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Sunday, April 25, 2010

EDITORIAL 26.04.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 26, edition 000491, 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. TEARS FOR TERRORISTS
  2. CORRUPTION AT THE TOP
  3. STORM LOOMS OVER UPA - BALBIR K PUNJ
  4. BEIJING IS NOT BEYOND REASON - ASHWANI MAHAJAN
  5. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH ASH – ILYA KRAMNIK
  6. STATE OF ALLIANCE - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. THE THREAT IS NOT TO ISRAEL ALONE! - BARRY RUBIN
  8. FIGHT AGAINST MALARIA IS FLAGGING – PHILIP STEVENS

MAIL TODAY

  1. NEED TO KEEP INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ON A LEASH
  2. CORRUPTION AT MCI
  3. DEBATE MUST YIELD NEWDEAL - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BACK TO THE FUTURE
  2. VERONICA'S SECRET
  3. CHANGE FOR THE BETTER - JONAS GAHR STØRE
  4. 'OURS WAS A GENERATION THAT DIDN'T FIT IN'
  5. COLOUR ME PINK – HARISH BHAT

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A DROUGHT OF IMAGINATION
  2. THE BOND IDENTITY
  3. NO PLACE FOR HALF MEASURES - PANKAJ VOHRA
  4. WILL THEY FIX THE GAME? - AYAZ MEMON

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THE GOOD AFGHAN
  2. CHECKS, UNCHECKED
  3. SUMMER LEAVE
  4. CONCURRENT PROBLEMS - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. LEGISLATE, NOT INVESTIGATE - M R MADHAVAN
  6. BANKING WITHOUT BANKS - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  7. THE COMMISSIONER'S CHAIR - DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
  8. A (GREEN) TEA PARTY - DNT SMS N DRV

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. REVIVAL IS HERE
  2. WEATHER VANE
  3. CALL WAITING, DIALLING THE UNBANKED - RENUKA BISHT
  4. WHO WILL WATCH THE WATCHDOG? - VIVEKA ROYCHOWDHURY
  5. PLAYING THE IPL.COM BUBBLE - MK VENU

THE HINDU

  1. BUILDING BLOCKS FOR NEW WORLD ORDER
  2. BEYOND MONETARY MEASURES
  3. TIME TO END THE IMPASSE WITH PAKISTAN  - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  4. RELIGIOUS PLACES AND ALMS-SEEKING - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
  5. NATO PLANS GRADUAL HANDOFF TO AFGHANS - MARK LANDLER
  6. COMPANIES FEELING PRESSURE TO SEVER TIES WITH IRAN - PETER BAKER
  7. HONOUR KILLINGS': WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. DO CITIZENS' RIGHTS MATTER TO LEADERS?
  2. WAS OPP. ASLEEP EARLIER?
  3. CONQUEST OF LOVE
  4. SRK FLOORS BENGAL, BJP CHIEF FAINTS
  5. IPL AT CRICKET'S COST

DNA

  1. PRIVACY & THE STATE
  2. MULTI-SPEED SAARC SUMMIT
  3. LEARNING FROM MAOISTS - RB SREEKUMAR
  4. A BHARAT RATNA FOR LALIT MODI - ABHAY VAIDYA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. COMMAND PERFORMANCE
  2. PAYING MORE FOR POWER
  3. FALL FROM GRACE
  4. AFSPA DOESN'T NEED CHANGE - BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH ( RETD )
  5. ASKING FOR IT - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
  6. CRICKET UNITES, IPL DIVIDES - BY GAUTAM WAHI
  7. WHAT MAKES A DISTRICT BACKWARD? - BY RAJESHWARI
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

 MUMBAI MERROR

  1. PAWAR GETS POWERPLAY WRONG

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. FROM DHARAVI TO SHANGHAI
  2. PROTECTING FARMERS
  3. INDIA, PAKISTAN AND SAARC - SANJAYA BARU
  4. OUR EXCHANGE RATE POLICY - A V RAJWADE
  5. LOOKING FOR EXTRA COVER - SUNIL JAIN
  6. SAFETY FIRST, RETURNS LATER - MAHESH VYAS
  7. WARRING REGULATORS IN AN UNDEFINED WORLD - GOPAL JAIN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. RAINBOW COALITION
  2. ON ENVIRONMENTAL VIOLATION
  3. 'INDIA MUST TRY TO ATTRACT TOP B-SCHOOLS ' - SREERADHA BASU
  4. INDIA'S URBAN PLANNING CHALLENGE
  5. SAVOUR SUCCESS, AND THUS ENHANCE IT - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  6. RELAX EXPOSURE RULES TILL IIFCL IS CAPITALISED ENOUGH: CEO - DHEERAJ TIWARI & RAJEEV JAYASWA
  7. 'IPL INHERITED BCCI'S OPAQUENESS'
  8. LOOKING AT A RIGHTS ISSUE AT 2:1 RATIO: JM GARG - SANGITA MEHTA
  9. THERE'S NO THREAT FROM SUPER-BIKES: ROYAL ENFIELD - AMIT SHARMA
  10. 'EXPECT STRONG FOREIGN INFLOWS TO INDIA IN 2ND HALF, 2010' - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. DO CITIZENS' RIGHTS MATTER TO LEADERS?
  2. IPL AT CRICKET'S COST  - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  3. GREEN TEA PARTY WITH A HEALTHY DIFFERENCE - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. SRK FLOORS BENGAL, BJP CHIEF FAINTS - WAS OPPOSITION SLEEPING? - BY RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD
  5. CONQUEST OF LOVE - BY MUZAFFAR ALI

THE STATESMAN

  1. UNENDING INEPTNESS
  2. IAF ACCIDENTS
  3. BOND IS 'BROKE'
  4. LESSONS FROM DANTEWADA  - SANKAR SEN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. JUST MEMORY
  2. MILCH INDIA
  3. THE FIRST MAN ON MARS - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. VALIDATING FORECASTS
  2. GOLDMAN'S FRAUD
  3. THE IPL SAGA - M J AKBAR
  4. IN THE UK, IT'S BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE - BY COLIN TODHUNTER
  5. THE FEAR OF AUDIT - BY A N SURYANARAYANAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. CAPS FOR THE FAT CATS
  2. GIVE UP THE NUKES? - BY IAN PEAR
  3. EINSTEIN, OBAMA AND BINYAMIN NETANYAHU - BY MICHAEL M. COHEN

HAARETZ

  1. NETANYAHU MUST STOP EAST JERUSALEM CONSTRUCTION IF HE WANTS PEACE
  2. WHO KILLED THE MIDEAST PEACE PROCESS? - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. THE CORRUPTION ERUPTION - BY MOSHE MIZRAHI
  4. THE NATIONAL KITSCH - BY YITZHAK LAOR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. WHEN THE SYSTEM WORKS
  2. WHEN THE SYSTEM WORKS
  3. CAPE WIND AND MR. SALAZAR
  4. A BETTER CHANCE
  5. WHAT ARE THEY DOING?
  6. BORROWING OUR WAY TO FAILURE - BY DAVID A. PATERSON
  7. NO SECRETS IN THE SKY - BY PETER BERGEN AND KATHERINE TIEDEMANN
  8. NOT EVEN IN SOUTH PARK? - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  9. BERATING THE RATERS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  10. NOT EVEN IN SOUTH PARK?  - BY ROSS DOUTHAT

USA TODAY

  1. A YEAR LATER, 5 LESSONS FROM SWINE FLU OUTBREAK
  2. ADULTERY, IN MANY STATES, IS STILL A CRIME - BY JONATHAN TURLEY
  3. REMEMBER WHEN FLYING WAS FUN?C - BY RAYMOND SILLER

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. FOR TRUSTEE, CARL LEVI
  2. FOR COUNTY COMMISSION
  3. MCLEOD: LIFE'S FRAGILE, SO HUG YOUR KIDS TODAY
  4. LISA EARLE MCLEOD
  5. WIEDMER: UTC GOT A LOT OUT OF MOORE
  6. MARK WIEDMER (CONTACT)

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. MEMO TO AMERICA: STOP MURDERING MY PEOPLE - BY MALALAI JOYA
  2. PARLIAMENT STUDYING PLAN TO ESTABLISH WOMEN MINISTRY
  3. TEHRAN TIMES WOMEN'S DESK
  4. ACADEMIC MUSLIM WOMEN'S CONFERENCE OPENS IN TEHRAN

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - CLEARING CONSCRIPTION OF FISCAL POLITICS
  2. 99 LUFTBALLOONS IN A BEAUTY CONTEST
  3. TURKEY'S TRANSFORMATION UNDER AKP-IV
  4. SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
  5. NOW IT'S TIME FOR REAL BUSINESS! - ARIANA FERENTINOU
  6. CYPRUS: NO MORE LAST CHANCES - GWYNNE DYER
  7. RENEWED OPTIMISM, INTEREST FROM FOREIGN INVESTORS IN TURKEY
  8. ALAN ROBERTSON
  9. WILL THE BEST WIN? – JOOST LAGENDKIJK
  10. AFTER ÖZOK…- YUSUF KANLI

I.THE NEWS

  1. UNLIKELY CONCILIATOR
  2. BEHEADINGS AGAIN
  3. OASIS OF PEACE
  4. THE ARMY: ANYTHING BUT IDLE - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. MAKE NEW PROVINCES - SALEEM SAFI
  6. MISERLINESS AND GREED - DR A Q KHAN
  7. WAZIRISTAN AND CHECHNYA - AHMED QURAISHI
  8. LITTLE TO CELEBRATE - PART I - ASIF EZDI
  9. STAR TIME - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MEETINGS, MEETINGS ON POWER SHORTAGE?
  2. PETRAEUS ON 'REAL SUCCESS' AND 'CONSIDERABLE SUCCESS'
  3. KILLINGS IN IHK DAMPEN DIALOGUE
  4. COUNTERING LOAD-SHEDDING
  5. DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  6. ON GOING TO THE RATS! - AKHALID SALEEM
  7. BETWEEN INDEPENDENCE & AUTONOMY - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  8. INTERNATIONAL ARMS CONTROL - MAHMOOD HUSSAIN
  9. NEW MISSILE TO HIT ANYWHERE IN AN HOUR - TONY ALLEN MILLS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. BHOLA BY-POLLS
  2. POTATO FARMERS' PLIGHT
  3. CHEER THE CHEERLEADERS..!
  4. MICRO AND MACRO LEVEL ATTENTION IS NEEDED - MD HASAN KHALED
  5. ISLAM: THE STATE OR CIVILISATION? - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER
  6. US FEDERAL GOVT LOSING CONFIDENCE - STEVEN THOMMA

TIMES LIVE

  1. NPA NEEDS LEGAL ADVICE
  2. ANC STILL CAGEY ON ITS NATIONALISATION PLANS
  3. AIRLINES CAN DO BETTER FOR THEIR PASSENGERS
  4. LESS TRAINING FOR TRAIN DRIVERS?
  5. AN UGLY STRUGGLE AWAITS US AS THE ANC PREPARES TO BE REBORN - MONDLI MAKHANYA
  6. WHEN IT COMES TO DIALOGUE, WE DON'T HAVE THE WORDS - ANC PAYS THE (LESSER) PRICE OF INACTION - XOLELA MANGCU

SOWETAN

  1. CHANCE FOR LAWBREAKERS
  2. POSER FOR PSL

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. IT'S OVER: MR RUDD GETS IT RIGHT ON A BILL OF RIGHTS
  2. LITTLE OPTION FOR FIRE CHIEF
  3. PLEASE DON'T APOLOGISE
  4. CAMERA-SHY RUDD IS EXPOSED BY LIBS
  5. BLACK SATURDAY CHIEFS MAKE A VIRTUE OF INACTIVITY
  6. BATTLE AGAINST THE BURKA IS NOT BASED ON BIGOTRY
  7. MEDIA WATCH CAUGHT OUT BY ITS FOSSIL MORALITY TALE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. TEA PARTY BREWING A REBELLION
  2. CONROY TILTS AT A WEB WINDMILL

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF… PIZZA ON THE PARK
  2. ULSTER: IN A HUNG PARLIAMENT, EVERYONE IS A PLAYER IN THE SAME POLITICAL DEBATE
  3. ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT: IMPOSING SOLUTIONS

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. IT WASN'T LOGICAL BUT WE LOVED THIS VULCAN - BY DOMINIC UTTON

THE GAZETTE

  1. ONTARIO'S WAR ON DRUG PRICES

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
  2. MT. GEUMGANG FIASCO
  3. NORTH KOREA URGED TO REVOKE ASSET SEIZURE
  4. [PS] ON ROAD TO POST-CRISIS GROWTH - BY MICHAEL SPENCE
  5. NATO SHOULD KEEP NUKES - BY DALE MCFEATTERS
  6. NEW EPA RULES BAD NEWS FOR BLACKS - BY DEROY MURDOCK
  7. [PS] UK'S NO-WIN ELECTION? - BY ROBERT SKIDELSKY

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. CORRUPTION CHAIN
  2. DISCLOSURE OF LIST
  3. BIOGRAPHY DOESN'T EXPOSE INNER OPRAH WINFREY - MEGHAN DAUM
  4. THE LIMITS OF CHINA'S CHARM OFFENSIVE - JONATHAN HOLSLAG
  5. EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO HOME
  6. ISN'T HOLLYWOOD RISKY ENOUGH ALREADY?

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THE NEXT GENERATION OF CARS
  2. TAX BREAKS FOR DONATIONS TO NPOS
  3. CHINA'S TRUE SUPPORTERS VERSUS THE HACKERS - BY TOM PLATE
  4. TRANSFORMING THE JUDICIARY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. WHEN BUSINESS AND NORMS COLLIDE
  2. GLOBALIZATION AND THE REMAPPING OF THE WORLD
  3. BUDIONO KUSUMOHAMIDJOJO
  4. REGIONS AND THEIR ENERGY PROBLEMS - HANAN NUGROHO
  5. BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW - MOHAMAD MOVA AL AFGHANI

CHINA DAILY

  1. THE PEOPLE'S INTERESTS
  2. IMF REFORM NEEDED
  3. EXPO BREWS EXCHANGES
  4. AUTO FEVER HEATS UP
  5. DON'T FORGET 'THE FORGOTTEN PHASE' IN YUSHU
  6. BY GRAHAM MEADOWS & MICHAEL DUNFORD (CHINA DAILY)
  7. DEBATE: SINO-US TIES
  8. XUE LITAI: A TURNING POINT IN US-CHINA RELATIONS
  9. TAPPING DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL - BY ZHANG MONAN (CHINA DAILY)
  10. GROWTH SHIFTS TO EMERGING NATIONS - BY DAN STEINBOCK (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. A NATIONAL POLICY FOR EDUCATION
  2. RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING TNA
  3. ACHIEVEMENT OF DESIRABLE ENDS THROUGH QUESTIONABLE MEANS - SHARMA MEETS VARMA
  4. DR. SRINATH VARMA'S CONSULTANCY PARLOUR-PART 1

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. CENTRAL ASIAN BEDFELLOWS - BY RICHARD LOURIE
  2. CACOPHONY OF ELECTIONS AND MUSIC IN GEORGIA - BY MATTHEW COLLIN
  3. TURNING BAD BLOOD INTO GOOD - BY DAVID MARPLES

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. WATER AT LAST
  2. FINANCIAL SECTOR''S REFORM AND REGULATION: FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT - DR. KAMAL RAJ DHUNGEL
  3. TOPICS: NAKED TRUTHS - BUDDHI GAUTAM
  4. CREDOS: RIGHT PRACTICE — I - SHUNRYU SUZUKI 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TEARS FOR TERRORISTS

HURRIYAT WEEPS FOR CONVICTED KILLERS


It is tragic and downright criminal that Srinagar has had to face protests and a curfew-type situation simply because three terrorists, responsible for bomb explosions that killed innocent civilians in Delhi's Lajpat Nagar Market in 1996, were convicted and sentenced to death by a court in the capital. The protests were not led by nameless, faceless individuals and extremists. One by one, the entire Kashmiri separatist leadership has been found wanting. Mr Yasin Malik, favourite of Left-liberal media intellectuals in Delhi and a trusted interlocutor of American think-tanks and European busybodies, was on the streets. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq had to be prevented from delivering a suitably incendiary Friday sermon. Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and the Valley's very own Rasputin, claimed the "judiciary was biased … (and) the witnesses … tutored by the judges". Finally, Ms Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party joined the circus by terming as "unfortunate" a judicial verdict that was arrived at after years of due process and recommended the hanging of cold-blooded murderers. Perhaps what has been seen in the past few days in Srinagar is only the start of a campaign to discredit the Indian justice system, to present the three terrorists as victims of some variety. Like Mohammed Afzal Guru — a key conspirator in the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament — these three men could now find themselves on death row for years to come, with the political executive too weak and too scared to take a call on what to do with them. As for the Hurriyat leaders, they could well be preparing for large-scale protests, condolence meetings and proxy janazas in case Osama bin Laden is ever found and gunned down by American Marines. In the war between good and evil, their instincts are clearly with the dark side.


A small incident can reveal a larger problem. The drama in the Kashmir valley may seem relatively minor — Jammu & Kashmir has seen far worse in the past quarter-century — but is telling in its own way. Those who are contending that normality is back in the State, that security forces should be removed and that supposedly retired separatists and militants from across the Line of Control should be allowed to settle (or re-settle) in the Valley have had their argument shot to pieces by the past week's surge in sympathy for thugs. If the Hurriyat cabal and its agents cannot distinguish between a crusader for a cause (whatever the cause) and those who kill and mutilate ordinary people, including children, in a crowded marketplace, then they deserve not a velvet glove but an iron fist.


There is a disturbing lesson here for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He has been talking of life having returned to some imagined idyll and has called for the scaling back of Army presence in the State. He has won support for some of his adventurist ideas in the Union Government as well. It is worth considering what may happen if the Hurriyat triggers another show of manufactured rage after a case of supposed 'injustice' by the 'Indian state' and in the absence of adequate Central security cover. Left with largely the local police, Mr Abdullah's Government will be entirely unable to take on the throngs, egged on in the name of religious bigotry. The consequences can only be imagined.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CORRUPTION AT THE TOP

WHO WILL GUARD EDUCATION'S GUARDS?


The arrest of Medical Council of India president Ketan Desai and three others on charges of bribery once again exposes the rot that exists in higher education in this country. The accused were arrested after the CBI was tipped off that money was about to change hands between the representatives of a private medical college in Patiala and Desai's associates to secure permission for starting the admission process for the coming academic year. Subsequently, the CBI laid a trap and caught the accused red-handed in the process of the unholy transaction. It will be recalled that last year several officials of the AICTE — the body responsible for technical education in the country — were arrested in connection with bribery cases that involved granting recognition to private engineering colleges. It now appears that the rot has spread to medical education as well. This is truly worrisome. It is quite apparent that the regulatory mechanisms for higher education in this country are simply not up to the mark as far as keeping corruption at bay is concerned. Most of these regulatory bodies are staffed by political appointees who see their posting as an opportunity to mint money under the table. And given the burgeoning education sector, earning money on the sly through bribes in lieu of recognition to educational institutions becomes a lucrative prospect for many. This is precisely the reason why we need people of unquestionable character and a clean record to prove the same for these important positions. For, far too often we have seen vital positions within regulatory bodies such the MCI and the AICTE being gifted away by politicians to those who have been 'helpful' to them. This is a practice that must be put to an end if we are to maintain the standard and quality of higher education in this country. After the AICTE incident last year, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal had tried to implement procedures aimed at making the process of granting recognition to technical educational institutions more transparent. These included measures such as making it mandatory for the applicant to submit a video presentation of its campus facilities as well as streamlining the process of physical examination of the institution concerned. It would be appropriate to extend these to medical colleges as well.


On the other hand, it will also be a helpful practice to ensure that appointments to the MCI and other analogous bodies are made for a short duration — say, for a year. This will ensure that the official concerned does not have the time to get 'comfortable' to try and feather his or her nest by misusing the authority of the office he or she occupies. Unless there is a purge to cleanse our education regulatory bodies and root out corruption, with foreign universities ready to set up shop here, we can expect huge scams in the days ahead.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

STORM LOOMS OVER UPA

BALBIR K PUNJ


L'affaire Shashi Tharoor does make one feel sad that a talented man who has served as a UN Under Secretary-General for many years and is the author of several books has shot himself in the foot and reduced his public image to tatters. Mr Tharoor would have been an asset for the political class that needs young, highly qualified and talented people to take over the helm of affairs. Look at the rising stars of the present political firmament. In every party the generational shift is apparent. It is a different story that except in the BJP, the CPI and the CPI(M), the emerging young leaders are there due to the political clout of their parents or the patronage of the party bosses. Mr Rahul Gandhi, Mr Uddhav Thackeray, the Yadavs, Mr MK Stalin, the Chautalas, etc, all have their family name for a claim to the top posts of their respective parties.


That Mr Tharoor was welcomed into the Congress with the active encouragement of both party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul is well known. To Mr Tharoor's credit he chose the hard path of getting elected to the Lok Sabha from the prestigious Thiruvananthapuram constituency. When he stood for election he hardly knew how to speak in his native tongue, Malayalam. Yet, he won with the largest number of votes among all candidates in Kerala.


Then what went wrong for him? From day one Mr Tharoor was finding it difficult to adjust to the Indian political culture since he was more acquainted with Western/American cultural values. His five-star lifestyle, liberal use of phrases like 'cattle class' to describe the frugal lifestyle he was forced to subject himself to, his freestyle wrestling with words in his Tweets became increasingly embarrassing for his own party. His flamboyant personal life did not help him either. His relationship with Ms Sunanda Pushkar, who is variously described as a Dubai-based beautician, a business consultant and a finance executive, was itself shrouded in mystery. Some said she was his girlfriend, some reports foretold their marriage while others were equally convinced she was just a front for dubious dealings which finally did him in.


In India you cannot be like French President Nicolas Sarkozy who came to power despite a divorce and a much publicised affair with a former model, or like Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who is still going strong after openly flaunting his sexual indiscretions. Here you have to learn from the example of Mrs Indira Gandhi who when asked to join a dance at a reception in London politely declined, saying that her people would not approve of her dancing like the Western elite.


Now that his dream career has ended with a bang, Mr Tharoor's example should be a warning to those who claim to serve their country. It is not enough to commit oneself. Many like Mr Tharoor in fields like science and technology, industry and business, face the same dilemma as they seek to shift from the affluent and uninhibited culture of the West and take root in that of India.


For all the heat and dust it raised, the Tharoor incident has been useful in another respect too. It has helped expose the reality behind the wild success of IPL. The general public has now had a glimpse of the murky dealings behind the marquee cricketing event. Right from the beginning of IPL, the people in charge of cricket in India should have questioned the source of funds of IPL's franchises and insisted on total transparency.

It cannot be that diamond merchants and film stars are the best judges of cricketers. When the BCCI allows national icons in cricket to be auctioned for huge sums of money, this certainly takes the shine off the gentleman's game and reduces it to a business enterprise. It was not long ago that we witnessed some big names in cricket falling to the temptation of monetary gains and throwing away games to satisfy their greed. With huge sums of money changing hands in IPL, one must admit that the risk of dubious dealings is far greater than it has ever been in cricket's history.


With each passing day all kinds of skeletons are tumbling out of the IPL closet. The politically conscious middle class is finding it strange that the Congress, for all its protestations of innocence, demanded Mr Tharoor's resignation only after it became impossible to defend him. It chose to ask for his resignation not because he was found to have used his office to influence dealings within the IPL but because it was afraid that with its effective majority reduced to just one it was too risky to face Parliament to get the Finance Bill passed.

In retaliation, the Congress has now turned on its allies. The victim is NCP chief Sharad Pawar; not a very good ally considering the dent he has made in the Congress's vote-share in Maharashtra and more recently in Meghalaya where the NCP has toppled the Congress State Government.


It is significant that l'affaire Shashi Tharoor has shaken up the ruling coalition. The Government in May 2009 was ebullient and was flexing its political muscle after returning to power. The same UPA today is in disarray with coalition partners at each other's throat, and domestic and foreign policy failures staring it in the face.

The IPL may have been the circus that the ruling coalition was promoting to divert attention from rising popular anger. But this strategy has totally backfired. The IPL controversy is slowly snowballing into something really big and it appears that more political figures associated with the Government are bound to come under the scanner in the near future. It is quite clear that the UPA has been rattled. As a result, the question on everyone's lips is: Will this Government survive to celebrate its first anniversary?


-- punjbalbir@gmail.com

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

BEIJING IS NOT BEYOND REASON

ASHWANI MAHAJAN


Today China is the world's fastest growing country. Its share in global trade is a commanding six per cent. Products ranging from consumer goods to power plants, China today is producing all in mammoth quantities. India has a huge trade deficit with China and this has been growing for several years. In 2008-09, the total value of India's imports from China touched $ 32.5 billion. Since the value of Indian exports to China was only $ 9.4 billion, the trade deficit was $ 23.1 billion in China's favour.


But recently, the value of imports from China has started declining. In the first nine months of financial year 2009-10, it was worth only $ 21.4 billion while in the corresponding period of 2008-09 it was $ 24.9 billion. This is a climbdown of 21 per cent. Though India's exports to China have also declined, its trade deficit with the latter is expected to be lower.


The reason is that the Chinese Government, under domestic economic pressure, has been compelled to reduce subsidies to industry and exports. As a result, imports coming from China have become expensive, reducing their demand. Also, the value of the Chinese yuan, which is artificially kept low by the Chinese Government, seems to be heading for a revaluation. For the past few months, US President Barack Obama has been constantly commenting that a revaluation of the yuan is required. European countries too have been putting pressure on China to adjust the value of the yuan.


All this pressure seems to be getting to the Chinese. Though Chinese President Hu Jintao has repeatedly said that China will not bow down to foreign pressure, the People's Bank of China has indicated a possible appreciation of the yuan. The Chinese central bank has also hinted at a more flexible currency regime which means that we could see the value of the yuan being determined by market forces in the near future.


The US, India and many more countries have suffered heavy losses in trade with China. But with a proper revaluation of the Chinese currency, this could change. This proves that China can be flexible if it so chooses and is certainly not beyond reason and understanding.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH ASH

ASH FROM ICELAND'S VOLCANO EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL TURNED MUCH OF EUROPE'S AIRSPACE INTO A NO-FLY ZONE, GROUNDING AIRLINES ACROSS THE WORLD. THERE IS EVIDENCE TO PROVE CANCELLING FLIGHTS WAS A WISE THING TO DO. IN THE PAST, VOLCANIC ASH HAS ALMOST BROUGHT DOWN PLANES IN MID-FLIGHT

ILYA KRAMNIK


Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress."


This optimistic statement was made on June 24, 1982 aboard a British Airways B-747 airliner bound from London for Auckland with stop-overs in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth and Melbourne.


The airliner, however, failed to reach its destination. At 8:40 pm Jakarta time, south of Java in the Indian Ocean, co-pilot Roger Greaves and flight engineer Barry Townley-Freeman noticed St Elmo's fire appearing on the windshield. St Elmo's fire is a special kind of coronal discharge originating from a high-voltage electrical field in the atmosphere. From inside it looked as though tracer bullets were hitting the plane. Soon the aircraft commander, Eric Moody, also noted the phenomenon. He had returned to the cockpit after a short absence.

As a rule, St Elmo's fire indicates thunderstorm clouds nearby, but the weather radar displayed nothing of the sort. Still, the crew switched on a de-icing system for safety's sake and "fasten your belts" lights went on in the cabin.

There was no thunderstorm in the region, however. It appeared that the airliner, flying at an altitude of 11,000 metres, entered a cloud of volcanic ash suddenly spewed by the Javan volcano Galunggung.


Fumes began building in the passenger cabin. Knowing nothing of the volcano, the general conclusion was that it was cigarette smoking — in those days smoking was allowed on aircraft. Soon, however, the fumes thickened, setting off an alarm in the cabin. Crew members set about searching for the cause, but naturally failed to find any.


Meanwhile, many passengers looking out the aircraft windows spotted an unusually brilliant glow on the body surface and particularly on the engines as though each carried a lamp illuminating the way ahead through compressor blades, which created a stroboscopic effect. This glow came from electrified dust particles that had settled on the surface of engine nacelles and on the compressor blades.


At about 8:42 pm Jakarta time, engine No 4 failed because of a flameout. The co-pilot and flight engineer went into the immediate procedure of shutting the engine down, cutting the fuel supply and, just in case, activating a fire-extinguishing system. In the meantime the commander handled the controls, trying to cope with uneven thrust.

The passengers also noticed long yellow glowing streaks emanating from the remaining engines. Less than a minute after shutting down engine No 4, there was a blowout in engine No 2, which also stopped.

Before the crew could initiate the process of cutting down the engine, there was a blowout in the remaining engines, No 1 and No 3, and the windshield went opaque. The flight engineer exclaimed: "I can't believe it — all the engines have stopped." It was at that moment that Eric Moody made the statement quoted at the beginning of the article — with a characteristically British sense of humour.


The heavy airliner headed back to Jakarta, hoping to make an emergency landing. But to reach the capital of Indonesia, it was necessary to re-start at least one engine. The alternative was ditching in the far from welcoming waters of the ocean filled with all kinds of dangers — high waves could make the rescue of the crew and passengers difficult, and strong currents could scatter the safety rafts far adrift, not to mention sharks.

An aircraft with a take-off weight of 380 tonne became a glider. With the engines shut down, a Jumbo Jet (the nickname of the B-747) can glide 15 km per each kilometre in lost altitude. Commander Moody calculated that from an altitude of 11 km the airliner could glide for 23 minutes, covering a distance of 169 kilometre.


But the descent was more rapid. Air pressure in the cabin dropped: The cabin pressure compressors were driven by the engines which had stopped. Given these bleak realities, the plane was unlikely to negotiate the mountains and land in Jakarta. The crew began preparing to splashdown in the ocean.


The aircraft exited from an ash cloud at 8:56 pm Jakarta time, after about 13 minutes of gliding. At that point, it was at 12,000 feet in the air. At this height, the crew managed to fire one engine and then the three others (one engine, however, later went dead again when the Boeing climbed and reentered the cloud). The aircraft was able to successfully land in Jakarta.


The mechanics who broke down the engines found a great mass of molten ash in the turbines that had plugged the lines. All four engines had to be replaced.


Another volcanic incident also involved a Boeing-747, this time flown by KLM on the Amsterdam-Tokyo route. While on approach to Anchorage, Alaska, the airliner hit a cloud of ash spewed by the volcano Mt Redoubt. All four engines failed. But the aircraft captain, Karl van der Elst, managed to save the day — after descending more than 4,000 metres the crew succeeded in restarting the engines.


Both cases show the dangers of volcano eruptions for aircraft but in both cases the aircraft suddenly found themselves in dense ash clouds while in direct proximity to fire-spewing mountains where the concentration of hard particles was the highest.


At a considerable distance from a volcano, the ash concentration in the air falls off by many orders of magnitude, and such a large-scale closing of air space in Eurasia, following the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallojokull, is more reminiscent of hysteria than a real assessment of danger.


Seen against this background, the quiet operation of Russia's Aeroflot, which continues its flights despite any volcanoes, is worth noting.


The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.


THE PIONEER

OPED

STATE OF ALLIANCE

CIVIC POLLS IN WEST BENGAL A TEST FOR MAMATA, CONGRESS

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


Territorial claims are the keystone of political alliances. West Bengal's municipal elections, nominations for which open today (April 26), will therefore define the state of the partnership between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, impacting not only the outcome of the 81 municipalities and Kolkata Municipal Corporation that go to the polls in May, but the dynamics of the 2011 State Assembly elections.


As of now there is a deadlock; the Trinamool Congress is not ready to give up more than 20 odd seats in Kolkata, whereas the Congress wants 51. The bargaining has been going on for weeks and two back-to-back sittings have failed to break the impasse.


The Trinamool Congress's capacity to be obstinate has been enhanced by the embarrassment of the Congress over the flamboyantly murky IPL business. Despite Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's stout denials that he has no time and nothing to do with IPL or even Indian cricket, the fact is that the NCP seems to be submerged neck deep in the mess. Even if the stability of the Congress-led UPA is not jeopardised it is precarious if there are two angry partners. If the Congress pushes the IPL probe too far, Mr Pawar will be outraged. If the Congress pushes the Trinamool Congress too far on seat sharing in the West Bengal the municipal elections, Ms Mamata Banerjee will be livid. The Congress, therefore, has to play a careful game.

Notwithstanding the shakiness of the regime at the Centre, within the Congress in West Bengal, the rumbles have increased in volume with threats that if the deal does not work then the party is ready to go it alone. The Trinamool Congress on its part is pursuing a complicated twin-track game; sticking to its position and upping the ante by clearly targeting Congress candidates that it does not like, namely Mr Ram Payare Ram, Ms Mala Roy, Mr Mainul Haque and Mr Andul Khaleque as well as signalling that it would make room for the mercurial former Mayor Subrata Mukherjee.


The indications are not promising for a smooth arrangement falling into place before April 26 and a coordinated campaign thereafter. The indications however are ambiguous because neither side is willing to break the deal or even describe it as endangered. The need to present a joint front to anti-Communist Party of India(Marxist) voters is paramount. The Congress needs to prevent itself from being pushed out by the Trinamool Congress. The Trinamool Congress needs to push the Congress out of as many constituencies in West Bengal as is feasible given the existence of a partnership.


Therefore, the partnership may survive but the voters may be short changed in that the infighting will prevent the sort of coordination that makes sense politically to 'change' the governance of West Bengal. Since the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have both vowed to do just that the persistence of their internal wrangling could subvert the promise they have made to voters.


To add to the plot, the Congress has declared that it will go it alone in seven out of 18 districts. Even if this sounds like an act of intransigence, it does leave the door open for negotiations with the Trinamool Congress. The Congress can yield more in Kolkata while fighting it out in the districts or the Trinamool Congress can yield over Kolkata and claim a share in the districts.


Whichever way the cake is cut, the fact of the matter is that the Trinamool Congress remains critical to the Congress as a partner in West Bengal and at the Centre. The appeal of Ms Banerjee has not waned even though the admiration for her obstruction to CPI(M)'s plans for "development" and industrialisation has seriously dipped.

While the savvy urban voter has begun to ridicule some of the doings of the Trinamool Congress leader, especially her flagging off trains, laying foundation stones and offering jobs, the opinion of the rural, semi-urban voter is a mystery.


Whereas earlier it was easier to anticipate that the doubtful voter would settle for second best, thereby allowing the CPI(M) to win by default, it is now uncertain how the voter will decide in local elections where local problems, power equations and issues dominate the discussion. The internal fights within the CPI(M), with former Mayors and other party men trashing the district leadership, have contributed to the unpredictability of the outcome.


Given the absence of a default, the voter has to make a judgement. Being compelled to take a call could make it easier for the Trinamool Congress to win in places like Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia and East and West Midnapore. If it wants to win more it may decide to share space with the Congress. If it wants to sweep it will need to work with the Congress and that will require practising the dharma of coalition politics that neither side seems very keen on doing.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE THREAT IS NOT TO ISRAEL ALONE!

IRAN MAY BE ABLE TO BUILD A MISSILE CAPABLE OF STRIKING THE UNITED STATES BY 2015 AND THIS IS NOT GOOD NEWS FOR EITHER AMERICA OR WEST ASIA

BARRY RUBIN


Iran may be able to build a missile capable of striking the United States by 2015, according to a new US Department of Defence report. As I keep trying to explain, this isn't all about Israel either because Iran will be able to hit any country in the region.


Yet the more likely danger is that the Iranian regime will use nuclear weapons "defensively." In other words, it will intimidate, subvert, and bring over to its side millions of people and change the power balance in the region. And if anyone in the Arabic-speaking world wants to oppose it or do anything about it, Tehran will just use the possession of nuclear weapons to scare them into submission.


But won't a US promise of protection reassure everyone? Take a look at current US policy and try to answer, "Yes," without laughing. And there's another problem. Even if you know that the US will launch an attack in response, your country will still be flattened. Better to give in or even jump on the revolutionary Islamist bandwagon, many will conclude.


Meanwhile, we can still read headlines like this one: "US open to Iran nuclear fuel deal despite doubts."


Oh, right! Let's spend a few months going back to the nuclear fuel swap deal which Iran raised last September in order to sabotage the sanctions' train so successfully. No problem. What could possibly by a reason to hurry in putting pressure on Iran?


That's why the Pentagon report is so important. It warns: "Iran's nuclear programme and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy."


Please note what Iran's deterrent strategy means in practice. Iran's radical Islamist regime will be able to foment terrorism and revolution against Arab Governments, try to take over Lebanon, promote Hamas in fighting Israel and seeking to overturn the Palestinian Authority, and target American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.


But if the US or others try to do something about it, Iran will use its possession of nuclear weapons to deter them. At the same time, it will use possession of nuclear weapons to foment appeasement among regional and Western states while simultaneously persuading millions of Muslims that revolutionary Islamism is invincible and they should join a movement headed for inevitable victory.


In addition, the report spoke of how Iran backs revolutionary Islamists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon (Hizbullah, which Iran gives $ 200 million a year), and among the Palestinians (Hamas). What does the Pentagon report mean when it says that Iran views Hizbullah "as an essential partner for advancing its regional policy objectives." Tehran is conducting a campaign to seize hegemony in West Asia and destroy US influence there. How are you going to engage and negotiate away that problem?


While Iran may never give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups, it is not an encouraging precedent to note that it gives them all manner of non-nuclear weapons. In the report's words, "Iran, through its long-standing relationship with Lebanese (Hizbullah), maintains a capability to strike Israel directly and threatens Israeli and US interests worldwide," it said.


Instead of a decisive US response, here's how a veteran Defence Department official described what's been happening in an interview with the Times of London, April 20:


"Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Mr Obama, which came and went without anything happening. Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.


"First, there was talk of crippling sanctions, then they (spoke of biting sanctions), and now we don't know how tough they're going to be. It depends on the level of support given by Russia and China — but neither is expected to back measures against Iran's energy sector."


The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

FIGHT AGAINST MALARIA IS FLAGGING

COUNTERFEIT MEDICINES POSE A SERIOUS THREAT TO EFFECTIVE HEALTHCARE IN ASIA

PHILIP STEVENS


Sunday was World Malaria Day and the world's eyes naturally turned to the vast belt of tropical Africa, where poverty and lack of healthcare make the disease among the top killers of children. But the real story is quietly unfolding thousands of miles away in Cambodia where new, drug resistant strains of the parasite are emerging. Left unchecked, these new strains could make whole classes of modern drugs useless.


India is immensely successful in malaria treatment, with some 1.5 million cases in 2008 but only 935 deaths. That is under threat.


For the last few years, patients have had a powerful new drug — artemisinin, derived from the sweet wormwood plant indigenous to China. Unlike other, older, malaria drugs, artemisinin has until recently been completely effective in clearing malarial parasites from patients' blood, making it the most effective malaria treatment available today.


Back in 2005, however, researchers working on the common borders of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand began to notice parasites were taking longer to clear. In November 2009, further studies found artemisinin resistance already in Myanmar, China and Vietnam, where between 12-31 per cent of patients still harboured the parasite after three days' treatment.


According to Dr Charles Delacollette from the World Health Organisation, "The fear is what we're observing right now could be the starting point for something worse regionally and globally." Around 880,000 people died of malaria in 2006 but, if the most powerful anti-malarial gun is spiked by drug resistance, this figure could escalate rapidly.


One of the biggest drivers of drug resistance in this Greater Mekong area is bad medicine. Research published in the academic journal Public Library of Science in 2008 showed that up to half of all artemisinin drugs in the region contained too little active ingredient, proscribed chemicals or both.


When malaria drugs contain sub-therapeutic levels of active ingredient, it can be enough to fool quality inspections but not enough to knock out the parasite. Aside from harming the patient directly, this helps the parasite learn how to outwit the drug and then multiply, which it appears to be doing with increasing ease.


All other malaria drugs have suffered this fate. Chloroquine, the cheapest and most common malaria drug, is becoming increasingly useless in almost all endemic countries. Resistance to another important drug combination, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, is now global.


It is vital that the same fate does not befall artemisinin. Given that drug resistance is currently only sporadic and localised, it may not be too late. The key is taking steps to improve the quality of the drug supply.


Certain parts of South-East Asia are awash with substandard Chinese-made artemisinin. Some are copies made by legitimate but inefficient companies, but many are made by criminal counterfeiters, often in deeply unsanitary conditions.


To stem this tide, local Governments have to pay far greater attention to protecting intellectual property. In particular, the manufacturers of certified, high-quality medicines need to be sure that bootleggers are not infringing their trademarks. As any business knows, trademarks signal the quality of a brand. But if other people start copying your trademark with impunity, it might as well not exist.


Unfortunately, countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and Laos — and indeed most countries where fakes are a problem — do little to uphold trademarks. Courts are corrupt and bureaucratic, and it can take years and cost millions to successfully conclude a prosecution. This legal vacuum gives free rein to the counterfeiters.

Some have called for stricter regulation but this will not help much where corruption is a problem and regulators themselves often become compromised by counterfeiters. In 2007, China executed the head of its drug regulator for allegedly accepting bribes from counterfeiters. Also in 2007, drug inspectors in Odisha, India, were accused of working in cahoots with counterfeiters.


World Malaria Day will no doubt focus on malaria activists pleading for more money for medicines and bed nets. But unless weak Governments and their neighbours in Asia get a grip on fake drug production and trade, the outlook for malaria victims is about to get a whole lot worse.


The writer is a Senior Fellow at International Policy Network, a London-based think-tank.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

NEED TO KEEP INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ON A LEASH

 

THE REPORT that the mobile telephones of a number of prominent political figures — Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh and Communist Party of India( Marxist)' s Prakash Karat — have been tapped should shock, but it doesn't.

 

That is because of the impunity with which security agencies operate in this country.

 

Indeed, all mobile company licences have come with the condition that the companies concerned will provide the government equipment to tap their lines.

 

The police tap phones without a by- yourleave.

 

Intelligence agencies pay off telephone lines men to install illegal taps and run their own equipment to tap microwave and GSM systems outside the purview of any outsider.

 

While tapping fixed line calls requires access to the switching equipment, line junctions or the telephone equipment itself, tapping mobiles is painless and difficult to detect. The equipment used in the alleged tap of the political leaders is easily available and there has been suspicion that some private individuals, too, have used it to tap the phones of their corporate rivals.

 

All security services have to be able to tap phone calls to keep track of criminals or terrorists.

 

But there is absolutely no justification for tapping the phone calls of the average citizen, leave alone a chief minister or a functionary of a political party. In Europe and the US, tapping phones is strictly controlled by legislation. The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act governing taps for intelligence requirements bars the tapping of phones of US nationals.

 

In India, but for a set of Supreme Court guidelines, there is no law barring phone tapping.

 

According to the court's guidelines, every phone tapped must have the sanction of the Union home secretary, or the chief secretary of a state, but the reality is somewhat different.

 

Often permission is provided retroactively in cases relating to espionage and crime. For obvious reasons, no permission is ever formally given to tap the phones of politicians because there can never be any justification to do so.

 

That is where intelligence agencies come in with their ability to surreptitiously intercept conversations and leave no traces.

 

The time has come to institute a system of parliamentary oversight over our intelligence agencies since India is the only democracy that lacks such an arrangement.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CORRUPTION AT MCI

 

THE NEWS about the arrest of Dr Ketan Desai, president of the Medical Council of India ( MCI), broke rather suddenly, but it was hardly a surprise. Given the past record of Dr Desai and the way he has been running the medical education regulatory authority, this was only expected. The real surprise is: why did the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) take so long to act. Dr Desai is not new to the investigation agency. He was booked in 2001 and even found guilty by the Delhi High Court of receiving Rs 65 lakh. It was the CBI which let Dr Desai go scot- free, saying — after an investigation — that the alleged bribe givers had given the said amount to the MCI chief to earn his ' goodwill'. Hopefully, the CBI will not do the same this time around.

 

All these years, loads of information had been sent to the CBI from various quarters but it never investigated them. Dr Desai successfully stalled the probes against him using his friends and protectors in the health ministry and other wings of the Union government, in various state governments and in legal circles. In fact, he got all whistleblowers suspended from the MCI. The MCI building in Dwarka was turned into a virtual fortress and CCTV cameras were installed to keep an eye on his staff. He had amassed the powers to approve new medical colleges through a set of inspectors subservient to him.

 

Now that Dr Desai has been caught red handed, the CBI should take the probe to its logical end and investigate all his activities, vast assets and his links with politicians. The probe should be completed quickly and the chargesheet filed. This is the only way the CBI can atone for ignoring Dr Desai's transgressions for this long. The government should not remain a silent spectator either.

 

It must dissolve the MCI immediately and set up a new regulatory framework.

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

DEBATE MUST YIELD NEWDEAL

BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

IT IS rare for a government, especially one headed by the Congress, to encourage an open debate among those at the apex of power. By tradition, and at least since prime ministerial showdowns with party chiefs under both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the formation speaks not with many voices but one. Kripalani in one case and S. Nijalingappa on the other had to bite the dust. But what if the debate was not about the possession of power but instead about how it ought to be wielded? After all, a country as vast and a polity as multi- hued as India cannot possibly have one road to any specific issue. So it is welcome and not at all distraction from the task at hand that the general secretary of the Congress and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, should take issue with the Union home minister's approach to the challenge posed by Maoism.

 

It remains far more critical to the political situation than all the rumpus over the Indian Premier League and its accompanying scandals.

 

To grasp why this intervention matters, requires some sense of perspective.

 

Under the Vajpayee regime, all got used to different key functionaries of the sangh parivar raining body blows at the government headed by one of their own. Their own agenda, they would say time and time and over was being casualty to the pursuit of high office. With the Congress and, to be fair, its allies, there has been no such fundamental divide.

 

Contrast

 

But there is a contrast not only on the view on Left wing insurgency, but also in the kind of experience that goes into making some argue that guns alone will not work. In contrast to human rights activists, Digvijay Singh, writing in a leading economic daily, was careful to say that the Naxalites were ' misguided ideologues' and a highly destructive force in the main. The latter is crucial for in contrast to its early days under Kanu Sanyal or Charu Mazumdar, these are highly sophisticated machines for extortion and use brute force against adversaries.

 

But as a former chief minister will, the general secretary sees the issue from ground up. It is recruitment of adivasi youth for policing and allied services and redressal of genuine issues related to forestry and mines that will contain and then defuse the support base for Maoism.

 

Support for such a view came from an old bête noire of the Union home minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, long an advocate, and a serious and passionate one at that, of devolution of power to the grassroots.

 

He now went one better and said Digvijay was " one lakh per cent correct". The latter was only echoing the words of a veteran Congressman of yore, Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan. When the Naxalites hailed the ' spring thunder' of the revolution, Chavan told the Lok Sabha how the answer to the issue had to go well beyond security.

 

It is necessary to emphasise he was no greenhorn or soft- headed liberal. His credentials were burnished by his

leadership as Union defence minister in the India Pakistan war of 1965. But he argued that the resolve had to go beyond policing. In another famous intervention, his ministry was to warn that unless disparities were addressed, even the Green Revolution could and would turn Red.

