent need to improve relations with India, and its implications for the Kashmir dispute which the military regarded as its policy domain". Further, the commissioners found evidence that the Army and the ISI used terrorist groups to further their strategic objectives and that "the bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has close links with the ISI". The LeT has morphed into the Jammat-ud-Dawa, headed by Hafeez Saeed.

 

General Musharraf quite clearly lied about Kargil, nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan (who was no lone wolf), and the use of jihadi terror against India. Zardari once again reiterated on April 5 that his government would not allow the soil of Pakistan to be used for cross-border terror against India. We must await evidence of that commitment. How the Bhutto case is now handled will be one test of that; else a policy of bland denial, counter-charges of Indian villainy and asking India to dialogue will not wash.

 

There will be another test in Afghanistan, where Pakistan has been seeking "strategic depth" and a sphere of influence. The US and NATO are up a gum tree and do not know what to do. President Karzai, whom the West sought to undermine, has called a Loya Jirga or gathering of Afghanistan's tribal elders or highest traditional council on May 2-4 to seek a cross-ethno-cultural consensus on a peace process, national integration of insurgent groups and ground rules for carrying forward this process.

 

This initiative merits support by all regional and international players whose private, self-serving agendas should be subservient to promoting peace and harmony in a traditionally neutral Afghanistan and bringing stability and progress to the entire region. This too will be an acid test of Pakistan's sincerity in making genuinely new beginnings as a good neighbour. Moreover, it will strengthen civilian supremacy and give sustenance to democratic forces in Pakistan. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CANINE LOVE

BY SURINDER GOSAIN

 

IT is a story of love and trust that ended in betrayal. Although I have never been comfortable with a dog around, yet this dog, which came quietly to my first floor flat and sat in a corner of my balcony, did not seem to bother me.

 

It was a Sunday last summer when I first noticed her there sitting on a leaf of a newspaper. Besides her was a bowl of milk and another of salad-nibbles mixed with pieces of a chapatti.

 

On enquiry, I came to know that Shrawan, my Man Friday, had furtively made the arrangement for her. The slapdash manner in which she was feasting on the edibles amused me. After the meal, she came near me wagging her tail and began licking my foot and with it started a love-bondage. Later, I ensured that she got a non-vegetarian delicacy at least once a week, besides the usual food.

 

She would come to my flat in the morning and disappear in the evening stealthily. I knew about this routine of her although we met during the day essentially on a holiday. But she greeted me perpetually in the evening as I parked my car and we exchanged pleasantries mutely.

 

With the passage of time, the tacit love between the two mortals began spinning into mutual trust. She started coming to the flat early morning also before I left for office and as a matter of routine saw me off.

 

However, with the arrival of new tenants on the ground floor, her entry to my flat was prohibited. With two toddlers in the family, I agreed to their putting up a grill on the ground floor to prevent entry of any "such brute". Whenever she saw me standing on the balcony, she gaped at me and the grill between us.

 

Lately, the dog's visits near my house became less frequent and then almost for a month she was not on the scene. One evening, as I reached home, she came running towards me. Following her were three puppies. She gave me one look and another uncanny one at puppies as if she was introducing them to me.

 

Last week, Shrawan told me that the dog, usually hiding herself in a corner, was biting one and all passing by our house. He took me to the balcony and what I saw upset me.

 

Saddened, I rang up the People for Animal to take the dog away. They tried their best to clutch her onto a leash but without any luck. As they sought our help in the task, I told Shrawan to coax the dog inside our boundary wall. The dog got entrapped as she anticipated no threat from any of us.

 

I saw her being forced onto a van along with her puppies, while the dog looked at me. Tears rolled down her eyes and she looked at me as if she was asking: "Why did you betray?" Biting my lips, I bade her goodbye.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

OF NEWS AND TRIVIA

MEDIA SHOULD REALISE ITS RESPONSIBILITY

BY SAJLA CHAWLA

 

HERE are some headlines from our newspapers: "Sunanda Pushkar: The Minister's 'External Affair'", "Preity and Ness together again", Carmen Electra regrets getting fake breasts", "Shoaib Malik: Victim or rogue?" and "I don't feel the need to marry John: Bipasha"

 

Do you feel strange after reading such news items? Is there a fraternity, like me, who wonders what Preity and Ness being apart or together has to do with us? If Bipasha does not want to marry John, are we supposed to rejoice or lament?

 

For days and days together the media carried the story of Sania and Shoaib and one poor deserted wife or not a wife! Maybe a one liner would be enough for us to know what the tennis sensation of this country is doing. But to go on and on about it?

 

Why is then the Press doing this? Why do our esteemed TV channels, with seemingly great commitment to news, do this? Who are they catering to? Is it to the great number of people who live on celebrity gossip and hence lead a voyeuristic life? Perhaps, their own lives are so mundane and boring that all the fun is to be derived vicariously from other people's escapades and other people's miseries.

 

In catering to the masses, as is claimed by the media, are they not creating a readership of people who will read this type of news so religiously? Does this say anything to you about the society we are living in? Don't some of us, who, when they see such items, feel a distinct sense of the bizarre and the absurd?

 

The media, especially, newspapers, magazines and TV channels, are a very powerful entity in our contemporary times. They have the power to influence public opinion and thus they inherently have a responsibility towards that public.

 

The media perhaps does not realise its own power and is very often not acquainted with the responsibility it shoulders or rather should shoulder. That sense of responsibility is somewhere lost now in the race for higher ratings and debating on non-issues. How much do we really know about Shashi Tharoor and his so-called lady love, to comment on their relationship and who are we to conduct a mass scale courtroom drama to ascertain whether Shoaib is a rogue or a victim? More importantly, how do their personal lives impact our lives in anyway?? Is their personal story going to change the quality of our lives? Is learning details about their sex lives going to bring a great revolution in society?

 

The TV channels have almost lynched the ex-minister and his friend. Propriety has been perhaps transgressed by him but is it reason enough to hound him so mercilessly? Haven't we seen bigger scams in this country where the government's money and hence the people's money has been looted by politicians?

 

Many esteemed, so-called feminist journalists have tried to rip Sunanda apart with trivial details of her life like her past relationships and her supposed plastic surgery. In what way is that relevant to the citizens of this country and why is the Press creating this sort of inane readership and viewership? The right to expression is fine, but does it have to do away with the judiciary and conduct nationwide media trials very often on people's personal lives? And all this while the perpetrators of communal violence, dalit murders, rapes and corrupt officials are at large and thriving!

 

This country has 60 percent of its people below the poverty line. There is a Maoist and Naxal threat. There is no safety or respect for women as is obvious from the number of infanticides, feticides, witch-hunts, rapes and honour killings. There is not much credibility in the working of the government; there is hardly any accountability either. We live in an unsafe world where thousands are homeless and live on the streets of the metropolitan cities, like in the extreme cold of 2 degrees C, in Delhi, where newborns lie uncovered and unattended to on a concrete footpath, while the elite classes, boil and sanitise the bottles of their children or have maids to do so for them. Yet the media hardly takes up these issues and if they do, it is often to sensationalise and then no follow-up.

 

The media depicts the lavish lives of the rich and the famous. A poor man feels more starkly the difference between the classes. The media is one such powerful estate, which can bring about social awakening and change. Often, they do so, with great results. But very often they focus on non-issues while this big country is caught in such toils and travails and real hardcore survival issues. It is time that the media reassess its role in society and work for development, rather than get caught in trivia.

 

Do we want to create a nation of thinkers or a nation of gossip mongers? The media holds the key. Let them use it wisely, for all of us.

 

The writer, a former Delhi University teacher, is based in Goa

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ONLY MAVERICKS TRIGGER REFORM

BY CHANDRA MOHAN

 

I was a guest at a convocation the other day. While we were being dolled up in those gold-trimmed robes, conversation naturally swung to Jairam's recent tirade against this colonial outfit and its crass incongruity to our dust and heat.

 

The first to flash across my mind were naturally the proudly displayed pictures in every home of ecstatic young faces dressed in the ceremonial gold-trimmed black, red and scarlet collecting graduation scrolls. If such is their cherished value, wasn't Jairam being too harsh? But then, wasn't he also correct? The legacy is grossly incongruent with our heat. Power cuts only add to the misery.

 

Fancy robes, caps and sashes and their fine-tuned gradation were adaptations by the Roman Church to symbolise hierarchy in the fast-expanding priesthood required for propagating Christianity in the newly acquired Roman territory. The Pope was all white with gold trim; cardinals in red and ermine; archbishops in white and violet and so on.

 

The robe design to suit the Mediterranean and temperate climates was natural.

 

This Vatican practice was later adapted by Oxford and Cambridge u niversities to academics. Because of the pioneering role of these universities in Western education, copying of their dress-code by every university in the Western world was natural. For us, it is certainly a colonial legacy.

 

This conversation brought back memories of another colonial legacy. Grey-haired compatriots would recall that till the seventies a dark suit was the standard dress code for our corporate and business worlds. Air-conditioning was not so common those days and in the sweltering heat and humidity of Calcutta and Bombay suits were oppressive. By the time you ended the day, shirt sleeves and collars were all grime and sweat. As doyens of modern industry, auto-industry bosses always dressed immaculately following latest fashions from Harrods and Paris.

 

In 1979 Rahul Bajaj was the Chairman of the AMA and George Fernandes, Union Minister for Industry, was the chief guest at the association's AGM in Ashoka Hotel. Despite the fact that George had already driven out IBM and Coke from India, expectancy of pro-industry announcements by the minister ran high.

 

Everyone, including Rahul, was taken aback, when George launched a tirade against the auto industry: "...Industrialists are like rats who desert a ship and run away the moment a leak develops and they foresee trouble. All that they are interested in is lining their pockets and maintaining their fancy lifestyles and London suits …. "

 

Safari suit was born out of that tirade. It became the national dress code for business next year onwards.

 

The academic world, however, is not so simple. Each of its many fine-tuned levels is a coveted honour and distinction: DSc, PhD, M Phil; masters and graduates. Standards are zealously guarded by the fraternity and clearance of stipulated theoretical and practical standards is mandatory. Symbols which broadcast levels are, therefore, important ego-boosters.

 

Can we not replace those unwieldy and sweaty legacies by something which suits our climate? But it must serve the same purpose. It must also be Unisex. It must look elegant with every style commonly worn by Indian students. Significance to Indian heritage would be ideal.

 

Deeper thinking on solutions led me to the angavastram. With its elegance, heritage stature and wide use for ceremonial occasions it could certainly fill the bill. It can be worn over any dress. Infinite variations in background colour and number and design of gold and silver braids provide all the fine-tuning flexibility required for academics.

 

If we can go the whole hog to rename towns, shouldn't the HRD Minister assign the task of evolving an Indian dress for academic ceremonies to a committee of Vice-chancellors and Directors of IIMs & IIT's? A national competition to which our famous fashion designers like Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahliani and H2O/CUE are also invited, would surely bring out interesting results.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BANGALORE DIARY

SHUBHADEEP CHOUDHURY

GILL? MUST BE KPS

 

Since he successfully scuttled the Indian cricket team's tour to Pakistan in 2008 citing the 26/11 incident, Union Sports Minister M S Gill has not been in the news much. The 74-year-old minister was described as "K P S Gill" during his recent visit to Bangalore.

 

While MS, because of his disappearance from the news space, has got obliterated from public memory for the time being, the other Gill, owing to his eventful tenure as the police chief of Punjab during the days of militancy and his knack for courting controversy, has become a permanent feature in the mindset of the people in this country.

 

So when M S Gill came here recently and shook hands with Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, photographs released by the state government of the meeting described the Union minister as K P S Gill. It took three hours for the state government to correct the mistake and restore to the Union minister his name.

 

Astroturf ground

The game of hockey is close to the heart of all Punjabis. It turns out that the "Madrasis", too, love the game. The Madras Engineering Group ("Madras Sappers"), known for its personnel's nimble skills with deadly explosives and erection of bridges in difficult terrains, recently got an astroturf hockey ground at their sprawling campus in Bangalore.

 

This is apparently the second such ground belonging to the Indian Army. The 6591 sq metre ground in Bangalore has been created by a German company at an expense of Rs 3 crore. The ground has been certified as being of the global class I category by the Federation of International Hockey.

 

Jewel thieves

An all South-American gang did a hit in Bangalore only to get busted later. Four persons, including a woman, were arrested by the Bangalore police from Goa for stealing gold ornaments worth more than Rs 1.5 crore from a Bangalore hotel.

 

The ornaments were brought to Bangalore by jewelers from Jaipur for an exhibition. Two of the culprits are from Colombia, one from Venezuela and one from El Salvador.

 

The picture of one of them captured in the Hotel CCTV camera led to their arrest. No other clue was left by the gang members who teamed up in Malaysia and visited various Indian cities looking for suitable objects to steal.

 

WW II veterans

The Karnataka Government has enhanced the monthly honorarium for the World War II veterans and their widows from Rs 1,500 to 2,000 with effect from April 1, 2010. In other states the WW II veterans continue to get Rs 1,500 or less. 

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

WOODPECKER AND MISTLETOE

CHARLES DARWIN SAYS THESE TWO REPRESENT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CO-ADAPTATIONS OF NATURE. AUTHOR JERRY A COYNE REVISITS DARWIN'S THEORIES IN HIS BOOK WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE

 

Browsing in a bookshop for a friend who has been asked to teach Environmental Studies, I was surprised to find a book on evolution published this year. Jerry A Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True, anticipates the question in his introduction. "After all," he says, "nobody writes books explaining the evidence for atoms, or for the germ theory of disease." Scientists don't need convincing about evolution, but "things are different outside scientific circles.


"To many, evolution gnaws at their sense of self." At the sense of the importance of mankind in the scheme of things, at the meaning of life, of morality. Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator is quoted on the subject. She claims "liberalism lets them off the hook morally. Do whatever you feel like doing – s***w your secretary, kill grandma, abort your defective child – Darwin says it will benefit humanity." Coyne comments, "Darwin, who never said anything of the sort, would be appalled." He also feels, on the basis of various polls, that anti-Darwin feeling is increasing along with the spread of fundamentalism.


Actually, as Coyne points out, the writings of great scientists are filled with a sense of wonder at the beauty of the world. Darwin wrote in 1859, "How have all those exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one distinct organic being, been perfected? We see these beautiful coadaptations most plainly in the woodpecker and the mistletoe; and only a little less plainly in the humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped, or feathers of a bird…" Darwin also writes, "When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled."

 Einstein, like other great scientists "saw the study of nature as a spiritual experience… Deriving your spirituality from science also means accepting an attendant sense of humility before the universe and the likelihood that we'll never have all the answers." And in relation to morality, Coyne says, "Evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go." Our genetic heritage "is not a straitjacket that traps us forever."
Why Evolution Is True is a readable book, which gives us updates on research, and quotes from poets, singers (Cole Porter) and Gilbert and Sullivan who refer to evolution in their work. However, Coyne does not mention a clever, well-informed and amusing novel by the Italian writer Italo Calvino called Cosmicomics (1965, trans 1968). In each section of this work, a different member of the evolutionary chain tells his story.


 In the last section of the book, we have a mollusc called Qfwfq. Qfwfq says, "If that's the time you want to know about, there isn't much I can tell you. Form? I didn't have any; that is, I didn't know I had one, or rather I didn't know you could have one… Every now and then I was seized by fantasies, that's true; for example, the notion of scratching my armpit, or crossing my legs, or once even of growing a moustache… It was a rich and free and contented condition, my condition at that time, quite the contrary of what you might think… When you're young, all evolution lies before you, every road is open to you, and at the same time you can enjoy the fact of being there on the rock, flat mollusc-pulp, damp and happy. If you compare yourself with the limitations that came afterwards, if you think of how having one form excludes other forms, of the monotonous routine where you finally feel trapped, well, I don't mind saying life was beautiful in those days."

 

Coyne's Why Evolution Is True is a readable book, which gives us updates on research, and quotes from poets, singers, who refer to evolution in their work

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

FERTILISER PRICE MISMATCH

NBS TEETHING TROUBLES SHOULD NOT THWART FURTHER REFORM

 

Within days of changing over to the much-hyped nutrient based subsidy (NBS) regime for fertilisers, doubts have arisen about its success in achieving the twin objectives of reducing fertiliser subsidy and remedying the imbalance in fertiliser use. Being a half-hearted exercise in reform, the new policy has failed to improve price parity between urea and other fertilisers. This is essential to ensuring a balanced use of all the three nutrients — nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potash (K). The NBS system, even while envisaging fixed subsidy linked to the nutrient content of different fertilisers, also simultaneously decontrols the farm gate prices of fertilisers other than urea. Though the government has asked the fertiliser industry not to hike the prices of decontrolled fertilisers by more than 5 to 6 per cent in the initial year of implementation of the NBS system, even this modest increase has upset the price mismatch between urea and other fertilisers, which is the root cause of higher application of N vis-à-vis P and K. While the 10 per cent hike in urea price by the government (after keeping it constant at Rs 4,800 per tonne since 2002) has meant an effective increase of only Rs 480 per tonne, the prices of phosphatic and potassic fertilisers have gone up by over Rs 600 to Rs 700 per tonne and those of complex fertilisers containing even the micro nutrients, such as sulphur, zinc and the like, by even a bigger margin. Thus, after the introduction of NBS, the disparity in the prices of different fertilisers has actually exacerbated. The situation may worsen when the industry's commitment to maintain price discipline for one year is over. There is, therefore, little hope that the new system will adequately address the nutritional imbalance concerns.

 

That said, the NBS system is not in itself an unsound recipe for promoting need-based fertiliser use based on nutritional health of the soil and the requirement of different crops. That is why industry and agriculture experts welcomed it. The problem has arisen because of the government's reluctance to also decontrol, or suitably hike, the price of urea. As long as the price of urea is pegged to an arbitrarily determined level, the mismatch in the pricing of different fertilisers would not go. If, on the other hand, the NBS regime is allowed to operate properly, it has the potential to promote competition among different fertiliser producers, encouraging them to come out with diversified products having situation-specific nutrient combinations and competitive prices. For, while the subsidy element is uniform for all fertiliser manufacturers, those having higher efficiency and low overheads can offer their products at relatively lower prices to corner higher market share. Such competition will ultimately benefit the farmers, improve soil health and lead to higher crop output. Another potential advantage of the NBS regime is that improved profitability and reduced time lag between the sale of fertilisers and realisation of subsidy by the manufacturers from the government can improve the fiscal health of the fertiliser industry. This is necessary to attract fresh investment and capacity addition which the sector needs desperately. This requires taking fertiliser sector reforms forward.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BECAUSE THEY ARE THERE!

MULTIPLE PLATFORMS IN A MULTIPOLAR WORLD

 

When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he reportedly said, "Because it is there." That is about the best answer heads of state and government can give these days for attending all the summits they do. In the bad old days of the Cold War, there was only one summit and at that peak sat the United States and the Soviet Union. The first post-War economic crisis of the 1970s led to the creation of a second summit of significance — the G-7 — which morphed into the G-8 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the West hugged the Russian bear. The post-Cold War world, however, is full of summits. The decline of the West, the rise of China and the emergence of a wide range of middle powers like India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia have contributed to the creation of multiple platforms that heads of state and government are quite happy to run away to every now and then for a break from domestic headaches. Little wonder then that they often meet in exotic places to discuss esoteric issues and do some good business on the side. So who's complaining?

 

Summits, like a lot of household stuff, lie around long after their use-by date. Consider BRIC, for example. A clever marketing idea coming out of the now-distressed Goldman Sachs meant to promote business for some well-heeled Wall Street types in Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi and Sao Paolo. No one paid much attention to it till the Russians felt left out of the global summit mania. The Chinese and the Indians were running around the world attending all manner of summits and the Russians were not even being welcomed with much warmth by the G-7. Worse, an assertive US was pushing Russia around. So, Vladimir Putin very cleverly took a Sachs idea and created a new platform, BRIC. On the other hand, IBSA was supposed to be the grouping of the three developing country democracies lobbying hard for membership of the UN Security Council and for greater clout in the World Trade Organisation. With both UN reform and WTO talks in cold storage, no one knows what IBSA should be doing, especially after China barged into the group at Copenhagen, using climate change to create BASIC. There are now dozens of such summits all around the world. But, when the US created the G-20 and incorporated China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia in the global high table, no one quite understood what to do with smaller platforms. So, it is not surprising that China and India did more bilateral business in Sao Paolo and pleased their host President Lula. The Russians and the South Africans were happy to be there and the rest of the world was busy with whatever it was doing. Returning home from all that summitry, each head of government felt like anyone does getting back to work from a good holiday. President Hu Jintao went back to handling the consequences of an earthquake and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came back to handling a political storm.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

INDIFFERENCE ABOUT THE BIG RUPEE RISE?

THE MASSIVE 18% APPRECIATION IN THE RUPEE BETWEEN MARCH 2009 AND MARCH 2010 IS THE LARGEST 12-MONTH GAIN IN HISTORY

SHANKAR ACHARYA

The Indian rupee has appreciated by a massive 18 per cent over the year March 2009 to March 2010, as measured by the RBI's six-currency, trade-weighted, real effective exchange rate (REER) index. This is by far the biggest rupee appreciation in a year, ever since the unified, market-responsive exchange rate system was initiated in March 1993. Actually, it's the largest 12-month appreciation of the rupee ever, no matter what the exchange rate system. Even if one omits the unusually low level of the REER index in March 2009 and takes April 2009 as the base instead, the appreciation since then to March 2010 has been a hefty 14 per cent. These numbers would be even higher if the REER index calculation used consumer prices (as for the other partner countries) instead of wholesale prices. The last comparable bout of rupee appreciation occurred between May 2006 and May 2007, when the REER appreciated by 11 per cent, including a steep 7 per cent surge between March 2007 and May 2007.

 What's going on and why? As I pointed out in my last column ("Rupee rises despite higher deficits!", April 10), the current bout of massive appreciation comes at a time of widening current account deficits in the balance of payments and high inflation, which has been eroding the international competitiveness of our enterprises. Indeed, our recent high inflation (relative to trading partners) is a good part of the explanation for sharply elevated REERs. My anxiety over recent exchange rate trends deepened when a senior policy-maker asked me last week why there had been relatively little public complaint about the current, unprecedented bout of rupee appreciation from either industry (exporters and import-competers) or newspaper analysts? Especially when one compares to the widespread concern expressed during the rupee surge of spring 2007, a concern which led to corrective policy steps. Is everyone asleep at the wheel today?

I have thought about the policy-maker's intriguing question and have come up with the following answers. First, and most importantly, both industry and analysts (and perhaps policy-makers) seem to suffer from "dollar fixation", that is they focus almost exclusively on trends in the dollar-rupee parity. If you do that, then an average dollar rate of around Rs 45 in March 2010 does not seem particularly worrisome, especially when compared to the Rs 40 per dollar rate that prevailed over much of 2007-08 (see graphs). Indeed, the rupee was at 44 per dollar before the steep appreciation of spring 2007. So what's the big deal about Rs 44-45 per dollar today? The simple answer is that if you are interested in competitiveness, as we should be, then looking at single-currency nominal parities is wholly inadequate. You have to take into account the behaviour of other relevant currencies and India's inflation relative to major trading partners and competitors. That's precisely what a REER index tries to do. The brute fact is that whereas a Rs 44 per dollar rate coexisted with a REER index of 107 in March 2007, today that dollar rate goes with an REER level of around 114, which is much too high to sustain healthy industrial development and a sustainable current account deficit.

Second, the present bout of rupee appreciation has been more slow and steady (though cumulatively greater) than in the previous episode. It has taken seven months for the REER to appreciate 11 per cent since September 2009; in 2007 it surged 7 per cent in just two months between March and May. In a way, the rupee appreciation problem has crept up on us when we were distracted by other pressing priorities like economic recovery and inflation.

A third possible reason for misplaced complacency about recent exchange rate trends is the fact of a strong, ongoing industrial recovery and a more modest but noticeable export recovery, from the steep downturns induced by the global crisis of 2008-09. Why worry about the exchange rate when industry and exports are bouncing back at double-digit annualised growth rates? We have to worry now (and take corrective policy action) if we want to sustain strong industrial growth in the future and beef up the somewhat anaemic recovery of exports recorded so far (exports are still running well below levels two years ago). It is worth remembering that a 10 per cent rupee appreciation is like a 10 per cent tax on exports and a 10 per cent subsidy for imports.

Fourth, the relatively muted reaction to the massive rupee appreciation may be because those being hurt the most, in the first round, are relatively weak-voiced. These are the small scale units in labour-intensive sectors such as garments, textiles, leather products, gems, metal-working and so forth, catering to both external and domestic markets. Indications are that they were hit hard by the global recession and now their recovery is being throttled by a steadily appreciating rupee. If the government (and RBI) are really serious about all their slogans about "inclusive growth" and supporting small scale units, their most potent policy step could be to reverse at least some of the real rupee appreciation that has already occurred.

Actually, the volume of concern and commentary about the recent rupee appreciation may not remain quite as muted as my interlocutor supposed. Not if you judge by the rising frequency of newspaper articles and editorials expressing concern about the subject. Industry associations may not be far behind. And once television channels get hold of it, well… Shashi Tharoor could tell you a thing or two about how quickly perceptions can change.

Finally, I am somewhat concerned about the apparent change of approach in RBI on exchange rate management in recent months. From March 1993 to March 2007, successive RBI governors subscribed to a policy of "managed float", in which the central bank conducted forex market intervention not only to iron out short-term volatility but also to ensure a broadly competitive exchange rate policy. Then came a year of deliberate rupee appreciation, which probably contributed more to the initial industrial slowdown than the usual suspect of monetary policy. The year 2008-09 was the year of global crisis. Since June 2009 RBI appears to have deliberately adopted a much less interventionist stance, in line with a more "free market" doctrine. If true, this would be ironic, as it comes at a time when empirical research is increasingly supporting the more eclectic and interventionist approach to exchange rate management that stood India in good stead for 15 years. Actually, it would be more than ironic. It could constitute a serious policy error.

However, I am hopeful. Ten days ago, the government and RBI agreed to "replenish" the Market Stabilisation Scheme to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore, thus arming the central bank with significant capacity to sterilise forex purchases. Let's wait and see.

The author is Honorary Professor at ICRIER and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. Views expressed are personal

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A WORLD TOO FLAT FOR COMFORT

A VOLCANIC ERUPTION IN A NOT-SO-PROMINENT REGION HAS HAS TRIGGERED AN UNPRECEDENTED TSUNAMI OF HUMAN AND ECONOMIC DISRUPTION

ARVIND SINGHAL

The world is flat as Thomas Friedman told us in 2005. How much flatter it has become since then has been so startlingly demonstrated in the last one week! An otherwise not-so-unusual event — that of a volcanic eruption in a not-so-prominent region — has already triggered an unprecedented tsunami of human and economic disruption whose ripples are now being felt across all the continents. Millions of individuals are stranded in various parts of the world leading to a rapidly compounding misery of personal suffering, stress and, in many cases, severe economic and professional consequences.

 Businesses of all types, and not just those related to aviation industry, are reeling in the face of various chain reactions set in motion by the disruption of aviation services. Business conferences and exhibitions, many of them meticulously planned with several months of painstaking effort, have to be cancelled to avoid the risk of highly depleted participation by the targeted attendees. Routine and not-so-routine business meetings have been either cancelled or rescheduled all across the world since one or more participants happened to be stranded somewhere where they were not supposed to be.

Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of students and teachers are unable to make it to their classes. Sports, music and other performers are unable to perform at events scheduled months and sometimes even years ago. If this situation continues for a few days more, then global manufacturing supply chains will begin to show severe signs of disruptions and global distribution supply chains will show signs of rupture with depleted range of products in the retail shelves. Farmers in countries such as Kenya suffer heavy losses as their cargoes perish at airports. Indeed, even those operating in the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Iraq have not been spared the incredible disruptive effect of this single event, and the war-injured have to be evacuated to other regions, rather than the logistically closer bases, in Europe.

