Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Thursday, April 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.04.10

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 29, edition 000494, 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. CAUGHT RED-HANDED
  2. MOLE IN THE RANKS
  3. THE PEACE DIVIDEND - G PARTHASARATHY
  4. DESAI COULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALONE - KUNAL SAHA
  5. IS THIS THE TIPPING POINT? - SHAILAJA CHANDRA
  6. Divinity of animals - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  7. No handouts, give us schools - ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO
  8. LENIN'S SPECTRE NO LONGER HAUNTS RUSSIA - NIKOLAI TROITSKY

MAIL TODAY

  1. CONTAIN DAMAGE OF THE ISLAMABAD BETRAYAL
  2. SOREN DOES IT AGAIN
  3. ONE TERM ENOUGH FOR V- CS
  4. TREAD CAREFULLY ON THE POST- CRISIS GLOBAL MINEFIELD - BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI
  5. QUANTUM LEAP  - DINESH C. SHARMA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. SUCH ACTS ARE DEPLORABLE
  2. SPY GAMES
  3. DELIVERY IS THE KEY
  4. POLITICS AS CIRCUS
  5. MARK MODI'S FUNERAL SPEECH - BACHI KARKARIA
  6. LEGISLATORS ARE ONLY HUMAN -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. TACKLING THE CONTRADICTIONS
  2. POWERPOINT PASTA
  3. OBSERVER AS ABSORBER - RAVNI THAKUR
  4. YANKING THE GROUND FROM UNDER OUR FEET - SAMAR HALARNKAR

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. IT'S ALL CONNECTED
  2. THE THREE CS
  3. BACKING BANDHS
  4. BIG PHONEY LISTS - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. THE LEGISLATURE'S LIMITS - MANEESH CHHIBBER
  6. THE BUCK STOPS WITH EVERYONE - VED MARWAH
  7. CRICKET, CINEMA, CURRENT AFFAIRS AND CRIME - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. THE GREAT GAME FOLIO - C. RAJA MOHAN
  9. VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. GREECE, JUNKED?
  2. BETTER DISCLOSURE
  3. WHY WE SHIRK FROM MURK - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. HOW ABOUT A BEIJING CONSENSUS? - MICHAEL WALTON
  5. REVIVING TEASER RATES - SITANSHU SWAIN

THE HINDU

  1. CLEANUP AT IPL
  2. UNEVEN RECOVERY
  3. THE PERILOUS STRIFE WITHIN - K.S. DAKSHINA MURTHY
  4. THE COLOUR OF WATER - P. SAINATH
  5. EXPERTS SEEK HIKE IN GLOBAL WATER PRICE - JULIETTE JOWIT
  6. BANKS TRYING TO KILL OBAMA'S REFORM BILL - CHRIS MCGREAL
  7. HOLLYWOOD SIGN SAVED - ANDREW PULVER

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. GOVT'S FLOOR WIN TRIBUTE TO PRANAB
  2. GOD LIVES IN BROKEN HEARTS
  3. HACKING DEFENCES
  4. COLLATERAL DAMAGE OR SPYING?
  5. TIPPY, TIPPY, TAP

DNA

  1. MISSING THE POINT
  2. RIGHT TO SPEAK
  3. TECH'S SOCIAL DIMENSION - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  4. PLAYING GODFATHER II AT US SENATE - MAUREEN DOWD

 THE TRIBUNE

  1. DEFEAT OF CUT MOTIONS
  2. TYTLER ESCAPES
  3. COBALT-60 EXPOSURE
  4. AFTER THE END OF ETHNIC CONFLICT - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
  5. BEATING THE AMERICANS - BY ROOPINDER SINGH
  6. QUITTING LIFE EARLY - BY NONIKA SINGH
  7. WOODEN WIVES BEHIND TIGER HUSBANDS? - BY RAJEEV TANWAR
  8. DELHI DURBAR

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. PHYSICIAN AND POET

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. UNHOLY DUALITY
  2. BEND IN THE BRAHMAPUTRA
  3. THE CRISIS IN ECONOMICS - SUMATI MEHTA
  4. STRONG MEDICINE - LATHA JISHNU
  5. EMITTING TROUBLE - CHANDRA BHUSHAN
  6. IPL NEEDS 'FIT AND PROPER PERSONS' TEST - KANIKA DATTA
  7. THE G-20, POWER, AND IDEAS - ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. A LESSON IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
  2. REVENUE IMPLICATIONS OF GST
  3. SLAP-UP SOLUTIONS
  4. A WELCOME MOVE
  5. PIGS DON'T FLY!
  6. A SINGER OF DIVINE TUNES - VITHALC NADKARNI
  7. PROBLEM ARISES WHEN AGENCIES BECOME PAWN IN POLITICANS' HANDS
  8. CANNOT REJECT PRIVACY COMPLETELY OF EVEN THOSE IN PUBLIC LIFE
  9. MALL REVOLUTION HAS BEEN A RESOUNDING SUCCESS - RAJEEV TALWAR
  10. MALL REVOLUTION HAS NOT BEEN A GRAND SUCCESS IN INDIA - RAGHAV GUPTA
  11. GUNNING FOR GOLDMAN - T T RAM MOHAN
  12. MY CONSCIENCE IS CLEAR: SHARAD PAWAR - ARATI R JERATH
  13. BHARTI IS THE ONLY OPERATOR WITH A FREE CASH FLOW: CEO - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
  14. 'WE EXPECT VC DEAL SIZES TO REMAIN IN $5-MILLION RANGE' - ARCHANA RAI
  15. TATAS WILL GAIN RS 1,200 CRORE BY DENYING POWER TO CITY: RINFRA
  16. ITALIAN CLOTHING BRAND DIESEL TO MAKE INDIA OUTSOURCING BASE - NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. UPA'S FLOOR WIN IS TRIBUTE TO PRANAB
  2. TIPPY, TIPPY, TAP - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. ENERGY BILL NEEDS OBAMA AND HIS GRAVITAS - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. COLLATERAL DAMAGE OR SPYING? - BY ARUN BHAGAT
  5. GOD LIVES IN BROKEN HEARTS - BY SADIA DEHLVI
  6. HACKING DEFENCES - BY VIKRAM SOOD

THE STATESMAN

  1. CREDIBILITY LOST
  2. WHOLLY DISGUSTING
  3. TO GANGA, TO GANGA! 
  4. FEMINISED POLITICS - BY SUSHILA RAMASWAMY
  5. MOBILE LOST, MOBILITY REGAINED -  ISHWAR PATI
  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
  7. WHY GREAT MINDS DON'T ALWAYS THINK ALIKE

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. PROMISED LAND
  2. TRUE WORD
  3. PIGS DON'T FLY - MUKUL KESAVAN
  4. BONDING OVER DISASTER - NEHA SAHAY
  5. A DAY IN WONDERLAND
  6. FANTASY OF THE WILD
  7. DUAL IMAGE

DECCAN HERALD

  1. BRITTLE UNITY
  2. STILL STONEWALLING
  3. CRICKET NEEDS LEGISLATION - BY ADITYA SONDHI
  4. SWEET MEMORIES - BY NALINI MURALIDHAR
  5. OPEN SESAME: THE INDO-BHUTAN BORDERS - BY BHASKAR DUTTA-BARUAH

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. NUCLEAR CYNICISM
  2. SEEKING PEACE, OR JUST PRETENDING?
  3. BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
  4. FROM PRO-ISRAEL TO ANTI-ISRAEL APOLOGIST - BY ISI LEIBLER
  5. WANNA BUY A BRIDGE, MR. MITCHELL? - BY LARRY DERFNER
  6. WHEN SAUDI ARABIA GOES NUCLEAR - BY MICHAEL FREUND
  7. ISRAELI ARCHITECTURE: AN ETHICAL CRISIS  - BY GERARD HEUMANN

HAARETZ

  1. LAME JUSTICE
  2. OLMERT'S ROTTEN KINGDOM - BY ARI HAVIT
  3. ISRAEL'S TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY IS DANGEROUS - BY GIDEON LEVY
  4. EDUCATION WITHOUT FOUNDATIONS - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  5. LIBYA TRIP EXPOSES WRETCHEDNESS OF REPRESENTATIVES OF ISRAELI ARABS - BY SALMAN MASALHA

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE CANDIDATE FROM XENOPHOBIA
  2. GULF SPILL
  3. DANGEROUS GAMES
  4. ALBANY'S WORKWEEK
  5. WHY ARIZONA DREW A LINE - BY KRIS W. KOBACH
  6. RED, BLUE AND BROKE - BY GAIL COLLINS

USA TODAY

  1. Our view on energy: Good news? Cape Wind OK'd. Bad news? it took a decade
  2. BEYOND TARMAC DELAYS
  3. 'SOUTH PARK' REIGNITES CARTOON DEBATE - BY KATHLEEN PARKER
  4. HOW JAY-Z CAN MAKE FOREIGN POLICY ACCESSIBLE - BY LIONEL BEEHNER

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. GOP THWARTS BANK REFORMS
  2. STIMULATING DEBT AND TAXES!
  3. CHALLENGES REMAIN IN HAITI
  4. HIGHER COSTS, LESS CARE FOR SENIORS
  5. GREECE: WHAT HAPPENED?

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. A LACK OF DIPLOMATIC FINESSE - BY KOUROSH ZIABARI

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - LET'S DEAL WITH BOTH PAST AND PRESENT
  2. APRIL 24: A TIME FOR OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  3. NO QUEST FOR SCAPEGOATS PLEASE
  4. TENSION OVER THE CONSTITUTION PACKAGE ESCALATES - BİLAL ÇETİN
  5. CONSTITUTIONAL POLL TURNS INTO MINEFIELD - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. SOLIDARITY WITH TEHRAN? - MURAT ONUR
  7. MAKE OR BREAK WEEK - YUSUF KANLI
  8. NEW IMPETUS NEEDED TO MOVE TURKISH-ARMENIAN INITIATIVE FORWARD - GÖKNUR AKÇADAĞ

I.THE NEWS

  1. A WRONG RIGHTED
  2. FISHING FOR PEACE
  3. EQUIP THEM
  4. WHO IS BEHIND THE HAZARA UNREST? - PART II MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  5. KASHMIR: RIPE FOR RESOLUTION - ADIL NAJAM AND MOEED YUSUF
  6. COUNTERINSURGENCY OPERATIONS - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. A CATASTROPHE IN THE MAKING - TASNEEM NOORANI
  8. A CULTURE OF KILLING - KAMILA HYAT
  9. EDUCATING ALL - DR FAISAL

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. NEW TWIST TO BB'S MURDER
  2. TARGET KILLINGS IN QUETTA; IS ANYONE CONCERNED?
  3. SC ON SHADY LNG DEAL
  4. CEDING DICTATORIAL POWERS - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  5. WATER ISSUE & SAARC SUMMIT - LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
  6. AZM-E-NAU: DOCTRINAL EVALUATION - ABID LATIF SINDHU
  7. POWER CRISIS, SOME SUGGESTIONS - SHANZEH IQBAL
  8. MODI'S OPERANDI - SADANAND DHUME

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. ENDANGERED CITY
  2. CHANNEL 1 SHUT
  3. SOMEPLACE TO CRY ON..!
  4. GENDER EQUALITY: A CRYING NEED - RUHUL AMEEN
  5. HEALTHY PRESS, HEALTHY PRIVATE SECTOR - JOYNAL ABEDIN
  6. WHY SHANGHAI EXPO? - BARRY WEISBERG
  7. BANGLADESH BROTHELS IN SWEDISH NEWSPAPER - MONIRUL ALAM

 THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. NOVEL WAY TO CUT DOLE QUEUE
  2. THE POLITICAL PRICE OF INFLATED POLICY PROMISES
  3. BRITAIN'S SPRING OF DISCONTENT
  4. GOVERNMENT WITHOUT A CAUSE, ATTACKING ITS FRIENDS
  5. GIBBERING FANTASISTS SET SIGHTS ON ANZAC DAY
  6. BRITAIN NEEDS NEW THATCHER BUT EVERYONE IN DENIAL
  7. A DAMAGING AND INGLORIOUS END
  8. BIG HOUSE HOSTS KILLER GAME OF PASS THE BUCK
  9. PSYCHIC POWERS NOT NEEDED TO SEE HENRY WILL SUGGEST MORE TAX
  10. THEREFORE THE RESPONSIBLE COURSE OF ACTION IS TO CALMLY, METHODICALLY, GUTLESS OUT

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. RETREAT BEHIND SMOKESCREEN
  2. SPYING POWERS SHOULD SPOOK US
  3. THE ONLY WAY TO LEVEL THIS TILTED PLAYING FIELD
  4. SAFETY NOW A COSTLY NUMBERS GAME

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … DAVID MCVICAR
  2. THE EURO: ON THE BRINK OF CRISIS
  3. GORDON BROWN: A DUFFY DAY AT THE OFFICE

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. DEPORTEES TURN TO VIOLENCE
  2. OURINHO SIMPLY PARKS THE BUZZ - BY JOHN DILLON
  3. A GREEK TRAGEDY THAT COULD SOON BE STAGES IN BRITAIN - BY LEO MCKINSTRY
  4. BROWN DISPLAYS HIS UTTER CONTEMPT FOR ELECTORATE

THE GAZETTE

  1. MASTERFUL DEFENCE OF BASIC DEMOCRACY
  2. ILL-CONSIDERED, PETTY ATTACK ON MCGILL

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. HISTORIC FEAT
  2. PREY ON ENTERTAINERS
  3. ELITE COLLEGES SOFTEN ON ROTC BANS - BY DALE MCFEATTERS
  4. SPACE: AMERICA CONCEDES THE LEAD - BY GWYNNE DYER
  5. MAVERICK RIDES INTO VALLEY OF NATIONAL DEBTG - BY MARTIN SCHRAM

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. A GREEK LESSON FOR JAPAN
  2. SECOND TAKE ON MR. OZAWA
  3. OBAMA CONCEDING LEAD IN SPACE EXPLORATION - BY GWYNNE DYER
  4. MEDIA VULTURES CIRCLE P.M. - BY GREGORY CLARK
  5. REINING IN EUROPE'S DEBTOR NATIONS - BY HANS-WERNER SINN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. FOLLOWING THE CROWD?
  2. SHRINE VISITS AND SUFISM - USEP ABDUL MATIN
  3. THE TOUGH TASK OF BOOSTING RI-NZ TRADE - AMRIS HASSAN
  4. ACCESS TO INFORMATION: AN ARGENTINEAN LESSON - TANTI BUDI SURYANI

CHINA DAILY

  1. STAMP OUT DISCRIMINATION
  2. CULTURAL INTERACTION
  3. BENEFIT OF HIGHER WAGES
  4. TRANSPARENT BUDGET, HAPPY PEOPLE - BY MA CHAO (CHINA DAILY)
  5. US BACKS WARM CROSS-STRAITS TIES - BY DENNIS V. HICKEY (CHINA DAILY)
  6. WARMING TIES WITH EUROPE - BY FENG ZHONGPING (CHINA DAILY

DAILY MIRROR

  1. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BASIL
  2. VICTORY AND THE FUNDAMENTALS FOR 'WAY FORWARD'
  3. THE NEW CABINET IN THE SERVICE OF THE PEOPLE
  4. INTERNATIONAL LABOUR DAY AND THE PLIGHT OF MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. LENIN'S LOSS IS STALIN'S GAIN  - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
  2. A NEW LEASE ON A FLEET AND A NEW LEASE ON LIFE - BY YEVGENY KISELYOV
  3. RASMUSSEN'S 'ROOF' HAS SOME LEAKS - BY VLADIMIR KOZIN 

***************************************

******************************************************************************************

THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CAUGHT RED-HANDED

WILL HONEST PM SACK RAJA NOW?


For all his elaborate denials of, and twisted explanations about, short-changing the public exchequer while helping dubious firms acquire 2G spectrum for a song to be sold later for a fortune, Union Minister for Communication and Information Technology A Raja today stands denuded of both dignity and integrity. The Pioneer, which has been tracking the 2G spectrum scam and the DMK politician's role in it, has placed before the nation evidence that not only nails Mr Raja's many lies but also shows that the UPA Government is fully aware of his pandering to business interests for reasons that are far too obvious to be elaborated. The Income Tax Department, on the basis of "specific information" received from the Central Board of Direct Taxes, placed the telephone lines of lobbyists and middlemen representing corporate entities interested in acquiring 2G spectrum under surveillance after securing necessary approval from the Home Secretary. In other words, telephone conversations were tapped and taped with authorisation and these show how 2G spectrum deals were fixed with the full involvement of Mr Raja. The CBI, which is investigating the 2G spectrum scam, came across these details when it sought information from the Income Tax Department to facilitate its inquiries. From the official response to the CBI's request it is evident that details of the incriminating taped conversations exist on file; the Income Tax Department has offered to share them with the CBI. It is now up to the investigating agency to carry forward its probe and come to a conclusion about Mr Raja's wrongdoing and the extend of corruption that marked the distribution of licences under his raj. There is, however, another aspect to the episode which merits comment: The stunning, deafening silence of the Prime Minister who strangely refuses to take cognisance of his Cabinet colleague's gross financial misdeed. Indeed, Mr Manmohan Singh appears to be paralysed into inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence, a fraction of which should have sufficed to sack Mr Raja rather than allow him to heap shame on the Government.


It would be futile for the Prime Minister's drum-beaters to claim, as they often do in such circumstances, that he is unaware of the Minister's reckless ways and means. Apart from the fact that there is something called the principle of collective responsibility — the Prime Minister is ultimately accountable for any Minister's sins of omission and commission — Mr Singh has for long known about Mr Raja's wilful violation of standard norms and rules with the deceitful intention of favouring certain firms. After all, the Minister scornfully disregarded a feeble intervention sought to be made by the Prime Minister and did not hesitate to embarrass Mr Singh in court affidavits. Nor has Mr Raja bothered to hide his contempt for legal advice proffered by the Law Ministry. Yet, Mr Singh has chosen to gloss over rank corruption in his Government, ignoring deal-fixing by a Cabinet Minister right under his nose. Is it cynical indifference or political compulsion that prevents the Prime Minister from exercising his authority? Why is Mr Singh, whose publicists do not tire of describing him as a person of unimpeachable integrity and absolute honesty, unable to strike out at such dishonesty? True, Mr Raja has been nominated by the DMK, an ally of the Congress, to represent his party in the Government and has not been selected by the Prime Minister. But surely that does not stop him from acting in the interest of the nation? Or does office without authority matter more to Mr Singh?


***************************************


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MOLE IN THE RANKS

THE ROT RUNS FAR DEEPER


The revelation that a 53-year-old diplomat working for our High Commission in Islamabad has been passing on sensitive information to a Pakistani intelligence officer is a matter of serious concern. If the allegation is indeed true, it means that our diplomatic mission in Pakistan has been compromised. The Government, no doubt, will initiate damage control measures to patch up the leak. But that would essentially be a band-aid solution. The diplomat concerned — identified as Ms Madhuri Gupta — was posted as a second secretary-level officer at the High Commission in Islamabad. It is being alleged that she was passing on secrets to a man called Rana who is believed to be a Pakistani sleuth. Ms Gupta, who was picked up by the police from her Delhi residence last week and questioned by a team comprising members of different intelligence agencies, is also being investigated for her role, if any, in the 2008 bombing of our Embassy in Kabul. Apparently, she came under the scanner of our intelligence agencies after she showed 'extraordinary interest' in areas beyond her role in the media wing of the High Commission. She was subsequently put under surveillance for six months before being called back by the External Affairs Ministry under the pretext of work related to the ongoing SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the case highlights the shortcomings of our counter-intelligence initiatives. Protecting Indian diplomats working in diplomatic missions abroad from foreign intelligence agencies is one of the main objectives of a country's counter-intelligence programme. Such diplomats are at times susceptible to the nefarious designs of spies working for the other side. In that sense, our intelligence agencies were clearly not able to react fast enough to prevent Ms Gupta from passing on information to her Pakistani contact. Second, it cannot be that she acted alone. She was a very junior officer in our mission in Islamabad and could not have gained access to secrets without the help of those in senior positions. In fact, according to her own reported admission to the investigators, she used to get information from a certain senior diplomat. Thus, the investigation into the case should also expose who helped Ms Gupta in her endeavours. Finally, the case must be taken to its logical conclusion. It is obvious that there were lapses in terms of accountability at various levels. In order to prevent a repeat of this episode, those who were sleeping on their jobs must be held responsible. It is understandable that the case is a sensitive one from the perspective of national security. But the people deserve to broadly know who all were responsible for the lapse and what corrective measures are being taken.

 

***************************************

 


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

THE PEACE DIVIDEND

G PARTHASARATHY


May 2009 saw the end of the three-decade-long bloody ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in which an estimated 80,000 people perished. The conflict ended when a relentless offensive by the Sri Lankan armed forces led to the killing of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and the decimation of his cadre. While questions remain about the alleged horrendous violations of human rights of the Tamil civilian population caught in the crossfire, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has emerged as the most popular leader of his country, decisively defeating his rival, former Army chief Sarath Fonseka, in the presidential election on January 26. This has been followed by a decisive victory of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, which secured just over 60 per cent of the votes cast in the recently concluded parliamentary election.


Mr Rajapaksa combined a determined war strategy with astute diplomacy after he concluded that dialogue with the LTTE had failed and that he had to eliminate the Tamil Tigers. Faced with huge pressure brought about by erstwhile mediator Norway, together with the US and the European Union, Mr Rajapaksa secured diplomatic, intelligence and military support from India while simultaneously obtaining arms and economic assistance from China and Pakistan, together with economic assistance from Japan.


With the US deciding to work together with India on regional issues during the Bush Administration, things turned around for the embattled President once the Americans adopted a more understanding approach, even while the Sri Lankan Government effectively resisted European pressure to halt military operations. Most importantly, the successful conclusion of the ethnic conflict ended all doubts in Sri Lanka about India's commitment to its unity and territorial integrity. The once powerful Sinhala chauvinist, pseudo-Marxist and anti-Indian Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was badly mauled in this month's parliamentary election.


The bloody end to the ethnic conflict resulted in the displacement of 300,000 Tamil civilians. New Delhi's primary concern has thereafter been the rehabilitation of internally displaced Tamils. With an investment of $ 110 million, India has provided emergency supplies of medicines, temporary housing, cement for constructing houses, and undertaken demining of Tamil habitats located in battle zones. But this is only a beginning, in a larger package of assistance that New Delhi has to provide to the Tamil population in the war-affected parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.