 

Yet, it is to another general secretary of the Congress, that the party will look for direction on this one.

Appropriately enough he is busy with the Ambedkar Yatras in Uttar Pradesh taking on Mayawati in her bastions

among the under classes. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Dalits and other such marginal groups that will determine the future of the Congress.

 

But it might be useful to ask how Uttar Pradesh has so far not seen the full impact of Maoism that one might have come to expect in societies so poor and unequal. In this regard there is something in common between chief minister Mayawati in power since May 2007 and her immediate predecessor Mulayam Singh Yadav.

 

Following a landmine blast that killed 16 security men in Chandauli in U. P. during his tenure, Mulayam Singh Yadav made special efforts to redress issues in and around the affected region. While policing was strengthened, he personally camped in the area and found, as he later was to say, that most cultivators did not possess pattas for their homes or even title to their land. It was this urgent action that defused the possibility of the spread of Maoist cadres into the area.

 

Legislation

 

In Mayawati's case, she has taken a leaf out of the Congress' own book. In 2006, in the teeth of the spirited fightback by the forest department and by the urban wildlife lobby, the first Manmohan Singh government enacted the Forest Right Act. This was a major step for it recognised for the first time ever since Independence that there had been historic injustice with the Scheduled Tribes.

 

Unlike with Dalits who are often landless, their main issue has all along been the alienation of their forests and their homesteads not only by creditors but by a government department.

 

Mayawati has been pushing her administrators both from the revenue and forest departments to examine and settle land claims under the Act. While it is no antidote on its own, this will go a significant way in assuring adivasis that the government can help secure, as opposed to violate, their rights. It now requires science, sense and citizen action to enable such tribal groups to manage their forests better.

 

But Congress governments in the states and the Union are not moving fast enough on the Act. Seasoned observers worry that as the government gets set in its second year the Act may be orphaned.

 

This remains the case despite a joint committee of the tribal affairs and environment ministries starting a review of the legislation.

 

Challenge

 

Eventually, the Act's origins lay in the sensitivity of the Congress' leadership to the issue of forest alienation from Adivasis.

 

If the bureaucracy is allowed to sabotage it, this will at once strike and undermine Rahul Gandhi's other less publicised but equally critical political mission to reach out to Adivasi India.

 

The debate within party and government is welcome and a positive sign. It has been seen by some as sign of disorder in the face of a threat but the reverse is true. A liberal democracy can only thrive if dissent is free and debate open.

 

It is a measure of Congress' maturity that it can allow for such airing of views. But it has to go further and ensure a larger sense of mission infuses the polity and not just the government.

 

Writing of the aftermath of Telangana, Nehru's biographer, the late ( and great) S. Gopal wrote of how, " The real problem was something deeper than the violence and the killings of the Communists, it was the need to deal with the economic distemper at a time when expectations had been aroused and a political consciousness spread among vast sections of the people." The challenge for the Congress now as then is to go beyond what the debate has made stark. The enormity of the challenge requires no less than a new deal for adivasi India, for only a vision that binds together can create a policy that endures on something deeper and purer than mere force.

 

The writer teaches history in Delhi University

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

RESHUFF LE ON THE CARDS

WHAT do you do when things are not going as planned, or worse, show signs of falling apart? Order a cabinet reshuffle. That's what Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh seem to have decided and I understand that once the current session of Parliament is over, they will order a reconstruction of the Union cabinet to show that there is a lot left in the UPA tank.

 

By any yardstick, this has been one of the most embarrassing Parliament sessions that the UPA has faced in its second term, where not even one major legislation has been passed. The Sania Mirza saga and the IPL drama have turned out to be blessings in disguise for the government. But for these events, the morning headlines and prime time entertainment after sundown would have been all about the government being mercilessly hauled over the coals. The unexpected reprieve saw Sonia and Manmohan undertaking a review of all the ministers and the functioning of their departments.

 

Their conclusion, I gather, is summed up in one word: pathetic. In a minority government like the UPA, any reshuffle can involve only ministers belonging to the Congress, since Sonia and Manmohan can barely risk rocking the boat by tossing around ministers from alliance partners like the DMK, Trinamool, NCP and others. M.K.

 

Alagiri may not come to his office, the Parliament or meetings of the Union cabinet, but his truancy has to be tolerated. Changes must therefore be limited to the Congress. Of the 33 ministers of cabinet rank, 27 are from the Congress, as are six of the seven ministers of dtate with independent charge and 25 of the 37 junior ministers, so there's lots of scope for chopping.

 

The rationale for the impending exercise cuts both ways. There are too many ministers who are quite unhappy with their portfolios, while a whole lot of others have plum assignments but don't have the calibre or the dedication to do justice to their jobs. In the first category fall Ambika Soni, Jaipal Reddy, Subodh Kant Sahay, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vayalar Ravi, G.K.

 

Vasan, all of cabinet rank, Dinsha Patel (MoS-Ind) and Harish Rawat, who is one of the senior party men but sadly enough, serves as a minister of state.

 

Then there are ministers like K.H. Muniyappa and Sachin Pilot who are so stifled, they feel it's better being jobless than work under the likes of Mamata and A. Raja. The ebullient Ambika Soni who did an admirable job as tourism minister in UPA(I) somehow seems out of sorts in the information and broadcasting ministry and is said to be looking for a change, preferably to the party, where she has already had stints as the AICC general secretary.

 

Overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi, still recovering from a nasty road accident in Liberia, is said to be looking for a less gruelling assignment. At the other end are a handful of ministers on whom the party is likely to wield the axe.

 

Topping the list is Pawan Kumar Bansal from Chandigarh.

 

Otherwise an efficient administrator, it is his misfortune that he is saddled with the parliamentary affairs portfolio at a time when ties between the treasury and opposition benches are at their frostiest. I understand that Bansal will be relocated to the party. The only non- Congressman who is likely to come under the purview of the reshuffle is E. Ahamed, the MoS, railways, who has always kept an eye on his former job at the ministry of external affairs which has now fallen vacant after the exit of Shashi Tharoor.

 

After its seamless victory in last year's elections, the UPA has of late begun to resemble a rudderless ship. Ministers like Pranab Mukherkjee, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma and a few others have brought innovative ideas into administration, but the rest have been like wind- up toys, doing merely what they are programmed to do by their bureaucrats.

 

Many of the latter are likely to be shifted and who gets what portfolio will depend more on performance in the ministry and implementation of promises made in the UPA manifesto and less on winnability, factional clout or parliamentary histrionics.

 

Manmohan realises that his government needs a new face and for that he will need many more Pranab da s, Chidambarams and Sibals. From the talent available at his disposal, it is a tough task

 

LOTUS FAILS TO BLOOM IN THE DELHI HEAT

SINCE its ouster from power six years ago, the BJP has been bumbling from one blunder to another. The election of its youngest president hasn't changed its fortunes and the litany of disasters continues. Last week's anti- inflation rally in the Capital was the latest.

 

It was to have been the party's biggest rally in the Capital in more than a decade and was meant to signal the main opposition party's new found vigour and a fresh offensive against the government.

 

That it turned out to be a damp squib was partly because it was ill- timed and partly because the well- planned but badly executed event was overtaken by other events. The party had threatened to unleash one million protesters on the Capital's streets, but on the day, less than two lakh turned up. The reason was that in its catchment areas of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the party faithful were too busy harvesting. The oppressive heat in Delhi ensured that barring the hardcore, its substantial middle class supporters in the Capital stayed indoors. The party had hoped that the rally will monopolise TV airtime and print space, but thanks to Lalit Modi, the only pictures that newspapers carried and the only clips news channels showed were that of the party chief Nitin Gadkari, unable to bear the scorching sun, fainting towards the end of his speech and being helped to his feet by party colleagues who put wet towels on his overheated head.

 

The Delhi summer could take its toll on the fittest of men. But the sight of the man, who was brought in to inject fresh life into the party, collapsing, while others around him including 83- year- old Advani braved it out, has done no good to the morale of the party.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BACK TO THE FUTURE

A SECRET DEAL FOR SETTLING THE KASHMIR ISSUE GIVES HOPE FOR PEACE


 With the SAARC meeting coming up later this week, speculation about the possibility of a meeting between the premiers of India and Pakistan on its sidelines is inevitable. Although there has been no real emphasis on the issue by either New Delhi or Islamabad, the fact that both sides have addressed it with carefully cultivated ambiguity is a good sign. The stakes in any India-Pakistan interaction are so great that it can collapse under the weight of its own expectations. The understated, 'neither confirming nor denying' approach that bureaucrats and diplomats on both sides have adopted in the lead up to the meeting, on the other hand, sidesteps this trap. This becomes germane given the revelation by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, foreign minister in the Pervez Musharraf administration from 2002 to 2007, that a final deal for the settlement of the Kashmir issue had been agreed upon before domestic turmoil in Pakistan derailed matters.

 

The fact that such a deal exists emphasises the importance of maintaining contact with Islamabad. Domestic compulsions – the lack of substantial progress on the 26/11 front from New Delhi's point of view, or the constitutional reforms in Pakistan that are bound to lead to a period of flux as political equations are readjusted – make it unlikely that such contact will lead to concrete achievements in the short term. What New Delhi must aim for now is to keep up engagement so that it does not have to start from scratch when the opportunity for deeper interaction presents itself.


 Keeping the relationship at such a level will make it that much easier to leverage the existing settlement deal in time. By waiting out the present upheaval in Islamabad and biding its time until a figure with both the will and the necessary political credit emerges in Islamabad, New Delhi can ensure that the Kashmir settlement – three years of secret negotiations resulting in an arrangement that envisages demilitarisation and loose autonomy for the region on both sides of the border – doesn't become a question of what-might-have-been.


The existence of the deal has another interesting implication. The Pakistani army has always been viewed as the prime obstacle in any process of rapprochement, and with good reason. But such a deal could not have come into existence without it being on board, especially as it happened during Musharraf's watch. And that can only be good news. Indeed, peace with India would help Pakistan assure its security interests better, and makes as much strategic sense for it as it does for India.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

VERONICA'S SECRET

ARCHIE HAS A RIVAL – AND HE'S GAY!



 One of the world's most popular funnies is getting a facelift. And how. Archie Comics is to radically tweak a somewhat stale script: va-va-voom Veronica and girl-next-door Betty jostling over Archie, that all-American, freckle-faced orange-mop who's as regular – read straight – as they come. The triangle's new angle is drop-dead gorgeous Kevin Keller, the cult comic's first gay character. With his non-closeted debut, Riverdale High school's certitudes will be shaken in more ways than one. Junk-foodie Jughead will lose a burger-chomping contest. Archie will relinquish his sure place in Veronica's heart. And super-rich, vain and bratty Veronica – unaware Kevin's gay – will face an unprecedented crisis. You can't always get what you want!

Archie's producers aim to keep the comic "current and inclusive". As society changes, keeping step becomes a cultural compulsion. If Tintin comics faced flak for being politically incorrect in a multicultural world, other franchisees have had successful makeovers. Even as Mills & Boon romances get steamier in the age of downloadable erotica, their heroes get more 'sensitive'. Once a byword for unabashed machismo, Bond's no longer an unflappable killing-cum-sex machine: 007 cries and kills for lost love! And if US star Jamie Foxx had his way, we'd have the first Black to don Bond's tux. As for movie vampires, once unrelentingly monstrous, they've been humanised – and dandified – and only the purists are complaining. In India, bold themes – extramarital love, homosexuality – have got out of the art circuit and into out-and-out commercial cinema. So, if Archie's Riverdale High won't be the same again, it'll also be newer, funnier and hipper, mirroring a society increasingly questioning the straitjacketing of identity, morality and sexuality. Let's just say necessity is the mother of reinvention.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

WITH THE GLOBAL CRISIS EASING, G20 MUST ADDRESS THE QUESTION OF ITS OWN LEGITIMACY

JONAS GAHR STØRE


Though rising deficits and growing unemployment still plague rich and poor countries alike, it appears that the worst of the world's financial crisis is over. Now, the question becomes how the international community can devise exit strategies from the "Great Recession".


That conversation has already started and it will, to a large degree, take place in the Group of Twenty (G20), culminating at the summits in Canada in late-June and in South Korea in November. In spite of its leading role in the response to the global financial, economic and development crises, the self-appointment of the G20 represents, from the point of view of international law and multilateral principles, a major step backwards in the way international cooperation has occurred since World War II.

 

Over the past few years, the G20 has rapidly established itself as the premier forum for international financial and economic decision-making. It has replaced the G7 and G8, and is progressively sidelining established international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.

 

With each meeting it holds, the G20 is institutionalising itself as a major body of global cooperation and governance and the political significance goes beyond saving the global finance system.


That development has had its benefits. The unprecedented cooperation and coordination the G20 enabled among established and emerging powers helped stabilise a world economy driven to the brink by financial crisis and contagion, thanks to rapid and massive intervention in global markets. But now that the worst of the crisis has begun to fade, the G20 should address the question of its own legitimacy and evolve to better reflect the interests of the nations its actions affect.


To be sure, the G20 is more representative than the G7 and G8 bodies of industrialised nations that preceded it – but it is lacking in legitimacy.


It is not an elected body, it is a self-appointed group, established without the consent of other nations. A number of countries that have been central to international cooperation in the past, including Norway and the Nordic countries, are excluded from direct membership. Low-income countries and the continent of Africa are almost entirely without the needed representation.


Whereas the G7 was a group of the world's richest economies, the G20's composition lacks such clarity; indeed, a number of non-participants, including the Nordic countries, are major financial contributors to development and to the Bretton Woods institutions and they are of greater "systemic significance" and have a larger GDP than several G20 countries.


 As the response to the financial crisis showed, there is value in having an effective, smaller forum of nations, equipped to act quickly when necessary. But, within that framework, there are simple ways to make the G20 more representative of the world it influences. As a first and immediate step, G20 members and non-members should consult on a framework for interaction.


 More fundamentally, a system of geographical constituencies – along the lines we already have at the IMF and the World Bank – freely constituted and with the present G20 members as a core, would go a long way in remedying the weaknesses of the present system. For instance, the Nordic and Baltic countries have long been effectively represented at the IMF and the World Bank through a regional constituency, a model that could be usefully replicated within the G20.


 After all, the global economy is just that: global. We live in an interconnected world, where any country's economic decisions can have a bearing beyond its borders, with Greece's recent debt troubles just the latest example. Representation at the G20 will become all the more important as its agenda moves beyond economic concerns to include issues like public health, development and climate change – issues with real economic and political consequences for all nations, including those who currently have no voice at the G20 table.
    Respect for international law and global legitimacy as the basis for multilateral cooperation is a necessity, in the interest of all countries. It is also a tradition Norway holds dear, as one of the largest contributors to development aid and international organisations worldwide. Our faith in multilateralism is derived not from naivete, but from hardnosed idealism, forged in the aftermath of a brutal war that nearly tore the world apart. The founders of the great postwar institutions recognised the merit of limited or weighted membership within the larger bodies – but they also insisted on the importance of multilateral approval anchored in international law for these measures. Now is not the time to turn back the clock.


 We are no longer living in the 19th century. The spirit of the Congress of Vienna, where great powers assembled to effectively govern the world, has no place in the contemporary international community. If G20 cooperation should effectively result in decisions being imposed on the great majority of other countries, it will quickly find itself stymied. The house of global governance cannot stand if divided against itself.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 'OURS WAS A GENERATION THAT DIDN'T FIT IN'

WHEN SPAIN UNDERWENT A TRANSFORMATION AFTER THE DEATH OF FRANCO IN 1975, ALASKA, NOW A FAMOUS SINGER AND GAY ICON, AND SOME OTHERS LIKE FILM-MAKER PEDRO ALMODOVAR WERE IN THE THICK OF IT. LA MOVIDA OR THE MOVEMENT THEY UNWITTINGLY STARTED THROUGH FILMS, PUNK ROCK, GAY AND LESBIAN FREEDOM, COMICS, FASHION AND PAINTING TO REDEFINE IDENTITIES IS DOCUMENTED IN ALMODOVAR'S FIRST FILM PEPI, LUCI, BOM AND OTHER GIRLS ON THE HEAP. ALASKA PLAYED BOM IN THE FILM. IN INDIA RECENTLY, SHE SPOKE TO FAIZAL KHAN:


How did you land the role of Bom in Pedro Almodovar's first movie?

I was 14 and a singer in a band in Madrid. I had a friend, a well-known painter, who was also a friend of Pedro. He told Pedro about me when he was planning his first film in 1978.


I later met Pedro, who must have been 30 then, in the house of an artist. We shot when he had the money. Sometimes it would be a six-month wait before he would suddenly say, 'Come, let's shoot, i have some money'. It took three years to complete the movie, which was not very well filmed and was not a success.


What was your experience working with Almodovar?

Pedro was a professional though he hadn't made a movie before. He had the motivation, not ambition. He was writing film scripts when La Movida started. He worked in a telephone company in the morning and wrote scripts in the afternoon. When we started shooting, he told us he would pay us if the movie made money. It didn't.


But we were happy doing things in the movie that didn't fit with the conservatives. It was very wise to talk about these things in the film as if they were perfectly normal even if they were not at that time.

 

Looking back, how do you view La Movida?

It was something that happened because it had to happen. Nobody sat down to write the rules or treaties. We didn't have an Andre Breton to write a manifesto. I was influenced by the punk movement of Malcolm McLaren.


With punk, you didn't have to sing the perfect song. There were two kinds of people who were working against us. One was the military and the Church. The other was the Left wing, which was supposed to be open-minded. We were in the middle of nowhere.

 

Ours was not a biological generation. It was a generation that didn't fit in. It didn't matter if one member of it was 15 and the other 55. La Movida began in Madrid but it spread to all over Spain.

 

How did the change towards acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender rights happen in Spain?

 When we made Pepi, Luci, Bom, nobody was talking about gay rights. Feminists were shocked to see my character's relationship with a 40-year-old housewife.

 

But by early 1990s, we had a gay library in Chueca, in the centre of Madrid. Soon, two or three gay bars opened around this area and we started to have a gay day life unlike before when we could go out only in the nights.

When we first started the Gay Pride in Madrid, there were only 100 people who got together to be visible. It became a thousand later and now two million people gather every year in the last week of June and raise even political issues.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COLOUR ME PINK

IT'S NATURE'S OWN CHILD; SO WHY ARE WE PREJUDICED AGAINST THIS SHADE?

HARISH BHAT


Pink may be one of the most beautiful colours on earth, but we are guilty of having given it the short shrift. This fascinating colour has been studiously ignored for several years by diverse groups including intellectuals, sportspersons and politicians. Apart from strawberry ice cream, a couple of esoteric financial newspapers, and Rohit Bal's ramp designs, we see very little pink in the adult world around us. The Congress, BJP and the Left may have differing views on many matters, but if you request them to introduce a dash of pink into their party's colours, they will all uniformly see red. I have rarely seen a pink car on our streets, and not a single bottled drink or toothpaste i know of is even remotely pink. Even the sole telecom brand which sported pink colours quickly changed to red. Why has humanity ignored pink?


The reason is a set of deeply held irresponsible prejudices against pink, shrouded in obscure streams of ignorance. Men believe pink is utterly feminine, sophisticated women say pink is 'jhatak' and boorish, men and women whisper and chuckle together that pink is gay, and gays feel that pink is so childish and so overdone. Therefore, only newborn girls are given pink frocks in maternity wards, and even these are quickly replaced by white or pale yellow when the babies reach home.


But pause a moment, and you will see so much around us that is beautiful, cherished and naturally pink. Newborn babies are generally pinkish, and their small bottoms are certainly bright pink. Young elephant calves sport a beautiful shade of pink, and the choicest ham is deliciously pink. Pink roses are highly treasured, and pink jacarandas make my city come to life each summer. Pink Norwegian salmon is the ultimate seafood indulgence, and pink champagne is much sought after at elite parties. Pink     sandstone and marble are highly coveted and look wonderful in     the opulent palaces they adorn.


 Indeed, nature is partial to pink because it is such a refreshing colour. That is why the farthest and most exotic stars in the    night sky appear pink, whereas the nearby dog-stars are plain     white. That is also why pink diamonds are so rare, expensive and cherished that i am yet to see one in real life.

 

 Nature is not the only entity to have paid respects to pink. My all-time favourite music group chose to call themselves Pink Floyd. Imagine if they had chosen an alternate name, say Red or Green Floyd. They would simply not have been the same, because like their haunting music there is something distinctly psychedelic about pink. Pink is never deadly serious in its intent, it always nicely mingles sober stuff with innocent fun. Which is why the most entertaining detective movies of all time go by the name of Pink Panther. And which is also why pink 'chaddis' were sent to the misguided but energetic Mr Muthalik for his anti-Valentine's campaign last year.


It is therefore quite gratifying to see that IPL and cricket are now leading the cause of pink. Lalit Modi sports bright pink neckties, perhaps because he himself hails from the pink city of Jaipur. The colourful Navjot Sidhu has begun wearing pink turbans during his delightful commentaries on the game. IPL cheerleaders, bless their bounce, have been wearing pink tails and shaking pink fluffy stuff in both their hands as they celebrate the lusty sixers, and the lusty crowd in turn cheers them on. Unconfirmed reports indicate that one of the two new IPL teams, Pune or Kochi, may choose to sport the colour pink for their playing dress. And in a milestone announcement recently, it has now been revealed that IPL will actually use pink cricket balls starting next year. Now, that is a path-breaking new pink initiative worth raising a toast to – with pink champagne, of course.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A DROUGHT OF IMAGINATION

 

Come summer, two news stories find front-page mention without fail every year: first, the monsoon forecast by the Met department and second, the impending water crisis unfolding across the country. This year too there has been no change in this yearly routine: while the monsoon is said to be on course, the water crisis is upon us bringing with it all the familiar woes. According to a report by McKinsey & Company — India's Urban Awakening: Building Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth — by 2030, urban Indian towns could well turn into 'dry, stinking holes'.

The water crisis, especially the drinking water crisis, is nothing new to India, but the pace at which it is spreading is alarming. It's just the beginning of another scorching summer and already there are reports that private security guards are being put on duty in parts of Rajasthan to guard sources of water. Even animals are not being allowed to drink from these water bodies. In Chennai and Bangalore, queues of women with colourful plastic buckets are only getting longer with each passing day. Way back in 2005, a World Bank report, and there have been several more after that from different sources, warned that the country will face a severe water crisis in 20 years if the government didn't act to find solutions. The report blamed the lack of a proper water management system, excessive extraction of groundwater and pollution of the river bodies for this crisis. Another report by the Arlington Institute suggests there has been a "distinct lack of attention" to water legislation, water conservation, efficient water use, recycling, and infrastructure. Historically, the report adds, water has been viewed as an unlimited resource that did not need to be managed as a scarce commodity or provided as a basic human right.

This complacency about water must change. But the management of water cannot and must not be left to the State alone because it is as much a socio-cultural issue as it is an environmental and technical one. While the colossal waste of water that takes place in the urban areas of the country must stop, politicians must also desist from announcing populist measures like free power which encourages the excessive use of water. India can avoid a dark and dry future only if citizens actively participate in the conservation and reuse of water, set up effective disposal mechanisms for human and industrial waste and also regulate how much water can be drawn from the aquifers. But for now, the term home and dry has taken on frightening connotations.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE BOND IDENTITY

Bondage, not Bond, would perhaps been more up her street, but Pamela Anderson has declared that her dream is to play the female interest in a 007 movie. The pneumatic Ms Anderson hopes to join a long list of beautiful actresses, some of them well known not just for their superstructure but their acting abilities as well. The uber gorgeous Ursula Andress rising from the sea has spawned a million wannabes, including Halle Berry in Die Another Day. But in the case of Ms Anderson, the problem could be that we have seen so much of her, and we do mean that literally, that there is little she can do to keep even the most drool-prone fan interested.

The more pertinent point is that howsoever minuscule the part, and however much feminists may argue that the Bond girl is nothing more than eye candy, the fact remains that every actress is not willing to live and let die when it comes to a part in a 007 movie. Not even the more cerebral ones like Halle Berry, Jane Seymour or Carole Bouquet to name but a few. We suspect it won't be long before a beleaguered Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts or Angelina Jolie steps out in minimal clothing to prove that they can also bond with the best.

Our homegrown lasses love nothing more than to put it out that the makers of the next 007 are looking East at the likes of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan or even that one-trick pony Freida Pinto. Just the buzz that you may be in a crowd vying to catch the eye of the sexy gunslinger is enough for you to dine out on for months as our Slumdog girl has done. But our point is that at the end of the day, no one is quite content to watch those intense performances in dressed-down attire. You
don't live twice so no actress wants any grass growing under her feet before she gives people a view to kill for.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NO PLACE FOR HALF MEASURES

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The government appears to be in a dilemma over whether to order a probe into the functioning of the Indian Premier League (IPL) by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) or allow its agencies to investigate the matter that could have wide-ranging political ramifications.

The controversy seems to be leading to a situation where the IPL may make way for a PIL (public interest litigation) given the amount of money that has allegedly changed hands illegally in the name of cricket.

It is only a matter of time before the apex court will have to step in if the credibility of the system has to be restored in the eyes of the people who have been under the spell of the IPL for over a month now.

In the eye of the storm is the IPL tsar Lalit Modi whose alleged murky dealings may open a Pandora's box that could jeopardise the political future of many top politicians. Shashi Tharoor, the former minister of state for external affairs, has already fallen by the wayside and no one knows who may follow suit.

The entire IPL circus has turned out to be the biggest scam of our times and could expose the ugly nexus among tax evaders, film stars, politicians, cricketers, corporate giants and the underworld. The IPL has also cast a shadow on its parent body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that has as its members senior politicians from the NCP, the BJP and the Congress besides some smaller parties. Designed to help develop cricket, the League has got entangled in allegations of gambling, prostitution, match-fixing, money-laundering and tax evasion.

The most difficult problem before the government is that there is no one who is willing to believe that Lalit Modi acted on his own and without the patronage of those in the BCCI in general and the IPL Governing Council in particular. Therefore, for their own sake, in order to absolve themselves of any taint, each member of the IPL Governing Council as well as top cricket bosses would do well if they voluntarily subject themselves to scrutiny by government agencies.

The problem before the government is that a JPC probe may not yield the whole truth, as members of parties associated with those under the scanner are likely to be viewed with suspicion. The JPC will be expected to investigate even those in the government, a task that could lead to the souring of relations between, say, the Congress and the NCP at one level and the Congress and the National Conference on the other. This could have a huge impact on the governments in Maharashtra, J&K and the Centre. The JPC could also prove inconvenient for the BJP, the principal opposition party, since some of its top leaders are seen as those who helped Modi at some stage or have been associated with the conduct of the games.

As people watch the unfolding developments, the government and Parliament's credibility will take a beating if nothing comes of the probe and the accused get off scot-free. Therefore, if the JPC is approved, its members should be those who have no stakes in cricket and who have a clean public image.

If the apex court gets involved through a PIL or through a presidential reference, the independent probe committee should comprise eminent people who should give their report within a specified period of a month or 45 days. The IPL chapter appears to be the most unfortunate one in the country's sporting history. It raises questions about the involvement of politicians in cricket administration. The guilty should be brought to book. The probe should not lead to a situation where it undermines the credibility of the government and Parliament in the eyes of the people.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WILL THEY FIX THE GAME?

AYAZ MEMON

Nero fiddled as a soloist when Rome burned. But when the Indian Premier League (IPL) went up in flames, there was a whole orchestra in attendance. Ironically, this 13-member orchestra meets today to decide on the fate of its own conductor, accusing him now of distorting the same tune to which they had all willingly swayed and performed.

What was sweet music till the other day has now become a cacophony of threats, allegations, and salacious speculation that is being played out in the public domain without break. The orchestra a.k.a. the Governing Council of the IPL has already closed ranks against the conductor a.k.a. Lalit Modi. But if Modi's tweets over the weekend are an indication, he is unwilling to go down without a fight.

There seems to be common consensus now that Lalit Modi was running amuck as both commissioner and chairman of the IPL. If even 10 per cent of what is being alleged is true, he has a heck of a lot to explain and, perhaps, a long time to spend in confines less salubrious than the 32nd floor offices of a five-star hotel in mid-town Mumbai where he was parked in for the past few months. If he has broken the laws of the land, of cricket, of corporate governance and of propriety, then that is how it should be.

But questions have to be asked about how Modi managed to get to his omnipotent position and why he was allowed to operate with such impunity for three years. What were his minders doing for the last three years as he was apparently not just making the IPL an enormously successful commercial property, but also a personal fiefdom full of financial irregularities? In other words, why was the IPL Governing Council not governing?

The council is a mix of politicians, industrialists, lawyers, former cricketers and a few ubiquitous board officials who have the incredible ability to be on the right side of power at all times. Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Shukla, Arun Jaitley, Shashank Manohar, K. Srinivas, Chirayu Amin, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are some of the luminaries on the governing council.

It now seems that since the IPL appeared to be such a fabulous success it just sort of ran away from them, as they did not bother to check. Yet, each one of the complaints that are now being made about the way the IPL was run could perhaps have been fixed had the governing council been on the ball or, at least, a bit more diligent.

If it is financial fiddling or legal irregularities that are at the foundation of the problem, then there were experienced lawyers and industrialists on the council, who surely had the knowledge and the experience to deal with them. All they had to do was read the balance sheet, look at how the deals were structured, cut down on needless expenses and favours and rework or revoke arrangements which transgressed corporate ethics.

If it was political favours that were the real cause of the rot, then all those politicians of different political persuasions and dispensations should have known — or made it their business to know — what was going on. And if it was the debasement of the principles of cricket that is the core issue, then three highly respected former captains could have stepped in and put their feet down: we are okay if you want to shorten the length of the boundaries from 75 to 65 yards, but no parties, more discipline, less fun and more cricket.

What these various areas of neglect seem to show is that the IPL's success became its biggest downfall. Since the tournament hit the ground running and went straight to hyper-acceleration, no one bothered to check how the organisation worked, whether it had a culture or if it followed any core values. Instead, it appears Modi was allowed to work how he liked: ambitious deals that skirted the law, a few sops here and there to family and friends, a run-in last year with the Union home minister over security, another one this year with the external affairs ministry after a diplomatic fracas with Pakistan, and finally — what precipitated the crisis — an attempt to control (or protect, as he claims) the outcome of an auction that did not go to the party he believed was deserving.

The selective leaking that Modi did about the Kochi franchisees certainly opened that proverbial can of worms. But events beg the question: why were no questions asked about the composition of the other consortiums and the credibility of their franchisees for so long? How come blatant conflict of interest was allowed in the case of one governing council member who also became a franchise owner? Modi's head deserves to be on the chopping block. But there are few other heads here which need to do some talking.

Meanwhile, there's the future to consider. It is absurd to let the IPL collapse because of managerial impropriety, as nihilists and the lynch-mob would suggest. The biggest casualty in this sordid drama is not who will lose out to whom in national politics, financial deals or the ego battles between pompous cricket officials but public trust. The cricket lovers of India are the biggest stakeholders in the game in India, and they are anguished.

The power struggle for control of the fastest growing sports property in the world may end in a whimper or reach a higher octave today, depending on the resolve and arsenal either side possesses. But that is not now germane to the issue. It's public trust. To restore this, it is imperative that the act of cleansing is demonstrative, not merely symbolic.

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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

THE GOOD AFGHAN

 

Choosing friends carefully and standing by them consistently has been part of Delhi's diplomatic tradition in Kabul. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must reaffirm that approach as he receives Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday. At a time when Karzai is under attack from the West, the PM must extend strong support to him as a long standing partner of India and the elected president of Afghanistan. Karzai and the Afghan people need whatever help they can get as the Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan sense the possibility for re-establishing their hegemony in Afghanistan and the Obama administration is signalling inconstancy about its political objectives and the military strategy to achieve them.

 

As Karzai briefs Dr Singh on the rapidly evolving situation in and around Afghanistan. India will be keen to know how Karzai plans to win over dissident Pashtun groups and Taliban factions. While "no difference between the 'good' Taliban and the 'bad'" has become a slogan among Delhi's talking heads, India knows very well that any effort to stabilise Afghanistan depends on Kabul's success in separating the Taliban from its substantive support among the Pashtuns. As it backs Karzai's political outreach, Delhi must emphasise the very important difference between "reintegration" of individual Taliban elements into the present structures and "reconciliation" that might involve dangerous compromises with the Taliban ideology and leadership.

 

His talks with Karzai and their participation in the SAARC summit this week provide a valuable opportunity for Dr Singh to remove growing international misperceptions of India's Afghan policy. For one, Delhi should make it clear that India's engagement with Afghanistan is not driven by its problems with Pakistan. There is no way Delhi can compete with Islamabad in Kabul, given geography and demography — 2,500 km of open and contested border and millions of Pashtuns who straddle across it — at once bind and divide Afghanistan and Pakistan in a very unique relationship. For another, India should also reaffirm that its much appreciated economic and institutional reconstruction in Afghanistan is not dependent on America's plans to leave or stay in that country. Finally, the PM must underline the principled nature of India's friendship with the Afghan people and their government. Delhi's partnership with Kabul has thrived because Delhi has neither geographic access to Afghanistan nor a political agenda of its own. What India wants is a moderate and stable Afghanistan that is in harmony with its neighbours. Dr Singh's message to Karzai must be that India will mobilise whatever resources — economic, diplomatic and political — it can to support the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Afghanistan.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

 

CHECKS, UNCHECKED

 

The arrest of the Medical Council of India's president, Ketan Desai, on charges of bribery, raises larger questions about accreditation procedures. In the last year alone, many glaring instances of irregularities in higher education have come to light. In July 2009, the top brass of the All India Council for Technical Education, tasked with regulating management, technology, and engineering colleges, were charged by the CBI for demanding a bribe. And in January 2010, the HRD ministry proposed withdrawing "deemed-to-be university" status to 44 institutions, on the grounds that they did not meet basic standards (the Supreme Court has since ordered that status quo be maintained till the next hearing). Since the UGC recommended and the HRD ministry approved these colleges, the as-yet uninvestigated question is: how were those permissions handed out?

 

The scale of corruption and irregularity in granting government approvals for private colleges is based on two factors. One is that the demand for college and university admissions in India has sky-rocketed, giving rise to huge private investment in the sector. Unfortunately, the state regulatory framework hasn't changed with the times, meaning opaque "recognition" and "accreditation" requirements by disparate bodies before an engineering or medical college is allowed to take off. The result is large scale rent-seeking, corruption and favours being asked in return for conferring the state's approval.

 

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal's moves are in the right direction. But reforming higher education requires more than the energies of one minister or ministry. For instance, medical colleges are governed by the MCI and the health ministry, not the HRD ministry. The maze of permissions and government approvals must be simpler, better enforced and more transparent. Otherwise, look out for another haunting picture on your television or newspaper, a picture of higher education in India gone to seed.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SUMMER LEAVE

 

Does absence indeed blot people out? DMK MP and Union chemicals and fertilisers minister M.K. Alagiri has let his government down by his habitual absence from Parliament, which surely will become the stuff of House legend a generation later. The UPA has been sweating because of the opposition heat over his absence from Question Hour. The minister, meanwhile, is reportedly escaping his legislative responsibility, and the summer, on an island in the sun. And it's not clear if he had sought leave of absence during a parliamentary session from the House speaker.

 

The opposition anger in the Lok Sabha on Thursday and in the Rajya Sabha on Friday was directed partly at the fact of Alagiri's junior minister, Srikant Jena, answering questions and partly, more vehemently, at the senior minister's "perpetual" absence. The former was quickly rebutted by the treasury benches, by none other than Pranab Mukherjee, as in keeping with practice. However, the defence of Alagiri's absence — or refuting the charge that this one minister was "non-accountable" — was a much tougher job, even as passions, especially between the DMK and the AIADMK, ran high, with the BJP strongly backing the latter.

 

Alagiri has not been blotted out by his absence, if anything. But it's time certain candid questions were put to him, seeking candid answers. His prolonged absences during the Winter and Budget Sessions gave rise to speculation over his "language discomfort". Now, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has complained about not receiving any communication from Alagiri. The 14th Lok Sabha hit a record low in attendance. This 15th began with the goal of rectifying that. An absent cabinet minister who is to field questions during the mandated Question Hour better have a very good excuse.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CONCURRENT PROBLEMS

BIBEK DEBROY

 

We should get rid of barbaric colonial legacies, but there are ones more important than convocation gowns. For instance, restriction on Money Bills by Rajya Sabha is also a colonial legacy, though one might not use the adjective "barbaric". Even better examples are laws on bankruptcy and insolvency.

 

Bankruptcy and insolvency are not identical, though the terms are often used synonymously. Apart from anything else, their legislative origins are different. Bankruptcy requires legal determination, when insolvent debtors (individuals or organisations) are not able to pay creditors. Had it been 16th century England, debtors would have been thrown into prison and their families forced to pay their debts. Had it been ancient Greece, insolvent debtor households would be forced into slavery and compelled to repay debts through physical labour. Insolvency means inability to pay debts, without a court of law having declared bankruptcy. In general, barbaric laws on bankruptcy were biased in favour of creditors. It was presumed insolvent debtors were criminals and deserved to be in prison. There were no provisions for voluntary declaration of bankruptcy by debtors. In Italy, banks initially operated on benches (the Latin word "bancus" means bench or table). When a banker went bankrupt, he broke ("ruptus" or broken) his bench and we thus have the word bankrupt.

 

In competition, there must be free entry and free exit. Entrepreneurs who fail must exit and the system must punish the failed enterprise, not the failed entrepreneur. If the entrepreneur, rather than the enterprise, is punished, we kill entrepreneurship. There are assorted figures floating around on the importance of SSI (small-scale industry), although after there was new legislation in 2006, we now call them micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). If entrepreneurship is defined as risk-taking, small farmers and MSMEs display far more entrepreneurship than large-scale corporate India does. Almost tautologically, risk-taking can imply success. But it can also imply failure. It is a separate matter that the educational system, another barbaric colonial legacy, hedges against failure and biases mindsets against entrepreneurship. The London Business School and Babson College produce an annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and India performs better than one might have expected a priori. This might well be because of negative correlation between educational attainments and entrepreneurship and our low educational outcomes. For small farmers and small businesses, entrepreneurship is a matter of survival, not high-flying corporate strategy. In 2008, an RBI report told us there are 114,132 sick SMEs.

 

Sick doesn't necessarily mean they have to be liquidated. It might be possible to restructure them. But the point is that when their benches are broken, we break their backs too. About 125,000 people commit suicide annually in India and we are legitimately upset when around 15,000 of them are farmers. The National Crime Record Bureau's classification of suicide data could be better. However, 41.9 per cent (2007 data) of victims describe themselves as self-employed — 13.6 per cent in farming/ agriculture, 5.9 per cent in business and 2.6 per cent are professionals. Around 3,300 committed suicide because of the reason "bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status".

 

But surely we have civilised provisions on exit and bankruptcy — the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR), provisions in company law and SICA (Sick Industrial Companies, Special Provisions Act) and SARFAESI (Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interests) Act. Yes, we do. But only if an enterprise is registered under company law — 97.3 per cent of MSMEs are proprietorship or partnership firms, not registered under company law, or any law for that matter. High procedural costs work against registration, even if assorted incentives are conditional on registering. In an ideal scenario, all informal/ unorganised enterprises will become formal/ organised and all MSMEs will be registered under company law. But such a transition isn't likely overnight. Informality exists in developed countries too. Besides, even when MSMEs are registered under company law, promoters or directors may have to provide personal guarantees to banks and financial institutions, so that liability becomes unlimited and there is blurring of liability of the enterprise with liability of the entrepreneur.

 

What's the problem? When an enterprise is insolvent, it defaults on indirect taxes, electricity, gratuity, provident fund, wages, bonus, employees' insurance and payments to banks and financial institutions. While specific legislation differs, in each case default is treated as arrears of land revenue. Precise land revenue laws vary from state to state. But irrespective of state, they are barbaric colonial legacies too. The entrepreneur is picked up and dumped in jail under the criminal provisions, typically under orders from a district collector. De jure, there is some discretion, since arrest and detention are not the only options. However, de facto it becomes the only option, since the mindset of these laws is that any defaulting debtor is a criminal by definition. Such defaulters deserve to be in debtors' prison. The first English bankruptcy law was enacted in 1542, under Henry VIII. Lest we forget, Henry VIII was also famous for executing whoever he disliked. Circa 2010, Indian legislation isn't remarkably different, though legislation has evolved in England, the US and elsewhere. Perhaps one should mention that many English debtors fled to the US, such as states like Georgia and Texas, which came to be called debtors' colonies.

 

But let's be fair. Entrepreneurs possess some protection. For Presidency Towns, there is the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act of 1909 and elsewhere there is Insolvency

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LEGISLATE, NOT INVESTIGATE

M R MADHAVAN

 

On Friday, the opposition parties demanded that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) be set up to look into the issues surrounding IPL and BCCI. The government has asked for time to consider the question.  

 

Parliamentary work is undertaken both on the floor of the House as well as through parliamentary committees. Given the paucity of time during Parliament sittings, various committees have been constituted to examine matters in detail and report back to the House. Departmentally related standing committees examine demand for grants, legislative bills and the working of ministries. Other committees look into petitions, subordinate legislation (rules and regulations framed by the government), financial oversight (estimates committee, public accounts committee, public undertakings committee), privileges, rules, office of profit etc. Parliament also constitutes ad hoc committees. Occasionally, an ad hoc joint committee of both Houses is constituted to investigate an issue of national importance. 

 

Investigative JPCs are quite rare. In the last quarter century, just four such committees have been constituted. These looked into the Bofors issue (1987), the two stock market scams of 1992 and 2001, and the issue of pesticides in soft drinks (2003). This underlines the fact that Parliament's main functions are legislative, oversight-related and representative; its mandate does not primarily include investigative work. Indeed, one could argue that members of Parliament are not elected for their investigative skills, training or experience, and that this work is better performed by specialised expert agencies.  

 

There are several other bodies that are primarily tasked with investigative work. These include the state CIDs, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI. These bodies have the expertise, training and mandate to investigate cases and prosecute the alleged wrongdoers. In addition, the government may establish judicial commissions established under the Commission of Inquiry Act. 

 

Of course, in politically sensitive cases, official investigative bodies may not be able to function in an impartial and neutral manner. There have been several instances when these agencies have been accused of having acted in a manner that favours the government of the day. Even judicial commissions may not complete their work in a timely manner: witness the commissions set up after the 1984 Delhi and 2002 Gujarat riots, and the Liberhan Commission on the Babri Masjid demolition. That said, JPCs may also be faulted for the same reason. Of the four JPCs, only one had strong political overtones. The JPC to investigate the allegations on kickbacks related to purchase from Bofors was constituted in August 1987. It submitted its report in April 1988, absolving the government of any wrongdoing. However, the case did not reach legal or political closure even two decades later. 

 

Parliament has a lot of other pressing work, which it needs to find time to do in an effective manner. In the current budget session with an original schedule of 35 sitting days, the government had planned to pass 28 bills.

 

With 10 days left, it has passed only one bill. It had planned to introduce 63 new bills; it has introduced 14 so far. 

 

Parliament examines the government's demand for grants, discusses these and then votes on them. However, it often discusses and votes on the demands of a few ministries; all the other demands are clubbed together and voted upon without discussion. This year, demands of just five ministries are scheduled to be discussed in Lok Sabha. Ministries excluded include defence, home, education and health. During the intra-session recess, committees examine the budget in detail. However, it is questionable whether this process is effective. For example, last Tuesday, the committee's report on the demand for grants of the ministry of external affairs was tabled at noon. At 2:07 PM, the discussion commenced, and slightly after 7 PM, the demands were voted upon. One wonders how many of the 28 MPs who took part in the debate managed to read the committee's findings and recommendations within this short period. On many metrics — say, time lost to interruptions or the number of starred questions answered orally — Parliament's performance could be improved significantly.  

 

The issue to be considered is not whether Parliament should constitute a JPC to look into IPL and involvement of ministers. It is whether the legislature should conduct investigative work. Other agencies may be better equipped to conduct such work. Also, that would not detract Parliament from doing its primary duty of making national legislation, examining the government's financial proposals and overseeing the work of the executive.

 

The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BANKING WITHOUT BANKS

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

 

India could in another five years sharply cut down on the paper money it uses, to become the world's largest cashless economy. Just as in the telecom boom, the change will once again be led by the sheer ease of operations for the lower economic strata of our larger towns, rolling on to impact smaller towns and villages thereafter.

 

The biggest impact will be on the parallel economy; it will be almost impossible to sustain a black economy of any scale in this environment. The impact of the banking boom that will accompany this change will be equally phenomenal.

 

Implausible as this seems, it is the most likely scenario. It will soon emerge from the go-ahead given by a group of bureaucrats to a plan to merge India's fabulous telecom backbone to the fledgling business of taking banking (if not banks) to the villages.

 

By any calculation, the possibilities are immense. If the average age of the Indian is taken as 23 years, and you take out the top 20 per cent who already use some form of banking service, we still get about 800 million people. Children and the old are another 100 million; also assume that among the poor, each couple will use only one account. We still get 350 million potential customers. Remember: a young population is also one that's quick to adapt to changes.

 

Those numbers also explain why so many entrepreneurs are itching to tap this market.

 

There are but two constraints. The first, as we have seen, is technology; the second is the framing of rules. As the sordid IPL drama shows it is best to insist on rules before the game starts. Sports or any economic enterprise run best when the principles are clear and well-explained.

 

But often when faced with this choice the Indian financial sector has overwritten rules that have practically killed the market. Hopefully that will not occur here: innovation has to be the key to drive this market and bring down the cost of delivery even further.

 

After several tries the government, the banks and the RBI are now agreed that banking services can reach the lower income group only if the establishment cost is low. This makes the banking correspondent model a clear leader.

 

In a nutshell the banking correspondent model means giving an individual — as a representative of a bank or a financial institution — the authority to operate as a branch for those employed as farmers, as labourers in shops and mandis and just about anywhere.

 

Obviously, despite the romantic picture of farmers immediately getting banking services at their doorsteps, the initial, maximum business will be in the big cities, as that is where the poor concentrate.

 

But irrespective of wherever the customer is located, the banking correspondent will need his technology to follow him. No bank, including SBI, HDFC or PNB, can set up a platform to develop such a complex set of data transfers that will also be cost-effective for them. Instead they need to access the technology platform already available with the telecom companies.

 

That technology will open up challenges. Banks will have to price in the cost to the service they will offer the customers. Then there's the problem of connectivity between telecom companies and the secure IT network of the banks. Tagged to this data security issue is the question of liability. At present for any loss in transmission on internet or on mobiles, the banks put in a disclaimer. This will be scarcely possible in the new world of banking correspondents; obviously a bank will be in trouble if it tries to explain its new customers the money they deposited does not exist as the telecom network failed at that point.

 

These technological issues have got traction from the report of the inter-ministerial group constituted by the government "to enable finalisation of a framework for delivery of basic financial services using mobile phones". The IMG, chaired by the secretary of the information technology department, also included, among others, representatives from the finance ministry, department of posts, rural development, the Planning Commission, the UID Authority of India, Trai, the RBI, and the home ministry.