One can argue that this particular event is one of those "black swan" events that Nassim Taleb alluded to in his highly acclaimed book of the same title some years ago — an event whose occurrence and form cannot be predicted, and hence conventional scenario-building and contingency-planning efforts are largely ineffective. Disturbingly, the world has seen at least three other major "black swan" events already prior to this one. The first was the September 2001 attacks on the US, then the subsequent SARS epidemic in early 2003, and then the subprime crisis of 2008 triggered, perhaps, by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Each created ripples of unprecedented magnitude and of many, many dimensions across the globe.

While it is impossible to predict when and how the next "black swan" will emerge, the occurrences seem to be happening more frequently, and their impact becoming more pervasive as the world gets even more "connected" and global businesses even more inter-dependent. Indeed, a "flat and getting flatter" world is a reality. This process cannot be, arguably, reversed or even slowed. What may be more feasible is for individuals, businesses and even governments to take a pause (and many millions will indeed have a lot of time available at their hands right now) and reflect upon the inherent risk and the eventual price that a single-minded quest for either global-recreation (vacationing) or for cutting the last cent in the sourcing costs by optimising the supply-chain at a global level in a bid to compete harder or to improve returns for the shareholders, can extract from the individuals, businesses and, indeed, society.

Do we really need to always travel for leisure to far-off places which we believe are less travelled, but in reality, are getting more and more travelled? Do we really need roses from Kenya or fruit from southern Africa in the middle of winter? Do we really need to travel for face-to-face business meetings when some of them can be substituted with more investments in video/audio conferencing? Do we really need to create "off-site" meetings for hundreds and sometimes thousands of employees where the sites are a country or sometimes even a continent away? Do we really always need to find the lowest-cost manufacturing location in different continents when there is room somewhere downstream in the value chain to absorb higher production costs but manufacture closer to the point of eventual consumption?

Alas, the world is already too flat for comfort!

arvind.singhal@technopak.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TOILERS OF THE SEA

A FOURTH OF THOSE WORKING ON SHIPS ACROSS THE WORLD ARE FILIPINOS, WHO GENERATED $3.4 BN OF REMITTANCES LAST YEAR

BARUN ROY

Think of Filipinos abroad, and images immediately come to mind of nurses in American hospitals, musicians in Hong Kong bars, drivers in Iraq, mechanics serving Saudi oil companies, or domestic helps in faraway homes. And we read of billions of dollars they send back home every year in what's decidedly one of their country's biggest sources of foreign exchange.

Last year, they sent home a whopping $17.3 billion, making the Philippines the fourth-largest recipient of worker remittances in the world, after India, China and Mexico. This year, the inflow is expected to reach $18.1 billion.

 But it's hardly remembered that Filipinos, in hundreds of thousands, are also at work abroad as seamen on foreign ships and claim a large share of the remittance pie. In fact, of all the world's ship workers afloat at any given time — some 1.6 million — 25 per cent are Filipinos, which makes the Philippines the largest single source of ship hands for the world's merchant fleet. In 2009, seafarers alone produced an inflow of $3.4 billion, 12 per cent more than a year before.

It's said that the first Filipino ever to hit the international seas was a man named Enrique, whom Ferdinand Magellan, a 15th century Spanish explorer, had bought as a slave and taken with him to circumnavigate the world. But not before another Ferdinand, President Marcos, turned a dictator in 1972 and drove the country towards economic ruin did Filipinos start taking up seafaring, among others, as a serious profession. Today, Filipino seafarers are a coveted lot, preferred by foreign ship-owners for their loyalty, language ability and skills. They are paid well — as much as $8,000 a month for an officer — and are trained to international standards by the country's many well-recognised maritime schools.

The demand keeps growing, and the schools, turning out some 25,000 graduates every year, are busy upgrading their facilities and courses. Maritime circles expect a worldwide shortage of some 90,000 officers by 2015 and the authorities in Manila are anxious that the Philippines must do everything to ensure it doesn't drop out of the International Maritime Organisation's White List. It has been on that list for many years now, an acknowledgment of the quality of maritime education provided in the country.

It can be said that the Philippines is well protected in the international job market. It occupies a large spectrum. If Filipinos have been a fixture on the world's flags-of-convenience ships, Filipino singers, musicians, and dancers have been no less in cities from Hong Kong to Seoul to Tokyo to Dubai to Rio.

They started going out as early as the late 1950s, since the famous Bayanihan Dance Company made a successful debut at the Brussels Universal Expo in 1958 and appeared on New York's Broadway the following year. A decade later, the equally famous Philippine Madrigal singers broke into the international scene with aplomb at the first Choruses of the World festival at the Lincoln Centre in New York.

For the Philippines, these were epochal events and threw the door open to a wider world. There was something exotic about those performances, carrying the flavours of native music and dances to audiences largely unused to them. This, plus the Filipinos' natural performing talent and a special way of connecting with the audiences, readily endeared them to bar managers and show organisers across the world.

There was something else — a wonderfully open and outgoing disposition that the Filipinos inherited from their former Spanish colonial rulers, and an incredible passion for western performing arts that they imbibed from the Americans, who came to occupy the country afterwards. No other group of people in Asia at that time could claim to combine those two traits — along with a high degree of literacy and knowledge of English — so well in their character as the Filipinos did. In fact, the Filipinos were Asia's first westerners and its first international citizens in the field of performing arts.

So far, this has worked very well for the Filipinos, minimising the impact of poverty in an economy damaged by the long years of Marcos' predatory dictatorship. But, as the economy gets bigger at home, throwing open newer occupations and opportunities, and as competition from others becomes stiffer, it might not work as well for long. Both by volumes and rates of annual increase, inward remittances might fall over the next decade. That's the general assumption.

Still, nobody is panicking for three simple reasons. First, overseas Filipinos cannot be easily dislodged from the specific niches that they occupy, like seafaring and entertainment. Remember, we aren't talking of truck drivers, security guards, or machine operators. Second, a bigger home market will still be too small to absorb all the talent that's on offer. And third, literacy, language skills, and an ingrained cheerfulness of manner will always mark Filipinos apart as desirable buys in the international labour market.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WHY, HOW AND HOW MUCH?

LIABILITY PROVISIONS SHOULD BE REVISED PERIODICALLY TO ENSURE THEY ARE ADEQUATE AND ALIGNED WITH INTERNATIONAL PRACTICE

ANSHU BHARADWAJ

The government has recently drafted the "Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill (CNLB), 2010" and plans to introduce it in Parliament. Several important issues have been raised in the public debate on the Bill.

Do we need this Bill?

Most countries with nuclear power programmes have enacted legislation to cover the liability in the event of a nuclear accident and are also party to one of several international conventions such as the Vienna Convention, the Paris Convention, and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC). India stands out with neither a national liability legislation, nor membership in one of the international conventions. The government is fully responsible for compensation in the event of a nuclear accident in any of the current reactors.

 

 Further, the Indian nuclear industry is now expected to grow several fold from the present 4,120 Mw, with a fleet of indigenous reactors and those built with international assistance. Such a large nuclear programme warrants legislation to cover all aspects of civil liability, including possible trans-boundary damage. In the absence of a civil liability law, it would be difficult for India to add a large number of reactors as planned, and each reactor would have to be fully indemnified by the government.

Who should own the liability?

A nuclear reactor consists of complex systems, each with materials, equipment, monitoring and control instruments procured from manufacturers from different countries. Their selection, pre-operation testing and subsequent performance are all subject to constant review by the plant operator and a regulatory body.

There have been two major accidents in commercial nuclear plants: Chernobyl (USSR) and Three Mile Island (US). In both cases, it was gross error on the part of the operations personnel at key stages during the accidents that turned these into disasters. It is vital that the operations procedures linked to a design are strictly followed. Importantly, safety checklists for operation should not, under any circumstances, be overridden by operators' impulsive action. This highlights the need for continuing operator training that can never substitute for greater compensation.

In the event of an accident, assigning absolute, "no fault" liability to the operator enables the victim to claim compensation without delay and litigation. It also forces the operators to choose the best suppliers and ensure safe operation. The proposed Bill gives the operator the right to recourse, if the accident has resulted because of negligence on the part of the supplier of material and equipment. But, this is purely an internal matter between the operator and such supplier.

In India, as of now, the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is the only "operator" building and operating nuclear power reactors. The nuclear liability rests with NPCIL and indirectly with the government. With the entry of private operators into the nuclear industry, the logic of operator liability is unchanged in accordance with global practices.

Is the liability amount sufficient?

The estimation of liability depends on the likely damage a nuclear accident could cause to human life, environment, property and economy.

The Chernobyl accident was a catastrophe — graphite fire, hydrogen explosion and fuel meltdown led to the destruction of the reactor and direct expulsion of vast quantities of radioactive content into the atmosphere. The cost of the Chernobyl accident has been estimated at hundreds of billion dollars1. In contrast, in the Three Mile Island accident, despite significant fuel meltdown, the containment structure was intact and allowed little release of radioactivity. Currently, reactors are so designed that the likelihood of fuel meltdown and breach of containment would be less than one in a million. The point is that liability laws cannot be designed to cope with a catastrophe. In the event of a catastrophe, civil liability ends and the government takes over like in case of major floods, tsunami, cyclones and earthquakes.

The US' Price-Anderson Act (PAA) of 1957 was based on a theoretical study of radioactivity release from a 200 Mw reactor that ignored the presence of the containment structure and other safety features2. Despite the impressive advances in safety measures since then, the US is continuing with the same provisions as before. According to the PAA, the operator is now liable for up to $300 million through American national insurers. The nuclear industry contributes up to $11.9 billion and beyond this, the government bears the liability.

The Paris Convention, which includes most West European countries, has raised the operator's liability to euro 700 million. The installation state is expected to provide an additional euro 500 million and another euro 300 million would be available by collective state contribution. These amendments of 2004 are not in force yet since most countries have not ratified the convention, though they have signed it.

In 1997, the IAEA adopted the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). It proposes a minimum of 150 million Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs ($450 million) as operator liability. Additional amounts are to be provided through contributions from state parties collectively on the basis of installed nuclear capacity.

The liability provisions now prevailing in various countries show a wide range (Table 1). Each country has fixed the liability limits based on a combination of several factors, such as experience with nuclear power, perceived risk of accident, participation in any international agreement, etc.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIVE AND LET DIE

 

There is a quantum of solace for Britain's sexiest superspy amid the current financial crisis that has shelved the latest James Bond movie. The travails that the world has gone through since his last outing in 2008 could spur a dozen new storylines, benefiting even this canned movie as it is still noncommitally called Bond 23'. The potentially villainous protagonists thrown up recently are innumerable, so 007 can bestir himself, shake off his martini hangover, polish his Walther PPK and reactivate his licence to kill. When there's trouble at HQ — not with M but with MGM — leading to the shelving of his golden jubilee year film, the man who has vanquished evil brains such as Blofeld and Goldfinger has to take matters in hand. It just won't do for the superspy to be laid low by a Dr No; he has to take on the 21st century members of SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.


The choice of modern avatars of Bond's old powerhungry foes is wide: a crazed Wall Street manipulator bent on world dominance — by destroying the US economy with a devilish sub-prime lending scheme; a shadowy hedge fund operator shorting stocks around the globe, private equity players over-leveraging key companies (with key points gleaned from MGM's current troubles on the same count) to trigger a world-wide crisis , a cabal of machinating bankers accumulating damaging debt burdens and then blackmailing governments to part with billions to prevent an economic catastrophe, sinister scamsters luring investors and audiences into an addictive new game and then systematically subverting it to amass billions. After all, the heady mix of big money, highrollers, devastating secret weapons, helpless governments and, of course, bootylicious babes has worked before for Bond.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DÉJÀ VU ON RESERVATION

 

 

The renewed agitation for reservation for the Gujjar community in Rajasthan underscores the pitfalls of the paradigm of patronage politics. Given the privileging of competitive identity politics in India, quotas have become a battleground of sorts with social groups striving for ever more backwardness. This phenomenon has been most clearly, and violently, demonstrated in Rajasthan , with its attendant segregation of polity along eversharpening caste lines. The BJP's promise, in the run-up to the 2003 assembly elections, to change the classification of Gujjars from other backward class to scheduled tribe kicked off this particular spasm.


The Vasundhara Raje government couldn't deliver on that pledge, and since then an agitation by the community has almost been an annual feature. In July 2009, the Rajasthan government did announce 5% reservation for the Gujjars but that added to the total reservation in the state going up to 68%. Following which, the Rajasthan High Court, in keeping with the Supreme Court's capping of reservation at 50%, stayed that order of the state government . The current march on Jaipur by members of the Gujjar community came after their demand to freeze government hiring while the reservation issue was sorted out. The whole mess represents the race among social groups to reach the bottom of the pyramid in an attempt to get a share of the reservation pie. A clear consequence of the malaise of political parties envisaging the electorate as competing caste groups.

The Rajasthan High Court has now asked the state government to set up a high-power committee to look into the Gujjar demand. Such committees have been set up before. And there is imminent danger of the agitation turning violent again. In the quota-based patronage system , the Gujjars feel they are losing out. And the agitation is a reminder of the violence that attends on this socio-political process. Some make-shift reprieve may yet be found, but the whole situation posits the need to break the paradigm of competitive identity politics.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MARKET STABILISATION BONDS

 

Even with a lower fiscal deficit projected for the current financial year, the government's borrowings from the market this year would be Rs 91,000 crore higher than last year, said RBI governor Subbarao in his credit policy statement. But will that be all? What about the bonds that will have to be mobilised to form the central bank's war chest on the exchange rate front? Considering the trend in capital inflows and the need to keep rupee appreciation in check, the RBI would inevitably have to intervene in the foreign exchange market to mop up dollars. When the central bank purchases dollars , it injects fresh liquidity into the system. To prevent such a flood of rupees created as a result of dollar purchases from pushing up the money supply above the desired level, the RBI then absorbs the rupees by selling government bonds.



The bonds used for this purpose are the so-called Market Stabilisation Scheme (MSS) bonds. Right now, their supply with the RBI has dwindled to some Rs 2,700 crore. And these are poised to mature in May. A war chest of fresh MSS bonds would inevitably have to be created, to take on the flood of capital that would inundate India this year. While the MSS bonds are not used to finance the government's expenditure , and do not figure in the fiscal deficit, they do represent a claim on the liquidity in the system by the government . So when these government bonds are issued, as part of the mechanism to stabilise the foreign exchange market, the total government borrowing would go up beyond the level required to fund the fiscal deficit. By how much, of course, is the crucial question. If we expect the central bank to be obliged to add $10 billion to its reserves, in the interest of rupee stability, and it sterilises some 80% of the counterpart rupees created in the process by selling MSS bonds, it would need to have some Rs 36,000 crore worth of MSS bonds in the first place.

Of course, the RBI could raise the cash reserve ratio, to mop up the rupee rush created by foreign capital inflows , instead of selling MSS bonds. That's just another way of tightening liquidity. The short point is, liquidity could be tighter than estimated on fiscal counts alone. Unless, of course, further capital controls are deployed.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE FATE OF A MEGAPOLIS

PRABHA JAGANNATHAN

 

On April 17, the temperature of Delhi stood at a record 43.7 degree Celsius, the highest in 52 years. The Friday before that, the maximum

 

temperature was the highest in 29 years. In November 2006, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit observed that the sparrow population of Delhi seemed to be mysteriously disappearing. According to the Wildlife Protection Society, two major reasons could be the increasing use of chemicals and pesticides in farmlands in and around Delhi, heightening the toxicity of food for grain-feeding birds and the swift shrinkage of the sparrow's habitat in tandem with the rapid expansion of the city. In addition, the higher chemicals/ pesticides used have also decimated insects on which the little avian species feeds.


A city court directed a 67-year old man to plant 210 trees in January 2009 as punishment for chopping down 42 trees in June 2003. In February this year, India joined the UN's Plant for the Planet: the billion tree campaign after having planted 2.5 billion trees since 2007. That very month, the Delhi government drastically enhanced the security deposit for felling trees in the capital region while carrying out developmental work, from the existing Rs 1,000 to Rs 28,000 under the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994. In a country where an IPL team commands Rs 1,500 crore against a measly Rs 300 crore for re-charging water bodies, this would be piffle to a developer.

These newsbytes are milestones on a dystopic future we should fear. There is a direct ecospheric link between Delhi's disappearing vultures, sparrows, its green cover and its maniacally transmogrifying urbanisation. The survival of all fauna, including humans, depends on sustainable usage of natural resources. A mass movement is imperative to sensitise people to the impact of mindless urbanisation on the region's climate , flora and fauna and the forest cover of Delhi. An attendant strain on natural resources has meant a phenomenal rise in the sales of air conditioners, gensets, inverters, inverter batteries and energy guzzling lifestyles . But the tree, the single most life and earth-affirmative , energy conserving answer to a rapidly climate challenged world of today, has been assigned a step-child status.


Some 10,000+ trees were counted in the NDMC region by 2009-10 . According to the civic authorities, the city has been losing some 200-250 trees annually for the last five years, mainly during storms and heightened dry weather. That's official. At least twice that number gets routed routinely for parking lots, shopping malls, Metro building work, road expansions, flyovers, and huge commercial and residential complexes. One citizen's petition put the number of trees felled for Metro Phase I alone at 30,000 and projected felling of some 2,500 trees for the Phase I on the BRT corridor. But with Delhi's ecological footprint spreading to subsume neighbouring regions, urbanisation without a mandatory green responsibility has been institutionalised into a norm.


In her Vatavaran report in 2008, Dr Iqbal Malik reveals the total village area in Delhi in the 1940s was about 900 sq km out of a total 1,458 sq km. This went down to 797 sq km in 1991 and 558 sq km in 2003. Simultaneously , villages also dwindled down to only 209 in 1991 from 348 in 1951 and a lower 135 by 2008. Urban villages lost their right to a Panchayat or Gram Sabha with direct community participation under the Constitution (73rd) Amendment Act. Rapidly diminishing rural lands pressured down cultivated lands in Delhi to only 3,4981 ha in 2007 against 48,445 ha in 2003. In the last 60 years, with increasing purchase of village and rural lands by government and private developers (often in nexus with villagers) in and around Delhi, there has been indiscriminate felling of trees and mutilation of green areas. Cultivable land belonging to one million one hundred thousand people disappeared gradually, the report holds.


In Look Afresh at Urban Greens, Monika Koul and A K Bhatnagar maintain "adequate tree cover is crucial for economic and ecological security. Experts recommend that at least a third of India's geographical area should be tree clad for sustainable environment and economic development... "


The concept of a Tree of Life as a manybranched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related cuts across philosophies, mythologies and religions. And we may need a rejuvenated Chipko movement to espouse that core principle of live and let live.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

BALANCING THE OPPOSITES

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

Are you a red or an orange or blue or green? Normally, it shouldn't matter as long as you're human —nothing to it — and subscribe to a minimalist code of conduct that marks members of the global fraternity known as Vishwakutumbam in the Indic tradition. On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, however, subtle differences of shade seem to resonate with a significance that goes beyond stereotypes.


Of course, green is not passé . Not yet anyway. But 'Turq' is definitely in. This comes from the shade Turquoise which stands for a new brand of environmental existentialism that combines traditional green with a shade of blue, as in blue-sky open-minded thinking. (It also happens to be the colour of the masthead of The Times of India's new Crest Jewel Edition!)


Like the young Turks in an earlier age of politics, the new environmentalists are being looked upon as catalysts of non-revolutionary change, people who are guided by science and humanism rather than by nostalgia or technophobia. Stewart Brand, author of the original Whole Earth Catalog, calls it 'ecopragmatism' in his new manifesto.

He says the shift of shade was mainly necessitated by climate change. Forty years ago, he could say in the Catalog, "we are as gods; we might as well get good at it" . Photographs of earth from space that he put on the cover had that euphoric, god-like perspective. Now he says "we are as gods, we have to get it." The tentative has changed to imperative because of potentially disastrous change flowing from climate change. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic matter of shades, he emphasises. "It's not just perspective . It's a worldsized problem that will take worldsized solutions that involves forms of governance we don't have yet. It involves technologies we are just glimpsing . It involves what ecologists call ecosystem engineering . Beavers do it, earthworms do it. They don't usually do it at a planetary scale. We have to do it at a planetary scale."


That calls for cosmic-scale thinking that harmonises opposites . That's what Oriental Yin-Yang does as does Ardhanarishawarathat unites power (Shakti) with potential (Siva). The ancient seers evoked this powerful vision by meditating on the unitary whole which is always greater than the fragmentary parts. This animates the whole earth where it's always night and day at the same time.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CENTRAL BANK HAS TRIED TO BALANCE LIQUIDITY AND INFLATION CONTROL


The Reserve Bank of India in its monetary policy raised the cash reserve ratio, repo and reverse repo rates by 25bps (to 6%, 5.25% and 3.75% respectively). Overall, a well calibrated move that was largely in line with market expectations and will suck liquidity of about Rs 12,500 crore out of the system. The RBI's view to focus on inflation and managing expectations for inflation is pragmatic and prudent. It seems to be relatively comfortable with the levels of sustained growth that are currently reflected through higher corporate earnings growth and the uptrend in exports and services. Inflation has risen steadily over the last few months along with a substantive rise in foreign exchange inflows.


The central bank has an unenviable task of managing the financial version of the 'impossible trinity' — manage the currency, inflation (including expectations associated with inflation) and liquidity. We need to be cognizant of the fact that the RBI has to manage these objectives while not impeding India's growth prospects. The economic growth seen by India in recent years has been unprecedented. It is therefore also the objective of the RBI (and the government) to ensure that this engine of economic growth is not impaired.

Much has been said about RBI's response to the sharp rise in headline inflation. The fact is that both WPI and CPI have seen extraordinary surges. Though food inflation has hogged much limelight, the non-food component is also seeing substantial rise. Higher inflation is also reflected through higher global commodity prices. There is clear evidence that the biggest driver of inflation is supply side constraints. The RBI has, even in this policy, highlighted the need to increase and expand capacities across sectors. Additionally, there is also a very real prospect of an increase in inflation with corporations having better pricing power, uncertainties related with the upcoming monsoon season, the price of oil and finally increase in domestic consumption. It also needs to be noted that the RBI is quite capable of tightening more dramatically if inflation does not come under control over the next couple of months or so.


The RBI is balancing the need to contain inflation while ensuring sufficient liquidity in the system to push the government borrowing programme. In its post-meeting statement, the RBI explicitly said that "debt management considerations warrant supportive liquidity conditions".


The actions of the RBI are prudent. Its wisdom and experience was tested during the global crises in 2008-09 when no bank in India failed, nor did the system experience a sustained liquidity shock. The RBI has done an admirable job of managing a relatively unwieldy economy in the face of daunting objectives.


Additionally, from a reforms standpoint, it is encouraging to see that the RBI is open to issuing guidelines for new bank licenses. Leaving the real estate sector alone in the near term may be an astute decision with the current glut in the commercial real estate sector in Mumbai. One can always argue whether more can be done. However, at a macro level, it may be said that RBI has done justice to the unassailable position it holds in our financial system.


(Views are personal)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE RATE HIKE IS AIMED AT TAMING INFLATION AND SUPPORTING GROWTH

DHARMAKIRTI JOSHI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, CRISIL LTD



By raising the policy rates and CRR by 25 basis points each, the RBI has attempted a balancing act to achieve three objectives — tame inflationary expectations, support growth and manage government's borrowing programme smoothly. The RBI's monetary policy announcements need to be viewed in the context of its mandate and the various concerns with respect to the state of the economy.


The three immediate challenges before the RBI relate to inflation, economic growth and the government borrowing programme. On the growth front, the risks still exist but they have significantly reduced over the last few months. Growth is getting broad-based with private consumption demand, investment and credit off-take starting to look up. The global economic recovery, particularly in emerging Asia has been faster-than-expected. Despite the weak growth prospects in advanced economies, the better-than-expected performance augurs well for India's export sector. So a gradual withdrawal of monetary stimulus in India, which the RBI has effected in its April policy will not derail the growth process.


The same comfort however cannot be derived from inflation dynamics, which continues to be significant challenge facing the economy today. Both consumer price inflation (15%) and wholesale price inflation (9.9%) are in the uncomfortable zone. The non-food manufactured sector inflation steadily rose to 4.7% in March, 2010 from a negative rate a few months ago. This reflects the emergence of demand side pressure on prices. In 2009-10, inflation continued to surprise the RBI on the negative side. When WPI inflation started picking up at a pace faster than RBI's expectation in the second half of 2009, the price pressure was essentially localised to food items. The tightening of policy would not have tamed food inflation. So the RBI refrained from explicit tightening initially. But when inflation became more general in nature, the RBI responded gradually, first by withdrawing liquidity and then raising policy rates by 25 bps in March 2010. In its recent policy move, the RBI continued with its gradualistic approach despite a significant pick up in inflation. This was guided by some concerns on the growth front but largely by its responsibility of smooth conduct of the government borrowing programme.

Had it not been for the large borrowing programme of the government, I would have expected a sharper increase in CRR and policy rates to tame inflation. The RBI's challenge of balancing multiple objectives is evident from its observation in the recent policy, "While monetary policy considerations demand that surplus liquidity should be absorbed, debt management considerations warrant supportive liquidity conditions". The risk in the RBI's otherwise well-balanced action is the surprise on the inflation front, which could emanate from monsoon failure as well as a spike in global commodity/crude prices. If the inflation does not descend as is expected, the RBI may have to raise interest rates sharply later.


On the whole, if we consider the multiple objectives of the RBI and the concerns facing the economy, the RBI has tried to carefully balance them. The monetary policy gradualism, reflected in the April announcement, is perhaps the best course that the RBI could have taken in today's scenario.

(Views are personal)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CONSUMER PROTECTION A FAR CRY IN HOUSING MKT

PARRY SINGH, MD, RED FORT CAPITAL


AGREE: The role of prudent state-based regulators providing single window clearances, as prevalent in developed counties, is welcome. However, the project registration requirements must be reasonable and the process streamlined to add value to developers and buyers alike.


Apart from home buyers, developers can benefit from state regulator endorsements and single window clearances which assure that all projects meet minimum common standards.


Nonetheless, it must be noted that developers are already battling complex bureaucratic hurdles. Sometimes years pass before simple approvals are procured.


It is hoped that the regulators do not become another bottleneck adding red tape and loss of time, reminiscent of the "Inspector Raj" that would culminate in added cost and delays for buyers. This opportunity is availed in a proper manner to bring in reforms towards a single window clearance objective by integrating the various roles and responsibilities of different authorities to accelerate the approval process of a development project.


The creation of a regrouped authority in each state, combining the roles of various sub-authorities and providing single window approvals, would benefit developers in achieving speedier execution. In addition, customers will benefit as they will get assurance that purchase contracts meet minimum requirements, project disclosures are appropriately detailed and recourse mechanisms are sufficiently available if needed.


The regulator should also co-ordinate efforts to ensure digitisation of land records to address issues related to land title which continues to be a major concern in the country. This will facilitate easier land buying for developers and accelerated home loan approval process.


The regulator should also bring about more robust guidelines for intermediaries who play a key role - especially real estate brokers and mortgage specialists. Licenses should be provided to real estate brokers based on minimum standards and practices. This will ensure that the buyers buy apartments only from licensed brokers who follow a high ethical standard.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CONSUMER PROTECTION A FAR CRY IN HOUSING MKT

NIRANJAN HIRANANDANI, MD, HIRANANDANI CONSTRUCTION


DISAGREE: There is a shortage of 25 million houses in India. This is worrisome. Those who buy houses have an emotional attachment to the asset and the real estate sector even today is dominated by unorganised players.


Consumer protection in this context is key and it is an issue that is haunting the industry at present. The rate at which the number of consumer grievances is increasing in the country is indeed alarming. However, setting up of a regulator is not the solution to this problem.