With plans underway to open an Indian Cultural Centre and renovate the famous Duraiappan Stadium in Jaffna, India would have to invest substantially in building higher educational and technical training institutions in Tamil areas to enable the Tamil population to integrate into a pluralistic and economically dynamic Sri Lanka.


Politically, Mr Rajapaksa should be persuaded to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution enacted in 1988, pursuant to the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Agreement of 1987. Moreover, if a return to a situation of Tamil discontent fuelling insurgency is to be avoided, Sri Lanka should also enact legislation to implement the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Amendment Bill of August 3, 2000. This Constitution Amendment Bill was presented after extensive consultations by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisers GL Peiris and Neelan Tiruchelvan and was withdrawn because of domestic opposition.


The implementation of this Bill, together with the 1988 Constitutional Amendment, will largely address Tamil concerns and aspirations. But, at the same time, the Tamils of Sri Lanka would have to recognise that with the East becoming very different from the North in terms of its ethnic composition, demands for a united North-Eastern Province may no longer be tenable.


The growing involvement of China in Sri Lanka, especially in the development of the Hambantota port, has raised concerns in India. This port, being built with a concessionary Chinese loan of $ 300 million, will eventually have an LNG refinery, fuel storage facilities, three separate docks together with facilities for ship repair and construction. It can serve as a base for bunkering and refuelling.


Moreover, China has been the largest supplier of military equipment to Sri Lanka in recent years and is involved in projects for the construction of highways, railways and a coal-based power plant. China's trade with Sri Lanka has doubled in the last five years to $ 1.13 billion in 2009. Given the Chinese desire to increase its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, including South Asia, while working through Pakistan, New Delhi will have to make it clear to Colombo that any facilities provided to Beijing in the context of China's overall policy of encircling and containing India would not be welcome.


Sri Lanka has, thus far, been duly sensitive in dealing with Indian concerns. When blocks for oil exploration were parcelled out in the Gulf of Mannar, the Sri Lankan Government gave equal opportunities and benefits to both India and China, allocating one block each to both countries. With bilateral trade reaching $ 2.02 billion in 2009, Sri Lanka is today India's largest trading partner in SAARC.


India should, however, be more generous in opening its markets to exports of tea, spices, rubber and textiles from Sri Lanka. India has extended lines of credit amounting to $ 592 million to Sri Lanka for upgrading the Colombo-Matara rail link, the supply of railway equipment and construction of rail lines in the northern areas. Proposals are under consideration for inter-connection of the grids in Sri Lanka and India. New Delhi would do well to ensure that negotiations are finalised for the construction of a 500-MW power plant in Trincomalee.


With a rate of literacy more than 90 per cent and life expectancy of females reaching 76 years, Sri Lanka has a far better record in human development than India. Moreover, despite a raging civil war, the country has shown a remarkable growth rate, averaging 6.3 per cent since 2003. Unlike some of India's other neighbours, the Sri Lankans have shown a readiness to integrate their economy with the economies of neighbouring southern Indian States. Projects involving Indian private investment of around $ 500 million have been approved for implementation in Sri Lanka, where India is today the fourth largest foreign investor.


With the ethnic conflict over, there should now be fewer inhibitions on expanding bilateral military ties. In this otherwise optimistic scenario, one hopes that with a massive mandate Mr Rajapaksa will show statesmanship and magnanimity in addressing the legitimate aspirations of his country's alienated Tamil population.


***************************************


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DESAI COULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALONE

KUNAL SAHA


The arrest of Medical Council of India president Ketan Desai by the Central Bureau of Investigation for accepting a whopping Rs 2 crore bribe in lieu of providing recognition to a private medical college does not come as a surprise for many within the medical fraternity. Although Desai has been in the docks before before for similar cases of corruption, he was able to evade justice till now. It goes without saying that without the many friends and protectors he had in the Health Ministry and other wings of the Government, Desai could not have survived for such a long period of time at the top of the medical field.


Corruption is like metastatic cancer, almost impossible to cure because of its spread across the entire body. With the arrest of the MCI president, one wonders whether the cancer plaguing our healthcare system could now be cured since the root of the malignancy has been identified. Approval from the MCI is mandatory for any institution wanting to offer medical courses. But this is not a simple one-step process. The college concerned must have all medical departments, hospital facilities, adequate infrastructure and qualified professors before approval can be granted.


All of this is then physically verified through several visits by MCI inspection teams to ascertain whether the institution is capable of offering MBBS and other medical courses. The reports of the inspection team are also discussed and approved by all members of the MCI Executive Committee before granting approval to the institution. It is reported that Desai used to control the entire process of granting recognition to new medical colleges or permission to increase the number of seats for an existing college using his clout in the MCI.


But there is a danger of making Desai the scapegoat. His colleagues within the MCI and his friends in the Health Ministry are as much guilty of corruption as him. Unless they too are brought to book, things will remain the way they are. It is hoped that the CBI will conduct a quick and transparent investigation to ensure that Desai and those who helped him in his dirty dealings get their just desserts.


***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

IS THIS THE TIPPING POINT?

TRADING IN MEDICAL EDUCATION HAS TO STOP. THE ARREST OF THE MEDICAL COUNCIL OF INDIA PRESIDENT ON CHARGES OF BRIBERY COULD JUST BE THE TIPPING POINT TO PRECIPITATE LONG OVERDUE CHANGE. MERGING THE BEST FROM TWO EXISTING BILLS MAY BE A STARTING POINT TO BRING ABOUT THIS CHANGE

SHAILAJA CHANDRA


The murky deals involving the president of the Medical Council of India might look like piffle compared to the IPL imbroglio. But despite being an insignificant side show, the MCI scam is far more worrisome because the MCI is responsible for administering and enforcing standards of medical education for the entire country. So if the president of such an organisation is embroiled in a bribery and extortion racket involving a medical college, it questions the degree to which standards are at all being met by other colleges. The quality of the products of such a wayward system will ultimately impact upon individual health and safety. The absence of a trustworthy oversight body is a matter for grave concern.


On paper the MCI is a truly representative body with the bulk of its members elected from the medical faculty of every State and every university. Added to this long list of nearly 100 elected council members, there are another 40 representatives nominated either by the State Governments or by the Union Government. If one cannot trust such a democratically established body set up by an Act of Parliament, who then can we trust?


First a little history. For decades after it was set up, the MCI performed a limited role — to register medical practitioners and to lay down standards for a handful of medical colleges, mostly in the Government sector. Up to 1992 the requirements for setting up of medical college were simple. The MCI was an elite body that invariably advocated against setting up more medical colleges. Some Chief Ministers, notably Janardhan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh cocked-a-snook at such prescriptions and permitted new medical colleges to start in his State. This incensed then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao so much that he had an Ordinance issued; overnight the Union Government assumed authority to permit new medical colleges to be established, to open a new courses of study or to increase the intake of students. But — and this is extremely important — only by acting on the recommendation of the Medical Council of India.


The Ordinance became law but nothing was done to alter the structure of the council to fulfill its new responsibilities. In 1999 new regulations were notified which set out all the requirements that a medical college needed to fulfill to come into being, to diversify its courses and increase intake. These requirements call for the injection of an extraordinary amount of resources (Rs 500 crore) while constantly running the risk of rejection at inception or midstream. Only the rich and powerful dare try.


There are now 300 colleges in the country with an annual intake (all levels) of more than 50,000 students. More than half are in the private sector. The latest annual report on the council's website, shows that in two years about 180 letters of intent were issued but an equal number failed to secure MCI's recommendation. The council recommended 30 new colleges but more than half that number was turned down. While the continuance of recognition was recommended in four cases, five times that number was recommended for rejection. Detractors say that unrealistic conditions have been prescribed, leaving the ground clear for quid pro quos and barter.

Supporters of the MCI say that the council runs through independent committees whose deliberations are transparent and available for scrutiny; and the president does not direct the show. Critics say that MCI's committees are run by cartels carved from grateful elected representatives who do as they are told. MCI's inspectors are briefed in advance where to say "yes", "no" and "if". Handpicked committees just stamp their reports.

And in this entire where does the fount of all authority, the Union Government feature? For the most part it does not. In the fullness of time when MCI's recommendations reach the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the cases can be returned with comments or questions; clarifications can be sought; but the Government cannot overrule the council or convert a case of acceptance into rejection and vice versa.


Should such a situation just be allowed to continue in the name of self-rule conferred by a 1956 Act? Medical education is on the concurrent list of the Constitution. It is serious business — even of wrong medication if not life and death. In 2005 a Bill was prepared called the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 2005 which sought to modify the composition of the MCI by drastically reducing the elected element. The 2009 National Council for Human Resources in Health draft Bill went a step further by proposing the replacement of all health councils with a largely professional bureaucracy to perform those functions.


There can be no ideal answer but a business as usual approach cannot go on; trading in medical education has to stop. Merging the best from the two Bills may be a starting point and the arrest of the president of the MCI could just be the tipping point to precipitate a change — long overdue. But only if the voice of reason, not the powerful that run private medical colleges is heeded.


 The writer looked after medical education as a senior functionary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

Divinity of animals

THE DHARMIC MORAL UNIVERSE EMBRACES ALL LIVING BEINGS

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


Prof Nanditha Krishna's book, Sacred Animals of India, reminds us that, according to the tenets of this country's three major streams of spirituality — Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism — human beings, animals, plants and even physical phenomena like rivers and mountains, inhabit a common moral universe, governed by the laws of dharma and the karmic doctrine of cyclic re-incarnation. Besides, to Hindus, this universe is defined by the metaphysics of the Upanishads, according to which the Brahman, the universal soul, resides in constituents of each category, in the form of the atman or the individual soul, which shares in full the deathless, timeless and imperishable attributes of the Brahman.


The Taittiriya Upanishad states, "The cosmic self thought to himself, 'I will become many, I will be born.' He then practised austerities. In his case, he only thought. He then created the whole world of living and non-living things. He created them and then entered into them. Having entered into them, he in some cases assumed forms and in some cases remained formless." (Translated by Swami Lokeswarananda). This makes everything a manifestation of the Brahman, addressing which the Svetasvatara Upanishad says, "Thou art woman. Thou art man,/ Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden,/ Thou art the old man tottering with his staff,/ Thou faces everywhere." It continues in the next stanza, "Thou art the dark butterfly/ Thou art the green parrot with red eyes,/ Thou art the thunder cloud, the seasons, the seas,/ Without beginning art thou,/ Without time, without space,/ Thou art He from whom sprang/ The three worlds." (Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester).

The essence of all things, animate and inanimate, is the same. In the Chhandogya Upanishad, sage Uddaloka Aruni asks Svetaketu to break a fruit of the Nyagrodha (Banyan) tree and then crush one of its seeds to the point that he could not see anything. Uddaloka Aruni then says, "The subtle essence you do not see, in that is the whole essence of the Nyagrodha tree. Believe, my son, that which is the subtle essence — in that all things have their existence. That is the truth. That is the self. And that, Svetaketu, that art thou." (Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester).


What is particularly significant, Prof Krishna's book maps the entire spiritual and moral legacy of the three great religions underlining the respect and protection it accords to animals. Vishnu, one of the deities of the great Hindu trinity whose other two members are Brahma and Shiv, reincarnated himself as a Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar) and as Narasingha (half man and half lion). She writes, "Many of the earlier births of the Buddha were believed to be as animals, while his final birth as Gautam Buddha was prophesied by his mother Maya Devi's dream of an elephant entering her womb. The snake is a folk deity associated with the Buddha, who is often depicted as being protected by a snake, while the earliest Buddhist sculptures, which do not portray the Buddha except through his symbols, show the snake people — men and women hooded by snakes — worshipping the bodhi tree and the feet of the master."


Both Buddha and Mahavira, the 24th and the last Tirthankara (a Jain saint) of Jainism, preached compassion, kindness to animals and opposed animal sacrifice. Prof Krishna writes, "Of all religions, Jainism gives the greatest respect to life. Jeev Daya — compassion for all living beings or the gift of life — is its prime philosophy…" She also shows Ashok, the great Mauryan emperor who embraced Buddhism, forbade animal sacrifice in his empire. What she provides is a lucid, comprehensive and eminently readable overview of three related traditions that played a major role in nurturing a civilisation that, despite many aberrations and transgressions, stood for a non-violent and compassionate way of life respectful toward all beings.

That way of life has almost vanished in India where animals are routinely subjected to savage cruelty. Hence the immense value of Prof Krishna's book which not only delineates the metaphysical and normative contours of religious traditions of the vast majority of Indians but gives detailed accounts of the places and roles of all animals bewildering multitudes of beings that constitute living India.

 

**************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

No handouts, give us schools

ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO


This is what Haitians want. In the aftermath of a disaster, a school does more than promote learning. It gives children a sense of normalcy amid the chaos and offers hope for the future


Mine is the rare job that allows me to meet, within the span of a very few hours, both a President and a homeless mother. And each told me the same thing.


Three months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, President René Garcia Préval welcomed me to his office in Port au Prince — a modest building in the gardens behind his ruined presidential palace. Education, he said straight-off, must be a cornerstone of the international effort to rebuild Haiti. Without that, there is no future.

Not long after, I visited a tent-city crowded with thousands of displaced families. A slender mother pushed her bright-eyed child toward me, no more than eight years old. "He wants to learn," she told me with calm insistence. "Give him the chance."


Two people, occupying very different positions in life. Yet each delivered a message that I heard again and again during my two-day stay. Haitians want and need our help. But when it comes to the work of rebuilding Haiti, they want to do it for themselves. And that work begins with school.


Schooling is the ticket to decent work, all the more so in a country like Haiti where unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. But there is also a more immediate reality. In the aftermath of disaster, school does more than promote learning. It gives children a sense of normalcy amid the chaos. It is a place of security and sanctuary. Above all, it offers hope for the future.


When people live in near-desperation — lacking food, medicine, shelter — such things matter more than ever. That is why the United Nations mission in Haiti, working closely with the Government and international aid organisations, has worked to re-open schools as quickly as possible. Mothers and children are particularly vulnerable. After spending an afternoon in one camp, and joining a night patrol later that evening, I knew their fears and frustrations. When it rains, the ground turns to mud. Their tents collapse; they have no dry place to sleep. And of course, in the dark corners there is often violence and rape.


The UN has made progress in dealing with all these problems. My chief reason in going to Haiti was to update myself on the situation and our response. But as our attentions turn from the immediate crisis to longer-term recovery, I came away with a clear sense of what is required above all else: Self-reliance. Again, the ordinary Haitians I met put it best. "No handouts," a group of unemployed youths in Leogane, the epicentre of the earthquake, shouted venting their frustration as I visited their camp. Their families had lost most of their possessions, but their pride was intact. "Give us schools. Then we'll take care of the rest."

It is a daunting challenge. Even before the earthquake, Haiti's illiteracy rates were among the highest in the hemisphere, and enrolment rates among the lowest. Two adults out of every five could not read and less than half of primary school-age children attended classes. The figures for high school were even worse: Less than two percent of children are graduates.


Haiti's Government has little control over this situation. The vast majority of the country's schools are privately owned; only 10 to 15 per cent are owned by the state, which cannot properly set or monitor standards. Ultimately, Haiti can flourish only to the extent that we nourish its people — and for all their difficulties, no one knows this better than Haitians.


I well understand their feelings. In my native Tanzania, our founding President was known by the highest title we could bestow: "Teacher." President Julius 'Mwalimu' Nyerere's first principle of self-reliance was grounded on education, for girls as well as boys — a legacy of gender equality that paved the way for my own career.


At last month's donor's conference in New York, the international community raised nearly $ 10 billion for Haiti. That enormous sum is designed to help finance the wholesale "reinvention" of the country — to "build back better," in the phrase used by the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon. And education is instrumental.


Working with the Haitian Government and other partners, the UN is planning a nationwide movement for learning. The goal: To promote the enrollment of all Haiti's children and adolescents in school. Haiti needs our solidarity. That means many things: Building materials, health clinics and medicine, sanitation systems, food and fuel. But it also means things beyond the immediate — the stuff of future life.


Books, teachers and education must be among them, as Mr Préval and many mothers said clearly. Ultimately, they are the keys to a better life and a better future. Haiti's wonderful and resourceful people deserve no less.

 The writer is Deputy Secretary-General of the UN.


THE PIONEER

OPED

LENIN'S SPECTRE NO LONGER HAUNTS RUSSIA

ONCE DESCRIBED AS 'MORE ALIVE THAN ALL THE LIVING,' HE HAS BEEN FORGOTTEN IN HIS LAND, WRITES NIKOLAI TROITSKY


Vladimir Lenin, who was commonly described in Russia as "more alive than all the living," has been forgotten once and for all 140 years after his birth. His spectre no longer haunts Russia, and Communist Party functionaries pay homage to him only out of a sense of duty.


No one will think to put up pictures of Lenin around town to commemorate his birthday on April 22. And even if some weirdo does, nobody will notice. Even the dispute over removing his body from the Mausoleum does not arouse as much passion as debates over the legacy of his successor, Joseph Stalin, even though it was Stalin himself who created the posthumous cult of Lenin and immortalised him in legend as the "leader of the international proletariat."

Lenin's real destiny is much more interesting than the legends about him. The myths cannot contain the man. Many revolutionaries dreamed of changing the world but few did. Lenin did the impossible. He fundamentally changed the course of human history.


Lenin's rise to supreme power is as remarkable as it is unexpected. His entire biography up till the 1917 October Revolution is a string of nearly endless defeats.


He was expelled from university for no good reason. All he did was stand silently at a student protest. But for the brother of Alexander Ulyanov, a would-be terrorist hanged by the tsar, this was enough. Surprisingly, the tsar's secret police proved less an obstacle to Lenin than his own party comrades, who would not elect him the sole leader of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, as he desperately wanted. No one recognised his authority, and he quarrelled with all the prominent Social Democrats.


Lenin and his Bolsheviks ("the majority" in Russian) broke off from the party, but they remained in the minority at nearly all the Congresses. He was often alone even among the Bolsheviks. His closest allies spurned his ideas and initiatives. By the fall of 1917, he was ready to bypass the party's Central Committee and lead an uprising with a small but devoted band of comrades.


Ten years earlier, Lenin was caught off guard by the failed 1905 Revolution, as he would be later by the 1917 February Revolution. Lenin was overwhelmed by a sense of frustration — he had no money and not even the slightest chance of success.


But Lenin never gave up. His commitment to the cause, boundless energy and unbending will would lead him through all obstacles, misfortunes and defeats to victory. That being said, Lenin's success was as much determined by his rare tactical flexibility. He was made up of "the same glaring contradictions" that he ascribed to Leo Tolstoy in his article about Tolstoy as the "mirror of the Russian revolution."


The event that would ultimately be studied in schools and universities as the Great October Socialist Revolution was, in a certain respect, an adventure dreamed up by a diehard thrillseeker. Only diehard fighters could survive the crucible of the underground struggle against the tsarist regime.


When the Bolsheviks took power, Lenin declared it as the transfer of power to "the working class under the leadership of the revolutionary party" and the beginning of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." The dictatorship was, in fact, administered by people far removed from the working class. And by the time the working class realised this, it was already too late.


Now the workers of all countries, save his own, can be grateful to Lenin. They have won their fight for a better standard of living. Now they actually have something to lose except their chains. While this was happening all over the world, Soviet workers and peasants had to endure great hardships in a state where they had ostensibly taken power.


In reality it was Lenin, the chairman of the Soviet of People's Deputies, who took power. After 1917, he exercised both his unyielding political will and his political flexibility to remain in power. That power was eventually transferred to Stalin, who was not Lenin's successor of choice — far from it.


Having immortalised and idolised the founder of the Soviet state, Stalin renounced his most important theories and eradicated almost the entire old guard. Stalin ultimately eclipsed Lenin and consigned him to the dustbin of history.

 The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.


******************************************************************************************

MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CONTAIN DAMAGE OF THE ISLAMABAD BETRAYAL

 

THE arrest of, Madhuri Gupta, a diplomat, on charges of passing information to Pakistani intelligence agencies, is a personal tragedy for her and a serious setback for the country.

 

What persuaded the 54- year- old official to gravely compromise the country's security remains a matter of speculation, but it is something that the authorities need to confront.

 

Clearly, they were not able to assess her mental frame of mind before she was sent to such a sensitive posting as Islamabad. Even so, the embassy security procedures do seem to have yielded a positive result because they were able to ferret out her betrayal.

 

Espionage is a fact of life and there is little use blaming Pakistan for recruiting a vulnerable staffer at the High Commission in Islamabad.

 

Working there is not easy. Besides the hostile surveillance of the Pakistani counterintelligence agencies, the diplomats have to deal with constant harassment. The personnel of the High Commission are also obvious targets for entrapment and possible recruitment by the Pakistani intelligence services.

 

For this reason it is important to ensure that mentally tough and stable individuals are deputed to such positions. Besides the usual precautions within the High Commission premises, there is need for the authorities to keep an eye on the social life of the personnel posted in Pakistan.

 

The authorities must now assess the damage that Ms Gupta has wrought through her shameful actions. This could include revealing to Pakistani intelligence officers sensitive documents as well as intelligence procedures.

 

Worse, she could have involved other staffers in her activities. The government must act fast to contain the damage and put new procedures in place to minimise the possibility of the recurrence of such a development.

 

**************************************


MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

SOREN DOES IT AGAIN

 

THE Bharatiya Janata Party is rightly incensed about Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren breaking ranks during the party's failed cut motion against the United Progressive Alliance government on Tuesday. But the BJP, which has since withdrawn support to his government, has only itself to blame for supping with Mr Soren whose track record shows that a desire for power is the only consideration guiding his politics.

 

And if the party has learnt its lesson the hard way, we wonder what the Congress party is up to if reports about its deal with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha are correct.

 

Not very long ago, the Congress took the high moral ground on the issue of joining a coalition headed by Mr Soren as chief minister.

 

Now it is seeing some " secular" virtues in him. Reports suggest it may now allow Mr Soren's son Hemant to lead a coalition government with its support in Jharkhand.

 

The entire cut motion episode — which also saw the BSP, Samajwadi Party and RJD surprisingly put their lot behind the UPA — is another illustration of the cynicism that pervades our polity where rank opportunism rather than any principle determines who is on what side of the ruling alliance.

 

***************************************


MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

ONE TERM ENOUGH FOR V- CS

 

THE human resource development ministry's January circular asking all central universities to amend their statutes in order to permit a second term for vice- chancellors, if implemented, will have serious implications for the university system. Vice- chancellors serve as the main link between the state and the university community. Though appointed by the state, their duty is to uphold the interests of their respective universities. Institutionalising a second term for them would do serious damage to the autonomy of these universities as V- Cs would then be bending backwards to please the government. The ' Arjun Singh' Centre for Distance and Open Learning in Jamia bears testimony to this.