 

The approach of the group is sound. Mobile subscribers in rural areas now far outstrip bank account holders. The government naturally also hopes it will be able to ride the technology platform to reach cash benefits to the poor under its various welfare schemes.

 

The framework envisages banks offering "mobile-linked no-frills accounts" to customers who can't be expected to avail of regular services. The backbone of the service is the ubiquitous mobile phone. Transactions permissible over these accounts will include cash deposit, cash withdrawal, balance enquiry, transfer of money from one mobile-linked account to another, and transfer of money to a mobile-linked account from a regular bank account. The identification of the customers will draw upon the Unique ID system in the country, as and when it becomes operational.

 

One of the most exciting possibilities that will soon open up is the chance for the customers to send money to each other using only their mobiles as identification devices. Potentially, once this gets going it is a short step to the point where market transactions also get settled on mobiles. The beauty of the system is the money never leaves the banks, not even to the intermediary, except when the money is being deposited.

 

In the process India will have leapt over the credit card age to the digital money age. Since this section of the population has never used plastic money, they will carry very little baggage to make the switchover. The implications of that scale of transformation will become apparent only once we are there.

 

The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'

 

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE COMMISSIONER'S CHAIR

DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI

 

Lost, perhaps, in the headlines of the past week is the fact that the Indian Premier League is a sports league. It is easy to forget that cricket enabled the formation and erstwhile success of the league. There will be plenty of back and forth as to ownership, involvement, accountability, regulation, and the like, but the fact remains that for the IPL to survive and remain a sustainable and viable property, the first thing it must do is clean up its act, and not just its image. To do this, it should draw from historical parallels and precedents from other global sports leagues that have faced and overcome adversity in the past.

 

The IPL is an anomaly in the world of professional sports: a behemoth that started at the top in terms of popularity, cross-over appeal, participation, viewership, and of course, profitability. Unlike most other infant leagues globally, at its inception, the IPL had no viable competition,; solid revenue streams in the form of broadcasting and sponsorship were in place long before the first ball was bowled at Eden Gardens in April 2008; virtually the entire talent pool of players and personnel was captive; and there was a bidding war for ownership of the franchises.

 

Most other leagues followed a more traditional path, often with a gestation period of over fifty years before they became profitable — through organic growth, the merging of rival leagues over time, or even by breaking off and forming rebel leagues. Unlike the IPL, their growth was measured rather than exponential, and they gradually evolved into the global powerhouses that they are today. Over time they also developed strong and effective systems that covered regulatory, compliance, ethics, disciplinary, management, and ownership-related issues, something the IPL couldn't.

 

In each of the North American leagues, the office of the commissioner is the omnipotent lawmaker. Commissioners, although usually elected by the owners or representatives/stakeholders, wield significant clout and act as the enforcers and regulators. Bud Selig, David Stern and Roger Goodell are synonymous with their respective leagues, lending credibility, consistency, and a long term strategy/vision that enables accountability and promotes trust.

 

The League and in many ways cricket, need to right the ship and steer a course that is straight and decisive; and so the example of organized baseball naturally comes to mind. Judge Kenesaw 'Mountain' Landis was elected the first commissioner of organised baseball in 1920, when the team owners approached him after having decided to appoint a commission made up entirely of non-baseball men to restore confidence in the sport, which was reeling after numerous scandals, in particular the 'Black Sox scandal' of 1919. In that storied incident, eight players from the Chicago White Sox essentially 'threw' the World Series, deliberately losing to the Cincinnati Reds in baseball's version of match-fixing. Landis, a US federal judge, accepted the appointment as sole commissioner with unlimited authority to act in the "best interests" of the sport. Determined to maintain the integrity of the game, he banned the eight White Sox players involved in the scandal in one of his first acts. What followed was a reign of 'terror' in which he purged baseball of all its vices. He exercised his authority with an iron fist, and solely to ensure the integrity of baseball. Almost a century later, he is still credited with cleaning up the sport.

 

Unfortunately, the BCCI appointing an all-powerful IPL commissioner in this environment is hardly a viable option. From a macro standpoint however, what it should do is invoke a 'zero-tolerance policy' when it comes to ensuring that the integrity of the sport itself is never compromised. Enforcement and accountability will depend to a large extent on how the BCCI decides to structure the IPL both in terms of its corpus, as well as its organisation vis-à-vis governance, regulations, and key management personnel. Once the BCCI and the IPL's governing council share their vision with the public as to the way forward, then one can discuss options such as a player's association, collective bargaining, or even an independent regulatory body or committee — the Satyam model has been recommended. Another option is a corporate structure like football's English Premier League, where the team owners are shareholders. The CEO and other key management personnel are appointed, and accountable to the public, with the aim of trying to ensure that they are independent and have no apparent conflict of interest that could taint their decision making.

 

While the off-field speculation and allegations will likely continue for a while, this is the time when the BCCI and the IPL governing council need to close ranks, and work towards cleaning up the league, and essentially, the image of their sport. Unless there are revelations that amount to conclusive proof of match-fixing, tampering with roster selection, rigged player auctions, questionable decision-making by management that appears motivated by betting, gambling or throwing matches, or other such unethical conduct, the IPL should be able to resurrect its image and brand to a certain extent. It does, however, need to establish itself as a professional sports league as opposed to general entertainment, and accept that change will be the only constant in its immediate future.

 

Transparency and accountability will be natural offshoots, but what's of utmost importance is that the bifurcation of cricket from all the other activities is absolute and above board. Only that could stop the universal twittering, allowing the IPL to soar again, and perhaps avoid the threat of extinction. Or, it could maintain the status quo, endanger its viability, and share both the name and the fate of another threatened species: the Great Indian Bust(ard).

 

The writer is a Delhi-based sports attorney

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A (GREEN) TEA PARTY

 

I've been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I'm sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 per cent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion: become the Green Tea Party.

 

I'd be happy to design the t-shirt logo and write the manifesto. The logo is easy. It would show young Americans throwing barrels of oil imported from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia into Boston Harbor.

 

The manifesto is easy, too: "We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America's national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 'Patriot Fee' on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt."

 

America now imports about 11 million barrels a day, about 57 percent of our total oil needs — mostly from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. As T. Boone Pickens told Congress the other day: "In January 2010, our trade deficit for the month was $37.3 billion — $27.5 billion of that was money we sent overseas to import oil."

 

If we put a Patriot Fee on all of those imported barrels, we would use less, cease enriching bad regimes, strengthen our own dollar, make the air cleaner and the climate more stable, foster the exploitation of domestic and renewable energy sources, promote electric vehicles, help bring down the global price of oil (which hurts Iran and helps poor Africa), and we could use the revenue to shrink the deficit. It's win, win, win, win, win, win ...

 

Indeed, the Green Tea Party could say, "We've got our own health care plan — a plan to make America healthy by simultaneously promoting energy security, deficit security and environmental security."

 

"Think about it," said Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club. "Green tea is full of antioxidants," which some believe help reduce cancer and heart disease. "It's really good for your health." And a Green Tea Party, he added, could be good for the country's health "by harnessing all of its energy and unconventional politics" to end our addiction to oil.

 

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

 

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

 

This critical piece of energy legislation was supposed to be unveiled by the three senators on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed late Saturday because of Senator Graham's fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up a highly controversial immigration measure before the energy bill.

 

If this is what the Obama administration is doing — to score a few cheap political points with Hispanics — it is a travesty. The bipartisan energy bill is ready to go. It is far from perfect. Indeed, it is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it's the best we're going to get, and we have got to get started. However, without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

 

This bill introduces a carbon price and other means to control the CO2 emissions of various sectors of the economy, without an economywide cap-and-trade system. The bill's goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. But to garner broad support, it will also expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power and offer tax breaks to manufacturers who make their facilities more energy efficient and create green jobs.

 

"No bill that could pass Congress right now or in the immediate future would be sufficient to produce enough clean power to mitigate climate change at the rate we need," remarked the physicist Joe Romm, who writes the blog climateprogress.org and is author of an insightful new book on this subject, Straight Up. "We simply aren't sufficiently desperate to do what is needed, which is nonstop deployment of a staggering amount of low-carbon energy, including energy efficiency, for the rest of the century."

 

The reason a Green Tea Party should coalesce to support this bill, argued Romm, is because it will set a price on carbon pollution and help foster commercialization of clean technologies — like hybrids, batteries and solar — at sufficient scale to enable the U.S. to rapidly ramp up when the seriousness of climate change becomes inescapably obvious to all.

 

In short, the bill is a step in the right direction toward reducing greenhouse gases and expanding our base of clean power technologies so we can compete with China in this newest global industry. And if we don't start now, every solar panel, electric car and wind turbine we'll have to buy when climate change really hits will come with instructions in Chinese. Go Green Tea Party.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DNT SMS N DRV

 

When I started out as a TV reporter in Nashville in 1973, a death from drunken driving was big news. One person killed by a drunken driver would lead our local broadcast. Then, as the number of drunken driving deaths across the country continued to rise, the stakes for coverage got even higher. One death wasn't good enough anymore. Two deaths — that would warrant a report. Then a whole family had to die before the news would merit mention at the top of the broadcast. The country, all of us, had gotten used to the idea of drunken driving. I just kept thinking: How many people have to die before we "get it"?

 

Fortunately, we did get it, and since 1980, the number of annual traffic fatalities due to drunken driving has decreased to under 15,500 from more than 30,000. But in recent years, another kind of tragic story has begun to emerge with ever greater frequency. This time, we are mourning the deaths of those killed by people talking or sending text messages on their cellphones while they drive.

 

Earlier this month, I visited Shelley and Daren Forney, a couple in Fort Collins, Colo., whose 9-year-old daughter, Erica, was on her bicycle, just 15 pedals from her front door, when she was struck and killed by a driver who was distracted by a cellphone. I think about Erica's death and how senseless and stupid it was — caused by a driver distracted by a phone call that just couldn't wait.

 

Sadly, there are far too many stories like hers. At least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers on American roads in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the number is rising. A lot of good work already is happening to try to change this. President Obama signed an executive order banning texting while driving on federal business. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pushing for tougher laws and more enforcement. States are passing laws, too. Local groups are gaining strength, spurred by too many deaths close to home.

 

But we are hesitant to change. I saw this firsthand when I instituted a policy at my company that forbids employees from using their phones for company business while driving. I heard countless stories about how hard it was for people to stop talking and texting while driving. Everyone is busy. Everyone feels she needs to use time in the car to get things done. But what happened to just driving?

 

It was difficult for my employees to adjust, but they have. Life is more precious than taking a call or answering an e-mail message. Because even though we think we can handle using our cellphone in the car, the loss of thousands of lives has shown we can't.

 

So many issues that we have to deal with seem beyond our control: natural disasters, child predators, traffic jams. Over the years, I've done shows on just about all of them. But this is a real problem we can do something about and get immediate results. All we have to do is hang up or switch off. It really is that simple. Once we do that, not another son or daughter will have to die because someone was on the phone and behind the wheel — and just not paying attention.

 

So starting from the moment you finish this article, and in the days, weeks and years that follow, give it up. Please. And to those who feel like this is asking too much, think about your own child just 15 pedals from your front door. Struck down.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REVIVAL IS HERE

 

The early corporate results for the quarter-ended March, and indeed for the entire financial year of 2009-10, suggest that India Inc is on a firm revival path and the results are in fact better than what analysts had expected. An analysis by The Financial Express of some 83 companies that have announced their results shows that both net sales and net profit of the sample is up by 27% year-on-year, driven mainly by stronger volume growth and better price realisation. The rebound in sales growth points to improving private demand, which bodes well for the overall growth. The rise in commodity prices are getting reflected in higher total expenses at 28% for the sample analysed. Despite the currency headwinds, IT companies, led by Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Technologies and Wipro reported stronger revenue growth, added new clients and expanded business in new geographies. The strong quarter of broad-based and volume-led growth of software companies indicates that the global business environment is returning to normal and companies will be increasingly looking at outsourcing to save costs and shore up their bottom line. In the banking space, though the consensus for the quarter has been of lower earnings, Axis Bank turned in earnings that were 10% higher than the Street's estimates on the back of robust net interest income, which was up 41% and lower-than-expected provisioning and operating expenses. As more banks report their results in the next few weeks, analysts expect more such surprises that will have good tidings for corporate India. Concerns still remain on the telecom sector, which is expected to report a laggard quarter. This sector will likely need the arrival of 3G to revive its fortunes.

 

Going ahead, the moderate 25 basis points increase in repo, reverse repo and cash reserve ratio will not have much impact, at least in the near term, on the borrowing costs of companies as banks have not made any changes in their lending rates. The infrastructure sector led by steel and cement is seeing increasing capacity utilisation and the markets will take cue on the order book position of the companies as they report their financial results. While the support of the expansionary government expenditure for the economic recovery after the global recession has now started to moderate significantly, private consumption demand will now replace it to provide stronger momentum in growth. Investment demand has also picked up across all sectors and it now needs to accelerate for the growth momentum to sustain.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WEATHER VANE

 

After last year's monsoon fiasco, all eyes were on the IMD's first official forecast for the 2010 southwest monsoon season. And, if the predictions are right, this should turn out to be a rather good year as far as rains are concerned, a fact that should cheer everyone, from policymakers and farmers to the common man. The IMD says that the 2010 June-September rains should be 98% of the Long Period Average (LPA). The LPA of seasonal rainfall across India is 89 cm, which is the rainfall averaged during the monsoon seasons (June to September) through 1941-90. Based on this, the IMD categorises rainfall into various sub-sections. It says drought when rainfall is less than 90% of the LPA, below normal monsoon when rainfall is between 90-96% of the LPA, near normal monsoon when rainfall is between 96-104% of the LPA, above normal monsoon when rains are 104-110% of the LPA and excess monsoon when rains are more than 110% of the LPA. Under these parameters, the monsoon this season should be 'normal'. The optimism stems from two crucial facts. First, in the last 110 years, monsoon has only failed thrice for two consecutive years. So, after last year's worst drought in three decades, there is very little possibility of a repetition of the same. Second, the dreaded El Niño phenomenon, which was largely blamed for the 2009 monsoon failure, is expected to weaken considerably by June, which is when the Indian monsoon gathers maximum strength.

 

If the final output matches these first predictions, food prices should decline considerably, boosting economic activity and easing pressure on RBI to hike interest rates. But a big question mark still faces IMD's predictions, given its track record on forecasting low monsoon years. In 19 out of the last 22 years, IMD has predicted the monsoon accurately. But the years in which it got things wrong, widespread droughts caused trouble, putting agriculture and economic growth into a tailspin. Granted that not even the world's best weather forecasters can predict rains with 100% accuracy—as long-range forecast is a complex process and actual rains are contingent on numerous factors, final farm output depends more on the spread and distribution of the rains rather than on their total quantum—we rue that India has no alternatives to IMD. The southwest monsoon brings 75-90% of the total annual rainfall into most parts of India. It is absolutely vital for agriculture as almost 60% of the cultivated area depends entirely on rains. Given that IMD has no competition in weather projections, it is our forecaster of the first and last resort. We can only hope that its 2010 prediction is not as off the mark as its 2009 one was.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CALL WAITING, DIALLING THE UNBANKED

RENUKA BISHT

 

The telephone may be today's fastest evolving technology. Especially in developing countries, this 1876 invention's mobile avatar has been changing the social landscape in unprecedented ways. It may be making a more rapid and substantive difference to how people live and work than any technology ever before. From the policy perspective, the question is how this technology can deliver goals better than conventional programmes.

 

RBI's latest annual monetary policy announcement takes note of how mobile penetration levels in India suggest that mobiles could become an important medium for delivering financial inclusion. An inter-ministerial group set up to establish a framework for delivering financial services via mobiles prefaces its report by stating, "The choice is not whether to embrace change or resist it. The choice is whether to drive change with a plan or be overtaken by it without one."

 

The Indian success story on the penetration front is well-known. Here, mobile telephony has outstripped access to financial services even in rural areas where it was a latecomer. Still, there are lessons to be learnt from regions that don't attract as much attention but have been pulling off experiments worth emulating. Consider the African story, which has been grabbing headlines because of the tenacity with which India's top mobile operator has doggedly pursued acquisitions there. The most widely mimicked model is M-Pesa, which has over 9 million users in Kenya where it allows people to transfer money using mobiles even if they do not hold a bank account. Its hallmark is giving the poor access to financial services.

 

What does this suggest for India? Given that 51.4% of farm households are without access to credit, given that only 27% of farm households are indebted to formal sources, given that bank branches per person are abysmally few as compared to developed countries and costs per transaction mean that this is unlikely to change any time soon, if the substantially unbanked population can access financial services through mobiles (with facilitators like banking correspondents), then we would be seeing some meaningful pyramid-saddling (with due credit to Professor Prahalad).

 

What's truly interesting is that mobile telephony has been registering success even at some of the world's worst trouble spots. In Afghanistan, telecom provider Roshan is not just the largest private company, largest investor and largest taxpayer, it is also one of the largest indirect employers because of a vast and necessary network of agents who sell top-up vouchers. Since even the warlords want mobiles to work, they tend not to trouble the networks. As far as the intersection of mobile telephony and financial services is concerned, one must take note of Roshan's M-Paisa innovation (following the M-Pesa model). It enables registered Roshan customers to use their mobiles to transfer money, repay microfinance loans etc in an easy, cheap and immediate fashion. Illiteracy is high in Afghanistan, so an interactive voice response system in Pashto, Daro and English has been devised to expedite financial services via SMSs and the like.

 

Over in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein banned mobiles, they have become a key commerce tool since his ouster. Where curfews are the norm rather than the exception, mobile money keeps ordinary business going. Across the Syrian border, the UN distributes food vouchers among Iraqi refugees via SMSs. Leakage is reduced, refugees no longer endure unending queues and local shopkeepers get to become upbeat about the additional business.

 

What a great difference could such schemes make in India, where government officials feel unable to carry out even Census exercises in hundred of villages with Naxalite presence? They would help in the safer and more immediate payment delivery of monies for programmes ranging from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to the Janani Suraksha Yojana. Transactions costs would be trimmed (as has happened in the cases of M-Pesa and M-Paisa). Seen against the backdrop of the triple whammy syndrome—wherein the vulnerability of poor populations increases in proportion to their lack of access to financial tools—such mobile interfaces can increase poor people's access to legitimate credit as well as savings opportunities. This will obviously need cooperation between providers of mobile and banking services as well as regulators. But, again, global precedence is already in place. Inimitably Indian programmes like the Unique Identity Number will only help streamline such a process.

 

When US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner visited India recently, why did he stop by at a store offering mobile banking services? Forward-looking financial systems, globally, must prepare for the unbanked joining their ranks. Mobile banking will be an important part of this transition, with big numbers originating in the Asia-Pacific.

 

renuka.bisht@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHO WILL WATCH THE WATCHDOG?

VIVEKA ROYCHOWDHURY

 

Last December, the Medical Council of India (MCI) flexed its muscles and targeted doctors for their corrupt practices. In what came to be referred to as a 'code of ethical conduct for doctors', the MCI released amendments to the Indian Medical Council Regulations, 2002. The guidelines, followed by a few clarifications in March, restrain doctors from accepting gifts, travel facilities and hospitality from pharma companies in lieu of promoting their products.

 

The irony is that the MCI president Ketan Desai now appears to be at the centre of a CBI investigation, as one of his associates was caught for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore, which was to be delivered to Desai to recognise a medical college in Punjab.

 

Many in the industry were not surprised, as Desai is not new to controversy. In December 2000, the income tax department raided his house and gathered enough evidence to make a case of disproportionate assets. A year later, the Delhi High Court asked him to step down and pulled up the Central government for not taking steps to correct alleged irregularities in the functioning of the MCI. The medical community welcomed his dismissal. But he is still the MCI president a decade later.

 

Industry observers worry that genuine efforts to update doctors would also be stopped, as some MNCs have already instructed Indian subsidiaries to discontinue such programmes as they don't want to fall foul of the authorities. Doctors admit a few bad sheep may need to be weeded out, but a majority of them are interested in the knowledge, not the freebies. The crux is that it is difficult to define at what point a gift becomes a bribe. Many pharma companies gift subscriptions of medical journals to leading consultants; when this amount sometimes runs into lakhs for multiple foreign journals, is this a reasonable CME programme or an inducement?

 

The effectiveness of any regulation lies in its interpretation and implementation and as we all know, the devil is in the details. At the end of the day, it is left to each doctor's personal code of conduct. Just as it is once again Desai's reputation on the line, even though he was not present when his associate allegedly accepted the bribe on his account.

 

viveka.r@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PLAYING THE IPL.COM BUBBLE

MK VENU

 

The most curious aspect of the IPL controversy is how a highly calibrated valuation game was being played by a few select insiders, who seemed to know things many others didn't. Consider this: of late there has been a flurry of acquisitions of existing IPL teams being talked about at valuations 5-6 times of what was originally paid a few years ago.

 

Some of the initial IPL teams were bought by consortiums at $60-70 million. Now, the same teams are being valued at close to $400 million. The controversial Kochi team, too, was auctioned at $333 million. It turns out now that these valuations may be way out of line with reality. This reality was captured by the way in which a savvy global banker Anshu Jain, who heads Deutsche bank, sold his small stake in Mumbai Indians at just the same price he had bought the shares.

 

The most commonsensical question to ask is: How is it that a top global banker was so unaware of the great IPL valuation story that he sold his stake in one of the three most valued teams at par value? If you can really answer this question, you might understand the great valuation game going on in the IPL.

 

The other question that needs answering is: How can the IPL teams command such valuations when revenue projections show that they will run losses for the next 7-10 years? There is nothing illegal about some of the key IPL actors playing the valuation game. It is just a punt or a view being taken by Lalit Modi and others. The IPL now resembles the dotcom boom of 2000, when many entrepreneurs and punters had put their faith in the tech story. Lalit Modi and company are placing their faith in the great IPL valuation story that may or may not pan out the way they imagine it. The income tax department or other enforcement agencies cannot fault Modi for dreaming about future valuations. That indeed is Modi's prerogative.

 

What the enforcement authorities can do is ask the IPL administration and the teams run by various consortia to be transparent about their business practices, so that all the economic agents associated with the IPL, whether investors or customers, have a level-playing field.

 

One aspect of IPL dotcom that seems a bit unnerving is the kind of money that is coming into the business from tax havens, which seems to be driving the valuations. Again, there is nothing wrong with bringing in money from tax havens like Mauritius, as these are legitimate and covered under treaties between nations. What is non-transparent is who is investing where through which entities abroad.

 

To be fair, this practice is not confined to the IPL alone. In all other businesses, investments are made from tax havens like Mauritius but there is relatively more transparency as to the identity of the investors.

 

In the case of IPL, non-transparency is at many levels. One, there is a suspicion of some sort of organised oligopoly in which a select club of businessmen, filmstars and politicians control many teams. There seems to be a hidden entry barrier created by the organisers. It appears that Lalit Modi would want to increase the number of IPL teams or franchisees in a calibrated manner so that the overall valuation of the business does not go down. The larger the number of teams, the lesser the valuation for each of them. It is a simple demand-supply rule.

 

So, supply must be controlled. After controlling supply, it can hypothetically be ensured that Indian money—largely unaccounted—is taken out of the country and channelled back through tax havens to buy up stakes in existing or new teams at a higher valuation. The valuation game is simple. After limiting the supply of teams, more money is pumped into the same properties and thus valuation is upped regularly. Soon, gradually rising valuation will attract other domestic and foreign bidders. Some stake can be sold at a much higher price so that the original investments are recovered even as the select club retains control of the teams with a 51% stake.

 

To be fair, this valuation model has been tried and tested in India. Some years ago, RBI and Sebi had banned Foreign Institutional Investments (FIIs) into India through what were then described as Overseas Corporate Bodies (OCBs). The OCBs were nothing but a body floated overseas by a group of NRIs who were essentially fronts for Indian promoters. These OCBs would pump dollars supplied by the promoters back into their companies in India. Share prices of these domestic companies would keep rising. The only problem was when share prices fell suddenly, the small investors were taken by surprise. This practice had become so widespread that at one stage the NDA regime decided to clampdown on the OCBs, who were banned from operations.

 

This ban did not prevent circular movement of money, called round tripping. It started happening through the participatory note (PN) route, where big registered FIIs would issue PNs to NRI investors abroad.

 

In 2007, FM P Chidambaram tried to regulate the PN money that came from unknown sources abroad into India and drove up valuations of various companies. But he did not succeed beyond a point, as the nature of global finance is such that it goes into whichever nook and corner of the world it likes.

 

The source of funds is impossible to trace. Money can move through several hands before reaching India, so no one knows who the real investor is. Such is the nature of funny money.

 

The income tax sleuths have been making a lot of noise over the past week or so. These very tax investigators, assisted by other enforcement agencies, have forever been working on money trails and suspected round tripping in the case of other companies. Have they cracked even one case in the last five years? The answer is a big no.

 

So it is best that the government comes up with a pragmatic plan to clean up the IPL administration in a manner that there is a semblance of transparency. Otherwise, it will be one long wild goose chase for tax and other enforcement officials. Of course, tax and other enforcement officials would keenly look forward to many foreign trips even if they know failure stares them in the face!

 

mk.venu@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BUILDING BLOCKS FOR NEW WORLD ORDER

 

Lost in the din of the Indian Premier League controversy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's participation in recent summits of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) and Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) forums has gone largely unnoticed. Confounding the predictions of motivated sceptics in the West, BRIC has now met twice at the summit level and evolved a common approach to the global financial crisis that has made the quadrilateral a force to reckon with. At the political level, BRIC is hampered by two factors. Each member regards its ties with the United States as its single most important bilateral relationship and is excessively wary of displeasing Washington. Secondly, China and Russia, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), prefer to exercise their power on security-related issues directly at that level rather than through committee. But on the economic front, BRIC solidarity is real. Within the G20, the four countries have jointly pushed for the reform of international financial institutions. In Brasilia on April 15, they called for changes in the governance structures of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to be implemented before the year is over. They also said they would explore the feasibility of using local currencies, rather than the dollar, for trading among themselves, thus signalling their rising stake in the evolution of the international monetary system.

 

Though similar to BRIC in some respects, IBSA has a geographical and strategic logic that is quite different. The trilateral brings together three important countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America that are not just economically dynamic but politically vibrant and open as well. India, Brazil, and South Africa also share an unjust exclusion from existing structures of global governance such as the UNSC. The challenge before IBSA is to build on existing synergies and complementarities while carving out new areas for cooperation. It has tried to do this in three ways. First, enhancing the trade and investment, initially, within the trilateral and, then, between the three and their wider sub-regions. Secondly, business-to-business interaction and people-to-people contacts have been made a priority. The fruits of that effort are now becoming apparent. Thirdly, the three countries have identified specific thrust areas like agriculture and energy where work is proceeding. The Brasilia summit added a new and important dimension: a shared commitment to social inclusiveness in development. By broadening its agenda in this way, IBSA has demonstrated that multi-polarity is not just about power plays — it's about justice in the broadest possible sense.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BEYOND MONETARY MEASURES

 

Other than for articulating the monetary policy stance and the broad macroeconomic trends, the Reserve Bank of India's annual policy statement is noteworthy for its comprehensive stock-taking of development and regulatory issues, financial markets, and several other related areas. In effect, it has become a one-point source of reference for all current financial sector matters, both regulatory and developmental. In respect of a few of the issues, such as the licensing norms for new commercial banks, the RBI statement provides an amplification of what the Finance Minister announced in his budget speech. Others, such as a road map for foreign banks, are in the domain of the central bank and needed to be updated. On the financial markets and financial sector reform, the RBI's well-known, measured approach is again in evidence. The financial system will stand to benefit only incrementally from the new products that have been announced. Obviously, the lessons from the financial crisis will guide the central bank in its approach to financial sector reform and intermediation. There are a few measures to strengthen financial sector regulation on an ongoing basis and improve the efficiency of the banking sector, while maintaining financial stability.

 

The RBI, which is expected to play a pivotal role in the new Financial Stability and Development Council, released its first financial stability report in March. In a significant initiative that will ensure transparency in the cost and delivery of credit, the RBI has issued guidelines for banks to switch over to a new system of base rate calculation from July 1. It will no longer be possible for banks to dispense credit at below the benchmark rates, which will be calculated in a transparent manner. Several new financial products are to be introduced but only after they have been deliberated upon. Regulation norms for non-convertible debentures and the final guidelines relating to over-the-counter foreign exchange derivatives are expected to be announced by June. The decision to boost infrastructure finance by relaxing the holding norms of eligible bonds by banks is a continuation of the policy thrust in this critical area. In two areas of great common interest — the operation of foreign banks and issuance of new bank licences — the RBI is likely to proceed cautiously. The consensus among regulators is to encourage foreign banks to incorporate subsidiaries in the country rather than operate through branches. Given its potential for controversy, the RBI has decided to delegate the task of vetting applications for new bank licences to an outside body.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TIME TO END THE IMPASSE WITH PAKISTAN

IF INDIA REALLY BELIEVES DIALOGUE IS THE WAY FORWARD, IT SHOULD NOT ALLOW A DISAGREEMENT OVER FORM OR NOMENCLATURE TO COME IN THE WAY.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

Forget Kashmir and terrorism or even Afghanistan and water, the current stalemate between India and Pakistan is all down to one word. Both countries publicly say that Dialogue is the only way forward. Yet each is paralysed by the name 'Composite'. New Delhi is so allergic to it that it will not accept its use, while Islamabad has become so attached to the C word that it insists there can be nothing else.

 

This Indian allergy and Pakistani attachment is paradoxical, since the composite dialogue approach has suited India more than it has Pakistan. Under the guise of moving ahead simultaneously on all issues, the framework has allowed progress on trade and other subjects considered important by New Delhi, even as the status quo on major disputes like Kashmir and Siachen — key concerns for Islamabad — has held. Of course, the dialogue did not end cross-border terrorism or extinguish the links between the Pakistani security agencies and violent extremism as some on the Indian side might have hoped. But that was always an improbable shot given the DNA of the Pakistani establishment. Over time, India has realised the best way to deal with the threat of terror is by strengthening its internal capabilities while utilising engagement as a lever for influencing Pakistan's behaviour over the long run.

 

The two most important issues for the Pakistani side today — going by its public statements — are Kashmir and water. But here's the paradox: the composite dialogue, from its point of view, has produced no forward movement whatsoever on these two fronts. In four and a half rounds of talks within that framework, the total amount of time spent by the two foreign secretaries in discussing the Kashmir dispute has perhaps been 10 hours. During which neither side did anything beyond restating its national positions. As for water, it does not even figure as a separate head under this format. The only water-related dispute covered by the composite dialogue is the Tulbul navigation project, also known as the Wullar barrage. There, too, progress has been insignificant.

 

In contrast to the composite dialogue framework, the back channel between Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz was far more effective and productive. Between 2004 and 2007, the two special envoys, who reported directly to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf respectively, discussed Kashmir for hundreds of hours. More significantly, their exertions produced a framework solution that was cleared on the Indian side by the Cabinet Committee on Security and on the Pakistani side by the Corps Commanders conference, before domestic political difficulties triggered by his dismissal of the chief justice forced Musharraf to back off. As for water, the Indus Water Commissioners have been meeting continuously for more than 40 years and their forum represents the best platform for Pakistan because all the Indian projects it opposes on the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers can be referred to an outside arbitrator whose decisions are final and binding. Compared to such a powerful dispute resolution mechanism, the existing dialogue framework is surely inferior. And yet, even though Islamabad's best shot at making progress on water and Kashmir lies outside the composite dialogue, it has got locked into a situation where it is refusing any form of engagement or talks other than that.

 

Now let's consider India. The Indian position has been in a state of flux since it suspended the composite dialogue following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. Broadly speaking, however, India has maintained that there can be no resumption of the composite dialogue till Pakistan moves to punish the Mumbai conspirators and dismantles the "infrastructure of terror" on its soil. In September last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a distinction between "meaningful dialogue" on disputes, which would have to await Pakistani action on terrorism, and talks on "humanitarian and other issues." Since then, the Indian position has evolved further. When Pakistan's Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, was invited to Delhi in February 2010, India clarified that while its own priority was terrorism, it was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan. That is still the official Indian position. At a press conference on April 22, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said dialogue "represents a concrete method to move forward in our relationship … [It] is always useful. It helps clear the atmosphere and especially between neighbours, such as India and Pakistan. Dialogue is really the way forward".

 

But if India believes dialogue "is really the way forward", why is it unable to accept Pakistan's call for the "composite" dialogue to be resumed? The paradox here is that from the traditional Indian perspective, the composite dialogue has worked pretty well. Discussions on Kashmir have not led to any change in the territorial status quo but have provided a cover for India to move ahead with other parts of the bilateral agenda that suit it more, like trade and cross-border confidence-building measures. And if the Indian side is opposed to talks on the 'water issue', the composite framework of dialogue is ideal because water does not figure as a standalone topic under any of the subject heads. Despite this, India is the one saying no to 'composite' dialogue.

 

India suspended the composite dialogue in order to get Pakistan to take action against terrorism. Some action

has been taken but the Manmohan Singh government rightly believes that Pakistan can and must do more. It also knows the continued absence of dialogue is unlikely to produce greater action on the terrorism front and might even be counter-productive. Yet it fears the "resumption" of the suspended dialogue will be seen as a sign of weakness by the Opposition.

 

India's options have been further complicated by the hardening of the Pakistani position on cooperation and dialogue since November 2009, when Barack Obama's new AfPak policy dealt the military establishment in Rawalpindi a stronger hand in the Afghan endgame. Even as the Pakistan army has stepped up its offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban and, to a lesser extent, anti-American extremists on its border with Afghanistan, it has played up the 'India threat' card to balance the perception that it is too subservient to the U.S. The rhetoric on water, the Azm-e-Nau III exercises, the loosening of the leash on Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and the increase in infiltration across the Line of Control are all evidence of the hardening of the Pakistani military's attitude. At the same time, the domestic political situation in Pakistan is fluid. The 18th amendment to the constitution has opened up the possibility of the civilian government and the provinces strengthening themselves vis-a-vis the military. The revival of the Benazir Bhutto assassination case in the wake of the recent U.N. report could also provide political ammunition against the establishment.

 

In the run up to this week's Saarc summit in Bhutan, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Yusuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines, Indian officials are resigned to keeping the bilateral relationship in a 'holding pattern.' Their logic is that if relations cannot improve, then they should not be allowed to deteriorate either. As a short-term strategy, the holding pattern strategy works fine. There are always small things that can be done at that level too. But an aeroplane cannot circle the runway endlessly. The longer it is up in the air, the greater is the likelihood of a disastrous descent. That is why planning for an orderly landing is a much better strategy.

 

In Thimphu, Dr. Singh must try and find a way of doing that. One possibility is for the two prime ministers to task their foreign secretaries with reviewing what has been accomplished on the terrorism front as well as in the last few rounds of the composite dialogue, with a view to expediting the resolution of existing problems and disputes. Such a mandate would foreground the necessity of a dialogue addressing all outstanding issues while sidestepping, for the moment, any nomenclatural disagreement. It would accomplish the stated Indian objective while allowing Mr. Gilani to return without having surrendered Islamabad's stand on the "resumption" of the composite dialogue. Parallel to this process, the Prime Minister should meet with the leaders of all major political parties in order to explain the reasons why India and Pakistan need to end the current stalemate. Finally, a strict moratorium on grandstanding and posturing, finger-pointing and name-calling is necessary. When the Prime Minister is directly crafting India's approach to Pakistan, ministers, officials and anonymous 'sources' must not confuse the public with contradictory messages and statements.

 

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THE HINDU

RELIGIOUS PLACES AND ALMS-SEEKING

IT IS TIME THE GOVERNMENT ENFORCED THE LAW TO CHECK BEGGARY IN AND AROUND RELIGIOUS PLACES IN KERALA, BUT THE STATE SHOULD ALSO SERVE TO ENSURE THE DIGNITY OF THE UNFORTUNATE ONES.

V.R. KRISHNA IYER

 

Kerala has many religions, and innumerable religious places of worship and shrines across faiths and creeds. Seeking to gain from the many worshippers who come here, beggars operate the business of alms. In doing this, they violate the provisions of the Kerala Prevention of Begging Act, 2006. There are issues of public health, human dignity and morality involved in this.

 

It is necessary to enforce the provisions of the Act effectively so that the gods may be "spared" and religious shrines are relieved of beggars — who include men, women and children. Due prosecution and punishment, and detention in relief centres and other places notified by the Act, will be warranted. In the absence of such relief centres or custodial places, the courts may remand them to prisons until alternative accommodation is provided by the state.

 

The law prohibiting beggary has extensive provisions to take care of the welfare of beggars. Under Article 21 of the Constitution, every beggar or juvenile or dependant woman has a fundamental right to live. And, it is the fundamental duty of every person to show compassion to all living creatures — obviously including humans who are beggars.

 

Diseased, mutilated and disabled beggars are a common sight around temples, churches and mosques. Their anxiety to gain the sympathy of the throngs of devotees invariably seems to override their sense of personal dignity. They plead for charity while exposing diseased limbs and pathetic deformities.

 

This is in clear violation of the provisions of the Act and the socialist culture and democratic dignity of the Constitution. Such actions constitute poignant and piteous manipulation. Unfortunately, these heinous practices are only on the increase because those responsible for policing them shirk their duty to check begging. It is obnoxious that the state fails delinquently in enforcing wholesome laws meant to ensure the well-being of the community. In such instances, public opinion must rise against the state and its minions, including the officers of the executive, to force them to take stern and prompt steps to make begging unlawful. The plying of the trade should attract prompt punishment. This can be done by empowering the police and the local bodies to take suitable action. The City Corporations and other local bodies ought to be enabled to levy a fee towards enforcing the beggary ban.

 

When the festival seasons arrive in the different regions, hordes of beggars seem to move in: it is as if for some of them this is a lucrative profession. Such activities must be stopped and banned. The executive, with the support of the legislators and the courts, must seize the initiative in these matters. Failing to do this will constitute denial of dignity to the beggars themselves, and disgrace to the religious places as crowds of beggars mar their ambience. There are a number of charitable organisations run by different religions and creeds: with appropriate incentives offered by the state, many of them will be ready and willing to help make Kerala beggar-free.

 

The Preamble to the Constitution emphasises the right of every person to justice — social, economic and political. If social and economic justice is to be truly guaranteed, the menace of beggary should end. This should be especially so now that free and compulsory education for all has been constitutionally mandated. The social structure of India with an egalitarian basis will turn into a travesty if everyone who seeks spiritual salvation has to pass through streams of beggars entreating them for alms while they simultaneously donate to the religious institution itself.

 

On the other hand, what the devotees give the temple does not always go to improve facilities there. At the Guruvayur temple, marriages are conducted by the minute, for which devotees pay. But many of them hardly get a glimpse of the deity. There is a dearth of space and other facilities, and every available inch is packed with people. If only more of the resources were used for development in the shape of facilities for the devotees! This applies to an extent to the Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati, too.

 

A new vision of temples, churches and mosques and the money that pours in will make these holy places truly celestial. Sabarimala, where a Sabari project was under way, was starved of funds. If the State Minister for Irrigation asks the endless procession of pilgrims to lay one stone each for the project, within a year the devotees will have the pride of completing the project, proving what the Sai Baba exhorted: "Service to God is service to Man."

 

India will not have to go for the dollars if this message were made the mission statement of the Devaswom administrations. Many churches are built by the tireless labour offered for free by the faithful. Hinduism can follow that example. Then the God will ameliorate the beggar, and everyone will find enough to worship and to live happily.

 

"The Kingdom of God is within you," as Jesus put it. "Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man," said Vivekananda. There is no conflict between the spiritual and the material. God sleeps in the minerals, wakes in the vegetables, walks in the animals and thinks in man. The highest thought is where the noblest concept of God is universality and world brotherhood is the true reality.

 

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THE HINDU

NATO PLANS GRADUAL HANDOFF TO AFGHANS

THE GOAL IS TO ANNOUNCE IN NOVEMBER THE HANDOVER OF AUTHORITY IN A CLUSTER OF PROVINCES, MOST LIKELY IN THE RELATIVELY STABLE NORTH AND WEST.

MARK LANDLER

 

Setting the stage for a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States and other NATO countries adopted a plan in Tallinn, Estonia, on Friday that sets conditions for beginning to remove troops from a lead role in Afghan provinces by the end of this year.

 

The plan, which NATO hopes to turn into a formal agreement with the Afghan government in July, would transfer authority to Afghans when they have met three criteria: a competent local police force, a durable civilian government and signs of reconciliation with the Taliban insurgency.

 

NATO's goal is to announce in November that it has begun to hand over authority in a cluster of provinces, most likely in Afghanistan's relatively stable north and west, officials said. If successful, the plan would help President Barack Obama meet his deadline of starting to pull out American troops by July 2011. But American officials cautioned that the timetable could slip if security remained poor or if the insurgents proved resilient.

 

At a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn, the alliance received an update on the progress in the war from General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Mark Sedwill, NATO's recently appointed senior civilian representative.

 

As the American-led coalition prepares for its next big operation, in the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Mr. Sedwill said it had learned valuable lessons from the recent campaign to stabilise Marja — namely, achieving a rough balance of power among competing tribal groups is critical to restoring order. The Marja campaign, he said, had been hampered because some landowners amassed so much power that they had co-opted the local police force, transforming it into a militia used against the people. "The big lesson we learned in Marja, which we're taking to Kandahar, is that you got to get the politics right," Mr. Sedwill told reporters. "Balanced access to political and economic power is vital."

 

A former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. Sedwill has emerged as a major figure in the western effort in the country. Since his arrival, the United States has stopped calling for the appointment of a high-level coordinator who would function as a civilian counterpart to General McChrystal.

 

NATOs progress report was welcomed here, since the emphasis in many war-weary alliance members has shifted from the combat mission to turning Afghanistan back its own people.

 

Still, the Danish Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, pledged that foreign troops would continue to support Afghan soldiers long after they relinquished command. "It will not be a pullout; it will not be a run for the exit," he said at a news conference.

 

NATOs commitment to the war has come under question in recent weeks. The alliance has fallen 450 people short of a goal to supply 2,000 trainers for the Afghan national police force by October. Afghanistan wants to expand its police force to 134,000 by October 2011, from 103,000 now. "The gap matters," Mr. Sedwill said. "We've got 100,000 troops there; we ought to be able to find 450."

 

The shortfall has been whittled down steadily, Mr. Rasmussen said, with Canada pledging to send 90 additional trainers. He said he was confident that NATO would be able to staff its training mission fully. The United States still supplies the large majority of police trainers. — New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

COMPANIES FEELING PRESSURE TO SEVER TIES WITH IRAN

PETER BAKER

 

  1. Many companies have announced they would cut back business or end affiliations with Iranian firms
  2. U.S. initially focused on financial institutions but has now expanded to manufacturers and service providers

 

While U.S. President Barack Obama struggles to negotiate U.N. sanctions with teeth against Iran, a parallel campaign to turn up the heat is gaining momentum by pressuring American and foreign corporations individually to cut their business ties there.

 

Two giant American accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, disclosed this week that they no longer had any affiliation with Iranian firms, becoming the latest in a string of companies to publicly shun the Islamic republic. After a similar decision by KPMG this month, that leaves none of the Big Four audit firms with any ties to Iran.

 

In recent months, other companies have announced that they would stop sales, cut back business or end affiliations with Iranian firms, including General Electric, Huntsman, Siemens, Caterpillar and Ingersoll Rand. Daimler said it would sell a minority share in an Iranian engine maker. An Italian firm said it would pull out after its current gas contracts ended. And the Malaysian state oil company cut off gasoline shipments to Iran, following similar moves by Royal Dutch Shell and trading giants like Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura.

 

The tangible impact of these moves varies depending on the firm. After three decades of sanctions, American companies have relatively little business in Iran at this point, while foreign and multinational companies often find ways to circumvent measures intended to sever ties with Iran. China has become an increasingly robust partner.

 

But current and former American officials said the recent announcements would further isolate Iran as it pursued its nuclear programme in defiance of international pressure.

 

"No one of these actions is that significant," said Stuart Levey, the Treasury Under-Secretary who has led the American effort to convince firms to abandon Iranian ties first under President George W. Bush and now under Mr. Obama. "But the overall trend, if you analyse it with the increasing political isolation of Iran, could be very significant."

 

Mark D. Wallace, a former ambassador under Mr. Bush and now president of an advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran said the growing trend could undercut the Tehran government. "This is a sort of tipping point," he said. "You're seeing the regime standing at the precipice and if a few more companies pull out and they don't have the ability to access international services and goods and capital, they're in real trouble."

 

Foreign businesses have been an important source of support for Iran in recent years. In the last five years, 41 foreign companies have helped Iran develop its oil and gas sector, which accounts for more than half of the Tehran government's income, the General Accountability Office reported this week.

 

None of those firms was American, but an analysis by The New York Times last month showed that the federal government had awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran. The campaign to pressure companies to give up Iranian business began a few years ago under Mr. Bush even as three successive rounds of U.N. sanctions failed to stop Iran from enriching uranium.

 

The American government initially focused pressure on international banks and financial institutions, but the recent announcements show that it is extending well beyond that sector to manufacturers, insurers and service providers.

 

The pressure comes not just from Mr. Levey and his team, who present firms with evidence showing how other companies have run afoul of sanctions rules. It also comes from Congress, where both the Senate and the House have passed bills limiting the government's ability to do business with companies that contribute to Iran's development of petroleum resources. The two chambers must reconcile separate versions before sending a bill to Mr. Obama.

 

And then there is Mr. Wallace's group, which was formed in 2008 by a group of prominent Republicans and Democrats, including some now in the Obama administration, to focus public attention on Iran's nuclear programme. The group has tried to shame companies with ties to Iran by posting a list on its website. Among those it has cited have been KPMG, Caterpillar and Ingersoll Rand.

 

This week, Mr. Wallace's group received letters from both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young assuring the group that they had cut ties with Iranian firms.

 

Mr. Wallace called that a breakthrough because by publicly avoiding Iran, the American accounting firms that audit so many other companies send an important signal. — New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

HONOUR KILLINGS': WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

 

Three weeks after District and Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma sentenced in Karnal, Haryana, five persons to death and awarded life imprisonment to one person in a 2007 case of 'honour killing,' three incidents of a similar nature have been reported in the State. A young man was beheaded, a young woman murdered, and a newly wed couple told to annul their recent marriage, all by khap panchayat leaders for the simple reason that they married or wanted to marry for love. In the Haryana-Rajasthan-New Delhi region, an estimated 100 young men and women are killed every year on the orders of khap panchayats.

 

Neither the judgment nor the resounding impact it created among the media, progressive sections of the people, political parties, particularly the Left parties, human rights activists and women's organisations across the country has deterred the khaps and their backward-looking promoters in Haryana from continuing with their barbaric attacks on the rights and aspirations of simple, law-abiding folk.