Introducing a regulator in the real estate industry would mean going back to the license raj which India was subjected to several years ago. In today's day and age when the economy is moving northwards and the country is flaunting its liberalisation policy, why should one go back to the pre-1991 era where any expansion or development in a sector required prior approvals of the government.


Besides, real estate as an industry is already over regulated with various rules and regulations which vary from state to state. Adding a regulator will only have a strangulating effect. Why should one have an inspector raj at this point in time?


Undoubtedly, there are problems relating to consumer grievances or there are bouts of buyer-builder showdown but those can be addressed with the help of a strong legal system. The country should have separate consumer courts dealing with problems pertaining to the real estate industry alone.


If India can have a separate motor accidents compensation tribunal, for real estate, too, the government should take steps to set up a specialised real estate consumer court. After all, it is not a regulator but a court that gives justice.

The government must recognise the importance of real estate in the country. It contributes heavily to the GDP growth. It is also one of the biggest creators of jobs in the country and is still considered 'sunrise' and has a long way to go. This is the sector to be looked out for over the next 10 years and opportunities will be critical.

Success in this industry is related to supply and the buzzword, affordable. What sectors such as automobile, aviation and telecom witnessed in the past decade following the 'affordable' mantra, real estate will witness the same in the next 10 years.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOR A SINGLE FINANCIAL REGULATOR

T K ARUN

 

What the spat between insurance regulator Irda and the markets regulator Sebi shows is that we need a completely new regulatory regime , and not another layer of coordination at the top. There could be an intermediate regime in which the RBI continues to regulate the banks and preside over the high-level coordinatory committee on the financial sector while all other segments of the financial sector are brought under a single regulator.


It has become fashionable to poohpooh the idea of unified regulation of the financial sector, citing the example of Britain's Financial Services Authority, which failed to prevent the financial meltdown after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, although it was a single, unified regulator for all banking, insurance, debt, stock and derivative markets in Britain. This is populism , not analysis. It neglects two factors. One, finance in Britain was and is globally integrated, whereas regulation was still mainly national and it is only now that substantive efforts are being made for global coordination in the regulation of finance , through the G20 mechanism.

Two, while structure determines what kind of functions it can sustain, it does not guarantee that function will necessarily follow. Without wings, a bird cannot fly. But wings by themselves do not guarantee flight. Icarus is a mythical example. Closer home, we have Sampadi, the elder brother of wilful Jatayu, who flew so high and so close to the sun as to get scorched and could be saved only by Sampadi flying above him, shielding him from the sun but getting burned himself and turning into a flightless bird. Or even with wings, a bird could simply drop like a stone if it folds, midflight, its wings and tucks one firmly under the other. A real bird is unlikely to behave in this fashion. But Britain's FSA certainly did. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's SuperTHUD!


What was bad about the FSA was not its unified structure, but its regulation, as the Turner report points out. There are several reasons to commend the FSA's structure . And these lie in the nature of the financial sector where boundaries between different financial services/products are increasingly getting blurred, merging the turfs regulated at present by individual sector regulators. Having multiple regulators in this situation can lead either to regulatory arbitrage, if a regulator stays well within its boundary, or to a clash of regulators , if a regulator persists in regulating all the action on its turf, even if some actors originally belong to a domain under the supervision of some other regulator.


Consider a securitised mortgage. A loan is given by a bank to help someone buy a home. The bank now converts the loan into thousands of units and sells these to investors. These investors now have claim to the debt servicing carried out by the borrower. The bank gets its money back upfront and can now lend again to another home loan seeker. At the same time, a perfect maturity transformation takes place, with minimal cost. A bank has short-term , relatively speaking, deposits while its loans will be repaid over a long time. There is thus a mismatch between the maturity of its liabilities (deposits ) and the maturity of its assets (loans). Using short-term deposits to finance longterm investment is maturity transformation , a key task of financial intermediation . Securitisation of loans achieves this at minimal cost. The investors who buy the securities into which the loan has been converted know that the bonds would be redeemed only after a long period — the maturity profiles of the asset and the liabilities now match.


So, securitisation is a great idea. It works because investors can sell them on the market, if they want to, and are not locked in for the maturity of the loan. Securitised loans involve two regulators. The banking regulator, which supervises the bank that originated the loan and converted into securities. And the markets regulator who presides over the trading of the securities. Suppose an insurance company writes insurance against default of repayment for these securities, made available in the form of credit default swaps. Now, credit default swaps stand, in popular imagination, second in line after the credit rating agencies in the hall of financial crisis infamy. AIG, the American insurance giant, went broke because it wrote too many credit default swaps too readily for too many too-clever-by-half financial engineers. But credit default swaps are perfectly useful things. The current thinking is that credit default swaps, should be standardised, centrally cleared and traded on exchanges. In the latest credit policy, the RBI has talked of introducing over-the-counter credit default swaps. Soon, India, on par with other G20 nations will have exchange trading of credit default swaps. If we have exchange-traded securitised mortgages, backed by exchange-traded credit default swaps, we will have serious convergence of banking, markets and insurance on the same financial product. Who should regulate it? All three sectoral regulators, each one treading on the other two's turf, or by single regulator which has the authority to hold every player in the chain accountable at every stage of their action?


The biggest hurdle in creating a single regulator for the financial sector is separating the monetary authority out of the RBI, which also serves as regulator of banks and manager of the country's forex reserves and the government's debt. Combining all these functions in itself helps the RBI to manage its monetary policy also better, argue people like Y V Reddy . This is true, but this is not the only way to manage the whole thing. The sort of coordination that the Bank of England, the FSA and the Treasury showed in tackling the crisis shows the way to go. But this calls for enormous institutional learning and maturing, including in parliamentary capability to oversee regulation.


Acquiring such maturity could take time. Pending that, the RBI could continue as it is, but all other regulators in the financial sector can be scrapped and a single regulator instituted with specialised divisions that constantly communicate with one another and lack the public presence and egos that sectoral regulators tend to have. Coordination between this regulator and the RBI could still take place at the HLCC. If the finance ministry were active and the RBI governor, decisive, the HLCC could have prevented an overt regulatory collision but to fix the problem for the long term, we need unified regulation.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STRONG MARKET, HIGHER PRICES HELP LIFT MARGINS: SESA GOA MD

 

The Vedanta Resources group firm Sesa Goa said its net profit for the fourth quarter surged to Rs 1,215.1 crore on account of strong demand for iron ore from countries such as China. In an interview with ET NOW , Sesa Goa MD PK Mukherjee explains why the fourth quarter has always been the best quarter for the company. Excerpts:

What has gone right for Sesa Goa this quarter — margins have shown a significant uptick?

The last quarter of the year is always a best quarter for Sesa Goa traditionally because this is the totally monsoon-free quarter, volumes are higher and also the market is very strong, price is also on the upside, so that has contributed for this quarter.

 

How sustainable is the volume growth and the increase in margins that you have seen in Q4?

Uptick in margin is a function of two factors — cost of sales and price. Price is determined by the market, and we try to keep our cost of sales to minimum. Volume is in our hands, to the extent we can evacuate from the mines and load it onto the ships.


Where do you see price realisations for 2011?

The market right now is very volatile. Current prices have reached historical highs, it has crossed 2008 price level on FOB basis. So there is a concern among steel producers throughout the globe. So long, the price remains at this level, definitely it is a huge bottomline addition, but Sesa continues to be the lowest cost producer of the world, so in any price situation, Sesa would continue to post a good number.


How is freight cost shaping up and will that go up in the next quarter as well?

Freight cost has moved up from last... but the increase is much smaller compared to the rise in iron ore price. In the 2008 peak, Brazil to China freight went up to $90 per tonne level. Today, it is less than 50% of that.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ASIA TO DRIVE GLOBAL GROWTH, BUT US MAY SURPRISE ON THE UPSIDE'

APURV GUPTA

 

The global economy could grow above 4% this year driven by Asia, but the US economy is likely to surprise on the upside, says Christian Nolting, managing director, regional head of portfolio management & lead strategist, Asia-Pacific, Deutsche Bank in an interview with ET. Mr Nolting is bullish on emerging markets like Korea, China, India and Indonesia. But he feels institutional investors are booking profits in emerging markets because of the run-up in prices, and deploying that money in developed markets.


What is the current composition of your global portfolio? What is your outlook on equities in general?

Currently, we have almost an equal allocation for bonds, equity and alternate assets. The equity allocation has been increased from 15% a year ago to about 36% currently, including a 5% holding in private equity. If we look at different asset classes in this environment, equities are our favourite. We think that the global economy could grow above 4% this year driven by Asia, but also US should surprise on the upside. Currently, about 9% of our portfolio is invested in emerging market equities and 22% in developed markets.


What is your broad investment strategy for different asset classes?

We believe there is a need to take an asset class call in order to outperform the markets. This could only be done by maintaining an active portfolio and not through 'buy and hold' strategy. Investors following a 'buy and hold' strategy in the US generated negative returns of 9% in the past 10 years. Similarly, in the case of Asia (excluding Japan), returns were about 45% for the same period. In order to generate superior performance, there is a need for more decisive and dynamic asset allocation calls and not just 'buy and hold'.

What is your outlook on emerging markets, in relation to developed markets?

Among emerging markets, we are bullish on countries like Korea, China, India and Indonesia. However, the run-up has been very fast over the past one year. We are seeing some institutional investors booking profits and shifting their investments to developed countries, which look to provide some good returns in the near future. Due to high growth expectations, emerging markets like India are already crowded. Hence, they are not as cheap as they were before. Money may shift to developed markets like US and Japan if this trend continues.


What is your outlook on India? Which are the key areas of concern?

We expect the Indian economy to grow at a decent rate. However, one of the major worries is high inflation. Inflation has become a major cause for concern in the entire Asian region. In the case of India, inflation is still higher. This is expected to moderate from the second half of this calendar year due to a high base and a lag impact of tightening of liquidity by RBI. Another important factor that will be watched by investors would be monsoon. If we look at historical data, monsoon is expected to be good this time.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

RE PLAYS SPOILSPORT FOR HCL TECH, BUT FOCUS ON GLOBAL MARKETS SAVES THE DAY

ANDY MUKHERJEE

 

HCL Technologies joined its peers TCS and Infosys in signalling a revival for India's $60-billion IT industry. The company's top management —

including Anil Chanana, executive vice-president, finance; Anant Gupta, president, infrastructure services division; Ram Krishna, corporate vice-president and Sanjeev Nikore, president and global head, consumer services and manufacturing, HCL Technologies — shared their views with ET NOW's Andy Mukherjee about the top trends and earnings for the third quarter ended March 2010. Excerpts:


HCL Tech's journey starting in 2005 until now has been a remarkable case of a phoenix rising from the ashes... So what exactly has happened at HCL Tech in this period to make this transformation happen?

Anant Gupta: Some of the key points are really fundamental changes in what we were doing. If you look at the philosophy of the services that we are focused on, we were not geared up for the growth which we wanted to drive in the transformation phase. So, really, it was a question of defocusing from what we were doing and looking at open spaces which were there, aligning some of our best embroiders into newer areas so that we could drive growth in that specific place. So, for example, if we were focused on infra in the domestic market, but we completely defocused from there and went into the Blue Ocean space of the global markets which we all know is a fairly good success story.


Anil, Rs 344 crore in net profit for the quarter vis-a-vis market expectations of about Rs 302 crore. Would you say that currency played spoilsport in this quarter?

Anil Chanana: Yes, the currency did play a part in this quarter. So, our q-o-q growth which is 5.1%, had the currency not played a part, would have been 6.9%. When you look at IT services, we grew 6.6% and in constant currency terms, we grew 8.2% and on top of it, volume growth. So, this quarter has been a volume story, 9.2% volume growth q-o-q. You now go on and take the high risk; I mean we did cross-hires of something like 7,000 employees this quarter.


Manufacturing which was a laggard, now seems to have come back very strongly. What is happening in that space?


Sanjeev Nikore: We have delivered a performance of 9.8% q-o-q growth. If you look at the US economy, it is opening up on the manufacturing side.


Ram, what is your outlook on volume and pricing in your end of the business?

Ram Krishna: Discretionary spending is coming back. There have been strategic initiatives which have been launched by many of the clients which means that yes, there are more project spending.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IS A PILLAR OF FUTURE GROWTH: THE BODY SHOP

AMIT SHARMA

 

The Body Shop, the iconic British skincare brand, has slashed the prices of about 800 products by up to 35% in India to speed up its growth in one of its fastest growing markets. The pricing markdown only for India was part of an ambitious plan to expand its reach to more people and smaller cities in quick time, says Jonathan Price, managing director, Asia Pacific, The Body Shop . The natural and ethical cosmetics maker will, however, resist major advertisement investment as part of its global policy, Mr Price told ET's Amit Sharma in an interview. Excerpts:


You have slashed the prices of hundreds of products in India. What is the game plan? Who is the new customer you are aiming for?

We have got great response instantly in India. The brand and its ethos have resonated well with consumers here. India is a sensorial place and we are a sensorial brand. But it was clear to me, as well as our franchise partners in India, that we had to get the brand to grow dynamically. So we decided in March last year to take 200 of our top-selling products and really aggressively bring the pricing down, remembering that this is a permanent price reduction, not a gimmick. Because we had been listening to our consumers.


We then decided that the next stage for us was to become more affordable and more accessible. But the two had to go hand in hand. So we had to go to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and towns and we extended the price reduction to a total of 800 products. There is a 10-35% reduction in prices, which will now allow us to really penetrate the smaller towns and cities. We have become more affordable in order to help more people experience our brand, learning about the brand and its values.


This price reduction is only in India. We are doing other things in other countries, but nothing to this scale. There is no doubt that when we came into India, we were targeting high-end consumers, the upper economic strata, but we are absolutely clear that we want to move down the economic pyramid. If we can get the message of responsible consumerism further down, to more and more people, then its good for the brand.


Where does India stand in The Body Shop's global operations?

By the end of this year, we will have 35 stores here out of a total of 2,500 globally. It's still a very small part, but is a pillar of future growth for us. The size, wealth, dynamism of the country, all augur really well for the growth of The Body Shop brand here. It is certainly a priority market for me.

We want to be in a position to say that we are in 30 cities in India and in 65 stores by the end of this fiscal year. It's a pretty dynamic growth for us in a market where we are merely four years old. I do not think that there is no other freestanding retailer in India that can speak of such growth.


The Body Shop is a brand that pioneered cause marketing and responsible consumerism. Now most multinationals talk about sustainable growth and the human angle. Any comment?

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, an awful lot of companies boast of a lot of things and do not necessarily back up the talk. But then there is another part of me that actually feels proud that I am associated with a company whose founder was so passionate about issues of global concern. Today companies are talking about the same things that Dame Anita talked about over 30 years ago. And, yes, the general consciousness among global businesses is in the right direction. Protecting the environment, conserving resources, human rights. These are really important things that we need to talk about as corporations. And it is happening, so I feel proud about that.

The Body Shop has not been known to leverage mass media advertising but you are part of the L'Oreal group, which is a big advertiser. Will the brand advertise more in India to get across to more consumers?
We as a brand stand alone in that sense. We fund our own advertising. And The Body Shop philosophy has been that we do not invest heavily in marketing. We are fundamental believers that our stores are our major investments. They are the face of the brand and the associates who work in the stores are the other marketing association. That's always been the philosophy. That said, we will do targeted events around new product ranges. We will put some marketing spend behind that. But it will be very targeted and will be done in a different, quirky way.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IPL, BCCI PROBE MUST BE THOROUGH

The suspected sordidness that underlines the leadership of the Indian Premier League under Mr Lalit Modi, and the presumed transgressions of the norms of propriety by Mr Shashi Tharoor when he was in the council of ministers until only a few days ago, are a metaphor for much that is undesirable in public life in India — both in the private sector and in government and politics. Mr Modi, as is appropriate, will get a due hearing, at the level of the IPL council and the wider BCCI board to which he reports in his capacity as IPL commissioner and a BCCI vice-president. On this will depend whether he stays or goes as head of IPL. Given the scale of foul play, and financial and other irregularities being discussed prima facie, the government has mounted a full-scale investigation from commercial and economic angles into IPL affairs, and the heat could be felt by the BCCI as well. The outfit is full of prominent political figures and businessmen and there is no knowing at this stage who might get singed. It is fair and proper, however, that the necessary process is being gone through and no one is being sent home on the basis of whims and allegations, no matter how serious the suspicions of wrongdoing against them. The demand has been made that the affairs of the IPL be scrutinised by a joint parliamentary committee. On the face of it, this is not sustainable. Typically, a JPC is not instituted to look into the affairs of a private enterprise unless governmental wrongdoing is indicated. In the case of Mr Tharoor, it is good in the end that he did the sensible thing and put in his papers. If he had done so a few days earlier, before the clamour for his head began, he would have been better placed to claim the high moral ground to which he alluded in his statement to Parliament on the circumstances of his departure. But all things considered, the former minister does deserve a chance to clear his name through a proper investigation which he has sought. It is to be hoped that the government will permit him that opportunity. It is only then that the former minister and the IPL chief would have both got an equal hearing. From the government's perspective, Mr Tharoor's resignation was a necessity — not only in the interest of propriety, but also given its political compulsions to keep the Opposition in Parliament in good humour on the eve of the passage of the Finance Bill. Also, Dr Manmohan Singh would not have liked the shadow of taint to appear on his government's record. In the case of Mr Tharoor, there has unfortunately been some snickering on the side by hard-boiled political types. It was said that he had it coming, that he had been slow to adapt to the games that Indian politicians play. These basically amount to an invitation to obscure sleaziness. There is also a subtext here — that successful professionals from other fields are a misfit in public life and should not seek to enter the political arena which must continue to remain the fiefdom of so-called professional politicians. In fact, inducting well-educated and public-minded professionals into our representative bodies and legislatures is likely to raise the timbre of political life in the country.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RIGHTS OF EARTH

BY VANDANA SHIVA

We need a new paradigm for living on the earth because the old one is clearly not working. An alternative is now a survival imperative for the human species. And the alternative that is needed is not only at the level of tools, it is at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making, resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end.

The world order built on the economic fundamentalism of greed and limitless growth and the technological fundamentalism that there is a technological fix for every social and environmental ill, is clearly collapsing.

The collapse of the Wall Street in September 2008 and the continuing financial crisis signals the end of the paradigm that put fictitious finance above real wealth created by nature and humans, that put profits above people and corporations above citizens. This paradigm can only be kept afloat with limitless bailouts that direct public wealth to private rescue instead of using it to rejuvenate nature and economic livelihoods of people. It can only be kept afloat with increasing violence to the earth and its people. It can only be kept alive as an economic dictatorship. This is visible in India's heartland as the limitless appetitive for steel and aluminum for the global consumer economy and the limitless appetitive for profits of steel and aluminum corporations is clashing head-on with the rights of the tribals to their land and homes, their forests and rivers, their cultures and ways of life.

The tribals are saying a loud and clear "no" to their forced uprooting. The only way to get to the minerals and coal that feed the "limitless growth" model in the face of democratic resistance is the use of militarised violence against the tribals. Operation Green Hunt has been launched in the tribal areas of India with precisely this purpose, even though the proclaimed objective is to clear out the "Maoists". Under Operation Green Hunt, more than 40,000 armed paramilitary jawans have been placed in the tribal areas which are rich in minerals and where tribal unrest is growing. Operation Green Hunt shows clearly that the current economic paradigm can only unfold through increased militarisation and by undermining democratic and human rights.

The technological fundamentalism that has externalised costs, both ecological and social, and blinded us to ecological destruction, has also reached a dead end. Climate chaos, the externality of technologies based on the use of fossil fuels, is a wakeup call —that we cannot continue on the fossil fuel path. The high costs of industrial farming is running up against limits, both in terms of the ecological destruction of the natural capital of soil, water, biodiversity and air, as well as in terms of the creation of malnutrition with a billion people being denied food and another two billion being denied health because of obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases.

I believe that we are all members of the earth family — of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. And as members of the earth family, our first and highest duty is to take care of Mother Earth — Prithvi, Gaia, Pachamana. And the more we take care of her, the more food, water, health and wealth we will have. "Earth rights" are first and foremost the rights of Mother Earth and our corresponding duties and responsibilities to defend those rights. Earth rights are also the rights of humans as they flow from the rights of Mother Earth — the right to food and water, the right to health and a safe environment, the right to the commons — the rivers, seeds, the biodiversity, atmosphere.

I have given the name "Earth Democracy" to this new paradigm of living as an earth community, respecting the rights of Mother Earth.

Earth Democracy enables us to envision and create living democracies. Living democracy enables democratic participation in all matters of life and death — the food we eat or do not have access to; the water we drink or are denied due to privatisation or pollution; the air we breathe or are poisoned by. Living democracies are based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures; a just and equal sharing of this earth's vital resources; sharing the decisions about the use of the earth's resources.

Earth Democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that form the basis of right to life, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods. Earth Democracy is based on the recognition of and respect for the life of all species and all people.

Ahimsa or non-violence is the basis of many faiths that have emerged on the Indian soil. Translated into economics, non-violence implies that our systems of production, trade and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people. Violence is the obvious outcome when our dominant economic structures and economic organisations usurp and enclose the ecological space of other species or other people.

According to an ancient Indian text, the Isho Upanishad, "The universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefits of (all) creation. Each individual life form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relation with other species. Let not any one species encroach upon others' rights. Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence. Non-sustainable consumption and non-sustainable production constitute a violent economic order. A selfish man over-utilising the resources of nature to satisfy his own ever-increasing needs is nothing but a thief, because using resources beyond one's needs would result in the utilisation of resources over which others have a right".

Earth rights are the basis of equity, justice and sustainability. To mark Earth Day 2010, the President of Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, is organising a conference on Rights of Mother Earth. The idea is to start a process for adopting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without earth rights, there can be no human rights.

Earth rights are human rights.

- Today, April 22, is Earth Day

- Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HOW OBAMA MADE US INDISPENSABLE AGAIN

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I've been thinking about the US President, Mr Barack Obama's foreign policy lately, but first, a golf tip: I went to Dave Pelz's famous short-game school this winter to improve my putting and chipping, and a funny thing happened — my long game got better. It brings to mind something that happened to Obama.

The President got healthcare reform passed, and it may turn out to be his single most important foreign policy achievement.

In politics and diplomacy, success breeds authority and authority breeds more success. No one ever said it better than Osama bin Laden: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse".

Have no illusions, the rest of the world was watching our healthcare debate very closely, waiting to see who would be the strong horse — Obama or his Democratic and Republican healthcare opponents? At every turn in the debate, America's enemies and rivals were gauging what the outcome might mean for their own ability to push around an untested US President.

It remains to be seen whether, in the long run, America will be made physically healthier by the bill's passage. But, in the short run, Obama definitely was made geopolitically healthier.

"When others see the President as a winner or as somebody who has real authority in his own house, it absolutely makes a difference", the defence secretary, Mr Robert Gates, said to me in an interview. "All you have to do is look at how many minority or weak coalition governments there are around the world who can't deliver something big in their own country, but basically just teeter on the edge, because they can't put together the votes to do anything consequential, because of the divided electorate". President Obama has had "a divided electorate and was still able to muscle the thing through".

When President Mr Dmitri Medvedev of Russia spoke by phone with Mr Obama the morning after the healthcare vote — to finalise the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty — he began by saying that before discussing nukes, "I want to congratulate you, Mr President, on the healthcare vote", an administration official said. That was not just rank flattery. According to an American negotiator, all throughout the arms talks, which paralleled the healthcare debate, the Russians kept asking: "Can you actually get this ratified by the Senate" if an arms deal is cut? Winning passage of the Healthcare Bill demonstrated to the Russians that Obama could get something hard passed.

Our enemies surely noticed, too. You don't have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that healthcare would fail and, therefore, Mr Obama's whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled. He would then be a lame duck for the next three years and America would be a lame power.

Given the time and energy and political capital that was spent on healthcare, "failure would have been unilateral disarmament", added Mr Gates. "Failure would have badly weakened the President in terms of dealing with others — his ability to do various kinds of national security things... You know, people made fun of Madeleine (Albright) for saying it, but I think she was dead on: most of the rest of the world does see us as the 'indispensable nation'".

Indeed, our allies often complain about a world of too much American power, but they are not stupid. They know that a world of too little American power is one they would enjoy even less. They know that a weak America is like a world with no health insurance — and a lot of pre-existing conditions.

Gen. James Jones, the President's national security adviser, told me that he recently met with a key North Atlantic Treaty Organisation counterpart, who concluded a breakfast by congratulating him on the healthcare vote and pronouncing: "America is back".

But is it? While Obama's healthcare victory prevented a power outage for him, it does not guarantee a power surge. Ultimately, what makes a strong President is a strong country — a country whose underlying economic prowess, balance sheet and innovative capacity enable it to generate and project both military power and what the political scientist Joe Nye calls "soft power" — being an example that others want to emulate.

What matters most now is how Mr Obama uses the political capital that healthcare's passage has earned him.

I continue to believe that the most important foreign policy issue America faces today is its ability to successfully engage in nation building — nation building at home.

Mr Obama's success in passing healthcare and the bounce it has put in his step will be nothing but a sugar high if we can't get our deficit under control, inspire a new generation of start-ups, upgrade our railroads and Internet and continue to attract the world's smartest and most energetic immigrants.

An effective, self-confident President with a weak country is nothing more than a bluffer. An effective, self-confident President, though, at least increases the odds of us building a stronger country.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

EMPOWERING OR OPPRESSIVE?

RIGHT TO VOTE = RIGHT NOT TO VOTE

P.P. RAO

The Gujarat governor returned the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which contained provisions for compulsory voting in elections to local bodies. Though the Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, appears keen on this, the governor gave three reasons: (i) compulsory voting violates the citizens' right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution; (ii) to punish voters who fail to vote violates their fundamental freedom in the matter of voting; and (iii) experience of other countries shows that it is difficult to implement compulsory voting.

The Supreme Court declared in the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) case that "vote" is a form of speech, as the voter indicates his preference for one of the contesting candidates silently. The court was concerned about the voter's right to know the antecedents of the candidates. Article 19(1)(a) says that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The freedom to vote includes the right not to vote. This right is subject to any law made by the state which imposes reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence. Compulsory voting does not fall within the above category.

The former President, R. Venkatraman, had suggested compulsory voting, but there were no takers.

Democracy is rule by consent of the majority of voters who exercise their franchise. If the candidates set up by political parties at elections are not acceptable to the voters because of their criminal antecedents, corrupt background or incompetence, which are common complaints in India, it would be oppressive and unethical to compel voters to vote.

The right to dissent is basic to democracy. It is a basic human right which includes the right not to vote, although this cannot be compared with right to life which cannot be waived. In P. Rathinam's case (1994) 3 SCC 394, the Supreme Court discussed the legal and ethical aspects of the question of the right to die. Euthanasia is not accepted by several legal systems. In the case of voting, the issue is of freedom to vote. "Freedom" necessarily implies choice and includes the option not to vote.

Our courts are overburdened and unable to enforce criminal law speedily. If failure to vote is made an offence, it will be impossible to implement. The better way to ensure high polling is by choosing candidates of character and competence with a record of public service. The decision of the Gujarat governor is unexceptionable.

— P.P. Rao is a noted jurist

Will alter caste, religious equations

Jaynarayan Vyas

In a democracy, the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. If that's the case, people must participate in the democratic process by voting in elections. This is an integral part of the democratic process. How can India be an exception to such a proposition?

Voting cannot merely be a right; it must be as much a duty as a right that citizens are entitled to. The passage of the Mandatory Voting Bill in the Gujarat Assembly is the first step towards making voting as much a right as a duty.

Most of the arguments advanced by opponents of the idea are shallow, flawed, and premised on wrong assumptions. Let me clarify here what the Gujarat government wants to achieve through this landmark bill. The intended legislation is a serious attempt to eliminate passive voters who do not go out to vote but crib about politicians. By bringing them to the ballot booth, we want to ensure maximum participation in the democratic process. This will benefit all and cause harm to none.