 

Furthermore, the raison d'être of vice- chancellors lies in academics and their primary loyalty with their parent institutions. It is therefore grossly unfair that these senior academicians will spend an entire decade without contributing to their parent institutions or being engaged in meaningful research. As academicians, it is up to the vice- chancellors concerned to realise this, irrespective of what the government says.

 

***************************************


MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

TREAD CAREFULLY ON THE POST- CRISIS GLOBAL MINEFIELD

BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI

 

MY LAST column was about the war cries on China's currency, the renminbi. It was partly about Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's grand trade war manifesto.

 

But in these frenetic days, trade war threats come and go, one more episode in a television sitcom.

 

Nothing has come of what, Krugman in the manner of a prophet had pronounced, " Tensions are rising over Chinese economic policy, and rightly so: China's policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, undervalued has become a significant drag on global economic recovery. Something must be done right now, America has China over a barrel, not the other way around. So we have no reason to fear China". President Hu Jintao went to attend the nuclear summit in Washington and is reported to have had a one- and- a- half hour meeting with President Obama.

 

The New York Times ran a story saying that China was going to announce an appreciation of the currency.

 

War

Nothing happened, except for a request from the American side for China to consider letting the renminbi rise and an assurance from China's side that they will do what they will, as and when they deem appropriate. Prof. Krugman too seems to have passed on: Twelve columns since his " we have them over a barrel" and not a tweet about China. Even on his blog.

 

Except fleetingly in the context of a dig at Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who Krugman said was ignorant of what " once upon a time, students used to learn". The courtesy of economists is truly the stuff of legend.

 

The IMF in its just released April 2010 World Economic Outlook has an entire chapter titled " Getting the Balance Right: Transitioning out of sustained current account surpluses". Whose benefit one wonders is it for? There are, the IMF says three sets of countries with these large and sustained current account surpluses.

 

The first is China and a swathe of East & South East Asian economies; the second Germany and Japan; the third the oil exporters.

 

The chapter itself is obtuse, but the categorisation is intriguing. Indonesia, Thailand and Korea do not have large sustained current account surpluses; the surpluses have been small in many years and in some negative. The Philippines has had a surplus for some years now, but she also has a large external debt that needs to be serviced. So why include them? The laboured objective seems to be to convey the impression that the chapter was not about China. Given however, the repeated occurrence of the theme that " rebalancing global demand is key to buoy and sustain growth" it is hard not to see the reflection of the lines in President Obama's speech that set off the present kerfuffle and inspired Krugman to declare war.

 

Is the contention over? Or will there be a trade war? The answer to both questions is no. Is there no merit in the argument that China should let its currency rise or that it has had a very large current account surplus? The answer to this question is also no. There is merit in the contention and the Chinese — who have shown great intelligence and capacity in catapulting their country from the vicissitudes and madness of the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution into being the second largest national economy in the world — know it only too well. But China wants to do it at their own pace and finds it hard to seemingly do so under pressure of the US.

 

What about a trade war? What about " America having China over a barrel"? That part is total fantasy. In the post- Bush and post- Crisis era, nobody has anyone else, or any one who matters at least, over a barrel. Or let us say, nobody has the gumption to try and find that out.

 

Thus, everyone enjoys considerable autonomy.

 

That includes North Korea and Iran and Venezuela. For that matter, Pakistan also, which for all its shenanigans vis- àvis the Taliban, al Qaida, terrorist attacks on India and Mr A Q Khan's nuclear supermarket, basically carries on regardless and finds sympathetic ears in the western media and continues as a " strategic" ally of the US.

 

Jockeying

If frontal confrontation is ruled out, then smaller sorties that aim to irritate, confuse and set you off- balance become the instrument of choice. The targets for these manoeuvres are not going to be the smaller nations, but the larger ones: On the incumbent side, the US and Europe, on the upstart side China and India. Russia is something in between and other major developing nations, namely Brazil and South Africa will be in the mix. Japan will increasingly be economically integrated to Asia and will accordingly have to recalibrate her priorities. As will Australia.

 

With the outlines of economic and hence political power in flux, the coming years will possibly see much more jockeying for space by way of indirect challenges. Take for example, a story leaked recently to the press. It was headline news in the top financial papers that the IMF was going to suggest that given the cost of the recent financial crisis, there should be a tax imposed on the balance sheets of banks to fund the costs of future bailouts.

 

There was even a number of how much: namely 2 to 4 per cent of GDP. We will see if this comes up in the G20 meetings, as the leaked story had suggested. Now, if the Americans and British and some European countries whose banks got into a mess and cost their governments a packet want to tax the balance sheets of their banks, that is up to them.

 

India

But note, the story was that everyone ought to do it. Even those who had kept the noses of their banks clean. Those like India, where the banks hold nearly a third of their funds in government securities or where deposits, not market- borrowings, comprise of nearly 90 per cent of liabilities. Or like China, where the fiscally lightly burdened state backs the banks balance sheet. It is like saying: " Look, I had a bad accident and had to have steel pins put into my legs. Therefore, all of us should get steel pins put into our legs". We should disabuse ourselves of any notion that such ideas are the product of naïveté or a preoccupation with the local context. There will be many more of these and not all will be so obviously silly ( which is perhaps why this one may have died with the leak).

 

We stand to benefit from making broadbased alliances based on mutual benefit — especially with other Asian and African countries — the locus of economic growth and expansion over the next few decades.

We have enough problems at home and we must channel our energies to fix them and consciously prevent being distracted by ideas that are rooted in a different agenda. Like the doughty mariner on a historic and long voyage — in our case to redeem our position in the world — we must learn to recognise the danger of the Siren's call.

The writer is a Member, Planning Commission

***************************************


MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

QUANTUM LEAP

DINESH C. SHARMA

 

THE SICK STATE OF MEDICAL EDUCATION

IT IS remorseful that a doctor, who is in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation for graft charges, continues to preside over the fate of medical education in the country. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says that his ministry can't remove Desai since it has no power to appoint or remove anyone from the Medical Council of India. This is only a half-truth. The central government (represented by the health ministry) has as many as eight nominees in the MCI.

 

State governments – many of them ruled by Mr. Azad's party – have 30 nominees. It is a different matter that names of most of these doctors nominated by the central and state governments were decided by Desai and all of them let Desai get elected unopposed as MCI President last year. The Desai connection becomes clear just by looking at the list of central government nominees, which includes questionable people such as Chairman of Sunrise Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, Director of ESIC medical services of Gujarat, a senior consultant of Woodland Medical Centre Private Limited, Kolkata and a professor of TB in Government Medical College, Nanded.

 

Will Mr. Azad explain on what basis has his ministry nominated these doctors to the MCI and why have they been blindly supporting every act of misdemeanour by Desai? It is amply clear that the health ministry and various state governments have either been colluding with Desai or conveniently ignoring his misdeeds.

 

This is because all of them need someone like him in the MCI so that they can get medical colleges approved whenever and wherever they want. Just look at the names of various medical colleges in the country. It will read like the who's who of Indian politics – from Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to D. Y. Patil and N. K. P. Salve. All of them have been floated by trusts, societies and associations founded, run or supported by local politicians.

 

No wonder this has led to a rather skewed development of medical education in India.

 

About 63 percent of all medical colleges and 67 percent of all medical seats are concentrated in six states - Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat.

 

But then, who really cares for medical education? There have been umpteen number of experts' reports from the Planning Commission, the National Knowledge Commission and others on what's wrong with medical education and the remedies for the same. All that the government needs to do is act to clear this mess. Medical education is one area where privatisation and self- regulation ( MCI is supposed to be a doctors' body) have gone horribly wrong. It has become a handy tool to satiate the needs of private sector healthcare which accounts for 83 percent of the total health expenditure.

 

Till profit maximisation is the sole motive of medical education and healthcare delivery, there will be no cure

for India's health woes.

 

DEFINITELY NOT MUSIC TO YOUR EARS

INDIA is the cell phone capital of the world and most cell phones come loaded with an MP3 player. It is a common sight to find pedestrians, car drivers and metro users merrily listening to their favourite songs with their ear phones on. Then there are iphones and ipods with high quality sound output. Scientists say that personal music devices such as MP3 players can generate levels of sound in the ear in excess of 120 decibels, similar in intensity to a jet engine, especially when used with earphones that are inserted into the ear canal. And people, who listen to personal music players for several hours a day at high volume, could be putting their hearing at risk, according to Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale University School of Medicine. However, evidence that music players are causing hearing loss in young people, is mixed. " The true effects are starting to be detectable only now.", writes Rabinowitz in an editorial of the British Medical Journal . Other health effects also need to be considered. For example, some studies have shown that the use of personal music players can interfere with concentration and performance while driving, in a similar way as talking on mobile phones. So, it would be prudent to remove earphones while driving and performing other safety- sensitive tasks.

 

ADD A LITTLE HALDI TO HELP CURE CANCER

THE therapeutic properties of Haldi or turmeric appear to be endless. Two scientists of Indian origin - Subhash Chauhan and Meena Jaggi, working in the University of South Dakota – have found that pre- treatment with curcumin – a component of turmeric - makes ovarian cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The researchers tested the effects of their curcumin formulation on therapyresistant ovarian cancer cells. One strategy to improve the effectiveness and limit the toxicity of cancer therapy is to induce chemo and radio- sensitization in cancer cells using natural dietary chemicals like curcumin. Since curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, scientists developed a nanoparticle formulation for targeted delivery of curcumin into tumours.

 

The pre- treatment with curcumin could lower the dose of chemotherapy and radiation treatment needed to suppress the growth of cancer cells. The findings have been reported in Journal of Ovarian Research.

 

TAKE ' HEADLINE SCIENCE' WITH A PINCH OF SALT!

' Headline science' – sensational rendition of scientific research – can get health advocates worried as was proven recently.

 

" Eating vegetables doesn't stop cancer" was reported by many newspapers, while writing about results from a study titled European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Nutrition ( EPIC) which was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It showed that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables in a day, has a much more modest effect on cancer protection, than was previously reported.

 

The study went against the current understanding and it worried health experts.

 

This is because eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily – as recommended by the World Health Organisation - can protect against several other diseases including heart diseases and diabetes.

 

A reputed medical journal, ' The Lancet ', contained an editorial last week which emphasised that the five- fruits- andvegetable- servings- a- day campaign is still an incredibly important public health initiative.

 

It has been found that people who ate more than five servings in a day had a 26 percent lower risk of heart stroke when compared with those who ate less than three servings. Eating fruits and vegetables can help maintain a healthy bodyweight, which can reduce the risk of cancer since obesity is second only to smoking as a preventable cause, according to the editorial. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of fibre and eating a high fibre diet can help prevent bowel cancer.

 

dineshc.sharma@mailtoday.in

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SUCH ACTS ARE DEPLORABLE

 

The scenes in the Ukraine Parliament were comparable to or even worse than what we have witnessed in our Parliament and state legislatures. This might be seen as justification for the unruly behaviour of India's MPs and MLAs. Such behaviour is often explained away on the ground that in young democracies elected representatives are not yet well versed in democratic norms. In other words, chaos within Parliament is part of democracy and preferable to authoritarian rule.


This kind of reasoning is completely bogus, particularly when it comes to India. We have now completed 60 years as a republic and there is no room for laxity with regard to the behaviour of legislators. Unfortunately, we have seen one too many incidents of unruliness inside legislatures. And things may have gotten worse in recent times, compared to early post-independence years. In UP, 33 MLAs were injured in clashes inside the House in 1993. Four years later, microphones and chappals were hurled at the chair by opposition MLAs.


Such behaviour is not restricted to state assemblies. The Indian Parliament is only a shade better. There have been occasions in the recent past when MPs have traded punches inside the Lok Sabha. Besides, disruption of Parliament is routine with MPs raising slogans or rushing to the well. And we had the unseemly spectacle in 2008 of MPs displaying wads of cash inside the House, which they claimed were bribes paid to them to vote for the government.


As a result, Parliament and state assemblies are anything but the forums for debating and legislating public policy they are meant to be. This defeats the very purpose of going through the elaborate and costly process of electing representatives. One hopes the Ukraine example will serve as a warning to our politicians.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SPY GAMES

 

The timing couldn't have been more awkward. Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepares to meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC summit in Thimphu, Bhutan, news of Indian diplomat Madhuri Gupta's arrest for passing on secret information to the ISI hit the headlines. It's been given out that Gupta had lack of access to truly sensitive information, and there's little chance of something of high value being passed on. But the importance of this case lies in what it reveals about the trend of reported security breaches by Indian personnel serving abroad. And if Gupta has indeed leaked information, breaches in a truly sensitive posting such as the Indian high commission in Islamabad are worrisome.


Commander Sukhjinder Singh of the Indian navy is still being investigated for his liaison with a Russian woman and its possible links with the Gorshkov carrier deal. There have been cases in 2007 and 2008 of RAW agents being recalled from their postings after being found to be in relationships with Chinese women. And in 2004, another RAW agent fled after allegedly being recruited by the US. For those pressing charges against Gupta, the questions that need to be probed are: When and how was Gupta contacted by Pakistani agents? Was she allowed access to information above her clearance level? How long did it take for her activities to be noticed on the Indian side? And perhaps most importantly, what was her motivation for becoming a double agent? Finding the answers to these questions could go some way towards revealing the lacunae in our security protocols abroad and preventing recurrences of such breaches.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

DELIVERY IS THE KEY

Thirty-five kilograms of grain per month at Rs 3 per kg for every poor household in the country, also known as 'below poverty line' or BPL household. This is what the draft Right to Food Act seeks to ensure for the poor in India, roughly 400 million people or one in every three Indians according to the latest official estimate. The Act may well turn out to be UPA-II's flagship anti-poverty programme, comparable to the NREGA initiative during UPA-I. But how best to ensure delivery of subsidised foodgrain to poor households? The main proposal under consideration is the targeted public distribution system proposed by the Saxena committee.


One key issue is identification of the poor. Better-off households, identified by simple characteristics such as car ownership, ownership of double the average land holding, employment in government or the organised sector, etc, would be automatically excluded from the BPL list. Similarly, households of the most deprived would be automatically included - that is, scheduled tribes, maha Dalits and households headed by single women, disabled persons and minors. All others would have to be ranked by a points system based on certain deprivation characteristics for inclusion in the list, subject to a cap.


The BPL census will be a mammoth task. The Saxena committee says it should be undertaken with the help of local panchayats. In the past, BPL classification has been highly flawed. Often the rich use influence to get included in the BPL list to enjoy various BPL benefits while the deserving poor get excluded. The Planning Commission is likely to pilot test the new identification formula to see how it would work in practice. Various provisions are also made to ensure transparency and correct misclassification. Such checks notwithstanding, any list from below is bound to inflate the number of poor households to accommodate local influence groups. The total number of households may then be too large to be supplied with grain procured by the government. The Saxena report, therefore, recommends caps at state, district and block levels or even lower, differentiated according to the deprivation characteristics of the area.


Those familiar with ground realities, such as committee member Aruna Roy, say that such caps would end up filtering out the real poor, who would be competed out by the rich in the search for BPL cards. They say universal public distribution of grain is the way to go. A compromise under consideration is geographic targeting: universal coverage in the poorest 50-100 districts where over 80 per cent of households are BPL and cap-based targeting of BPL families in other districts. However, in the latter there is no way of correcting errors of exclusion unless the genuine poor have a voice and some clout in the gram panchayats involved in implementing the scheme.


Another issue is leakage in actual distribution. It is difficult to prevent influential and corrupt distributors from diverting the grain or extracting a cut from poor households - unless there is an alert, pro-poor gram panchayat monitoring the system. Nitish Kumar, by all accounts an honest and well-intentioned man and a high-performing chief minister, is of the view that the PDS is beyond repair. At a recent conference in Patna organised by the Institute of Human Development, ADRI and UNDP, he explained that he had spent a great deal of time in trying to reform the PDS and making it less corrupt. However, everytime he introduced some leakage-blocking procedure, the crooks found a way around it in a couple of months.


There are several alternative approaches for delivering subsidised food to poor households. One option, preferred by Nitish, is cash transfers to BPL household bank accounts, possibly accessed through ATMs or rural 'business correspondents' who facilitate bank transactions through their cellphones. A second is distribution of food coupons. A third option is to distribute foodgrain entitlements through the NREGA system. In each case, the main weakness is the last link in the distribution chain: the PDS shop owner, the 'business correspondent', the food coupon distributor, the NREGA job card distributor. If they are corrupt, there will be leakage. There is nothing anyone can do to close that leak. Nothing barring close monitoring by an alert, pro-poor gram panchayat. But these institutions are typically controlled by the rich and powerful in village India. The poor rarely have much 'voice' in them, let alone control.


The answer then is to set up parallel institutions of the poor through which food and all other BPL entitlements can be channelled. The Radhakrishna committee on credit-related issues under SGSY has reported that such institutions are in embryonic form in women's self-help groups (SHGs), especially in some southern states. Initially set up with government support as collective entities to receive small loans, Kudumbasree in Kerala and Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty in Andhra are now multitasking, taking on a range of different activities. The Weaver's Development Corporation is playing a similar role in Tamil Nadu. If these SHGs are used for distributing PDS grain, BPL cards or NREGA job cards, we would see a sharp improvement in the effectiveness of a whole range of anti-poverty programmes, including the right to food.


( The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.)

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

POLITICS AS CIRCUS

 

It's been a hectic fortnight for our politicians. First came the IPL scandal, then the threat to the government from a cut motion by the opposition. The UPA managed the crises well, perhaps even turning them into an opportunity to shore up the government. It also helped that the opposition played along until the Congress sprung a surprise on it in Jharkhand. The aam aadmi, as many times in the past, was rendered a mute spectator in the farce.


Words like secularism, transparency, accountability and conflict of interest lost meaning as the political class hid behind them to pursue self-interest. The IPL season opened with a bang and a junior minister had to resign. But since then, accountability and conflict of interest seem applicable only to Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi, the two people who have had to pay for their indiscretions. Other politicians and functionaries in the BCCI, the body responsible for running Indian cricket including the IPL, appear to be above such scrutiny. As for the government, it quickly promised to probe all IPL deals making it difficult for Sharad Pawar and his colleagues to part with the UPA even if they wish to.


The political somersault of the BSP is even more curious. The Congress and the BSP are sworn enemies in UP where they compete to undercut each other's influence. However, that didn't prevent Mayawati from declaring support to the government ahead of the cut motion. Her explanation is the BSP wants to keep out communal forces. If those who allege that the support to the government was a quid pro quo to protect her from CBI investigations sound more convincing, they're not to be blamed. Secularism provided a convenient platform also for Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad to bail out the government. They refused to vote on the cut motion though they've been vocal critics of the government. Shibu Soren, who heads a BJP-supported government in Jharkhand, remembered that he too is an MP and came to Parliament to vote in the government's favour. The BJP has since withdrawn support to the JMM. So, the UPA now finds Soren to be a secular politician and may prop up his government in Ranchi.


The Left parties made their contribution to the political excitement by enforcing a hartal in their strongholds on Tuesday. The concern for high prices is well taken, but a forced economic shutdown is unlikely to help matters. It's time our political class becomes a bit more honest and imaginative about tackling problems that common people confront.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

MARK MODI'S FUNERAL SPEECH

BACHI KARKARIA

 

Lalit Modi's impassioned speech at the closing ceremony of  IPL-3  was a hit. It was talked about as much as the missing billion-dollar WSG-MSM document, Shilpa Shetty's missing name in the Rajasthan Royals stake, and the Bada  Pav-ar's name missing from the list of those slated for the frying pan. Looks like our I Powerful Lalit can make a speech as coolly as he can make a billion, and the media hasn't stopped marveling. The TOI reporter even compared it to the celebrated funeral oration from 'Julius Caesar'. So let's see how Mark Antony himself might have risen to the occasion.   

 

Friends, franchisees, big-stakes players,    I come to bury Modi, not to praise him; 

The evil that power men do lives after their downfall,

 

The good is oft interred with their bones and VIP passes. 

So let it be with Lalit ...

 

The noble Shashank 

Has charged Modi with misdemeanours; 

If it were so, it was a grievous fault, 

And persistently hath Modi denied it ...

Here, under leave of Manohar, Srinivasan, Niranjan Shah and the rest… 

Come I to speak in Modi's funeral ...

 


While he was IPL boss, he was brilliant and admired 

But now BCCI says he was dishonourable, 

And Shashank is an honourable Manohar. 

Lalit hath brought many consortia to the League 

Whose billions did the IPL's (and his own) coffers fill: 

Suddenly all this in Lalit seems misdemeanour. 

When the bidders had cried, Modi had wept (crocodile tears.

 

 And the governing council had slept). 

Deal-making should be made of sternest stuff. 

You all did see that on the days before his actual suspension

 

The BCCI  did  thrice present him with a warning, 

To which he  thrice  refused response.

 

Did this in Lalit  seem like hubris? Yes.

So the boss said he was overambitious, 

And Shashank is an honourable Manohar. 

 


I speak not to disprove the five charges made against him

(For the TOI had exposed them all before bar 'behaviour pattern')

 

I only come to speak what I do know.

You all did admire him once, not without cause: 

Now the same cause makes you revile him.

O, IPL profits, thou art fled to brutish Mauritius

 

And the sarkar has lost its taxes…. Bear with me; 

My heart is in the coffers there with Modi

And I must renegotiate till it reverts to me…

 

You all do know this mantle: I remember

The first time ever Modi put it on;

'Twas on a summer's evening three years ago in the IPL tent.

 

Look, in this place ran Pranab's dagger through:

See what a rent the slighted Chidambaram made:

Through this the well-beloved Pawar stabb'd;

And as he pluck'd his blessed support away,

Mark how the blood of Lalit follow'd it,

As rushing out of doors, to be resolved

If Pawar so rudely turned his back or what;

For Sharad, many believed, was Lalit's angel:

 

This was allegedly the most unkindest cut of all.

For when the ignoble Modi saw him stab,

'Twas a shock more strong than  ED raid, 

But it didn't vanquish him.

 

Instead, in his sharply cut mantle muffling up his fate,

He swaggered off to the spa to Tweet it out. 

 


Still, this ceaseless Caesar fell.

O, what a fall was there, my sportsbusinessmen.

 

Then benami deals, and shady fees, and all the pack of cads fell down,

Whilst bloodied justice flourish'd over us. 