 

The writing is on the wall but the khaps are clearly not prepared to give up. Incensed by the role of the news media, which took the implications of the trial court's landmark judgment to places far and wide and created awareness among the people, the upholders of a reactionary, anti-human tradition gathered in large numbers at Kurukshetra on April 13 to redraw their strategy.

 

Objection to judgment

 

The khaps made no secret of their real objection to the Sessions Court judgment: it would send "wrong signals" to various social groups under their control and encourage same-gotra marriages. They demanded that the government should amend the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 to facilitate a ban on marrying from the 'same gotra.' This is tantamount to a confession to society that all these years the khaps have been punishing people for marrying in the same gotra, which is not illegal under the Hindu Marriage Act. Gross injustice has been done to hundreds of young men and women who have married or have aspired to marry across social barriers for love.

 

But that is not all. At Kurukshetra, the khap panchayats also demanded that the Hindu Marriages Act should be amended to ban 'same village' marriages and disallow the recognition given by the Arya Samaj to the weddings of "eloping couples" conducted in temples. True to form, they charged the media with "conspiring to destroy the social fabric in rural areas."

 

The press and news television have certainly played their democratic role effectively – by educating people in town and country on the issues involved in the khaps' thrusting on the people backward-looking and anti-human ideas in the name of upholding tradition. Analytical pieces viewing 'honour killing' from different angles, sociological, historical, anthropological and psychological, have appeared in India's newspapers and magazines in different languages. There has also been substantial international media coverage of what is at stake here.

 

It is notable that readers of The Hindu have responded in force and spiritedly to the issue.

 

Some 25 letters, published in print and online, projected their outrage and forward-looking social perspectives. Readers cutting across differences in political views and religious beliefs have been united in the democratic demand that stern, uncompromising measures be taken to end the outrage. Many of the letters have expressed appreciation for the Sessions Judge's bold judgment against the khaps and also for her suggestion that a separate law should be enacted to deal with 'honour killing' cases.

 

'Nothing honourable'

Significantly, four years before the Karnal District and Sessions Court pronounced its judgment, the highest court of the land recorded in the strongest terms its horror against 'honour killings.' In July 2006, the Supreme Court of India termed the practice an act of barbarism. It ordered the police across the country to take stern action against those resorting to violence against young men and women of marriageable age who opted for inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.

 

On a writ petition filed by Lata Singh from Lucknow, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice Markandey Katju observed: "We sometimes hear of 'honour' killings of such persons who undergo inter-caste or inter-religious marriages of their own free will. There is nothing honourable in such killings, as in fact, they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons, who deserve harsh punishment." The judges added: "Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism''.

 

The Supreme Court quashed all criminal proceedings initiated against family members of Lata's husband, Brahma Nand Gupta, who were also being subjected to threat, harassment, and violence by Lata's brothers. It held that such acts of violence or threats or harassment were "wholly illegal" and those who committed them must be severely punished. "This is a free and democratic country," the court observed, "and once a person becomes a major, he or she can marry whomsoever he/she likes … If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage, the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot harass the person, who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriages."

 

Killing for 'caste honour' in Tamil Nadu

 

'Honour killing' is not confined to the northern States such as Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. In the south, Tamil Nadu has seen similar incidents in the recent past. Here, however, the objection to marriage was based on caste prejudice. In 2003, a young couple, S. Murugesan and D. Kannagi, was harassed and killed by the young woman's relatives because the former was a Dalit and the latter a Vanniyar. This happened at Puthukkooraippettai village in Cuddalore District. Both were graduates and their marriage had been duly registered under the Hindu Marriage Registration Rules, without the knowledge of their parents. Kannagi's father, who was the president of the local panchyat, saw it as an affront to his "family honour" as well as "caste honour." The couple ran for life, but were caught and allegedly poisoned to death. One major difference between the North Indian incidents and the Cuddalore village tragedy is that the informal oor panchayat (which exists in almost every village in Tamil Nadu) did not seem to have played any role in the Puthukkooraipettai atrocity. If this is the state of 'love marriage' across caste divides in a progressive State like Tamil Nadu where the government patronises it, what can one say about the happenings in States like Haryana?

 

Five years earlier, in November 1998, at Thirunallur village in Pudukottai District in the State, three Dalit young men were tonsured, stripped, and beaten up by the majority caste Hindus of the village for marrying non-Dalit girls.

 

The humiliation came as a punishment to the Dalits as ordered by a 12-member oor panchayat of the village. The reason the oor panchayat gave for finding all three guilty was that their marriages would encourage the other Dalit boys to emulate them. The Dalit youth were made to roll around the village through the night in the presence of a large number of people who included their relatives. The next morning they were ordered to leave the village.

 

Only a month later, after some political parties staged a demonstration against the atrocities and demanded action against those involved in humiliating Dalits, did the police arrest some persons under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and initiate legal action.

 

At that time, I covered the Puthukkooraippettai as well as the Thirunallur atrocities for Frontline. When I asked a Dalit of Thirunallur how they could be so insensitive when the young men were humiliated, I only expected the usual response such as, "What can we do, sir? They are big people. We are dependent on them for everything. But for their help, we can't even survive." His response was revealing: "Any displeasure caused to the upper caste people may lead to the cancellation of the annual temple festival. And that in turn will invite the wrath of Mari Amman [the presiding deity of the local temple]. That we cannot ignore, sir."

 

There is clearly a long way to go before the rule of law can be enforced across India in the teeth of deep-rooted social oppression and prejudice and ideas that have come down generations.

 

There is a long way to go before constitutional and legal equality and democracy can translate into genuine social democracy on the ground. Against this background, we can take heart that influential sections of the news media have done well. They can do even better by taking up — consciously and on a more extensive scale — a progressive agenda-building role on social issues.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

DO CITIZENS' RIGHTS MATTER TO LEADERS?

 

 News reports about the "tapping" of the phones of some politicians which have dominated the television channels and newspapers in the last few days are likely to lead to the disruption of Parliament this week. Many people can be expected to get on to their high horse and offer a running commentary on eavesdropping on the conversations of politicians constituting an unprecedented violation of civil liberties, India being a police state, return of the Emergency raj, and the like. The leader of a party whose standing has slipped shockingly in recent times has already called the state of affairs "intolerable". Leaders of other parties are not far behind in condemnation of what is coming to be called "Phonegate". It is unfortunate, however, that the leading lights of our political system have been caught navel-gazing — the concern they have expressed is confined to politicians; the political leaders in question have not taken ordinary citizens into account. If they had not been so obsessed with themselves as a class, they might have asked different questions.


These questions arise from the nature of the phenomenon they are incorrectly describing as "Phonegate". It is necessary to appreciate that nobody's telephone has actually been tapped. Had that been the case, it would have been appropriate, indeed necessary, to speak of the erosion of civil liberties under the Manmohan Singh government, and would have constituted an obvious violation of the Indian Telegraph Act. What we are dealing with now is new technology which makes the tapping of individual telephones unnecessary. This technology affords the possibility of catching phone signals (and is a terrific way of catching unawares those who are on the run from the law). As such, when it is activated at any given location, intelligence operatives who might be "listening in" can capture all phone conversations within a range of about two kilometres, including those of politicians, not just of terrorists or other criminals who may be in their crosshairs. Indeed, in the Lutyens Zone of New Delhi, it would be a miracle if conversations of politicians were not captured as the area is the stomping ground of our national leaders. It is clear to see that while the new technology will be very effective — much more so than the earlier phone-tapping device — in tracking terrorists and other such undesirable elements, the privacy of ordinary citizens would automatically be curtailed if a curious or vindictive government turned eavesdropper. It is clear to see that without curbing the use of the new technology to catch those whose design is to cause harm to Indian society and the Indian state, safeguards need to be found to shield normal people from even the unintended misuse of this new instrument that the police and intelligence services have begun to employ of late.


Indeed, it is this which should be the focus of the discussion in Parliament, and not any particular grievance of our politicians. It is important that our national legislature pays urgent heed to this unusual problem that has been created by the purchase of a new instrument to deal with one of the most serious challenges to our internal security. The BJP, which is the main Opposition party, the CPI(M), and others would do well to direct their attention in the House to deliberate about a matter of wide public concern. But more, the matter should concern the government itself. Indeed, it should have taken the lead in inviting a discussion from the political system and civil society when the new technology was brought in. Its failure to do so deserves to attract censure.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WAS OPP. ASLEEP EARLIER?

 

The Opposition parties have announced their intention of stalling Parliament over the phone-tapping incidents. But no political party bothered to raise any objections when the government passed a law on interception in December 2008 which is far more draconian regarding privacy than those passed in the British Raj.
Prior to the notification of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 on February 5, 2009, phone-tapping was governed by Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. This provided that "on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of public safety, the Central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised ... may, if satisfied it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct that any message or class of messages to or from any person or class of persons, or relating to any particular subject, brought for transmission by or transmitted or received by any telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed to the government...."


Section 7(2)(b) of the same law says the government should frame "precautions ... for preventing improper interception or disclosure of messages". Since 1885, no government has done so. In 1991, the PUCL filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court arguing that Section 5(2) infringed the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, and to life and personal liberty.


In December 1996, the Supreme Court said in its ruling: "Occurrence of any public emergency" or "interest of public safety" are the sine qua non for application of ... Section 5(2). Unless a public emergency has occurred or the interest of public safety demands, the authorities have no jurisdiction to exercise (these) powers. Public emergency would mean a sudden condition or state of affairs affecting the people at large calling for immediate action. The expression "public safety" means the state or condition of freedom from danger or risk for the people at large. When either of these two conditions are not in exercise, the Central government or a state government or the authorised officer cannot resort to telephone tapping even though there is satisfaction that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India.... In other words, even if the Central government is satisfied it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India or the security of the state or friendly relations with sovereign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to commission of an offence, it cannot intercept messages or resort to telephone tapping unless a public emergency has occurred or in the interest of public safety. Neither (is a) secretive condition or situation. Either ... would be apparent to a reasonable person."


The Supreme Court also specified procedures and safeguards to "rule out arbitrariness in the exercise of power... so the right to privacy of a person is protected."


But now Section 69 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008, passed in December 2008, drops all references to the essential criteria of "public emergency" or "public safety", and thus circumvents the Supreme Court ruling. Significantly, it also overrides all other laws.


Clause 69 of this law — Powers to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource — provides: Where the Central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised ... is satisfied it is necessary or expedient ... in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence ... or for investigation of any offence ... may, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the appropriate government to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted any information transmitted received or stored through any computer resource."


Even under the criteria specified by the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, October 27, 2009, the tapping of the phones of Sharad Pawar, Prakash Karat, Nitish Kumar and Digvijay Singh appears to be illegal. There is no evidence that the home secretary authorised the tapping of their phones by the National Technical Research Organisation, with the reasons recorded in writing as required under Sections 3 and 7 of the Rules.


Clinchingly, Section 8 of the rules requires the home secretary to consider alternative methods of acquiring the information, and further specifies that interception will be permitted only when the home secretary is satisfied it is not possible to acquire the information by any other reasonable means.


The removal of the essential criteria of "public emergency" and "public safety" in the amended IT Act of 2008 has permitted a legal situation far more draconian on liberty than the 1885 Telegraph Act enacted to protect the British Raj. Section 69 of the new law could be violative of Supreme Court rulings that a reasonable expectation of privacy derives from Article 21 of the Constitution.


Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad, an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon and IIT Kanpur, heads an infotech firm in New Delhi

 

Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

CONQUEST OF LOVE

There are two kinds of swords. The Sword of Steel and the Sword of Love. The Sword of Steel makes two out of one; the Sword of love makes one out of two.     — Hazrat Ali

 

At an intimate dinner last week the conversation flowed into religious beliefs. One person differed radically from the one who started the conversation. Then another person had something entirely different to say. As the conversation moved, that once congenial group began to look unpredictably diverse. The stormy clouds began to gather in the clear blue skies. People became more and more dogmatic and argumentative. The table began to get polarised with each coming out stronger than the other with their own vivid colours of conviction and faith that it became almost unbearable. After a while I did not think of what I believed in but how the world can learn to co-exist with diverse views. I felt that religion should be the delicate art of understanding and balancing the Zahir and the Batin, the Revealed and the Hidden, which evolves through a regular evolution of culture. Evolved rulers have ensured that the rights of the smallest minority are not violated. Such rulers are blessed by saints and will always be remembered for their compassion and benevolence of mankind. That is why it is said that a benevolent ruler is protected by the grace of 70 (saints) Walis. While the Wali is hidden the ruler is revealed. He is supposed to be manifestation of Divine justice. There is a lot to learn from the lives of such exemplary people who have dedicated their lives to understanding different faiths and promoting harmony among them. They went beyond war and politics and extended themselves into the purely human realm. Akbar evolved a way of understanding different beliefs and creating a deep reverence for those who were not of his faith. Jahangir born of a Hindu mother with Hindu wives and children from them, followed in the same direction in a more evolved, organic and natural way through the aesthetics of integration. This was taken finally to highest limit by his grandson Dara Shikoh, who had the Upanishads and the Ramayana translated into Persian so that it would cross the Indian borders and reach a huge world that was then under influence of that language.

 

Then many followed this example and did not use religion to control the people, as it is happening in many countries around the world today. They endeared themselves to the populace by respecting rituals and values of other religions. One day my father went to meet a neighbouring Raja, a friend of his father who happened to be a Hindu. It was the mourning period of Muharram. The Raja was sleeping on the floor. My father expressed his surprised at this, to which he rebuked my father in chaste Awadhi, saying "Tum murkh ho. Raja ka koi dharm hot hai, jo uhiuki praja ka dharam wahi uhika dharm". This man was not seeking votes. It was his own conviction. This was the Awadh of Nawab Wajid Ali, a great Krishna lover, for whom, when he was made to leave his beloved city Lucknow, the common folk wept and wailed as they bid farewell to their beloved ruler, "Hajrat jaiye rahen han Landan. Inpe kripa karo Raghunandan". And it was this emotion and the disgust against the communal divide and rule policy of the British that it was on the soil of Lucknow that the bloodiest war for Independence took place  in 1857. The aftermath was equally bloody and people of the city refused to learn English for decades and were left way behind in development.

 

The process of sensitising societies is a continuous process. Human history is being etched on human hearts along with the ephemeral history of brute power. In a burgeoning democracy like ours, people need to identify those factors that integrate society and differentiate those which divide. The hunger for votes is always looking for shortcuts at the cost of long-term loss.

 

The Sufi looks beyond the horizon into timelessness and infinity. He looks at the impossible becoming possible with love. As a knower of the Hidden he sees the friend and the stranger as one. He befriends the flower and the thorn and for him all seasons are the seasons of love. Love, that conquers all.

 

Jo hain aashna sirr e asrar ke

 

Vo hain yaar sab yaar aghyar ke

 

To those aware of the Secrets of the Divine

 

None is alien — a stranger or a friend   

 

Bahar o khizaan ham pe hain ek saan

 

Kabhi yaar e gul hain kabhi khaar ke

 

Autumn and spring are all alike

 

At times the thorn, at times the rose we befriend

 

Kahan se kahaan le ke pahuncha ye dil

 

Mallayak jahan se rahe haar ke

 

To unimaginable heights the heart ascends

 

Into realms the angels fear to tread...

 

— Hazrat Shah Niaz  

 

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director and

 

Secretary of the Rumi  Foundation. He can

 

be contacted at www.rumifoundation.in

Muzaffar Ali

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SRK FLOORS BENGAL, BJP CHIEF FAINTS

>>  Kochi Gujju

Bhai Bhai

Satyajit Gaekwad, spokesman for Rendezvous Sports World Private Ltd, the Kochi consortium, has been screaming that the Kochi team was being discriminated against because Lalit Modi, a Gujarati, wanted the league team deal to go to Ahmedabad, to Gujarat-based industrialist Gautam Adani. But no one is taking Mr Gaekwad's allegations seriously because the Kochi Indian Premier League team's Gujarat connection runs deep.


For starters, Mr Gaekwad's himself is from Gujarat — a two-time Congress MP from Baroda. Then there are the team's other Gujarati investors, Bhavnagar-based ship breaker Mukesh Patel, and Mumbai-based businessmen Mehul Shah and Harshad Mehta.


Now comes the real twist to this tale. Kochi's only Keralite investor Vivek Venugopal's uncle is Gujarat's most powerful bureaucrat K. Kailasnathan, principal secretary to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. (Mr Venugopal is the son of Mr Kailasnathan's brother-in-law.) Too much of a Gujju connection here for the discrimination charge to hold!

 


 THANDA, THANDA, COOL, COOL

The lesser mortals of Uttar Pradesh may be reeling under scorching heat wave with barely a drop to drink, but the Gods are all thanda, thanda, cool, cool.

 

The famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi recently acquired an airconditioner that works round-the-clock to keep the deity cool. A special fountain has also been installed to continuously sprinkle water on the Shivling. The Bankey Bihari Temple in Mathura has set up huge water coolers in the temple complex. And the Tridev Temple, which houses idols of Hanuman, Sati Devi and Khatu Shyamji Maharaj, has 22 airconditioners to beat the heat.

 

In some other temples in the state, priests are keeping the deities cool the natural way — by applying sandal paste.


If the Gods are cool, can the ruling deity of Uttar Pradesh be far behind? Mayawati has got every room at her residence-cum-office fitted with two or more ACs — just in case one conks. Her residential complex has been connected to three power feeders — what if, one trips. The roads are washed thoroughly to settle the dust before

he moves out. Water scarcity, says who?


 KHAN'S CHARM

When it comes to charming people, Shah Rukh Khan has few equals. The recent one to fall prey to his charms is none other than West Bengal fire and emergency services minister Pratim Chatterjee. The minister was up in arms against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and IPL for constructing a "super-hospitality box" at Eden Gardens, flouting fire safety norms.


The box was for King Khan, his family and friends, and the lucky few who could shell out Rs 32,000 for a ticket to rub shoulders with Bollywood glitterati. Mr Chatterjee filed an FIR against KKR and even threatened to resign if political pressure was put on him to issue clearance for the stand. But then Shah Rukh picked up the phone and offered to act with the minister, who plays minor roles in Bengali movies. Mr Chatterjee's steely resolve melted in seconds. And the super-hospitality box (with minor repairs and modifications) was given the necessary clearance. Refusing an opportunity to share screen space with Badshah Khan is, perhaps, too much to ask for!


 IN THY NAME

The Congress high command in Delhi may harp on secularism, but its Mizoram chief minister Pu Lal Thanhawla does not hesitate to use religion to appeal to the sentiments of tribals in the state.
Addressing a congregation of the United Pentecostal Church of Northeast India recently, Mr Thanhawla assured the tribals not to fear for their future and existence. "As Mizos are God's chosen tribe, we will not be assimilated", he said. The chief minister then added that he has faith and believes that "as long as people put their faith in God, Mizos will not be assimilated". It's a good thing that Mizoram is Christian majority. 


 FAINTING PARTY

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Nitin Gadkari's fainting spell at the recent anti-price rise rally in Delhi has given others a chance to laugh at his expense. Some said he fainted after seeing the "unexpected" gathering of party workers. Others joked that he fainted because he was expecting 10 lakh people at the rally, but barely two lakh turned up. Incidentally, Mr Gadkari had himself overseen the preparations as this was his first major rally in the national capital after taking over the reins of the BJP. Poor thing! He did manage to instil panic, but not in the party he was aiming for.

 

 NO POLITICS FOR ANTONY

Defence minister and senior Congress leader A.K. Antony was in no mood to talk about politics while interacting with reporters outside the ministry of defence (MoD) recently. When one reporter asked for his comments on the Shashi Tharoor episode, since Mr Tharoor is also an MP from Kerala, the minister said that defence and politics are two completely different issues and that he has never spoken about any political issue in the MoD or while speaking as defence minister. "Right now I am speaking as defence minister", Mr Antony said.


The statement disappointed the large group of TV channel crew that had gathered in the hope that Mr Antony would speak on the controversy involving Mr Tharoor.

 

 PIED PIPER

Well-known Goan singer and activist Remo Fernandes has publicly proclaimed that the only way to save Goa is by drowning all politicians. Fernandes, who has been fighting to save the natural beauty of Goa from illegal mining and haphazard constructions for many years, recently said nothing could be done to rectify the "irreparable damage" to Goa. "The only thing that can make a difference is to put all politicians in a ship and sink it in the Arabian Sea", he said, and then added after a pause, "Actually this will pollute the sea, but there is no other alternative". An interesting thought, did you say?

Reporters' Diary


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IPL AT CRICKET'S COST

 

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Indian Premier League (IPL), with its unprecedented high profile at the time of its creation, the extraordinary publicity around the spectacle of our nationally iconic cricketers being "sold" and "bought" by equally iconic filmstars and corporate heads, should also stir up the most hysterical and feverish speculation when controversy reared its ugly head. I still remember the visuals of the first auction which in itself was a telecaster's dream. Many watched the spectacle with shock and awe some watched it in shock, some in amusement and many with a faint sense of dismay that the game of cricket had come to this.
When the matches actually took place the glamour of the spectacle, the glitzy inaugural, the unusual sight of scantily-clad cheerleaders strutting out onto hitherto more conservative Indian fields, the high octane after-match parties created a kind of intoxication among the high-flying attendees, while the "hoi polloi" watched in bemusement.


The IPL grew larger than its own image. I remember feeling anger and resentment when the Opposition parties and the IPL itself questioned the home minister's word of caution regarding the deployment of security for the IPL matches in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.


Surely after a national tragedy of those proportions, the issue of national security, the deployment of security and the paramount importance of ensuring that India's image was not marred by a single untoward incident of breach of security was more important than holding the IPL matches as scheduled. The protagonists of the IPL and the leading Opposition parties did not agree. They argued that it would be a failure of the Indian state if we did not successfully conduct the IPL. In vain, some did argue that the IPL was essentially a private tournament organised by private interests, and howsoever high profile or successful was neither an extension of the Indian state nor would it be a reflection upon our capacity if we felt it was more important, in the aftermath of 26/11, to focus our energy upon more fundamental issues.


I only draw attention to this to remind ourselves of how the IPL bubble was fed and nourished by undue hype and importance. Merely because it represented and represents big money and many opinion-makers, including leading political parties, began to elevate it to the level of the Commonwealth Games or even the Olympics. There is no doubt that for three years the IPL has proved to be a magnetic and successful business model. There is also little doubt that it has fired popular imagination in India, particularly of cricket lovers, and has changed the way cricket is played in India. There are still some fuddy duddies, in which group I include myself, who think wistfully of the days when cricket used to be played for India and Ranji matches for the states.
Our cricket heroes were Indian heroes and icons. Now, however, we are told that the heroes are Chennai Super Kings or Kolkata Knight Riders or Mumbai Indians or Rajasthan Royals, and even more confusing for the uninitiated like me, are the fact that Sri Lankan player Kumar Sangakkara could be in Kings XI Punjab or Albee could be playing for Chennai as is Dhoni! It is very very complicated for people like me, whose allegiances have been hitherto very simplistic and straightforward, namely the India team or the Tamil Nadu team, and I certainly feel nostalgia for the good old simplistic days. There is also a niggling sense of doubt, whether all these players who are bound to be exhausted from playing against Royals or Knight Riders or whatever, and after putting in either willing or command performances at the late-night parties and events will have the energy and the spirit left to play for the country. This is not to question their intentions in any way but only to suggest that it might prove too exhausting for them to try and do everything. Is it possible that team India may suffer due to their external commitments?


However, this is merely the rambling of a lay person and I am authoritatively told that IPL is a huge success. That Lalit Modi is a genius. That he has brought the big bucks to cricket. And vice versa. Never before have I seen admiration of money-making skills more evident than when that almost worshipful tone with which people talk about how Mr Modi has made a success of the IPL in three short years. I can't help wondering if this worship is reserved only for success with money-making or whether people will feel the same respect if someone finds a cure for cancer or puts a satellite in orbit or writes the best book ever or composes heavenly music. Somehow, I doubt if any of the above can compete with the IPL with its heady mix of money, glamour, films, entertainment and cricket, in that order. And I am saddened but not surprised.


It's a very strange paradox that we in India who venerate sacrifice and renunciation also worship at the altar of money and success. The entire country was mesmerised by the call of Mahatma Gandhi, but in much more recent times, so many admired Harshad Mehta who was something of a middle-class hero for his successful manipulation of the market and now Mr Modi. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Mr Modi has committed wrongdoing, violated laws or done anything that was illegal and until the true facts come out, he cannot be castigated. It is self-evident that Mr Modi has galvanised the game of cricket in our country, and created what his admirers call a "world-class" product.


However, despite the commercial success of the IPL the scandal surrounding it has now become larger than life. It is very important for our democracy that the full truth around all the opaque allegations is exposed and total transparency established. Those who have broken the law should be brought to book and the game of cricket should be regulated and placed above suspicion. It is important for us to conclusively establish that rule of law and integrity are paramount in our democracy, and that our basic values will never be compromised due to the expediency of successful business in whatever combination of entertainment, games or spectacular financial achievement.

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

Jayanthi Natarajan

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

PRIVACY & THE STATE

 

The question of privileging individual privacy over state security is a tricky one. There is a tendency to be ambivalent on the issue because security concerns often seem to override all others.

 

The current controversy over the tapping of political leaders' telephone lines — Sharad Pawar and Nitish Kumar being two of the prominent names being mentioned — shows how easily privacy can be breached and technology misused. The point is simple: while politicians can take care of themselves, how does the ordinary individual protect his privacy when the state (or its agents) will not respect it?

 

The allegation is that technology which was intended to deal with the terror threat was diverted to pry into the conversations of some selected politicians. This is possibly a violation of norms set down in 2007 and seems to suggest that very senior government officials had permitted the phone taps. The laws were made more stringent in 2007 when Amar Singh, then with the Samajwadi Party, alleged that his phone was being tapped by the government.

 

There is, though, another issue. Given our less than perfect system of checks and balances, there is no guarantee that officials who are not authorised to receive tapped information may be getting it by an overt abuse of power. Information illegally procured can be used to harass and threaten people and this sort of prying goes against the very grain of civilised behaviour. Instances of such abuse are not hard to come by.

 

Spy technology that can be used to listen in on conversations by political rivals can as easily be employed to tap into your neighbour's privacy. The right to interfere in a private citizen's life is tenable only to the extent there is a perceived threat to security. It would be naïve to imagine these privileges are never abused but when the abuse is made public, the crackdown must be immediate. Parliament has rightly been exercised about this issue and in other nations governments have fallen because of phone tapping.

 

Phone tapping may be a necessary evil given the threat from terrorists. But it is even more evident that stringent laws need proper checks to ensure that they are not misused for narrow political and personal ends. Freedom is not a commodity to be traded by politicians or powerful people. We need a public watchdog that can fight for the private individual's right to privacy.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MULTI-SPEED SAARC SUMMIT

 

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao indicated on Friday that there is as yet no bilateral meeting planned between prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani, at the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting to be held in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu on April 28 and 29. Nor is there a similar move for meetings between the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of the two countries on the sidelines of the summit.

 

This is good news. Meetings between the big two of Saarc have a tendency to overshadow the main agenda of summits, especially when these meetings receive hyped up media coverage. Given the parlous state of India-Pakistan relations at this stage, it is better if the conference were to focus on what to do about regional trade, which could do with some serious boosting.

 

The Thimphu summit marks the 25th year of Saarc's existence and the focus should be on how to make this south Asian grouping more effective and vibrant than it has been in the past.

 

The problem with Saarc is that India is the overwhelming economic power in the region, and thus does not really need the others. The only rationale is geography. It would be more comfortable doing bilateral deals — even if they favour the smaller neighbours — since there is then less possibility of political friction.

 

Due to the India-Pakistan rivalry, the other members have been forced to remain in the shadows, unable to push forward the legitimate and crucial issues that could bind and strengthen relations between countries in the region. To change things around, it will be necessary for Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to play a more assertive role and take the discussions forward.

 

It is, of course, futile to expect that economic issues can be separated from politics at Saarc. Unlike the Asean nations, who have few political problems with one another, India's size ensures that every one of its neighbours has a chip on its shoulder about it.

 

Thus even though ties with Bangladesh have improved after the election of Sheikh Hasina, there is a reticence in opening up the country to more Indian companies. Nepal is allowing itself to be wooed by China at a time when India-China ties are less than cordial.

 

Perhaps the best way to proceed with Saarc is to allow bilaterals to drive it. A multi-speed Saarc with India doings faster deals with the more willing countries may be the best way ahead.

 

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DNA

LEARNING FROM MAOISTS

RB SREEKUMAR

 

The official rhetoric on the security forces' anti-Maoist operations is not of much use. The shortcomings were exposed dramatically by the Dantewada killings in Chhattisgarh. Abysmal intelligence failure at the macro and micro levels left the Centre and state administrations in a quagmire of confusion about the strategy, tactics and ground methodology of Maoists, resulting in politicisation of the problem and endless blame games. At the ground level, security personnel have had to bear the brunt of the dangers.

 

Ancient wisdom on war strategy by Sun-Tzu (in his book, The Art of War) and our own Chanakyaniti would have told us that "to win a war (one should) learn from one's enemy". Do our intelligence and security functionaries have a proper perception of the ground situation about the inception, growth and sustenance of Maoists in an area and the process of establishment of a parallel Maoist government? The gestation period and stages of Maoist-Naxalite domination in a location needs to be studied before launching matching police operations.

 

The Maoists do a lot of home work and proceed meticulously before selecting a territory for their activity and deputing their grassroot-level pioneers. The naxalisation of an area has various stages, beginning from the survey stage, when the identification of contradictions in the form of the exploiter (class enemy) and the exploited is done.

 

In the second stage of indoctrination, covert fraternisation is practiced with the most down-trodden and agonised victims of violence and injustice by the wealthy and powerful in society and government. In the third stage of grievance redressal, action to bring relief and solace to 'the wretched of the earth' is done through the activation of administration and mobilisation of the aggrieved through Maoist over-ground front organisations.

 

In the fourth stage of enrolment, the training of a militia of indoctrinated and committed activists of underground armed bands is achieved. In the fifth stage, efforts are made to enforce 'people's justice'. In this stage, landlords, government functionaries, anti-Maoist leaders and so on are punished and/or intimidated through physical violence and extortion. Police informers and those who resist the Maoists are usually killed or maimed.

 

At this stage, many "class collaborators" from the affluent sections escape punishments by paying regular 'protection money'. The contractors and agencies engaged in industrial, productive and economic activities pay ransoms to the Maoists, who, in turn, utilise the funds to procure fire arms and explosives, apart from maintaining their infrastructure.

 

In the sixth stage of Maoist domination, called class war, armed squads (Dalams) are used by the Maoists to pulverise and neutralise governmental presence in the area. Once the suzerainty of the Maoists becomes unchallengeable it will be called a "Liberated Zone". This stage will, in the long run, usher in the establishment of a 'people's revolutionary government'.

 

As admitted by the government, over 50 districts in six states are under the total supremacy of Maoists, where any effort to exorcise the evil would result in full-scale conflict. Perhaps the CRPF personnel who lost their lives in Dantewada did not gauge the armed hardware of the insurgents in this liberated zone properly. Hence, the huge casualities.

 

The government should decide on a multi-dimensional strategy through multi-agency involvement for ensuring a purposeful response system that is suited to the socio-economic terrain of the area and the degree of Maoist subversion of the system.

 

Merely calling the Maoists to join the mainstream of party politics, whose perversions and corruption created the political and administrative vacuum in the first place, is of no use. The government should be people-oriented rather than Maoist-centric in its counter strategy. By implementing existing welfare schemes, devoid of corruption, it can impede the flow of people to the Maoist camp.

 

The policy of treating the Maoist insurgency as a law and order problem emanates from ignorance about the dimensions of the Maoist support base among the people and the chemistry between them. Plans to confront the Maoists head-on can only lead to more innocent civilian casualties. The Salwa Judum experiment was counter-productive and the Maoists have succeeded in projecting the security forces engaged in Operation Green Hunt as an invading force.

 

The government should opt for a strategy that first involves obtaining information from micro level functionaries, NGOs and social workers before it gets into action mode. This will enable it to customise its counter-strategy based on ground-level realities. In place of conceptual skills, the authorities should invoke their human and situational skills to achieve success in war against the Maoists.

 

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DNA

A BHARAT RATNA FOR LALIT MODI

ABHAY VAIDYA

 

Since everything that smells of money in India is fixed and even national honours have lost their sanctity, nothing less than a Bharat Ratna would be in order for recently humbled IPL czar Lalit Modi. When you think of it, Modi has done the nation extraordinary service by bringing out the muck in the game of politics and money.

 

There will, of course, be more IPLgates in future even as a lot remains to be discovered today. But what Modi has unwittingly done is to force us as a nation to think hard on how to break the nexus between politicians and sports. If you go to the root of the matter, we will be forced to think further about reforming the political system.

 

The roots of corruption lie in the prevailing system where you cannot win a simple municipal election without a few crores in your pocket. The need for money rises in the assembly and Parliamentary elections and then you need hundreds of crores of rupees to be able to form the government.

 

Therefore, if you are a "national level" politician —like the one who eagerly wanted to becomeprime minister before the last election —you better have insatiable greed and be skilled at accumulating wealth in proportions that one can only imagine.


Lalit Modi deserves nothing less than a Bharat Ratna because the fallout of his tweet could actually professionalise and depoliticise sports administration in thecountry and also make us think on larger issues.

 

Wherever there's money to be made in India — starting from the lowest road contract to securing admission to professional colleges; cornering lucrative pieces of land or bagging mega contracts, think of politicians and you get the complete picture.


If the local corporator begins small with cuts in civic works, the bigger politicians play with bigger opportunities at the district, state and the national level. Thus, it is not surprising in the least that the fastest money spinner of all times — the IPL—with its heady mix of cricket, glamour and business, should have the biggest and the best of the players in the business.

 

Since India and her assets are simply there for the politician to lay his hands on and appropriate at will, it is literally child's play for aviation minister Praful Patel's 24-year-old daughter to turn an Air India passenger flight into a chartered one for the IPL. Or, obtain information about team valuations, pass it on to her father who in turn passes it on to fellow minister Shashi Tharoor, who's in the thick of the bidding for the Kochi IPL team.

 

The concept of "conflict of interest" which is fundamental to public life is non-existent in Indian politics, which is dominated by today's version of kings and princes of India. The country and her riches are their spoils waiting to be picked and enjoyed.

 

While the nation was innocently enjoying the game of cricket, it is the politicians and their cartels who were actually enjoying the bigger game of laundering money at rates that would leave full-time crooks gawking.

 

Transparency and probity in public life, which ought to be the bedrock of a sound democracy, have been reduced to laughable matters in India. Contemporary wisdom suggests that examples of the spartan and principled lives in the pre- and early post-independent India sound good in speeches but have no place in public life today.

 

The bottom line is that money is the basic fuel that drives politics in India. Unless we fix the system through electoral reforms and enable honest people to win elections and look at the scoundrels in the eye, there is little hope for India.

 

Till then, the saga of the Pawars, Patels and Modis will continue, one IPLgate after another, in one form or the other.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COMMAND PERFORMANCE

CHARTERED FLIGHT CAN'T BE AT THE COST OF REGULAR ONE

 

There is nothing wrong with Air India or any other airline flying chartered flights but Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules are very specific that airlines are entitled to provide chartered service only if a particular aircraft is not being used for a scheduled service. That, apparently, was not the case when Air India operated a chartered flight to carry IPL players from Chandigarh to Chennai on April 20. This was apparently done by aborting the Delhi-Coimbatore flight less than 12 hours before departure.

 

 Air India has denied it but suspicions remain that this was done at the bidding of Poorna Patel, daughter of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. If so, it is highly irregular and unacceptable, considering that this would have put the passengers on the regular flight to great inconvenience. More than that, it is also a matter of following set procedures, which must not be broken just to oblige the minister's daughter working for the IPL.

 

As it normally happens in such cases, officials have tried to justify this highly irregular incident. But their argument that passengers on the Delhi-Coimbatore flight were not inconvenienced because they were informed in advance of the revised operation just does not wash. Rather, it sets a very dangerous precedent. A full inquiry is required to find out if there have been similar incidents in the past.

 

At least one other lapse has already come to light, which shows that the government has been bending over backwards to accommodate the IPL, which is otherwise in bad odour these days. Reports suggest that on April 12, Air India's Delhi-Mumbai flight IC-887 made an unscheduled stop at Jaipur to pick up Mumbai Indians, as the team was to play in Mumbai the next day. As a result, the flight reached Mumbai much behind its scheduled arrival time. Not only that, passengers were informed about the unscheduled stop only after they had boarded the aircraft in Delhi. The Opposition cannot be faulted for saying that Air India flights are being commandeered like DTC buses at the behest of VIPs. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PAYING MORE FOR POWER

BUT PUNJAB GOVT MUST ENSURE SUPPLY

 

Summer is the most inopportune time to hike the power tariff in Punjab when the general temperature is high over frequent, unscheduled and prolonged power cuts. The timing is bad for another reason. The Punjab government had raised the hope that the unbundling of the Punjab State Electricity Board would improve power supply since the two companies, starting with a clean balance sheet and revalued assets, would be able to raise fresh loans and buy more power. The hard reality is that power reforms on paper will not bring about any material change.

 

No doubt, the electricity charges need to be raised in keeping with the rising costs, especially to offset the recent staff salary hike, and to ensure that the two state-owned power companies remain afloat. But the cost of poor management, systemic inefficiencies, transmission losses and power theft should not be passed on to the consumer. Every time the state power authorities make a tariff hike proposal, the regulatory commission points to inflated costs and fudging of accounts. Transmission and distribution losses, in part, are passed on as the free supply to farmers. The regulator should impose stiff penalties for such doctored figures and ensure fiscal discipline.

 

The power tariff hike often generates a political controversy in the state. The BJP tries to protect the industry and urban consumers and force the coalition government to absorb the burden of increased tariff since the Akali Dal vote bank, comprising farmers, gets free supply. Such competitive populism will have to stop, given the near empty treasury. The free supply of power to farmers and delayed payments by the government had bankrupted the board. Now that farmers' power bills are to be reimbursed, the situation has not changed much. If free power is not stopped, power pilferage and transmission losses are not curtailed, and political interference continues as before, the two power companies too would head for bankruptcy — like the now defunct board.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FALL FROM GRACE

ANOTHER SCANDAL TAINTS A GODMAN

 

The arrest of 32-year-old Swami Nityananda in Solan and his subsequent custodial questioning has turned the spotlight on self-styled godmen and their activities. The Swami had taken off from his ashram near Bangalore after a video showing him in bed with two women was telecast on March 3. There was widespread resentment, even protests against him in Bangalore.

 

More and more shady dimensions to the swami's life are surfacing now. While it is for the law to judge the validity of these allegations, there is no doubt that Swami Nityananda, who is now cooling his heels in police custody, has much explaining to do to the police, his followers and the public at large.

 

India has an extraordinarily rich spiritual tradition and religious leaders have large followings. Genuine spiritual teachers, however, are at times eclipsed by self-styled godmen whose misdeeds come to light, showing a worldly pursuit of sex, money, power etc, rather than spiritual renunciation. Experts, however, debate about why so many people are attracted to them—a basic need to enrich life spiritually, eclipse of scientific temper, psychological need of dependence, wanting to have someone to look up to, etc.

 

Spiritual leaders are expected to be paragons of moral values. They are taken as exemplars by their followers who look up to them in every respect. Betrayal of trust shatters lives. When such godmen commit indiscretions or crimes, they let down not only those who have devoted their lives to them, but in fact all that they profess to uphold. Now that Swami Nityananda has been arrested, he will have to face the law of the land, which must take its full course, and the cases against him must be taken to their logical conclusion. If past is any indication, attempts will be made to scuttle the process of the law, but this should not be allowed. Those who break the law must face its consequences. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AFSPA DOESN'T NEED CHANGE

HARSH LAW HELPS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST INSURGENTS

BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH ( RETD )

 

Human rights activists and some political parties, both in J and K and the North-East, have been demanding

scrapping of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Under pressure from these groups, the government is considering removing or amending some of the provisions in the Act which are considered offensive. It is also being projected that of the 160-odd cases taken up for the prosecution of military personnel involved in human rights violations. The Government of India has not given sanction even in one case.

 

As a result of prolonged agitation in Manipur, the government appointed Justice Reddy Commission to examine the need for abrogating the AFSPA. The commission did recommend that the Act should be scrapped and in its place some provisions such as immunity to security personnel against arrest be incorporated in the Unlawful Activities Act. While these recommendation(s) were not accepted, the need for making the Act humane appeared acceptable. The Prime Minister announced this while speaking at a function at the Kalinga Fort in Imphal.

 

The AFSPA, was promulgated to combat Naga insurgency in the North-East more than half a century ago. Later, when insurgency surfaced in J and K, its application was extended to that state too. Causes of insurgency in the North-East lay in complex and intractable politico-socio-economic areas, which led to the feeling of alienation among the people of the region. The underlying causes for the insurgency in J and K are altogether of a different genre. When appropriate measures are not taken in time in a comprehensive and vigorous manner, disenchantment and disaffection can spread among most sections of society. Where terrain favours insurgency and outside help is at hand, the problem can take a virulent form, making the task of the security forces all the more difficult.

 

It is not to argue that there have been no human rights violations by security forces, but invariably the issues have been sensationalised out of proportion by the media, more so by TV channels. Intense competition among them adds urgency to such news. Added to this is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the very nature of the fight against a brutal insurgency. The vicious nature of counter-insurgency operations carried out by the Indian Army is best judged by the fact that it has lost over 560 officers and more than 8500 troops in these operations.

 

Two incidents, one from the North-East and another from J and K which received vide publicity, would make the issue of false propaganda apparent. It may be recalled that a few years ago the incident of death of Manorma coincided with the extension of the AFSPA in Manipur. Secessionist elements linking the two incidents levelled all manner of allegations against the military (Assam Rifles). Manorma was a PLA member involved in terrorist acts of laying IEDs (improvised explosive devices) spread over a period of two years, leading to the death of six civilians and two military personnel. At the time of her arrest, a transmitter and grenade were recovered from her. While two independent autopsies ruled out rape and torture, the charge of rape against the security personnel was persistently being made out in the media. The nature of her bullet injuries confirmed the escape story.

 

The second, an equally sensational case, relates to the death of two women at Shopian in J and K, which kicked up great uproar in the valley and saw political skullduggery of the worst kind. The charge of murder and rape was pinned on the security forces. Local doctors, who performed the initial autopsies, confirmed rape and murder. Yet when these bodies were exhumed and an independent group of doctors performed the second set of autopsies, murder and rape were ruled out and death was attributed to drowning. In J and K the causes of alleged disaffection are entirely political. It suits the political class and fundamentalist to sustain the climate of uncertainty, and some in Delhi too have vested interests in continuing with this state of affairs.

 

In an insurgency environment, miscreants and their sympathisers are always out to discredit the security forces and that way they give further boost to the alienation of the people by portraying security forces as oppressive and anti-people. Where the exchange of fire between the security forces and insurgents take place in populated areas, civilians do sometimes get in the line of fire. In such situations often the insurgents inflict casualties on innocents caught in the crossfire in the sure belief that the blame for such casualties will invariably be pinned on the security forces.

 

The military, when called upon to combat insurgency, does not have even police powers. Without the AFSPA the military would be rendered toothless. It would find itself dragged into unending litigation on often trumped-up charges. Since action against insurgents is carried out at the section/platoon and even company level, an alleged fake encounter or human rights violation, the case in a civil court will tie all of them up for years in legal battle: some as accused and others as witnesses. Faced with such a prospect, too much caution and prevarication will come into play and success will invariably elude the military.

 

In a counter-insurgency setting the environment is akin to a war zone, yet in the midst of own people where either one kills first or gets killed. When death lurks around every corner and is only one false step away and such a state prevails for long periods, it can turn men into monsters. It is only the iron discipline and effective leadership, which is up-front and shares the same set of dangers as the men, that retraint is exercised and excesses don't take place.

 

Counter-insurgency operations are a messy affair and under certain circumstances, collateral damage is

inevitable. Sometimes this can be due to the error of judgment and at other times because of the need for immediate elimination of insurgents. In an insurgency environment, the line between an insurgent and a peaceful citizen can be hazy, especially where intelligence is poor or faulty, which is often the case. An insurgent can just drop a weapon in a bush and pose as a peaceful citizen. Troops often face such dilemmas.

 

It would be incorrect to contend that troops never indulge in human rights violations. Though Indian troops are God-fearing, religious and refrain from inhuman acts, there have been a few cases of killings, torture and custodial deaths, both in the North-East and J and K. The military authorities do not accept the violation of human rights by their officers and troops even against insurgents. Every case of alleged violation of human rights is fully investigated through the military's own internal mechanism. During the last 15 years, 1400 cases of violation of human rights were reported against the Army. From detailed investigations of these, it transpired that only 54 had some substance. This resulted in a large number of court-marshals where the punishment ranged from life imprisonment to termination of services. As many as 37 officers were punished.

Abrogating the AFSPA or removing some of its key provisions in an attempt to make it "humane" could place the security forces at a great disadvantage in their fight against a vicious insurgency. Any watering down of the Act will result in de-motivating the troops whose lawful actions may expose them to decades of litigation in civil courts. Violent nature of counter-insurgency operations, the Army's own casualties and its action against those found violating human rights should give some comfort to the votaries of human rights. Human Rights activists target only the military. The nation should be aware of the sacrifices made by our troops daily to combat this scourge. Altering the basic structure of the AFSPA in an effort to make it "humane" will place the troops in a most unenviable position and will be a de-motivating factor in the fight against insurgency.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

ASKING FOR IT

BY RAJ CHATTERJEE

 

I DON'T envy the job of the poor fellow in a newspaper office who has to deal with the daily deluge of "letters to the editor" from sundry individuals who get a kick out of seeing their names in print. I exclude from this category the highminded persons who prefer to clothe themselves in the anonymity of a name like "pro bono publico" or "a sufferer".

 

Many of these letters concern some justifiable annoyance like having your telephone disconnected even though you have paid your bill a week in advance of the due date or the corporation turning a deaf ear to complaints from tax-paying citizens to the growing menace from stray dogs, who seem to multiply with utmost rapidity.

 

Occasionally, a letter triggers off a lively controversy. Unfortunately, just when the antagonists get really warmed up, the editor steps in with a curt note saying "this correspondence is now closed".

 

For 33 years I lived on the edge of the Delhi University campus. During this time I took what may be called a "voyeur's" interest in the practice of eveteasing which is very often the subject of these letters.

 

Briefly, the issue that divides the writers is whether the ill-mannered young men who indulge in this undesirable activity deserve to be whipped or the girls who are pestered deserve all they get.

 

A novel theory advanced by a gentleman of the whipping school of thought is that these erring boys are not from our public schools — Doon or Mayo. I wonder how he came to that conclusion. In my experience a Doon school boy can be just as "frisky", given the provocation, as one receiving his education at a government school.

 

Another writer expressed the view that it is only in the virile and turbulent north that an unchaperoned girl is likely to be insulted when she steps out of her house. I an from the north myself and I don't know whether to be pleased or peeved at that observation!