The measure will also considerably alter the caste equations in politics that currently dominate the country's polity from the bottom level to the top.

It will help in eliminating money and muscle power that is increasingly used by politicians in elections and plays a decisive role at many places.

Two, it will help eliminate the communal aspect of politics as everybody's vote will decide the fate of candidates, not just the minuscule votes of one or another community.

We have seen low turnouts in many elections in the country. When the polling is only 40 per cent, a person with just 21 per cent gets elected although the remaining 79 per cent may be against such an individual.

Such a skewed arithmetic of politics will undergo a transformation when mandatory voting is introduced.

Let me make it clear that compulsory voting does not mean you have to vote under any circumstances. There are several escape routes available if a person is genuinely not able to exercise his/her franchise, such as being away on work.

To say that mandatory voting violates personal freedom is not true because it does not force you to vote for a candidate.

You can also choose the "none of the above" option. Rules shall be framed about this.

What we are proposing is revolutionary for India. There is no harm in experimenting with it. It will strengthen our democratic process. Let's not forget that several democracies have followed this system for years.

— Jaynarayan Vyas is senior minister and Gujarat government spokesman

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHO KILLED BENAZIR?

BY MAHIR ALI

Given that the mandate of the United Nations (UN) commission of inquiry into the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, did not extend to identifying the culprits, its value depends ultimately on the extent to which it brings us closer to that goal.

Although the shrill defensiveness of spokesmen for the former military ruler, Mr Pervez Musharraf, and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government's exuberance in expressing its sense of vindication suggest otherwise, the UN report does not in fact reveal much that wasn't already known.

The inadequacy of official as well as party-initiated security arrangements on that fateful day in December 2007 is hardly a revelation — although it's not hard to understand the PPP's stance that similar conclusions by a domestic inquiry would have been greeted with accusations of political motivation.

On the other hand, whereas the UN panel may have genuinely been shocked by the contrast between the level of security provided to pro-Musharraf ex-Prime Ministers Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and that offered to Bhutto, such discrepancies are pretty much par for the course in Pakistan's political culture.

By December 2007, the tentative agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto had kind of crumbled, although they were both keeping their options open. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) faction that ruled Punjab, meanwhile, had been bitterly opposed to that understanding anyway; it is not particularly surprising, then, that its administrative machinery stopped well short of offering Bhutto a cordon sanitaire in Rawalpindi.

It is arguably more curious why, in view of these circumstances, the PPP did not step up its own security arrangements, given that there was no dearth of death threats.

The UN panel makes allowance for the fact that the PPP is a political party rather than a security organisation and goes relatively easy on the lack of clarity that surrounded its arrangements. But its report does not help to resolve the mystery of why the bullet-proof black Mercedes that was supposed to serve as Bhutto's back-up transport disappeared in such a rush. Nor does it clarify whether Benazir emerged from her vehicle's escape hatch of her own accord, or was persuaded to do so.

On the other hand, while she may have escaped serious injury had she not exposed her head and shoulders, that hardly excuses the fact that a teenage assassin was able to get so close to her vehicle.

The plethora of outright lies and half-truths subsequently offered by the police is certainly suspicious but not necessarily self-incriminating. The UN panel attributes it in part to the police's reluctance to irritate Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence agencies, whose possible involvement in the assassination has inevitably been the subject of speculation.

It's hardly controversial to claim that there was a cover-up. The crucial question is, was it intuitive — that is to say, based on the unproven assumption of involvement by state actors from the murky depths of the military-intelligence networks — or the consequence of clear instructions from the powers-that-be?

The UN sheets home the blame for the refusal to permit an autopsy to city police officer Saud Aziz, who evidently turned down requests from doctors, rather than to the Pakistan President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari. The latter exculpation is one of the more dubious aspects of the report, though: Zardari could surely have requested an autopsy even after his estranged wife's body had been taken from the hospital to Chaklala airport. The absence of a post-mortem makes it impossible to tell whether there were any bullet wounds, for instance.

The report does note, however, that the Musharraf administration was much too hasty in announcing that a lever on the escape hatch accounted for Bhutto's fatal injury and that the suicide bombing was ordered by Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. And then there's the fact that the assassination site was hosed down after only 23 pieces of forensic evidence had been collected, in circumstances that ought to have yielded thousands of clues.

The clean-up is reminiscent of the actions that followed the assassination of Murtaza Bhutto outside his Clifton home in Karachi a decade earlier — and in that particular case the city police's culpability is beyond reasonable doubt.

Although Fatima Bhutto's recently published memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword, is unfortunately peppered with inaccuracies about circumstances of which her knowledge is inevitably second-hand, there is plenty of poignancy in her recollections about her father and, in particular, the circumstances in which he was eliminated. Then, too, the police version of events was layered with lies.

Fatima's efforts in seeking to formulate the story of her father's life are commendable, but she apparently fails to realise that, in speaking to her, former friends, acquaintances and lovers of her father are unlikely to cough up the whole truth, not least because of the tragic circumstances in which he met his end. That makes it a flawed memoir, but it's nonetheless more readable than the ghostwritten PR publications of the woman she adored as Wadi Bua, but subsequently grew to detest.

Fatima castigates her grandfather for putting his sons in an invidious position by declaring that they would avenge his murder, perhaps not realising the extent to which Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was given to rhetorical flights of fancy. It's possible he would have avoided politics altogether had he any inkling that three of his four children would die prematurely by unnatural means on account of their paternity.

The Zardari government, meanwhile, has acted against some of those accused of obfuscation in the UN report, but it remains far from clear whether fresh investigations will meaningfully resolve the question of who killed Benazir Bhutto. There can be little question. However, that those who love to claim that democracy is the best revenge would acquire a lot more credibility if they could be bothered to introduce it into the party that thrives on laying claim to the Bhutto legacy.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DON'T YOU SEE GOD IN OTHERS?

BY FRANCIS GONSALVES

Who doesn't know the story of Adam and Eve? In the first account of creation in Genesis Chapter 1, God creates human beings in "God's image and likeness" (v.26). The second narrative in Chapter 2 is more fleshy and earthy. Like a potter, "God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being" (v.7).

Most folks don't have problems with the story so far. But those who misunderstand the literary genre of Genesis begin to sneer when it talks about the creation of woman: "God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man; then God took one of his ribs… And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman" (Gen. 2:21-22). In puerile man-versus-woman digs on who's greater, the bone of contention is, quite literally, that woman was moulded from man's rib-bone after him, thereby making her inferior. To this, women have retorted, "Surely, God was disappointed with his 'rough mould' Adam, and made Eve delightfully different!"

Basing man-woman superiority-inferiority on the Genesis creation myth is not only naïve exegesis, but it has dangerously led to the debasement of woman down the ages with Eve caricatured as temptress. So, dumping skewed scriptural interpretations, let's try to understand the two Biblical myths as originally intended.

By claiming that humankind is created in God's image and likeness, the Bible holds that God creates a being not identical with, but similar to, Godself. In the ancient Near East, the king was regarded an image of God, who re-presented God and reigned on God's behalf. Here, not only kings, but each and every wo/man is an image of God, created not only to procreate (like all other creatures) but to co-create. Unlike other creatures, only wo/man can speak and listen, reflect and respond. God gifts wo/man with response-ability to keep the cosmos happy, healthy, harmonious.

Created not to slavishly worship God but to function as care-taker of creation, while wo/man is the crown of creation, like all other creatures s/he too is moulded from mud. Like a caring nurse resuscitating a breathless patient, God "breathes into man's nostrils the breath of life" (2:7). This God-given "breath of life" is not air, in general, but the "I" of God reflected in every wo/man. Christianity refers to this as soul, a rough parallel in the Upanishadic tradition being atman. Indeed, we're all interconnected, not by someone "out there" whom I see, feel and know as object, but by the Ultimate Subject by which I see, feel and know.

Consequent to "divine rib surgery" although the man rises with one rib less, with the woman he truly becomes "more". From loner to lover, silent Adam bursts into song: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!" (2:23). Woman complements man, completes him; together, they image God.

Biblical apologists vainly label these creation accounts as historic and scientific in the modern sense of these terms, much as evolutionists err by dismissing them as distortions and deceit. While believers depend on revelation, and scientists on research, to reach conclusions about the Ultimate Source of Life, we can all — crossing the cruel confines of gender, caste, religion and race — celebrate our common earthiness, stop creating God in our image, and cooperate with God to mould everything and everyone in God's image. If only we'd look at everyone and everything with God's eyes and sing with Adam: "This is flesh of my flesh!" we'd create heaven on earth.

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted at fragons@gmail.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DANTEWADA~II 
CAUGHT NAPPING AGAIN


CASUALTY figures are not the sole index of operational success, failure or gravity. Unfortunately many use that yardstick, so it is not surprising that in the absence of immediate reports of death or injury only marginal attention was accorded to the implications of the Maoists simultaneously striking at four or five CRPF camps in Dantewada district on Tuesday. Yes, in the same general area where they had gunned down 76 paramilitary/police personnel a fortnight ago. Most worrying are reports that once again the rebels struck when the men were resting. True this time around fire was promptly returned, but it would be safe to assume the CRPF were not adequately alert: else the movements of some 300-400 Maoists (that figure could be inflated, "losers" always say they were outnumbered) ought to have been detected, and neutralised. Has the massacre of 6 April taught the paramilitary virtually nothing? Are CRPF personnel so poorly-trained that they cannot exploit ground conditions to their advantage (the "jungle is neutral", a strategic expert had declared during the Burma campaign) and always surrender the initiative to the insurgents? Or is morale so shattered ~ by a combination of the 6 April reverse, pathetic casualty-evacuation systems and medical back-up, appalling living conditions, poor leadership, lack of coordination with the local police and divided political opinion on the "military option" ~ that the troopers lack the will to fight? An efficient force would have hit back strongly after the massacre rather than hunker down and allow pot-shots to be taken at its camps. A fresh evaluation of these harsh realities is critical to the continuance of the "offensive", every small strike further emboldens the rebels, enhances their sway over the local populace.


 A Maoist strike ought to have been anticipated. It was their way of "replying" to P Chidambaram's assertions in Parliament over the last few days: just as Dantewada-I was a counter to his projection that Naxalism would be eradicated in a couple of years. Lessons from the Punjab insurgency (with which the minister was well-acquainted) point to a vicious response to every governmental claim/promise of turning the tide. Maybe it is now necessary to set up a separate ministry of Naxal affairs to singularly focus on both counter-insurgency and socio-economic issues along the Red Corridor. The home minister has other things on his plate ~ getting involved in the mission to oust Lalit Modi for example!

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UN INDICTMENT

DOUBLE WHAMMY FOR PAKISTAN


IT has been a double whammy for Pakistan, one almost coinciding with the other. The President has been reduced to a titular head, with Asif Ali Zardari himself inking the critical legislation that has severely curtailed the authority of the office. If that bitter paradox wasn't damning enough, the United Nations committee, in its report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, has exposed the almost calculated failures of the Pervez Musharraf dispensation. There is no hedging in the UN's assertion that Zardari's wife and the leader of the Pakistan's People's Party could have been saved had she been provided with adequate security in Rawalpindi, the army headquarters. Not that suspicions of an ISI hand have been confirmed; but the subtext of the UN presentation makes it clear that the ruling military dispensation did little or nothing to protect her. It is upfront on the point that the police and security agencies (aka ISI?) conducted a half-baked investigation at best and ensured a cover-up at worst.


The two developments over the past week have denuded the credibility of the Pakistan government, a setback no less for the GHQ after the recent bonhomie of its brass with the State Department in Washington. And the plot merely thickens when the report makes the resounding observation that the calculated failure of the Pakistani authorities in December 2007 goes "beyond mere incompetence". Certain facts were generally known, but the chief value of the report is that it has drawn an inference that no government in Pakistan would have had the nerve to try. That the police hosed down the scene of crime "could not have happened without the knowledge of the higher authorities". It is fairly established that Rawalpindi's police chief had acted on the orders of a Major-General. The report is emphatic that "the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto's assassination were, in most cases, deliberate". That failure was embedded in the "fear of the involvement of the intelligence agencies". More than two years later, the UN's perception somewhat confirms Benazir's fears that politicians and the Intelligence were plotting to kill her. It is not often that the world body so severely indicts the Intelligence establishment of a member-nation ~ it exists "to undermine democratic governance". The UN report is implicit that Pakistan is a failed state; it is improbable that it will ever undertake an earnest follow-through on the report. In the splinter nation of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has at least brought her father's assassins to their nemesis.


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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SECOND TERM

RULING BODO PARTY WINS CONVINCINGLY


CONTRARY to predictions that Bodo Territorial Council executive chief Hagrama Mohilary's Bodo People's Front would face stiff opposition from the newly-formed United Democratic People's Front ~ an umbrella organisation of 50 indigenous groups ~ in the 9 April election, the ruling party has returned to power with a convincing majority. By winning 32 of the 40 seats, it improved on its previous tally of 26, Mohilary himself winning by a margin of 27,000 votes. Significantly, the BPF, a Congress ally, fought the election on its own in deference to the wishes of its supporters who opposed any seat-sharing arrangement as they were angry with the ally for not supporting their demand for a separate Bodoland. In 2005, the Congress did not field any candidate, but this time it contested 24 seats and won three. While the opposition Bodo People's Progressive Front led by Rabiram Narzary and the UDPF managed one each, the Asom Gana Parishad, which had one seat, drew a blank and the BJP again failed to find a toehold. This is somewhat curious, because it was LK Advani who, as Union home minister in 2001, had persuaded Mahilary, then chief of the militant Bodo Liberation Tigers, to come to the negotiating table, which ultimately led to the signing of the 2003 Bodo Accord and the formation of the BTC under the Sixth Schedule.


For Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, the result is a happy augury that after the 2011 assembly elections too the partnership will continue as the two are to contest unitedly. Gogoi runs the government with the support of 11 BPF members, three of whom are ministers. No one can give short shrift to BPF because without its support no party can form a government. In Mahilary's first term the Bodo region witnessed large-scale violence ~ 300 were reportedly killed in fratricidal clashes. How he tackles this in view of the anti-talk National Democratic Front of Boroland's continued belligerency remains to be seen.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MAOISTS AND IPL

ALTOGETHER A DEADLY MIX

RAJINDER PURI


AFTER the Dantewada massacre the debate in Parliament on the Maoist threat was unusual. The speeches were entirely constructive. Yashwant Sinha of the BJP pointed out the dangers arising from politicians colluding with Maoists for electoral advantage. Sharad Yadav of the JD-U wanted the government to focus on corruption that allowed insurgency to flourish. Mulayam Singh Yadav of SP wanted the government to investigate the role of neighbouring nations in encouraging insurgency. Lalu Prasad of the RJD deplored the failure of state governments to tackle insurgency. Even Congress critics Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer, who outside Parliament had criticized the Home Minister's strategy for dealing with insurgents, displayed differences of nuance rather than of substance. Subsequently the minister papered over differences by clarifying that a strong law and order approach was not intended at the expense of development. It was unique to witness the Congress, the BJP and the CPI-M all on the same side for tackling the issue. Why did this happen?


It happened because the massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in a single ambush signaled the declaration of open war against the Indian State . Our politicians were jolted out of their complacency. They arose above petty partisan interests in defence of the nation. The impact of the jolt however was momentary. Very quickly the politicians have slipped back to their old ways. It looks once again like politics as usual. The politicians should reflect. Can they afford to lapse into their traditional style of functioning? If they had this delusion it should have been removed by the IPL crisis. Although the IPL crisis allegedly entails corruption it could prove to be very different from earlier scandals of corruption. The political impact of future revelations related to this crisis may far outweigh the damage wrought by previous scandals.


Sleaze affects cricket

FOR several decades this scribe was a consistent critic of political corruption and attempted to expose several scams. But things changed. His ardour to probe corruption cases cooled. The reasons for that were two-fold. First, despite convincing exposure, despite public perception that corruption had indeed occurred, invariably the scam was covered up and the guilty politicians escaped unscathed. Secondly, over time corruption became so widespread that to pursue individual cases seemed irrelevant. To target one case amidst scores of other cases not being probed appeared futile and unfair. Corruption had ceased to be an aberration. The very system of governance had become fully corrupt. Interest in details of individual cases waned. The spread of corruption deadened public sensitivity.


The IPL affair may change all that. The reason is that for the first time the sleaze is affecting not defence deals or thermal power contracts or other government transactions related to high politics and economy. The sleaze affects India's most popular activity ~ cricket. The corruption involves politicians, Bollywood stars and business ~ all the celebrity stars that hog television and print media space. Their shenanigans are tumbling out of the closet. And the circle of guilt may continue to expand. As in gangster wars politicians may destroy each other. Add to this the ostentatious lifestyle that attends IPL matches, with skimpily dressed imported cheer leaders, and with after-match party binges. This attracts public attention as did no earlier corruption scam. This scam is related to daily fare. Eventually the high lifestyle pervading IPL cricket will start to tell. It is reminiscent of the decadence in Nero's Rome. It focuses on the ruling elite as never before. And the large mass of unemployed youth with families groaning under unprecedented price rise may not be amused.
 Taken together the Maoist threat and the IPL corruption make a deadly mix. The corruption, the breakdown in governance, the terrorist threat, and the official complicity revealed will hasten a downward slide that could become irreversible. How can this decline be reversed? Only two possibilities suggest themselves. If the present political class is to reverse the trend it will have to act like it talks. It will have to take dramatic action that restores some credibility to its tattered image.


National government

FIRST, if a real war against terrorism, corruption and lack of governance is to be fought nothing less than the formation of a national government for the next four years would suffice. True, corrupt politicians are hardly credible warriors against corruption. But some device will have to be created by which secret amnesty for past corruption in exchange for half the assets of the guilty person surrendered to the state could be negotiated. Any failure to comply with the offer beyond a cut-off date would invite remorseless prosecution. Participation in the government would give a stake for success to all parties participating in the national government. To root out corruption, fight terrorism and ensure governance there would be more work than what all the MPs in Parliament could handle. Those in government would have to implement policies, those in the respective party organizations would have to monitor the implementation. Even the most optimistic forecast would give the chance of this actually happening less than five per cent.


The second possibility for the decline to be reversed would require a revolution. That does not in any way imply success for the Maoists. The orchestrated sympathy for the so-called Left insurgency by human rights activists and intellectuals pampered by the West becomes easily understood in the light of the tactical and moral support rendered to Maoists by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) headquartered in Chicago . But that is a subject that can be considered at another time and on another occasion. Genuine revolution implies a paradigm shift in political culture and values. It would imply not the violation of law but its implementation. It would imply not the escalation of violence but its cessation. It would require a new class of activists quite different from those who dominate politics today. Before any such class can be organized to seize power democratically there would have to be an acknowledged collapse of the present system. And after the collapse there can be no guarantee whether the nation would experience revolution or disintegration. Prospects appear gloomy and uncertain. So how will politicians respond?


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ASIANS MUST THINK FOR THEMSELVES

IF ASIA IS TO TAKE ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE IN THE WORLD AS AN EQUAL WITH THE WEST, THERE WILL HAVE TO BE MUCH MORE ORIGINAL ASIAN THINKING, NOT ABOUT PAROCHIAL ASIAN VALUES, BUT ABOUT VALUES AND PRACTICES THAT APPLY UNIVERSALLY, SAYS ANDREW SHENG

 

My Singaporean friend, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, wrote a provocative essay in 1998 called "Can Asians think?" I personally found the title rather offensive – of course we can think. But what he really meant was "can Asians think out of the Western intellectual box?" For most of us who are trained in or by the West, we used to think that our icons of best practice are the wonderful theories, science, technology and institutions that the West has brought to Asia.


But the current global crisis has shocked us to the core. That the best of the West, such as the Wall Street iconic firm of Goldman Sachs, could be charged by the SEC of fraud, is stunning to those who look to them for standards of professionalism, innovation, intellectual brilliance and moral integrity.When our teachers are no better than us, then we would really have to think for ourselves.


There are signs now that Asians are beginning to do so. In a new book by Michael Lim Mah-Hui and Lim Chin, "Nowhere to Hide: The Great Financial Crisis and Challenges for Asia", published by Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, the authors argue that the current global financial crisis should be examined from three different levels: theory and ideology; financial industry practices and structural imbalances in the international economy. Written from a multi-disciplinary point of view, the book examines the crisis not only from a review of how the Efficient Market Hypothesis took hold of Wall Street, but also transformed its business practices and flourished on the penchant for consumption and debt arising from the US balance of payments deficits. Michael Lim taught political science in the University of Malaya, then became a banker and worked at the Asian Development Bank. Lim Chin is a Professor of Economics at the NUS Business School, Singapore.


Just as Asians suffered from the hubris in the years of the Asian Miracle, so did the gods of Western economics and finance. Nobel Laureate economist Robert Lucas, in his address to the American Economic Association in 2003 proclaimed that "the central problem of depression-prevention has been solved for all practical purposes". Current Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, lauded for his rescue of financial markets with "whatever it takes", stated in his famous 2004 speech on the Great Moderation (years of low volatility growth and low inflation) that "improved monetary policy … made an important contribution not only to the reduced volatility of inflation .. but to the reduced volatility of output as well".


Central bankers patting themselves on the back made no mention of the contribution to low inflation from the cheap goods and services provided largely from Asia. On the contrary, in his equally famous speech in 2005, he argued that the "significant increase in the global supply of saving - a global saving glut -… helps to explain both the increase in the US current account deficit and the relatively low level of long-term real interest rates in the world today".


I am always puzzled by the logic of this argument, because this is like a banker blaming his problems on his depositors because they save too much. The question is where did their high savings come from? The answer is because the depositors earn their income from the high-spending banker.


And why is the banker spending so much? Because the long-term real interest rates are too low! If you listen to Alan Greenspan, in his April 2010 FCIC testimonial defence of low interest rate policies, "by 2002 and 2003 it had become apparent that, as a consequence of global arbitrage, individual country long-term interest rates were, in effect, delinked from their historical tie to central bank overnight rates". In other words, central banks have little impact on low long-term interest rates and, therefore, by extension of this logic, no one is responsible for the asset bubbles.


This is exactly the theoretical failure and dilemma of Western policy making pointed out by Lim and Lim. Californian physicist Frithof Capra had already identified in 1983 that the segmentation and fragmentation of academic disciplines and government bureaucracy meant that no one is responsible or accountable for the state of world affairs. It's easier to blame it on the others, meaning other departments and other countries.
If Western intellectual thought and policy formulation appears to be incomplete or flawed, what are the challenges for Asia? Lim and Lim asked the right questions, but did not answer them fully in their book. You can actually find several answers in the foreword for the book by former Reserve Bank of India Governor Venu Reddy. Dr. Reddy was vilified by the investment bankers for not willing to open up India's financial system fast enough during his tenure, but after the crisis, it was clear that his steadfast and prudent approach shielded the country from the worst shocks from financial shenanigans and large capital flows.


Dr Reddy argued that post-crisis, growth in Asia will remain strong. Commensurate with the growing workforce will be the major challenge in education and upgrading of skills. He foresees that Asia can become a global financial hub because of its large pool of capital human skills, but a major challenge will be leadership in thought and innovation. Providing the environment for that leadership will require good governance. He sees growing intra-regional cooperation but realistically warns that major shifts in economic power in the world take place over a long period and may not be smooth. Wise words indeed.


If Asia is to take its rightful place in the world as equals with the West, there will have to be much more original Asian thinking, not about parochial Asian values, but about values and practices that apply universally. I recommend this book by Lim and Lim as one of the beacons in that direction.


The writer is author of the book "From Asian to Global Financial Crisis". He is also Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing and University of Malaya and was formerly Chairman of the
Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE HOSTESS BITES BACK

IT'S MEANT TO BE A DREAM JOB BUT JAPAN'S MODERN GEISHAS HAVE HAD ENOUGH, SAYS DAVID MCNEILL AND CHIE MATSUMOTO

 

Even in in an area of Tokyo famous for its night-time colour and licentious thrills, it was a sight that turned thousands of heads: attractive women in cocktail dresses punching the air and shouting slogans."Pay us what we deserve!" and "stop harassment!" screamed the women – some in masks – as they marched unsteadily on high heels through Kabukicho, Japan's largest red-light district, last month. The protesters were almost outnumbered by the curious press pack, which came to ogle a group of workers not previously known for their militancy – nightclub hostesses.


Pouring drinks, looking sexy and laughing at the bad jokes of well-off men; to most Japanese, hostess work doesn't sound terribly hard. And, at about 4,000-yen (£28.25) per hour, it's increasingly coveted by young women keen to avoid office drudgery for a third of that amount. "Most women in this industry can't even earn enough to make a living", says Yu Negoro, who has worked on and off as a hostess for a decade since her early twenties. Like other young hopefuls, she dreamed of easy money when she first donned an evening dress at a club in the glitzy Ginza district. But in her early thirties she made just 1,800 yen (£12.70) an hour as hidden costs imposed by her employer ate into her pay.


"I was making the same amount of money as assembly line workers at auto factories", she said. Boozing, long hours and the threat of violence took their toll and she quit.


An updated cousin of Japan's centuries-old geisha tradition, hostessing has been regularly put in magazine surveys in the top 10 most sought-after occupations in Japan, after movie actresses and TV "talent". Securing a premier-league post in a Ginza club, where politicians, lawyers and organised crime bosses come to relax, seemed to be a prize worth suffering for.


Hostesses were considered a different breed from prostitutes, with class and enough education to discuss politics and the economy with the elite. The best had careers and reputations akin to TV celebrities.But recession has boosted the number of recruits and stoked competition in the "water trade", as night-time entertainment businesses are euphemistically called – probably a reference to pre-modern bathhouses offering sexual services.


The pressure is mounting as newcomers get younger, with many starting in their teens. Some even come to job interviews with their mothers, says another hostess, Rin Sakurai.


Activists say employers impose fines for showing up late, taking sick days, applying make-up badly and a host of other "offences". Such treatment is illegal but rarely taken seriously by the authorities. Some women end up owing their employers money. Those who do complain can face violent reprisals, says Ms Sakurai, 26, with the steely gaze of a veteran negotiator.


"It's a seamy business", she says. Yakuza gangsters run much of the trade and news of a "troublemaker" quickly spreads. "The woman can never work in the same district again", she adds.


Ms Sakurai took her problems with the profession one step further. She quit a job where she says she was cheated out of wages and repeatedly sexually harassed by her boss, and joined a labour union. Then she began recruiting others.
For a week after she announced her membership to her former bosses, she was nervous enough to keep looking over her shoulder. "I'm still scared of going home alone from work", she says. Today, she is president of the 30-strong Japan Cabaret Club Union. "An increasing number of younger women think they can earn a good living in this business without even trying", says Ms Sakurai. "They come for a job interview because they want to be able to buy lots of brand-name goods. But the idea that this is easy is a complete myth".
The young apprentices are paid to attract men into high-end bars and cabaret clubs and to encourage them to drink alcohol. For every drink ordered, the women get a commission, and competition is intense.Repeat customers are prized, so most hostesses spend much of their private time sending alluring e-mail messages and making phone calls to regular clients. Some businesses demand that mobile phones be left at their pillow side just in case clients call in the middle of the night.


The hint of sexual frisson is never far from the surface although the job does not involve selling sex, a balancing act many women find difficult to maintain. Ms Sakurai, who constantly had to swat away the unwanted attention of clients and bosses, finally quit after being harassed by a manager. She joined the business at 18, out of curiosity, and worked in nightclubs in Kabukicho and the entertainment district of Roppongi, where she was ranked among the top three hostesses at her club. She was quickly struck by the gulf between the slick media portrayals of her profession and the grimy reality on the ground.