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

LEGISLATORS ARE ONLY HUMAN


Chaos reigned in Ukraine's parliament recently, during a debate over a treaty involving Russia. The speaker had to use umbrellas as shields as lawmakers threw eggs, punches and plenty else besides. Smoke bombs went off. If a few MPs had bloody noses, others had clothes torn. It was a sorry spectacle not staged even in India, despite its history of boorish conduct by legislators. We ought to cut our MPs and MLAs some slack the next time they combust. Pandemonium, it seems, breaks out just as easily overseas.


Indian lawmakers don't look half as bad given the violent antics of their counterparts elsewhere. Yes, they do force adjournments through obstructionism. They throw chairs and chappals, rush to the well of the House, shout slogans and break mikes. Raucous MPs did wave wads of notes during the India-US nuke deal debate. More recently, they tore up papers related to the women's Bill and menaced the Rajya Sabha chairman. Still, our lawmakers don't as a rule get physical, bar stray incidents in state assemblies. Rarely have we seen fisticuffs, Ukraine-style.

Legislative unruliness, however, is no clue to how civilised or otherwise a nation and its people are. Take South Korea, whose National Assembly members have often come to blows to settle issues, once even using sledgehammers! A Conservative Party MP once had his face punched in the British House of Commons. Japan, known for its sense of ceremony and propriety, has also witnessed ugly scenes. Yes, legislative decorum is a virtue to be upheld. But the rough and tumble of politics, especially in democracies, is such that legislators do err. Human institutions aren't perfect, human beings even less so. Let's remember that when we berate our lawmakers.

 


******************************************************************************************

HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TACKLING THE CONTRADICTIONS

There's a line in that masterful political guidebook, The Bhagvad Gita, where Krishna tells a vacillating Arjun before the war of Kurukshetra, "A man shouldn't abandon his work, even if he can't achieve it in full perfection; for in all work there may be imperfection, even as in all fire there is smoke." Plenty of 'smoke' was billowing from Parliament on Tuesday as the cut motions moved by the Opposition against the UPA's economic policies were defeated. In a way, everyone carried out their actions knowing well that achieving political perfection, from the perspective of each political party, would be impossible and was never the goal. It was a tale of consistent inconsistencies from Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) as the two 'Third Fronters' decided that public displays of solidarity with the Left against rising petroleum and fertiliser prices would serve them well even as they abstained from Tuesday's voting.

Both the SP and the RJD know that they don't have the political clout to take on the government. The bipolar behaviour helps Mulayam Singh at a juncture when he's hoping to visibly correct impressions that his party — because of its dealings with former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh — behaved opportunistically (and paid the price) during last year's Lok Sabha elections and may still be chummy with 'communal forces'. Lalu Prasad, with Bihar going to the polls later this year, has even more existential reasons not to be seen voting with the BJP on any issue. As was the case when the SP 'bailed out' the UPA during the ruckus over the India-US nuclear deal, both regional parties now expect a quid pro quo — less in terms of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiries but more in terms of ensuring that the likes of the Women's Reservation Bill are kept in their traditional place: the deep freezer. But if the credit for breaking up the BJP-Left's 'cut motion party' can go to anyone, it is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Mayawati has her own reasons for creating a greater distance between the BSP and the BJP, even as she rattles sabres against the Congress in Lucknow while providing necessary leg-ups to the Centre in Delhi. The CBI-related tit-for-tat, in this context, is as hard to swallow as, well, any form of incremental 'you help me and I'll help you' realpolitik. It's not pretty, but it's there.

As in lunches, there is nothing called free support. The UPA's larger goal of carrying through its policies will mean dealing with contradictions, posturings, schizophrenic political behaviour and not lapsing into inaction just because there is the 'smoke of imperfections' to deal with. Simply put, the government will have to master playing issue-by-issue, incremental politics of its own. In the coming days, we will get to know how adept it is at taking action — even if it means conducting calculated flip-flops of its own — without getting blinded by the smoke.

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

POWERPOINT PASTA

 

Where is Osama? Why can't the US smoke him out of his rocky cubbyhole? If such questions have bothered you — and even if they didn't — we have an answer now. It's not the lack of firepower or manpower, it's just that the men who matter are busy somewhere else — in meeting rooms looking at a 'bowl of spaghetti'.

 

No, the 'bowl of spaghetti' has not replaced the crystal ball yet. The term was used by Gen Stanley A McChrystal, the boss of the American and Nato forces in Afghanistan, to describe a PowerPoint presentation (PPT) on the military strategy in the Tora Bora country. Many US commanders say that the charts and graphs are a waste of time for they take no account of interconnected issues and problems.

 

PPT-averse editorial writers like us have only sympathy for Gen McChrystal — and a suggestion. We understand his agony since we too are sometimes dragged to dark, air-conditioned rooms for 'strategy briefings' and then told to decipher black bullets and the Manhattan skylines even as a hyperactive presenter delivers a speech that sounds like mosquitoes droning overheard. But then there're ways to get even with the 'PPT rangers': ask them to elaborate on one particular bullet point. Then with glee watch them disintegrate in the face of 'friendly fire'.

 

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

OBSERVER AS ABSORBER

RAVNI THAKUR

During the 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit in 2005, the organisation expanded from being a closed shop of South Asian countries to one that now allows 'Observer' status to many countries courtesy Pakistan and Nepal, which insisted on membership for China and India welcomed the move.

China's keenness to become a full member of Saarc is not new. It's linked to China's revised international policies where it considers participation in international fora as necessary to further its own interests. China's earlier ties with South Asia can be described as what the Chinese themselves call a 'single pillar relationship', which concentrated on security and an anti-India policy with bilateral ties with Pakistan as its anchoring pillar.

Its policy for South Asia took a more balanced turn after the 80s when China began normalising relations with India and building stronger bilateral ties with other countries in the region. Today, its rapid rise and increasing confidence have changed its strategy to a multi-pronged one and it concentrates on both economic and military exchanges in the region. It has a strong economic presence in every South Asian country, including India, and has even signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with Pakistan.

The two other countries that China's been concentrating on are Nepal and Sri Lanka. In Nepal, it's been pushing for greater land connectivity and plans to build a railway line between Lhasa and Kathmandu. Its focus is to ensure security with Tibet and not allow anti-China activities. China's also increased its presence in Nepal both economically and through educational exchanges. It's also using the Maoists' anti-India rhetoric to enhance its own interests.

In Sri Lanka, China's strategy is focused on the increasing role it sees for its naval power. It is building a port in Hanbantota and has declared that it doesn't see the Indian Ocean as India's sphere of influence. China also aided Sri Lanka with military equipment in its civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, something India's domestic politics didn't allow it to do. It has a strong relationship with Myanmar's military junta and is perhaps the only country that ensures the junta's survival.

Thus, overall, China is pushing for a stronger relationship with Saarc that hinges on increasing its presence in the region. While it's challenging India's traditional ties with the South Asian countries, China's also recognised India's economic growth and its rising international status. Today there're voices within China that counsel a balanced relationship between India and Pakistan and feel India can't be ignored. Others point out that pushing India too much on Pakistan would mean pushing it into an alliance with America and Japan, an alliance that bothers China.

While China's overall relationship with South Asia may be expanding, there's one factor that could derail it: the large trade deficit with China that all countries in the region face. India's filed anti-dumping charges against China. Pakistan's also witnessing rumblings against China's trade patterns. There could be domestic opposition if trade with China leads to a higher unemployment rate and a collapse of local manufacturing in these nations.

China is already an economic powerhouse and is on its way to exercise what it considers to be its 'legitimate role' in the world. It does, however, suffer from an image problem. Though China has changed its slogan from 'peaceful rise' to 'peace and development', its aspiration of becoming a superpower, accompanied with rising nationalism within China, is of concern for all. Where Saarc countries are concerned, China should know that though it's seen as an alternative to India, the countries of the region won't necessarily like to replace Indian dominance with Chinese hegemony. India will certainly contest any overt attempt to derail its long-term friendship treaties in the region.

Ravni Thakur is Associate Professor, Delhi University. The views expressed by the author are personal

 

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

YANKING THE GROUND FROM UNDER OUR FEET

SAMAR HALARNKAR

The great 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."

It's a good thing he didn't live in 21st century Delhi or Mumbai. His thoughts while walking in an Indian city would be on jumping over that ditch, tripping over broken tiles or that speeding car threatening to careen onto the disappearing pavement.

Instead of solo pontificating on the topic that fascinates and incenses me — my family believes, rightly, that I am obsessed with pavements — I posted a simple query on Twitter: does anyone have thoughts on walking in Delhi and Mumbai?

I've never got so many instant responses to anything I've written.

A sampling:

* Delhi Right of Passage: SUVs run over 2wheelers, 2wheelers run over cyclists, who spill onto pavements 2 run over pedestrians.
* Walking in old delhi is akin to breaking a bhool bhulaiya. A sea of humanity, the rickshaws & the odd cow trying to kill u.

* In most neighbourhoods of Delhi, there are no paths or they're taken over for "gardens" and ...
* Don't know much about Delhi, but South Mumbai definitely has some of India's best footpaths. Wide, shaded, clean and well paved.

* Wht pavements?

* Walking for leisure is prac unheard of in mumbai but it is a city of walkers anyway.

That last comment is most revealing: people walk not in Indian cities not because it is pleasurable but because they must.

Clearly, walking is a topic that excites many people — except those who plan and build our pavements.
On the face of it, there could not be a better era coming for walkers in Delhi and Mumbai. Both cities are spending millions on refurbishing pavements.

Before October, when the Commonwealth Games begin, Delhi will spend more than Rs 400 crore on 'footpath improvement' and 'streetscaping', a peculiar term that focuses on the Indian penchant for outward appearances.

I have watched with growing infuriation as (a) perfectly good pavements are torn apart and (b), their width reduced to accommodate flower beds and patches of green. This is ridiculous, bizarre even. We dress up pavements so they look nice to passing motorists!

I say this with the greatest confidence: none of the good gentlemen who run our pavement affairs ever walk on them. When I walk on Delhi's new pavements — those that haven't been destroyed within a week because some idiot forgot to inform his colleague that he wanted to lay an electric cable — I find my experience hasn't improved despite the crores being spent.

One reason is the narrowing of pavements. The other is that no municipal pavement designer realises you cannot litter a pavement with obstacles like trees, shrubs and signposts.

I am certainly not saying cut the trees. I am saying these pavements can easily be customised for uninterrupted walking by winding around obstacles. Instead, they are being laid blindly with minimal or no supervision and a one-size-fits-all mentality, breaking up at the first obstacle. This is why you often see people braving traffic and walking on the road beside what appears to drivers to be a perfectly good pavement.

Every now and then, cities announce pavement initiatives. The tragedy is bureaucrats who clearly do not step out of their cars plan and implement these disasters. Take Mumbai's lesser twin, Thane, which will spend Rs 5 crore this year on "beautification" of pavements and roads as a "pilot project". The emphasis is always on beautifying pavements, not on creating world-class walking experiences.

Indian cities love using colourful tiles for pavements. Mumbai's municipal mavens love their "interlocking" tiles of red and yellow. In Delhi, someone's imagination has run riot, selecting tiles of various shades and size.

The problem: tiles break, especially on Indian pavements where they must often bear the weight of cars and two-wheelers. Hundreds of fancy, new sandstone tiles laid — shoddily and unevenly I might add — to match the Raj ambience of colonial Delhi have already splintered. I cannot understand why India cannot lay plain, even cement pavements as they do in most walking cities.

In poorest Peru, in the mountains of the Andes once governed by Maoists, I was struck how the government had laid simple concrete pavements in every village.

When I am in the US, I marvel at the ease with which physically challenged people go about their business, independent in their wheelchairs, on smooth, broad pavements thoughtfully sloped at the edge.

In India it's getting worse. Delhi had a walking culture. So did Mumbai and Bangalore.

I remember going for long walks with my parents in 1970s Delhi. The pavements were not fancy, but you could use them. People laughed if you took a car to the park. Today, entrances to parks are clogged with cars. Far too many citizens who walk on the streets never return.

If you judge a nation by the quality of its pavements, India is an uncaring, boorish country that could not be bothered with its most vulnerable citizens.

Last week, former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi summarised our attitude to walking. He said vehicle owners in India have rights. And pedestrians? They have luck.

***************************************


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

******************************************************************************************

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IT'S ALL CONNECTED

 

In September 2009, there was the unseemly spectacle of India's premier professors going on a hunger strike. Faculty from the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology were protesting anomalies in their pay structure. The Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, they felt, placed the IITs between two stools. On the one hand, it disproportionately benefited Central university faculty; on the other hand, it did not provide the IITs with the perks that institutes of excellence such as CISR and DRDO enjoy. The standoff between IIT faculty and the human resource development ministry was finally resolved with the ministry promising more incentives. Now comes news that the committee tasked with coming up with a Performance Related Incentive Scheme (PRIS) has arrived at a formula.

 

Under the PRIS, faculty will be rated on four criteria, from teaching and publications to outside consulting and contributing to the organisation. Faculty ratings will be linked to monetary incentives ranging from 10 to 30 per cent of the basic salary. In addition, the PRIS will rate the IITs themselves. Such a scheme is not novel; premier scientific organisations such as ISRO, DRDO and CISR already have it. Besides, linking pay to performance seems necessary given that most IITs suffer a faculty shortage ranging from 20 to 30 per cent. But in the seniority-driven world of Indian higher education, the obvious takes a while.

 

It is of course logical that institutions of the IITs' stature be given the perks similar to premier research organisations. But the question can be asked in reverse. Why should performance-linked pay be confined to only institutions of excellence? Would not all universities benefit from better teaching, and a sharper focus on research? Of course, to ask these questions is to demand a thorough reform in higher education.

 

***************************************


INDIAN EXPRESS

 

THE THREE CS

 

Convergence, cohesion, contagion. These are the words that have historically defined the European Union's smaller economies. Or at least the first two have — and concerns have begun to grow about the third. "Convergence" was the original aim for these economies: the hope that Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain — the EU's less efficient, poorer and more marginal economies could be eventually brought up to match the federation's northern powerhouses. How could this be done? Through, it was hoped, "cohesion" funds, transfers from the rich economies to the poor ones.

 

The "Irish miracle", in which over the course of the '90s the island nation leapfrogged from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest, worked because it opened itself up to European capital, fuelling growth through debt. Leverage, however, can turn on you swiftly. It makes the booms boom-ier. But the crashes, as we can see now, are correspondingly greater pileups. Smaller economies, the ones that benefited most from openness, are now hurt the most; they simply are too small for international investors to believe their reserves will ensure their debt will always be honoured. Other governments could stave off disaster by manipulating their currency. But these don't have that option, as they're in the Euro zone — another blessing that, this once, isn't helping at all. And so, as sovereign debt agencies slashed Greece's debt to "junk" status on Tuesday, and downgraded Portugal's too, fears of the third "C" began to take hold: of contagion, that Greece's debt woes would spread, even to larger, but massively indebted, Spain.

 

So, even as the long boom coloured in the advantages of European integration, the bust outlined its limits. Indeed, the split nature of the European experiment is at the heart of the problem. Ever-closer economic integration, it was argued, could take place without political integration. But political integration means that larger countries would have been forced to bail out smaller countries in bad times. Investors think this is not going to happen; and that's why all of Europe is paralysed in fear.

 

***************************************

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BACKING BANDHS

 

The cruellest aspect of a bandh is perhaps not the harassment and intimidation (even assault) of law-abiding, hardworking citizens wherever working or travelling during a bandh is not a voluntary, democratic choice. It is the cruel paradox of what's enjoyed by some as another holiday (as in Kolkata, where interspersed with marching, picketing, vandalising cadres one sees streets and stretches of main roads taken over by a game of cricket, or a family picnic just about anywhere), and the same unleashing break-ins and forced shutdowns at schools, thrashing of stranded, sick passengers on trains and platforms, flights unable to take off and hapless crowds perching atop luggage, empty offices, scattered and lonely policemen (who feign helplessness at cadre charges at private vehicles) — not the very picture of a world turned upside down; it is the world turned upside down.

 

Tuesday's 12-hour "Bharat Bandh" — called by 13 parties, including the Left and major regional players like AIADMK, BJD, SP, RJD, TDP — against price rise and the hike in petrol, diesel and fertiliser prices, expectedly, did not achieve its stated "economic" objective. But in the usually suspect states — West Bengal and Kerala — it caused real, and routine, economic damage by closing offices and businesses, by disrupting train, road transport and aviation services. In certain other states too — Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh — the bandh made an impact, as it partly did in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and the Northeast.

 

However, there are no doubts harboured about most of these "other" states getting back on their feet immediately afterwards and allowing a significant stretch of time to lapse before the next bandh. But for Bengal and Kerala, the question is: how many weeks, or days, before they again completely abstain from work? One look at the locked seat of government in Kolkata — the Writers' Buildings — on Tuesday, and hope would die. After all, these are states where shutdowns are enforced by those governing them. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's dream of a resurgent Bengal proved to be a pipe dream, checkmated by the ghost in his machine — his party (with a lot of help of course from its rival, the Trinamool). Why wonder then that we don't hear loud sighs of despair from Bengal at its figures of man-day loses? Anybody who calls a bandh, anywhere in India, should study the case of Bengal and learn how this tool achieves nothing, not even public endorsement of its political goal. It ends up being a darkly comic holiday. Meanwhile, real damage aggregates behind statistics of loss, damage which should shame a globalising, growing economy

 

***************************************

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BIG PHONEY LISTS

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

The institution of the BPL list has probably become the most potent symbol of the self-defeating approach of the Indian state towards poverty. Ostensibly this list, that identifies households below the poverty line so that benefits can be directed towards them, was meant as an instrument of poverty alleviation. Now it has become one of the biggest sources of obfuscation of the challenges of poverty.

 

A poverty line is, at one level, a simple index of measuring progress in poverty reduction. It gives a single figure to concentrate the mind. The construction of poverty measures has elicited some extraordinarily painstaking work from economists. The detail, patience and professionalism of the academic debate on measuring poverty have been very impressive. But a construction that has academic and benchmarking uses has been converted into the holy grail of poverty alleviation policy. And it is here that the uses of the BPL are disingenuous, systematically obscuring both the nature of poverty and what needs to be done.

 

For policy purposes the BPL is a disingenuous construct. Normatively speaking, this line is an exercise in bad faith because it arbitrarily separates those who can avail benefits from those who cannot. The difference between those immediately above and below the poverty line is miniscule, almost irrelevant from a practical point of view. Yet that cut-off arbitrarily determines access to benefits. A BPL line, rather than being an expression of a commitment to equality, is a subtle exemplar of discrimination. The cut-off also bears no relationship to the particular objectives of public policy. It also does little justice to the fact that the poor are unevenly deprived along different attributes. A list has to be made with reference to objectives; but here the existence of the list defines the limits of the programme. The BPL is a classic case of state inversion that confuses ends and means.

 

Second, the process of creating BPL lists produces a strange intellectual contortion. First there is a survey that supposedly caps how many poor people there are. Then criteria are evolved to identify which particular households fall within the set. This exercise is a bit of sleight of hand: the identifying criteria selected should be such that they do not yield a figure higher than the cap that has been predetermined. If you go by criteria, caps make no sense. If you are committed to the caps, the criteria look arbitrary. Another instance of the state engaging in circular reasoning unhinged to any objectives.

 

Third, there is the practical difficulty of implementing any criteria for selection. Again distinguished economists and planners have performed a heroic task of identifying easily implementable criteria that do not rely on complicated and dubious surveys. But objectively verifiable criteria that do not over-include or under-include are hard to design. Then the state resorts to including whole groups, or sometimes districts, in a blunt way that again makes the list discriminatory. It is small wonder that the states are deeply dissatisfied with the Centre setting the parameters of the criteria; the Centre in turn is suspicious that allowing the states to do their thing is a recipe for anarchy. But the most unconscionable practical consequence is the horrendous rate of under-inclusion and over-inclusion that has characterised these lists, often in excess of 50 per cent. The lists marginalise the poor rather than empower them.

 

So why does the state continue to persist with so flimsy a construction, one that is normatively dubious and practically difficult? In some schemes the state has made a departure, by making goods universal or by allowing self-targeting. But the mystique of the BPL remains strong. In part its hold may be attributed to state inertia; the state often continues along inherited ways of structuring the world even when circumstances have rendered those strategies futile. Part of it is ideological: to show that something is being done for the poor, you first have to set the poor apart as a category, and make them a special object. How can we be seen for standing up for the poor, if we are treating them as equal citizens rather than as special wards of the state? It is also a way of ensuring that schemes for the poor by being exclusively for them, receive little attention from others. Ironically, all subsidies which the privileged enjoy, like petrol, are mostly couched in universalistic terms.

 

Part of it is a false fiscal scare. On this view, if you don't target, and universalise schemes, the costs may turn out to be prohibitive. But this assumption is mostly false. As states that have universalised PDS, like Tamil Nadu, have demonstrated, there is self-targeting that limits the fiscal burden. Finally, there is also political expediency. The ministry of agriculture and food and state governments would rather let a catfight break out over who gets included or excluded, than focus attention on the real issue at hand: how do you design delivery systems with minimal leakage? The messiness of the BPL lists shifts the blame to civil society. If food is not reaching the poor, it can be blamed on the fact that people are gaming BPL lists; whereas the real culprits are delivery mechanisms that include everything from FCI to the ownership of food shops. Again, states that have done well with PDS focus less on futile controversies over lists, and more on structures and technologies of delivery.

 

What lists are needed depends upon the objective of the programme. But at this historical juncture it is clear that the BPL lists are serving very little purpose. For most schemes that matter to the poor they are unnecessary; these schemes can either be universalised or criteria can be evolved that bear some relation to the purpose of the scheme rather than rely on an antecedently given list like BPL that we have not got right in over five decades. It will also remove this great scramble in the states to make poverty their sole revenue generation industry.

 

Government needs to make a distinction between two kinds of waste. There is a form where the state incurs slightly higher costs, but the objective is fulfilled; universalisation of PDS will probably take this form. Then there is the form of waste where neither does the state save money, nor is the objective of the scheme fulfilled. But the BPL abets this more insidious kind

 

of waste, as our unconscionable nutrition outcomes show. It is time to dispense with the Big Phoney Lists, that are ruining our anti-poverty programmes.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE LEGISLATURE'S LIMITS

MANEESH CHHIBBER

 

While deciding on former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh's appeal challenging his expulsion from the Punjab assembly for "breach of privilege", the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has once again demarcated the spheres of influence of different branches of the state, particularly the legislature.