 

The interesting thing about this controversy is that it isn't only men who take part in it. I have read letters from women saying that if our girls choose to walk about the campus or board crowded buses wearing mini-cholies or tight-fitting jeans they are asking for trouble.

 

Reading these letters I am reminded of my own college days some 75 years ago. My college, like our rival across the road, admitted about a dozen or so girls as a special favour. Their faces were innocent of make-up. They wore plain cotton saris and blouses with long sleeves. They moved about in twos and threes, keeping very much to themselves. In all my five years, not a single case of misbehaviour was reported to the principal. The provocation wasn't there.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CRICKET UNITES, IPL DIVIDES

THE 'FAST-FOOD' FORMAT HARMS TEAM UNITY

BY GAUTAM WAHI

 

The Modi — Tharoor imbroglio has brought under the scanner the issue of big ticket financial misdeeds both on and off the cricket field. The focus has been on the murky financial wheeling and dealing and allegations of favouritism fly thick and fast. That the IPL has become one big sticky gravy train does not come as a surprise.

 

There have been demands voiced from across the political spectrum about banning the elite league with accusations of match fixing, favouritism and much worse.

 

However, there is a more fundamental question which has so far eluded public debate. Cricket has been a great

unifying force, throwing up common identifiable idols and idioms across the length and breadth of the nation. In that sense, this legacy of the British has probably contributed more to national integration than any other thing.

 

It speaks of the virtue of the game that it is followed all across the country with equal passion and it is said, for instance, that if "cricket is religion, then Sachin is God". That the Little Master is a Maharashtrian Hindu is of no consequence to millions of his followers who hold him in adulation irrespective of caste, religion or region.

 

Given this as a backdrop, the creation of teams on the basis of regional identities is actually doing a great disservice to the idea of India.

 

It should be remembered that historically cricket has acted as a medium to rally the nation in the face of adversity. In a country ravaged by Punjab militancy in the early 80s, it was the victory in the Prudential World Cup contributed by players from a cross section of the country that acted as a soothing balm on the besieged nation.

 

The diversion of this painstakingly developed national passion into sub- national and parochial clubs would rob the country of this potent symbol of national unity. This format of cricket may create dissensions amidst various regions within the nation as can be seen by the hysteria that the matches create in the various cities that they are played in.

 

The pentangular cricket series that used to be held in the then Bombay before Independence give a great illustration on how the sport ended up becoming a rallying point for sub-national and parochial identities.

 

The pentangular series was played between teams that were based on the religio-ethnic basis. The victories of a team against the other were often deemed as that of a community against the other. The series contributed to the polarisation of the city in the pre-independence years and added to the propaganda of the Muslim League, which had been strident with its demand for a separate nation for the Muslims. It would not be too surprising if the current IPL too does the same to the country.

 

Even on a practical plane the league is hurting the chances of the Indian National Cricket Team in international

tournaments. The result in the World Cup T20, which was held after two seasons of the IPL, was the most dispappointing with India losing all league matches in the Super 8 stage. This flies in the face of all the votaries of the league who dub this a great talent hunt. There is nothing yet to prove its benefits to the larger cause of the game itself.

 

In fact, the purist of the game have questioned the vary rationale of the shorter "fast-food" format of the game. The extremely taxing schedule of the heavy domestic travel entailed in matches being played across the country, not to talk of after hours partying fatigues, has added to the string of injuries to the key players, which have further impaired the chances for the country to win the coveted cup.

 

It can be easily be imagined what impact the format of the game would have on the team unity and morale when

the players of the same national team often see themselves pitted against each other. There are no prizes for guessing that with the huge amount of money being on stake, the pride and quest for wearing the National Blue would be thrown in the background.

 

If at all, the IPL has added another element to the hysterical entertainment of the mall-stupored middle class which throws up larger socio-economic questions and adds to the widening class divide.

 

The crisis should be looked at as an opportunity to clean up the game by all the stakeholders and also the larger question of whether the format should at all be continued, so that the game continues to inspire generations to come and play foremost for the nation rather than a club or a regional entity.

 

The writer is an Assistant Commissioner of Customs in Mumbai. The views expressed are personal 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WHAT MAKES A DISTRICT BACKWARD?

BY RAJESHWARI

 

While planning, we need to be sensitive to area-specific problems. Since policies aim at balanced regional development, the criteria for financial aid to break structural backwardness needs to be chosen carefully. State governments should be more serious in identifying problem districts.

 

The Planning Commission in 2003 adopted three parameters for the identification of backward districts: (i) output per agricultural worker (ii) agriculture wage rate and (iii) percentage of SC/ST population. The districts with low wages, low productivity and a high SC/ST population have been ranked as backward.

 

On the basis of the PC criteria, the districts of Ambala, Panchkula, Yamunanagar are ranked as least developed, while Hisar, Fatehabad and Jind come out as the most advanced. Sirsa ranks in the middle. Let us examine these parameters. Sirsa has the highest proportion of the SC population.(26 per cent). There is no empirical documentation of the practice of untouchability in this district. Socially and economically, this region is very dynamic and has witnessed social movements against untouchability. Hence it is misleading to attach too much importance to the percentage of SC population as an indicator of backwardness.

 

The alternative indicators of social development are female literacy or gender gap in literacy, rural-urban gap in infant mortality and maternal mortality, the percentage of villages lacking safe water supply, health care infrastructure etc. On the basis of these indicators Mewat, Gurgaon, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh, Faridabad and Rewari stand out as the least developed.

 

The second indicator is agricultural wages. The lesser the wages, the lower the development of the district. The agricultural wages are influenced by the availability of migrant labour rather than by agricultural development. The rice-wheat cropping pattern in the northern region provides higher employment opportunities and attracts migrant labour who work at lower wages than the local labour. On the other hand, the southern region of Haryana attracts very few migrant labour due to relatively backward agriculture. Farmers depend on local labour who work at higher wages.

 

The third indicator, output per agricultural worker (or say labour productivity) however, may be taken as a correct indicator of agricultural prosperity for all areas in the country. In Haryana, this indicator shows that Sirsa has the highest labour productivity closely followed by Kurukshetra, Karnal, Kaithal, Yamunanagar and Hisar. In the backward areas of Gurgaon, Mewat, Rewari, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh and Jhajjar labour productivity is low.

 

The alternative indicators of development are agricultural productivity per hectare of land, proportion of irrigated area to the net sown area, the cropping pattern, the use of bio-chemical fertilisers, mechanisation and technological inputs., which could capture the economic situation in a better way than agricultural wages.

 

Given the nature of diversity our country has, is it feasible to have one yardstick of development for the whole nation? We have districts which are affected by Naxalism. It is widely believed that in these areas people are forced to take up arms in order to meet their socio-economic needs.

 

The writer is an Associate Professor of Geography in Kurukshetra University

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI

CHATWAL'S CHARM GROWS

BY DEVI CHERIAN

Ever since the high-flying NRI from America, Sant Chatwal, got his Padma Vibhushan, he seems to have changed his lifestyle. Or has it got something to do with the austerity drive of the Congress and thanks to his deepening links with some Congress guys?

 

He was in town recently to attend a wedding. He decided to skip his usual five-star hotel accommodation and stayed instead with his friend, Rajya Sabha member and industrialist T.Subbarami Reddy. Delhi-ites were impressed by the high-profile parties held for him in and outside the capital. Chatwal was even felicitated by Union ministers. Chatwal, it seems, has strong contacts in the corridors of power.

 

Obviously, his having been blacklisted in America and declared bankrupt thrice doesn't affect his standing with Delhi's high-ups. With the Padma Vibhushan under his belt, he seems to be aiming for the Rajya Sabha next.

 

Down, not out

Amar Singh is keeping a low profile. His highly touted come-back rally was a bit of a flop show. Ever since he left the Samajwadi Party, he seems to be losing his friendship with Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani. Jaya Bachchan has chosen to still remain with the Samajwadi Party and in Parliament is seen to be on great terms with other Samajwadi leaders. Jaya Prada, on the other hand, left the party with Amar Singh and openly criticises SP leaders.

 

Ever since Amar Singh had his serious kidney surgery in Singapore the SP leadership has been out to get him. Amar Singh no longer hides his disappointment with the Bachchans for not standing up with him in this critical time. He, as usual, is blunt and speaks his mind whenever questioned on this subject.

 

KK Birla Lane

Naming roads in Central Delhi is quite infrequent as most have already been named and the rules do not allow renaming. But one of Delhi's most idyllic lanes recently got a new name, KK Birla Lane, in memory of the noted industrialist and newspaper baron. It thus acquired a touch of history.

 

At a simple roadside ceremony Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit arrived promptly on time to unveil a plaque of K.K.Birla Lane. Simplicity was the highlight of the event. Gopal Gandhi was called upon to be the main speaker at a small seminar held immediately after the ceremony. K.K.Birla's three daughters and their families got pictures taken by the roadside, providing a rare sight to office-goers.

 

Most guests avoided the blazing sun and headed straight to the India International Centre. The seminar focussed on the contribution of K.K.Birla beyond business and commerce. The large number of politicians, including R.K.Dhawan, Abhishek Singhvi, N.K.Singh and Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, was a testimony to Birla's stints in the Rajya Sabha, a role now taken over by daughter Shobhana Bhartiya.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

PAWAR GETS POWERPLAY WRONG

THE SHARAD PAWAR-LED NCP SEEMS TO HAVE UNDERESTIMATED THE EXTENT OF DAMAGE THE CONGRESS, WHICH WON 206 SEATS IN THE 2009 LOK SABHA ELECTION, CAN CAUSE

 

There was a time in 1991 when Sharad Pawar was the frontrunner to take over the Congress mantel after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Candidate Pawar came down to Delhi as the race for prime ministership reached a climax and when it was over, the Times of India splashed across its front page a cartoon that summed up the denouement perfectly. Portraying the various stages from Mr Pawar's initial posturing to his genuflection, it had the memorable R K Laxman tagline, "He came, he saw, and he concurred". Mr Pawar has always been a politician's politician, a master of the deal and the backroom but he has been known to miscalculate before, especially in matters outside of Maharashtra. With the IPL this time he has miscalculated again.
In the daily cacophony of the drama around the IPL, it is easy to forget that this is not the first time that cricket has become a lightning rod for powerplay between the Congress and the NCP. Back in 2006, when Jagmohan Dalmiya beat the Kolkata police commissioner in an election for the Cricket Association of Bengal, the Congress, convinced that Pawar was also actively trying to build an alternative coalition at the Centre, had seen the cricket election as an opportunity to snub him and make a political point. Behind the scenes, it backed Dalmiya against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Pawar's candidate and a senior cabinet minister even went to Kolkata to campaign against the police commissioner. Further back, in 2004, when Pawar famously lost the BCCI election to Ranbir Mahendra – the only election he has ever lost – the contest served as political shadow boxing with the BJP and the NCP on one side and Congress on the other. Not surprising, given how many cricket associations are controlled by politicians.


This time, the gloves seem to be off even though the Congress publicly insists that there is a "Chinese wall" between politics and cricket as far as relations with the NCP are concerned. Primarily, the NCP seems to have underestimated the change in political equations since the Congress won 206 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The NCP remains a vital component of alliance governments in Maharashtra, Goa and Meghalaya but a resurgent Congress is now far less willing to put up with shenanigans. The unleashing of the various agencies of the state on the IPL and the BCCI is a clear political signal and the noises on a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe mean that there is more to come.


 For over a year now, Mr Pawar's ministry has appeared to be in a state of drift as he has tried to project himself as a global cricket statesman. Yet, in a country dealing with a serious agrarian crisis, it is ironic that it took a spat over cricket to force this latest crisis between the two parties. Nothing unites India and political rhetoric like cricket – remember how all parties united to pass the law that mandated the broadcast of cricket on Doordarshan in the "national interest". The same notion of "national interest" now is driving the Opposition outcry on cricket. The IPL's financial affairs have been a mess for a while now but Mr Pawar's decision to openly back Modi's attack against a fellow minister despite the prime minister reading the riot act to Shashi Tharoor forced the issue. It may well yield a long overdue systemic overhaul of cricketing matters but it will also alter the balance of power between the NCP and the Congress.


In a Parliament session where the Opposition may bring in a cut motion, the government's wriggling space is limited. While a diminished NCP will be under considerable pressure to make some sort of a mollifying gesture, many in the Congress are relishing the prospect of its ally being taken down a peg or two. CLR James's oft repeated line, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know" has become a cliché, but even James could never have imagined how true it would be of India where cricket is so constitutive of public culture.
   The only question now is: Will Mr Pawar concur again?

 

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

EDITORIAL

FROM DHARAVI TO SHANGHAI

DECISIONS TAKEN TODAY WILL DETERMINE URBAN INDIA'S SHAPE

 

By 2030, 590 million Indians will live in cities, a number that's twice the population of the United States; between 700 and 900 million square metres of commercial and residential space needs to be built up, that's a new Chicago every year; 7,400 kilometres of metros and subways will need to be constructed, a number that's 20 times the capacity added in the past decade… the list of jaw-numbing numbers goes on. A path-breaking study by McKinsey Global Institute of how urban India will look in the next two decades is both a source of inspiration and despondency. Investment opportunities are obviously great. According to the McKinsey estimate, an investment of $1.2 trillion is required in terms of capital investment. If the necessary investments are not made and, far more important, the correct changes in governance models not done, urban India could see the greatest squalor of all times — and don't forget that, as opposed to 28 per cent in 2001, over 40 per cent of India will be urban by 2030; in the case of states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab, this number will be greater than 50 per cent. Water supply levels, in a business-as-usual scenario, could fall from an average of 105 litres to only 65 liters a day; slum population will balloon from 17 million to 38 million; peak vehicle density will rise to 610 per lane kilometre against the benchmark of 112. In other words, cities which will account for 70 per cent of GDP, as compared to 54 per cent in 2001, will be a larger version of Dharavi.

 

Not surprisingly, the McKinsey list of recommendations talk of empowered mayors (several Indian cities will be larger than major countries today) and even an independent revenue stream for cities (China gives cities a 25 per cent share of value-added taxes), apart from several major reforms in the governance structure of cities. The critical question here is whether India's politicians will allow this to happen — the complete lack of concern over the future of Hyderabad in the ongoing fight for Telangana is a pointer to how India's politicians are more worried about rural voters even though the lion's share of GDP comes from cities. To some extent, a greater urban population should force politicians to pay more heed to the needs of urban India, but it is by no means certain — why else would Mumbai have a Dharavi? A related concern is that of how this urbanisation is to be funded. McKinsey cites examples of how a large portion can be funded by leveraging existing land resources — the $22 billion development in Mumbai using land sales in Bandra-Kurla is one such example — but land deals, in the past, have been the source of great corruption. Given the much greater need, and compressed in time, the scope for corruption makes the mind boggle. How India tackles issues such as these will decide whether, in two decades from now, 40 per cent of the country's population lives in Shanghai-like surroundings or in Dharavi-like environs.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING FARMERS

OPTIONS TRADING CAN ALSO INSURE AGAINST RISK

After sitting on the proposal for four years, the Planning Commission has approved the union agriculture ministry's modified national agricultural insurance scheme. More than half a dozen different models of farm insurance have been tried out since the early 1970s but without much success. None of these schemes has been economically viable. We now have one more experiment being launched. No more than a fraction of the country's over 120 million farmers have access to crop insurance and even they have not benefited much. This was clear from the widespread distress among farmers due to crop failures, leading to a large number of suicides in recent years, prompting the government to waive off their loans. A sound insurance system could have alleviated, if not wholly averted, this distress. The previous farm insurance schemes, including the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) which is now sought to be modified, had serious limitations. The payable claims invariably turned out to be several fold higher than the premium charged from the farmers and the subsidy paid by the government. It made it difficult for insurance companies to honour the claims. Moreover, these schemes assumed state governments would share the subsidy burden with the Centre, and most states failed to do so.

Though it has been claimed that the proposed modified NAIS has addressed some of these issues, its success cannot be taken for granted. For, the new scheme stipulates extension of insurance cover to more number of crops and calculation of premium on actuarial basis, meaning higher premium for riskier crops. Though this, coupled with subsidy, may make agricultural insurance attractive as a business for the insurance companies, it is unlikely to go down well with the farmers. In particular, the resource-poor small and marginal farmers, who need the insurance most, may find it unappealing because their crops, grown largely on rainfed lands, run higher risk of damage due to natural and other hazards. Also, the state governments, which will again be required to share subsidy burden, may find it difficult to do so.

 Since government support is vital for the viability of the farm insurance business — this has been the case all over the world — novel ways must be found to provide this. Apart from the direct subsidy on the premium, the state support could be in the form of reimbursement of administrative costs, provision of reinsurance support for more hazardous crops and incorporation of other forms of profitable rural businesses in the insurance products to cross-subsidise crop insurance. Besides, since many banks use insurance as collateral for agricultural loans — they adjust the compensation against the farmers' outstanding dues — and, in reality, benefit from it, they may also be roped in to share part of the premium burden. This apart, farmers can also be allowed to hedge their production and price risks by introducing options trading in commodities on futures trading exchanges. This will give them the right, but not the obligation, to sell their produce at a future date when prices are usually higher than in the post-harvest peak marketing season. Several committees, including a parliamentary committee, have endorsed such a move. The ball is in the government's court.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SANJAYA BARU: INDIA, PAKISTAN AND SAARC

MANMOHAN SINGH AND YUSUF RAZA GILANI HOLD THE KEY TO SOUTH ASIA'S PROGRESS

SANJAYA BARU

Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani hold the key to South Asia's progress

The world is convinced that the 21st century will be Asia's century. The only question is whether it will be only East Asia's century or South Asia's as well.

China's great moderniser Deng Xiaoping famously told the late Rajiv Gandhi that "the 21st century can only be the Asian century if India and China combine to make it so". Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can well tell his Pakistani counterpart this week that the only way South Asia can become a vibrant element of the new Asian century is if India and Pakistan combine to make it so.

As leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meet later this week in Bhutan, they must all ask themselves where this important part of Asia is headed, even as Asia to our East moves relentlessly forward.

Do any of Saarc's members have a future that can be truly independent of their South Asian identity? Hardly. Can Pakistan hope to be part of a dynamic and rising Asia without resolving its problems at home and with India? Impossible. Can India sustain high growth for long, like China, without a more cooperative relationship with its neighbours, including Pakistan? Unlikely.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, South Asia stands once again at a cross roads. It can go forward, along with the more dynamic economies of East Asia, and emerge as the second engine of global growth by the middle of the century, or it can remain in a low-level equilibrium of poverty, conflict and perpetual instability.

If there are any political leaders or strategic analysts in any of the South Asian countries who think that their country can break loose from the neighbourhood and have a rosy future irrespective of what happens in the region, they live in a world of make believe.

The region has had such leaders before. Many in Pakistan thought they could delink from South Asia and attach themselves to the richer Arab and Islamic world to their west. Some in India thought New Delhi too can delink itself from its neighbourhood and "Look East" for prosperity. South Asia's smaller countries also had fanciful notions of their individual autonomy. Some, like the Maoists in Nepal and the Sinhala chauvinists in Sri Lanka, still see a future for themselves independent of the "Mother Continent".

The saner lot, even in Pakistan, recognise that what geography and economics propose, mere politics cannot dispose.

If Saarc has to be revived and made a more dynamic regional organisation, then India and Pakistan must get their act together. Both countries have huge internal problems and there are constituencies for peace in both countries, just as there are constituencies for exporting domestic problems across the border in both. Pakistan has used terror to thwart India's progress, but the elephant moves on at a handsome pace of 8 per cent and more, even as Pakistan has slowed down to 2-3 per cent growth in recent years.

The last few years have, however, shown that the two neighbours owe it to their own people and their region as a whole to amicably resolve their differences, if each of the two countries and the region as a whole have to move forward.

The starting point of any meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan is for the two to recognise each other's concerns. Pakistan must demonstrate much greater understanding of India's concerns about cross-border terrorism and the need to convince Indian public opinion about its sincerity in dealing with the planners and perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and several other terrorist attacks.

Equally, India must address Pakistan's genuine fears about river water utilisation and deal convincingly with the issue of Kashmir. Pakistan must rid itself of baseless fears about Indian attempts to destabilise it because any destabilisation of Pakistan can only hurt India even more.

The dialogue between Dr Singh and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf began with the mutual acknowledgment of these realities and each other's concerns. It reached a critical point of mutual agreement when President Musharraf got dethroned.

It appears Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is fighting shy of picking up the threads from where President Musharraf had left them off. Much water has flown down the Indus and US President Barack Obama's AfPak policy has muddied the waters. It has certainly encouraged Pakistan to overplay its hand.

Dr Singh should remind his counterpart that despite all the money the US is pouring into Pakistan, its economy is in doldrums, with mounting debt, 3 per cent growth and 9 per cent inflation. Pakistan has itself become a victim of the jihadi terrorism and internal conflict.

If realism on Pakistan's part implies getting a reality check on India's relative size and success, realism on India's part implies coming to terms with Pakistan's power to be a spoiler. Dr Singh and Mr Musharraf came around to getting a balanced and correct view of each other's strengths and weaknesses. They worked out a realistic modus vivendi. Mr Gilani and his friends in the Pakistan army must catch up and get real.

A realistic and pragmatic leadership in the region is one which tries to resolve cross-border issues so that domestic problems can be handled better. The challenge for every Saarc government is at home and unless domestic problems are tackled, the region will not progress or congeal.

India and Pakistan bear a special responsibility to revitalise Saarc as the region's biggest nations. The India-Pakistan quarrel has made Saarc non-functional. A resolution of the disputes between the two is vital to the region's development.

It was in April 2005 that Dr Singh and Mr Musharraf began writing a new chapter in South Asian history. April 2010 would be a good month to get that project back on track.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

OUR EXCHANGE RATE POLICY

A GLANCE AT WHAT THE RESERVE BANK OF INDIA'S POLICY STATEMENT ON THE RUPEE COULD POSSIBLY LOOK LIKE

A V RAJWADE

In a meeting in the Reserve Bank a few weeks back, my friend Ajay Shah made a point that, in the interests of transparency, the central bank needs to articulate its exchange rate policy in greater detail and clarity, just as it describes its stance on monetary policy. (In the last week's monetary policy statement, the central bank has stuck to the usual cliché, namely that it intervenes only to curb excessive volatility.) In a one-to-one meeting thereafter, Ajay asked me how I would articulate the policy. Herewith a somewhat presumptuous attempt at a policy statement:

 Coming to the external sector of the economy, the merchandise trade deficit is running at a rate of $120 billion, or about 10 per cent of GDP. Since a large proportion of non-oil imports and exports are of manufactured goods, the deficit is prima facie evidence that India's manufacturing sector is less than competitive in the global economy. The gap is even more glaring vis-a-vis our largest trading partner, namely China, with exports not even a third of imports.

The current account deficit is much more modest at around 2.5 per cent of GDP, thanks to our services exports and remittances. While accounting convention classifies remittances as part of the current account, the fact is that unlike every other transaction reckoned in the current account, remittance inflows are not part of the domestic economy's external earnings. For policy purposes, they need to be regarded more as capital inflows, albeit of an irreversible nature, and a stable source of financing the deficit between the external earnings and expenditure which, thus, is of the order of 6.5 per cent of GDP.

In many ways, in a globalised emerging economy, the exchange rate has become the single-most important price as it influences the costs and realisations of a huge proportion of economic transactions. Our current account transactions alone are approximately 55 per cent of GDP; moreover, the prices of a large variety of goods produced and sold domestically are determined by the exchange rate.

The objective of economic growth has to be to increase domestic consumption of goods and services on a sustainable basis. In many ways, an undervalued exchange rate militates against it by encouraging exports; therefore, the standard of living of the people, measured in terms of consumption, not monetary income, remains below what the productivity of the economy can afford. It also means a surplus on current account, i.e. excess of domestic savings over investments: an inevitable, if perverse, corollary for developing countries is the lending by poor countries to the rich countries by way of reserves of foreign exchange. In today's world, the Chinese economy is perhaps the most glaring example of this phenomenon. (Incidentally, during the current problems in the eurozone, Germany also is being accused of over-saving and less consumption, thereby impacting the economic activity in other eurozone countries.) An undervalued currency and current account surpluses are, in theory, supposed to be inflationary. But empirical evidence is against this: consider the inflation record of China, Germany and Japan.

On the other hand, an overvalued currency has a deflationary impact on the tradables sector of the domestic economy, exactly like high interest rates. This reduces growth and jobs as compared to what they could be with a more balanced external account, creating a gap between the potential and actual output. It also encourages consumption, particularly of imported goods. In many ways, capital flows-driven appreciation of the domestic currency benefits the financial economy at the cost of the real economy; it makes domestic industry uncompetitive against imports; and is also a potential threat to financial stability, as the quality of bank debts to the tradables sector becomes weaker.

An overvalued currency also leads to deficits on the current account, which need to be financed either by drawdown of reserves or by capital inflows. Overdependence on the latter can be risky as too many countries have found. Happily, in our case, a significant proportion of the capital inflows needed to finance the deficit is of a stable nature — in particular, remittances. And yet, the easy financeability of the deficit need not unduly influence the exchange rate policy, which has to be aimed at the national goal of growth and job creation.

Apart from the level of the exchange rate, there is also the issue of its volatility. A volatile and unpredictable exchange rate increases the risks of cross-border trade and also of investments in capacity creation in the tradables sector. There is enough empirical research suggesting that stability in the exchange rate (or a single multinational currency as in the eurozone) leads to faster growth in the cross-border exchange of goods and services. Reducing or limiting volatility is also a desirable objective of the exchange rate policy.

In short, the objective of our policy needs to be an effective exchange rate which is reasonably stable in real terms — and leads to narrowing of the gap between the economy's current earnings and expenditure, to say +/- 2 per cent of GDP, so as to optimise consumption and growth.

avrajwade@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

 

LOOKING FOR EXTRA COVER

NEITHER THAROOR NOR MODI IS A POLITICAL HEAVYWEIGHT, SO SACRIFICING THEM IS EASY

SUNIL JAIN

 

Neither Tharoor nor Modi is a political heavyweight, so sacrificing them is easy

 

Whether the investigation into IPL chief Lalit Modi will finally yield anything is difficult to say, considering the fate of previous investigations (think Tehelka after all the allegations made by government agencies). So, right now, all that the BCCI-IPL officials — who will gather to dismiss Modi a few hours after you read this piece — have to go by is a series of smoking guns, guns which don't point only at Modi.

 

One of the main allegations is that relatives of Modi own stakes in various franchises and, in all probability, these are benami holdings for him. The problem with this argument is that, according to a special leave petition filed by former BCCI president A C Muthiah in the Supreme Court, BCCI changed its rules to allow office-bearers to own stakes in franchises in 2008. According to Muthiah, soon after he filed a petition in the Madras High Court against BCCI secretary N Srinivasan owning Chennai Super Kings, the rules were changed to say "no administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in any of the events of BCCI, excluding IPL, Champions League and Twenty20". So, if Modi has a stake, the rules permit it — and BCCI allowed this to happen.

 

Apart from the fact that Srinivasan owns Chennai Super Kings, Agriculture Minister and former BCCI President Sharad Pawar's son-in-law owns a 10 per cent stake in Multi Screen Media, or MSM (formerly Sony) which has the broadcasting rights for IPL. It's true he got these from his father who has owned them long before IPL came into being, but there is a connection of a senior minister and, by that logic, a conflict of interest. If the government argues that Sony paid a bribe to Modi (MSM has said the $80 million "facilitation fee" it paid to the World Sports Group was part of a contract and was above board), then Pawar's indirect involvement is a fact that has to be dealt with.

 

The email sent by Aviation Minister Praful Patel to Shashi Tharoor giving financial projections which showed the Kochi team would lose money for the first 10 years also does seem to corroborate the allegation that he was interested in getting the Kochi franchisee to back off — for the record, Patel has said he sent this to Tharoor as a friend and that the projections were available to everyone.

 

But this column is not about Modi and the investigation into him, it is about the larger issue of why both Tharoor and Modi are expendable — while both have made enough enemies because of their behaviour, what's more important is that neither is a political heavyweight. Look at all the cases against BSP chief Mayawati and, now that the government is afraid it could fall with the Opposition cut motions to its Budget, the Attorney General has told the court that the CBI will consider Mayawati's plea that the disproportionate assets case against her be closed; there was similar evidence bandied around on Lalu Prasad's corruption but while Prasad was important to the government, various income tax authorities gave rulings in his favour.

 

It is the huge political clout of his party that has ensured, despite it being obvious that Communications Minister A Raja helped a handful of firms which led to the government getting $8-10 billion less of licence fees, no action against him. The CBI is investigating the case, CAG has pretty much nailed the minister with questions that make it clear the firms that got the licences knew when the application windows would open (being first with applications was vital since the early birds got the licences)… but the minister remains untouched.

The Delhi airport, similarly, has been riddled with allegations of corruption from even before it was privatised. Initially, it was alleged, and this was found correct by the E Sreedharan committee, that the evaluation process to select the bidder was rigged. After the evaluation report was cancelled, the GMR Group won the bid after promising to share 46 per cent of its top line revenues with the government. Later, however, the GMR Group tried to redefine what "revenues" were and though this dramatically reduced the government's share in revenues (see business-standard.com/india/news/sunil-jain-mr-20-per-cent/00/16/344585/), the aviation ministry was allowed to go ahead and clear this. Given the NCP's clout in the government, needless to say, no action was taken against anyone.

 

Given Pramod Mahajan's importance in the BJP/NDA, similarly, no action was taken when he cleared the controversial Universal Access Service Licence that allowed Reliance (at that time undivided), primarily, to legalise its offering of full-blown mobile services on a fixed-line telecom licence.

 

The number of such instances can be multiplied manifold. The lesson is clear: Political heavyweights are treated very differently from lightweights. You may, like Modi, start off in the good books of heavyweights like Pawar, but when push (in this case, Push-kar) comes to shove, it's not possible to survive. BJD MP Jay Panda had a column the other day in which he said Tharoor was an "arriviste in a hurry", who forgot that to change the rules of politics, you must first know them. The cardinal rule, Jay knows but didn't say in the article, is that you have to keep your political cover (and extra-cover) intact at all times. Right, Jay?

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MAHESH VYAS: SAFETY FIRST, RETURNS LATER

IF LESS THAN 1 PER CENT OF HOUSEHOLDS IN INDIA INVEST IN EQUITY,IT IS BECAUSE THEY DON'T TRUST MARKETS

MAHESH VYAS

Why do households prefer to invest much smaller amounts in shares of listed companies compared to other savings options? Prithvi Haldea and Joseph Massey discussed this issue on this page last week and came up with several interesting insights. Prithvi's candid explanation that the retail investor is wary of the markets because there are too many instances of scams, should not surprise anyone. Yet, this is an issue that is rarely spoken of. The markets have not been able to generate the trust that nationalised banks have been able to create.

Both, Prithvi and Massey emphasised the need to increase financial literacy. Prima facie, this suggestion is incontrovertible. Spreading literacy is a noble act worthy of praise, and financial literacy is almost a necessity in the modern world. There is never an end to learning and Indian households will have a lot to learn to manage their finances better.

 However, I find specious the argument that lack of financial literacy is what is keeping households out of the equity markets. There are at least three reasons why I believe this to be the case:

First, it is almost ironical that in spite of nearly two decades of pioneering efforts by the best minds in the country to modernise the equity markets, we still worry about the level of financial literacy in the land. Modernisation has increased transparency and speed of execution; it has reduced the risks involved in the execution of trades and has minimised transaction costs dramatically. Thanks to this transformation, the equity markets are no longer a mysterious maze with layers of intermediaries and opacity that only the determined with specialised skills could enter. Such a dramatic transformation of the equity markets has not gone unnoticed by households.

Second, during the recent past, there has been a tremendous mushrooming of financial educational institutions in the country. Business schools that essentially specialise in teaching modern finance have sprung up all over the country. The two major exchanges run several educational programmes and so does the Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi). Commerce education is in and science education is on the wane. Even engineers land up learning commerce after their engineering. Financial literacy is increasing at a rapid pace.

Third, the financial media today is almost as popular as entertainment media.

Pink papers in the mornings, business channels throughout the trading sessions, sms alert services and investor websites for after-hours ensure that households are never away from the financial world. The media has tremendous reach and it plays its own role in spreading financial literacy.

It is worth highlighting here that Indian households have increased their savings and investments. But, these increased savings do not go to the equity markets in spite of the improved conditions listed above.

If households with increased savings and increased financial literacy decide to not invest in the equity markets, what is the end objective of the proposed financial literacy campaign? Is it proposed that we "educate" the investors till they decide to part with their money for the equity markets that Prithvi calls the casino? I think we need to do a lot more introspection here and listen to what the households are voting for with their money. The investor is voting for safe investment avenues and is not impressed by the lucre promised by the Street.

According to Consumer Pyramids, a quarterly survey conducted by CMIE on a panel of about 140,000 randomly picked households, investment in listed shares is the least preferred investment option of households. Over 72 per cent of households invested in some security. But, only 0.39 per cent of the households had outstanding investment in listed shares as of the quarter ended December 2009. Only 6.6 per cent of the households in Mumbai and 4.5 per cent of the households in Delhi reported that they had outstanding investments in listed shares. These cities do not lack financial literacy.

The performance of mutual funds is only slightly better with 0.87 per cent of the households stating that they had outstanding investments in these. On the other hand, 19.5 per cent of the households invested in fixed deposits with banks and 9.5 per cent placed their monies in post office savings. This is the safe choice being made by the households of India. This is in spite of the aggressive marketing by intermediaries.

During the quarter ended March 2009, the first Consumer Pyramids survey, we had asked households if they had ever invested in listed shares. And, a large proportion — 7.7 per cent of the households — had responded in the affirmative. Then, in the subsequent quarters, we asked if they had outstanding shares in listed shares, and the proportion dropped dramatically to less than 1 per cent.

The problem (and it is a problem because, if used correctly, investment in the equity markets yields superior results compared to other instruments, and so households should be investing more here than they currently do) is not in the basic education but in the marketing by the financial market participants and in the gullibility of the investor to buy a story that promises to beat the market. Fat marketing margins and layers of intermediation perpetuate this scam. Transparency is buried deep inside thick legalese and your user-friendly relationship manager "helpfully" discourages you from reading it.

We need to learn from the recent global crisis when the best brains in AIG insured (the credit default swaps) billions of dollars of worthless papers (the collateralised debt obligations) that global rating agencies called triple-A securities, which Goldman Sachs engineered to earn fat fees on. No one in this financial market circus in America lacked financial education. Most of the players were from Ivy League schools.

And, they collectively brought the world to its knees — ironically, by literally spreading the risks. There was no transparency and investors suspended their education.

Investors need more transparency, not more education. And Sebi needs to work harder to disintermediate investments from the army of relationship managers who helpfully ask us to suspend our education and sign on the dotted lines.

And if after this the investor decides to give the equity markets a pass, let us accept the decision and not stress the households.

The author is managing director and CEO, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WARRING REGULATORS IN AN UNDEFINED WORLD

THE REGULATORY WARFARE BEING WITNESSED IS A WAKE-UP CALL TO CLEARLY DEFINE THE POWERS OF VARIOUS REGULATORS, OR TURF WARS WILL BE THE ORDER OF THE DAY

GOPAL JAIN

Sebi vs. Irda; CERC vs. FMC and so on. This is not an IPL match but regulatory warfare. The game is not being played between parties or litigants but regulatory bodies. Unimaginable but true, as they fight a turf war where the battle lines are drawn. These matches will be played out in the court. This needs urgent intervention and remedial action, since 'neutral umpires' now need a third umpire! This is a wake-up call to clearly define regulatory powers and draw a clear line, or turf wars will be the order of the day. This will lead to creation of more disputes rather than resolution of disputes!

As India moves towards a multi-sector regulatory regime, drawing lines within the regulatory framework and demarcating areas is of paramount importance. Each regulator must know his domain and must function within it. The present conflict between Sebi and Irda is a case in point. Likewise, the war between the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and the Forward Markets Commission set up under the CRA. In the past, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had questioned the jurisdiction of the adjudicatory body (TDSAT) to entertain any challenge to regulations made by it.

 Creation of the Competition Commission of India would lead to a similar situation and stand-off with sectoral regulators where there is interplay between competition issues and regulatory issues in that sector.

These issues centre round overlapping areas and interplay between the jurisdictions of two regulators. This goes to the root of the matter but is also the root cause.

These illustrations and examples highlight the need for clear separation of principles, as they give rise to jurisdictional issues, especially where there are overlapping matters. The way to resolve matters of jurisdiction is to provide for separation of powers. The test of jurisdiction must be that a sectoral expert (or specialist) should make way for the super specialist. For example, in the fight between Sebi and Irda on Unit Linked Insurance Plans (Ulips), which combine investment with insurance, if it is more of investment compared to insurance, it should fall within the jurisdiction of Sebi. One regulator (in this case Irda) should yield to Sebi. In a given case one regulator will have primary jurisdiction whereas the other will have secondary jurisdiction.

Another example could be where a competition issue arises in the telecom sector. The telecom regulator should make a reference to the Competition Commission on that specific issue and must yield to the super specialist. This will be in consonance with the governing principle of expert body regulation and adjudication that a forum or institution created for a purpose as opposed to a general purpose should decide the issue. This is similar to a legal principle where a specific law prevails over a general law.

This approach will ensure both legislative intent and maintain the sanctity of independent regulators, while avoiding a head-on conflict.

The Delhi High Court had considered a similar issue where a dispute was raised by the Trai against the Telecom Disputes Settlement Authority of India (TDSAT) jurisdiction to hear appeals against regularisation framed by the Trai. The Delhi High Court held that though both are expert bodies, both act in different spheres, taking the nature of their expertise into consideration. The nature of Trai's expertise is more regulatory in nature, whereas the nature of TDSAT's expertise is more adjudicatory in nature. There is no conflict as far as their role in the scheme of the Act is concerned. The rai's role is to make regulations taking every stakeholder's concern into consideration, and as far as the legality of these regulations is concerned, it is the duty of TDSAT.

In America, in a dispute between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), it was held that a regulator should not adopt the 'my way or the highway' approach because of the power it exercises. Power is given to the regulator for better administration of the sector. Such an approach will avoid a head-on conflict.

The State Load Dispatch Centre (SLDC) for the Southern Region is now caught in the crossfire between two governments — Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Both have the interest of their respective state in mind, but it has put the SLDC (a statutory body) in a bind and it is now subject to contempt proceedings.

In the ultimate analysis this exposes the weaknesses in our regulatory architecture. In fact, we have not learnt lessons from the past. Several years ago, when two public sector companies were pitted against one another, the Supreme Court decided that this must first go to a Committee of Secretaries. The Committee of Secretaries had to decide whether the parties could litigate. The committee did not have the legal expertise to decide and in most cases granted permission (after a long delay) to litigate. This increased litigation.

This highlights the weaknesses in the regulatory regime. Regulators have not been able to successfully deal with issues of regulatory overlap, as multiple operators are fighting turf wars. The irony is that there are more pressing regulatory issues which fall outside the mandate of any regulation.

Regulators should not become litigants, failing which their constituents, the stakeholders, will get caught in the crossfire. This can be resolved by plugging regulatory gaps and specifying the extent and scope of each regulator's jurisdiction. Just as the constitutional scheme has a separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, the same principle must be followed between different sectoral regulators.

However, above all, regulators must have respect and regard for each other and each must give due weight to the opinion or recommendation of the other. Like the principle of comity of courts and comity of nations, there must be a comity of regulators. This will prevent conflicts and regulators from warring. Drawing clear Lakshman Rekhas offers the best ('Pareto optimal') solution in the Indian regulatory context.

The author is an Advocate in the Supreme Court

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

RAINBOW COALITION

 

The brainwaves of eco-warriors are indeed changing the face of cities in the west, but a small event in a medium-sized British city could portend a national trend. The citizenry of the British city of Newcastle-under-Lyme , have been forced by their council to find space in their kitchens, balconies or backyards for a grand total of nine refuse bags — a silver-coloured slopbucket for food waste that then has to be tipped into a green outdoor bin, a blue box for glass, foil, tins and aerosols, a pink bag for plastic bottles, a green bag for cardboard, a white bag for cloth, a blue bag for paper and magazines, a brown-lidded bin for garden waste and a grey one for non-recyclable waste.


The contents of eight of these receptacles of varied dimensions are carried away by three different trucks (instead of one) every fortnight while the ninth — food waste — is collected weekly. The result is obvious: pavements, front gardens and backyards that were once given over to those famed symbols of nationhood like roses and seasonal blooms, bronze ducks and stone garden gnomes, football goalposts or a paddle-pool , now display rainbow-hued garbage bags lined up and glistening in the summer sun or winter drizzle.


The (green) thumbs-up must have been obtained from all sorts of authorities, but the local urban arts commission was surely not consulted. This marks a particularly dangerous trend because even the most draconian eco-measures find wide resonance these days and these garbage bags could march nearer home for us too.

The real worry, of course, is that the success of this experiment may spawn others in Britain very soon indeed, leading to unending vistas of green wheelie bins and trashbags from London to John o'Groats. Reason: the Newcastle-under-Lyme council is a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats — a political merger now being seriously contemplated nationally, come the results of the general elections of May 6!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ON ENVIRONMENTAL VIOLATION


Long-term greedy is a term that a Goldman Sachs partner made famous, by way of self-definition . It is as good a description as any of making profits in a sustainable fashion. Lafarge displayed short-term greed when it violated the law in obtaining forest clearance for a limestone mining project in Meghalaya's Khasi hills, to supply raw material for its own cement plant in neighbouring Bangladesh .

 

It described the mining site as a near-wasteland to obtain forest clearance, which turned void after it was established that the mining site had indeed been thick forest . By granting forest clearance to Lafarge's limestone mining operations in Meghalaya now, the Environment Ministry has done this country a disservice. By mining limestone without a forest clearance, the company had violated the Forest Conservation Act and possibly the Environment Protection Act as well.


Now, under pressure from the French, Bangladesh and multilateral donors who bankrolled the project, the Indian government is trying to regularise the project. As a penalty, it has suggested the company pay some fines. The implications are unnerving . In part because if the government's proposal is accepted by the Supreme Court, it will create a precedent where any company can win clearances on the basis of misleading affidavits and later press for regularisation.


And in part because the government evidently thinks it can apply India's laws selectively.
Accepting fait accompli in the matter of deforestation or violation of other laws intended to protect fragile ecology and vulnerable communities is a recipe for long-term pain and suffering. The culpable agency should be penalised, not rewarded with the proceeds of its crime.


It is possible to take the view that the forests have, in any case, been irreversibly damaged at the mining site and that mining should continue. A viable solution that makes the polluter pay and, at the same time, protects the economic activity at stake is to levy penalties on Lafarge for its actions, expropriate the mine and auction it off to some other party, who can then supply limestone to the cement plant in Bangladesh. Such an option is, indeed, viable and superior to the sale of environmental indulgences.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'INDIA MUST TRY TO ATTRACT TOP B-SCHOOLS '

SREERADHA BASU


Renowned management guru Bala V Balachandranis the JL Kellogg distinguished professor of accounting and information management at Northwestern University, USA. He is one of the key persons behind the inception of the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad , as well as the founder and dean of Chennai's Great Lakes Institute of Management. Prof Balachandran talks about challenges facing management education, the need for India to market itself globally and his take on Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal's new initiatives.


"Management education has missed the burning issues of business relevance and become more about mathematical elegance and theoretical knowledge. Profitability has turned into profiteering and instant gratification dominates rather than long-term profitability. The year 2007-08 marked the black hole days of business education."


With basic business models having clearly failed, leading management schools including the likes of Harvard and Kellogg are already thinking of the next model, he points out. "In less than two years, you will see the results." And in that, India will take a leadership role. "Take any of the top B-schools . At least 10 faculty members are from India. The next dean of Harvard Business School will be an Indian. It's likely that the next business model may come out of India — or at least from someone of Indian origin."


"It's all about responsible freedom. The new model should incorporate elements like ethical leadership, transparency, investor protection, corporate governance and experiential learning. It cannot just be about a bunch of financial and marketing lessons.


It's not the physical infrastructure, but the human infrastructure which counts. Make money but don't harbour greed. Doing a good thing is a joy. Essentially , it's the Bhagavad Gita principles that you should exercise in management. Karmanya Vadhi Karasthey Maa Paleshu Kadhachana (You do your duty; do not look for the fruits of labour)."


Kapil Sibal's new initiatives get his vote of approval, especially the foreign universities bill recently approved by the Union cabinet. "The minister's idea of bringing in well-recognised foreign schools is a good one. It will open up the world and effectively lead to competition intensifying." What are the parameters that need to be kept in mind in this regard?


"It would be good if India can attract the top business schools. You miss the bus if you end up attracting weaker or secondrate universities. There is a clear ranking of every university and the ones that do not make the cut, need to be weeded out. You cannot approve any and everybody."


In the US, he points out, the faculty controls the functioning of the institutes, but that is far from the case in India. "If I say, we are going to India, they will say: 'Why India ? Why not China or Latin America?' So, Indian faculty in those institutes need to push the initiative."


When it comes to attracting foreign students or projecting its educational institutes globally, how can India market itself better? "I think business education in India has some really superior values. The price is right, the quality is right. But the marketing is wrong. We have to showcase our curriculum and our experience. We need to participate in MBA fairs and conventions across the world and market our strengths."

While on the subject of strengths, all top B-schools in the world boast of Indian faculty . Yet back here in India, management education is grappling with a serious faculty crunch. How does one tackle this?


"What happened is that the number of business schools has indiscriminately increased . The pool of faculty is the same, each trying to steal from the other. We need the seed farm and only then the wheat farm. You cannot eat the seed wheat. So seed farms in top schools have to be created . We need to look at higher education and foster more PhDs doing relevant teaching and research. Even while opening up to foreign universities, certain conditions can be imposed.


If they are keen to come in at the undergraduate level, an arrangement can be worked out wherein they take some Indian students for their PhD programme. That apart, the incentive system in India has a long way to go. Indian faculty members are amazing, but not given the right incentive."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S URBAN PLANNING CHALLENGE

 

The McKinsey report on India's urban challenge is welcome for highlighting a relatively neglected part of the growth agenda but is probably off the mark on prescriptions .


In calling for proactive policy to shore up revenues , institutional structures and dedicated funds for cities , the study is spot-on . But then to recommend a massive, China-style increase in investment in cities, so as to reap 'productivity dividend of urban living,' seems misplaced .


What's suggested is that India's per capita annual spending in urban infrastructure rise from $17 today — the figure for China is $116 — to a steep $134. Such a strategy , with the ballpark requirement estimated at $1.2 trillion , would be needlessly costly, capital intensive and plain unwarranted.


What India needs is more sensible urban planning, policies to release land for urbanisation in a manner that does not cause social or political disruption, and city design that eschews urban sprawl and associated energy consumption on commutes.


We certainly need better allocation of resources for housing, reliable public transport and proper urban design, for instance to be able to walk across the road for work and recreation. But growth need not and should not be at high cost.