The illusions hamper the mission of the union, which wants Japan's Labour Standards Bureau to take the perils of hostess work more seriously. Eventually, it hopes that the profession will be treated like any other, with the same rules and standards. The Independent

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SEASON OF JOY

PARAMANANDA PAL


The cuckoo was cooing almost to the point of becoming hoarse quite early in the morning. I was awakened by this harbinger of spring outside the window, The darkness had still not been dispelled.


Last evening when I was watching from the fourth floor balcony the big banyan tree adjacent to our building, I had observed that it had shaken off most of the old leaves. It took hardly a week for the big tree to become covered with new leaves, as if it was putting on a new apparel of light green. The crows and other birds nesting in the branches and the squirrels sighed in relief.


The spring appears to be a season of joy for birds. The parrots chirping loudly resume their evening flights encircling the treetops. Occasionally pairs of black Moyna with red patches in their tails are seen hiding behind the leaves. During the day, the kingfisher with its coloured feathers makes a temporary stopover on a branch under the shadow of fresh leaves. Startling everybody with its shrill, the fork-tailed Titir suddenly flies past the trees.
Our residential area in Kolkata abounds in old trees, some of which appear ageless. With plentiful greenery around, the climatic conditions here are better than in other parts of the city. In the neighbourhood, two or three Palash trees stand proudly with long red flowers that attract small birds. Despite the breeze causing the branches to tremble, the birds are not bothered but sway with the flowers continuing to suck the nectar by lowering their long beaks into the flowers.


The Gulmohur trees, popularly known as Krishnachura and Radhachura, also sway in the wind. Their flower buds have started appearing but will bloom only after the Palash flowers fade away.


The spring appears to be the season for the trees to come out with new green apparel - a riot of green interspersed with red Palash flowers. The occasional flowering into magenta or light red and white of the Bougainvillea looks as if it has been painted carefully.


But when the spring set in, can summer be far behind? As the flower buds of the Gulmohur trees bloom in red, yellow and violet and the cuckoos look for opportunities to lay eggs in the unguarded nests of the crows, the breeze gets warm heralding the onslaught of summer.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

INFLATION WORRY

 

The Reserve Bank of India's annual monetary policy announced on Tuesday was not as aggressive as most expected, but in his policy statement, the RBI governor, Duvvuri Subbarao, underlined a big worry: inflation. As part of the continuing calibrated rollback of the economic stimulus that was introduced to help the economy weather the effects of the global economic crisis prevailing through much of 2008 and 2009, the RBI raised its repo and reverse repo rates — the rates at which banks borrow from and lend to the central bank — by a quarter of a percentage point, or 25 basis points. The RBI also increased the cash reserve ratio — a reserve requirement — by 25 bps, reducing the amount of liquidity within the banking system. Both these measures — increasing policy rates and tightening liquidity — were aimed at addressing the pervasive and high inflation that consumers have been experiencing for months now, mostly in runaway food prices. Strictly speaking, monetary policy tends to use the wholesale price index or producer prices as an indicator in monetary policy making, but as the governor had pointed out in his January review, food price-led inflation (which is supply-side led) was becoming more generalized; rising incomes, capacity shortages and a liquidity overflow were driving up the demand side inflation too, which is the RBI's area of responsibility. Technicalities aside, the RBI is the watchdog of inflation in public perception.

 

The policy statement outlined three concerns about the risks of high inflation: higher incomes could push up demand, higher oil prices could fuel inflationary pressures, and better economic performance could bring in higher capital flows (and thus more liquidity).The policy measures — in response to these concerns in the main — were met with both relief and worry, though in different quarters. As the governor pointed out, policy rates are still negative in real terms (or adjusted for inflation). So until real policy interest rates become neutral, there is wiggle room. A more aggressive policy stance — reflected in higher policy rate or CRR increases — would have almost certainly raised interest rates and forced many companies to rethink their investment plans, and perhaps dented the pace of economic recovery.

 

On the flip side, it could have sent out a strong signal regarding the central bank's commitment to price stability. But the slightly softer approach is in line with the consistency of the policy thinking of the RBI governor: in other words, keeping the tightening calibrated, while also giving the central bank enough room to manoeuvre by raising rates quickly, should circumstances warrant it. So the tone of the policy statement is a little more concerned than that from other quarters of the government when it comes to inflation risks.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

PARTY TIME

 

Mukul Sangma could not have asked for a better birthday gift. He was sworn in as Meghalaya's chief minister on his birthday. But the circumstances which led to the fall of his predecessor, D.D. Lapang, do not make it a happy beginning for Mr Sangma. Dissidence within the ruling party or coalition is common in the Northeast. Unstable coalitions make the tenures of chief ministers far more uncertain than elsewhere in the country. But Meghalaya seems to have become the worst example of political instability. When Mr Sangma took over from Mr Lapang, whose term lasted less than a year, he became the 22nd chief minister of the state. As in the latest case, the changes of guard rarely had anything to do with policy or issues of governance. It is routine for elected representatives to change their loyalty from one leader to another or from one party to another. The result is that leaders are more concerned with keeping their flock intact than with governing the state.

 

All this has taken its toll on the development agenda for the state. Unlike several other states in the region, Meghalaya is free from any major ethnic insurgency and the violence that goes with it. There have been smaller insurgent groups, but their impact has been limited. Yet the state's leaders have failed to capitalize on peace and use it to pursue development goals. Mr Sangma now has an opportunity to do this, especially in areas such as tourism and hydel power generation. The state's high literacy level also makes it eminently suitable for investments in new technologies. Mr Sangma's promise of involving the youth in development raises hopes of a new approach. But there have been others before him who sought to use the youth, not for development, but to build a support base for themselves. What Mr Sangma can do depends, though, on how long his present supporters in the party keep him in his job.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

 

VIABLE UNIVERSITIES

SET CONFLICTING GOALS, CENTRES OF HIGHER LEARNING CANNOT PROSPER

ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE

 

The universities cannot continue to be viable if they are set contradictory objectives. In the typical case, the Indian university is expected to produce hundreds of thousands of graduates every year, and these numbers keep rising. But it is also expected to maintain and even advance standards of teaching and research in all significant branches of learning. Those who advise the government know that these two objectives cannot be met simultaneously by the same institution or the same kind of institution, but their desire to be of service to the nation leads them to hope that they will somehow be able to square the circle.

 

In most cases, an institution finds it hard to free itself from its own history. The first universities that came into being in 1857 in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were set up primarily for conducting examinations and awarding degrees, and not for undertaking research or even teaching. Research was done in institutions outside the universities, such as the Asiatic Society or the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, and teaching was done mainly in the colleges. At their foundation, our universities were not designed to be communities of scientists and scholars and they knew little of the unity of teaching and research, unlike the great universities that were being created or revived in the Western countries throughout the 19th century.

 

It will be folly to believe that the British who set up the first universities in India intended them to be communities of scientists and scholars of the kind that had grown over a long period of time in the West. Few among them believed that universities such as those at Cambridge and Oxford could grow in the Indian environment. They intended the Indian universities to serve the more limited purpose of producing graduates for employment in the new occupations that came up in the wake of colonial rule.

 

Yet it would be wrong to say that the universities and colleges brought nothing new into the life of the nation. They were among the first open and secular institutions, and their graduates were the ones who took the lead in creating and sustaining the institutions of a new kind of civil society. They also played an important part in the transmission, if not the creation, of modern knowledge with its distinctive ideas, beliefs and values. Moreover, by the beginning of the 20th century, some islands of excellence had emerged at Calcutta, Allahabad and a few other universities where scientists and scholars of outstanding ability were making significant contributions to knowledge. But under colonial rule, the universities did mainly what they were set up to do, that is, produce increasing numbers of graduates of indifferent quality.

 

The coming of Independence brought about a change in the horizon of possibilities. The colonial administration was at best half-hearted in its support of the universities. The academic profession in the country expected much more from the leaders of independent India than from their colonial predecessors. At first things seemed to augur well for the universities. The first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, placed a high value on science and scholarship and took a personal interest in the universities. He himself had never studied in an Indian university but had been a student at Cambridge, one of the great universities of the world.

 

The government wasted no time in setting up a University Education Commission in 1948. It was headed by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who had been a professor at both Calcutta and Oxford. A more broad-based Education Commission, designed to cover all levels of education, was set up less than 20 years later under D.S. Kothari, then a professor of physics in Delhi, who had earlier studied under R.G. Fowler at Cambridge.

 

Those who provided the leadership for the development of the universities in the early years of Independence were persons of wide experience and outstanding ability. They were untiring in their efforts to build institutions that would compare with the best in the world. But in the end, their efforts did not bear the fruits that they had hoped for. Despite the best efforts of the leaders of the community of scientists and scholars, the universities have failed to free themselves from their older legacy of having to produce more and more graduates.

 

With increasing financial and other support from the government, the universities began to expand in number as well as size. There are now many more universities than there were at the time of Independence, and they are, on an average, much larger in size. Thirty years after Independence it was becoming increasingly clear that the expansion of higher education was being driven more by social and political pressures than by pressures of the advancement of knowledge. The social and political pressures for the admission of more students and the production of more graduates began to undermine the very ideals of the university that inspired the leaders of the academic profession at the time of Independence.

 

The mass universities that have come to dominate the Indian scene are very different from the universities that Radhakrishnan, Kothari, V.K.R.V. Rao and others had known in the West and had hoped to build in India after Independence. The traditional type of university now accommodates many more faculties and departments than universities anywhere in the world did until World War II. What we must ask today is whether the universities can fruitfully combine teaching and research if they have to accommodate all recognized branches of study from physics to philosophy while including film studies, gender studies, peace studies and an ever-growing array of new subjects that seek accommodation within each one of them.

 

Perhaps the all-purpose university of the 19th and early 20th centuries has outlived its utility in the 21st century. If the university is to be viable as a centre of advanced study and research, it may have to limit the ambition that it earlier had of covering all branches of existing knowledge. At the same time, a university will scarcely deserve to be called one if it confines itself to a single subject. There is really no good reason to swing from the extremes of inclusion to the extremes of exclusion. A university can serve as an effective institution of teaching and research if it limits itself to a cluster of related subjects, and restrains its ambition for indefinite expansion.

 

It appears to me that we can still create universities that will be communities of learning, combining teaching and research, provided they are able to limit their scale and scope. Such universities will of course have to conduct examinations and award degrees, but the conduct of examinations and the awarding of degrees need not become their sole or even their main concern as inevitably happens in the mass universities.

 

The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DYING FLAME

SUMANTA SEN

 

Forty-three years ago, Naxalbari had come to be seen as the spark that would set the Indian prairie on fire. Not only did that not happen, but when Kanu Sanyal put an end to his life last month, he saw around him not a trace of the uprising that his then mentor, Charu Mazumdar, had organized, with Jangal Santhal, Sourin Bose and others in the forefront. Even today's Maoists are not to be found in the area — which, of course, might have brought some comfort to Sanyal, as he had denounced them repeatedly and openly. But, obviously, any such comfort could take nothing away from the great sense of frustration of the man who was known to all as one whose honesty and integrity of purpose could never be questioned.

 

Twenty years before Naxalbari, Telangana had occurred. The peasant uprising there was much better organized, with leaders like Puchalapalli Sundaryya, Manikini Basavpunniah and Rajeswara Rao in command. Unlike in Naxalbari, in Telangana, the squads fought with arms. Yet Telangana also died, and now the region is once again featuring in the news in an entirely different context. The agitation could have dragged on had not Josef Stalin told a delegation from the undivided Communist Party of India that it was not a 'national liberation struggle' but a 'bourgeois agitation' that was being carried out in Telangana. Stalin's words caused such a shock to the party leadership that Sundarayya and others were often rebuked for taking their own time in withdrawing the agitation.

 

The pragmatism of Stalin was not there when Naxalbari took place. Instead, it was hailed by the Chinese communists who had their spokesmen in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — in his autobiography, Sundarayya recalls how Beijing tried through them to give the new party a pro-China tilt.

 

Too late

 

The Chinese could not have failed to see that an uprising in a remote corner of Darjeeling district did not have much of a future. Even then, Beijing Radio kept on with its encouragement, which, perhaps, it had to do since the Communist Party of China was eager to emerge as the 'centre of world revolution'. Thus Mao, unlike Stalin, did not have any wise counsel for Naxalbari leaders when he gave them an audience in Beijing. If the Chinese had not been so preoccupied with their own interests, then the disastrous consequences of Naxalbari — the senseless killings of individuals seen as class enemies and the State reprisal that took the lives of so many young men and women — could perhaps have been avoided.

 

Both Naxalbari and Telangana highlight the problem that communists in this country have always faced, namely the problem of how to go about their task in an essentially agrarian economy. Always seeing the industrial working class as their vanguard, they were never sure of the ways of progressing in the countryside. Matters were not helped by the guidance from the Communist Party of Great Britain, which at best, had only an academic idea of the Indian reality.

 

Communists who came from the villages thus led isolated movements in their own backyard, with the party never being able to think of an integrated peasant movement. The communists have even lagged behind in battling social issues like casteism, and now there is a pathetic attempt at trying to equate class with caste. That, of course, helps to some extent at election time. But even for electoral success, the communists must live among the peasants.

 

Sanyal had understood this at the end of his seven-year jail term but, by then, it was too late. Prakash Karat believes that the party should come close to the peasants by organizing a huge rally against Mayavati. In their own way, the Maoists are equally mindless. Did Sanyal have such thoughts when he put the noose round his neck?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

IF ISRAEL WERE TO HONOUR AN ARAB WHO SAVED JEWS FROM THE NAZIS, WOULD IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE TO THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS? ASKS SOMAK GHOSHAL

 

In 1942, during the German occupation of Tunisia, a 31-year-old landowner, Khaled Abdul-Wahab, risked his life to save 24 people of two Jewish families from the Nazis. Of the 100,000 Jews who lived in Tunisia at that time, 5,000 were sent to the labour camps, where at least 46 died. Abdul-Wahab, who died in 1997, is now hailed as the 'Arab Schindler' after the German industrialist, Oskar Schindler, saviour of Jews in occupied Poland, whose life is the subject of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Abdul-Wahab has become the focus of a campaign to have the title of "righteous among the nations" conferred on him. This is a special honour reserved by Israel for gentiles who had helped rescue Jews from the Nazis. Of the 20,000 names that have been so far accepted by Yad Vashem, the body that selects candidates for this honour, more than 60 are Muslims, mostly Albanians and Bosnians. Abdul-Wahab is the first Arab who has been recommended for this list by the Jewish historian, Robert Satloff.

 

The case Satloff makes for Abdul-Wahab's inclusion is unimpeachable. It is not only fortified by the testimony of Anny Boukris, whose family was saved by Abdul-Wahab, but also by Satloff's conviction that such a move would help both Arabs and Israelis overcome a familiar blind spot. Satloff argues that by honouring Abdul-Wahab, Israel would be able to lessen the virulent anti-Semitism of the Arab world. The Arabs would realize that "they were willing to help their Jewish neighbours" in the past, an understanding that would go on to foster a new attitude among the Jews as well.

 

Since violence between Israel and Palestine spirals out of control at the drop of a hat, such a domino effect of good sense is unlikely to spread across the Middle East if Abdul-Wahab finally finds a place in the pantheon of Holocaust heroes. There may be sound ethical logic in honouring Abdul-Wahab, but the prevailing anarchy in the Middle East is likely to keep such a gesture firmly locked within the realm of liberal fantasy. Even more crucially for Israel, honouring an Arab would amount to conceding moral ground to Palestine and, by extension, a very different kind of territorial ground as well: after all, any resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine hinges significantly on ethical and historical claims on land.

 

Israel's decision to acknowledge Abdul-Wahab would also deal a blow to the ultra-orthodox Zionist project that has guided it since the devastating Six-Day War of 1967. Israel has not only sought to define itself in terms of the historical injustice suffered by the Jews but has also tried to perpetuate its victimhood to justify the systematic disempowerment of the Arab majority in Palestine. Having put the Arab world under a convenient blanket of anti-Semitism, Israel passed the Nakba bill — criminalizing the commemoration of the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 — in its first Knesset reading. This was Israel's way of upholding Jewish suffering as being more valid and authentic than Palestinian misery, thereby making its atrocities on the latter defensible. It set off a trend of competitive victimhood with Palestine that would become central to Israel's self-definition, its raison d'être.

 

The narrative of Jewish suffering — first in Europe, then in Palestine — is profoundly inscribed into the fabric of the Israeli State. This history is so deeply embedded in the body politic of Israel as to scarcely allow any alternative version to complicate the question of justice. Yet justice has no basis without a notion of truth, however disturbing it may be, and Israel is far from ready to face the ground realities. There is steady encroachment of land in East Jerusalem as Israel continues to build settlements defying an agreement with the United States of America. A draconian order to prevent 'infiltration' has been recently amended from its original 1969 version to allow the military to deport anyone they please from occupied West Bank. So the number of homeless Palestinians goes up every day, thanks to a devious law that abets a virtual genocide.

 

Although the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, did apologize to the US president, Barack Obama, for announcing plans to extend housing projects on the eve of Joe Biden's visit, the apology is more an acknowledgment of Israel's strategic blunder than a genuine expression of regret. But in spite of Biden's magnanimous affirmation of friendship with Israel, after all it had done to humiliate him, Obama has refused to soften his position, being justifiably irked by the impasse in the Middle East.

 

Into his second year in office, Obama is yet to extract any information from Iran regarding its supposed nuclear programme. Israel and Palestine are heading towards an untenable two-state solution, with no hope of ever approaching any understanding on land sharing. Although the US was so far reluctant to act as a mediator, Obama is unwilling to brook any further delay in the Middle East. The US's prolonged dilly-dallying in the Israel-Palestine conflict has already cost it billions of dollars apart from eroding its credibility with the Islamic world. Obama is perhaps the first US president to have made a causal link between stability in the Middle East and security at home. Tied to both these parameters is the safety of US soldiers fighting the war on terror.

 

Having armed Israel with state-of-the-art weapons to counter the homemade artillery of the Hamas, the US is caught in a limbo over its allegiance to Israel and imperative to secure the lives of its troops. So exceptional times have brought forth an exceptional outburst from President Obama. With Israel apparently shaken, this could be the ideal opportunity to step up pressure on it to recognize Abdul-Wahab's contribution. It is improbable that the ultra-right coalition, led by Netanyahu's Likud Party, would ever succumb to it. But then, Israel is full of surprises, and politicians there do go a long way to stay in power. The former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was once described as "a post-ideological leader", after his ostensibly centre-left Kadima Party revealed a chameleon-like capacity to change colours.

 

If push comes to shove, Israel may just accept Abdul-Wahab into its hall of fame. But such a move, if it transpires, would give little basis for hope. For Israel, which has failed every test of sincerity with its unrelenting assault on Palestine, a symbolic gesture has no effect on the world of realpolitik. A defeat in an ethical battle of wills is easy to concede so long as the real war out there remains firmly under control.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE MANY WINDING WAYS TO CLOSURE

FORGIVE AND FORGET

 

Can people be recompensed by an apology from a once-hostile nation?

 

Saying sorry can be a great leveller at times. The need to apologize is essentially a personal one, and indicates a feeling of some sort of remorse on the part of one who wishes to apologize. But how do the dynamics of the relationship between the one who apologizes and the one who receives the apology change when a head of State is expected to ask forgiveness of the people of another State on behalf of his government?

 

The crime for which the apology is extended may or may not have been committed during the tenure of the present leader. This was precisely the case when the prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was asked, in 2010, to apologize to the Poles for the Katyn forest killings that took place in 1940. Although Putin expressed deep anguish for the victims of the massacre and their families, he stopped short of offering an official apology.

 

An apology is considered a valid tool for resolving a crisis and bringing amicability in the relations between nations, according to international law. The United Nations' International Law Commission's Draft Articles of 2001 on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts are categorical about the occasions when a formal apology from a head of State is desirable. Article 37 of the Draft Articles states that a nation, which has breached international protocol and caused harm to another country, must provide "satisfaction" to the latter regarding its regret. This satisfaction could be in form of a statement of apology. The question of issuing an apology does not arise if the loss of the injured nation can be monetarily compensated for. Or unless the erring nation is unable to restore to the aggrieved nation the conditions that existed before the wrong was committed. Only then is an apology called for.

 

But the law is ludicrously silent when it comes to the role and the reaction of the so-called injured nation. It is taken for granted that if the people of this country are apologized to (as a last resort on part of the law-breaking State), order will be restored. The possibility of an apology being rejected is not considered, or even conceived of. It also means, effectively, that the offending nation can wash its hands of obligations towards the people of an injured nation once the former has apologized for its 'mistakes'.

 

It is vital to note that States usually issue apologies to people. Alison Dundes Renteln, in "Apologies: A Cross-Cultural Analysis", makes a comparison between Japan and America to show how the act of apologizing is culture-specific. For the Japanese, begging forgiveness is part of their behavioural code, and as such, it is expected of anyone who is considered to have given any offence, however slight. But for the Americans, it implies owning responsibility for an act that they, more often than not, wish to shrug off. This is why American lawyers usually advise their clients to refrain from saying sorry when involved, say, in a car accident, as it can be considered an admission of guilt.

 

State apologies remain not only impersonal, but also obliterate the memories of the millions of individual hurts that the people of the injured nation have suffered. In an attempt to seek closure for some heinous crime, the international law expects the aggrieved not only to gracefully forgive, but also to forget.

 

INSIYA POONAWALA

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

EDITORIAL

REASON TO REJOICE

"WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAMME IS A MUST."

 

Public confidence in India's criminal justice system has received a boost with justice finally being done in the Jessica Lal murder case. The supreme court has reaffirmed the life imprisonment verdict handed out to Manu Sharma by the Delhi high court. The road to justice in the case has been long and tortuous. This, despite the fact that it was an open and shut case. The victim was shot dead by Sharma in full view of scores of witnesses. One would have thought then that the conviction would follow soon. But this was not to be with Sharma, the son of a politician and a former Union minister, using his money, muscle power and political clout to tamper with evidence and intimidate witnesses. Every trick in the book was used to squash the case. A trial court acquitted him, triggering public outrage. But perseverance in the path of justice by Jessica's friends and family backed by civil society defeated Sharma's plan as they appealed to the Delhi high court, which found him guilty and awarded him life imprisonment. Sharma then appealed to the supreme court. His brazen violation of parole norms a few months ago drew attention to his continuing clout, raising concern over whether he would be able to apply pressure to swing the supreme court verdict in his favour. Monday's verdict indicates that the county's apex court has stood firm in upholding the cause of justice.


The supreme court ruling provides closure on a murder done 11 years ago. But some of the issues the case triggered remain alive. The case underscored the fact that the cause of justice cannot be enhanced simply by having a powerful judiciary. It drew attention to the need to put in place a witness protection programme so that witnesses can come forward and bear testimony without fear. Little has been done in the years since to put in place such a scheme. While the supreme court has on occasion intervened — as in the Gujarat riots cases, for instance, to enable witnesses to testify without fear, what the country needs is more than ad-hoc help.


For millions in this country who have believed that battles with the rich and powerful almost always go in favour of the latter, the verdict is reason for celebration. It is a reminder that the small man or woman can still hope to win if s/he pursues justice through the courts.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STEADY APPROACH

 "RBI HOPES TO FIGHT INFLATION WITHOUT HARM-ING GROWTH."

 

The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) decision to raise the repo rate, reverse repo rate and the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 25 basis points can be termed as the apex bank's slow, but steady approach to tackle the problem of inflation. In fact, many in the banking circles were expecting the RBI to take stronger measures considering the rapid increase in inflation rates. But the RBI's twin moves — make money dearer and mop up liquidity (about Rs 12,500 crore will be sucked in by way of increased CRR) — is a clear signal that it will continue to pursue the anti-inflationary policy in a calibrated way. The fact that RBI Governor D Subbarao has not ruled out increases in CRR and in key rates in the future is a clear pointer that more monetary tightening will happen if the situation demands.


RBI's steady approach is certainly the right policy prescription for the moment as it is aimed at maintaining a balance between price rise and growth. While containing inflation is important, the cost of money must not be pushed up so much that the industry and the business start to groan. Banks are already complaining that although the economic growth is expected to be higher, the credit off take in the first four months of 2010 has not improved much. Of course the slackness in the credit market and ample liquidity in the system are making things a bit easy for the borrowers.


Besides, there is no guarantee that RBI's actions will have the desired effect in curbing the price rise which depends on many factors beyond the central bank's control. Wholesale rate of inflation is 'artificially suppressed' in India because the government does not allow the prices of petroleum products and fertilisers to be revised in line with the increase in international prices. Curbing liquidity may not help much because the primary reason behind price rise is the shortage of food stuff. As the supplies of vegetables, fruits, pulses, cereals, edible oil, sugar — major contributors to food inflation — are far lower than demand, their prices will continue to remain high. Economic recovery has also made India a hot destination for foreign funds looking for higher return from here compared to near zero return in developed economies. This is also increasing money supply and putting pressure on prices. Clearly, tackling inflation effectively needs long term planning.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MANAGING WITH 'GURUS'

A TRUE MANAGEMENT GURU HAS THE TIME, THE TRAINING AND THE INTELLECTUAL ABILITY TO MAKE SENSE OUT A WIDE VARIETY OF EXPERIENCES.

BY ALOK RAY


Many economists — especially economic theorists — are not particularly enamoured of the so-called 'management gurus.' To them, many of the 'insights' propagated by the gurus are nothing but common sense nicely packaged in jargons or catchy phrases.


In order to generalise and sell their ideas, they oversimplify the complexities and pick and choose only those cases/experiences which support their 'insights,' while sweeping under the carpet any contrary evidence.

Practical business people — who are otherwise very good in doing things but are not that good in conceptualising ideas or experiences — love to speak in jargons to sound 'professional' and appear in sync with the ongoing fashions in management theories. Hearing management gurus (specially the most expensive ones) is a short cut to achieve their objective.


I, for one, strongly differ from some of my economist friends on this issue. Here, I would take the example of Professor C K Prahalad (CKP). Here was a man with impeccable academic credentials — an MBA from IIM-A, a PhD from Harvard Business School and a distinguished chair professor in business strategy at the University of Michigan Business School — in addition to authoring several best-selling and highly regarded books in the field of business strategy.


Among the many ideas associated with his name the two best known and the most popular are 'core competence', and 'wealth at the bottom of the pyramid'.


Practical business people are often faced with a dilemma. For example, whether to go for diversification in a number of areas or consolidation of business in its established area of strength ('core competence'). There are pros and cons either way. The company boss sees only a very small part of the reality through his business interactions.

On his own, he does not have the time or the ability to see the broader picture and the emerging trends in different parts of the world. At best, he has some hunches born out of his own (limited) experiences with the external world. But he is not sure to what extent his feelings are supported or validated by experiences of a lot of other people.


Here comes the role of a true management guru. He has the time, the training and the intellectual ability to make sense out a wide variety of diverse experiences and to move from particulars to the general. He can support his insights with data and experiences drawn from many sources. Being a consultant to many organisations is an added strength. He has access to inside information on the inner working (both successes and failures) of many organisations which individual firms are not aware of.


Higher chances of success

For instance, he has studied cases of companies going for diversification and others going for consolidation in the area of core competence. Even when he finds that firms following the core competence strategy has a greater chance of success than others, he has to understand the reasons and the mechanisms why a particular strategy works or not.

He thus transcends isolated experiences and comes up with a more general theory complete with the conditions (and how they interact) for success or failure. That makes him a 'guru' — not just a consultant.


Take another example. Inclusive growth has become the new buzzword in development economics. The idea that the demand constraint on the overall growth rate of an economy can be removed by making use of the huge latent market among the poor people has long been established by economists.


But the next question is: how to operationalise this growth strategy? Only the government cannot do this job. So, how to harness the power of the private sector? Economists would say that a good investment-friendly climate needs to be created. But even when such a climate exists, why and how would businesses dig the wealth lying hidden under 'the bottom of the pyramid'?