 

In this case, the legislature had initiated an inquiry by a House panel against Amarinder for an act that he allegedly committed when he was the chief minister in the previous House. Once the probe panel, comprising mainly members of the ruling alliance — Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP — had pronounced on allegations that he granted illegal exemption to certain developers causing a loss of over several crores to the exchequer, the House took the unprecedented step of expelling him on September 3, 2008 for the remaining term of the House, which at that time was over three-and-a-half years. It also asked the Election Commission to initiate steps to hold fresh elections to the constituency that Amarinder represented in the assembly. Amarinder and his supporters in the Congress cried vendetta, accusing the government of having masterminded the entire operation to oust him from the House on flimsy grounds.

 

While the Punjab and Haryana high court didn't deem it proper to interfere in the decision of the House, the Supreme Court felt otherwise, holding the expulsion illegal. It also expressed disapproval of the assembly's action, saying it would set a bad precedent for every new government or assembly to dredge up alleged criminal actions of the previous incumbent and resort to expulsions.

 

But apart from the fact that the judgment upholds Amarinder's contention against being denied his right to represent the Patiala constituency in the assembly despite being elected, its importance also lies in the fact that it fixes once and for all, one hopes, the boundaries within which the legislature can and should function.

 

It would also go a long way in curbing the tendency of political parties, especially those ruling the state, to resort to such steps to get rid of their opponents.

 

As Amarinder's lawyer Atul Nanda told the court, this was the first time in India that an MLA had been expelled in such circumstances, "not for alleged breach of privilege or contempt of the House but for alleged acts of criminality 'found' by a committee of the state legislature."

 

Could the legislature take upon itself the function assigned under the Constitution to the government/ executive, which is to inquire into an action not connected to the House or with the functioning of the House? Also, could the House have then exercised its punitive powers to punish a member on such a count?

 

Simply put, what the Punjab legislature did was to assume the power and jurisdiction to find a man guilty under law, pre-judge his case and direct the investigative machinery of the government to recover "the ill-gotten wealth".

 

As the Supreme Court judgment shows, the House acted beyond the purview of Article 194, which deals with the powers, privileges and immunities relating to the assembly and House committees constituted by it. The punitive power of the assembly is limited to punishment for contempt or for breach of privilege in the capacity of a member. The action of the assembly was also in violation of Articles 190 and 191 of the Constitution, which deal with the specific circumstances in which the seat of an MLA can be declared vacant.

The Constitution Bench judgment would go a long way in ensuring that no ruling party, acting on the premise of the brute majority enjoyed by it in the legislature, would try to expel members of the opposition through such means and declare their constituencies vacant.

 

If such a thing was allowed, the legislatures could well be reduced to tools in the hands of the vengeful governments of the day. After all, but for this landmark judgment, the UPA government, instead of politically fighting the opposition within and outside Parliament, may take the easy way out: appoint a probe panel to go into alleged irregularities committed by important opposition MPs and use its majority to oust them from the House on the basis of indictment by the committee. Or the Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu, if it feels threatened by J. Jayalalithaa, could decide to get the House to pass a resolution to oust her from the assembly for "illegally" owning more sarees and shoes than her income allowed.

 

maneesh.chibber@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE BUCK STOPS WITH EVERYONE

VED MARWAH

 

Hysteria and wishful thinking are no substitute for cool and calculated thinking. It appears that even the massacre of CRPF personnel in Dantewada on April 6 has not woken up all our policy-makers. It is business as usual for them! Otherwise, how can one explain the continuing blame game between the ruling and the Opposition parties on the one hand, and between the Centre and the state on the other? The situation will only worsen if we refuse to learn from experience.

 

It is not the first time that such ambushes have been laid by the Maoists. The Dantewada catastrophe could have been avoided had the government drawn the right lessons from its failures in the past. In February 2004, security forces made exactly the same mistake in Jharkhand and walked into a death trap. A 150-strong joint force of the CRPF and the Jharkhand police, armed with light machine guns, was ambushed while leisurely returning from the same route after the so-called "area domination" near Gua in West Singhbhoom district. More than 30 police personnel, including an inspector, were killed and their arms looted by the Maoists. The police officer leading the contingent ran away from the scene after the ambush. He was not traceable for almost 10 hours and yet no action was taken against him. In fact, he was later rewarded with a "plum" post because of his political connections. Poor leadership was the main cause of that avoidable tragedy and yet no notice or action was taken to remedy the situation. After six years, the situation has only become worse.

 

Union Home Minister P. Chidambram is right when he urges both the Centre and the states to work in tandem, but the statement loses some of it effect when he puts "primary responsibility" on the state governments. The responsibility lies equally with both the Centre and the states. The problem has more than one dimension: local, state, inter-state, national and international; they are all closely interlinked, equally vital and cannot be ignored. The buck stops neither with the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee for the Maoist violence in West Bengal, nor with Chidambaram for the massacre of the CRPF personnel in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. Unfortunately, partisan politics are still clouding the issue. The general secretary of the Congress Party, Digvijay Singh, has no hesitation in putting the blame exclusively on the state government and in even having a dig at his own party's home minister for sharing the blame with the state government. He would like Chidambaram to go back to his predecessor's policy — who, after every massacre by the Maoists, kept on repeating the mantra that law and order was a state responsibility under the Constitution and the

 

Centre could do very little except to offer assistance to the states. What he, however, did not say was that under the

 

Constitution it was for "the Union government to protect the states against external aggression and internal disturbance" under Article 355. If the state government has an important role, so does the Union government.

 

The Maoist agenda is not confined to any one state even if some of them are more affected than the others. The Maoists have made their intentions quite clear: nothing short of a revolutionary movement to overthrow the democratic system by violent struggle. One shudders to imagine what would happen if they are able to build sanctuaries and routes for the supply of arms and explosives in Nepal on the lines of what Pakistan's ISI is doing for jihadi groups in India. Only the Central government can deal with these interstate, national and international dimensions.

 

A multi-dimensional problem can only be tackled by a multi-prong strategy. There are no short cuts. Left extremist violence has been with us since the colonial period. The extremists were very active in the erstwhile Hyderabad state at the time of Independence. Left wing extremism has undergone many changes since then. It assumed a national dimension after the eruption in Naxalbari in Darjeeling district in 1967, though it was still confined mainly to West Bengal for some years.

 

It was somewhat controlled in West Bengal but it soon spread to Bihar, Orissa and some districts of Maharashtra. Since September 2004, when the two major groups, People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), there has been a sharp escalation in Maoist violence.

 

Unfortunately, intelligence and office-bound officers who have never seen an actual "operation" nor have any field experience are calling the shots in New Delhi. Reading books cannot be a substitute for field experience. We have the successful Mizoram, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh models from which to draw the right lessons — but these "security experts", not accountable to anyone for incorrect advice, are influencing policies and strategic decisions as never before.

 

Peace and development are two sides of the same coin, and have to be pursued simultaneously and not one after the other. If in the Maoist controlled areas, the government is unable to take up development projects, what prevents the government from taking up development works in neighbouring areas where the Maoists do not pose any serious threat? If the administration takes the task of delivering essential services and building roads in these areas, it won't take long before the Maoists lose their support base even in the areas which they today control. Land and forest laws should be suitably amended and firmly implemented to give the inhabitants a share in the produce.

 

The whole police infrastructure in the worst-affected areas is in need of a total overhaul, on the lines of the Andhra Pradesh model. Special forces should be created in the states. To be effective, they should be an integral part of the state police. Central forces cannot be as effective as state special forces. Outside forces have little chance of success without the help of the local population. They become easy targets of an ambush on a road where the Maoists have a free run in the surrounding area. They are also more vulnerable on inter-state borders. Local intelligence about the movements of the extremists is not easily available to the outside force. Induction of the army or the use of air force in direct operations is a recipe for disaster. The "enemy" has first to be identified, otherwise there is a great danger of hurting the civilian population, which in turn would only generate more hostility.

 

Leadership at the operational level plays a key role. Postings in these areas should not be treated as punishment postings. It is possible to get the right type of officers with experience and commitment if adequate incentives are given. It must be appreciated that muddling through is no longer an option. The problem is still manageable but only if handled properly on the ground. We should be prepared for a long haul.

 

The writer is a former governor of Jharkhand

 

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CRICKET, CINEMA, CURRENT AFFAIRS AND CRIME

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Okay, it's quiz time, folks. Who said, "Music washes away from the soul the cares (or was it, dirt?) of every day life"? It can't be Lalit Modi; it's too flowery for the straight-talking suspended IPL chief. It could have been Shashi Tharoor but it was on TV, not on Twitter. And for those who think it is Shakespeare, "Lord, what fools these mortals be", to quote the Bard.

 

In fact, it was "Sherry" Navjot Singh Sidhu partying on the musical extravaganza during Extraaa Innings before the IPL final (Sony Max). He was in a poetic mood Sunday, and some of his eloquence became infectious: "An act of joy," recited host Gaurav, "to feel like a boy." This rhyming couplet had been inspired by, who else, Sachin Tendulkar.

 

The showbiz prelude to the actual business on hand, namely to play a game of cricket, was way, way beyond the event. Or may be not. If this was a party, what better way to celebrate than with A.R. Rahman, Bipasha Basu, Shahid Kapoor performing, with lights streaking across the sky like meteors, and the entire stadium filled with music and dance? "Jai Ho". Wonder how we will celebrate the Commonwealth Games and then the cricket World Cup, both to be hosted in India.

 

The match itself went down to the wire, more than what happened in the semi-finals. But it was all that glittered that was gold, and that was not gold, which quite outshone the game. There were those TV commercials between balls. How well they served the advertisers is debatable because the ad breaks had nuisance value; they were irritants, like a rash that just won't go away. Overs took so long to complete, you thought the bowlers had been told to walk slowly back to their run ups in order to accommodate the ads. Then, there were the interviews on the sidelines (oh yeah, we are playing like a well-oiled unit and hope we don't need to visit the gas station variety) which added nothing to our knowledge of the game or the state of play.

 

And finally, there were the constant references to parties — and not of the political kind. As soon as the match ended, the string of interviews with Chennai Super Kings' players, heard constant questions like, "So you will be partying hard tonight?" Matthew Hayden smiled all teeth and agreed. "So, you will be partying hard tonight?" Doug Bollinger who was already sweating hard, just looked tired. And so on and so forth. The IPL acronym has lent itself to many sly interpretations but ever since Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi went to town on it, Incessant Partying League hasn't been one of them. Still, when MTV decided to telecast IPL specials late at night featuring cricket stars and film stars and sundry other luminaries (whom you often did not recognise as bright sparks) at the post-game parties, you knew that if some cricketers exclaimed that they were having a ball, they would not be talking about cricket, and any bouncers you may see would be human beings.

 

IPL-3 will be better remembered for all the wrong reasons, none of them cricketing. That it has been on air to the exclusion of almost everything else in the last fortnight — until Lalu Yadav & Co. took the party back to the Lok Sabha on the cut motions Tuesday — only confirms what many of us have long known. The four Cs are unbeatable on TV and IPL-3 has all them all: cricket, cinema, current affairs and crime. Together these make up the staple on news and general entertainment channels but no single event has so successfully managed to combine them as IPL-3 did this year. The heady mix of human excellence and human frailty was unbeatable. So while the Super Kings may have been crowned in Mumbai Sunday night, the four Cs cocktail was the real winner.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE GREAT GAME FOLIO

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

FRAYING RING FENCE

The Great Game was about preventing other major powers from penetrating into the periphery of the Raj by constructing a strategic ring fence around the subcontinent. Although independent India had a lot less power than the British Raj, the idea of an exclusive sphere of influence remained a powerful theme in Delhi's foreign policy towards South Asia.

 

The Great Game is normally associated with the rivalry between the Raj and Russia that played itself out for nearly a century in the north-western marches of the subcontinent. The organising principle was much the same in the north eastern frontiers of the Raj — making sure the territories and kingdoms bordering India were tightly bound to Calcutta and had enough incentives to repulse the advances of other powers, and not just Russia.

 

That the legacy of the Raj can't be sustained in the old form is well understood in Delhi. That is one of the reasons India agreed to rewrite the very unequal 1949 treaty of friendship with Bhutan and sign a new one in 2007. Delhi says it is also prepared to review a similar 1950 treaty arrangement with Nepal, once there is someone credible to negotiate with in Kathmandu.

 

If Calcutta, the capital of the Raj until 1911, was focused on the Russian challenge to the ring fence, Delhi must now focus on China, whose rise has begun to undercut India's presumed primacy in the subcontinent.

 

India must get its act together as the rising Chinese power envelops South Asia and breaks down the old geopolitical order in the region. Delhi's ponderous and incremental approach to regional integration seen during the last quarter of a century in the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation now stands in contrast to a dynamic Chinese economic and political outreach to the Subcontinent.

 

In Thimphu, this week, senior Indian officials have ruled out any expansion of SAARC to include China, amidst efforts by a section of the association to press for Chinese membership. It is already an "observer" to the regional forum.

 

Having become the most attractive economic partner for all the South Asian countries, Beijing's focus is now on converting this new commercial weight into diplomatic, political and security leverage. Realising that objective does not require full membership of the SAARC.

 

Trilateralism

China has sent a vice foreign minister, Wang Guangya, to participate in the Thimphu summit. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani received him in Thimphu and proposed trilateral economic cooperation between Beijing, Islamabad and Kabul.

 

According to the Pakistani media, Wang eagerly backed Gilani's proposal. Beijing which is undertaking major projects in both countries should be quite interested in bringing a measure of strategic synergy between them.

 

At a time when the United States and Europe are debating how to exit from Afghanistan, China's is moving slowly but deliberately to put down lasting economic roots in the northwestern subcontinent. If it does materialise, China's trilateral cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan will underline India's own inability to use the framework of sub-regional cooperation to tighten economic integration with its neighbours.

 

The SAARC allows smaller groupings within it to embark on regional collaboration. One would have thought this would be of great interest to India to move things forward with its neighbours to the south, east and north. Clearly, the dead weight of 'bilateralism' in India's approach to its neighbours has not been easy to shake off.

 

Post- colonial Raj

As it pushed for Afghanistan's membership of SAARC during the Dhaka summit, India encountered stiff resistance from Pakistan which was pushing for Chinese membership in the regional forum. As part of the compromise India agreed to welcome China and many others as observers.

 

Besides the United States, EU, Japan, Korea and Australia, SAARC has attracted a number of regional countries as observers. The presence of Mauritius, Iran and Myanmar makes the SAARC look a lot like the Raj, at least in a geographic sense.

 

The challenge for India is to convert the SAARC into geopolitical centre of the Indian Ocean and reclaim leadership of the littoral as the motor of economic growth and the provider of regional security. That requires a very different vision of SAARC than the one Delhi has articulated all these years.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

 

BJP RALLY

The latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser is devoted to the BJP's recent anti-price rise rally in Delhi. Apart from being mentioned on the cover page, the editorial and a news report inside focus on the event. The editorial, titled "The success of BJP rally proves mass mobilisation still possible on socio-economic issues" says that the rally was a "display of the organisational strength of the main opposition party", and adds that "this was the first major national campaign of the BJP under its youthful new president, Nitin Gadkari."

 

The editorial notes: "The mammoth rally organised by the BJP in the capital on April 21 became a major political event not only because of the huge mobilisation from all walks of life, but also because it was one of the biggest ever mass rallies against the Central government in the past many years... The BJP's successful and timely initiative in taking the continuing food scarcity and rising prices to the people, is a step in the right direction..." An accompanying news item in the same issue of Organiser, titled "BJP anti-price rise rally a huge draw" adds that the BJP brass, including party veteran L.K. Advani and Gadkari "took the UPA government to task" on rising prices.

 

REMEMBERING THENGADI

The RSS, and the wider parivar, consider Dattopant Thengadi a thinker-organiser par excellence, who besides founding the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, was a passionate advocate for "A Third Way", after rejecting both communism and capitalism. The latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser carries a report on "First Dattopant Thengadi Memorial Lecture" held in Nagpur that was addressed by BJP president Nitin Gadkari, top RSS functionary Madan Das and BJP national secretary P. Muralidhar Rao. Gadkari is quoted as having said at the function: "Economic equality, social harmony and cultural nationalism formed the base of the thought process of the late Dattopant Thengadi... He was a great thinker, expert organiser and social activist. His life was his mission". Madan Das is quoted as having said that "Thengadiji's greatness lies in the fact that while working within the framework of the RSS, he created organisations for transforming society into a single Hindu family". Rao is quoted as having said at the Nagpur function that the "late RSS leader introduced the family concept in the labour movement and he stressed on the ideology that industrialists and workers were members of one family."

 

POSTMODERN HINDUTVA

The Organiser also carried news reports on the events attended by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, and his second-in-command, Bhaiyyaji Joshi. At a sangh samagam (conclave of RSS volunteers) at Ranchi, Bhagwat is quoted as having said that "Hindutva is a post-modern thinking, having a holistic approach and speaking the language of love beyond the borders, for the whole world." He is reported to have reiterated the organisation's reservations against any move to grant religion-based reservations. The RSS chief is also reported to have warned against "China's repeated claims over Arunachal Pradesh" and "Bangladesh claiming ownership of 300 Indian villages". Bhaiyyajii Joshi, on the other hand, is quoted as having said at a function in Jaipur that "it's the responsibility of the media to play a constructive role and give right direction to those who are moving on the wrong path."

 

IPL TO MAOISM

The columnists in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece discuss various themes — from IPL to the Indian diaspora. M.D. Nalpat argues that "IPL is a can of worms" and that "there's a need to cleanse Indian cricket of sleaze, betting, match fixing, money laundering and terror links". Jay Dubashi raises the question that "Indians are being ill-treated everywhere". "They are being hounded in England and Europe and they are being lynched in Africa. But our government says nothing, does nothing," he laments. M.V. Kamath on the other hand says that "revolution" has become an "outdated concept" and says that the "Maoists should get the message that there is a strong government in Delhi which will not accept armed rebellion anywhere and those who indulge in it will have to pay a heavy price".

 

***************************************

 

 


******************************************************************************************

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GREECE, JUNKED?


Greece lunged one step closer to a sovereign debt default after Standard and Poor's downgraded the country's debt rating to 'junk'. This was hardly unexpected given the continued uncertainty of either a European or IMF bailout coming to Greece's rescue. The real problem underlying the pessimistic view of credit rating agencies and potential rescuers is the complete lack of credibility in Greek government's plans to actually cut public expenditure and debt effectively. Greece's socialist government has to fight the widespread belief that it won't have the political will to carry out aggressive cuts (in pensions, in health, etc), which will likely provoke mass protests and a strong political backlash in the country. Unfortunately, Greece's troubles are likely to spill over as contagion spreads beyond its borders quite quickly should a default occur, which is why the EU in particular but also the global community must worry about what happens there. Several other smaller European countries will become even more vulnerable to sovereign default—Portugal is already on the brink. And many European banks, and indeed other global banks, are likely carrying significant exposure to all this sovereign debt. And a sovereign debt crisis that translates into a larger banking crisis is hardly something a recovering global economy can afford.

 

The EU has thus far struggled to commit firmly to a rescue package because of political reluctance in Germany. German taxpayers frown upon the idea of having to give an easy bailout to a country that has spent irresponsibly. There is every chance that such a bailout will create moral hazard not just in Greece but also in other EU countries which are on the brink of needing a rescue. At the same time, sovereign default in one or more Eurozone countries will dent not just the single currency, but the entire credibility of the European economic project. At any rate, the dithering is extracting a price—markets in Europe and elsewhere fell sharply following Standard and Poor's downgrade. As we have argued before in these columns, the most appropriate solution at this stage is one that involves the IMF. The Fund will likely be able to impose more stringent conditions and create less moral hazard than a German/EU bailout. Given the high stakes involved, it is surprising that the G-20 has not weighed in yet. The entire purpose of international coordination is to nip a potential crisis in the bud. That doesn't seem to be happening with Greece.

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BETTER DISCLOSURE


After a public spat between the market regulator Sebi and the insurance regulator Irda over the issue of unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips), the latter is now taking some corrective steps. All insurance companies will now have to spell out to customers the commission they pay to agents for each policy. The companies will also have to give details about the benefits due to policyholders upon maturity of their insurance policies. These are welcome steps that will strengthen transparency and also strengthen the case for firms when a dispute reaches the courts. Currently, insurance firms pay a commission of up to 40% on the first year's premium to agents on Ulips and around 10% in the second and third year. After the third year, the commission comes down to around 2% and that's when agents try to sell another product to earn more. In a competitive environment with new players and products launched every other day, the high front-loading commission structure lures agents to churn out a policy but reduces the motivation to service the policy in the long run. The immediate fallout of the Irda notification will be that agents will be driven to rebate commissions or paying a part of the commission to the policyholder. Though many agents still do this, it is illegal and Irda will have to look into this malpractice. It will have to protect policyholders from getting attracted by the hard misselling done by agents. Globally, rebates on commissions are allowed. In countries like the US, an agent can claim tax relief if he uses a part of his commission to pay premium on behalf of his client. But such a thing is not currently possible in India and it would require an amendment to insurance laws.

 

The insurance regulator's new move comes seven months after Sebi banned entry loads on mutual funds and RBI asked banks to disclose the commission on policies sold by them. The onus is now on the insurance companies and other stakeholders to spend time on educating the customer to identify his or her intrinsic needs before buying a product. This will help the industry to mature and address the genuine needs of millions of Indians, as a large population in urban, semi-urban and rural areas is still uninformed and uninsured. Moreover, with an increase in financial literacy among customers, insurers will have to prepare their agents to transition into financial advisors.

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHY WE SHIRK FROM MURK

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

There seems to be enough prima facie evidence of murky business dealings in the IPL, murky enough for some of them to have broken at least some provisions of the law. The investigation into these business dealings and subsequent prosecution of those found guilty of breaking the law will be an acid test for both the law enforcement system and indeed for the credibility of Indian capitalism. This will be a much sterner test than the Satyam scandal, where the main protagonist made things relatively easy by confessing to fraud. In the IPL case, everyone is claiming innocence.

 

Is the entire problem one of inadequate rules and regulations? Perhaps. But even the best laid rules and regulations can be circumvented by a clever person or two. The success of a capitalist system doesn't depend on the complete absence of any scandal or wrongdoing—bad eggs can always manipulate an environment of free enterprise. Instead, the success of a capitalist system depends on the ability of the system to consistently and periodically weed out the bad eggs and punish them. That is the only way the system as a whole can maintain credibility when a scandal is exposed. That is also the only way in which potential offenders will be deterred from breaking the law.