The McKinsey study projects demand for residential and commercial space pan-India at between 700 million and 900 million square meters a year, 350 to 400 km of metros and subways annually, and between 19,000 and 25,000 km of road lanes as well.


It adds that the targets are up to 20 times higher than actual investments in the past decade. The projections certainly seem a tall order in many respects. However, with forward-looking town planning, it should be possible to better manage urban demand and optimise infrastructure investment.


As India picks up economic speed, we need to be in a position to scale up and boost urban infrastructure. We clearly need to have a proper policy on new towns that go beyond SEZs and manufacturing zones. We also need supply side reforms to better coagulate funds in urban spaces. The way ahead is to have a thriving market for long-term funds.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SAVOUR SUCCESS, AND THUS ENHANCE IT

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

Just as understanding the seven 'failure traits' , (as conceived of by Dr Maxwell Maltz in his book, Psychocybernetics ) enables the seeker to minimise failures in life, analysis of the seven 'success traits' enables him to understand these better for beneficial results.


The first of these traits, as elaborated by Dr Maltz is 'sense of direction' . He stresses on moving forward to particular objectives and goals evolved for oneself and observes , "Functionally , a man is somewhat like a bicycle , maintaining its poise, as long as it goes forward, becoming shaky once it is balanced still" . Indeed, it is necessary to develop a "nostalgia for the future" , with something to work and hope for!


About the second trait, 'understanding' , Dr Maltz points out to the fact that each person is made in his own way and thus would act and react differently. Adding opinion to facts, attributing motives, jumping into conclusions, 'rationalising' things — these would all take back seats, when this understanding and maturity reign.


Confronting, instead of dodging problems, is verily 'courage' — the third 'success' trait. Risking failure while moving forward is better than standing 'on the spot' , because even mistakes can be corrected by the "corrective mechanism" within. Similarly, the trait of 'charity' is a sublime manifestation, conceiving everyone as a "child of God, a unique individuality, which deserves some dignity and respect" .


'Esteem' , the fifth virtue, is that fulfilment, "an appreciation of yourself for what you are" . Similarly, 'self confidence' stems from remembering past occasions of success too and not just failures, thus enabling the 'success mechanism' to take over. Dr Maltz prescribes, "Use errors and mistakes as a way to learning — then dismiss them from your mind" .


The last of the 'success traits' is 'self acceptance' — on accepting and identifying one's faults and errors as well as strengths and assets. Dr Maltz concludes on this self acceptance, "Accept yourself. Be yourself, without turning your back upon it or refusing to recognise it" .


Analysis by Dr Maxwell Maltz of the 'success mechanism' enables the seeker first to understand various issues concerning accomplishment of success. Savouring this feeling also thus enhances the experience . This verily, obtains more and more success, for, nothing succeeds like success!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

RELAX EXPOSURE RULES TILL IIFCL IS CAPITALISED ENOUGH: CEO

DHEERAJ TIWARI & RAJEEV JAYASWA

 

With the government giving its approval to the much-anticipated take-out financing, India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd (IIFCL) is now ready to step on the gas. The company's CEO, Praveen Kumar, explains how the infrastructure finance firm will channelise bilateral and multilateral resources and domestic savings into infrastructure sector in a freewheeling discussion with ET. Excerpts:


Finally take-out financing is in place. Have you resolved all issues raised by banks?

Praveen Kumar : Following the announcement made by the finance minister in the Budget 2009-2010, the company has evolved the scheme for takeout finance. The scheme is now approved by the government. It has been finalised only after consultations with banks and financial institutions and their views have been taken into consideration. The scheme will enable banks to extend longer tenor financing and address their asset-liability mismatches. We have made cumulative disbursement of Rs 9,000 crore in financial year 2009-2010. We target to disburse Rs 10,000 crore in the financial year 2010-2011.


What are the shortcomings when it comes to financing infrastructure projects?

Praveen Kumar: The investment needs of the infrastructure projects are increasing with the economy growing at 8-9% per annum. Given the fact that the corporate bond market in India is not well developed and deep, commercial banks have, by and large, been the major source of finance for infrastructure projects.


It is required that the focus attention is given to the development of bond market to provide alternative sources of finance to the project developers and to the introduction of financial instruments like, take-out finance and credit enhancement to increase the tenor of loans and address the asset-liability mismatch problem of the banks.

 

What steps need to be taken to make IIFCL lending more attractive and viable?

Praveen Kumar: We are making efforts to channelise bilateral and multilateral resources and domestic savings towards infrastructure financing. The issue is to fill the gap of resources at a reasonable cost. IIFCL being a catalyst institution is lending at rates which covers its cost of borrowings, cost of operations and nominal margin. IIFCL's lending would be attractive as we are able to provide long-tenor loans in comparison to other lenders.

IIFCL does not fall under any regulatory purview such as RBI. So what are the current regulations you follow?
Praveen Kumar: We are presently governed by 'sui generis' mechanism of regulation by the government. IIFCL is voluntarily following prudential norms for income recognition, asset classification and provisioning as prescribed by RBI for banks. We are a highly conscious organisation regarding its effectiveness and accountability and is paying appropriate attention to all prudential guidelines, environment and social safeguards and the accounting standards. If at any point of time, the government decides that IIFCL to be regulated by RBI, IIFCL will follow applicable RBI norms.


Do you think there should be relaxed prudential norms for IIFCL lending and should they be allowed to be the lead bank in funding projects?

Praveen Kumar: To make a meaningful contribution in financing the infrastructure projects, the organisation requires a large capital base. The government is increasing the capital base of IIFCL on regularly basis. The relevant size of the capital of IIFCL for it to make meaningful contribution should be at least Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 crore. Till the IIFCL is duly capitalised there may be requirement of relaxation of exposure norms relating to single party and group exposure. To act as a lead lender, IIFCL first needs capacity building within the organisation to undertake all functions of a lead lender.


Do you see a more envisaged role of insurance companies, working in tandem with IIFCL to create a larger capacity for infrastructure lending?

Praveen Kumar: The present regulatory norms of insurance and pension funds do not allow them to take up exposure in BBB-rated projects. Infrastructure projects in the country are, by and large, BBB rated. There is a need for someone to provide enhancement to these credit proposals to make them investible by insurance and pension funds. Take-out financing and credit enhancement projects will offer opportunities for increasing the participation of insurance companies and pension funds either through a direct financing or through securitisation of the loans taken-out.


Would allowing IIFCL to extend more loans to private sector any beneficial in meeting demands of infrastructure lending?

Praveen Kumar: Our mandate is to accord overriding priority to competitively bided PPP projects. Lending by IIFCL to private sector projects is limited to 20% of total lending of IIFCL in any accounting year. The competitive bid ensures transparency and efficiency in the selection of projects and tends to minimise cost of projects. IIFCL would continue to focus on competitively bided PPP projects.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'IPL INHERITED BCCI'S OPAQUENESS'

 

Sports administration in the country has come under tremendous scrutiny after a slew of allegations rocked the Indian Premier League, a sports body the runs the hugely popular Twenty20 cricket tournament. Karti P Chidambaram (son of Union home minister P Chidambaram), who is vice-president of the All India Tennis Association and president of Ten Pin Bowling Federation of India, says there is a need to bring in accountability and probity into sports bodies . Excerpts of an interview:


Why is there a lack of professionalism in sports bodies?

Sports bodies in India are by and large closed shops. Most sports bodies do not have direct sources of income, barring cricket. All of them depend on government grants and sponsorships to function. And, people who man sports bodies are not professionals. They are there because of a vague interest in the sport or they treat it as a position of prestige. Most sports bodies run on a principle of patronage rather than professionalism. Most sports administrators, including the officials of cash-rich BCCI, work pro bono. That is perhaps the reason why there is no accountability among sports administrators.


How could the IPL controversy have been avoided?

The BCCI has traditionally been an opaque organisation without any oversight or disclosure. And the IPL, being a subset of the BCCI, inherited all these traits. Clear conflict of interest issues could have been easily avoided, had basic principles of transparency been adhered to. While BCCI can claim it is a private body, it is pertinent to note that it performs a considerable public function . Therefore, principles and standards that are applicable to public bodies should be applicable to BCCI as well.


How can public accountability be brought about now in IPL?

I personally believe that a 3-member committee of retired Supreme Court judges must be appointed as overseers of the IPL and they must untangle all issues of conflicts of interest , bringing about greater transparency in its function. It is not suggested that this 3-member panel should take operational and commercial decisions, but all operational and commercial decisions must be vetted by them by applying higher standards of ethics and transparency.

Should foreign funds be allowed in sports in India?

Indian sport requires tremendous infusion of funds to improve infrastructure. Funds from all sources is welcome as long as all sources are clearly declared.


Why does sports in India always get politicised?

We are a highly emotive society. Any organisation or collection of people are bound to be politicised and sports is no exception.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LOOKING AT A RIGHTS ISSUE AT 2:1 RATIO: JM GARG

SANGITA MEHTA


Mangalore-based Corporation Bank achieved three milestones in FY10. Its customer base crossed 1 crore, net profit exceeded Rs 1,000 crore and its total business crossed Rs 1.50 lakh crore. CMD JM Garg gives ET the lowdown on the bank's future plans and its strategy in the coming years.


What is your outlook and your apprehensions for the bank in the current fiscal?

JM Garg : We are seeing signs of revival and expect credit growth to be in the region of 25%. On the other hand, there are worries about the impact of base rate and rising NPAs in case of restructuring assets.


Corporation Bank has not asked for capital from the government despite the latter's holding coming down to 57%. Why?

JM Garg: We had not asked for capital earlier because our tier-I capital was over 10%. The government first gave capital to banks whose tier-I was less than 8% and now we are told it would consider our request too. So, we will now approach the government. We are examining (to raise capital) a rights issue in the ratio of 2:1 — one share for every two shares held.


We are looking at expanding our loan book to Rs 80,000 crore (from Rs 60,000 crore currently) and so we would be looking at capital in the region of Rs 3,000 crore. Also, when there is a rights issue, LIC, which holds 26% in the bank, will have to invest some money.


What are your plans on non-life insurance?

JM Garg: We have a distribution tie-up with New India Assurance (NIA) for insurance but we are now going to engage the services of a new company. We are in an advanced stage of appointing someone else because NIA, we found, is not able to support us sufficiently in marketing. The agreement with NIA has expired. Once we finalise a new company, we will give a notice to NIA to terminate its service.


Are you also looking at entering into any equity tie-up for the non-life business?

JM Garg: Not at the moment. Any life or non-life company needs deep pockets as capital gets burnt up in the first few years. For the time being, we will restrict ourselves to distribution. Life insurance is much more difficult than non-life insurance to make it profitable.


What is the status of your tie-up for credit cards?

JM Garg: LIC has done a soft launch and now it has come up with a strategy. LIC is looking at issuing cards to its agents and customers. The insurer says it has 12.5-lakh agents who earn upwards of Rs 5,000 and above per month. Also, it has 20 lakh customers (policyholders) who over the last five years have been regular in paying premiums of Rs 1 lakh and above.


LIC is thinking of giving card to these two sets of people (agents and policy holders). The bank will issue credit cards to them. The prospective card holders may not have to open an account with us because we give support service. So, we are developing a new scoring model for them instead of using a normal scoring model. We may have to relax these norms and give them cards because they are tried and tested people...... it would be easy for us to consider them.


Would you be acquiring equity stake in the credit card venture? What would its USP be?

JM Garg: As of now it is 100% owned by LIC and it is not clear how much stake will be divested to us. LIC wants to reach a scale, and after it achieves that, it will offer some equity stake to Corporation Bank. LIC will take over our credit card portfolio on the books of the new card company. There won't be any other partner.


For collection, we would be looking at appointing corporate agencies rather than giving it to individual or partnership firms. On the unique selling point front, it will not be very different. LIC may give additional insurance cover for the same amount which the card holder pays annual fees. Also, the interest charge may be pegged lower than that charged by other card companies.


Are you planning any new IT initiatives?

JM Garg: We will be migrating to an Oracle Operating System. This existing system — Cobol-based technology — is archaic. We are planning to migrate by September...... first the back office and then our front office will move to the new technology. IT will enable our system to withstand very large transactions. As we are in an expansion mode, the number of accounts are growing and so are the transactions, making migration imperative as early as possible.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THERE'S NO THREAT FROM SUPER-BIKES: ROYAL ENFIELD

AMIT SHARMA

 

The bullet has rediscovered its speed as Indians take to biking for pleasure. Sales of premium bikes have risen quickly and the iconic Royal Enfield is riding on this trend. Overwhelmed by an increasing demand, the Chennai-based company has discontinued bookings for its fast-selling Classic 350 model.


Royal Enfield plans to double its capacity to one lakh units by 2013. The exporter of 500 cc motorbikes to international markets including, Europe and the US, is also looking to increase exports to countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, besides strengthening its presence in Europe and the US. It also expects overseas sales to more than double over the next five years.


The Eicher Group company is all set to shift entire production to a new engine platform to make products compliant to stricter Bharat Stage III emission norms. Last month, the bike maker introduced its new Bullet model, 'Electra Twinspark 350' as a part of its strategy to modernise its range of motorcycles fitted with unit-constructed engines.


As the custodian of a legendary brand, Siddharth Lal, MD of Eicher Motors, is determined to take the legacy forward. In an interview with ET, Lal steers clear of any comparisons with Japanese brands and discusses the attributes that make Royal Enfield click with the Indian consumers. Excerpts:


It's the world's oldest motorcycle still in production. How do you plan to keep the brand young and appealing to the consumers?


It's a concerted effort and does not happen overnight. Our brand is the oldest motorcycle in production. After we took over the company, we thought about what it should mean to the people. They thought we were related to the Army. But that is not the truth. While we do sell 3% of our bikes to them, it's still a very small part of what we do. We then decided to position it as a leisure and practical brand.

It is not everything for everyone unlike some of the mass-market brands. It's quite desirable for certain demography of people. Our target consumer is difficult to define. But anyone who has an interest in motorcycling is our target consumer. In terms of demographics, the people who have kept us alive are the hardcore bullet lovers, the ones who have bought the bike through thick and thin. They are our fair and foul weather friends.


Who are your new buyers?

Affluent Indians are our new consumers. It's this segment of urban, working professionals that has really powered bike sales. A large number of them are coming up from industries such as IT, banking, pharma and FMCG. Now, people earn more money and have greater disposable income. They want to make a statement and enjoy the ride. So, our bike is a perfect fit for them. We have targeted this growing set of consumers with our classic series of motorcycles. We sell maximum numbers in Ludhiana. In our traditional markets of Punjab and Kerala, we have consumers who really like the feel and sound of the bike and are real loyalists.



From the good old days of Yeh bullet meri jaan to almost no advertising at all. What's the brand marketing strategy?

We do not do any product endorsements. We go far from what some of the Indo-Japanese brands do. We believe in reality. We hate that way of advertising. We would not like to put a model on a bike when he does not really enjoy riding. That is untrue to our brand. We have a tiny brand spend, so we focus on just a few publications for our advertising.


What we really believe in and want to do on a regular basis is rides. Instead of putting money in advertising, this is what helps us connect with consumers better. So we have the Himalayan Odyssey, the Southern odyssey, Rajasthan, Rann of Kutch rides. These are merely the national rides that we organise. Tucked away under this are several other regional initiatives.


How this is done is that we invite applicants for rides. People bring their own bikes and pay for their own fuel, accommodation et al. We do the entire organisation bit. We also take people from the media with us. So, that is part of our spends. We have also focused on upgrading our dealerships. Until sometime back, our dealerships were very rudimentary.


We then changed the entire look and feel of the dealerships and the attitude of our salespeople. It has worked wonders, especially with the youth. When you are selling a consumer good and a leisure brand, it's all about the retail experience that you provide to the consumers. We have our website www.royalenfield.com that has a large and lively community of bikers. Consumers are asking questions, getting answers and even criticizing the bike, which is good as we get some honest feedback.


The cheapest Royal Enfield bike costs more than Rs 1 lakh. Are you planning cheaper models to cater to a wider segment?

Absolutely not. Our idea is to appeal to a wider audience but in an aspirational way. People will find a way to buy things that hold aspirational value. Our idea is to continue in the practical leisure motorcycle segment. We need to ensure that we are supplying to the demand that is there, which is a problem at present.


And I do not see any potential for us going into lower displacement bikes. There is a long way to go for us with the existing lineup. We have now grown to 5,000 bikes a month. But because of increased visibility, there is more demand, which needs to be met effectively.


A lot of international bike brands are planning India ride. How do you see competition taking shape? Would you look at introducing bigger bikes to beat the competition?

Big bikes from us are a possibility, but not now. Our absolute focus now is to get our 350s and 500s in order. I do not see any competition from international superbike brands because they are selling bikes that are much more expensive than ours. Also, those bikes might not ideally suit Indian terrain. We have a different consumer segment.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'EXPECT STRONG FOREIGN INFLOWS TO INDIA IN 2ND HALF, 2010'

NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

 

Global investors are choosing India over China, as it may be less affected by the withdrawal of fiscal stimulus measures, says Prateek Agrawal, head-equity, Bharti AXA Investment Managers. But, this could change if oil prices harden further, as India is more sensitive to oil prices, Mr Agrawal said in an interview with the ET. Excerpts:

The common view among market participants is that there will be more disappointments than positive surprises for stock market investors in the year ahead. Would you subscribe to that?

Prateek Agrawal : We would agree to this view because the market is fairly valued at current levels. There is little conservatism built into the earnings at this point in time. Shocks to earnings will reduce the growth outlook of the market. However, after last year, which had several big events, this year may not see events of significance that could change the direction of the market.


The return-expectations from equities have to be grounded in reality. While in a hardening interest rate scenario, debt investment may not seem very attractive, the situation may change very quickly, increasing the competition for equities as an investment option.


This is also a year when we expect to see record fund raising by Indian corporates and the government from the equity market. While over time, the fund-raising probably may not impact market returns, it will definitely put temporary brakes on the secondary market. We are worried about oil prices again rising significantly, as oil production has still not reached its peak levels. Gradual withdrawal of stimulus and liquidity on a global basis will slam the brakes. Thankfully, the outlook on the monsoon is looking good.


How does India compare with some of the emerging markets, especially at this stage?

Prateek Agrawal: India has a good story to tell. The world sees India's growth story as led more by the private sector rather than through central planning and hence overbuilding is not evident in India. The stimulus in India was also one of the lowest compared to other major countries. Hence the economic shock as a consequence of withdrawal of stimulus measures will be among the lowest.


Moreover, the Indian economy is inward-looking and domestic consumption-led and is expected to weather the stimulus withdrawal much better than several other emerging markets. We are clearly sensing a mood change in the global investing community which is preferring India over China.


But, this can change if oil prices harden further, as India is more sensitive to oil prices. If oil prices increase, they will trigger concerns among foreign investors.


The Reserve Bank is expected to further raise interest rates in the coming months. Will this choke companies' investment demand and hurt their share valuations?

Prateek Agrawal: This is a problem. Though we are in the slack season and liquidity exists as of now, availability of funds at the right costs will become more of an issue as we move into the busy season. Hence, while the budget has government fund-raising plans on expected lines, appropriation of systemic liquidity through an increase in CRR (cash reserve ratio) may be a cause of concern, as appropriation of liquidity through CRRs is not irreversible.


But, the pressure on the central bank to tighten monetary policy will lessen if inflationary pressures peak out as expected. Moreover, while India's central bank may be tightening, this is not as yet a global phenomenon. So, we believe Indian companies will look to raise money from foreign markets. We expect the second half of the year to see good flows of overseas capital into the country.

 

Which are the sectors you will invest in the current environment?

Prateek Agrawal: As the world returns to the growth path, demand for materials will increase, going forward. We are focusing on players with very strong raw material linkages or with very significant operating leverage.


Domestic consumption is the other theme to track. We like categories like autos, primarily four-wheelers, as well as categories like travel and tourism. With loans available at reasonable rates, even categories like housing are seeing strong demand. We are positive on the real estate sector as well but believe that strong supply of paper would depress stock performances in the near future.


Information technology also offers a unique blend of strong growth outlook, strong cash flows, valuation comfort in matrices like price to free cash flow and also has a defensive character when compared to sectors like FMCG and telecom.


Any sectors that investors should keep away for the time being?

Prateek Agrawal: We believe FMCG and telecom sectors do not offer any significant upside from the present levels over the medium term. Similarly, in the consumption theme, it may be difficult to make money in sectors like airlines, especially at current stock levels in the wake of strong oil prices.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DO CITIZENS' RIGHTS MATTER TO LEADERS?

News reports about the "tapping" of the phones of some politicians which have dominated the television channels and newspapers in the last few days are likely to lead to the disruption of Parliament this week. Many people can be expected to get on to their high horse and offer a running commentary on eavesdropping on the conversations of politicians constituting an unprecedented violation of civil liberties, India being a police state, return of the Emergency raj, and the like. The leader of a party whose standing has slipped shockingly in recent times has already called the state of affairs "intolerable". Leaders of other parties are not far behind in condemnation of what is coming to be called "Phonegate". It is unfortunate, however, that the leading lights of our political system have been caught navel-gazing — the concern they have expressed is confined to politicians; the political leaders in question have not taken ordinary citizens into account. If they had not been so obsessed with themselves as a class, they might have asked different questions. These questions arise from the nature of the phenomenon they are incorrectly describing as "Phonegate". It is necessary to appreciate that nobody's telephone has actually been tapped. Had that been the case, it would have been appropriate, indeed necessary, to speak of the erosion of civil liberties under the Manmohan Singh government, and would have constituted an obvious violation of the Indian Telegraph Act. What we are dealing with now is new technology which makes the tapping of individual telephones unnecessary. This technology affords the possibility of catching phone signals (and is a terrific way of catching unawares those who are on the run from the law). As such, when it is activated at any given location, intelligence operatives who might be "listening in" can capture all phone conversations within a range of about two kilometres, including those of politicians, not just of terrorists or other criminals who may be in their crosshairs. Indeed, in the Lutyens Zone of New Delhi, it would be a miracle if conversations of politicians were not captured as the area is the stomping ground of our national leaders. It is clear to see that while the new technology will be very effective — much more so than the earlier phone-tapping device — in tracking terrorists and other such undesirable elements, the privacy of ordinary citizens would automatically be curtailed if a curious or vindictive government turned eavesdropper. It is clear to see that without curbing the use of the new technology to catch those whose design is to cause harm to Indian society and the Indian state, safeguards need to be found to shield normal people from even the unintended misuse of this new instrument that the police and intelligence services have begun to employ of late. Indeed, it is this which should be the focus of the discussion in Parliament, and not any particular grievance of our politicians. It is important that our national legislature pays urgent heed to this unusual problem that has been created by the purchase of a new instrument to deal with one of the most serious challenges to our internal security. The BJP, which is the main Opposition party, the CPI(M), and others would do well to direct their attention in the House to deliberate about a matter of wide public concern.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IPL AT CRICKET'S COST

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Indian Premier League (IPL), with its unprecedented high profile at the time of its creation, the extraordinary publicity around the spectacle of our nationally iconic cricketers being "sold" and "bought" by equally iconic filmstars and corporate heads, should also stir up the most hysterical and feverish speculation when controversy reared its ugly head. I still remember the visuals of the first auction which in itself was a telecaster's dream. Many watched the spectacle with shock and awe some watched it in shock, some in amusement and many with a faint sense of dismay that the game of cricket had come to this.

When the matches actually took place the glamour of the spectacle, the glitzy inaugural, the unusual sight of scantily-clad cheerleaders strutting out onto hitherto more conservative Indian fields, the high octane after-match parties created a kind of intoxication among the high-flying attendees, while the "hoi polloi" watched in bemusement.

The IPL grew larger than its own image. I remember feeling anger and resentment when the Opposition parties and the IPL itself questioned the home minister's word of caution regarding the deployment of security for the IPL matches in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

Surely after a national tragedy of those proportions, the issue of national security, the deployment of security and the paramount importance of ensuring that India's image was not marred by a single untoward incident of breach of security was more important than holding the IPL matches as scheduled. The protagonists of the IPL and the leading Opposition parties did not agree. They argued that it would be a failure of the Indian state if we did not successfully conduct the IPL. In vain, some did argue that the IPL was essentially a private tournament organised by private interests, and howsoever high profile or successful was neither an extension of the Indian state nor would it be a reflection upon our capacity if we felt it was more important, in the aftermath of 26/11, to focus our energy upon more fundamental issues.

I only draw attention to this to remind ourselves of how the IPL bubble was fed and nourished by undue hype and importance. Merely because it represented and represents big money and many opinion-makers, including leading political parties, began to elevate it to the level of the Commonwealth Games or even the Olympics. There is no doubt that for three years the IPL has proved to be a magnetic and successful business model. There is also little doubt that it has fired popular imagination in India, particularly of cricket lovers, and has changed the way cricket is played in India. There are still some fuddy duddies, in which group I include myself, who think wistfully of the days when cricket used to be played for India and Ranji matches for the states.

Our cricket heroes were Indian heroes and icons. Now, however, we are told that the heroes are Chennai Super Kings or Kolkata Knight Riders or Mumbai Indians or Rajasthan Royals, and even more confusing for the uninitiated like me, are the fact that Sri Lankan player Kumar Sangakkara could be in Kings XI Punjab or Albee could be playing for Chennai as is Dhoni! It is very very complicated for people like me, whose allegiances have been hitherto very simplistic and straightforward, namely the India team or the Tamil Nadu team, and I certainly feel nostalgia for the good old simplistic days. There is also a niggling sense of doubt, whether all these players who are bound to be exhausted from playing against Royals or Knight Riders or whatever, and after putting in either willing or command performances at the late-night parties and events will have the energy and the spirit left to play for the country. This is not to question their intentions in any way but only to suggest that it might prove too exhausting for them to try and do everything. Is it possible that team India may suffer due to their external commitments?

However, this is merely the rambling of a lay person and I am authoritatively told that IPL is a huge success. That Lalit Modi is a genius. That he has brought the big bucks to cricket. And vice versa. Never before have I seen admiration of money-making skills more evident than when that almost worshipful tone with which people talk about how Mr Modi has made a success of the IPL in three short years. I can't help wondering if this worship is reserved only for success with money-making or whether people will feel the same respect if someone finds a cure for cancer or puts a satellite in orbit or writes the best book ever or composes heavenly music. Somehow, I doubt if any of the above can compete with the IPL with its heady mix of money, glamour, films, entertainment and cricket, in that order. And I am saddened but not surprised.

It's a very strange paradox that we in India who venerate sacrifice and renunciation also worship at the altar of money and success. The entire country was mesmerised by the call of Mahatma Gandhi, but in much more recent times, so many admired Harshad Mehta who was something of a middle-class hero for his successful manipulation of the market and now Mr Modi. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Mr Modi has committed wrongdoing, violated laws or done anything that was illegal and until the true facts come out, he cannot be castigated. It is self-evident that Mr Modi has galvanised the game of cricket in our country, and created what his admirers call a "world-class" product.

However, despite the commercial success of the IPL the scandal surrounding it has now become larger than life. It is very important for our democracy that the full truth around all the opaque allegations is exposed and total transparency established. Those who have broken the law should be brought to book and the game of cricket should be regulated and placed above suspicion. It is important for us to conclusively establish that rule of law and integrity are paramount in our democracy, and that our basic values will never be compromised due to the expediency of successful business in whatever combination of entertainment, games or spectacular financial achievement.

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GREEN TEA PARTY WITH A HEALTHY DIFFERENCE

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I've been trying to understand the Tea Party movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I'm sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 per cent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:

Become the Green Tea Party.

I'd be happy to design the T-shirt logo and write the manifesto. The logo is easy. It would show young Americans throwing barrels of oil imported from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia into Boston Harbour.

The manifesto is easy, too: "We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America's national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 'Patriot Fee' on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt".

America now imports about 11 million barrels a day, about 57 per cent of our total oil needs — mostly from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. As T. Boone Pickens told Congress the other day: "In January 2010, our trade deficit for the month was $37.3 billion — $27.5 billion of that was money we sent overseas to import oil".

If we put a Patriot Fee on all of those imported barrels, we would use less, cease enriching bad regimes, strengthen our own dollar, make the air cleaner and the climate more stable, foster the exploitation of domestic and renewable energy sources, promote electric vehicles, help bring down the global price of oil (which hurts Iran and helps poor Africa), and we could use the revenue to shrink the deficit. It's win, win, win, win, win, win...

Indeed, the Green Tea Party could say, "We've got our own healthcare plan — a plan to make America healthy by simultaneously promoting energy security, deficit security and environmental security".

"Think about it", said Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club. "Green tea is full of antioxidants", which some believe help reduce cancer and heart disease. "It's really good for your health". And a Green Tea Party, he added, could be good for the country's health "by harnessing all of its energy and unconventional politics" to end our addiction to oil.

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical centre, a centre committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman are expected to unveil a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill on Monday that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This bill is far from perfect. It is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it's the best we're going to get, and we have got to get started. But without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

This bill introduces a carbon price and other means to control the CO2 emissions of various sectors of the economy, without an economywide cap-and-trade system. The bill's goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. But to garner broad support, it will also expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power and offer tax breaks to manufacturers who make their facilities more energy efficient and create green jobs.

"No bill that could pass Congress right now or in the immediate future would be sufficient to produce enough clean power to mitigate climate change at the rate we need", remarked the physicist Joe Romm, who writes the blog climateprogress.org and is author of an insightful new book on this subject, Straight Up. "We simply aren't sufficiently desperate to do what is needed, which is non-stop deployment of a staggering amount of low-carbon energy, including energy efficiency, for the rest of the century".

The reason a Green Tea Party should coalesce to support this bill, argued Romm, is because it will set a price on carbon pollution and help foster commercialisation of clean technologies — like hybrids, batteries and solar — at sufficient scale to enable the US to rapidly ramp up when the seriousness of climate change becomes inescapably obvious to all.

In short, the bill is a step in the right direction toward reducing greenhouse gases and expanding our base of clean power technologies so we can compete with China in this newest global industry. It ain't perfect, but it ain't beanbag. And if we don't start now, every solar panel, electric car and wind turbine we'll have to buy when climate change really hits will come with instructions in Chinese. Go Green Tea Party.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SRK FLOORS BENGAL, BJP CHIEF FAINTS

 

KOCHI GUJJU BHAI BHAI

Satyajit Gaekwad, spokesman for Rendezvous Sports World Private Ltd, the Kochi consortium, has been screaming that the Kochi team was being discriminated against because Lalit Modi, a Gujarati, wanted the league team deal to go to Ahmedabad, to Gujarat-based industrialist Gautam Adani. But no one is taking Mr Gaekwad's allegations seriously because the Kochi Indian Premier League team's Gujarat connection runs deep. For starters, Mr Gaekwad's himself is from Gujarat — a two-time Congress MP from Baroda. Then there are the team's other Gujarati investors, Bhavnagar-based ship breaker Mukesh Patel, and Mumbai-based businessmen Mehul Shah and Harshad Mehta.

Now comes the real twist to this tale. Kochi's only Keralite investor Vivek Venugopal's uncle is Gujarat's most powerful bureaucrat K. Kailasnathan, principal secretary to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. (Mr Venugopal is the son of Mr Kailasnathan's brother-in-law.) Too much of a Gujju connection here for the discrimination charge to hold!

Khan's charm

When it comes to charming people, Shah Rukh Khan has few equals. The recent one to fall prey to his charms is none other than West Bengal fire and emergency services minister Pratim Chatterjee. The minister was up in arms against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and IPL for constructing a "super-hospitality box" at Eden Gardens, flouting fire safety norms.


The box was for King Khan, his family and friends, and the lucky few who could shell out Rs 32,000 for a ticket to rub shoulders with Bollywood glitterati. Mr Chatterjee filed an FIR against KKR and even threatened to resign if political pressure was put on him to issue clearance for the stand. But then Shah Rukh picked up the phone and offered to act with the minister, who plays minor roles in Bengali movies. Mr Chatterjee's steely resolve melted in seconds. And the super-hospitality box (with minor repairs and modifications) was given the necessary clearance. Refusing an opportunity to share screen space with Badshah Khan is, perhaps, too much to ask for!

 

Fainting party

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Nitin Gadkari's fainting spell at the recent anti-price rise rally in Delhi has given others a chance to laugh at his expense. Some said he fainted after seeing the "unexpected" gathering of party workers. Others joked that he fainted because he was expecting 10 lakh people at the rally, but barely two lakh turned up. Incidentally, Mr Gadkari had himself overseen the preparations as this was his first major rally in the national capital after taking over the reins of the BJP. Poor thing! He did manage to instil panic, but not in the party he was aiming for.

No politics for Antony

Defence minister and senior Congress leader A.K. Antony was in no mood to talk about politics while interacting with reporters outside the ministry of defence (MoD) recently. When one reporter asked for his comments on the Shashi Tharoor episode, since Mr Tharoor is also an MP from Kerala, the minister said that defence and politics are two completely different issues and that he has never spoken about any political issue in the MoD or while speaking as defence minister. "Right now I am speaking as defence minister", Mr Antony said.

The statement disappointed the large group of TV channel crew that had gathered in the hope that Mr Antony would speak on the controversy involving Mr Tharoor.

Thanda, thanda, cool, cool

The lesser mortals of Uttar Pradesh may be reeling under scorching heat wave with barely a drop to drink, but the Gods are all thanda, thanda, cool, cool.


The famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi recently acquired an airconditioner that works round-the-clock to keep the deity cool. A special fountain has also been installed to continuously sprinkle water on the Shivling. The Bankey Bihari Temple in Mathura has set up huge water coolers in the temple complex. And the Tridev Temple, which houses idols of Hanuman, Sati Devi and Khatu Shyamji Maharaj, has 22 airconditioners to beat the heat.

In some other temples in the state, priests are keeping the deities cool the natural way — by applying sandal paste.

If the Gods are cool, can the ruling deity of Uttar Pradesh be far behind? Mayawati has got every room at her residence-cum-office fitted with two or more ACs — just in case one conks. Her residential complex has been connected to three power feeders — what if, one trips. The roads are washed thoroughly to settle the dust before she moves out. Water scarcity, says who?

In Thy Name

The Congress high command in Delhi may harp on secularism, but its Mizoram chief minister Pu Lal Thanhawla does not hesitate to use religion to appeal to the sentiments of tribals in the state.

Addressing a congregation of the United Pentecostal Church of Northeast India recently, Mr Thanhawla assured the tribals not to fear for their future and existence. "As Mizos are God's chosen tribe, we will not be assimilated", he said. The chief minister then added that he has faith and believes that "as long as people put their faith in God, Mizos will not be assimilated". It's a good thing that Mizoram is Christian majority.

Pied Piper

Well-known Goan singer and activist Remo Fernandes has publicly proclaimed that the only way to save Goa is by drowning all politicians. Fernandes, who has been fighting to save the natural beauty of Goa from illegal mining and haphazard constructions for many years, recently said nothing could be done to rectify the "irreparable damage" to Goa. "The only thing that can make a difference is to put all politicians in a ship and sink it in the Arabian Sea", he said, and then added after a pause, "Actually this will pollute the sea, but there is no other alternative". An interesting thought, did you say?

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WAS OPPOSITION SLEEPING?

BY RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD

The Opposition parties have announced their intention of stalling Parliament over the phone-tapping incidents. But no political party bothered to raise any objections when the government passed a law on interception in December 2008 which is far more draconian regarding privacy than those passed in the British Raj.

Prior to the notification of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 on February 5, 2009, phone-tapping was governed by Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. This provided that "on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of public safety, the Central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised ... may, if satisfied it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct that any message or class of messages to or from any person or class of persons, or relating to any particular subject, brought for transmission by or transmitted or received by any telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed to the government...."

Section 7(2)(b) of the same law says the government should frame "precautions ... for preventing improper interception or disclosure of messages". Since 1885, no government has done so. In 1991, the PUCL filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court arguing that Section 5(2) infringed the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, and to life and personal liberty.

In December 1996, the Supreme Court said in its ruling: "Occurrence of any public emergency" or "interest of public safety" are the sine qua non for application of ... Section 5(2). Unless a public emergency has occurred or the interest of public safety demands, the authorities have no jurisdiction to exercise (these) powers. Public emergency would mean a sudden condition or state of affairs affecting the people at large calling for immediate action. The expression "public safety" means the state or condition of freedom from danger or risk for the people at large. When either of these two conditions are not in exercise, the Central government or a state government or the authorised officer cannot resort to telephone tapping even though there is satisfaction that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India.... In other words, even if the Central government is satisfied it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India or the security of the state or friendly relations with sovereign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to commission of an offence, it cannot intercept messages or resort to telephone tapping unless a public emergency has occurred or in the interest of public safety. Neither (is a) secretive condition or situation. Either ... would be apparent to a reasonable person."

The Supreme Court also specified procedures and safeguards to "rule out arbitrariness in the exercise of power... so the right to privacy of a person is protected."

But now Section 69 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008, passed in December 2008, drops all references to the essential criteria of "public emergency" or "public safety", and thus circumvents the Supreme Court ruling. Significantly, it also overrides all other laws.

Clause 69 of this law — Powers to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource — provides: Where the Central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised ... is satisfied it is necessary or expedient ... in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence ... or for investigation of any offence ... may, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the appropriate government to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted any information transmitted received or stored through any computer resource."

Even under the criteria specified by the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, October 27, 2009, the tapping of the phones of Sharad Pawar, Prakash Karat, Nitish Kumar and Digvijay Singh appears to be illegal. There is no evidence that the home secretary authorised the tapping of their phones by the National Technical Research Organisation, with the reasons recorded in writing as required under Sections 3 and 7 of the Rules.

Clinchingly, Section 8 of the rules requires the home secretary to consider alternative methods of acquiring the information, and further specifies that interception will be permitted only when the home secretary is satisfied it is not possible to acquire the information by any other reasonable means.

The removal of the essential criteria of "public emergency" and "public safety" in the amended IT Act of 2008 has permitted a legal situation far more draconian on liberty than the 1885 Telegraph Act enacted to protect the British Raj. Section 69 of the new law could be violative of Supreme Court rulings that a reasonable expectation of privacy derives from Article 21 of the Constitution.

- Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad, an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon and IIT Kanpur, heads an infotech firm in New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CONQUEST OF LOVE

BY MUZAFFAR ALI

There are two kinds of swords. The Sword of Steel and the Sword of Love. The Sword of Steel makes two out of one; the Sword of love makes one out of two. — Hazrat Ali

At an intimate dinner last week the conversation flowed into religious beliefs. One person differed radically from the one who started the conversation. Then another person had something entirely different to say. As the conversation moved, that once congenial group began to look unpredictably diverse. The stormy clouds began to gather in the clear blue skies. People became more and more dogmatic and argumentative. The table began to get polarised with each coming out stronger than the other with their own vivid colours of conviction and faith that it became almost unbearable. After a while I did not think of what I believed in but how the world can learn to co-exist with diverse views. I felt that religion should be the delicate art of understanding and balancing the Zahir and the Batin, the Revealed and the Hidden, which evolves through a regular evolution of culture. Evolved rulers have ensured that the rights of the smallest minority are not violated. Such rulers are blessed by saints and will always be remembered for their compassion and benevolence of mankind. That is why it is said that a benevolent ruler is protected by the grace of 70 (saints) Walis. While the Wali is hidden the ruler is revealed. He is supposed to be manifestation of Divine justice. There is a lot to learn from the lives of such exemplary people who have dedicated their lives to understanding different faiths and promoting harmony among them. They went beyond war and politics and extended themselves into the purely human realm. Akbar evolved a way of understanding different beliefs and creating a deep reverence for those who were not of his faith. Jahangir born of a Hindu mother with Hindu wives and children from them, followed in the same direction in a more evolved, organic and natural way through the aesthetics of integration. This was taken finally to highest limit by his grandson Dara Shikoh, who had the Upanishads and the Ramayana translated into Persian so that it would cross the Indian borders and reach a huge world that was then under influence of that language.

Then many followed this example and did not use religion to control the people, as it is happening in many countries around the world today. They endeared themselves to the populace by respecting rituals and values of other religions. One day my father went to meet a neighbouring Raja, a friend of his father who happened to be a Hindu. It was the mourning period of Muharram. The Raja was sleeping on the floor. My father expressed his surprised at this, to which he rebuked my father in chaste Awadhi, saying "Tum murkh ho. Raja ka koi dharm hot hai, jo uhiuki praja ka dharam wahi uhika dharm". This man was not seeking votes. It was his own conviction. This was the Awadh of Nawab Wajid Ali, a great Krishna lover, for whom, when he was made to leave his beloved city Lucknow, the common folk wept and wailed as they bid farewell to their beloved ruler, "Hajrat jaiye rahen han Landan. Inpe kripa karo Raghunandan".

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director andSecretary of the Rumi Foundation. He canbe contacted at www.rumifoundation.in [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UNENDING INEPTNESS

KOLKATA WAITS FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT 

 

There are few things more bizarre than a confession from the West Bengal fire services minister one month after the tragedy at Stephen Court that his department does not have the funds to provide the compensation he had promised. Officially, the number of dead is 43 and it would be ridiculous to suggest that a sanction of less than a crore of rupees needs to clear the bureaucratic hurdles of the finance department before reaching victims' families. There are few state governments that need a minister for fire services. That Pratim Chatterjee is not overworked is evident from the time he finds to indulge his passion for acting. If that cannot be held against him, it is unpardonable that disaster management, including relief for victims, is a matter of speculation even after the horrors of a fire that laid bare the ineptness of the administration as never before. It brings no consolation to victims and no reassurance to others that formalities like getting the DNA reports have to be completed before relief operations can begin and before occupants of the ill-fated building can return to their normal lives. A disaster as extensive and alarming as the one at Stephen Court has apparently not spurred the department into the urgency that was warranted. 


A glaring example is the tug of war in progress over the site for keeping the hydraulic ladder needed for rescue operations in highrises. Surely, the essential formality of deciding where it would be parked ought to have been completed before ordering the ladder from Japan. That the process of getting files to move has begun only after it has arrived speaks volumes for the way this  government tackles potentially life-threatening situations. It fits the perception that a fire services department is needed merely to accommodate one of the smaller Left parties and that the minister indulges in excessive posturing over the potential fire hazards in a VIP enclosure at the Eden Gardens and in bigger community pujas to cover up the mess in his backyard. It will be equally unfortunate if the inquiry committee has been set up merely to buy time ~ three months to get the report and more time to act on it. Public memory may or may not fade during that time. But history will indict a government that drags its feet on primary responsibilities. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

IAF ACCIDENTS

TRAINING GAPS PERSIST 

 

IN absolute terms, perhaps even by the accident-rate yardstick, crashes of IAF planes no longer attract the negative attention they did a decade or so ago. That does point to some positive measures having kicked in. Yet the recent findings on the subject by the parliamentary standing committee on defence (it dealt with 74 crashes in the past six years) suggest that while a crisis has been managed serious concerns persist: particularly since they pertain to shortcomings in the training systems which translate into human errors that account for 45 per cent of the mishaps. For long the alibi was the absence of an advanced jet trainer to bridge the gap between the basic jet trainer, the Kiran, and frontline combat aircraft. That gap was plugged two years ago with the induction of the Hawk. Has it made much difference? Now there is no "ab initio" trainer available, the indigenous intermediate trainer is far from ready to enter service, and the simulators are non-functional. Once again it would appear that in the craze to acquire state-of-the-art equipment the planners lost sight of the need to walk before wanting to run. Another alibi was the mismatch between ageing aircraft and inexperienced pilots: well, at least if the defence minister has got it right, that problem is winding down since the MiG-21 is being phased out (most aviation experts hail that plane as a design classic, only in the IAF did it merit condemnation as a "flying coffin"). Its modernised version, a limited number of "Bisons", were projected "as good as new", so that situation is being addressed. Or is the unpleasant truth that the training system is just not good enough? 

 

There is also a strong human/training element to what are recorded as technical faults: the standard of servicing/maintenance is as much a factor as component-failure. The quality of the personnel inducted into the lower echelons of the maintenance apparatus is hardly "cream", and the truly skilled gain some experience and seek to move on to the more lucrative civil aviation sector. To reopen the squabble between the flyboys and the engineers that triggered a mutiny a dozen years ago would serve little purpose, but has the force "righted" its priorities?


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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BOND IS 'BROKE'

007 FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL 

 

JAMES Bond's financial concerns were limited to whether Moneypenny would "report" his philandering; he turned on the charm to avert sinking into the red in her ledger. Sadly, realities of the reel world are more difficult to counter than a combination of Dr No, Goldfinger, Rosa Klebb and all his other adversaries. What was planned as the 23rd in the series of celluloid blockbusters is now in cold storage. The entertainment industry suffered a body blow during the recession, once impregnable MGM (owner of the Bond franchise) can't find itself a buyer, and the production team does not know from where and when the funds will come to further that unique blend of glitz and action. Waiting anxiously for a change in fortune is the current avatar of the spy-that-thrills, Daniel Craig and in the wings that Bollywood beauty, Freida Pinto, hoping to leapfrog from the pits of a slumdog millionaire to an environment which has created the much coveted "Bond girl" brand. Would it not be ironic if the bailout came "From Russia with Love", after all the new oligarchy there has reached out far ~ to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea Football Club for example. That would have been pure heresy in the era that gave breath to Bond. Millions the world over will be more than anxious that somehow the funds turn up to enable 007 to fill up his supercharged Aston Martin, re-load his Walther PPK and set off to rid the world of yet another villain. 


Yet there would be a few diehards who might actually hope that Bond's exploits on screen come to an end. For they have been embellished with so much hi-tech gadgetry that they have distanced themselves from Ian Fleming's creation: the "original" Bond appealed (particularly the print version) essentially because in him was enshrined many a man's desires. And that went beyond fast cars and faster women to take in Saville Row suits, specially rolled cigarettes, gourmet tastes, exclusive clubs, vodka martinis (shaken not stirred), golf, bridge … all the "classy" things in life. Even the first set of film buffs might not be too unhappy: for them the very mention of James Bond conjures up the Sean Connery image. Forget Bfosnan, Craig et all. The rugged Scot was to 007 what Johnny Weismuller was to Tarzan. Irreplaceable.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LESSONS FROM DANTEWADA

CRPF MUST BE TRAINED IN JUNGLE WARFARE

SANKAR SEN


THE killing of 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel by the Maoists  demonstrates the organisational strength, the level of preparedness and the brutality of the Left radicals. The incident sends out a grim message ~ the paramilitary forces and the state police are neither adequately trained nor equipped. 
The CRPF personnel were ambushed in the Mukrana forest in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district. A major portion of this district of South Bastar is believed to be a liberated zone, with little or no evidence of the government. The Maoists run a parallel authority. The CRPF men would seem to have walked into a trap. Reports indicate that wrong information was planted about a Maoist training camp inside the forest area, and the CRPF proceeded to raid the forest. The jawans came under attack while returning to the base camp. Anticipating that once under fire, the CRPF men would seek cover under rocks and trees, the Maoists had planted pressure mines in these typically jungle features. As it turned out, many of the jawans were blown up by mines; others were shot by the Maoists who had surrounded them. To conduct anti-Maoist operations, the CRPF has to work jointly with the local police who are familiar with the terrain and the forest routes. Unfortunately, only two senior constables were accompanying the force. This points to the lack of proper coordination between the CRPF and the local police. It was hardly a "joint operation" as claimed by the Union home minister.