Here people like CKP step in and convince the company bosses that it is in their self interest to rethink their conventional business models and go for a different type of model focusing on innovating new products, services, processes, distribution channels and marketing methods specifically targeted to the poor consumers, without compromising on quality.


CKP produces evidence, drawing upon his experiences and case studies from all over the world (like innovating detergents that use less water, selling shampoo/cooking oil in small sachets, Rs 10 calling card, sewing machine at Rs 200 monthly installment, cataract operations for $30 or a prosthetic limb for $25, compared with $10,000 in the US). That it has worked and offers practical guidelines on how to go about doing this in specific cases.
Inclusive growth —which was just an idea for the economists and an ideal or slogan for politicians — comes closer to being a realty, thanks to management gurus like CKP.


(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

 

TURKEY'S EU ENTRY MAY SUFFER A SET BACK

CYPRUS AND GREECE ARE GEARED UP TO USE THEIR VETO POWER TO BLOCK TURKEY'S ENTRY INTO THE EU.

BY MICHAEL JANSEN

 

The election victory on Sunday of hardline Turkish nationalist candidate Dervis Eroglu in the Turkish Cypriot presidential election is a consequence of the partitionist policy pursued by Ankara for decades. Turkey may suffer if Eroglu scuppers negotiations to reunify the island, divided since Turkey occupied the north 36 years ago, and Cyprus and Greece block Turkey's entry into the European Union (EU).  


Eroglu, 72, is a disciple of Rauf Denktash, the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader who saw himself as the Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Cyprus. Denktash and his supporters in Ankara used inter-communal conflict to promote this cause before and after independence in 1960 and in 1974 achieved de facto partition when the Turkish army invaded and occupied the northern 36 per cent of the island and ethnically cleansed Greek Cypriots from the area. Turkish Cypriots living in the south, controlled by the internationally recognised government of the republic, were compelled by Turkey to relocate to the north.


Turkey based 35,000 troops there, paid an annual subvention to the separatist administration, installed 'advisers' in its ministries, and settled 110,000-160,000 of its own citizens in the area. They now outnumber native Turkish Cypriots. In 1983 the 'Turkish Republic of North Cyprus' issued a unilateral declaration of independence recognised by no country but Turkey.


While Turkey consolidated its hold, Ankara encouraged its surrogate regime to engage in long-drawn out negotiations with Greek Cypriots for the reunification of the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Greek Cypriots, the UN and the EU insisted that Cyprus, a small island with just over a million inhabitants, should reunite in a single state with a single citizenship and sovereignty. But Denktash and Ankara sought to impose a 'two state solution' involving two sovereign states linked cosmetically by a loose confederation.

Serious negotiations

As Cyprus prepared to enter the EU in 2004, Turkish Cypriots under the leadership of Mehmet Ali Talat — the politician defeated by Eroglu in the presidential poll — mounted popular demonstrations with the aim of staging a coup against Ankara's partitionist policy. They demanded serious negotiations for reunification in a polity acceptable to both communities.


Ankara played along, sidelined Denktash, promoted Talat, and appeared to adopt the reunification-federal formula. But Turkey's real intentions were revealed when a plan, drawn up by UN officials under instruction from Turkey's friends, the US and UK, was rejected by Greek Cypriots. Instead of reuniting the island, the plan reaffirmed its division, separation of the two communities, and Turkey's dominance of the north.


End deadlock

Greek Cypriots were castigated for rejecting the plan, isolated until 2008 when they elected to the presidency Demetris Christofias, the communist party boss. He pledged to end the deadlock and reach a deal with Talat, who had been elected Turkish Cypriot president in 2005. The two men, old friends, met 70 times in 19 months and achieved some progress but did not reach a deal. Turkey did not permit Talat to negotiate freely as a Turkish Cypriot looking after Cypriot interests.

Furthermore, ahead of the election, Talat was being undermined by mainland Turkish opposition parties which dispatched activists and funds to the Eroglu campaign.


While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed Talat, his call for voters to cast their ballots for 'reunification' rang hollow. Erdogan had, after all, promoted the 'two state' line ever since his moderate fundamentalist Justice and Development Party won power in 2002.


Now it is payback time. Eroglu says he is ready to negotiate with Christofias. But Eroglu holds that they should start from scratch rather than from the point the process broke off. He continues to demand separate sovereignty, the continuing presence of Turkish troops and the right of Turkey to intervene in Cypriot affairs. Since Greek Cypriots reject  these propositions, negotiations are expected to collapse. Cyprus and its ally Greece will then use their vetoes in the EU to block Turkey's entry.


Ergogan, who has staked his party's rule on securing EU membership for Turkey, will lose credibility ahead of the coming parliamentary election. Denied EU entry, Turkey could also lose the opportunity of containing its controlling military and developing a truly democratic political system. Turkey's relations with Greece could deteriorate, weakening the eastern flank of Nato at a time the US and Britain, facing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seek to strengthen the organisation. Therefore, Washington and London could also pay a price for supporting Turkey's partionist policies.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

NRI SABOTEURS

JUST AS THERE ARE 'BOUNCERS' IN PUBS, I WISH THERE ARE A FEW IN MULTIPLEXES TOO.

BY MEERA SESHADRI


The ubiquitous NRIs are everywhere — on the roads, in offices, in families, even in malls and multiplexes. Yes, they are the 'Nuisance Radiating Indians.' Recently, I was at a multiplex, to watch a much-hyped English flick. The auditorium was already packed chock-a-block. I plonked myself on theatre seat. But little was I aware that there'd be NRIs around, to sabotage my sublime joy.


Even after the un-spooling of opening credits, the lady beside hadn't stopped jabbering over her cellphone. In these times, wherein even scavengers possess their personal cellphones, strange that some people presume they are 'making a splash' by stylishly speaking over their mobiles! This female was speaking in such strident tones that people seated even six rows away, could overhear every single syllable that she spewed.
It didn't take time to know she was yapping with her spouse. As she rattled in raucous tones, you were forced into knowing details about her life — her husband's name, the place he worked in, the name of her friends with whom she had come to watch the film, even about food that was placed in her fridge on that day, what all to be re-heated, consumed and chucked! Phew!


Soon after this aural assault, another woman in front row had launched on her equally jarring monologue. In her guttural voice, she was giving graphic details about her busily engineered life, elaborately ladling out info about the tasks she had on that day's agenda. At the end of it, people heaved a sigh of relief to know her child's tuition teacher being fixed; her home's electricity bill, paid; the monthly groceries, delivered home; and minor misunderstanding with maid, sorted out!


Seated beside this lady, was a 'billing n' cooing' couple, amorously feeding each other with bhelpuri, from the same spoon/plate. Every fourth second, the girl would loll against the man to whisper sweet nothings. The way she was cooing, I thought she'd chew off half his ear, along with bhelpuri. One wondered, of all places, why she had to choose the theatre, to unleash her reservoir of love.


And then there was a brat behind, who I suppose had come for the film's second viewing, as he was reeling out racy details of things that would happen in next scene. To add to nuisance value, there were babies, bawling in their baby slings. With these folks foiling my fun, my gusto to watch the film had got fully extinguished.
Truly, these NRIs are unique breed by themselves, a veritable embodiment of callous attitude. Just as there are 'bouncers' in pubs, I wish there are a few in multiplexes too, to haul up and hurl outside these NRIs, whenever they tend to create nuisance of any sort.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

CANDIDLY SPEAKING: EXPOSING HYPOCRISY, CANT, FALSEHOOD

BY ISI LEIBLER

 

Melanie Phillips's new book stuns readers with a ferocious exposé of the strains of insanity in political correctness

 

 

Award-winning columnist Melanie Phillips, recipient of the Orwell prize for journalism in 1996 and author of acclaimed Londonistan, has written an explosive new book systematically exposing chapter and verse of the hypocrisy, cant and blatant falsehoods which currently dominate much of contemporary Western thought. The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth and Power will leave readers breathless as they follow her perceptive and ferocious exposé of the strains of insanity inherent in the "correct" attitudes currently being promoted by politicians, pseudo-academics and much of the Western media.


The book encompasses an extraordinarily wide range of prevailing public perceptions, which Phillips methodically demonstrates as not merely being utterly false but frequently deliberately fabricated as a vehicle to promote bizarre agendas. In addition to the author's commendable writing skills, what makes this book particularly impressive is her almost renaissance mastery of a multitude of complex issues – combined with a knack for communicating them in a form that most readers are able to comprehend.


In addition, she substantiates her assertions with research backed by meticulous documentation.


Phillips strongly repudiates the commonly accepted view that faith and reason are incompatible, persuasively demonstrating that in many cases the opposite is true. Her central thesis is that the trivialization of religious belief, rejection of the Judeo-Christian heritage and post-modernism, have all combined to erode the foundations upon which our civilization is based. This in turn created a vacuum which opened the floodgates for the emergence of a host of irrational cults and weird, even insane conspiracy theories.


Some of the bizarre examples cited by Phillips include the wacky belief that Princess Diana was assassinated to prevent her from marrying a Muslim; Tony Blair's wife belief in the transcendent properties of stones and the utilization of her and her husband's hair and toenails to detect signs of "poisons and blockages" in their bodies; the allegation that AIDS was created in a CIA laboratory; the pagan practices of the "Kabbala" followers of Madonna, the icon of Western modernity, who wear red threads on their wrists to ward off the evil spirit and meditate on stem cells to achieve immortality of the body; the allegations that the 9/11 attacks were either created by the Mossad or were an inside job by the Bush administration; and the "post religious mythology" inherent in the hubris and narcissism employed in the Obama election campaign.


THE MORE significant practical implications of these trends are reviewed as separate sections of the book. The opening chapter titled "The Myth of Environmental Armageddon" deals with global warming which has swept the planet. Phillips ruthlessly dissects the lies and distortions employed to promote what she regards as one of the greatest scientific scams of the modern age, "reminiscent of a medieval witch-hunt," with dissenting scientists being hounded from their posts by the equivalent of a secular inquisition.


In relation to the Iraq war, she alleges that irrespective of the rights and wrongs of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein, the chattering classes have concocted bogus conspiracy theories in which legitimate differences over a divisive war have been reduced into accusations of a plot by neoconservatives to promote the interests of Israel. She claims that the UN and its Human Rights Council, which most Western progressives regard as the arbiter of acceptable behavior, exemplify the reversal of reason by "putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse."


She explains why the United Kingdom has emerged among the vanguard of countries which have repudiated rationality and reason.


A number of chapters are devoted to the most extreme example of the denial of reality – the double standards and shameless bias reflected in the attempts to demonize and delegitimize the embattled Jewish state. In the chapter titled "The Jihad against Western Freedom," Phillips highlights the double talk and refusal to relate to reality in the Middle East. She concludes that it is a byproduct of the lack of determination by the West to resisting new forms of "soft totalitarianism" in which the onward march of Islamic aggression is compromised, with the US becoming marginalized and the war on terror vilified.


Phillips points to the bizarre linkages and alliances forged between these irrational elements with conflicting agendas. They include veteran leftists, purported campaigners for human rights, neo-fascists and Islamists who have merged to form "the red-black-green-Islamic axis."


The World Turned Upside Down is a courageous expose of many of the myths and fallacies which are being imposed on us and which our society has absorbed.


One is not obliged to endorse each of the extraordinary individual case studies selected to recognize that Phillips makes a highly convincing case to substantiate her broad thesis about the corruption of rationality which now dominates much of liberal society. She is effectively sounding a clarion call for reversing the tidal waves threatening to overwhelm Western civilization by the collapse of modernity and rationalism in which verifiably false statements are continuously reiterated, while truth and lies, right and wrong, victim and aggressor are all reversed. Phillips warns that this brainwashing is threatening to lead us into a new anti-rational dark age.


In a concluding chapter summarizing her findings, Phillips observes that today as during the Middle Ages, if universalism has become the accepted dogma, Jews (substituted by Zionists and Israelis) have again become the contemporary heretics to be burned. "It was the Jews who gave the world the concepts of an orderly universe, reason and progress – the keys to science and our modern age. In repudiating Jewish teaching and its moral codes, the West has turned upon the modern world itself. The power of reason offers no protection against bigotry... Today it is once again among the most progressive and enlightened people... the secular rationalists and the most liberal Christians, who march behind the banners of human rights and high minded conscience, that one finds the most virulent hatred of Israel and medieval prejudice against Jews... In turning upon the State of Israel – the front line of the defense of the free world against Islamist assault on modernity – the West is undermining its defense against the enemies of modernity and the Western civilization that produced it. The great question is whether it actually wants to defend reason and moderation anymore, or whether Western civilization has now reached a point where it has stopped trying to survive."


This cri de coeur is a stunning and thought-provoking book that should be read by all who seek to understand the sources of the malaise of this generation in Western society.


ileibler@netvision.net.il

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

IPAD IMBECILITY

BY JPOST EDITORIAL STAFF

 

The Foreign media have a field day at Israel's expense when its Communication Ministry bans US iPads from entering the country. 

 

Israel has finally made it to the headlines without connection to our continuous existential struggle. While this nation was celebrating Independence Day, foreign broadcasters and publishers had a field day at our expense.

What attracted attention this time was the Communication Ministry's edict not to allow American-purchased iPads  into Israel.


For once Israel wasn't being demonized for ostensible intransigence or worse in the Palestinian context, but instead, derided as the only western state to bar the latest hi-tech gadget.


There was ample cause for scoffing – it's incongruous when a country on the cutting edge of hi-tech research and development bans – even if temporarily – the hottest hi-tech device. Worse, no advance notice was publicized and travelers who bought their iPads in the US and declared them dutifully at customs were taken aback by the arbitrary decree.


Their iPads were provisionally confiscated and the owners were informed that, beyond the first 48-hours post-confiscation, they would have to shell out a hefty per diem "storage" surcharge. The length of said wholly involuntary storage is anyone's guess.


But have no fear, our resourceful customs authorities have offered a way out.  Passengers whose iPads have been held up may sell them via an overseas-bound vendor. To this end, affected passengers need to locate and make a deal with someone flying abroad, then produce his/her plane ticket by way of proof. A customs employee will afterwards deliver the iPad to the plane (for a NIS 200 fee) and hand it over to the designated iPad custodian.


NO WONDER all this has occasioned almost universal ridicule. The sudden reversal of Israel's routine policy on non-commercial imports – and an eminently sensible one at that – embodies bureaucratic capriciousness and imbecility at its worst.


Why did the Communications Ministry abruptly order customs not to release iPads into Israel?


The official excuse is that the devices aren't compatible with local Wi-Fi configurations (standards for transmitting data over high-frequency local wireless networks). But the same strong-signal problems exist with other devices – including a variety of laptops, cell-phones, the iPhone and BlackBerrys – which are not banned. The incompatibility can be easily resolved, to boot.


One widespread speculation is that the local Apple franchise may be leery of private imports, hence the stipulation that the ban will be reversed once Apple releases a version of the device compatible with European wireless specifications.


But we cannot verify that any business interests are behind this bizarre ministry move. All we can say is that the very fact that the rumor mill is being churned so vigorously underscores the preposterousness and pettiness of the ministerial diktat.

This is almost on par with the insistence throughout the 1970s to ban color TV from the country (after decades in which television was altogether blocked in the name of socialist ideals). With hardly any black-and-white sets still being manufactured even back then, Israeli importers were required to install special mechanisms to remove color from our screens.


No sooner was the uniquely Israeli absurdity mandated than a locally invented contrivance was marketed to every household to function as an "anti-color-eraser."


In 1981, after it opted to put an end to the ludicrousness, the government was roundly excoriated and accused of seeking to buy votes.

 

WE HAD every reason to trust that such episodes could be regarded as curios from an era of shortsighted official imperiousness, an era for which few of us retain much fondness or nostalgia. But the iPad confiscations of recent days indicate that the twin grains of high-handedness and irrationality have not been entirely rooted out from our midst.


Does the Communications Ministry perhaps fear that our sidewalk cafes will be inundated with hand-held gadgets? Are ministry functionaries looking out for our wellbeing in the same manner in which the cultural commissars of the 1950s sought to protect our souls from televised decadence or in which their 1970s torchbearers valiantly attempted to hold back the tides of inexorable progress?


Whatever skewed logic triggered this folly, one result is unquestionable – Israel has iPadded itself into an international laughingstock. This hardly bolsters our reputation as a world technological powerhouse.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RATTLING THE CAGE: YASHER KOAH, JUDGE GOLDSTONE

BY LARRY DERFNER

 

What the organized South African Jewish community pulled last week was beyond shameful.

 

Judge Richard Goldstone, talking last October with a group of liberal North American rabbis, explained why he agreed to head the UN's investigation of the war in Gaza.

 

"I knew," he said, "there would be strong and negative opposition to my doing it on the part of members of the Jewish community and particularly with the government of Israel and its supporters in Israel and the Diaspora. But I really felt that to live with myself and to live with my own conscience, I couldn't justify having gotten involved in the investigations in many other countries and because I was Jewish refuse to use the same norms and the same principles in relation to Israel."


I don't think there is a single Israeli or Diaspora Jew in a high position of leadership today who understands what Goldstone was talking about. What he was talking about, plainly and simply, was moral courage.


It's not here. It's not what Israel is about, not what Diaspora Jewry is about, certainly not the leadership, and not the followers, either, who want to stay inside the warmth of the consensus. To be a good, patriotic Zionist Jew today, you have to pour out your wrath on Goldstone. A "small man," was how President Shimon Peres described him. An "evil" man, a "traitor," was Alan Dershowitz's description.


As far as I'm concerned, neither Peres nor Dershowitz nor any of the legions of other proud, patriotic Zionist Jews who've ganged up on Goldstone are worthy of carrying his briefcase.

 

He is the absolute best of the Jewish tradition. He stands up for justice, he stands up for the oppressed and he speaks truth to power – no matter who holds the power and no matter what it costs him. This is one of the great Jews of our time. Goldstone is the secular equivalent of a Jewish prophet, and by trying so hard to dishonor him, Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment have succeeded only in dishonoring themselves.


LAST WEEK the Zionist and Orthodox Jewish establishment in South Africa stooped to forcing him to agree to stay away from his grandson's upcoming bar mitzva in Johannesburg. (Goldstone now lives in Washington DC.) The South African Zionist Federation threatened to lead a protest outside the synagogue, so Goldstone, "in the interest of my grandson," announced he wouldn't be attending the ceremony.

 

The machers of the South African Jewish community were pleased. Avrom Krengel, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said his organization had been duly "sensitive" to the bar mitzva boy and his family. Rabbi Moshe Kurtsag, head of the South African beit din, or religious court, pronounced the outcome "quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness." No religious or communal leader of South African Jewry said a word against this abomination. Neither did any Jewish leader outside South Africa. Neither did anybody important in Israel.

There were, however, some prominent, independent South African Jews who still knew the difference between right and wrong. "If it is correct that this has the blessing of the leadership of the Jewish community in South Africa, it reflects on them rather than on Justice Goldstone. They should hang their heads in shame," said Judge Arthur Chaskalson, retired president of South Africa's Constitutional Court.


By the end of last week, the ostracism of Goldstone had backfired. The story ran in The New York Times, the British papers, all around the world. The leaders of organized South African Jewry had brought shame on the community, so this week they're in damage control mode, suggesting that maybe it wasn't such a good idea, after all, to destroy a kid's bar mitzva to get at his grandfather.


I'm sure that by the end of this week, the South African Jewish machers will have shoved the whole episode down the memory hole. They're very good at this. So is Israel. Ever since apartheid ended, South African Jewish officialdom has tried to make everyone forget they ever went along the system, while Israeli officialdom has tried to make everyone forget the special relationship they had with the white regime.


In his book Rivonia's Children, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Frankel writes that as Afrikaners began to identify with Israel after the Six Day War, leading to the closest of military/diplomatic relations between the two nations, "South Africa's Jews became increasingly identified with the government and less with its opposition in the liberation movement. All of this began to unravel with [Nelson] Mandela's release, and ended upon his taking office. In denying their own culpability, many Jews pointed to the fact that their brethren were prominently involved in the anti-apartheid movement; indeed, some used this to suggest that the Jewish community as a whole had been committed to the liberation cause."


Israel, likewise, professes to have been against apartheid all along, preferring not to mention that from the mid-'70s, as Frankel writes, "the two sides began sharing nuclear technology... Israeli technicians, engineers and retired military officers increasingly took up places as consultants and planners of the new tribal homelands, the nominally independent puppet states that the Pretoria government created out of rural wastelands."

 

None of this is mentioned anymore in polite Jewish company in Johannesburg or Jerusalem.


No, as everyone recalls, we all stood up against apartheid; as Jews, we had no choice.


One day, if Israel ever ends its tyranny over the Palestinians, it will be difficult to find a Jew in this country or the Diaspora who ever supported Operation Cast Lead. It will be difficult to find a Jew in this country or the Diaspora who ever said a bad word about Judge Richard Goldstone.


If Israel ever ends its tyranny over the Palestinians, a whole lot of proud, patriotic Zionist Jews are going to be loaded down, searching frantically for the memory hole.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

COULD WATER IGNITE THE NEXT WAR?

BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD


Israel's 62 years have been marked by some 30 military clashes over this natural resource.

 

 

If the last two decades have been marked by wars over oil, the coming decades could see conflict over a much more precious commodity, water. By mid-century more than half of humanity will be facing water shortages, particularly in the Middle East, according to a UN report, as supply and demand move dramatically in opposite directions.

Talk of Mideast peace focuses on borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, but water may be the greatest – and most neglected – hurdle in an area where consumption far exceeds supply.

 

A severe freshwater crisis threatens the standard of living, political stability and security throughout the region. The crisis knows no national boundaries and is the most dramatic symbol of the interdependency of the region's inhabitants. Scientists and policy makers agree that solutions require international cooperation in a region where history has shown it easier to hate than to help each other.


The rain that falls and the snow that melts in one country flows across borders, and when that flow is threatened, as in 1967 (shortly before the Six Day War) when Syria tried to dam the Yarmuk River, which feeds the Jordan River, conflict can erupt. Israel bombed the dam.


THIS WEEK a top State Department official is visiting Israel, Jordan and Egypt in a diplomatic effort to spur regional water sharing and cooperation.


Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says water, not war, is "the most likely source of political and social unrest in the Middle East over the next 20 years." The underground aquifers are a finite resource "being exploited far beyond their capacity to restore themselves." And as they are drained, wells have to be dug deeper and deeper and the water is less pure.


Geologists warn that Amman may have only 15 more years of water. According to a report in this month's National Geographic, "The Jordan River is now depleted by drought, pollution and overuse... The lower Jordan is practically devoid of clean water, bearing instead a toxic brew of saline water and liquid waste."


In Syria hundreds of thousands of families have had to leave agricultural areas for lack of water and move to the cities, according to a UN report. Poor water management by the government and a lack of modernized agriculture has combined with the water shortage to exacerbate the crisis.


Nonetheless, Israeli requests to discuss water cooperation have been rebuffed by Damascus, according to Bloomberg News.


The World Bank contends Israelis consume four times as much water per capita as Palestinians, but the Israeli government insists the real number is half that. Amnesty International has accused Israel of neglecting the water needs of Palestinians through discriminatory and restrictive policies, but Israel insists it is meeting its obligations under the Oslo Accords.

Israel charges the Palestinians have "significantly violated their commitments" by failing to build sewage treatment plants, by drilling unauthorized wells, refusing to purify and reuse sewage for agriculture, dumping sewage into streams and not taking advantage of water desalination opportunities.


Palestinians accuse Israel of stealing their water, leaving thousands of homes dry, and insist that the security barrier cuts farmers off from their water supply.


An attempt by the European Union to develop a regional water management strategy broke down earlier this month when Israel and the Arabs could not agree on how to refer to the West Bank and Gaza even though, according to news reports, there was extensive agreement on technical issues related to water management.

ISRAEL'S 62 years have been marked by some 30 military clashes over water, as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan tried at various times to divert the Banyas, Dan, Hasbani and Yarmuk rivers to cut their flow into Israel, and Arabs attacked Israel's National Water Carrier.


Israel may be water poor but it is rich in water use technology and one of the world's most scientifically advanced agricultural nations. Making the desert bloom is more than a slogan.


But its higher standard of living and industrialization also mean greater water consumption.


The water crisis in the Arab world is compounded by growing demand, highly inefficient usage, government corruption, domestic instability and poor management, say international experts, leading to inadequate supply, which could spark domestic hostilities as well as conflict with neighboring countries.


Jordan and Israel have been discussing sending water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, desalinating some along the way for human use, producing hydroelectricity and restoring the shrinking Dead Sea.


Water is a strategic, economic, humanitarian, public health and political issue that more than any other symbolizes the interdependency of Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yet long-standing political disputes make solutions all the more difficult to develop.


As the problem grows more critical, the chances for conflict grow as well.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

DID BUSH SAVE AMERICA?

BY OFER ISRAELI


The former president's war on terror and subsequent policies reaffirmed the US's world power status.

A year or so after his leaving office seems like a good opportunity to evaluate the George W. Bush presidency. Unanimously, the war against terrorism declared by Bush following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was the most significant act taken by his administration. It has also, for better or worse, strongly shaped American politics and foreign policy ever since. Along with the actions and counteractions the declaration itself initiated, and alongside the troublesome results of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush declaration also changed the course of history, successfully confronting a serious but hidden threat to the US. Clearly, if there is a single act that placed America back on track as the world's leading power, it is that declaration.


Recognizing their Lilliputian international status, while correctly understanding the complexity of world politics, Islamic militant organizations such as al-Qaida tried to circuitously achieve their ultimate goal: "...bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." Their manner of action is totally different from the simple cause-effect understanding prevalent in Western society.


Following the Soviet Union's collapse, al-Qaida and its ilk launched repeated attempts to uproot US hegemony. The US response was very moderate, sidestepping its opponents. This was the case after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on US troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the US military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and on the USS Sullivans (that failed) and the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The logic behind this demeanor was the hope that a moderate response might reduce the growing hostility toward the US. However, the US failure to respond to its challengers was perceived as a sign of weakness.


Osama bin Laden assumed that the magnitude and consequences of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks – still the most destructive in human history – would craftily enable al-Qaida to attain its ultimate goal. In al-Qaida's eyes, the collapse of the World Trade Center and the process that would follow should have had a "butterfly effect," creating a change in existing patterns. Its impact would hopefully cause a global economic collapse and accomplish al-Qaida's ultimate goal of uprooting the leadership of the US.


After theTwin Towers' ashes had settled, Bush, relying on his instincts, accurately assessed the enormous danger. Instead of following the traditional pattern of linear thought that relies on past experience, Bush tried a novel course of nonlinear thinking. The Bush response of declaring war against terrorism came as a shock. It completely shifted the behavior of the US, which then started to play as an aggressive power.


Consequently, once again the hidden and manifest forces in the system moved toward the US and not against it. Ultimately, this caused a great shift, clearly pushing the strategic pendulum back in favor of the US. Bush's new strategy, broadly criticized by many, did bring about several harmful unintended consequences. In particular, this strategy has been one of the causes of the current financial deficit and the Iranian threat. Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, must deal with these.

However, Bush also changed the face of history. The American people, who still believe in the vital role the US is playing as world leader, should be grateful to this man. A more moderate response would probably have pushed the US toward the desperate destiny of past empires, which collapsed completely and left the world stage.

 

The writer is a visiting researcher at the

Center for Peace and Security Studies within

Georgetown University's School of Foreign

Service. He teaches international relations theory

and foreign policy decision-making at the University of Haifa, Tel Aviv University and the IDF Academy.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THIS ISN'T ABOUT GOLDSTONE, IT'S ABOUT JUDAISM

BY WARREN GOLDSTEIN


Even though he's caused immense damage to the State of Israel, South Africa's shuls should be open to him.