 

The effectiveness of a system in weeding out and punishing the bad eggs—the punishment part, in particular, inevitably falls upon the state apparatus that must carry out law enforcement—depends not just on the quality of law enforcement agencies but also on how seriously the broader political/public opinion context views white collar crimes. In India, we must ask serious questions about both the larger context and the law enforcement agencies, which, of course, function within that broader context of political/public opinion.

 

To get a proper perspective on white-collar crimes in India today, and our seeming inability to get a firm grip on countering it, one must go back to the history of the socialist licence-permit raj. For a large part of the first 40 years after Independence, anyone who set up or ran a business enterprise in India would have likely fallen into the category of a white-collar criminal. This wasn't always because industrialists had to pay bribes (always illegal) for getting licences and permits, although that was a major reason.

 

You could have been a wrongdoer even without paying a bribe. The completely bizarre and anti-business nature of regulations ensured that. Consider the ones that, for example, limited the production capacity of a business to unreasonably low levels, or strictly controlled foreign exchange dealings. That meant that even to take a sensible business decision on scaling up, or inviting legitimate money from abroad, violated some ridiculous rule. And let's not forget the punitive tax regime—with top tax rates unreasonably high at more than 90%, tax evasion seemed only reasonable.

 

Unfortunately, this kind of misguided state intervention blurred the lines for private enterprise between what is legitimate and what is not. And we are still living with the legacy, 20 years after liberalisation began.

 

That same historical context has also ended up defining the character of the very agencies that are supposed to investigate and prosecute white-collar crimes. Most, if not all, of the agencies involved in tracking down economic offences have little expertise in investigation and prosecution.

 

Instead, they are rather good with tactics that border on, or actually are, harassment. The most infamous of these tactics are the ubiquitous raids that were indiscriminately deployed after the IPL revelations. More often than not, these are a shot in the dark. Worse, they hardly carry an element of surprise, which is why raided parties often hide away key documents—note the various news stories about crucial documents that were found missing in the IPL raids. Yet, the raids serve a purpose. They are used as an easy populist tool to mollify outraged public opinion that wants action. And importantly, they are used as tactics to extort concessions (mostly monetary) from the raided party.

 

None of this, of course, is at all useful in actually gathering sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute offenders in court, which is why after a period in the limelight the investigation trail will simply go off the burner—that is the way the apparatus is designed to work.

 

This kind of system may have worked, even if perversely, in the India of the 1980s. But a liberalised, emerging India of the 21st century needs better. Why? Two reasons. One, if capitalism is to work efficiently in India, there needs to be a transparent level playing field for everyone. Some firms cannot be allowed to get an unfair advantage over others by subverting rules and good corporate practices. This reduces competition and efficiency, deters investment and harms the economy. Second, and this is linked to the first, there are an increasing numbers of businesses in India that are indeed run with adherence to global best practices. Not being able to weed out and punish the bad eggs is an implicit penalty on all the good firms. Indian capitalism can ill-afford that at this stage.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW ABOUT A BEIJING CONSENSUS?

MICHAEL WALTON

 

Can a Beijing Consensus replace the Washington Consensus? The notion of an alternative Chinese path has been around for some years, spurred by China's awesome growth and industrial strength. With the 2008 financial crisis, there is renewed concern over the excesses of under-regulated markets. This also gets into political structures. A new book by Stefan Halper The Beijing Consensus: How China's

 

Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century focuses on China's external influence, while here I'd like to consider the prior question: is there some alternative model for achieving prosperity?

 

Something clearly worked well. I would highlight two underlying features of recent phases, both involving a strong and relatively independent state (linked, of course, to the communist party). First, an effective pact has been achieved between the state and emerging capitalist interests: enough support in the business environment, infrastructure and protection of investor property rights to spur dynamism, but enough checks to hold predation and extreme rent-seeking at bay. Second, the state has delivered rising economic welfare to middle and poorer groups, in no small part because of the growth generated by the first pact. Delivering on growth is a necessity for stability and the regime's legitimacy. A growth crisis in China would be a big problem. This necessity to deliver also engendered another feature of China's development path—commitment to pragmatic experimentation.

 

Authoritarianism has indeed been a feature of China's polity, but there is not a new model of authoritarian capitalism here. A number of countries have had phases of rapid growth in which some form of oligarchic capitalism has been balanced by an authoritarian state—Brazil, Korea and Mexico, for example. In each case the state could credibly commit to support high levels of investment and innovation and to constrain extremes of influence. Korea was also successful at broad-based social provisioning and maintaining low levels of income inequality. All three of these transitioned to democracy, though only Korea was able to sustain rapid growth to a position of genuine prosperity—her per capita income is now $28,000 (at PPP levels). Brazil and Mexico suffered long periods of slow growth and intermittent crisis, in part associated with failings in the management of the pacts with capital and social groups.

 

China has a long way to go: income per capita was some $6,000 in 2008, where Korea was three decades ago, and Mexico over four decades ago. Growth could get tougher in the absence of the development of institutionalised checks and balances. This is in the context of the growing power of private interests and risks of corruption of the state. The view that China will need to face a political and institutional transition has not been disproved by past success.

 

Is this good news for India's long-run prospects, given her consolidated democracy and modernising corporate structures? That depends. For the Indian state faces the same two challenges: getting the balance right in the relationship with capital, and delivering to middle and poorer groups. Democracy can help, but is no guarantee. We need look no further than the resistance to modest proposed reforms of financial regulations in the US this week: these are being obfuscated and held up by an alliance between Wall Street interests and Republican politicians.

 

Korea also illustrates that the path to building institutions for capitalism is complex. In 1998, a decade after democratisation, the East Asian crisis spread to Korea. This was largely because of over-borrowing by the chaebol (Korean conglomerates): their rising economic power had allowed them to escape the outmoded controls of the state banks and bureaucracy, but their organisational structures remained murky. The crisis ushered in a reforming President and corporate reforms.

 

What does this imply? Getting the right balance, the right social contracts between both state and capital, and state and society, is an essential part of the development process. The issue is not the particular organisational model, though some form of institutional deepening and political openness is the only path that has worked for the full transition to prosperity. Simple-minded applications of the Washington Consensus paid insufficient attention to the role of the state. The Chinese state looks too strong for the long term. The Indian state looks too weak. Getting the right kind of state and functioning social contracts is the big challenge of development; it is both a political and economic project.

 

The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for Policy Research

 

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REVIVING TEASER RATES

SITANSHU SWAIN

 

Teaser rates, which are cheaper rates offered by banks to the first time home loan borrowers, have seen many twists and turns in a short span of time. Thanks to intense competition in pursuit of housing finance portfolios, banks have not stopped launching (some of them even re-launching) teaser rates. All this is done despite RBI's diatribe against offering such loans, which essentially discriminate against existing borrowers.

 

ICICI withdrew the scheme at the beginning of this month, but has re-launched it for a week. Similarly, HDFC disbanded it and has re-launched it for a fortnight till April-end. How much of actual business these two institutions will do by offering teaser rates for a week or for a fortnight is a matter of speculation. There is keen competition among the top three housing finance companies to tap the growing market and meet the psychological needs of the customers. RBI data shows that housing loans increased by 8.3% in FY 2009-10 (against 6.4% in 2008-09) and this was essentially on account of teaser rates, without which mortgage lending might have declined.

 

Teaser rates combine fixed and floating rates. They are typically pegged below the going market rate and are used by lenders to entice borrowers to choose the so-called cheaper rates over traditional mortgages. SBI chairman OP Bhatt says the strategy is a way to deploy bank's resources at a cheaper rate to earn something rather than keeping them idle when credit offtake slows down. SBI was the first to launch such a scheme and is believed to have done brisk housing finance business of Rs 16,000 crore in 2009-10 as against Rs 9,000 crore in 2008-09. SBI will review its modified teaser scheme by April-end.

 

Globally, teaser rates grow dramatically when long-term interest rates move towards historical lows. But Indian banks are offering such rates even at a time when there are clear indications of rates moving up in the near term. This is one of the reasons why RBI had cautioned against teaser rates. It wanted banks to be transparent, where the customers should know the intricate details of the teaser schemes and their long-term implications.

 

sitanshu.swain@expressindia.com

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CLEANUP AT IPL

 

The leadership shake-up of the Indian Premier League might have been a necessary condition for the launch of a cleanup of Indian cricket's most spectacular and cash-rich show. But the suspension of IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi by the Board of Control for Cricket in India invoking its special powers over its sub-committee can only be a first step in restoring the credibility of the IPL — by bringing honesty, accountability, and transparency to the conduct of an innovative tournament that can, aside from entertaining millions of fans, be a promoter of good social causes. In the context of the allegations and counter-allegations that have rocked the league, portraying one man as The Villain and the other members of the governing council as helpless bystanders or dupes does not seem very convincing. The real challenge before the BCCI is to cleanse the IPL of bid rigging, insider trading, dirty money, and conflicts of interest. To start with, the Board should resist the temptation of seeking the government's support in overcoming the crisis, essentially by crucifying Mr. Modi. Over the years, cricket administration in India has been politicised in a big way, with a wide spectrum of party leaders holding elected leadership positions in the BCCI or in State cricket associations. A Minister of the United Progressive Alliance government has been implicated in the scandal surrounding the Kochi franchise and there are allegations against some others that have been denied. Political considerations and vendettas must not be allowed to mar the investigations into the opaque activities of the IPL. With Mr. Modi out of the way, pending the conclusion of a probe into his role, the BCCI cannot pretend that all is basically well with the IPL.

 

The surprise is that in the midst of all this, the IPL tournament went on merrily — turning out to be a huge success organisationally, as an extravaganza, and in terms of the cricket on offer for millions of fans in India and abroad. At the end of six weeks of pulsating action, the tournament threw up a new champion in Chennai Super Kings. After starting slowly, and contributing greatly, through good performance and bad, to the excitement of the race for the semi-final berths, the Chennai team finished the tournament brilliantly, prevailing over the runaway pre-final favourite, Mumbai Indians. The losing finalist in the first edition and a semi-finalist in the second, CSK was 'third time lucky' but deservingly so. Fittingly, the Chennai team, led by Indian captain M.S. Dhoni, walked away with the fair play award. The IPL can learn a lot from its champion team, especially the importance of being successful, and clean and fair at the same time. Cricket administrators must not fail the IPL, its upstanding cricketers, and its exploding number of fans.

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

UNEVEN RECOVERY

 

The International Monetary Fund is generally credited with forecasting a global economic revival earlier than other major international institutions, including the World Bank. In the latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF finds further evidence of the world economy recovering from the global economic crisis. In nearly all countries the recovery is even better than expected. World output is forecast to grow by 4.2 per cent in 2010, up from the IMF's January 2010 projection of 3.9 per cent. Advanced economies, including the U.S. and the Euro Zone countries, are set to grow by 2.2 per cent this year. As was the case last year, the ongoing recovery continues to be uneven.The U.S. is off to a better start than Europe and Japan. Emerging Asia led by China and India are in the forefront of the recovery while many countries in Europe and in the Commonwealth of Independent States are lagging behind. China and India will grow by 10 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively in 2010. While the forecast for China remains the same as it was in January, the one for India has been raised by a significant 1.l percentage points. Evidently, the IMF has taken into account the series of recent, upbeat economic news that show the Indian economy to be more resilient than thought. The IMF's projected growth rate for India for 2010 is indeed higher than the RBI's 8 per cent forecast for 2010-11.

 

While being generally upbeat, the IMF warns that the outlook remains unusually uncertain. The fiscal condition of many countries has deteriorated posing significant downside risks. For instance, the rapid increase in public debt in many advanced countries poses risks to their banking systems which, in turn, can be transmitted abroad. Since global recovery is still fragile, the fiscal stimulus planned for 2010 should be implemented. A policy agenda for achieving strong, sustained and balanced growth would require, among others, fiscal consolidation in advanced countries, exchange rate adjustments, and a rebalancing of demand across the world. Combating the high level of unemployment in advanced countries is a major worry as temporary joblessness can turn into long-term unemployment. That could spark off protectionism and derail once and for all multilateral trade initiatives such as those embodied by the Doha round. There is an urgent need to evolve a consensus over financial sector regulation in the developed countries. After all, it was the glaring shortcomings of the financial sector in the U.S. and other advanced countries that caused the worst global economic crisis in living memory.

 

***************************************

 

THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE PERILOUS STRIFE WITHIN

AL-QAEDA-INSPIRED GROUPS ARE INCREASINGLY FEEDING ON PALESTINIAN FRUSTRATIONS. THIS COULD PROVE DETRIMENTAL TO THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE.

K.S. DAKSHINA MURTHY

 

Continued infighting between the Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas is leading to a situation where all hope of a solution to the six-decade-old conflict with Israel may recede.

 

Since June 2007, the energies and attention of the Palestinian fighters have been consumed to a great extent by internecine clashes. This has naturally caused frustration and resentment among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Worse, the infighting is fuelling extreme, al-Qaeda-inspired, Islamist groups that until now had no place in the Palestinian resistance.

 

The al-Qaeda-inspired groups are still tiny and fragmented. But many of them are rudderless and without an identifiable alternative leadership. This has created peculiar problems for the Hamas. In recent weeks, these fringe groups have reportedly carried out provocative rocket attacks on Israel.

 

For a year or so, the Hamas had desisted from firing rockets into Israel: it was an unofficial ceasefire. But Israel has said it would hold the Hamas responsible for any rocket attack from the Gaza Strip. And, true to form, the Israeli military has retaliated against attacks, sending in troops and tanks into the Gaza Strip and destroying houses.

 

The Hamas has attempted to rein in the fringe groups, broadly termed Jihadi Salafis. Some of the operatives have been arrested; others have been killed in Hamas-led raids. According to a Hamas spokesman, around 150 Salafi fighters, some of them formerly affiliated to the Hamas, have been arrested.

 

In August 2009, one of the Salafi groups, Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Supporters of God), challenged the Hamas in a Gaza mosque. Its leader, Abdul Latif Musa, declared Gaza to be an Islamic state. He proclaimed its intention to carry on violent resistance against Israelis and dared the Hamas to act against it. The Hamas retaliated, killing the group's leader and 26 others.

 

The Hamas attempted to play that down as an isolated incident, but it led to a mushrooming of other Salafi groups. These go by names such as "Soldiers of the Monotheism Brigades," "Rolling Thunder" and the "Army of God."

 

These groups are angry with the Hamas, which they accuse of not being true to its Islamic moorings. In Gaza, the Hamas (which is short in Arabic for the Islamic Resistance Group of Palestine) has not enforced Islamic laws. For example, Gazan women need not wear the veil and men do not have to sport a beard. This has irked the Salafis, who want Taliban-style law enforcement in Gaza.

 

There have been attacks on Internet cafes and music stores, viewed as haraam by the Jihadi Salafis. Across the Muslim world, Salafis are known for their rigid interpretation of Islamic laws. They are mostly involved in religious teaching and social service. But some of them have taken to arms, influenced by the al-Qaeda's call for a holy war against the West and moderate Arab leaders.

 

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh recently acknowledged that the Jihadi Salafi groups had indeed managed to influence a small section of Gazans. But he expressed confidence that they could be talked out of their extreme views.

 

Ironically, the Hamas, which a section of the media and the Israeli, U.S. and most European governments projected as a hardline group, is now coming out as being moderate in its beliefs and ideology. Of course, the Hamas has not recognised Israel's existence, which causes animosity against it in Israel and the West. This is also a key reason for it being branded as "terrorist" by the U.S.

 

On several occasions the Hamas leadership has categorically said it is interested only in an independent Palestinian state and that its only enemy is Israel. Its violent acts are confined to the Palestinian territories. It has distanced itself from the al-Qaeda and sees no purpose in violence. It does not support violence in any other part of the world, even if it is for the cause of Palestinian resistance.

 

The Hamas' refusal to recognise Israel is the reason for its relationship with the Fatah having broken down. This has caused a wedge in the Palestinian resistance and a split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As for the Fatah, it has long recognised Israel and is now comfortable talking to it. The Fatah leadership under Mahmoud Abbas accuses the Hamas of jeopardising the gains the Palestinians have made and of being an obstacle to a possible solution to the conflict. The Hamas, in turn, accuses the Fatah of compromising on Palestinian interests to curry favour with Israel and the U.S.Several rounds of talks, brokered by certain Arab countries led by Egypt, have been held between representatives of the Fatah and the Hamas, but to no avail. Conflict-weary Palestinians and the diaspora who expected some sort of an agreement have expressed dismay at the intransigence of the two groups. For the first time in the six-decade-long resistance to Israeli occupation, the Palestinians are no longer sure who the enemy is. Adding to the confusion are the Jihadi Salafis.

 

The Hamas has brutally put down attempts by the Jihadi Salafi groups in Gaza to challenge its rule and lead the resistance into unchartered territory. But the larger implications of a possible descent into al-Qaeda style, uncontrollable violence does not bode well for the resistance. The fight against Israel and the demand for an independent Palestinian nation have supporters around the world. If the resistance falls into the hands of groups deriving inspiration from al-Qaeda, this support is likely to evaporate. And with that, the isolation of the Palestinians will be complete.Alternatively, if the West Bank remains with the Fatah and Gaza falls into the hands of the Jihadi Salafis, each will go its own way and the Gazans will be at the mercy of Israel. In the West Bank, the Fatah's bargaining power will erode and it may have to make do with what is doled out by Israel.

 

Already, in the face of a divided resistance, the consequences are apparent. Israel is pressuring even its principal sponsor, the U.S., to agree to its plan to build Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. In February, a key Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Mahbouh, was assassinated in Dubai by Israeli agents. The killers were reportedly supplied crucial information by Palestinians opposed to the hardline group.There is extensive documentation linking Israel to the creation of the Hamas in 1987, in order to undermine the hold of the secular Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Since that time, especially after the death of the Fatah chief Yasser Arafat in 2004, the Hamas has eaten into the Fatah's support base. It even won elections in 2006. Though there is no evidence until now of covert Israeli support to the Jihadi Salafis for a similar purpose, to undercut the Hamas, it would be worthwhile for the Hamas and Fatah to expect the worst and patch up before the situation deteriorates further in Gaza.

 

( K. S. Dakshina Murthy was formerly an Editor with Aljazeera, based in Doha.)

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

THE COLOUR OF WATER

TWO YEARS OF DROUGHT HAS STARTED TO TAKE ITS TOLL ON THE PEOPLE OF VIDARBHA, WITH A FAILED CROP LEAVING THEM WITH NO INCOME TO TIDE OVER THE CRISIS.

P. SAINATH

 

He's a butcher out of business. "I want to shift to a town like Panderkauda," says Sarfaraz Qureshi in Yavatmal district. "I'm unable to sell any meat in the villages I work in." Qureshi is a small operator who carries as much meat as he can load on to his motorcycle to poor tribal villages on the forest edge. And there he sells at very low prices. "Yet my business has collapsed," he says. But why? Have people in those villages stopped consuming meat? Are they now unable to afford even his prices?

 

"These past months, they're eating more meat than ever before," says Qureshi. "Only, it's free. The forests are stone dry and the drought has seen many wild animals coming out these past months to the fields and farms in search of water — only to be trapped and eaten. So how can I sell any meat? I've made many trips and sold nothing." There is no aspect of life in Vidarbha that has not been impacted by the severe water scarcity.

 

Matter of life and death

 

In the village of Jaulkhed in Akola we meet a baby deer that strolled in with the goats returning from grazing. A sympathetic village has adopted the young creature, who seems at ease with his new world. Other wildlife has been less fortunate. Boar, deer and even peacocks coming out of the forest or woods for water have been eaten by hungry villagers. The desperate search for water is a matter of life and, literally, death.

 

Across rural Amravati, Akola, Washim and Yavatmal, almost every human being you see between 6 and 10 a.m. in the morning (and often at other hours, too) is collecting or searching for water. If they're women or even tiny girls, they're carrying vessels, empty or full, on their heads. If men, they're riding some sort of cart or bicycle trying to collect as much water as they can find. This sometimes means fiddling with the valves of pipelines or just marauding any well they can. Wells that still have some water, that is. One group talks to us while emptying such a well. "Look at this water," says one of them smiling, showing us a brownish liquid in his battered can. Meanwhile, some of Vidarbha's reservoirs are approaching or have arrived at dead storage levels. That is, at levels from which the water cannot be lifted or transported.

 

"In some of our villages," says Vasudev Ingle in Kinkhed in Akola district, "you can get water through the formal supply once in 10 or 12 days." Maya Ove of Dharel village, carrying three pots on her head, each atop the other, stops to agree. "This takes hours of our time every day." Even the livestock you see are searching for water. And wild animals are wandering into the farms or villages looking for it.

 

Vidarbha is not a very low rainfall region. Some of its districts get 900 mm or more a year on average. But the last two years have been bad. Rainfall has either been very deficient or highly erratic in timing and intensity. The drought of mid-2009 really took its toll on people from February and March this year. Had the 2009 crop not failed in the drought, the income from that would have come in fully in February and March. In single crop areas, which most of this region really is, crop failure means up to 24 months without income. Two successive failures could mean up to 34 months that way. A third is too awful to contemplate in a region already beset by crisis, farm suicides and man-made calamity.

 

"The water position is very serious," says Amravati Divisional Commissioner Dinesh Waghmere. Five of Vidarbha's six 'crisis' districts fall in this division which has had 3,465 of its villages declared as scarcity-hit. "Most reservoirs are running at levels of 8-10 per cent or even much less. In Yavatmal, there are some at dead storage level." At that stage, it serves only to keep the fish alive. In Pentakli in Buldhana district, for instance, the level is 0.98 per cent. In Arunavati in Yavatmal, it's at 3.21 per cent. In Bembla in the same district, it is almost dry.

 

Groundwater crisis

 

The groundwater crisis is no less acute. Over extraction, misuse and illegal "water mining" have combined with other factors to push the water table ever lower. In some talukas, says a geologist with the Groundwater Survey and Development Authority (GSDA), the depletion has been three metres in five years and eight since 2000. Lack of rain does not help an already poor recharge. Meteorological drought has combined with its hydrological counterpart to sharpen the problem. "For years, strengthening water sources and helping improve recharge — these vital things were never taken up in this region," says a senior official. "Now we're paying the price." And the effects of water-related projects under both Prime Minister's and Chief Minister's packages, if any, are invisible.

 

The heat is on, quite literally. Afternoon temperatures cross 45°C or worse. That 8 to 10 hour power cuts end up crossing 14 hours "unofficially", does little to improve tempers.