Now, a former DG of the BSF and a very capable officer, Mr Rammohan, has been asked by the government to conduct an inquiry. Hopefully, the report will reveal the sequence of events and the operational blunders.
Clear strategy


THE cold-blooded massacre has provoked widespread indignation against the savagery of the Maoists. There is a demand to mobilise  the army and the air force for anti-Maoist operations. But any knee-jerk reaction will further aggravate the problem. The time for rhetoric is over and a clear and hardheaded strategy will have to be worked out.


The Maoists of today are not a poorly equipped lot like the Naxalites of the Seventies. They are highly organised and motivated. Their leaders are young and they have an estimated 22,000 armed cadres spread across seven states. The had a Rs 60-crore annual budget in 2007; Rs 42 crore were earmarked for the purchase of arms,  ammunition and explosives and Rs 2 crore for Intelligence operations. Their collection of money has increased considerably. Extortions from contractors, mine owners, tendu leaf traders, and sandalwood smugglers are their major source of funds.


Though the notion of a Red Corridor from Andhra Pradesh to Nepal is exaggerated, the fact remains that the Maoists have been able to expand their areas of influence over the past few years. Unlike terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-east, which are border states, Maoism is threatening to spread to the country's "heartland", which is considered as its "treasure trove". They have set up nearly 100 training camps and many of their armed cadres are reportedly being trained by ex-army officers.


Paramilitary forces, particularly the CRPF, are in the forefront of the operations. The CRPF is a trained and disciplined force, but has virtually no experience in jungle warfare. For them, as admitted by senior officers, it is an unfamiliar operation in an unknown terrain. They have to be trained in jungle warfare to confront the  enemy who has been living in the forest area for years and with a thorough knowledge of the terrain.
Therefore, in the area domination operations blunders or unfamiliarity can lead to the loss of lives. Lessons will have to be learnt quickly and mistakes avoided.


Chidambaram has said that though the government had not thus far used air power against the Maoists, it will review the latest situation. There is the risk of collateral damage and objections from the air force. But aircraft can be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and surgical strikes. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey the affected areas has just begun. But these flying machines will not be of help unless they have powerful cameras to photograph the targets through the thick foliage.


The Dantewada massacre has emboldened the Maoists. They have warned of more attacks and in a letter, that they have now circulated, members of the families of the security personnel participating in anti-Maoist operations have been asked to call them back home. They are brazenly trying to subvert the loyalty of the paramilitary forces.


Action in tandem

IF the state police and the paramilitary can act in tandem, they can successfully thwart the Maoists without involving the army. It was the police and the paramilitary forces, which countered the militants in Punjab. In Andhra Pradesh, the police and its specialised units such as the Greyhound have been able to contain the phenomenon. In Andhra, the number of Maoist-related incidents dropped from 576 in 2006 to 62 in 2009. Over the same period, the killings declined from 211 to 17 and police deaths from 25 to zero. Central to this success was the focused police action, backed by Intelligence. Tripura police has also done a commendable job in tackling the insurgents. In the other states, swift intelligence based operations will dent their capability and morale and put them in disarray. This will also erode their support base at the level of locals. 
Also imperative is proper coordination between the Centre and the states to conduct an effective offensive.  Operation Greenhunt has not been particularly successful because some of the states are dragging their feet out of political and electoral considerations. However, reports from the field indicate that Operation Green Hunt along West Bengal's border with Jharkhand has been able to instil  confidence in the minds of the locals in Purulia (West Bengal) and Ghatshila (Jharkhand). 


The training of the police and the paramilitary forces needs to be significantly upgraded. Police training institutions in most of the affected states are in a poor shape. The armed police battalions are neither well-trained nor adequately equipped. Eastern Frontier Rifles was once an elite force, but the Silda killings demonstrated that it lacks proper training and leadership. The CRPF needs to be trained in jungle warfare. A certain percentage of its men should periodically be sent out for training. At present the force is being deployed on a varied range of duties. If this trend persists, the CRPF will also go the way of  the state armed police battalions.

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THE TELEGRAPH

JUST MEMORY

 

A young girl's unfaltering determination and implacable memory have given the police the chance to capture 10 persons who were part of an interstate trafficking and prostitution ring. The 13-year-old was abducted from Habra, West Bengal and taken to Gujarat, where she was forced to take 'customers' who basically raped her. She was rescued by an NGO two months later, in 2007, after which she has been able to lead the police to every address she was taken to in Gujarat, and provide them with the names of her captors and details of what was done to her. Society has truly gained from her journey into hell, and her firm testimony in court has given the case against the alleged traffickers a solid foundation.

 

This would have seemed as happy an ending as is possible under the circumstances except for the fact that she is now HIV+. She, however, is an extraordinary girl, making sure that justice is done so that she can put the horror behind her and start life afresh, with study and hard work. But one of the major problems for the police is that not all victims of trafficking are like her. Many of them are unable to adjust to their old life after rescue. Neither is every one accepted. Rehabilitation, both material and psychological, is a huge task, and needs as many specialists as does the pursuit of traffickers. West Bengal is one of the most vulnerable states, yet it does not seem to have really got going against traffickers before the mid-2000s. Poverty, porous borders, the desperately low value attached to women and children (for boys are trafficked too), the hope of poor parents that the working daughter will send money home or will be "married" and happy, or even the conscious barter of a child for money, make it easy for traffickers to pick out the prey to be put to work sexually or commercially under conditions similar to slavery. Perhaps it is only in the last three years that rescues are sometimes making the news. Howsoever small a dent these make on the actual numbers of trafficked persons, they show that the government and the police are moving at last. Nine integrated anti-trafficking units have been established in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and West Bengal, while the Criminal Investigation Department in West Bengal has devoted a special cell to the crime. Yet trafficking has been allowed to become such a vast operation that it will take a long time of hard work — and perhaps more young people determined to identify their captors — before any significant headway is made.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

MILCH INDIA

 

The Indian Premier League has been the best and worst show for a long time. The two go together in India. For instance, the Emergency was a dreadful show, but the trouncing of the Indira Congress in the 1977 election changed the entire tone; the economic crisis of 1991 was the worst of independent India, but it led to the lucky transition from socialism to the present mixed-up capitalism. The IPL is a progeny of that new system — just as complex, confused and rollicking. And again, the real game, namely the bat-ball being played every evening, has been quite forgotten; people cannot even distinguish the men of the mauve JXU from the ochre QZV. But everyone knows Lalit Modi as if he was the boy from the corner shop, and hangs on his precious words, dropped off on the way to the next plane or speakeasy. Shashi Tharoor had by far the better looks, but he lost out in the popularity polls because of his literacy.

 

The falling out of the two gave a chance to the crypto-socialists hanging around the portals of power; they have jumped in with all the fervour of a pack of wolves. They were led by the finance minister, who thundered in Parliament that the finances of the owners of IPL teams would be probed, and sent the minions from the income tax and enforcement departments into the office of the IPL; they took care to let the media know before visiting it. The owners of most teams are well -known people of means; they would have been filing returns for years. Their partners from abroad would not, but they do not have to. So what the government has organized is a charade of self-righteousness.

 

Government types love publicity; they think that they are so much more important than filmy and cricket types and get so much less exposure. So they are likely to make the best use of this opportunity and keep creating diversions as long as they can. The administration of the IPL was never a model; they will leave it in a mess. Politicians too smell an opportunity; they will use it to get a stronger hold on the IPL. But at the end of all that profit maximization, the show must go on; more important, the real game must be insulated from the political ones.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

 

MILCH INDIA

 

The Indian Premier League has been the best and worst show for a long time. The two go together in India. For instance, the Emergency was a dreadful show, but the trouncing of the Indira Congress in the 1977 election changed the entire tone; the economic crisis of 1991 was the worst of independent India, but it led to the lucky transition from socialism to the present mixed-up capitalism. The IPL is a progeny of that new system — just as complex, confused and rollicking. And again, the real game, namely the bat-ball being played every evening, has been quite forgotten; people cannot even distinguish the men of the mauve JXU from the ochre QZV. But everyone knows Lalit Modi as if he was the boy from the corner shop, and hangs on his precious words, dropped off on the way to the next plane or speakeasy. Shashi Tharoor had by far the better looks, but he lost out in the popularity polls because of his literacy.

 

The falling out of the two gave a chance to the crypto-socialists hanging around the portals of power; they have jumped in with all the fervour of a pack of wolves. They were led by the finance minister, who thundered in Parliament that the finances of the owners of IPL teams would be probed, and sent the minions from the income tax and enforcement departments into the office of the IPL; they took care to let the media know before visiting it. The owners of most teams are well -known people of means; they would have been filing returns for years. Their partners from abroad would not, but they do not have to. So what the government has organized is a charade of self-righteousness.

 

Government types love publicity; they think that they are so much more important than filmy and cricket types and get so much less exposure. So they are likely to make the best use of this opportunity and keep creating diversions as long as they can. The administration of the IPL was never a model; they will leave it in a mess. Politicians too smell an opportunity; they will use it to get a stronger hold on the IPL. But at the end of all that profit maximization, the show must go on; more important, the real game must be insulated from the political ones.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE FIRST MAN ON MARS

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 of America is giving up on space, although it is trying hard to conceal its retreat. Recently, three Americans with a special status (they have all commanded missions to the Moon) made their dismay public.

 

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

 

The letter was timed to coincide with 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. Obama insists that this sacrifice will allow the US to pursue a more ambitious goal, but his plan to send Americans to Mars by the late 2030s has the distinct political advantage of not needing 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 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 have slipped further. 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' worth of the defence budget. But it would have kept the US in the game. Obama's plan only pretends to.

 

He says all the right things. He talked about a manned mission to some asteroid beyond the Moon by 2025, and another that will orbit Mars for some months in the mid-2030s; "and a landing on Mars will follow."

 

Only a hitch-hiker

 

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 for the next five years, and actual work on building such rockets would probably not begin until 2015.

 

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

 

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.

So for the next decade at least, the US will be an also-ran in space, while new space powers forge rapidly ahead. Even if a subsequent administration decides 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 be Chinese or Indian, not American.

 

 

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

EDITORIAL

VALIDATING FORECASTS

"GOVTS SHOULD BE READY FOR A FAILURE OF THE PREDICTION TOO."

 

The India Meteorological Department's prediction of a normal monsoon this year should provide relief to the government and the farmers who suffered badly from a failure of the monsoon last year. It is important for all people, as the behaviour of the monsoon affects the lives of everybody in some way or the other. The IMD forecast has put the likely rainfall at 98 per cent of the long-time average. A normal monsoon will ensure a good kharif harvest and will ease the concern over rising inflation. The RBI in its recent credit policy statement had mentioned the monsoon as a major factor in the strategy to fight inflation. A copious monsoon and good performance by the agricultural sector will also improve the overall economic growth rate and may take it to the 9-10 per cent range.


While the prospect of a good monsoon is reassuring, the government should be ready for the prediction going awry also. Like the rains, their forecasts have also been unreliable. The IMD had predicted a near normal monsoon of 94 per cent precipitation last year but had to lower the estimates successively as the season progressed. Eventually the rainfall was only a 77 per cent of the long-term average, resulting in drought conditions in many parts of the country. The present forecast needs to be taken only as a preliminary assessment. All factors that have a bearing on the monsoon, like the El Nino, are  still evolving. There is also no certainty whether all the information needed for a correct forecast of the monsoon has been built into the statistical model developed by the IMD and used by it for its predictions.


The IMD has only given a national aggregate of expected rainfall. What is more important is the distribution of rainfall over time and territory, and its intensity measured in terms of the two. Predictions about the regional variations in monsoon behaviour are due next month. Forecasts, 15 days ahead, of the monsoon in various agro-climatic zones are planned and these can be of great value to the farmers and others. But the usefulness depends on their accuracy. Climate studies have to develop much more in the country. The basic framework of prediction, based on five parameters, needs to be refined further. Therefore, governments, both at the Centre and in states, should not be complacent like last year and should be ready for a failure of the prediction too.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GOLDMAN'S FRAUD

"MANY BANKING PRACTICES ARE IN THE GREY AREA."

 

 

The initiation of prosecution against Wall Street icon Goldman Sachs by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is a step towards cleansing the US financial system of the murky practices that caused the global economic meltdown two years ago. Goldman Sachs is among the world's top investment banks and came out unscathed from the financial storm that shook the US and the world. But the SEC claims that it resorted to deceitful and fraudulent practices, and made money at the expense of its customers. It has charged that Goldman structured and sold sub-prime securities, which were at the heart of the US financial crisis, knowing very well that they would fail. It allegedly colluded with a hedge fund manager who also profited from unethical practices. The bank is said to have made profits and thrived on the risky instruments it sold, all the while knowing that these were bad investments for its customers. The crux of the charges is concealment of vital information. Apart from individual customers, other banks and pension funds that bought Goldman's products suffered major losses.


Goldman has stoutly denied the charges and claimed that it has done nothing illegal. The problem in the arcane world of the US financial system is that many banking and investments practices are in the grey area between morality and legality. Successful prosecution of financial institutions for fraud and malpractices has been rare. Some of the institutions failed in the aftermath of the bubble because they could not cope with the financial consequences of their actions, not because they were made to pay a legal price for them. It may not be easy to prove the case against Goldman Sachs in courts because of the infirmities of the existing regulatory system. The legal system has not been able to catch up with the complexities of the products and practices evolved ingeniously through many years.


Whatever be the fate of the prosecution, the SEC action has sent out the message that it is ready to deal with the questionable practices of the big boys of high finance. It has also put into sharper focus the need for better and tighter financial regulations. President Obama has declared that he would go ahead with a regulatory reform plan. Such reforms will again not be easy in the US where politics and business are strongly interlinked and where there is a strong ideological opposition to regulation.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE IPL SAGA

FAIRY TALE SANS HAPPY ENDING

M J AKBAR


"The private betting done by some franchise owners is still a story waiting to be told."

 

The secret mantra of 'The Greatest Circus in the World' was quite simple: keep everyone happy and pass the loot to a cosy club. This brilliant formula deserves all the credit possible in an age where profit is the sole morality and mass entertainment the highest art form. This was entertainment on a spectacular level, with a ticket-pricing policy designed to serve the most important psychological weakness of acquisitive Indians, the ego. The astonishingly exorbitant ticket to the rather tardy lounge at the top of the crest quickly became the perfect gift to anyone with even a modicum of influence. Those who purchased a more moderate ticket became surrogate members of this cosy club, permitted a few thrills from the fringe while club owners laughed all the way to the bank — or, in many cases, tax havens like Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands where the colour of cash is a permanent black.


If the owners had one fear, it was the thought of an intrusive government that might begin to investigate their financial shenanigans. They bought into government by sharing the loot with politicians in return for protection. And so, even when tax authorities did put together a note on Lalit Modi, action was aborted. Paradoxically, this encouraged Modi's self-delusion to the point of self-destruction.


There were institutional rewards as well. It seems unbelievable, but this circus was exempt from entertainment tax. Maharashtra alone could have earned Rs 500 crore so far. Such exemptions are given for mass media with some noble message. If anyone has discovered anything noble in a show whose most exciting attraction is a bunch of imported, under-dressed cheerleaders, then it would be good to know.


The script was superb, and the finest actors were contracted for all the roles, but there is nothing, alas, called a perfect movie. You can square a bunch of ministers, but how do you woo a belligerent Opposition? It was silly to believe that the Opposition — or indeed media — could be silenced with a few throwaway tickets in the front row. When a silly altercation between primary stakeholders and nouveau riche gatecrashers opened, as it were, the floodgates, the power of media and parliament became suddenly apparent. It was too late. Opposition parties have already introduced two slogans that are going to reverberate across the country: the government belongs to IPL, while Opposition is concerned with BPL (that is, those below the poverty line). If this sounds a trifle ponderous, the second one is tangy and spicy in Hindi: "Dal mein kaala zaroor hai, aur kitney Tharoor hain?"
Shashi Tharoor is a prawn compared to the big fish in the net. As for the proportions of dirt in the 'daal', it might be more accurate to reverse the equation. There is just some lentil in the dirt, rather than the other way around.

We do not have a full idea of the level of muck. The private betting done by some franchise owners is still a story waiting to be told. When owners bet, it is axiomatic that matches are fixed. More money can be made, privately, when a good team loses than when it wins. As is well known, bribing players is not impossible. The older players get, the more they thrash around for retirement benefits. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been exemplary in ordering raids, and there is already talk that data and emails reveal an owner-betting underbelly of significant proportions. So far, government has been resisting the appointment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate this scam, but for how long? A JPC would be entitled to all the information collected by government in these raids, which would put it in the public domain.

IPL honchos still believe they can get away without much damage, because destruction of IPL could fracture the government. The sacrifice of a couple of scapegoats would be a peanuts price compared to the bloodshed that awaits a proper accountability. That jaded crutch known as the 'necessary evil' is being trotted out to justify some of the excesses, along with a solemn promise that everything will be cleaned up if the show is permitted to continue. As someone more wise than famous said, once you assuage your conscience, this begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.


The damage in cash terms can be calculated, but who will do the accounting of the damage to IPL's credibility? There is cynical response: why should a circus need any credibility? Who believes a Hindi movie to be the essence of truth, and if it is the essence of truth, who watches it? But Cabinet ministers do not use their power to preside over the Hindi movie industry, or divert Air India aircraft to pick up cast and crew. The story has reached where it has because the credibility of the Union government is also at stake. Try being cynical about this.When the scriptwriters of IPL promised to make everyone happy, they forgot an essential requirement. They needed a happy ending for themselves.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

 

IN THE UK, IT'S BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE

PEOPLE LIKE WHAT IS ON OFFER AND ALL THE CATCHY SLOGANS. THE SLOGANS DO NOT REALLY MEAN ANYTHING.

BY COLIN TODHUNTER


Welcome to the British General Election Superstore. Buy one, get one free. Political parties that is. If you vote for one in the upcoming general election, you get the other thrown in for free. Given that you would find it hard to insert a cigarette paper between the policies of the two main parties, voting for one is like voting for both because they are almost one and the same.


The slogans plastered on the shop window include 'cuts' and 'we give more choice'. I've seen what's on offer, however, and it's not a pretty sight.


There are cuts, cuts and more cuts — to health, education, welfare and a raft of public services. One manufacturer claims it will cut to the bone, while another advocates gentler, more 'appealing' cuts. I asked the store manager why there were to be so many cuts. The store's bank went bankrupt because it flitted the store's money away on corrupt deals and that now the store felt obliged to help out with more of its own money.  Strange logic indeed. He had me down as a troublemaker.


Afghanistan
Then there is the Afghanistan shelf. The sales logo says 'Support out troops!' Good old tub thumping stuff. I asked the store manager about what that was about. He asked in dismay if I supported the troops, implying that he suspected that I didn't. He also had me down as some kind of agitator. He didn't want to discuss the nature of the troops' involvement in Afghanistan, but was only concerned with my patriotism.


The shelves were full of products from just two main manufacturers. I was told there are no alternatives. Then I saw, hidden away at the back of the shop, shelves containing public ownership and things like bank nationalisation. Apparently, no one wanted these products and that's why they don't see the light of day.
But if people were made aware of such things, there may well be a surge of activity in the store and those products could really sell. The store manager claimed I was a heretic and that I'd best go to the Venezuela superstore or the Cuba retail mall down the street.


I was informed that people like what is on offer and all the catchy slogans. The slogans do not really mean anything, but they sound good. They could mean something and sound like they do, but essentially they mean very little. Empty slogans produce harmony and consensus. No one really knows why they are in harmony, but they are.


I was told that it would be wiser if I didn't come back to his store ever again because his customers are happy shoppers. He said they may be apathetic, they may be misinformed, but at least they are 'model citizens' and not troublemakers, agitators or subversives.


There are various other signs in the store — 'No credit given' — certainly not by the two main parties for the electorate possessing a brain cell. "Our products contain no fruit, nuts or nutritional goodness whatsoever." Well, that went without saying really. And, "We are cheap". But we knew that all along, didn't we?

Sale now on! Prices even lower than the morality of it all. Open the ring-pull on top of the electioneering can and feel the spray. It's all so unrefreshingly cheap.


Drink it in and you may just find that it has a kind of empty-tasting fizz, built from a recipe of paranoia and fear. Keep telling yourself that it tastes good and eventually it may in a sort of sickly-sweet way. It's definitely an acquired taste. Some see the sham and spit it out immediately, claiming the whole affair it to be poisonous establishment propaganda, but others swallow it whole and are hooked by the slogans and meaningless media sound bites. That's the British general election campaign 2010 style.


The concept of democracy behind this is that the mass of the population are a problem, and any genuine debate or the electorate's ability to see what is actually happening must be prevented. People must be distracted — they should be watching premier league football, mind numbing soap operas or some sitcom. Every once in a while, like at voting time, they are called on to regugitate or back some meaningless slogans.


And so, just who will win the election in Britain. Does it really matter? The whole thing is building up a huge head of meaningless steam. It's the losers that will bother me — the vast majority of the British population. Democracy. Who are we kidding?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE FEAR OF AUDIT

BY A N SURYANARAYANAN


Even today, the Army fears the annual visit by auditors.

 

 

CGDA's website says 'audit-department' existed pre-1748 for the three Presidency military forces. I have found historical evidence. The capture of Gwalior fort on a 200-feet-high scarped and isolated rock was a military feat. When all else failed, on August 3, 1780, Major Popham got made special set of cotton-stuffed-boots for a rigorously trained small team under Captain Bruce.


They climbed the fort-wall and jumped in noiselessly; quickly fought the guards and opened the gates for East India Company troops to enter. The fort fell without loss of any life. Popham was highly decorated and subsequently retired; but in final settlement, he found a hefty sum deducted. After much enquiry, he learnt, audit had objected that special cotton boots were neither in regulation nor was he the competent financial authority.

Even today, the Army fears the annual visit by auditors. Their initial 'observations' are on rough sheets for a discussion at sub-unit (Major's) level; then the unit-QM (who, though a Captain, holds the key to all the 'materials'). Some superintendents do insist on meeting the CO, to show their importance. 'Observations' can be nipped in the bud, before becoming 'objections'. Auditors will themselves advise 'how-to', but for a consideration, that secret can't be divulged!


Some audit processes are indeed amusing. Pensioners have to submit annual certificates during November of being 'alive'. You miss your 'date' or the certificate, the pension misses you! Once, audit objected to high altitude allowance at a place, being a foot short of the defined height. The CO replied that when standing men fulfiled the requirements, the objection was withdrawn.


After WW-II, Britain took reparations from Japan and compensated British soldiers who had fought against Japan and the allies in Africa. But Indian soldiers were ignored. Our governments too did not, till very recently, as audit stated, "soldiers had fought for another government"! Again in WW-II, audit raised an observation on some accounting/consumption. The query escalated to high levels. When the Army indicated the ongoing war, no less a person than the equivalent of CAG in the UK promptly gave time to the chief to reply after the war ended.

Once in seven years, CAG-reports: 'Test-Audit-Team' visits. Mainly though clerks/assistants, they would only speak to brigade and higher commanders! Their 'objections' become 'Audit Paras' in CAG-reports to parliament. The juicier the find (like the electric carts in Chandigarh Golf Course allegedly meant for hospitals), the better the chances of a good ACR for the auditor.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

CAPS FOR THE FAT CATS

FAT CATS WHO CONSUME MORE THAN THEIR APPROPRIATE SHARE DESTABILIZE THEIR ENTIRE ECOLOGICAL NICHE.

 

 

Topping the Ministerial Committee on Legislation's agenda today will be proposed caps on whopping executive paychecks. On the face of it, the revival of this cause célèbre seems like mere populism. Fat-cat tycoons who pad themselves with inordinate privileges and disproportionate financial perks don't win popularity contests. The politicians who take them on are certain to rake in public relations profits.


The bill submitted for the committee's scrutiny is the pet project of two seasoned warriors against the moneyed elites – MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Haim Katz (Likud). Their latest onslaught on perceived wage inequity will have come as no surprise.


But what does make this legislative initiative a little different from all others is that the two are no longer alone. Their struggle to set limits on what are prevalently portrayed as excessive salaries has received an unexpected boost from an unlikely quarter. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer admitted with candor, when presenting the BOI 2009 report last week, that "a very serious problem exists in this sphere. We must formulate a strategy," he urged.


Fischer didn't go so far as to endorse what Yacimovich and Katz are promoting, but the very fact that someone of his standing seems to advocate a departure from the status quo surely reinforces them.


As Fischer acknowledged, deepening income discrepancies in Israel are no longer a marginal concern for doctrinaire ideologues. A sense of how immensely the gap has widened can be gleaned from the legislative proposal itself. In essence, it seeks to insure that any given firm's highest earner won't be paid more than 50 times what the lowest earner gets. By no stretch of the imagination can a 50-fold ratio be described as overly constricting. If a company's lowest wage is NIS 4,000, the top monthly pay couldn't exceed NIS 200,000 – a figure most of us would consider immensely more than sufficient.


Moreover, the Yacimovich-Katz bill effectively links the highest and lowest pay. If the top execs hanker for more, they would also need to raise wages at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy and then multiply by 50 for a higher result for themselves. This bill is slated to apply to all public-sector companies, as well as to publicly-traded private companies – firms whose securities are offered in the stock market.


Yacimovich and Katz further demand stringent reporting requirements applied to all such publicly traded companies, whereby they will have to disclose the amount of compensation paid to their top executives.


THE ODDS are stacked against the Yacimovich-Katz bill, even though there is growing support for it. Only three of the 19 committee-members unequivocally oppose the bill, while seven unstintingly back it. But the Treasury has already come out with all its mighty guns blazing against the bill. Cynics note that Treasury higher-ups have every personal incentive to fight the proposal; most of them are eventually head-hunted to fill top executive posts in the private sector.

The Treasury argues that any regulation would be self-defeating. Top executives can in any case easily bypass all restrictions via bonuses, options, and generous pension and retirement packages. It's best, according to the Treasury line, to allow the market to determine wage levels. Yacimovich retorts that the market, left to its own devices, will behave according to the ruthless rules of the jungle.

 

Three previous legislative attempts in the same vein have floundered. However, they were handicapped by far lower salary caps. It's not clear whether the ministerial committee will approve the latest effort. If it does, the Knesset plenum will likely prove a formidable hurdle.


There are weighty merits to the arguments on both sides. But the fact is that some executives earn exorbitant millions each month and that their extravagance – apart from biting significantly into company profits, equity values and stock-holders' dividends – serves to demoralize others.


Ultimately greed harms the very market forces which are supposed to self-regulate. Fat cats who consume more than their appropriate share destabilize their entire ecological niche. Hence some form of outside regulation should be given serious consideration. In the Israel of 2010, it may well be indispensable.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

GIVE UP THE NUKES?

BY IAN PEAR

 

Our nuclear arsenal, rather than acting as a deterrent, is actually an accelerator to the next war as it inspires others to pursue their own nuclear ambitions.

 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a mistake in not attending the International Nuclear Summit in Washington earlier this month. Not only should he have attended, but he should have also dropped this (pardon the pun) bombshell: "Israel is now prepared to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty." That, of course, would lead to a reverse in the decades' long policy of obfuscation about our nuclear program, admitting publicly for the first time what everyone already knows.


Netanyahu should not have stopped there. He should also have seized the opportunity – and the world's stage – to declare Israel's willingness to not only open up its nuclear facilities for inspection, but also a desire to reduce, and eventually completely decommission, our entire nuclear arsenal.


What could justify such a dramatic reversal of policy? It is not, as some readers might assume, because I am a wild-eyed, naïve liberal who never found a weapons system I didn't hate nor a war worth pursuing. To the contrary, most people who know me would consider me a part of the right-of-center camp. Indeed, as a student of realpolitik, I firmly believe in not only the projection of power (as a necessity for deterrence) but also actual power itself.


And if I ever had any doubts, I eerily completed writing the above sentence just as the soul-piercing siren blasted here in Israel to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Upon hearing it, I dutifully rose from my chair and stood silently in contemplation. For those two minutes during which this siren rang on the outside, the conviction to never allow Jews to relinquish the ability to defend themselves rang equally powerfully on my inside.

SO WHAT gives? Why should Israel voluntarily relinquish its nuclear weaponry, our most powerful commitment to and meaningful expression of the phrase "never again"? There are two answers: The world has changed, and our values have not.


Let's talk about the world first. When Israel developed nuclear weapons, our neighborhood was populated by some very dangerous – but marginally rational – states. The threat of being wiped off the map by an Israel that felt it had no other available option provided the necessary incentive for these states to behave slightly more rationally and slightly less dangerously. Nuclear weapons, therefore, made sense. In deterring our enemies from taking too risky a gamble at destroying us, they lowered the flame of both the potential for war as well as the intensity of one if in fact it broke out.


Today, however, our nuclear arsenal is beginning to play an entirely different role. Rather than keeping the flame low, it is inspiring others to pursue their own nuclear ambitions – and unfortunately, it is our justified desire to prevent these ambitions from being fulfilled that might ignite the next significant war. So rather than serving as a deterrent for war, it might actually become an accelerator. Additionally, it might very well be the relative powerlessness of these states that has inspired them to use terror proxies to attack us on our northern and southern borders.


Which leads me to the next point: The greatest threat to Israel's existence today does not emanate from these dangerous state actors alone, but also from a variety of dangerous nonstate actors – such as terrorist entities which might somehow acquire a small nuclear device capable of being concealed in a suitcase.

Against such a threat, our nuclear arsenal is impotent. After all, unlike our enemies of days gone by, these terrorists have no address to send a return package. Worse still, they would enjoy nothing more than the chaos and condemnation created by pushing Israel into a corner where it might actually push the button. In such a new world, the once sanguine policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is simply mad.


And then, of course, there are our values, which thankfully have not changed. Simply put, Judaism cherishes life and commands us to pursue policies that protect it at every turn – first, of course, the lives of our own people (as is the responsibility of every state), but also significantly, the lives of innocent people everywhere.


A few decades ago, the policy of nuclear ambiguity fulfilled this directive beautifully. War was minimized because the threat to our enemies of annihilation was not. Today, Israel must continue to project power in a number of ways to continue to protect life, and for that reason I am a firm believer in a strong army and a strong – and immediate – response to any threat confronting the country.


But the projection of nuclear power is not one of those ways. If Iran acquires the bomb, what will happen? Are we prepared to preemptively launch a nuclear attack sure to kill millions of innocent civilians? I can't imagine that would be the case; such a scenario, one very much unlike our preemptive military attack in 1967, is the polar opposite of our commitment to life.


On the other hand, if our nuclear weapons are used merely in response to an Iranian attack, that means we're all probably dead and Israel is an uninhabitable wasteland. In such a case, our arsenal is not a deterrent but rather a tool for vengeance.


TODAY, THE most important nuclear goals we can pursue are to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons and to limit nuclear technology in such a way as to minimize the risk of it falling into the hands of a terrorist organization. Our nuclear arsenal cannot help in either cause.


If, however, we become the first nuclear power to voluntarily eliminate our nuclear stockpile – a stockpile, as I suggest above, which no longer helps us anyway – we are in an infinitely better position to pursue both of these goals. We remove the alleged justification for any of our enemies to pursue their own nuclear program. We remove any hesitation other states might have harbored as an excuse to pursue sanctions against Iran – and military intervention if it becomes necessary.

 

No longer can it be argued that Iran is simply defending itself. Or that a double standard exists. Or that the world's tolerance of Israel's nuclear program means that everyone has a right to the technology. On the positive side, it allows Israel to not only attend these conferences on nuclear policy with its head held high, but also frees us to take a leadership position in the decommissioning of nuclear weapons everywhere.


And that might just change the world yet again, this time for the better – and thanks to our values.


The writer is a Jerusalem-based rabbi and lawyer with an international relations degree from Georgetown University. He is the author of The Accidental Zionist (New Song Publishers) and runs the blog Joyous Judaism.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

EINSTEIN, OBAMA AND BINYAMIN NETANYAHU

BY MICHAEL M. COHEN

 

For the last 34 years of his life, Albert Einstein was the most famous spokesman and advocate for the Zionist movement. Many may find it surprising that a pacifist and opponent of nationalism like Einstein was the champion of the Zionist cause in the decades leading up to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. That involvement with Zionism, however, also serves as a cautionary tale, adding light on the present relationship between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.


Einstein's support of the Zionist enterprise was absent during the first four decades of his life. It was after he moved to Berlin in 1914 that he said, "I discovered for the first time that I was a Jew, and I owe this discovery more to the gentiles than to the Jews."


Tied to that awakened identity was his growing awareness "of our precarious situation." With that new orientation Einstein fully embraced the Zionist cause as the only answer to the Jewish situation. His visit to the United States in 1921 on behalf of Zionism was a sensation. It had the same electricity the Beatles generated when they first came to America in 1964. Einstein was a star, constantly followed by the media, including his meeting with president Warren Harding. His visit instilled a deep sense of pride in the American Jewish community.

For the rest of his life he wrote about, spoke out for and worked on behalf of Zionism.


While Einstein's embrace of the movement was full, it was not without a serious reservation. His skepticism toward nationalism, that led him as a 15-year-old to renounce his German citizenship, never abated. His support of Zionism was always qualified by his fear of what it and the Jewish state could become vis-a-vis nationalism.

In 1929 he wrote to fellow scientist and future first president of Israel Chaim Weizmann, "If we do not succeed in finding the path of honest cooperation and coming to terms with the Arabs, we will not have learned anything from our 2,000-year-old ordeal and will deserve the fate which will beset us." While addressing the "Third Seder" of the National Labor Committee for Palestine in 1938, he said, "I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks."

 

 THE QUESTION of a narrow nationalism opposed to a broader, more embracing nationalism has been an ongoing question within the Zionist movement for a century. It is the debate between two Zionisms, nationalist Zionism with its maximalist attitude toward territory and the borders of the Jewish state and cultural Zionism with its greater emphasis on the type of society that a Jewish state should be.


The timing of the Ramat Shlomo building announcement during Vice President Joe Biden's visit last month showed the contradiction between wanting peace and acting as though it means nothing. The good thing about this episode is that, by getting in the US administrations's face, muddling for Israel is no longer an option. It needs to make a clear decision on which Zionism it wishes to be.


Albert Einstein and his fellow Nobel Laureate Barack Obama are clearly within the cultural Zionist camp, while Binyamin Netanyahu acts within the nationalist camp. US policy toward Israel in regard to settlements and borders has been consistent since 1967. The only change we are witnessing now in the Obama administration is a vocal, public expression and enforcement of that policy. Those who are shocked by the message the president is sending should step back and understand that he has thrown himself within that much older debate between those two camps in Zionist movement.

Disagree, if you will, with the president, but not because he has abandoned Israel, rather because he has taken a more difficult path. This president who holds a Passover Seder on the campaign trail and in the White House has decided to enter the mispacha, including one of the fiercest debates within that family.


His support for Israel is, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, "rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever."


However like his fellow Zionist supporter Albert Einstein he is advocating for a particular vision of what Zionism stands for and means. And in that vision he sees what is good both for Israel and the United States.


The writer is author of Einstein's Rabbi:
A Tale of Science and the Soul (Shires Press) and a faculty member of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Ben-Gurion's University.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NETANYAHU MUST STOP EAST JERUSALEM CONSTRUCTION IF HE WANTS PEACE

 

After the latest round of talks with Speical U.S. Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, a cautious hope is emerging that indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with American mediation, will begin in the first half of May. As reported by Haaretz yesterday, President Barack Obama has invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the talks, although he has not been able to secure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a public and explicit commitment to a total freeze on construction for Jews in East Jerusalem for the duration of the negotiations. Obama asked Abbas to settle for an informal understanding that Israel would refrain from announcing "significant actions" in the eastern part of the city.


It seems that the Obama administration has grasped that Netanyahu's worldview and the composition of his coalition make it difficult for him to declare a building freeze in the capital. Abbas already stated a few months ago that he would not insist on an explicit Israeli declaration that the construction freeze in the settlements applied to East Jerusalem as well. But he did stress that he expected Netanyahu to do everything within his power to avoid provocations relating to planning and construction in the parts of Jerusalem that are east of the Green Line, such as the recent approval of 1,600 residential units in Ramat Shlomo.


T he prime minister must apply to himself his demand from the Palestinians, and discard all preconditions for the start of negotiations. As was agreed at the November 2007 Annapolis Conference, the future of Jerusalem, like the issues of the borders, the refugees and security, is an integral part of the discussions on the final status. As was to be expected, the Palestinians have once again rejected the idea of declaring a state within temporary borders in exchange for postponing the issue of Jerusalem to the later stages of the negotiations.


The importance of ending the dispute and ensuring Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state makes it necessary to restrain the politicians and real estate developers who are eyeing building sites in East Jerusalem. If Netanyahu genuinely has this interest at heart then he must exercise his authority over his ministers and his coalition partners to ensure that the peace process is renewed and that the talks are held in a positive, comfortable atmosphere.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHO KILLED THE MIDEAST PEACE PROCESS?

BY AKIVA ELDAR

 

It is hard to believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu genuinely assumed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would buy the used goods he was selling, a "state with temporary borders." Even the man who came up with the idea, President Shimon Peres, had stashed it along with his other shelved plans. He told Netanyahu that no life-loving Palestinian leader would accept temporary borders without a deadline for permanent ones.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a formula that would give the Palestinians territory equal to that that Israel occupied in June 1967 (including, of course, the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem). If Netanyahu were sitting in the Muqata today, would he agree to anything less?


In an interview with Channel 2, Netanyahu, perhaps inadvertently, revealed that he has no intention of giving up Israeli control over all the territories. If Israel were to withdraw from the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, they would be taken over by hostile elements who would threaten the capital's residents, he said. Unfortunately, the interviewers neglected to remind him that Ramallah is a Qassam's trajectory away from French Hill, and that the distance between the Shoafat refugee camp in "unified" Jerusalem and the city center is the same as that between Qalqilya and the Kfar Sava mall.


If the prime minister really had been willing to transfer territory to the Palestinians, he could have gone through with the Wye River Accord. A dozen years ago, he himself signed a commitment to give the Palestinians control over 13 percent of Area C. But the past is too far off; at the 100th birthday of his father, the younger Netanyahu declared, "Anyone who does not know his past does not understand his present, and therefore cannot predict the future."


He proudly said that his father foresaw the 9/11 disaster. There was no mention as to whether he foresaw the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, or the Arab Peace Initiative, however.


The past that has shaped Netanyahu's present personality and future policy is overflowing with the graves of forefathers, the wars of the Jews and the horror of the Holocaust. All he wants is to convince us that the Palestinians are refusing to make peace. When his deputy Moshe Ya'alon was still in active duty, he promised to burn into the Palestinians' consciousness the notion that terrorism does not pay. Now that terrorism is ebbing, he is helping Netanyahu burn into Israelis' consciousness that the Palestinians are responsible for holding up the negotiations.

Netanyahu fears that giving the Palestinians concessions will bring down his government. He is not bothered by the political cost of missing a chance for peace. He just wants to get U.S. President Barack Obama off his back. As Major General (res.) Uri Sagie, who was Military Intelligence chief, stated in Halohem, the journal of the disabled veterans' association, "Israel whips itself over military failures in wars, but does not evaluate itself over strategic political failures. Two important commissions investigated the wars in Lebanon.

 

One examined the massacre at Sabra and Chatila in 1982, and the other the confrontation with Hezbollah in 2006. No commission has yet to investigate missing out on peace with Syria (and Lebanon) in 2000, which led to the unilateral withdrawal and the surrender of the territory [of southern Lebanon] to Hezbollah."

Sagie, who negotiated with the Syrians on behalf of Ehud Barak, says that it was "a major strategic political failure for Israel." Netanyahu was also not required to answer to the public on the failure of his exchanges with then-Syrian president Hafez Assad, through his friend, Ron Lauder.


No politician or body was asked to explain the failure of political efforts on the Palestinian track, starting from the problems the day after the Oslo Accords, through the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the outposts affair.


Nearly 50 years late, the Begin government appointed a public commission of inquiry to look into the murder of Chaim Arlosoroff. It is not too late to investigate who killed the peace, if for no other reason so that the leaders can see and be awed. Or perhaps the Palestinians alone are guilty, and the dream of two states for two peoples is a left-wing hallucination? Do we not deserve to know?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE CORRUPTION ERUPTION

BY MOSHE MIZRAHI

 

After seven years of litigation, real estate developer David Appel was recently found guilty of bribing a mayor and a senior official of the Israel Lands Administration.


His conviction came at a critical time, just when clouds of corrupt ash are belching out of the Holyland volcano and spreading out over the land. The original indictment against Appel covered a wide, detailed and shocking swath of the graft machinery operated by the accused, including interference in local government and the appointment of government officials in order to advance his business interests, all through the exploitation of political connections.


The preamble was intended to point out the systemic nature of the corruption, and led into a draft indictment on charges of bribing the man who was then the cabinet minister in charge of the ILA, and the prime minister at the time of the writing of the indictment: Ariel Sharon.

 

These sections were erased from the charge sheet following a perplexing decision by the attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, who closed the so-called Greek island case against Sharon, and at the same time let Appel off that particular hook.


But the whole affair was not centered on some tourism enterprise on one of Greece's many islands. Mainly, like the Holyland project and its ramifications, it was another megalomaniacal initiative involving rezoning agricultural land in Moshav Ginaton, near Lod, to fill the land with houses. The developers were planning to build as much on the freed-up land as is built annually in the whole country, under the guise of the national interest in "developing the city of Lod."


Immense pressures were exerted on the various planning committees and on the ILA, while objections were brushed aside. The approval of the plan would have enriched the landowners, Appel among them, by billions.

I have dug this case up out of the junkyard for airing not only because of the sense of deja vu. The public mood and judicial attitudes in recent years have shown that the people who were derogatively referred to as "the rule-of-law gang" because of their strenuous prosecution of such cases were in fact right. They were not seeing corruption where it did not exist, and they were not wasting their time or the powers of the law enforcement system by "marking targets" or "persecuting public figures," as Mazuz charged when he deep-sixed the Greek island affair.


The picture of corruption that we saw then in all of its profundity kept us awake at night. The struggle against it was waged despite the attacks that we sustained and the personal price we paid.


Those who tried to run away from corruption found that it was hanging on to them by the throat. Recognition has come late, if not too late, for the determination and the strong faith displayed by the courageous women who led the campaign stubbornly in the face of a hostile and harmful atmosphere - then State Prosecutor Edna Arbel, her deputy Nava Ben-Or and the head of the police national fraud investigation unit, Brig. Gen. Miri Golan.

At the time, there were no Talanskys and no evidentiary material that reached the investigators in miraculous ways. No one lost an incriminating file of documents and no one knocked on the door and volunteered to show up with a book of rules for giving under the table.


The actions were taken according to a plan. The prosecution and the police left no stone unturned, even if sometimes it fell painfully onto their toes. There was no need to spur on the investigators or to put pressure on the prosecutors.


Now that the heroes of the closed cases are reappearing, it is only fitting to tell the women who fought for the rule of law, and those who fought with them in the trenches against corruption, that they did what was right and good for the citizens of Israel.


The writer is a former head of the police investigations division.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE NATIONAL KITSCH

BY YITZHAK LAOR

 

The weeks marked by nationalist sentiment, namely the days that begin with Holocaust Remembrance Day and extend all the way until after Independence Day, were once again filled with kitsch. It seems that the nationalist kitsch becomes more prevalent as the words spoken on these days lose even more of their genuine content. Everything is done bureaucratically, dictated from above. From drafting the television networks for national duty to the tone of the ceremonies in kindergartens, it seems as if the only nationalist chord that can be struck is one of mourning, and even this is done noisily and with bombastic speeches.


The speeches delivered by the politicians fill the vacuum. It seems like you are bombarded from all directions with the sense that "you have to be sad," and nobody among the powers that be trusts your ability to assume personal responsibility for when and how to mourn. It also seems no one involved with this monstrous apparatus of compulsive mourning - one that encompasses the education system, public relations, television and radio - genuinely believes in the mourning of the mourners, as though "remembering the dead" demands a uniform method of mourning and that respect for the families - whether the loss is from the Holocaust, war or terror - requires a singular type of mourning. Since such a concept does not exist, the public vacuum is filled with a kind of insufferable repertoire of music and idle chatter.


The torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem was certainly the height of this vulgar convergence of mourning and "the holiday" (which has no other meaning except more contact with the army). There was the surfeit of colors, the tiny military flags that merged to form all sorts of idiotic images signifying "the achievements of the state," and, most important, the texts that were composed for the torch-lighters. Year after year, the monologues just seem to get longer and longer. There are also first-person accounts of those who claim to speak on behalf of all sorts of groups that lent a hand to "the achievements of the state." There are the television cameras that zoom in on the faces in the crowd in an effort to make them part of the show. The highlight of the evening, of course, was the use of English, which turned the extravaganza into a tourist-friendly product.

 

Nevertheless, this total lack of confidence in people's ability to express genuine joy or sadness is what renders our national life so provincial. Sixty-two years have passed since the state was founded. If its existence is still in danger, it is not because its achievements have been so impressive. In fact, the most prominent failure of the state of Israel after 62 years is the lack of courage within the mechanism known as the state to let up a little on the national pressure. It does not have the courage to allow individuals to celebrate their nationalism or to express their reservations regarding their nationalism if that is their choice. It lacks the courage to allow the television stations to let us choose between siding with the celebrants or the idle, the mourners or those who choose to honor the dead quietly.


Lighting a memorial candle at home is a private matter, and it is impossible to determine who an individual does or does not remember. Even more galling, though, is the vulgarity of the state's need to paper over the hypocrisy of those celebrating in Zion. The prime minister and his people, the foreign minister and the Knesset speaker all trumpet the importance of "Jewish construction in Jerusalem." Meanwhile, immediately after the generous quote touting "Jewish construction in Jerusalem," we hear the news about Holyland, the best Tony Soprano that Zion has to offer. What is more revolting than this chasm? First there is forcible exercise of control over the land. The state musters up all its nationalist energies, not to mention blood, sweat, and tears. Then Jerusalem is divided, not between Jews and Arabs, God forbid, but between contractors and politicians, all for the sake of the good life. There is time for more of this kitsch before Jerusalem Day. It is a kitsch that distinguishes between people of different bloodlines, and the purveyors of this kitsch operate under the delusional assumption that human beings do not notice how Jerusalem is being divided between a sanctified vulgarity and an even more pernicious vulgarity..

 

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

EDITORIAL

WHEN THE SYSTEM WORKS

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has vowed to press states to remake the 5,000 or so chronically failing schools that account for about half of the nation's dropouts and usually serve — or more to the point fail to serve — the poorest children. A $4 billion school improvement fund is intended to give states the help and the incentive to turn these schools around.

 

Piecemeal plans that evaporate once the grant money is spent won't do the job. Only comprehensive, districtwide approaches deserve to be financed.