 

At the heart of the storm around the bar mitzva of Judge Richard Goldstone's grandson stands an ancient and sacred principle: open synagogues. The rabbi and lay leaders of the Sandton Synagogue, where the bar mitzva is taking place, consulted with me on how to respond to the threats of protest at the judge's presence at the service. Together, we took the decision that the synagogue is open to the entire family, including Judge Goldstone, and that everything possible would be done to ensure that the bar mitzva be celebrated with the dignity and joy befitting such an important religious milestone.


I am acutely aware of the wrongs perpetrated by Judge Goldstone. Only a few months ago The Jerusalem Post published an article of mine ("It looks like law, but it's just politics," October 15, 2009), in which I criticized his report on the Gaza war as replete with numerous procedural and substantive injustices, all of which tainted its findings legally, factually and even morally. At the time I wrote that his Gaza report "is a disgrace to the most basic notions of justice, equality and the rule of law" and that it is "unjust and wanting in truth."


His severely compromised report has unfairly done enormous damage to the reputation and safety of the State of Israel and its citizens. In the face of much opposition, I have on numerous occasions publicly defended the justice of the cause of the State of Israel, and so feel saddened and outraged at the injustices of the Goldstone Report and its very real practical implications threatening the safety of millions of Israelis.


Nevertheless and in spite of all he has done, there is a great principle at stake here, one which is central to Judaism: open synagogues. A synagogue is the home of God, and it is open to all.


The very first synagogue in history, the biblical Tabernacle, which was constructed 3,322 years ago as recorded in the Book of Exodus, was lead by Aaron the high priest, who was a great unifier of the people and whose life philosophy is described by the Talmud as "loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah."


These are the values of an open synagogue. It is a place of holiness and should never become an arena of politics, division and pain. The Talmud says that we are commanded to act with compassion and kindness because God does, and we are required to imitate Him.


Open synagogues are inclusive, and welcome in a tolerant and nonjudgmental way all who seek to enter and join in our services and pray to God. I am proud and grateful that in South Africa over many years, our Orthodox synagogues have been beacons of openness and inclusivity. In this respect, our South African community can offer direction and guidance to world Jewry.


Writing in The Jerusalem Post a number of years ago, Rabbi Berel Wein, the world renowned Jewish thinker and historian, said: "One of the tragedies in current Jewish life is the abandonment of all connections to Torah and the synagogue by secular society. Only the 'religious' have a right to synagogue attendance and Torah study. Secular means never stepping foot in a synagogue. What a tragic misreading of Jewish history and life."

IN SOUTH Africa everyone comes to shul, and so it should be. Our synagogues do not turn away any congregants because of what they have done, or haven't done, who they are, or what opinions they hold. And that is probably one of the reasons why, as surveys have shown, South African Jews have the highest proportions of religious adherence and identity in the world, and why in the last two decades there has been  an unprecedented growth of Judaism in South Africa.


Open synagogues are also places of principle and faith, dedicated to prayer, Torah learning and deep spirituality. Many think that tolerance is about compromising principles. All beliefs, whether religious or secular, can lead to narrow, partisan bigotry, and even hatred and violence. Some say that tolerance and openness cannot coexist with passionate beliefs in supreme religious truths and morality. They are wrong. The Talmud says that God is a God of compassion, but also of truth.

 

We need to find a way to combine our passion for our faith and moral principles, with a gentle and warm engagement with people who do not share it. Judaism teaches that in doing so we do not compromise our beliefs. On the contrary we are in fact in sync with them, as the Hebrew Bible says, "Her [the Torah's] ways are that of pleasantness, and all her paths are those of peace." These words, taken from the Book of Proverbs, describe what the Talmud says are among the defining qualities of Judaism.


And that is why I feel so strongly that the synagogue be open to Judge Goldstone, even though he has done so much wrong in the world. This is not about him. It is about the eternal principle of open synagogues, of a Judaism of peace and gentleness, a Judaism of openness and compassion.


The proud and ancient legacy of open synagogues that we have merited to inherit must be defended and strengthened, so that we pass it on to our children.


The writer is the chief rabbi of South Africa.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN ONEROUS SECURITY BURDEN

BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL

 

The Yitzhar settlers' violent assault on troops received special attention because two soldiers were wounded by Jews in the midst of Independence Day celebrations. The Israel Defense Forces was quick to issue a statement saying the army will deal with the event "with the appropriate forcefulness" and promised that the IDF and police will act to bring the perpetrators to justice. An army officer called the assailants "scum."


Regrettably, however, this is not a unique event. The settlers of Yitzhar and other settlements that have become bastions of extremist rabbis have been harassing and attacking soldiers for years.


Security forces sent to protect Israelis who have chosen to settle in the heart of the territories, some of them illegally, have become the target of threats and violence. The settlers throw stones at them, snatch their weapons, sabotage their vehicles and curse at them.


Since the beginning of the settlement enterprise, the settlements have been seen as the security forces' loyal partners. The settlers were provided with IDF weapons, and state-paid security officers were enlisted to impose law and order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


In recent years, especially since the Oslo Accords, instead of contributing to state security, the settlers have been a burden on Israeli soldiers, Border Police officers and Shin Bet security service people operating in the territories.

Instead of focusing on protecting state borders and the settlers from terror attacks, the security forces have had to allocate troops to protect the Palestinians, Civil Administration inspectors and even soldiers from unrestrained, violent Jewish zealots.


Everyone who has treated the settlers with kid gloves as they systematically attack Palestinians and sabotage their property should not be surprised that those settlers are now directing their violence at soldiers and damaging military property.


It's time for the Yesha council of settlements to root out those it calls "rogue elements." It's time for all law-enforcement agencies to take off their gloves in the struggle with criminals and their rabbis.


The IDF, police, state prosecutor and courts must deal with Jewish law-breakers in the territories as forcefully as they deal with Palestinian criminals.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

OBAMA MUST STOP DEMANDING THE IMPOSSIBLE FROM ISRAEL

BY ARI SHAVIT

 

Will war break out in the summer? In Israel, people still want to believe that the powers stabilizing the Middle East are stronger than the powers destabilizing it. They believe in the ostensible deterrence achieved in the north and south during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. However, Jordan's King Abdullah is not the only one warning about war in the summer. Other international figures who know the region well fear a sudden military escalation. We can't know when the next war will break out, they say. We also can't know where, but the Middle East has become a powder keg. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, that keg can catch fire.


The main war scenario is that of a conflict with Iran. If next year the United States or Israel uses force against Iran, Iran will strike back. The Iranian attack will be both direct and indirect. The indirect strike will be by Hezbollah. When Israel responds, Syria might not stand idly by. War between Israel, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah will not resemble any war we have known in the past. Hundreds of missiles will land on Tel Aviv. Thousands of people will be killed. Hundreds of missiles will hit air force bases and Israel Defense Forces command centers. Hundreds of soldiers will be killed. The crushing Israeli counterstrike will demolish Beirut and Damascus. Israel will win, but the victory will be painful and costly.


The second war scenario is that of a reconciliation with Iran. If next year U.S. President Barack Obama acts toward Iran the way George W. Bush acted toward North Korea, Iran will go nuclear. If Obama prevents Israel from acting against Iran and does not act itself, Iran will become a leading power in the Middle East. The outcome will be a loss of respect in the Sunni world for the United States and a loss of inhibitions in the Shi'ite and radical world vis-a-vis Israel. A serious conflict could then break out between Israel and Hamas, Israel and Hezbollah and perhaps even Israel and Syria. A violent deterioration could also occur between Israel and other neighbors.

A loss of U.S. strategic hegemony would mean that opponents of the West will shake up the Middle East. A loss of Israel's strategic monopoly would result in attacks on it by old and new enemies. The age of relative quiet that has typified Israeli-Arab relations for the past 35 years will be over forever.


The conclusion is clear: The essential task now in the Middle East is the prevention of war. That's not the same as pursuing peace. Sometimes it's precisely the attempt to achieve an unattainable peace that ignites a war. In the current sensitive situation, there must be no illusions and no mistakes. Political correctness must not be allowed to cause a historic disaster. And when the glasses of political correctness are taken off, a clear picture emerges. To prevent war in the Middle East, the United States and Israel must show strength and generosity, deterrence and moderation. Together they must promote a cautious and gradual diplomatic process that will weaken the region's extremists, strengthen its moderates and curb Iran. They must maintain the democratic alliance that has stabilized western Asia for two generations.


The main responsibility now rests with the United States. The Netanyahu government has made many mistakes over the past year, but so has the Obama administration. The latter has wasted 15 precious months in dialogue with Iran without imposing any sanctions and maintaining the illusion of an immediate Israeli-Palestinian peace. The open, unilateral pressure Washington has exerted on Jerusalem has both distanced peace and brought war closer. Therefore, if the Obama administration does not want the next war to be named after it, it must urgently change its policies. It must demand the possible from Israel, not the imaginary. It must demand what is essential from Iran. It must show determined and sober leadership that will prevent war now and lead to peace tomorrow.

The volcano that erupted last week in Iceland will be nothing compared to the volcano that could erupt in the near future in the Middle East. But the volcano here is a human one. People are stoking it and people can also cool it down. The lives of hundreds of millions now depend on the wisdom and careful consideration of one man: Barack Obama.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE COLLAPSE OF RELIGIOUS ZIONISM

BY SHAHAR ILAN

 

Israel is a nation at war, surrounded by enemies, some threatening to wipe it off the map, a nation in constant danger. Most Israelis are mobilized in one way or another in the defense of the country - some full-time, some most of the time and some part-time. That is Israel's secret weapon, the motivation and devotion of its people dedicated to its defense, which helps the country overcome unprecedented odds. Much of our security depends on keeping secret the information we receive connected to military strategy and tactics, weapon systems and operational plans. One of the prices of security is keeping this information from the enemy. This we have learned in the 62 years since May 15, 1948.


Most Israelis are privy to some state secrets because of their military service, their work in the defense industry or contact in some other way with matters that are best kept from our enemies. And they are prepared to protect these secrets. Some have even protected such secrets with their lives. The young soldier Uri Ilan, who had been taken prisoner by the Syrians in 1954, fearing that under torture he might reveal secrets, committed suicide. When his body was returned to Israel a note was found on it on which he had written: "I did not betray, I committed suicide."


Most of us, fortunately, do not face such stark choices and don't find it overly difficult to keep secrets entrusted to us. As parents whose children serve in the Israel Defense Forces know only too well, their children will not reveal to them secrets that are entrusted to them during their service. Don't mothers and fathers have a right to know what their sons and daughters are doing while away from home? But Israeli mothers and fathers understand that their children protect secrets, in the knowledge that the safety of their country, families and comrades depends on it.

An Israeli who has decided to reveal secret information can do it easily nowadays. He does not have to travel to London and approach an Arab embassy. Just put the information on the Internet and before you know it Israel's enemies will know about it. Not only disseminating information has become easy, but obtaining it as well. Just about everything is now stored on computer hard drives, and a push of a button will download many megabytes of information. While great progress has been made to safeguard secret information stored on computers, in the end a great deal depends on the personnel who have access to the computers.


With good reason do we trust our young people serving in the army, but as has been shown recently, a rotten apple appears every now and then, one that can endanger the safety of many. In the case of Anat Kamm, the danger might have been contained if the journalist to whom she transferred the vast store of information she had stolen from an IDF computer, realizing that he now held the keys to something that could endanger his country, had simply reported Kamm to the authorities and returned the information to the IDF where it belonged.

But the Haaretz reporter, Uri Blau, did no such thing. Keeping the information to himself, he began publishing some of it in Haaretz. This seems to have met with the approval of the newspaper and a number of journalists, who insist that it is the duty of journalists to stand up for the right of the public to know and bring to the public's attention information that comes their way even if it could harm the country's security. They surely must know that the vast majority of the Israeli public does not want to know information that is secret and whose disclosure might endanger the state, so the claim that they are serving the public interest is a fraud. They hide behind the claim that they rely on the censor to pass on the information they have submitted for publication, while complaining about the very existence of censorship in Israel.

Is it just possible that these "defenders of the public interest" are actually looking for ways to attack the Israeli government, even if by doing so they provide information to Israel's enemies? Is it possible that sometimes their sympathies are with enemies of Israel, and they are just looking for ways to give Israel a bloody nose?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE OTHER END OF THE CORRIDOR

BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM

 

This week we ended the march down the corridor "from Holocaust to Rebirth". The corridor begins on the eve of Passover, continues on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers, and ends on Independence Day. We are supposed to come out better citizens.


We usually think of this civics lesson in historical terms ("we shall remember"), but the way our national opinions are influenced by the metaphoric standstill during the siren is also explained by unconscious psychological processes. Terror management theory was inspired by the works of the anthropologist Ernest Becker and is based on the understanding that human beings are the only creatures who are aware that their death is inevitable. This recognition arouses existential anguish that would be paralyzing if people did not develop a defense against it.


Identification with the accepted worldview of the society in which we live is very important in these defenses (self-esteem is the second defense mechanism). This may be a shadow of the concept of group identity that was typical of earlier periods in human history, in which the identity of individuals was derived from the identity of the group they belonged to. If the sense of an individual's identity is defined by that person's affiliation with a group, which the individual sees as an eternal entity that will continue to exist even after the body returns to dust, this self-identification lessens one's existential anguish over the awareness of death.

 

Social psychologists have shown in dozens of experiments, in Israel as well, how conservative tendencies increase when one is forced to deal with existential anguish that brings up thoughts of death. Only the slightest mention of death was enough to arouse anti-Semitism in Christians taking part in experiments; it caused American college students to agree with the sentence "the Holocaust was the way God punished the Jews". Mentions of death caused German subjects to express greater opposition to foreigners, and in one experiment, to sit closer to other German subjects than to Turkish subjects.


The allusion to death can be subtle. In an experiment in Germany, the test group consisted of people who were asked their opinions while standing outside a funeral home, while the control group consisted of people who were asked their opinions while standing 100 meters from a funeral home. That is, it's enough for a person to pass a funeral home to experience an increase in nationalistic tendencies.


It's natural: If a certain psychological tactic can reduce our anxiety about death, then under conditions in which anxiety about death increases, we will have a tendency to resort to this psychological tactic. Therefore, when we are exposed to a stimulus that reminds us that our death is inevitable, we unconsciously move closer to our society's accepted worldview, become more zealous about our national values and suspicious of foreigners.

In light of this, the adjoining of the memorial days to Independence Day seems like an experiment in terror management theory that illustrates the link between the mention of death and a rise in nationalist tendencies. Is that a cause for despair? Not necessarily. Nationalism is a fundamental and ancient defense mechanism that protects both "leftists" and "rightists" from anguish over death. The great Israeli experiment emphasizes civic responsibility to criticize the government: to fight to replace nationalist racist symbols with humanistic ones and to insist on transforming democracy and civic responsibility into significant values in the national ethos.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

 

DIASPORA JEWS SHOULD STOP TRYING TO FIND ISRAEL'S FLAWS

BY ISRAEL HAREL

 

ZURICH - Every year, on the eve of Independence Day, opinion pieces are published abroad that cast doubt on Israel's ability to survive. An analysis of some of these sermons gives rise to the thought that the focus on Israel's blemishes serves as a way for the writers to distance themselves from it.


It isn't only intellectuals in North America who allow themselves to educate us - something to which we have already become accustomed. Yves Kugelmann, a Jewish intellectual from Switzerland who edits the publication "Tachles," is worried, and rightly so, about the growing gap between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora, which he attributes to "a significant change in value systems."


In his opinion, the factors responsible for this widening gap include the attitude toward the Goldstone report (though the vast majority of Diaspora Jews reject this report as vehemently as Israelis do) and the attitude toward the New Israel Fund (whose front organizations provided a sizable portion of the material included in the Goldstone report and engage in overseas slander of cabinet ministers and Israel Defense Forces officers for "war crimes").


According to Kugelmann, two prophets foresaw these developments: Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Jacob Talmon. Luminaries, undoubtedly, in their academic fields, but hardly great visionaries, to put it mildly, as to the morality and future of the Jewish state.


Israel Prize laureate Leibowitz predicted that the IDF would become a Judeo-Nazi army, the state would become fascist, the settlers would emigrate from Israel and convert to Christianity and other equally well-founded prophecies, which made him the prophet, both in Israel and abroad, of the group that views Israel through similar lenses. Even Richard Goldstone, the person most afflicted with Otto Weininger syndrome, steered clear of Leibowitzian terminology.


Talmon's predictions are equally interesting (Kugelmann bases himself on the well-known historian's letter - his "testament," he called it - to Menachem Begin, titled "Homeland in Danger," which was published in Haaretz in March 1980). These predictions have also proven false prophecies, to put it mildly. And the reason is clear: Talmon and his ilk analyzed Israeli society according to a system of prejudices and unjustified fears that they developed toward those ("Begin!") whose opinions and way of life differed from theirs.


Talmon, for example, spoke about "the destruction of the rule of law." Given the way this rule has taken over just about everything in Israel, including its crude intervention in actions by the executive branch, what can be said about this prophecy? And what about "the mass emigration of the elite" that would leave Israel barren in the humanities, social sciences, science and technology? Prof. Zeev Tadmor, a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and one-time president of the Technion, has found that most of the knowledge created today by scientists of Jewish origin is created in Israel.


Another Talmonic prophecy: A civil war is at the gate. True, tensions between the political camps have risen over the past 30 years (though they remain lower than they were during the pre-state years and the early years of the state), but where's the civil war?

The expert on totalitarian democracy was too quick to extrapolate from events in world history to events in Jewish history and, especially, Jewish sociology. The difficult events we have experienced since he prophesied civil war, like the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the uprootings from Sinai and Gush Katif, prove just how little the man knew about his own people, which has internalized, almost genetically, the lessons of the destruction of the Second Temple.


If Kugelmann is sincere in his concern for the future of relations between the Diaspora and Israel, he must not, even if only as an intellectual, base himself solely on Israel's radical fringe or adopt Leibowitz and Talmon as latter-day prophets. An honest comparison of their vision with what is actually happening in Israel will easily reveal an entirely different picture. Israel today, contrary to their prophecies, is home to a majority of the Jewish people - and they are living here very happily, as all public opinion polls show.


In order for us to continue to be one people, it is vital to maintain a dialogue between the Diaspora and Israel. But those Diaspora Jews who rummage about only in order to find our flaws (perhaps to justify distancing themselves from Israel?) are not making a positive contribution to this essential dialogue.

 

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

EDITORIAL

AFTER GOLDMAN

 

After the government sued Goldman Sachs for fraud, a lot of politicians vowed to finally clean up the system. In an important committee vote on Wednesday, 13 senators — including one Republican for a refreshing change — approved a measure that would go a long way toward regulating derivatives, the complex instruments at the heart of the bubble, the bust, the bailouts and the Goldman case.

 

It is still not tough enough to avoid another catastrophe. While the bill rightly calls for most derivatives deals — currently private contracts — to be traded on regulated exchanges, it has too many loopholes. And it doesn't ban the sort of excessive speculation that characterized the Goldman deal.

 

The taxpayers are gaining, but the banks — which make a lot of money on derivatives — are still way ahead.

 

The bill would allow too many trades to be done off the exchanges. Regulators would be able to police them, but there would be no ongoing investor oversight. There are carve-outs for certain corporate users of derivatives and for contracts tailored to unique purposes. The bill also would allow the Treasury secretary to exempt an entire type of derivative known as foreign exchange swaps.

 

Corporate pension funds that invest in derivatives would be subjected to less scrutiny than is required of many other investors. The financing arms of major manufacturers would also escape full scrutiny. All of that is going in the wrong direction.

 

Which brings us back to Goldman. A court will have to decide if the bank committed fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Goldman designed a derivative — a "synthetic collateralized debt obligation," or C.D.O. — that would have a high chance of falling in value, at the request of a hedge fund client who wanted to bet against it. The S.E.C. charges that Goldman misled investors by not revealing the hedge fund's role in selecting the investments. Goldman says it was not obligated to do so.

 

The current reforms being considered by Congress might at least have made Goldman think twice about that obligation. Both the agriculture and banking committees' bills impose business conduct standards that would require dealers to disclose conflicts of interest.

 

It is not clear if the current bills would require synthetic C.D.O.'s to be exchange-traded. If they were, that would give investors a fighting chance to figure out the game. In addition to providing information about prices and volumes, exchange trading would subject derivatives to a full range of regulations, including disclosure and reporting requirements and stricter antifraud rules.

 

The bills also call for regulators to set adequate capital requirements for major dealers and participants so that there would be a cushion when derivative investments go bad.

 

What all those proposals don't address is whether the type of derivative Goldman was selling should even be allowed to exist. The Goldman deal was nothing more than a bet on the mortgage market, in which one side was destined to win and the other to lose, without "investing" anything in the real economy. The C.D.O. did not hold actual mortgage-related bonds, but rather allowed the participants to stake a position on whether bonds owned by others would perform well, or tank. And that helped to further inflate the housing bubble.

 

That is not investing. It is gambling, and it is abusive. It has no place in banks that can bring down the system if they fail.

 

Yet none of the pending reform bills would ban abusive derivatives. Instead, regulators would be limited to gathering information about potential abuses and reporting their concerns to Congress.

 

The bill does say that the regulator cannot approve "gaming contracts." But C.D.O.'s are often so complex that it may be difficult to figure out if they are, in fact, gaming or a threat to the broader economy.

 

Congress should ban both gaming and abusive derivatives. That would help clarify the difference between pure speculation and true hedging. It would start to restore what has been lost in the crisis: public confidence in the integrity of financial markets.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

264 DAYS AND COUNTING

 

Nine months. Two-hundred-sixty-four days. However you total it up, it is too long for three Americans to be cruelly, and unfairly, held in an Iranian jail.

 

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd should have been released long ago. It now seems that Iran's mullah-led government has made them pawns in the political chess game with the United States over Tehran's nuclear program. That's unconscionable.

 

Unfortunately, it is not surprising given the way Tehran's hard-liners have brutally repressed its own citizens, especially since last June's fraudulent presidential election led to angry protests across the country.

 

The Americans were hiking in the Kurdish region of Iraq when they crossed into Iran accidentally, according to family members. Detained since late July, they were sent to the infamous Evin prison, where political prisoners are routinely incarcerated and often abused.

 

Since then, the Iranians have permitted only two consular visits — in September and October — by Swiss diplomats representing American interests in Tehran. The hikers had to wait seven agonizing months, until early March, for one phone call apiece to their families back home.

 

Iranian officials should comply with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and allow regular access to

the three Americans. They should stop manipulating the families and grant visas so the mothers can visit their children. The mothers filed applications in January that are still not approved.

 

The fact that Iranian officials cannot agree on charges against the hikers, or back them up, is a sure sign that something fishy is going on. After the Americans were held for three months, some Iranian officials accused them of spying — but never offered proof. The hikers' Iranian lawyer, Massoud Shafie, told the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran recently that he has seen their file and there is no evidence of espionage. He said both the file and the judge handling the case say that the only charge is "illegal border crossing." Under Iranian law, that calls for a cash penalty — not jail time.

 

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran claims that his country's judiciary is independent. We're deeply skeptical. But let's test the proposition. The court should levy the cash penalty and let the hikers go home. They have suffered too much already.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

 

Many American workers know how a bad economy can chain them to a bad job or a bad boss. But what if you're an immigrant guest worker and that boss holds your visa and can get rid of you with one phone call to the feds? What if he just threatened to call? Which would you choose — to be exploited or deported? To suffer silently here or in destitution back home?

 

There are laws to prevent such exploitation, but they often fail in the real world, which is rife with examples of abuses, and not just among the undocumented.

 

Hundreds of Indian shipyard workers brought legally to Mississippi under the H-2B guest-worker program organized hunger strikes and recently filed lawsuits protesting deplorable working conditions in what they called a system of human trafficking and involuntary servitude. The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have been investigating. Farm workers and domestic workers regularly rally and plead for legislative help to escape abusive conditions.

 

A new bill from Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey, and co-sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat of New York, seeks to give these workers a chance to speak out. It offers temporary protection against deportation and retaliation for noncitizen workers — both visa holders and the undocumented — who file civil-rights or labor-rights complaints or are witnesses in lawsuits or criminal investigations against employers.

 

This gives time for labor agencies and law enforcement to investigate claims of workplace violations, investigations that now are often short-circuited after complainants disappear or are deported. It also expands a visa program for immigrants who are crime victims.

 

For too long the deck has been stacked against noncitizen workers. While the country has drastically ramped up the arrest, prosecution and deportation of tens of thousands of undocumented workers, it has done little to deal with unscrupulous employers who like their work force cheap, easily intimidated and disposable.

 

When one group of workers is powerless, all workers suffer. Mr. Menendez's bill is essential civil-rights legislation that is long overdue and just in time.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A CHILD'S BEST INTEREST

 

Children need loving homes. Prejudice shouldn't stand in the way of that. So it is welcome news that a state judge in Arkansas has struck down a pernicious 2008 state law that barred even qualified same-sex couples and other unmarried couples living together from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

 

Arkansas voters approved the measure, known as Act 1, after the Arkansas Supreme Court invalidated a regulation barring gay people from becoming foster parents. The broader ballot measure applied to all unmarried couples, but it was clear that the primary intent was to exclude gay couples from consideration.

 

It followed a mean-spirited campaign by anti-gay activists that depicted the desire of same-sex couples to provide adoptive or foster homes as part of a nefarious "homosexual agenda" somehow threatening to children.

 

The measure was discriminatory and heartless — ruling out potentially loving homes in a state that needs homes for children. A 2009 report by the Arkansas Department of Human Services found 517 children awaiting adoption but only 228 adoptive homes available.

 

Judge Chris Piazza was right that the ban cast "an unreasonably broad net" and made it harder for the state to do "what is in the best interest of the child."

 

He was also right to be troubled that "one politically unpopular group" had been "specifically targeted for exclusion by the act." Still we are concerned by his — gratuitous and erroneous — conclusion that the law violated only state constitutional standards and not federal constitutional guarantees of due process, privacy and equal protection.

 

What is most important is the ruling's recognition of Act 1's discriminatory and unwarranted disqualification of potential parents, no matter how prepared and eager they are to give children a good home. That sound bottom line should survive any appeal.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OBAMA BACKS DOWN ON SUDAN

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

JUBA, Sudan

 

Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere.

 

Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month's Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama's special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be "as free and as fair as possible." The White House showed only a hint more backbone with a hurried reference this week to "an essential step" with "serious irregularities."

 

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan — the man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur — has been celebrating. His regime calls itself the National Congress Party, or N.C.P., and he was quoted in Sudan as telling a rally in the Blue Nile region: "Even America is becoming an N.C.P. member. No one is against our will."

 

Memo to Mr. Obama: When a man who has been charged with crimes against humanity tells the world that America is in his pocket, it's time to review your policy.

 

Perhaps the Obama administration caved because it considers a flawed election better than no election. That's a reasonable view, one I share. It's conceivable that Mr. Bashir could have won a quasi-fair election — oil revenues have manifestly raised the standard of living in parts of Sudan — and the campaigning did create space for sharp criticism of the government.

 

It's also true that Sudan has been behaving better in some respects. The death toll in Darfur is hugely reduced, and the government is negotiating with rebel groups there. The Sudanese government gave me a visa and travel permits to Darfur, allowing me to travel legally and freely.

 

The real game isn't, in fact, Darfur or the elections but the maneuvering for a possible new civil war. The last north-south civil war in Sudan ended with a fragile peace in 2005, after some two million deaths. The peace agreement provided for a referendum, scheduled to take place in January, in which southern Sudanese will decide whether to secede. They are expected to vote overwhelmingly to form a separate country.

 

Then the question becomes: will the north allow South Sudan to separate? The south holds the great majority of the country's oil, and it's difficult to see President Bashir allowing oil fields to walk away.

 

"If the result of the referendum is independence, there is going to be war — complete war," predicts Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, one of Sudan's most outspoken human rights advocates. He cautions that America's willingness to turn a blind eye to election-rigging here increases the risk that Mr. Bashir will feel that he can get away with war.