 

Administrators locally have stepped up the number of tankers carrying water to villagers. Yavatmal has over 200 functioning, Buldhana 61, Washim 55 and so on. The local administrations have also been requisitioning private wells for Rs.300 a day on average and supplying water from there to a desperate people. "Even those are running out," says one official. We can add more tankers, but where's the water?"

 

Some are counting the days to June 15 by which time they hope the rains arrive. Yavatmal Collector Sanjay Deshmukh is going to release water from what remains in a few days from now. "What's the point of holding on to it with people in such need of it?" he asks. "The amount there is, we will lose it anyway to evaporation. It's at such levels. Better people get to drink it than watch it dry up."

 

Meanwhile Qureshi, who has watched it dry up, is seeking renewal of his licence to operate in Panderkauda town. "I'm done with my old circuit," he says. "The villages are no place to sell meat."

 

                                                                ***************************************


THE HINDU

EXPERTS SEEK HIKE IN GLOBAL WATER PRICE

WORLD BANK AND OECD SAY WATER MUST BE VALUED AT A HIGHER PRICE IN ORDER TO FORCE PRUDENT USE AND CREATE EFFICIENT SUPPLY SYSTEMS.

JULIETTE JOWIT

 

Major economies are pushing for substantial increases in the price of water around the world as concern mounts about dwindling supplies and rising population.

 

With official U.N. figures showing that one billion people lack access to clean drinking water and more than double that number do not have proper sanitation, increases in prices will be — and in some countries are already proving to be — hugely controversial.

 

However, experts argue that as long as most countries provide huge subsidies for water it will not be possible to change the wasteful habits of consumers, farmers and industry, nor to raise the investment needed to repair old supply systems and build new ones. And price rises can be managed so that they do not penalise the poorest.

 

On April 23, the World Bank held a high-level private meeting about water in New York, at which higher prices were discussed.

 

Days before that the OECD, which represents the world's major economies, issued three water reports calling for prices to rise. "Putting a price on water will make us aware of the scarcity and make us take better care of it," said Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary-general. It was a key theme at the Global Water Summit of industry leaders in Paris, which ended on Tuesday and which was hosted by Global Water Intelligence.

 

The discussion at the World Bank was raised by Lars Thunell, chief executive officer of the International Finance Corporation. "Everyone said water must be somehow valued: whether you call it cost, or price, or cost recover," said Usha Rao-Monari, senior manager of the IFC's infrastructure department. "It's not an infinite resource, and anything that's not an infinite resource must be valued."

 

Concern about dwindling water supplies has been rising with growing populations and economies. And with climate change altering rainfall patterns, experts warn that unless changes are made, up to half the world's population could live in areas without sustainable clean water to meet their daily needs.

 

Global Water Intelligence's 2010 market report estimated the industry needs to spend $571 billion a year to maintain and improve its networks and treatment plants to meet rising demand — more than three times this year's projected spending.

 

At the same time, a major report last year by consultants McKinsey, paid for by a group of water-dependent global brands including SABMiller and Nestle, said most of the estimated "gap" in water in 2030 could be met from efficiency savings such as better irrigation and new showerheads.

 

However, highly subsidised prices are hampering both investment and efficiency, because private and public companies cannot collect enough water, nor persuade farmers, homeowners and businesses to make — and sometimes pay for — changes to reduce their water use, say the experts.

 

"We were in a vicious cycle," says Virgilio Rivera, a director of Manila Water, which took over water and sewage services in the city when the Philippines government passed a National Water Crisis Act in 1997.

 

"Lack of investment; poor service; government can't increase the water rates because customers are dissatisfied; they are not paying, so low cash flows; so the government can't improve the service." Huge opposition to price rises is expected however, especially as so many prices are set by elected politicians.

 

Even in Washington DC there has been an outcry over calls for prices to double over the next five years to help the city raise money to spend on its 76-year-old network of leaking lead pipes.

 

Obstacles include long-term "legitimacy" from providing free or very cheap water; and vested interests, says Ms Rao-Monari, who cites the example of water vendors in India making big profits from desperate households.

 

The biggest concern though is the impact on the poorest households. There is evidence that they suffer most from the bad services of poorly funded water companies, because often they are not connected at all or have such bad services they are forced to rely on even more expensive water vendors.

 

In Manila, Manila Water increased bills from 4.5 to 30 pesos per cubic metre. At first there was resistance but by 2003 the company doubled connections from three million to six million, including 1.6 million of the poorest squatters, leakage had been cut drastically, and pressure and quality had improved, said Mr. Rivera, one of the company's directors visiting Paris. Bills for the poorest households are now less than one-tenth of when they relied on vendors, and payment in the slum areas is 100 per cent, said Mr. Rivera.

 

Some say step pricing can be used to protect a basic water allowance for drinking, cooking and washing — either for very low prices or for free, as it is in South Africa.

 

"I fully agree the water we need for hydration and minimal hygiene are part of the Human Rights declaration, but this is 25 litres of water [a day], which is the smallest part," said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of food giant Nestle and one of the most prominent global business leaders campaigning on water. More than 95 per cent of water is used to grow food, for other household needs and for industry, he added.

 

Food prices should not have to rise as higher water bills could be offset by efficiency improvements, from irrigation, to new seeds, or even a changing pattern of what is eaten to favour less water-intensive ingredients, said Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe.

 

Others favour separating water supply from government's duty to take care of the most vulnerable. "Ideally utilities should not make any distinction between rich and poor," said Prof. Asit Biswas, president of the Third World Centre for Water Management. "The moment you subsidise [someone's bill] people don't use water prudently." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

BANKS TRYING TO KILL OBAMA'S REFORM BILL

WALL STREET IS FLOODING CONGRESS WITH LOBBYISTS SEEKING TO CURTAIL KEY PARTS OF THE REGULATORY BILL.

CHRIS MCGREAL

 

America's major banks are pouring millions of dollars into an apparently successful attempt to weaken President Barack Obama's finance reform bill, currently stalled in Congress by Republican opposition.

 

In the face of deep public anger over the financial crisis and government bailouts, banks have flooded Congress with lobbyists seeking to curtail key parts of the sweeping regulatory bill — such as provisions to create an office for consumer protection and more strongly regulate the vast derivatives market.

 

JP Morgan Chase is at the forefront of lobby spending with $1.5 million in the first quarter of this year alone — a sharp rise on the same period in 2009 — followed closely by Citigroup. Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have also spent more than $1 million on lobbying Congress this year, more than double their previous spending.

 

The banking industry is second only to healthcare interests in the amount it spends on political lobbying.

 

Last year, America's eight leading banks and finance houses spent $30 million to influence legislation. The broader financial industry has more than 2,600 lobbyists registered with Congress.

 

The battle over the finance reform bill is principally driven by politics, with Republicans making a unified stand against it in an attempt to inflict an embarrassing defeat on Mr. Obama — or at least force a climb-down — ahead of the mid-term elections.

 

But Dave Levinthal of the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors the flow of lobby money, said the influence of lobbyists swarming over Capitol Hill can be seen in the fate of individual elements of the legislation.

 

"It's remarkable that in a year in which the economy was in tatters that financial institutions would be spending more on lobbying than they ever have," he said. "We can tell that there are things that are not in the bill that would have been there if it wasn't for the concerted lobbying. Robust consumer protection for instance. It's very watered down." Christopher Dodd, the chairman of the Senate banking committee who is a prime mover behind the legislation, in February criticised the "refusal of large (banking) firms to work constructively with Congress." "Too many people in the industry have decided to invest in an army of lobbyists, whose only mission is to kill the common-sense financial reforms that we are working so hard up here to try to achieve," he said.

 

In parallel with the vast amounts poured into direct lobbying, the finance industry has also steered funds to individual members of Congress in campaign contributions, albeit with mixed results.

 

According to the CRP, major donors gave more to Democrats than Republicans, with JP Morgan Chase again at the forefront. Foreign-owned banks are also involved. The Royal Bank of Scotland has made $111,650 in political donations so far this year, the vast bulk of it to Democrats.

 

The single largest recipient of banking donations is Mr. Dodd, who has taken a total of $1.2 million for his campaign fund.

 

Mr. Levinthal said individual campaign donations buy access even if they do not always have the intended

influence over the outcome of legislation. During his presidential election campaign, Mr. Obama received $39 million from the finance and insurance industry, including nearly $1 million from Goldman Sachs. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

HOLLYWOOD SIGN SAVED

ANDREW PULVER

 

It has had its ups and downs, but the Hollywood sign that has loomed over Los Angeles since 1923 from its perch on Mount Lee in the Santa Monica mountains is no longer under threat from development, thanks to an $800,000 donation from that old movie-glamour fetishist, Hugh Hefner.

 

Mr. Hefner already has form in the area, hosting a refurbishment "auction" when the sign was dilapidated in the late 70s (Alice Cooper paid $27,000 to restore a missing "O", and Andy Williams the same amount for the "W"). Originally, as is well known, there were four more letters — advertising the HOLLYWOODLAND housing development being constructed below by LA Times mogul Harry Chandler, but they were removed when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce undertook the first restoration of the sign in 1949. The letters are now made of steel and enamel, not the original wood and iron — and are 45 feet high as opposed to 50 feet, so are not likely to fall apart any time soon.

 

Over time, of course, the sign has become the natural shorthand for the American movie industry, and therefore all the conflicted aspirations it represents.

 

No LA-set film is considered complete without a swooping helicopter shot of the sign, instantly informing us that cash, sex and celebrity are here for the taking — Richard Gere, for example, shoots past it in his Lotus Esprit in Pretty Woman. But film-makers, never slow to miss a trick, like to use the sign for more creative purposes. Disaster movies have used it as part of a destruction montage — Earthquake, Superman, The Day After Tomorrow — while dystopian sci-fis ( Demolition Man, Escape From LA, Terminator Salvation) tickle up their ravaged landscapes with a crumbling sign. If an unusual portal is required — Dr Evil's lair in Austin Powers in Goldmember, or the entrance to Hades in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief — then what more smartass location can be requisitioned? And its use as a front for the fake-town studio in The Truman Show is an apt comment on the vacuity of the film industry. Or something.

 

But nothing sums up the sign's significance more than the films that have paid tribute to its mysterious, mystical power as it has hovered over the film studios below: Kevin Kline, as Douglas Fairbanks, takes a symbolic whiz on the sign in Chaplin, and Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia scrupulously recreates its pre-1949 state, with a damaged "H", smashed by the sign's own caretaker during a drunken drive. Weirdos such as Tim Burton (in Ed Wood) and David Lynch (in Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive) have even invested the sign with quasi-religious reverence. Those nine letters have come a long way since their time as a property advertisement. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GOVT'S FLOOR WIN TRIBUTE TO PRANAB

 

The extremely convincing victory of the Congress-led UPA government during Tuesday's voting on the cut motions moved by the Opposition parties underscores the incomparable skills of finance minister and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee in political management. The Congress had only 207 members present in the House, but it managed to defeat the BJP- and Left-led motions by comfortable margins of 289-201 and 246-162, with many on the other side breaking ranks, to the Opposition's dismay. The BJP's biggest shock came with the desertion of JMM supremo Shibhu Soren, who was running the Jharkhand government with the BJP's support. The Opposition should have learnt a lesson when the Congress won the confidence vote in July 2008 on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal. At that time it was the Samajwadi Party which came to the UPA's rescue. It is unbelievable that Opposition leaders in charge of floor management failed to grasp that their various parties did not constitute a homogenous group and there was no politically-effective glue which could make them stick together for even a few hours.


It is politically futile on the Opposition's part to blame their defeat on the Congress' alleged misuse of the CBI to secure the crucial support of BSP supremo Mayawati as well as some others. Veteran Opposition leaders like L.K. Advani and Gurudas Dasgupta are no novices in the art of floor management, and they should have been capable of devising a counter-strategy before attempting to topple the government through the parliamentary device of cut motions on the Finance Bill. The Congress, in the end, almost effortlessly managed to outsmart them, not least because almost no section of the House — including the BJP, Left, the Yadav leaders and Mayawati's BSP — is prepared for the general election that will inevitably follow if the government were to fall on the floor of the House. The Yadav leaders — Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad — proved to be a little smarter than the BJP and the Left. They found the necessary pretext to walk out of the Lok Sabha before the voting took place — so that they didn't have to support either the Congress or the NDA.
Pranab Mukherjee, who has spent several decades in Congress politics, is one leader and minister who commands the respect of almost all political parties across the entire spectrum. His credibility and his relationship with different political leaders is par excellence. That is why he was used by the Congress high command, and not for the first time, as its principal firefighter. He has never failed the party. He has not been touched by the Congress weaknesses of sycophancy and treating other political leaders as political untouchables. He has the maturity to understand that whatever be a person's politics, he or she is a human being above all — and this enables him to transcend pettiness and build a personal rapport with almost all leaders. His ace card is unflappability. People who know him well claim that he has the knack of putting himself in the other person's shoes, and being able, therefore, to understand them better. This puts him in a extremely strong position during political negotiations. It is understood that the UPA-2 government is also depending on the finance minister to get its disinvestment programme up and running, and it has every confidence that he will abe able to do it. Now that the Opposition has exposed its own weakness, and lost some of its credibility and moral authority, the Congress-led government might feel emboldened enough to proceed with the Nuclear Liability Bill, on which it had been going slow for a while.

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GOD LIVES IN BROKEN HEARTS

 

Encountering friends faced with calamity often prompts me to share how tribulations enabled me to submit to Allah, igniting my love for Him. A particular passage from the Chishti master Baba Farid's life impacted me deeply. The Sufi blessed his disciples with the prayer, "May God endow you with pain". Further readings of Islamic scriptures helped me understand the blessings and benefits of tribulation. I learnt how they are both nourishing and necessary for those who truly seek to purify and liberate the mind, body and soul. I realised that spiritual endeavours leading to states of ecstasy are rooted in grief. God, by His own admission to Moses, revealed that He lived in broken hearts.


Deciding to try never to complain was a decision that changed my relationship with God, family, friends and the world. Allah says in the Quran, "Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness" (42:30). Elaborating on the same, Prophet Mohammad said, "The believer is not afflicted with illness or hardship even if it be worry that troubles him or a thorn that pricks him, except that his sins would be expiated as a result of it".


Calamities come for a deep wisdom, with hidden benefits and blessings. They remove the delusion that we are in complete control of our lives, helping to realise Qudrah, power of Lordship. Part of the six kalimahs, declaration of Islamic faith is, " …La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah al ali-al azeem", there is no power except He. The Quran confirms, "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch thee with happiness, He hath power over all things" (6:17).


A troubled soul can be numbed temporarily, but its anguish cannot be removed without submission to the Creator. Afflictions are often opportunities to gain blessings by submission and closeness to God. Exercising patience in the midst of calamity while waiting for a fatah, opening from God, becomes a high form of ibadah, worship. A theme that runs through the Quran is, "…Allah loves those who exercise patience".


Islamic scholars have reiterated that no one was given a blessing more vast than patience for it brings to the heart the love of Allah. Prophetic traditions affirm that the patient ones are given rewards from Allah without reckoning.


Tribulations teach compassion, for those who experience tragedy and pain can feel what others go though in similar situations. Commenting on the state of the truly pious of earlier communities, the Prophet said, "By the one whose hand is my soul, they would show joy on the onset of a calamity, as you show joy at time of ease". Islamic spirituality prepares the soul to be in a continuous state of mutmainah, contentment. It teaches not to be perturbed, anxious and never to prejudge Allah, for He knows best — the Quran informs us that humanity is given only a small amount of knowledge, the explanations of the unseen will unfold in the hereafter. Allah tells us never to despair from His rahmah, mercy, for, "Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief" (96:4).
The true lovers of God pray for afiyah, well-being and forgiveness, submit to Him, remaining content with whatever God decides for them. I love this prayer of the 8th century woman mystic Rabia Basri, "May Allah take away from you all that which takes you away from Him".


 Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at sadiafeedback@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Sadia Dehlvi

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HACKING DEFENCES

 

The United States launched its experimental USAF X37B space plane on April 24, which is capable of doing Mach 20 and has been described as the first step towards the militarisation of space. The Russians claim they have a similar programme. Simultaneously, the US is developing missiles that travel at Mach 5 and would be capable of reaching anywhere in the world in an hour with their conventional payload. This Prompt Global Strike programme has the Russians and the Chinese worried as the US prepares for dominance in a possible non-nuclear world. These are the big ticket items being designed by the US to protect itself in the future where the emphasis is on size and speed.


Miniaturisation is the other catchword in military technology. At today's rate of progress, we will see doubling of progress every 10 years, which will be the equivalent of a century's progress. American scientists like Ray Kurzweill predict that by the end of 2020, artificial intelligence would be indistinguishable from human intelligence. Given that there are no limits to human creativity, to the power of ideas and also to human depravity, the use of this power will have wide consequences for mankind. As Winston Churchill once said: "The empires of the future will be the empires of the mind".


America's defence department has begun to use technology that creates virtual-reality surroundings in which to train their soldiers. Cellphones are being introduced in clothing that project sound directly to the ears. Computers in a few years from now will become essentially invisible. They will be embedded in our furniture and environment.


Smarter weapons that "think" and are designed for precise missions to maximise damage and minimise own-side casualties is the trend. The state-of-the-art Predator-armed UAV could become rapidly out of date with this new minitiarised technology, where future UAVs would be the size of a bird and much more lethal. The Pentagon's research has been towards Future Combat Systems — smaller, lighter, faster, more lethal and smarter. The US Army plans Brigade Combat Teams, with unmanned robotic systems where a battalion of 120 military robots is fitted with swarm intelligence software to enable it to mimic the organised behaviour of insects. They are even developing Smart Dust, which are devices smaller than birds and bumblebees, not bigger than a pinhead. Once developed and deployed, swarms of millions of these could be dropped in enemy zones to provide detailed surveillance intelligence and also support offensive military operations.


In another part of the world, in West Asia, the Al Qaeda began its new audio production which enables downloading jihadist propaganda to iPods for believers. A prospective jihadi no longer has to go to a remote madrasa in Balochistan or Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan to imbibe this fervour. He can get it online. These two events — the X37B and iPods for jihad — only means that while the exponential growth of science and technology might make life comfortable for us, it does not necessarily make us more secure. Ironically it also means that the US spends billions to protect itself while the terrorist merely takes the low-cost spinoffs from this technology to harm the West. In turn, the West spends trillions more to develop techniques to protect itself against these attacks.


In March 2007, the CIA began working on a digital library of national intelligence information that would have everything from raw data to analytical information. This is expected to be even bigger than the Library of Congress, which today is the world's largest, with 120 million books/journals stored on 850 km of shelves, with 10,000 books added daily. Besides, there is such tremendous information overload that agencies have difficulty keeping track of the electronic traffic that is out there. Sixteen US intelligence agencies employ 45,000 analysts to track and analyse this traffic. The first text message was sent in Britain in 1992, while more than four billion messages are sent daily now. This does not take into account Twitter and other social networking sites. There are 1.6 billion people online today, and 60 per cent of the world's population of 6.6 billion uses cellphones, up from 12 per cent in 2000. Huge amounts of this work has been outsourced in the United States to private companies who collect and transmit the data to produce the finished product of intelligence. A new intelligence-industrial complex, similar to the earlier military-industrial complex, operates in the US.


Intelligence and surveillance will also increasingly be electronic. It is no longer necessary to use "plumbers" to break into opponents' headquarters as Richard Nixon did in 1972; all this can be done online, without any legalistic rigmarole. However, so can the terrorist access computers through WAN (wide area network). Technology makes this possible. Cyber espionage has become the new game. The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto detailed how a China-based operation, which it called the Shadow Network, pilfered documents from the highest levels of the Indian defence ministry, National Security Council secretariat, diplomatic missions and think tanks such as the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The attacks were all over India, targeting Indian military formations and Air Force bases. The base of operations was Chengdu, in the heart of China.


China began developing its cyberspace doctrine and capabilities since the late 1990s as part of its military modernisation programme. This doctrine of active defence, under which China should be ready to respond to aggression immediately, emphasises the development of cyberwarfare capabilities. The focus of this strategy of asymmetric warfare requires developing capabilities that circumvent US superiority in command-and-control warfare. The idea is to weaken the critical importance of the cyber domain to America's military and economic power. Chinese hackers succeeded in high-level penetration of target computer systems, data has been stolen from foreign governments, financial and commercial institutions. Non-governmental organisations like the Falun Gong and Tibetan groups in India were not spared either.


Pakistan too had begun to develop its cyberwarfare capabilities in 2000 with a project interestingly named Operation Badr. The idea was to raise 313 "Java Mujahideen architects" across the world and 10,000 developers. Whether this is just an obsession that Pakistan's military rulers have with religious symbolism or it signifies battles of another kind is difficult to say, but it is also difficult to ignore — considering the contribution the Pakistani state has made to terror in India and globally.


The future, with all its possibilities and dangers, is upon us. One wonders if we are ready to handle this.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency

Vikram Sood

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

COLLATERAL DAMAGE OR SPYING?

PHONE-TAPS CRITICAL INTELLIGENCE TOOL


There is a worldwide acceptance of the necessity of phone-tapping. It's a legitimate means to fight crime, terrorism, insurgency, crimes related to narcotics, flesh trade and foreign exchange violations in the country. In a country like India, phone-tapping is necessary in the interest of national security. Without this, Indian security agencies will be handicapped and cannot fight insurgency, terrorism and other crimes effectively.
All countries have permitted phone-tapping. The Supreme Court of India, in fact, has held that it is permissible and does not in any way infringe on the privacy of citizens. There is nothing wrong in it as long it is carried out after orders are obtained from the courts or the government's authorised functionaries.
There have been allegations in the past of illegal phone-tapping as well. Unlike in the present instance, such allegations have usually been made by politicians who are in the Opposition. I recall complaints from politicians in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Bihar of phone-tapping by government officials. But phone-tapping is very difficult to prove and I don't recall any instance in India where it has been proved.
The government has framed rules for phone-tapping on the lines of the directions given by the Supreme Court. These provide for close scrutiny of the purport and reasons cited in the request to tap phones. A regular review of all the orders signed by a competent authority is conducted by an independent committee. Elaborate guidelines are in place which are set out when permission to tap the phones should be given. The competent authority and the review committee are required to apply their mind in a judicious manner. These safeguards can be further strengthened if necessary but this essential tool to combat terrorism and serious crime should not be denied to law enforcement agencies.