 

Local administrators — and the Department of Education in Washington — should be paying close attention to what is happening in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

 

Two years ago, district administrators adopted an innovative staffing system intended to put the best principals in the most troubled schools — and give them the autonomy they need to succeed. While Charlotte was already one of the highest-performing urban systems in the country, it has made progress since then.

 

Under the Strategic Staffing Initiative, principals who have improved student performance at their current school are given bonuses and allowed to recruit new leadership teams in exchange for moving to chronically low-performing schools.

 

Once at the new schools, the principals are permitted to remove as many as five teachers if they consider them to be hostile to reform. These turnaround schools are also given high priority when their new leadership teams request technology, staffing or new programs.

 

Turning a school around is not supposed to be easy. But by the end of just the first year, test scores in the first seven schools had risen significantly and the schools were visibly more orderly.

 

In the beginning, district administrators worried that high-performing principals and teachers would resist taking on these very difficult assignments. But by giving the mission high priority — and making it a badge of honor to participate — they have turned the program into a magnet for talent. Principals are now clamoring to be chosen for this program, which has been expanded to a total of 20 schools so far.

 

Among other things, the Charlotte program shows that teachers will often respond to talented new leadership and that it is not always necessary to take wrenching steps like shutting down a school or replacing the entire staff. The program also shows that — with creativity and the right incentives — districts can build the capacity to reclaim failing schools.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHEN THE SYSTEM WORKS

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has vowed to press states to remake the 5,000 or so chronically failing schools that account for about half of the nation's dropouts and usually serve — or more to the point fail to serve — the poorest children. A $4 billion school improvement fund is intended to give states the help and the incentive to turn these schools around.

 

Piecemeal plans that evaporate once the grant money is spent won't do the job. Only comprehensive, districtwide approaches deserve to be financed.

 

Local administrators — and the Department of Education in Washington — should be paying close attention to what is happening in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

 

Two years ago, district administrators adopted an innovative staffing system intended to put the best principals in the most troubled schools — and give them the autonomy they need to succeed. While Charlotte was already one of the highest-performing urban systems in the country, it has made progress since then.

 

Under the Strategic Staffing Initiative, principals who have improved student performance at their current school are given bonuses and allowed to recruit new leadership teams in exchange for moving to chronically low-performing schools.

 

Once at the new schools, the principals are permitted to remove as many as five teachers if they consider them to be hostile to reform. These turnaround schools are also given high priority when their new leadership teams request technology, staffing or new programs.

 

Turning a school around is not supposed to be easy. But by the end of just the first year, test scores in the first seven schools had risen significantly and the schools were visibly more orderly.

 

In the beginning, district administrators worried that high-performing principals and teachers would resist taking on these very difficult assignments. But by giving the mission high priority — and making it a badge of honor to participate — they have turned the program into a magnet for talent. Principals are now clamoring to be chosen for this program, which has been expanded to a total of 20 schools so far.

 

Among other things, the Charlotte program shows that teachers will often respond to talented new leadership and that it is not always necessary to take wrenching steps like shutting down a school or replacing the entire staff. The program also shows that — with creativity and the right incentives — districts can build the capacity to reclaim failing schools.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

CAPE WIND AND MR. SALAZAR

 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to announce this week whether a controversial wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts can proceed. Given the country's need for alternative energy sources — and the administration's commitment to promoting them — it would be dismaying if he did not give the go-ahead.

 

Offshore wind farms are a common sight in Europe but not here. Cape Wind would be this country's first — sending, finally, a signal to the world about America's resolve to fight global warming and reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

 

This is not, admittedly, an easy decision. The project has endured nine years of state and federal reviews and ferocious opposition from local landowners on Nantucket Sound — including the late Senator Edward Kennedy — who hate the idea of having 130 windmills, about 400 feet tall, on the horizon.

 

In addition, and more problematically for Mr. Salazar, two Indian tribes have said that Nantucket Sound is of great cultural and spiritual significance to them and that building the turbines could disturb ancestral burial grounds on lands that were above water thousands of years ago.

 

Mr. Salazar's own department is divided on the matter. The National Park Service believes the tribes have a case; the Minerals Management Service says the project should proceed.

 

Mr. Salazar could ease the blow for the Indian tribes with financial compensation. He could also promise that the wind farm developers, whose test borings have so far failed to locate any archeological remains, would collect further sediment samples before sinking foundations.

 

The criticisms of the project do not come close to outweighing its enormous promise. Cape Wind would be located in what may be the most propitious offshore site in America: shallow water protected from heavy waves; strong, steady winds; and close proximity to thousands of consumers and industries that would benefit from clean power. The secretary's choice is clear.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A BETTER CHANCE

 

Gov. David Paterson's juvenile justice task force was on the mark when it advised him to stop sending low-risk young offenders to faraway lockups and place more of them in lower-cost community-based programs.

 

These programs closely monitor and mentor troubled children with curfew checks, reviews of their school performance, and after-school activities. They have been shown to get low-risk young offenders back on track without institutionalizing them. Instead of taking that advice, the governor's budget virtually guts an already underfinanced effort intended to encourage localities to develop high-quality alternatives to detention programs.

 

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Democrat of Brooklyn, is trying to fix that. She has introduced a bill that would require the state to begin reimbursing localities that keep children in effective local programs.

 

The current system encourages officials to do exactly the wrong thing. For example, the state reimburses localities for about 50 percent of the cost of operating centers for pretrial detention. And it pays 50 percent of the cost (which can go as high as $200,000 per child per year) for incarcerating children sent to far-flung juvenile facilities. The state gives localities nothing when they place children in community-based programs that can cost as little as $5,000 per year.

 

The Montgomery bill realigns state priorities. In addition to preserving about $12 million to encourage more community-based programs, it would require the state to provide a 65 percent reimbursement for community-based, alternative-to-detention programs. This proposal has already been included in the Senate budget. The Assembly should embrace it and so should Governor Paterson. It makes good sense for the children and for New York's taxpayers.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

 

So tell us again why we are paying their salaries? New York's Legislature was supposed to approve a state budget before April 1. Nearly a month later, the leaders still can't come up with a plan to close a $9.2 billion deficit. Meanwhile, the other 210 senators and Assembly members are mostly sitting on their hands.

 

No real progress on desperately needed ethics reform. No real progress, period. So tell us again why we bothered electing them?

 

Nobody wants a flawed, slapdash budget. But as each day passes, the limbo worsens for millions of New Yorkers. Here is just some of what is happening:

 

¶School boards across the state are putting together budgets that are supposed to go to their local voters on May 18. If boards don't know how much state funds will be cut, they won't know how much more to ask voters for. And in these times, no board would dare to ask for one dollar more than it could justify with hard numbers — numbers the boards won't have until Albany acts.

 

All of this makes planning for next year nearly impossible. How many teachers will have to be laid off? How many advanced classes dropped or after-school programs closed?

 

The New York State School Boards Association is estimating that 20,000 teachers or school workers will lose their jobs, based on Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget. These people also need fair warning, so they can start looking for work.

 

¶Emergency spending bills that are passed each week cover only the barest essentials. Among the many things on hold are state funds for building or repairing roads, bridges and about 500 construction projects, mostly outside New York City. Spring and summer are the seasons for repairs, especially upstate. And some contractors are being warned that they might not get paid any time soon if they do the work now.

 

¶About $500 million in federal funds for the needy is stuck in Albany until there is an official budget, according to the Human Services Council, an umbrella group for nonprofit organizations. The money is needed right now for crucial programs, including helping people hang on to their homes, providing services for the elderly and helping victims of domestic violence. Any money that is not allocated by Oct. 1 disappears back to Washington.

 

These are increasingly urgent problems. Albany's politicians clearly feel no urgency or responsibility. Each blames the others. You should blame them all.

 

First the Democrats: The Democratic governor and legislative leaders appear to have agreed on how to shave $6 billion from the deficit but not the last $3 billion. The only ones working hard are the lobbyists.

 

Instead of finding sensible ways to cut spending, John Sampson, the Senate's Democratic leader, apparently wants to add an additional $300 million to the deficit by giving more unaffordable breaks on property taxes. Mr. Sampson and crew are also proposing some of the shadiest borrowing schemes in years, rather than finding ways to raise revenue, like taxing soda or allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores.

 

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his crew want to restore too many of the governor's cuts and are also listening to the soda industry and liquor store lobbyists.

 

And the Republicans: They don't want more taxes, even on cigarettes. They don't want borrowing, even

carefully packaged borrowing as part of a sensible budget reform proposed by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch. Basically, they want to be able to go to the voters and complain about the Democrats.

 

The only good news in all this is that New York's voters are finally fed up. If you're honest, have good ideas

and are willing to work for a living, now is the time to run. Too much time has already been wasted.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

BORROWING OUR WAY TO FAILURE

BY DAVID A. PATERSON

Albany

 

NEW YORK'S financial problems are not overly complicated. The state is on track to spend a staggering $60 billion more than it receives in recurring revenues over the next four years. Simple arithmetic explains how we got to this point: Our expenses are consistently exceeding our income. We are headed off a financial cliff.

 

Anyone who has ever managed a household budget or a small business knows that there are only two ways to correct that kind of unsustainable budget imbalance: Cut spending or increase revenues. Borrowing accomplishes neither of those goals. It only imposes a burden on future generations without a corresponding benefit.

 

Borrowing solves nothing.

 

Unfortunately, that fact has been lost during the recent debate in the Legislature about how to eliminate our state's $9.2 billion current-year budget gap.

 

Borrowing may make the lives of Albany politicians easier. It may delay our inevitable day of fiscal reckoning past one more November election. But borrowing to help close our budget deficit, by itself, does not do a single thing to help improve our long-term fiscal condition. In fact, it makes an already bad situation worse. And it violates virtually every principle of responsible budgeting.

 

Typically, when the state borrows money, it does so to build a long-term capital asset, like a highway or a hospital, that will provide a benefit to its citizens for decades to come.

 

By contrast, borrowing to finance the day-to-day cost of running state government is like getting a bank loan to buy your groceries. Or adding a new coat of paint to your house when the real problem is that your foundation is crumbling. It just papers over the problem.

 

So we must not let discussions about borrowing distract us from addressing the root cause of our fiscal difficulties — years of overspending. Confronting that structural budget imbalance between expenditures and revenues is the core objective of Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch's fiscal rescue plan, even though many have sought to focus solely on the plan's provision for borrowing over the next three years as a last resort.

 

Remember that every single dollar the state borrows has to be paid back with interest. Issuing bonds to help close our deficit would mean giving every New Yorker an extra tax burden — a dysfunction tax — for years to come. That would be on top of the nearly $6 billion that taxpayers already pay our creditors each year for the often irresponsible borrowings of the past, leaving less money to finance education, health care and other vital services.

 

Making $2 billion in recurring spending cuts this year would save more than $20 billion over the next 10 years. Borrowing $2 billion would end up costing taxpayers about $2.5 billion over the same period.

 

Let me be clear. I will not entertain a discussion on borrowing while the state continues to spend beyond its means. More cuts are needed before we can finalize this year's budget.

 

Those of us in Albany were elected to make difficult decisions. This may be hard in the short term, but it is the only responsible path forward if we want to emerge from this crisis and build toward a strong fiscal and economic recovery.

 

David A. Paterson is the governor of New York.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

NO SECRETS IN THE SKY

BY PETER BERGEN AND KATHERINE TIEDEMANN

Washington

 

THE highly classified C.I.A. program to kill militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan with missiles fired from drones is the world's worst-kept secret.

 

The United States has long tried to maintain plausible deniability that it is behind drone warfare in Pakistan, a country that pollsters consistently find is one of the most anti-American in the world. For reasons of its own, the Pakistani government has also sought to hide the fact that it secretly agreed to allow the United States to fly some drones out of a base in Pakistan and attack militants on its territory.

 

But there are good reasons for the United States, which conducted 53 such strikes in 2009 alone, and Pakistan to finally acknowledge the existence of the drone program.

 

First, there is the matter of Pakistani civilian casualties caused by the drones. In a poll last summer, only 9 percent of Pakistanis approved of the drone strikes. A key reason for this unpopularity is the widespread perception that the strikes overwhelmingly kill civilians.

 

A survey we have made of reliable press accounts indicates that since January 2009, the reported strikes have killed at least 520 people, of whom around 410 were described as militants, suggesting that the civilian death rate is about 20 percent.

 

It's possible, however, that the number is even lower. An American counterterrorism official told The Times in December that the civilian fatality rate is only 5 percent, saying that "just over 20" civilians and more than 400 militants were killed in 2009. Should the American government's claims about the small number of civilian deaths be verified, some of the Pakistani hostility toward the United States might dissipate. This would be much easier if the now-classified videotapes of drone strikes were made available to independent researchers.

 

Acknowledging the drone program would also help advance our efforts — and improve our profile — in the region by providing an excellent example of the deepening United States-Pakistan strategic partnership. Since January 2009, up to 85 reported drone strikes have killed militants who are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis. A good deal of the intelligence that enables these strikes comes from the Pakistanis themselves.

 

Last, Pakistanis once considered any military offensive against the Taliban as fighting America's war. But

because of the cumulative weight of the Taliban's atrocities against politicians, soldiers, police and civilians, Pakistanis now believe that battling the militants is in the country's own interest. As a result, over the past year, the public's support for the Pakistani Army's efforts in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan has surged. If Pakistan came clean about its involvement with the drones, public backing for the program might similarly increase.

 

Of course, by acknowledging the drone strikes, the Obama administration would also have to admit that civilians are sometimes killed in these attacks. When Afghan civilians are killed by American forces, their families are often compensated by the United States. Surely, the families of Pakistani civilians killed in American drone strikes deserve the same.

 

Peter Bergen is a senior fellow and Katherine Tiedemann is a policy analyst at the New America Foundation.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

NOT EVEN IN SOUTH PARK?

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of "South Park" entitled "Super Best Friends," in which the cartoon show's foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism's Joseph Smith, Taoism's Lao-tse — and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o'clock shadow, and introduced as "the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame."

 

That was a more permissive time. You can't portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

 

For Parker and Stone, the obvious next step was to make fun of the fact that you can't broadcast an image of Muhammad. Two weeks ago, "South Park" brought back the "super best friends," but this time Muhammad never showed his face. He "appeared" from inside a U-Haul trailer, and then from inside a mascot's costume.

 

These gimmicks then prompted a writer for the New York-based Web site revolutionmuslim.com to predict that Parker and Stone would end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 for his scathing critiques of Islam. The writer, an American convert to Islam named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, didn't technically threaten to kill them himself. His post, and the accompanying photo of van Gogh's corpse, was just "a warning ... of what will likely happen to them."

 

This passive-aggressive death threat provoked a swift response from Comedy Central. In last week's follow-up episode, the prophet's non-appearance appearances were censored, and every single reference to Muhammad was bleeped out. The historical record was quickly scrubbed as well: The original "Super Best Friends" episode is no longer available on the Internet.

 

In a way, the muzzling of "South Park" is no more disquieting than any other example of Western institutions' cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It's no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" because it included a scene featuring Muhammad's severed head. Or Random House's decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet's third wife. Or Yale University Press's refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons ... in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and "human rights" tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam.

 

But there's still a sense in which the "South Park" case is particularly illuminating. Not because it tells us anything new about the lines that writers and entertainers suddenly aren't allowed to cross. But because it's a reminder that Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.

 

Across 14 on-air years, there's no icon "South Park" hasn't trampled, no vein of shock-comedy (sexual, scatalogical, blasphemous) it hasn't mined. In a less jaded era, its creators would have been the rightful heirs of Oscar Wilde or Lenny Bruce — taking frequent risks to fillet the culture's sacred cows.

 

In ours, though, even Parker's and Stone's wildest outrages often just blur into the scenery. In a country where the latest hit movie, "Kick-Ass," features an 11-year-old girl spitting obscenities and gutting bad guys while dressed in pedophile-bait outfits, there isn't much room for real transgression. Our culture has few taboos that can't be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

 

Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.

 

This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that "bravely" trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

 

Happily, today's would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn't Weimar Germany, and Islam's radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.

 

For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there's enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

BERATING THE RATERS

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Let's hear it for the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Its work on the financial crisis is increasingly looking like the 21st-century version of the Pecora hearings, which helped usher in New Deal-era financial regulation. In the past few days scandalous Wall Street e-mail messages released by the subcommittee have made headlines.

 

That's the good news. The bad news is that most of the headlines were about the wrong e-mails. When Goldman Sachs employees bragged about the money they had made by shorting the housing market, it was ugly, but that didn't amount to wrongdoing.

 

No, the e-mail messages you should be focusing on are the ones from employees at the credit rating agencies, which bestowed AAA ratings on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of dubious assets, nearly all of which have since turned out to be toxic waste. And no, that's not hyperbole: of AAA-rated subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006, 93 percent — 93 percent! — have now been downgraded to junk status.

 

What those e-mails reveal is a deeply corrupt system. And it's a system that financial reform, as currently proposed, wouldn't fix.

 

The rating agencies began as market researchers, selling assessments of corporate debt to people considering whether to buy that debt. Eventually, however, they morphed into something quite different: companies that were hired by the people selling debt to give that debt a seal of approval.

 

Those seals of approval came to play a central role in our whole financial system, especially for institutional investors like pension funds, which would buy your bonds if and only if they received that coveted AAA rating.

 

It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt — which increasingly meant Wall Street firms selling securities they created by slicing and dicing claims on things like subprime mortgages — could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job. It's all too obvious, in retrospect, how this could have corrupted the process.

 

And it did. The Senate subcommittee has focused its investigations on the two biggest credit rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's; what it has found confirms our worst suspicions. In one e-mail message, an S.& P. employee explains that a meeting is necessary to "discuss adjusting criteria" for assessing housing-backed securities "because of the ongoing threat of losing deals." Another message complains of having to use resources "to massage the sub-prime and alt-A numbers to preserve market share." Clearly, the rating agencies skewed their assessments to please their clients.

 

These skewed assessments, in turn, helped the financial system take on far more risk than it could safely handle. Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor (who coined the term "shadow banks" for the unregulated institutions at the heart of the crisis), recently described it this way: "explosive growth of shadow banking was about the invisible hand having a party, a non-regulated drinking party, with rating agencies handing out fake IDs."

 

So what can be done to keep it from happening again?

The bill now before the Senate tries to do something about the rating agencies, but all in all it's pretty weak on the subject. The only provision that might have teeth is one that would make it easier to sue rating agencies if they engaged in "knowing or reckless failure" to do the right thing. But that surely isn't enough, given the money at stake — and the fact that Wall Street can afford to hire very, very good lawyers.

 

What we really need is a fundamental change in the raters' incentives. We can't go back to the days when rating agencies made their money by selling big books of statistics; information flows too freely in the Internet age, so nobody would buy the books. Yet something must be done to end the fundamentally corrupt nature of the the issuer-pays system.

An example of what might work is a proposal by Matthew Richardson and Lawrence White of New York University. They suggest a system in which firms issuing bonds continue paying rating agencies to assess those bonds — but in which the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the issuing firm, determines which rating agency gets the business.

 

I'm not wedded to that particular proposal. But doing nothing isn't an option. It's comforting to pretend that the financial crisis was caused by nothing more than honest errors. But it wasn't; it was, in large part, the result of a corrupt system. And the rating agencies were a big part of that corruption.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

NOT EVEN IN SOUTH PARK?

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of "South Park" entitled "Super Best Friends," in which the cartoon show's foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism's Joseph Smith, Taoism's Lao-tse — and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o'clock shadow, and introduced as "the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame."

 

That was a more permissive time. You can't portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

 

For Parker and Stone, the obvious next step was to make fun of the fact that you can't broadcast an image of Muhammad. Two weeks ago, "South Park" brought back the "super best friends," but this time Muhammad never showed his face. He "appeared" from inside a U-Haul trailer, and then from inside a mascot's costume.

 

These gimmicks then prompted a writer for the New York-based Web site revolutionmuslim.com to predict that Parker and Stone would end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 for his scathing critiques of Islam. The writer, an American convert to Islam named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, didn't technically threaten to kill them himself. His post, and the accompanying photo of van Gogh's corpse, was just "a warning ... of what will likely happen to them."

 

This passive-aggressive death threat provoked a swift response from Comedy Central. In last week's follow-up episode, the prophet's non-appearance appearances were censored, and every single reference to Muhammad was bleeped out. The historical record was quickly scrubbed as well: The original "Super Best Friends" episode is no longer available on the Internet.

 

In a way, the muzzling of "South Park" is no more disquieting than any other example of Western institutions' cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It's no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" because it included a scene featuring Muhammad's severed head. Or Random House's decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet's third wife. Or Yale University Press's refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons ... in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and "human rights" tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam.

 

But there's still a sense in which the "South Park" case is particularly illuminating. Not because it tells us anything new about the lines that writers and entertainers suddenly aren't allowed to cross. But because it's a reminder that Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.

 

Across 14 on-air years, there's no icon "South Park" hasn't trampled, no vein of shock-comedy (sexual, scatalogical, blasphemous) it hasn't mined. In a less jaded era, its creators would have been the rightful heirs of Oscar Wilde or Lenny Bruce — taking frequent risks to fillet the culture's sacred cows.

 

In ours, though, even Parker's and Stone's wildest outrages often just blur into the scenery. In a country where the latest hit movie, "Kick-Ass," features an 11-year-old girl spitting obscenities and gutting bad guys while dressed in pedophile-bait outfits, there isn't much room for real transgression. Our culture has few taboos that can't be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

 

Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.

 

This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that "bravely" trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

 

Happily, today's would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn't Weimar Germany, and Islam's radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.

 

For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there's enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.

 

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

A YEAR LATER, 5 LESSONS FROM SWINE FLU OUTBREAK

 

Last April, a strange new virus was sickening and killing patients in Mexico. It showed up in two children at a California clinic. Identified as a new form of H1N1, or swine flu, it quickly became a test of the USA's preparations for an epidemic and the public's ability to cope with fear of the unknown.

 

In the months that followed, the nation's top public health officials developed a vaccine in record time, tried to cope with the ups and downs of production, battled public myths about the vaccine's alleged dangers and ultimately administered about 91 million doses. They succeeded in many ways, and stumbled in others.

 

A year later, the U.S. tally from H1N1 stands at 60 million sickened and 12,270 dead, including 1,270 children. The virus turned out to be less virulent than the seasonal flu, which kills about 36,000 people a year. But H1N1 proved far more dangerous to children, healthy young adults and pregnant women.

 

It's too soon to refer to the outbreak in the past tense: Early this month, a late-season flurry of swine flu in the Southeast triggered a renewed warning to get vaccinated, which is still a wise idea. But so many people have been vaccinated, and so many have gotten H1N1, that the public has a substantial immunity. "If it returns, it is not going to have the explosive nature that it had the first time around," says Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert.

 

Today, swine flu's most potent legacy is the valuable lessons it can teach:

 

•Use warnings wisely. Last June 11, when the World Health Organization announced it was raising its "influenza pandemic alert from Phase 5 to Phase 6" — its highest level — the declaration triggered public anxiety, bordering on panic, around the world. The Phase 6 alert had more to do with geography — that the new strain was spreading globally — than with the flu's severity. A panel of experts is investigating whether the WHO hyped the pandemic. Our opinion? Ordinary people shouldn't have to be doctors to decipher warnings. The system needs to be fixed to take both the spread and the severity into account.

 

It's better to overreact than underreact. When H1N1 came out of the blue, officials didn't know how severe the flu would be, how it spreads or who was most at risk. But they knew this much: Influenza viruses are notoriously unpredictable. It's fortunate that they swiftly began searching for answers, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. With hindsight, it's easy to second-guess some of their decisions. We now know the virus was less lethal than feared (in part because of advances in intensive care), and that just 55% of 162.5 million doses of vaccine readied for use made it into people's arms and noses. Some of an estimated 71 million expiring doses might have to be discarded.

 

The answer is not complacency that leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to the next outbreak. The takeaways are to do a better job countering the persistent, wrong-headed notion that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent — and to develop a better system for distributing unused vaccine to poorer nations.

 

•It's better to underpromise and overdeliver. The government got this old business maxim backwards. A confluence of events — some beyond the government's control, some not — undermined efforts to get the vaccine out quickly last fall when the flu was peaking. On Oct. 5, just 2.4 million doses were available, yet the government launched a major public relations drive to persuade people to get vaccinated. It worked too well. Across the country, patients swamped physicians' phone lines and swarmed at public vaccination sites, only to be turned away. By the time enough doses had been shipped, the epidemic had ebbed, and much of the public had lost interest.

 

Replace those chickens. Though hard to believe, the nation is still dependent on the method of producing vaccine it used a half-century ago: growing the virus that is the vaccine's starting point in chicken eggs. The method requires raising chickens and hoping the virus will grow quickly in eggs. Last year, it didn't, slowing production. Since 2004, the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions of dollars working with drug companies on faster, cell-based technology. The first cell-based plant opened in the U.S. last year, but it won't be producing until 2011. Even now, some experts question whether this technology will shave enough time off production to make a huge difference.

 

The feds can't do it all. At a time of widespread distrust of Washington, it's worth remembering that we count on Big Government to help protect us when pandemic strikes. But no matter how well federal preparedness goes, it's not enough. Everyone from top state officials to emergency room staffers have vital roles to play in a pandemic. H1N1 revealed spotty performances. Some states— Kansas, New Jersey and Wisconsin — made finding scarce vaccine a snap with effective websites; others left citizens in the dark. Only 37% of health care workers nationally got vaccinated against swine flu, a dismal showing. And some ERs were overwhelmed even by what turned out to be a not-so-virulent flu.

 

Since 9/11, governments at all levels have spent billions to prepare for pandemics, and most experts say the swine flu outbreak showed that the planning paid off. In some ways the nation got lucky that this past year's H1N1 was not more severe. That's not much comfort to the loved ones of those who died. It would compound the tragedy if the nation didn't learn something from those deaths to prevent others in the future.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

ADULTERY, IN MANY STATES, IS STILL A CRIME

BY JONATHAN TURLEY

 

Across the country, some social conservatives are fighting for what they view as a critical article of faith: criminal adultery laws. In the U.S., in the year 2010, people can still be prosecuted for breaching their marital vows. The laws are some of the last remnants of our Puritanical past, where infidelity was treated as not only a marital but also as a criminal matter. While the laws have been challenged as unconstitutional, many people are resistant to the idea of removing such "morality crimes" from our books.

 

In New Hampshire, for instance, legislators are trying to repeal a 200-year-old adultery law that is widely viewed as unconstitutional. Social conservatives, however, insist that such laws are needed to back up moral dictates with criminal sanctions. A 1997 poll showed that 35% of Americans believe adultery should be a crime, and similar efforts to decriminalize adultery have met with opposition in states such as Illinois and Minnesota.

 

For many civil libertarians, it is an equally important moment when our nation can finally move beyond laws that require citizens to comply with the moral dictates of their neighbors.

 

About two dozen states still have criminal adultery provisions. While prosecutions remain rare, they do occur. And beyond the criminal realm, these provisions can be cited in divorce proceedings, custody disputes, employment cases and even to bar people from serving on juries. Though someone such as Tiger Woods might not be prosecuted, these laws could be cited in any divorce proceedings to show not just infidelity but also possible criminality in his lifestyle.

 

Lingering Puritan influence

 

When the Puritans came to this land, they left a country where the English treated adultery as largely a civil and personal matter. The Puritans wanted to create a society where moral dictates were enforced by harsh corporal punishments.

 

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter accurately portrayed colonial America under such criminal laws enforcing religious values. There was extensive entanglement between church and state, with adulterers punished for their immorality. In 1644, Mary Latham and James Britton were hanged for their adultery in Massachusetts.

 

Ironically, England at the time was far more tolerant of adultery as a personal matter. Most of these early laws were framed in sexist terms: protecting a husband's exclusive "rights" over his wife as virtual property. Besides death, other punishments included branding, whipping and a variety of shaming punishments.

 

Civil libertarians have long opposed adultery laws as a version of the "tyranny of the majority" over the values of citizens. Many thought this debate was closed after the 2003 decision of the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck a Texas statute criminalizing consensual sodomy. They underestimated the political resistance to the idea of making infidelity a purely civil matter.

 

In Minnesota, for example, state Sen. Ellen Anderson in December made the modest suggestion that the state repeal laws that make it illegal for a married woman to cheat on her husband and make it a crime for single women to have sex at all. The response of the Minnesota Family Council (MFC) was to call for the law not to be repealed but strengthened. Make it a crime for men, too, the group argued.

 

Tom Prichard, MFC's president, said these laws are essential because "they send a message. ... When you are dealing with a marriage, it's not just a private activity or a private institution. It's a very public institution. It has enormous consequences for the rest of society." The law is still on the books.

 

Likewise, when the Illinois legislature last year made a comprehensive set of changes to update the state's laws, it notably kept the criminal provisions for adultery and fornication. In addition to roughly half of the states, adultery remains a criminal offense in the military, where prosecutions occur regularly.

 

In these state and federal systems, adults who cheat on their spouses are still deemed presumptive criminals and face the potential of a criminal charge. Just a year after the Lawrence decision, John R. Bushey Jr., then 66, the town attorney for Luray, Va., was prosecuted for adultery and agreed to a plea bargain of community service. A year later, Lucius James Penn, then 29, was charged with adultery in Fargo, N.D. In 2007, a Michigan appellate court ruled that adultery can still support a life sentence in that state.

 

The insistence on keeping these crimes on the books is an affront to our Constitution — just as it would be an affront to keep anti-miscegenation provisions criminalizing interracial marriages. We should use this moment to establish a bright line between personal and public offenses. The Puritans had it wrong when they saw the law as a way of enforcing their religious values. While we all condemn adultery, it is a personal failing and an offense against a spouse — not a matter which should require a legal judgment.

 

A matter for couples

 

Some individuals learn about these provisions for the first time in divorce and other cases — where the criminal character of the alleged conduct can be cited to justify penalties. Of course, adultery is and should remain grounds for a divorce — but without being a crime. Adultery is a clear violation of the contractual obligation between a married couple and rather obvious evidence of a loss of intimacy and fidelity.

 

While the Puritans had many redeemable qualities, their use of colonial laws to execute or beat or brand people for immorality was a savage tradition. This country has matured to the point that we can put away criminalized moral codes and leave such matters to individual citizens, their families and their respective faiths. It is time to allow couples to police their own marriages.

 

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

REMEMBER WHEN FLYING WAS FUN?C

BY RAYMOND SILLER

 

Remember when flying was fun? Even the packing, which for me covered most contingencies. A blazer, swim trunks, medication and a tuxedo. I rarely packed a cape and top hat, as I seldom was invited to the opera, especially on safari, nor was I asked to produce rabbits at children's birthday parties. I assumed these items could always be rented.

 

At the gate, I was welcomed aboard by a joyous crew and escorted to my seat. After the aircraft reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, I'd order the first of many beverages served by a beautiful stewardess whom I'd later unsuccessfully hit on. One West Coast carrier outfitted its stewardesses in hot pants. The airline was successful with male commuters, until wives made them switch to planes serviced by Carmelite nuns.

 

That was then. If you've flown lately, you wish you had chosen alternate transportation. Like riding in a cattle car with livestock maddened by steroids en route to the slaughterhouse or the Major Leagues.

 

The Transportation Security Administration has rolled out full-body scanners at airports. The TSA assures us we'll experience minimal radiation, ranging somewhere between a dental X-ray and the surface of the sun. For those who feel their privacy is being violated, the TSA stresses that the images will be visible only in a secure viewing room where barely audible giggling will be heard, and that these images will be safely stored on YouTube.

 

Fee frenzy

The airlines for their part have added fees for checked luggage, meals and even carry-ons.

 

In the past, pilots were airborne travel guides. Now they confine their remarks to takeoffs and landings, when they should be reading instrument panels and checking spam on their laptops from fake Viagra merchants.

 

Today's flight attendants seem less compassionate. They used to offer pillows, and in first class your preferred thread count. Now they're akin to dominatrixes, though I've never seen that word pluralized, since that profession does not tend to gather in large numbers. What would a group be called, as in a gaggle of geese? A dog collar of dominatrixes?

 

The airlines are plotting further regulations that will affect all up-in-the-air Americans. Some have been leaked.

 

Truck scales will be at every gate where passengers will be weighed. A person deemed obese must purchase two seats, but may inquire about the Two and a Half Men group rate.

 

At no time during takeoffs and landings will Toyota executives be required to wear seat belts, nor will any be supplied.

 

As a result of the Christmas would-be bomber, underwear must be worn as outerwear. Passengers, considered first responders, should be alert for suspicious behavior. Notify a crewmember if you see a man wearing the "I (heart) Jihad" T-shirt

 

Vice President Biden must remain silent while the F-bomb light is turned on.

 

On Los Angeles-bound flights, business class will be replaced by rehab class. Once California legalizes marijuana, drug-sniffing dogs may apply for unemployment insurance.

 

If any flight has been on the tarmac for more than 36 hours, passengers may deplane to stretch their legs. Porta-potties will be set up for nominal entry fees. Those stranded in terminals more than two weeks due to volcanic eruptions may wish to freshen up. Proceed to the departures driveway and remove all clothing. Skycaps armed with water cannons will hose you down.

 

Hairy dilemma

 

Members of Jersey Shore may not sit in exit row seats, as it would be impossible to evacuate people attempting to flee through hair.

 

Those in first class may continue to enjoy an in-flight movie. Those in coach will watch a continuous loop of Lee Majors' Rechargeable Bionic Hearing Aid commercial.

 

Under a former congressman's legislative proposal, men objecting to full-body scanners will have the option of getting patted down and tickled. Any woman whose photo ID bears the name Bombshell McGee will be kept from boarding because of the colors of her skin.

 

If in the highly unlikely case that President Obama and Sarah Palin are aboard and seated in the same row, Oprah will be assigned to the middle seat.

 

Raymond Siller is an Emmy-nominated television writer and political consultant.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

FOR TRUSTEE, CARL LEVI

 

Voters in Hamilton County have an interesting political choice to make between Carl Levi, the incumbent, and Bill Hullander in the May 4 primary for county trustee. Both are long-time public servants with strong followings in the community. Widespread name recognition, though, is not enough to qualify a candidate for office. The ability to do a good job does. In this instance, the candidate whose experience and training make him best able to serve as trustee is Mr. Levi. We heartily endorse his election.

 

Those with an interest in who fills the vital trustee's office have a single chance to elect a candidate this election year. Winning the Republican primary this year is tantamount to election. There is neither a Democrat nor an independent candidate for the office on the ballot in the August general election.

 

Mr. Hullander, who is concluding 12 years of service on the County Commission, is hard-pressed to make a strong case for his candidacy. He says that his business and political experience qualify him to serve as trustee, but Mr. Levi offers far superior professional credentials. Mr. Hullander avers that something is amiss in the trustee's office and that he would provide residents with more efficient and more friendly customer service if he is elected. There is, however, no indication that anything is amiss in the office, or that the public shares Mr. Hullander's view.

 

Indeed, Mr. Levi is rightly held in high regard by Hamilton County residents. He's served as trustee for eight years and has operated the office in a prudent and cost-efficient manner. Mr. Hullander's arguments to the contrary are unconvincing.

 

Mr. Levi's experience in government far outstrips that of Mr. Hullander. The incumbent's long tenure as treasurer of Chattanooga provided a fine foundation for service in the trustee's office. He's added to that base of knowledge while in office. He's widely regarded as an expert in the field, a fact acknowledged by repeated honors from his peers across the state. He was named "trustee of the year" by the statewide trustees' organization this year, and has been named "trustee of the year" for the past two years by the East Tennessee organization.

 

During his time in office, the trustee's office has become more efficient, more streamlined and better able to serve the public and the county's interests. Mr. Levi's record, in fact, leaves little for Mr. Hullander to challenge.

 

The long-serving commissioner, in fact, is reduced to nibbling around the edges, so to speak. He can not pinpoint substantive reasons to unseat Mr. Levi so he's trying to make mountains out of molehills. He wants to allow partial payments on taxes -- as provided by state law-- and says he would extend office hours and provide what he calls customer-friendly touches like providing receipts to taxpayers. Those issues make good talking points, perhaps, but mean little to county residents or the sound operation of the trustee's office.

 

Given that, Mr. Hullander has been unable to mount a strong campaign on the facts and issues. Instead, he's been reduced to making veiled references to Mr. Levi's age -- the current trustee reports that his physician gave him a positive report at a recent yearly exam -- and to using his post as county commissioner to challenge Mr. Levi's decision on a banking contract on behalf of the county: Never mind that the trustee, with the county's finance and auditing officers, put out a formal request for bids for the county's banking service for the tax receipts that are collected by the trustee's office. Those receipts are then put in county general government's interest-bearing account.

 

To slyly suggest that that process, blessed by the County Commission, is somehow amiss is politicking of the worst sort by Mr. Hullander.

 

Mr. Hullander's tenure on the county commission has been marked by grandstanding on things he objected to paying for, such as new schools in Ooltewah. And he was criticized, and thwarted, by state officials for wrongly trying to make county commissioners' expense budgets part of their salary -- but without paying taxes on it. That's hardly a recommendation for the trustee's office.

 

Mr. Levi's long experience, his exemplary service to local government and his commitment to the community argue convincingly for his return to the county trustee's office. We recommend his election on May 4.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

FOR COUNTY COMMISSION

 

Hamilton County is fortunate to have many bright and capable individuals seeking County Commission seats. We make the following recommendations in the May 4 primaries:

 

District 1: Fred Skillern

 

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Fred Skillern has broad experience in government and the private sector. He is owner of Dixie Souvenirs Inc., which he co-founded in 1963. It distributes imported and U.S.-made goods. Mr. Skillern served 20 years on the Hamilton County Board of Education prior to his commission service, which began in 2001. He has been involved in civic activities as well, and he served in the Army.

 

Commissioner Skillern, of Soddy-Daisy, brings a sound, conservative philosophy to the commission and will continue to oppose unwise tax increases and careless spending.

 

His opponent in the Republican primary, Laura Oakley, is engaging and involved. But Mr. Skillern's experience and stewardship recommend him for re-election. The winner will face no Democrat opponent in the general election in August.

 

District 2: Richard Casavant

 

Incumbent Richard Casavant has capably served his constituents. Dr. Casavant is a professor and administrator in the respected UTC College of Business. He was on the Signal Mountain Town Council prior to being elected to the commission. He is also an Air Force veteran.

 

Dr. Casavant's opponent in the Republican primary is attorney Jim Fields. Mr. Fields, a Navy veteran, is obviously bright and informed. We do not, however, see any reason to end Dr. Casavant's worthy service, and we recommend that District 2 voters choose him. (The winner will face independent candidate David Cantrell in the August general election.)

 

District 3: Jim Coppinger

 

It is not surprising that incumbent Commissioner Jim Coppinger faces no opposition in his Republican primary or in the general election in August. He has served effectively in his first term on the commission.

 

Commissioner Coppinger joined the Chattanooga Fire Department in 1977 and became fire chief in 1997, serving well. He has since retired. He deserves enthusiastic re-election.

 

District 4: Warren Mackey

 

Incumbent Democrat Commissioner Warren Mackey also faces no opposition either in his primary election race or in the August general election -- and for good reason. He is respected by constituents for his steady work on the commission, and he is a gentleman of fine character. A native of Chattanooga, Dr. Mackey is a professor of history at Chattanooga State Technical Community College. He is involved in numerous Christian and civic activities.

 

Dr. Mackey's only opponent for the seat was Debbie Gaines. She recently dropped out, though her name will still be on the primary ballot.

 

We recommend Dr. Mackey for continued good service.

 

District 5: Greg Beck

 

The Democrat primary in District 5 offers a contest between two well-motivated, able and highly respected candidates: incumbent Commissioner Greg Beck and challenger Dr. Bernie Miller.

 

Commissioner Beck, a Chattanooga native, attended Howard High School, Zion College, Chattanooga State and Grace Baptist Bible School. He worked 16 years at Combustion Engineering and later with Inner City Ministries. He also has served as executive director of the Bethlehem Community Center. Commissioner Beck served nine years in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

 

His Democrat opponent, Dr. Miller, is founder and pastor of New Covenant Fellowship Church in Chattanooga. He is also extensively involved in the community.

 

But Commissioner Beck has served his constituents soundly and thus deserves re-election, with no disrespect for Dr. Miller. The winner will face no GOP opponent in August.

 

District 6: John Allen Brooks, Joe Graham

 

Democrat incumbent Commissioner John Allen Brooks has no opponent in the May primary, and neither does challenger Joe Graham in the GOP primary.

 

Mr. Brooks is a Chattanooga attorney. Mr. Graham owns Accent Printing in Lookout Valley. They will meet in the August general election.

 

District 7: Larry Henry

 

Commissioner Larry Henry has served with a conservative, cooperative spirit and is a careful steward of

taxpayer dollars.

 

A former owner of Stacy Oil Co., Mr. Henry's extensive civic involvement has included the Chamber of

Commerce, the Hamilton Place Rotary Club, the East Hamilton County Ruritan Club and other organizations. He went to Tyner High School, UTC and Covington Seminary.

 

Commissioner Henry sensibly opposes city annexation of any area of the county unless residents of that area

agree to be annexed.

 

His opponent is fellow Republican Gordon Anderson, an enrollment consultant and manager for Unum. Mr.

Anderson presents his views well, is informed and capable, and has the best of intentions in running, but Commissioner Henry deserves re-election on the strength of his prior, commendable service.

 

The winner will face no Democrat opposition in the August general election.

 

District 8: Tim Boyd, Kenny Smith

 

In the Republican primary in District 8, there is no incumbent because Commissioner Curtis Adams is retiring. That creates an interesting race between Tim Boyd and Jack Martin.

 

We recommend Mr. Boyd, with no disrespect toward Mr. Martin.

 

Mr. Boyd, an East Ridge native, is co-owner of Southeast Carpenters, where he is a project engineer. He spearheaded the most recent Tennessee Aquarium construction renovation. Mr. Boyd brings a conservative, business approach that would serve the county well. We believe he would be extremely cautious before approving any tax increase, and that he would oppose wasteful spending.

 

Mr. Martin is a former TVA engineer and now runs a home inspection business. He, too, is a conservative.

 

But Mr. Boyd's strong business background recommends him for election in the primary. The winner will face Democrat Kenny Smith, a current school board member, as well as independents Terry Turner and Jim Winters in the August general election.

 

District 9: Chester Bankston

 

Three bright, qualified men seek the District 9 seat in the Republican primary, because incumbent Commissioner Bill Hullander is seeking the position of county trustee. They are Chester Bankston, Gary Neil and Richard Tornquist. (John Turner has dropped out, but his name still will be on the ballot.)

 

Mr. Bankston is a school board member who has decided to seek the commission seat. He has extensive experience in the school system, having retired from a maintenance position with the system in 2006. He is an electrical contractor as well. Mr. Bankston has acted wisely and with an eye for spending money carefully and effectively during his time on the school board.

 

Mr. Neil owns and runs an electrical contracting business and is on the board of the electrical apprenticeship school.

 

Mr. Tornquist, a retired energy management technician for Rutgers University, previously served as a council member and mayor of Franklin Township, N.J.

 

Both Mr. Neil and Mr. Tornquist are well-spoken, intelligent and grounded in conservative principles.

 

But Mr. Bankston's sensible approach and his broad knowledge of major issues that the commission will be facing recommend him. The winner faces no opposition in the general election.

 

We applaud the dedicated individuals who are seeking commission seats this year.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

MCLEOD: LIFE'S FRAGILE, SO HUG YOUR KIDS TODAY

LISA EARLE MCLEOD

 

My neighbors just lost their 17-year-old daughter to cancer.

 

She was diagnosed 13 months ago. Up until three weeks ago, she was responding well to the treatment, and everyone thought she was going to get better. Then a scan revealed that the cancer had returned with a vengeance, and 14 days later she was gone.

 

Just like that, one day they had a beautiful 17-year-old daughter; the next day, they didn't.

 

As I watched the mother and father walk down the aisle of the church behind their dear daughter's coffin, my heart ached as I wondered, how does one cope with such a loss?

 

How do you wake up every day and face a world that no longer includes your child?

 

There wasn't a parent at that funeral who didn't go home and hug their own kids a little tighter that night.

 

But isn't that always the way?

 

We run around with a million things to do every day, and it often takes a tragedy for us to pause and appreciate what's really important. A loss reminds us of just how fragile and beautiful life is and how important it is to appreciate the people around you.

 

The problem is, we forget.

 

Of course, my neighbors will never forget their daughter. I have no doubt that they'll live with the pain of their loss for the rest of their lives. I just hope that at some point it becomes less raw.

 

But for the rest of the peripheral crowd -- those of us who left the funeral vowing to treasure our children more, be kinder to our spouse, call our parents, visit the sick, spend more time with friends, stop and smell the roses, or whatever other version of "live each day like it was your last" we were awakened to -- we will probably gradually forget.

 

We'll forget how deeply touched we were by the sweet fleeting nature of life, and within a few days, or weeks, or months, we'll be back to cursing at the traffic, getting annoyed at our in-laws, and worrying about whether or not we're going to meet a deadline at work.

 

Therein lies the human challenge.

 

We want to savor the beauty and meaning of life, but much of the stuff that fills our days doesn't feel very beautiful or meaningful. A friend of mine says, "You want to stay in that place of gratefulness and love, but then somebody has to cook dinner."

 

So how do you reconcile the two worlds?

 

The secret is to bring the feelings of love, gratitude and meaning into the land of deadlines, traffic and laundry.

You don't have to wait until a big emotional event like a funeral, wedding, illness or graduation forces you to pause and view the larger arc of your life through a lens of gratitude and love. You can bring those emotions into all the seemingly trivial stuff you're already doing.

 

When I spoke with my neighbors at the funeral home, the father said of their daughter, "She was so loved."

 

The truth is, you already know what matters in your life. We all do.

 

You just have to decide whether or not you're going to keep it at the front and center of your heart on a daily basis.

 

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

WIEDMER: UTC GOT A LOT OUT OF MOORE

MARK WIEDMER (CONTACT)

 

If Sunday's television reports out of Greenville, N.C., are true, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Wes Moore is about to accept a similar position at East Carolina.

 

Four words: What took so long?

 

When you're winning 78 percent of your games, graduating about 98 percent of your players and going to eight out of 10 NCAA Tournaments from a one-bid league like the Southern Conference, well ... let's face it, you should never have gone to eight of 10 tourneys because BCS conference athletic directors should have been smart enough to never let you remain here that long.

 

Of course, even now Moore won't exit the Scenic City for an Atlantic Coast Conference or Southeastern

Conference job, which has always been his dream. If he goes he'll merely be trading one one-bid league for another in Conference USA, thought at least he'll be doubling his base pay, tripling his recruiting budget and flying instead of busing to most road games.

 

And given UTC's current financial woes, who wouldn't jump at the chance to have all that, especially when Wes's wife, Linda, grew up less than an hour away from Greenville in Jamesville, N.C.?

 

Yet there apparently remained some large