 

"They're very naïve in Washington," Mr. Mudawi said. "They don't understand what is going on."

 

On the other hand, a senior Sudanese government official, Ghazi Salahuddin, told me unequivocally in Khartoum, the nation's capital, that Sudan will honor the referendum results. And it's certainly plausible that north and south will muddle through and avoid war, for both sides are exhausted by years of fighting.

 

Here in Juba, the South Sudan capital, I met Winnie Wol, 26, who fled the civil war in 1994 after a militia from the north attacked her village to kill, loot, rape and burn. Her father and many relatives were killed, but she escaped and made her way to Kenya — and eventually resettled as a refugee in California. She now lives in Olathe, Kan., and she had returned for the first time to Sudan to visit a mother and sisters she had last seen when she was a little girl.

 

Ms. Wol, every bit the well-dressed American, let me tag along for her journey back to her village of Nyamlell, 400 miles northwest of Juba. The trip ended by a thatch-roof hut that belonged to her mother, who didn't know she was coming — so no one was home. Ms. Wol was crushed.

 

Then there was a scream and a woman came running. It was Ms. Wol's mother, somehow recognizing her, and they flew into each other's arms. To me, it felt like a peace dividend.

 

Yet that peace is fragile, and Ms. Wol knows that the northern forces may come back to pillage again. "I don't want war," she said, "but I don't think they will allow us to separate."

 

My own hunch is that the north hasn't entirely decided what to do, and that strong international pressure can reduce the risk of another savage war. If President Obama is ever going to find his voice on Sudan, it had better be soon.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

DANCE OF THE DERIVATIVES

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

The United States Senate. Feel the love.

 

"... You have been great."

 

"... I am grateful, very grateful, for your friendship."

 

"... I want everyone to know how deeply committed you are to reform."

 

"... I also wanted to thank you for your hard work."

 

This was Wednesday at the Senate Agriculture Committee, which was considering the regulation of derivatives. These are extremely complicated financial instruments, and they are under the control of the agriculture committee because, really, when you get right down to it, everything is a crop.

 

"Members of this committee check their partisan politics at the door," boasted the chairwoman, Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat of Arkansas. Then, in between compliments, the members approved Lincoln's bill on derivatives in a series of party-line votes.

 

Except for Charles Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, who sided with Lincoln. Truly, this was a day for the record books. Somebody finally got a Republican to vote for something.

 

And perhaps a sign of things to come. As President Obama prepared to make his big financial reform speech near Wall Street on Thursday, the G.O.P. seemed increasingly eager to find a way to work this one out.

 

"We probably generally agree on 90 percent," said the agriculture committee's ranking minority member, Saxby ("I golf, therefore I am") Chambliss. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, took credit for forcing bipartisan negotiations with his innovative threat-of-a-filibuster tactic. Chris Dodd, the chairman of the banking committee who has been negotiating with the Republicans for months, said it was like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise.

 

The Republican leadership originally seemed to believe that financial reform could be a replay of health care reform, with a political payoff for total obstruction. They're discovering that the only real similarity is that both are almost impossible to explain. People love their doctors, but they tend to hate their bankers. Nobody is going to scare voters by predicting that if the Democratic bill passes, they may not be able to keep seeing the same hedge fund manager.

 

It's a sign of the shift that Blanche Lincoln has gone to the front of the populist pack. She was one of the weakest reeds on the Democratic side of the health care reform debate. Before that, she was obsessed with trying to cut the estate tax. Before that — well, let's be frank. We have no idea what she was up to.

 

Given her record, people had expected a weak, boring package from her committee. But Lincoln came up with rules that were tougher than anyone had expected, requiring derivatives to be traded on public exchanges so investors could compare prices. The banks hate this idea, possibly because it will drive down their profits.

 

For sure because it will drive down their profits.

"The bridge of cooperation has been washed out," said Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas crankily, as Lincoln nudged the bill through committee. He also warned that the senators were "smothering ourselves in the milk of human kindness and hoping it doesn't curdle," nailing down first place in the hotly contested Senate metaphor-making competition.

 

It was the first time Lincoln seemed like an interesting political figure since 1998, when, at 38, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Senate. Now her seat is in jeopardy. Conservatives smell blood. The left is backing her opponent in a primary next month. Bill Clinton expressed his support by saying, "I wouldn't be surprised to see her coming back from the dead." Which is really not what you want to hear from the former president while you're out fund-raising.

 

So it's pretty easy to figure out what caused Lincoln's hard line on financial reform. She is tacking to the left the same way John McCain, struggling in a hot primary in Arizona against a Tea Party-type opponent, is tacking to the right.

 

But let's give her credit for never having gotten desperate enough to claim that cars full of illegal immigrants

were "intentionally causing crashes on the freeway." Unlike some former mavericks we could mention.

 

Americans are certainly in the market for some leadership on the subject of derivatives. It's hard to even figure out how to worry about them, since we have no clue exactly what they are, beyond bets on whether prices will go up or down.

 

Try to think of derivatives as being like the Tribbles in that classic "Star Trek" episode. For all of history, there was no such thing. Then somebody found the first ones, which looked cute and made soothing noises. We liked them fine, until the population grew to be worth about $600 trillion. When they got into the financial engine, all hell broke loose.

 

And there is absolutely no political percentage in allowing them free run of the ship.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

EARTH DAY: SMILE, DON'T SHUDDER

BY BJORN LOMBORG

 

Given all the talk of impending catastrophe, this may come as a surprise, but as we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, people who care about the environment actually have a lot to celebrate. Of course, that's not how the organizers of Earth Day 2010 see it. In their view (to quote a recent online call to arms), "The world is in greater peril than ever." But consider this: In virtually every developed country, the air is more breathable and the water is more drinkable than it was in 1970. In most of the First World, deforestation has turned to reforestation. Moreover, the percentage of malnutrition has been reduced, and ever-more people have access to clean water and sanitation.

 

Apocalyptic predictions from concerned environmental activists are nothing new. Until about 10 years ago, I took it for granted that these predictions were sound. Like many of us, I believed that the world was in a terrible state that was only getting worse with each passing day. My thinking changed only when, as a university lecturer, I set out with my students to disprove what I regarded at the time as the far-fetched notion that global environmental conditions were actually improving.

 

To our surprise, the data showed us that many key environmental measures were indeed getting better. We also found a disturbing gulf between the chief concerns of rich countries and the problems that actually do the most damage to the world.

 

If anything, this gulf between perception and reality has gotten wider over the years. For example, one of the "core issues" that the organizers of this year's Earth Day say we should be worrying about is the use of fertilizers and pesticides. It may be unfashionable to point this out, but without the high-yield agricultural practices developed over the past 60 years, virtually all the forests of the world would have to have been cleared to make way for food production. And starvation would be much, much more prevalent.

 

Climate change urgency?

Of course, in the minds of Earth Day activists, no environmental challenge is more urgent than the need to drastically cut carbon emissions in order to stop global warming. But is climate change really the No. 1 problem we face?

 

What about indoor air pollution, which happens to be the world's No. 1 environmental killer? In poor countries, 2.5 billion people rely on "biomass" — wood, waste and dung — to cook and keep themselves warm. This year, the resulting pollution will kill about 1.3 million of them, mainly women and children. Switching from biomass to fossil fuels would dramatically improve the lives of more than a third of the world's population. Unfortunately, you're not likely to hear any of this year's Earth Day speakers promoting greater use of fossil fuels in poor countries.

 

I'm not saying we can blithely ignore global warming. Man-made climate change is real, and we do need to do something about it. But in a world in which most developing countries depend almost exclusively on fossil fuels to power their economies, it's both impractical and immoral to insist that the only solution is for everyone to drastically cut carbon emissions. This approach might make sense if we were able to offer developing countries practical, affordable alternatives to coal and oil. But we cannot— and as long as we can't, all we're really doing when we call for massive carbon cuts is asking the world's poor people to continue living lives of misery and deprivation.

 

Help the developing world first

So what should we do? Well, to begin with, we might consider one of the fundamental lessons of the past 40 years of environmental concern. You cannot expect people to care about what the environment may be like 100 years from now if they are worrying about whether their children have enough to eat. With this in mind, we should focus on the many more immediate problems faced by the developing world today — problems such as malnutrition, education, disease and clean drinking water. At the same time, we should take meaningful steps to ensure that the future of the developing world will be powered by green energy. As long as the electricity from sustainable sources such as solar panels costs us 10 times as much as electricity generated by coal-fired generators, no one but rich nations will go green (and then only if there are government subsidies). What we need to do is to promote the kind of technological breakthroughs necessary to make solar panels cheaper than fossil fuels. Once we have done that, no one will have to be ordered to give up coal and oil.

 

Our goal should thus be twofold: first, to confront the most immediate problems facing the Third World; second, to provide developing countries with the energy technologies they need to create a green, prosperous world. Surprisingly, these goals seem to turn off many in the environmental movement. But while they will use Earth Day to writhe in collective shame at the damage that greedy, gas-guzzling Western consumers are delivering to the fragile planet, the rest of us should celebrate our environmental successes and chart out a reasonable path through the challenges that remain.

 

Bjorn Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center at Copenhagen Business School and the author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON FINANCIAL REFORM (PART I): REIN IN WALL STREET BEFORE HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

 

With the economy finally starting to rebound, it's worth pausing for a moment to recall the roots of the financial crisis that cost millions of jobs and spawned untold misery.

 

OPPOSING VIEW: Reforms miss the mark

 

No economic downturn in the past century — not even the Great Depression— can be so directly attributed to pernicious behavior by financiers. Lenders put people in wildly inappropriate mortgages, often without even verifying income. The process of securitizing these loans and selling them to institutional investors exposed a bonus-crazed banking culture that amplified risk on a colossal scale.

 

Despite it all, the public remains exposed to risks of a future economic collapse, and possible bailouts, brought on by the very same behavior. That's why financial reform is so important, and why the push-back from major financial institutions suggests that the sweeping proposal pending in the Senate is on the right track.

 

The toughness of the measure is appropriate, even if it is partly the result of election-year calculations. It would force institutions to set aside more cash to cover losses, put risky trades in the open, add consumer protections and set up a process to deal with failing institutions.

 

Perhaps its most amusing — and satisfying — feature is a requirement that large banks plan for their own demise. They would be required to file "funeral plans" making recommendations to regulators and central bankers how best to liquidate them if they fail.

 

One thing the measure would not do, despite what you might have heard, is fund future taxpayer bailouts. That charge — by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell— is a kind of Orwellian doublespeak.

 

The assertion centers on fees that would be collected from banks to fund a $50 billion pool, which would be used to break up and dispose of those that fail. The pool might or might not make it into the final version, as the Obama administration has told congressional Democrats it could be dropped. In any event, all it would do is create a shutdown process much like the one that has been used successfully for decades to close down smaller banks.

 

That is the supposed "bailout." Never mind that no taxpayer money would be involved.

 

The Republicans have more legitimate concerns in making sure regulation does not become draconian and unproductive, but that pitch doesn't sell well in today's virulently anti-Wall Street environment. There are, for example, still too many separate agencies that regulate banking.

 

The legislation has other flaws. It does little to address the fact that bankers' compensation still rewards risk-taking with other people's money. And the issue of what to do with failing banks remains thorny. Further, there's more than ample danger that industry lobbyists — hundreds of them — will succeed in sneaking language into the complex legislation that undercuts its purpose.

 

But the measure does many things needed to limit the chances of another horrific credit crisis and rage-inducing bailout. Members of Congress who think they can just say no to financial reform, the way they did to President Obama's health care overhaul, do so at their own political peril.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON CAMPUS CLUBS: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM? YES. BUT DON'T FUND DISCRIMINATION.

REFUSE TO JOIN ANY CLUB THAT WOULD HAVE ME AS A MEMBER," GROUCHO MARX USED TO JOKE. NOW THE SUPREME COURT IS MULLING WHETHER STATE-RUN SCHOOLS MUST LET RELIGIOUS CLUBS WITH DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICES JOIN IN ALL THE BENEFITS THAT OTHER CLUBS ON CAMPUS RECEIVE.

 

OPPOSING VIEW: 'Protect unpopular voices'

The case involves the Christian Legal Society, a network of law student groups that requires members to sign a statement of faith that, among other things, pledges a student to oppose "all acts of sexual conduct outside of God's design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery and homosexual conduct."

 

To be sure, any student who agrees with such faith principles should be able to join such a group, and the group should have an absolute right to recruit members and be active on campus. The tougher question, however, is whether an institution funded with taxpayer dollars must extend formal recognition and benefits to a religious group that discriminates against gay men and lesbians, in accordance with the beliefs of many American churches.

 

The answer should be that no religious group has a claim on public support — just the right to practice its beliefs without interference.

 

The issue reached the high court this week after the University of California's Hastings College of Law refused to authorize the Christian Legal Society as a "recognized student organization" because it violates the school policy that any official student group must be open to all students. The issue is a volatile one that provokes charges of discrimination against religious groups.

 

It need not, as long as Hastings and other public institutions treat every group equally. Hastings attempted to satisfy that standard by allowing the society to meet on campus but refusing to recognize it as a club that could, among other things, tap into student fees.

 

Critics of the Hastings non-discrimination policy argue that the policy is unworkable because it would force groups to admit members directly opposed to the groups' beliefs and aims. "To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy," said Justice Antonin Scalia during Monday's arguments.

 

Justice Samuel Alito took the same tack, imagining a small Muslim student group with 10 members overwhelmed by "50 students who hate Muslims (and) show up and they want to take over that group."

 

Those arguments are logical, but Hastings didn't seek to dictate the Christian group's rules, just to maintain its standards for receiving the benefits that official recognition bestows.

 

In a related case, the court ruled in 1983 that Bob Jones University, a religious institution, could be denied tax-exempt status because of its racist policies.

 

The attorney for the Christian Legal Society protested that the group should and would not discriminate on the basis of gender or race, but had every right to discriminate on the basis of belief. That prompted Justice John Paul Stevens to ask sharply, "What if the belief is that African Americans are inferior?"

 

Although student groups do lose out if they can't get formal recognition and benefits, those aren't constitutional rights. Hastings and other schools should bend over backward to allow students to practice their religion freely, but without putting the school or taxpayers who fund it in the awkward position of endorsing discrimination.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

HOW BAD SCIENCE OPENED DOOR FOR MALARIA

BY RICHARD TREN AND DONALD ROBERTS

 

Since it was first observed 40 years ago, Earth Day has grown from a handful of campus rallies into a global celebration of the environment and has raised ecological awareness around the world.

 

Unfortunately, the politics surrounding Earth Day have also done long-term harm, damaging our ability to fight deadly diseases today.

 

Back in the 1940s, scientists realized that the chemical dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, could stop epidemics of insect-borne diseases such as typhus. Its lifesaving potential was considered such a boon to mankind that the scientist who discovered it, Paul Mueller, won the Nobel Prize. The chemical would soon surpass all expectations in controlling malaria around the world and go on to save millions of lives.

 

It was so effective that it eradicated the disease entirely in Europe, the U.S. and some island nations such as Taiwan. In the West, Malaria was defeated as an endemic disease more than 50 years ago. Now, though, it's a re-emergent disease of the poor, ravaging populations in South America, Asia and across sub-Saharan Africa. Spread by mosquitoes, malaria kills almost 1 million people a year and inflicts suffering on hundreds of millions more. But it didn't have to be this way.

 

Early environmentalists made pesticides one of their chief bugaboos. Rachel Carson, who helped launch the modern environmental movement, was among them.

 

In her now-famous 1962 book Silent Spring, she argued that DDT, when sprayed on a Michigan campus to halt the spread of Dutch elm disease, would spread far and wide and harm robins' ability to reproduce.

 

Carson was no doubt well-intentioned, but it turns out that she was flat out wrong about the effects of DDT. It didn't spread the way she thought it did, and no studies have ever been able to show that environmental exposure to DDT — even in large quantities — harms human health. It is less dangerous to humans than any number of natural chemicals, including some vitamins and medicines that we consume without a second thought. And when used in small quantities in malaria control, DDT protects people from deadly mosquitoes.

 

The public-health benefits it confers far exceed any of the unproven, theoretical risks.

 

A disease's comeback

All this is now widely known. But environmentalists' early crusades against pesticides have since taken on a global momentum of their own. Carson's anti-pesticide stance was taken up by many ecologists and led to the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban DDT. By then, malaria had been eradicated in the USA, but it was still a scourge across much of the world. Nevertheless, international aid donors and health organizations began to abandon DDT.

 

In 1997, just as poor countries were suffering from a global pandemic of dengue fever and re-emerging malaria, the World Health Organization's policy-setting body adopted a resolution calling on all countries to reduce the use of insecticides for disease control. DDT was specifically identified as one that should be phased out.

 

Just 10 years later, the European Union took up the campaign. And in January of 2009, the European Parliament approved new rules to ban certain chemicals used in common pesticides. The new regulations created a great deal of uncertainty, and the implications are still not fully clear.

 

The harm that could come out of this is very real. Reckless rulemaking scares away would-be producers, even before a ban goes into effect. As we know from DDT's history, with fewer manufacturers in the marketplace, prices go up, making the chemical harder and harder to obtain.

 

As a result of the EU process, over the past few years, around 75% of the pesticides used in farming in Europe have disappeared from the market.

 

Trade worries, too

Bans also have other unintended consequences. For instance, some developing countries have stopped using DDT not because it wouldn't work in malaria control, but for fear that their agricultural exports would not be allowed into Europe if tiny and inconsequential residues were found on produce.

 

Meanwhile, malaria continues its deadly scourge, with no realistic alternative to fighting it on the scale that DDT can achieve.

 

The lesson is that we wouldn't have the crisis we do today if we hadn't put feel-good politics ahead of solid science decades ago. Thursday, the citizens of more than 180 countries will celebrate their commitment to the environment on Earth Day. This year, let's commit to putting science first. The consequences of not doing so last a very long time.

 

Richard Tren is the director of Africa Fighting Malaria, and Donald Roberts is a retired entomologist and professor of tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. They are the authors of The Excellent Powder: DDT's Political and Scientific History.

 

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT LINKS THE BANKING CRISIS AND THE VOLCANO?

BY GEORGE MONBIOT

 

Man proposes; nature disposes. We are seldom more vulnerable than when we feel insulated. The miracle of modern flight protected us from gravity, atmosphere, culture, geography. It made everywhere feel local, interchangeable. Nature interjects, and we encounter – tragically for many – the reality of thousands of miles of separation. We discover that we have not escaped from the physical world after all.

 

Complex, connected societies are more resilient than simple ones – up to a point. During the east African droughts of the early 1990s, I saw at first hand what anthropologists and economists have long predicted: those people who had the fewest trading partners were hit hardest. Connectivity provided people with insurance: the wider the geographical area they could draw food from, the less they were hurt by a regional famine.


But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard. The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. This is one of the lessons of the banking crisis. Impoverished mortgage defaulters in the United States – the butterfly's wing over the Atlantic – almost broke the global economy. If the Eyjafjallajökull volcano – by no means a monster – keeps retching it could, in these fragile times, produce the same effect.

We have several such vulnerabilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected coronal mass ejection – a solar storm – which causes a surge of direct current down our electricity grids, taking out the transformers. It could happen in seconds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered. We would soon become aware of our dependence on electricity: an asset which, like oxygen, we notice only when it fails.

As New Scientist magazine points out, an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyze oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business – even the manufacturers of candles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. Burnt-out transformers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Over the past year I've sent freedom of information requests to electricity transmitters and distributors, asking them what contingency plans they have made, and whether they have stockpiled transformers to replace any destroyed by a solar storm. I haven't got to the end of it yet, but the early results suggest that they haven't.


There's a similar lack of planning for the possibility that global supplies of oil might soon peak then go into decline. My FoI requests to the British government reveal that it has made no contingency plans, on the grounds that it doesn't believe it will happen. The issue remains the preserve of beardy lentil-eaters such as, er, the U.S. joint forces command. Its latest report on possible future conflicts maintains that "a severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity".


It suggests that "by 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10m barrels per day". A shortage of refining and production capacity is not the same thing as peak oil, but the report warns that a chronic constraint looms behind the immediate crisis: even under "the most optimistic scenario … petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand". A global oil shortage would soon expose the weaknesses of our complex economic systems. As the cultural anthropologist Joseph Tainter has shown, their dependence on high energy use is one of the factors that makes complex societies vulnerable to collapse.


His work has helped to overturn the old assumption that social complexity is a response to surplus energy. Instead, he proposes, complexity drives higher energy production. While complexity solves many problems – such as reliance on an exclusively local and therefore vulnerable food supply – it's subject to diminishing returns. In extreme cases the cost of maintaining such systems causes them to collapse.


Tainter gives the example of the western Roman empire. In the third and fourth centuries AD, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine sought to rebuild their diminished territories: "The strategy of the later Roman empire was to respond to a near-fatal challenge in the third century by increasing the size, complexity, power, and costliness of … the government and its army. … The benefit/cost ratio of imperial government declined. In the end the western Roman empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence." The empire was ruined by the taxes and levies on manpower Diocletian and Constantine imposed to sustain their massive system. Invasion and collapse were the inevitable result.

He contrasts this with the strategies of the Byzantine empire from the seventh century onwards. Weakened by plague and re-invasion, the government responded with a program of systematic simplification. Instead of maintaining and paying its army, it granted soldiers land in return for hereditary military service: from then on they had to carry their own costs. It reduced the size and complexity of the administration and left people to fend for themselves. The empire survived and expanded.


A similar process is taking place in the UK today: a simplification of government in response to crisis. But while the public sector is being pared down, both government and private enterprise seek to increase the size and complexity of the rest of the economy. If the financial crisis were the only constraint we faced, this might be a sensible strategy. But the energy costs, environmental impacts and vulnerability to disruption of our super-specialized society have surely already reached the point at which they outweigh the benefits of increasing complexity.

For the third time in two years we've discovered that flying is one of the weakest links in our overstretched system. In 2008 the rising cost of fuel drove several airlines out of business. The recession compounded the damage; the volcano might ruin several more. Energy-hungry, weather-dependent, easily disrupted, a large aviation industry is one of the hardest sectors for any society to sustain, especially one beginning to encounter a series of crises. The greater our dependence on flying, the more vulnerable we are likely to become.

Over the past few days people living under the flight paths have seen the future, and they like it. The state of global oil supplies, the industry's social and environmental costs and its extreme vulnerability mean that current levels of flying – let alone the growth the government anticipates – cannot be maintained indefinitely. We have a choice. We can start decommissioning this industry while there is time and find ways of living happily with less of it. Or we can sit and wait for physical reality to simplify the system by more brutal means.

(Source: The Guardian)

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A THANK YOU TO OUR 'ACCIDENTAL READERS'

 

There is nothing funny about natural disasters or the disruption of millions of lives by the vicissitudes of a volcano's eruption in Iceland. But a funny thing did happen to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. We think our anecdote worth sharing, along with a few words toward those whom we can only call our new, "accidental readers."

As we have noted earlier in this space, this was more than a story of stranded tourists in Antalya, the rupture of air freight exports in Istanbul, alerts along our Black Sea coast that the "ash cloud" was near. We reported all this of course. But we shared in the agony as well: a manager unsure of his attendance at a London wedding as we went to press last night, a reporter traveling with the foreign minister unsure of which city would be his next, an editor's best laid plans for a business meeting in Paris gone awry.

But then early Tuesday, the overseer of our complex distribution system, a nationwide matrix of planes, trucks and 3,000 news agents, showed up to report a mysterious anomaly. Suddenly, our newsstand sales had spiked dramatically upward. Drama for us is measured by the hundreds, not thousands. But while it may not take much to make our journalistic hearts race, word of a huge group of new readers indeed did. But we could not figure out why.

Then someone on the metro desk had a bright idea (they always do). We called the two main companies that distribute imported newspapers in languages other than Turkish. Of course we learned that the Guardian, Le Monde and Handelsblatt have been stuck in London, Paris and Frankfurt for the past five or six days. A few random calls to news agents in the logical locations... and sure enough, they had all been ordering extra supplies of the Daily News.

We don't want to gloat over the problems of our colleagues. We realize we are a unique newspaper, one without competitors in any conventional sense and that these gains will surely be fleeting. But we do want to say "Thank You" to our accidental readers. We are a serious newspaper, many say the most serious in Turkey. But we also are not afraid to break a convention or two. So we hope you found our Istanbul-centric daily look at our country, the region and the world an interesting change from your regular fare. We know we split an infinitive or two, that some of our headlines reflect an accent and that reading the business pages upside down is embarrassing if you are in public. But surely you will concede that we are an interesting newspaper. We hope your lives were not seriously disrupted by the collapse of European air travel. And we hope a look at the Daily News was not the only silver lining of the ash cloud, that the extended stays also brought a moment to reflect as so many millions stood still.

 

We hope to see you again.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

GÜL'S CALL FOR CONCILIATION REMAINS UP IN THE AIR

SEDAT ERGİN

 

As Parliament continues to discuss the constitutional amendments package, the point we have reached puts President Abdullah Gül into a difficult position.

 

Because a) His call to the government and the opposition for dialogue didn't work; b) He has to make a very difficult decision on splitting the package into smaller pieces if a referendum stage is needed; c) The possible outcomes of bringing a presidential system into Turkey and its reflections on Gül.

 

Gül wants conciliation

Let's go back a little in order to evaluate Gül's position and let's check what he said on the subject. On Feb. 18, the day that the constitutional change was brought to the agenda, Mr. President said the following:

 

"We need judicial reform very quickly. But as we do this, the dead-end or vicious cycle shouldn't be deepened. The atmosphere should never be politicized, nor should it cause quarrels or polarization. We should never ever allow any of these."

 

Through his words, Gül had something in mind totally different from the current situation, the amendment methods and style. Obviously, Mr. President envisaged a framework of solution based on conciliation.

 

In the meantime, I could say that the Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal encouraged Gül about a possible dialogue with the government, suggesting a split in the package.

 

In fact, Gül, on his way to Oman last week, reiterated his remarks, especially on doing this change without politicization.

 

"I see goodwill efforts between the government and the opposition. I see that the opposition is trying… I have asked everyone to join together. It means we still have a chance. Frankly, I suggest that they talk…"

 

As Erdoğan did not change the game plan…

Gül, sharing his views with Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin, asked him to make shuttle diplomacy between the government and the CHP.

 

It was expected that the sides could push the break following Gül's move and use shuttle diplomacy. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed no intention to change the game plan despite Gül's efforts.

 

Şahin, on the other hand, said: "The things that I can do are limited. If the party groups ask of me anything, I will try… But I don't see that's a possibility," implying no involvement in the situation.

 

So, by looking at these answers I could say that Gül's call didn't work. His remarks remained up in the air.

 

As said, "In pluralist democracies, constitutional amendments are not done through big consensus," Gül was expressing disappointment the other day. However, Mr. President's remarks, "I hope that a process of more consultation, cooperation and consensus is realized," signaled that "there is always a possibility of rapprochement." So, he still prefers a way of conciliation.

 

Gül's difficult choice

There is a critical factor behind Gül's conciliation efforts. If the CHP supports the package apart from three articles and if these articles are approved by over 367 votes with the CHP's support, Mr. President could face a very critical decision: Whether to take the entire package to a referendum or to ask for a popular vote only for these three articles.

 

The three articles are about the structural changes in the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, in addition to making political party closures more difficult.

 

Prime Minister Erdoğan wants a referendum for the entire package. In this case, it will not be an easy decision for Gül.

 

But, of course, a critical development amid discussions is that Erdoğan has started a debate over having a presidential system in the country. With this, the nature of the move to change the Constitutional Court's structure changes dramatically. It appears that the package is a step to prepare the infrastructure of a presidential system rather than a step to have more democracy.

 

However, the debate over if we should have a presidential system in Turkey creates uncertainties about the tenure of Gül and his political future.

 

* Mr. Sedat Ergin is a columnist for the daily Hürriyet in