When India is facing problems like cross-border terrorism, it becomes important for the security agencies to keep a close watch on those who are helping anti-national elements. In that case, tapping becomes necessary. Same is the case with other crimes. Therefore, tapping becomes necessary when we talk about national security.
 — Arun Bhagat,

former director,

Intelligence Bureau


Violation of rights by insecure govt

The revelations regarding the phone-tapping of leaders of political parties, including the allies, by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is shocking. The tapping of phone conversations is an assault on the civil rights of citizens,  and an assault on the democratic polity. India is a democracy and transparency and good governance are considered to be the expertise of a democracy. Surveillance of political leaders and their conversations can be expected in a militarised state, but not in a democracy. It is an act of a government that feels insecure and threatened.


The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the technical intelligence agency, was created after the Kargil War. But instead of gathering information about the activities of anti-nationals, smugglers, terrorists and tax evaders, the government is misusing it to tap the conversations of political leaders in order to prolong its political survival. It is an unethical, unconstitutional and shameful act on the part of the government of India. It shows the cowardice of the government and a fear for its survival. Phone-tapping also goes against the directives of the Supreme Court.


Home minister P. Chidambaram has said that the UPA government has not authorised the phone-tapping of political leaders. But he didn't say anything about the unauthorised tapping of phones being done by the agencies. It is being said that every superintendent of police may be monitoring conversations of political leaders as a matter of routine. Moreover, with digital, wireless communications coming into use, new ways of phone surveillance are being used.


Mr Chidambaram has said that such monitoring is necessary to fight crime, for national security and for counter-terrorism efforts. But are political leaders a threat to national security? There is a political agenda here that is being questioned. And anyway, this is not the first time such an incident has come to light.
The home minister is hiding many things. Whatever has been revealed is only the tip of the iceberg. Hence, a complete disclosure is necessary. We demand that the government release the list of political leaders whose phones were tapped. We also want the government to take action against those who are responsible for it.

 

D. Raja, CPI national secretary

The Age Debate

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

TIPPY, TIPPY, TAP

 

The furore in Parliament over the alleged tapping of telephones has unerringly focused on the periphery of the problem. Politicians from the Opposition are agitated about the possible interception of their telephonic conversations. The government, for its part, has assured them that no such tapping had been authorised. Both sides, however, agree that such measures might be warranted by considerations of security. The opportunity for a full debate on this dimension appears to have been passed up. A pity, for the issue animating Parliament is an outcrop of deep-seated problems with our surveillance laws. And in rectifying these, Parliament will have to play a major role.


The Union home minister P. Chidambaram has stated that monitoring of telephone and electronic communications for national security and counter-terrorism is subject to "multiple checks and oversight". The issue is not the number of levels of oversight, but rather their adequacy.


Contemporary terrorism does pose thorny challenges, owing largely to changes in communications technology. Consider the facts unearthed by the Italian police in relation to the Mumbai attacks. The attackers and their Pakistan-based handlers used a US-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) for real time communication.

 

The VOIP number was owned by a Belgian firm, which in turn had leased it to an American telecommunications company. The VOIP account was activated by money transfers via an Italian franchise of Western Union under a false name and identification. These moves were carried out by two Pakistanis based in the northern Italian city of Brescia.


In the face of such ramified threats, it is understandable that the Indian government has procured advanced surveillance and data mining capabilities. The nub of the problem lies in the manner in which these are employed. Electronic surveillance undertaken by the intelligence agencies is regulated by the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. Section 5(2) of the act allows the Central or state governments, in the event of a public emergency or in the interest of public safety, to intercept communications if satisfied that it is in the interest of: the sovereignty and integrity of India; the security of the state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.


Whilst the section clearly, if somewhat expansively, lays down the conditions under which surveillance can be ordered, the procedure for the exercise of this power remains less than satisfactory. Until the mid-1990s, the Central government had authorised the directors of various intelligence outfits to exercise these powers. The state governments similarly authorised their police or intelligence agencies.


These practises were challenged by the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in a public interest petition. In an important judgment of December 1996, the Supreme Court held that telephone tapping was "a serious invasion of an individual's privacy". It affirmed that the right to privacy was guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution; hence, it could not be curtailed unless permitted under the procedure established by law. The ruling laid down some procedural safeguards. The order for tapping could only be issued by the home secretary of the Central or state government. A review committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary or a state government's chief secretary would provide oversight.


The key problem with this arrangement is the absence of judicial scrutiny. This point did come up in the 1996 case. The counsel for PUCL argued that there was only one effective safeguard to the right to privacy of an individual: judicial scrutiny before an order on tapping was signed, a procedure along the lines of obtaining a warrant. This alone would remove concerns about arbitrariness or unreasonableness of actions. However, the Supreme Court held that it was for the government to make rules on this subject, powers for which were available under the act.


It is time the issue was revisited. In doing so, it may be useful to consider the experience of other democracies. The United States enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. This legislation was spurred by the post-Watergate revelations of abuses of governmental authority for electronic surveillance of political opponents. The act created a special FISA court that reviewed applications for surveillance by the department of justice. It also established an appellate body — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. This is clearly a strong arrangement aimed at preventing misuse of powers.


But the procedure of prior judicial approval is not unproblematic. For one thing, it is more suited to cases where the purpose of surveillance is to gather evidence for prosecution. In such cases, the identity of the person to be placed under surveillance will be known. The requirements of counter-terrorism are likely to be rather different.

 

The purpose of interception is to ascertain whether the individual is linked to a terrorist network, and the objective is prevention, not prosecution.


Furthermore, such a procedure may end up focusing on the collection of intelligence rather than its subsequent use. In some ways, and under some conditions, the latter may be more important than the former. On the one hand, it is now possible to intercept and screen calls and emails without the involvement of any human being. This is already changing notions of what we consider intrusions into our privacy. After all, we readily allow our email service provider to "read" our mail and filter it for spam. On the other hand, the capacity for data mining, by the private sector as well as the government, is increasing tremendously. Surveillance law should, therefore, be concerned about the use of information and not just its collection.


For the purposes of counter-terrorism, then, it may be more practical and useful to provide for strong judicial oversight post-hoc — in close supervision of the surveillance that is undertaken once the government has authorised it. In any event, the existing framework needs to be thoroughly reconsidered. But this can happen only if our parliamentarians shed righteous indignation and get down to their real business: that of legislation.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Srinath Raghavan

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

DNA

EDITORIAL

MISSING THE POINT

 

The outcome of the proposed cut motion moved by the communist parties and the BJP in the Lok Sabha, and which was put to vote on Tuesday, was never in doubt. The UPA had the numbers to scrape through. In the end, it did better than expected because of deft floor management on the part of the Congress and the rather dubious political bargains it struck with some of the non-NDA, non-Left parties.

 

The Machiavellian tactics can be roundly condemned had the Opposition been able to mount a doughty offensive. Instead of a veritable parliamentary contest, it became a shabby playing out of parliamentary procedure without substance and value.

 

What the people expected was a thoughtful discussion on an issue that is weighing down the majority of people, especially the vulnerable and the poor. The economy is facing double-digit inflation, and it's not clear if the government is addressing the issues correctly. This would have forced the government to roll out its own evidence of what it had done. Instead, the cut motion was pressed along with the guillotine.

 

There was little debate and it was straightaway put to vote. Speaker Meira Kumar was on strong Constitutional ground in taking that decision. It was the opposition parties that failed to make full use of the opportunity to push the government to the wall.

 

There could have been a debate if the opposition parties, including those which did not vote for the cut motion like Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, had not stalled the house proceedings and vigorously debated the issue of the rise in prices. The Left parties were happy that they had scored a debating point by organising a general strike that worked in the parts that they ruled — Kerala and West Bengal.

 

The only inference one can draw from the sound and fury in the Lok Sabha is that the political parties have not applied their mind to the issue. They are not able to argue their case with ample evidence and they are not even sure of the problem and the possible remedies. All that the Opposition was keen to do was embarrass the government — not a dishonourable thing in itself — but it did not gather enough ammunition. This is so because the opposition parties think that political battles are to be fought in the streets and not in the house through reasoned debate.

 

***************************************


DNA

EDITORIAL

RIGHT TO SPEAK

 

At first glance, this seems like a frivolous case about an off-the-cuff remark. But in the end it is about standing up for our constitutional rights. In 2005, Tamil actress Khushboo made a statement to a magazine to the effect that an educated man would not expect his wife to be a virgin.

 

Since then, she has been hounded by the Indian moral police, ever ready to protect "Indian culture" from all threats and especially from free speech and freedom of choice. The Supreme Court has now dismissed 22 criminal cases against the actress, pointing out that these were personal views which she was perfectly free to express under the Constitution.

 

Earlier, the Madras high court had consolidated all the cases so that they could be dealt with at one go. The number of cases against Khushboo — a staggering 22 — shows how little freedom of expression is understood and also how easy it is to use the courts to harass someone. Had Khushboo not been a celebrity, no one would have bothered. But it is important that celebrities use their fame to speak out on issues that society finds controversial or difficult to accept, so that we can cut down on prejudices and archaic ideas and traditions.

 

But it is constitutional rights which are paramount here and the actress's victory is a blow for all those who find their fundamental rights being trampled on. The Supreme Court has once more been forced to make it clear that people are entitled to have a variety of opinions and they cannot be punished for that.

 

Khushboo has suffered for what is not just a personal opinion but also a fairly innocuous remark. In a vibrant society, we must have a variety of opinions and it almost seems incredible that this case had to go as far as the apex court.

 

The right to litigate is undoubtedly important and it allows people to seek some justice for their grievances. But this case raises several questions, starting with the fact that the actress had criminal cases slapped on her. The moral police felt that she was encouraging pre-marital sex, which the actress later denied, pointing out that her remarks were part of a larger discussion about HIV and Aids. But even setting that aside, exactly why she was condemned and harangued for five years is difficult to comprehend in this day and age.

 

This is not about a society in transition so much as about applying one's own moral standards on other people, without any concern either for the law of the land or for rights which are guaranteed in the Constitution.

 

 ***************************************


DNA

TECH'S SOCIAL DIMENSION

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

When I was in school, the word 'friend' was a noun. Today, thanks to Facebook, it is a verb. To friend or not to friend, that is the awkward question, when perfect strangers from towns one has never visited request to be included in one's online social networks.

 

Tougher still is how to 'unfriend' a Facebook friend when the latter behaves in ways which would be unacceptable in real life. Does Facebook friendship mean never having to say you are sorry? Can we ruin friendship by over-burdening it?

 

'Enjoying Friday @ home, with fruit trifle and a darn cough,' says one friend's Facebook status. 'I have to tear myself away from Facebook to go to the weekly market,' informs another. 'I don't like this. I am on 420 friends. Is that a number we can avoid, please?' laments a third.

 

What impact will this grieving, confessional mode have on society and on our individual selves in the long run? Is social media really the future of technology or is it becoming the drug of choice for more and more people?

 

In his book, Friendship: An Exposé, American writer Joseph Epstein tells us that social networking sites such as Facebook "speak to the vast loneliness in the world." This is increasingly true of India's urban cohorts as well. But to the multitudes who live in the belly of our metropolises and in India's small towns and villages, loneliness is not the issue, locale is.

 

The dominant policy discourse about technology and its impact on our lives is often framed in ways that leave out the voices of what the late CK Prahalad calls the 'bottom of the pyramid'. A walk through Delhi's resettlement colonies and squatter settlements offers some fascinating insights on this issue.

 

Anuj, who grew up in a Delhi squatter settlement, is into computer graphics. From a shanty, he produces embroidered back-pockets that are later stitched onto women's denim trousers. The designs are inspired by the worldwide web. I know his story because his mother, Tulsi, cooks for me. Tulsi is unlettered but fiercely ambitious about her son.

 

Years ago, watching her employers at their workstations, she figured out that computer skills spelt mobility and enrolled Anuj in computer classes. She took on more work when he wanted to go in for more advanced computer hardware training. The boy started out as a computer mechanic but his imagination and ambition took him way beyond. He taught himself computer graphics on an assembled machine, quit his job, and started his own business. Initially, he copied designs from the net. Now, he tweaks those copies, creating new designs. The cell phone helps procure clients and Anuj is now thinking of tapping social media to reach markets beyond Delhi and its satellite towns.

 

Chatting with a bunch of youngsters in Dakshinpuri, a south Delhi resettlement colony, also allowed me a sneak-peek at the new universe that is opening up down below. The youngsters, all of whom were in their twenties, were passionate about technology. But technology, they insisted, was a tool to improve not only one's material prospects but also fulfil one's intellectual aspirations. They saw themselves as digital visionaries entitled as much to the world of thought as the world of work, and not as mere 'objects' of interventions aimed at improving their digital access.

 

Their thinking has been greatly influenced by an initiative called 'Cybermohalla'. The Cybermohalla in Dakshinpuri is one of three 'media labs' that were set up some eight years ago in different working class colonies as part of a collaborative initiative by The Sarai Programme at the Centre for Science and Developing Societies and Ankur, a Delhi-based NGO. The idea was to let young residents of the colony meet, talk to each other and write about their neighbourhood, technology, media, culture and life in the city.

 

The experiment fired their imagination, the young men told me. Knowing how to use the computer, the digital camera and the tape-recorder had been important but more important was sharing their stories and giving voice to their lives through their own words and images. The results are evident in the book, Trickster City, the just-released English translation of Behrupiya Shahar that they had penned earlier. Heartened by the response to the book, the youngsters are now using blogs and YouTube to take their tales to a wider audience.

 

At the traditional cyber-cafes, they had physical access to a computer and internet, but there was something missing. "The typing speed increased. But not the thinking speed," one youth told me. The cybermohalla experiment was a game-changer. It showed that technology can bring about change, but technology and imagination together can spark a revolution.

 

***************************************

DNA

PLAYING GODFATHER II AT US SENATE

MAUREEN DOWD

 

The wood-panelled senate committee room had an old-school look. The combed-over committee chairman, Carl Levin, had an old-school look. And the Congressional hearing trying to illuminate surreptitious and avaricious behaviour by an amoral, macho gang was the 2010 equivalent of the 1950s Mafia hearing depicted in Godfather II.


"Government Sachs," as the well-connected Goldman Sachs is known, was called to account by the actual government on Tuesday. And the traders and executives who dreamed up the idea of packaging smoke were every bit as slick, evasive and dismissively unapologetic as Michael Corleone. He only claimed to trade in olive oil; they actually delivered the snake oil.


You know you're ethically compromised when senator John Ensign scolds you about ethics. The Nevada Republican is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI for chicanery surrounding an affair with a staffer. His wealthy parents paid off the mistress and her husband, who was also on Ensign's payroll.


"I think most people in Las Vegas would take offense at having Wall Street compared to Las Vegas. Because in Las Vegas, people actually know that the odds are against them. They play anyway," said the righteous Ensign. "On Wall Street, they manipulate the odds while you're playing the game. And I would say that it's actually much more dishonest."


But the Republicans' whacking of Wall Street's wise guys lost a little of its punch when you knew that they were ducking out to the senate floor, trying to thwart Democrats' efforts to pass a bill tightening regulation of Wall Street. Republicans ignored the contradiction in this, the same way Goldman Sachs ignored the conflict in betting against the product it sold to clients.


President Obama bashed Wall Street to pose as a tough populist. The SEC dragged itself away from porn long enough to make an example of Goldman Sachs to shore up its image as a strict enforcer. And Goldman Sachs came to Washington to try to recover an image for integrity.


As Americans lost homes and lined up for jobs, Goldman made $13 billion in 2009, and Blankfein got a bonus of, as he haltingly admitted to McCain, "um, um, nine million."


Baby-faced Josh Birnbaum, the former managing director who urged betting against subprime mortgages, did not polish the firm's reputation with his elitist smirk and name-dropping of Wharton.


"Mr. Birnbaum, do you know what a stated income loan is?" Senator Kaufman asked. "I think it's just what it sounds like," Birnbaum replied, like a petulant schoolboy in detention.


The Goldman crowd was certainly cosmopolitan. Blankfein dropped a Latin phrase (Goldman had a "de minimis" business in direct home loan mortgages) and French peppered senate exhibit No 62, from the petite, handsome Fabrice Tourre, the SEC target who called himself "the fabulous Fab" in a 2007 e-mail.
In an e-mail to his girlfriend, he called his "Frankenstein" creation "a product of pure intellectual masturbation, the type of thing which you invent telling yourself: 'Well, what if we created a "thing," which has no purpose, which is absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical and which nobody knows how to price?'

In another e-mail to her, he blithely joked that he was selling toxic bonds "to widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport." At least the Fabulous Fab had the good manners to cloak his feelings of fabulousness in front of the committee and put on an earnest mask. Luckily for Goldman, greed may trump ethics. The firm's stock closed higher Tuesday. Wholesale olive oil closed higher as well.

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DEFEAT OF CUT MOTIONS

BSP'S VOLTE FACE CHECKMATES OPPOSITION

 

The Manmohan Singh government has cause for satisfaction that the cut motions introduced by the Opposition against its economic policies, especially those relating to price rise, have come a cropper. That the vote on a cut motion in which the BJP and the Left parties voted in unison was 289 to 201, reflects on the one hand a triumph of floor management by the UPA and on the other reinforces fears that there were bargains struck behind closed doors. When the budget session began in February the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party had announced withdrawal of support to the government fuelling apprehensions about the longevity of the UPA government. Now, however, while the BSP voted with the UPA, the RJD and the SP chose to abstain on the pretext that they did not want to vote with the BJP. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha of Shibu Soren, which is in coalition with the BJP in Jharkhand, also surprised everyone by voting with the UPA.

 

If reports about secret deals between the Congress and the BSP top brass under which the CBI has emphasised that it is willing to consider withdrawal of cases against the BSP in the disproportionate assets case are any indication, there is more to the changing equations than meets the eye. The BSP and the Congress have been at dagger's drawn with Chief Minister Mayawati and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi frequently firing salvoes at each other. It is, therefore, difficult to dismiss speculation that the Congress held out an olive branch to the BSP by bringing the CBI round to dropping the cases of corruption against her. Considering that both Lalu Yadav of the RJD and Mulayam Singh Yadav of SP are also embroiled in corruption cases, their sudden change of heart cannot but fuel suspicion of deals. As for Shibu Soren's JMM, its state partner, the BJP, has alleged that he has struck a deal with the Congress under which he would move to the Centre as a Cabinet minister while his son may be made Deputy Chief Minister in a new Congress-led coalition in the state.

 

If the Congress has indeed managed to break Opposition ranks through inducements by using the CBI as a tool, it is highly regrettable. But the fact remains that the Opposition has chinks in its armour and unity among Opposition parties is a mirage. 

 

***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TYTLER ESCAPES

CBI ROLE REMAINS QUESTIONABLE

 

A Delhi court might have valid legal reasons to accept the CBI's clean chit given to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 Sikh massacre case, but the stains of blood may not go easily no matter how hard Tytler tries to wash. That an appeal is expected against the court verdict need not raise hopes unless the prosecuting agency digs out fresh evidence. Tytler is among the political leaders the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission had indicted for their role in the attacks on Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

 

As many as 2,733 people had lost their lives in Delhi alone, according to official figures. So far only 13 persons have been convicted. Given this poor shady track record and the latest clean chit to a prime suspect, the 1984 happenings will continue to hang around India's neck like an albatross. The blot could have been erased had the state acted adequately and the judicial system delivered timely justice. Nothing of the sort has happened. The acquittal of Tytler once again reminds one of the sordid drama going on for the past quarter of a century.

 

Instead of pulling up the CBI for its lackadaisical work the Delhi judge chose to defend the investigating agency, whose reputation has got tarnished many a time in the past for its pro-ruling party stance. With time, witnesses tend to make contradictory statements, much to the advantage of the accused. Some just cannot cope with the ordeal and back out, while others die waiting for justice. If the lawlessness in 1984 stands out as a shame for the Congress, the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat is a disgrace for the other national party, the BJP. When the CBI first gave the clean chit to Tytler in 2007, the fate of the case had become clear. A relook was just a formality.

 

 ***************************************

 


THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COBALT-60 EXPOSURE

RADIOACTIVITY TAKES ITS TOLL

 

THE death of one of the persons who handled radioactive material at a scrap yard in Mayapuri, Delhi, has highlighted the threat that lurks in our midst. It was only 19 days ago that Rajender Prasad, 35, handled the material. The others exposed to the radiation of what has now been identified as a Cobalt-60 isotope continue to battle for their lives in various hospitals in the Capital. An AIIMS spokesman has identified the exposure to Cobalt-60 as the "definitive cause" of his death, apparently the first radiation death in the country.

 

Cobalt-60 isotopes are used widely in medial and industrial applications, including food processing. In India, cameras that use Cobalt-60 were phased out in the 1990s. In any case, the use and disposal of all such radioactive material is strictly supervised in the country, and it is believed that the source of the Mayapuri radiation exposure is outside the nation. Contaminated scrap was identified as the cause of setting off a radiation detector alarm in France in 2000. A worker in a nuclear plant was wearing a watch that had contaminated bracelet pins made with steel supplied by a plant in China, from which 100 kg of contaminated steel was recovered. In Thailand the same year, a disused cobalt-60 teletherapy source caused a death and a major scare. The International Atomic Energy Agency maintains that "lapses in good practice, human error or lack of knowledge are the root causes of such accidents".

 

The Mayapuri incident has hammered home the laxity in monitoring the around 4,000 tonnes of junk metal imported as scrap in India every day. Such scrap must be examined for radioactivity at ports and India should not be allowed to become the dumping ground of the world's hazardous waste. At the same time, junkyards and smelting centres should also be monitored to ensure that any material that slips through various ports is identified and neutralised. Involving the public in awareness and preventive programmes has also become necessary in the increasingly flat world in which innocent Indians have had to pay for the sins of others. 

 

 ***************************************

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AFTER THE END OF ETHNIC CONFLICT

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN SRI LANKA

BY G. PARTHASARATHY

 

MAY 2009 saw the end of a three-decade-long and bloody ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, in which an estimated 80,000 people perished. The conflict ended when a relentless offensive by the Sri Lankan armed forces led to the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the decimation of his cadres. While questions remain about the alleged horrendous violations of human rights of the Tamil civilian population caught in the crossfire, President Mahinda Rajapakse has emerged as the most popular leader of his country, decisively defeating his rival, former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, in the Presidential elections on January 26. This has been followed by a decisive victory of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, which secured over 60 per cent of the votes cast in the parliamentary elections on April 8-20.

 

President Rajapakse combined a determined war strategy with astute diplomacy, after he concluded that dialogue with the LTTE had failed and that he had to eliminate the Tigers. Faced with huge pressure brought about by erstwhile mediator Norway, together with the US and the European Union, Rajapakse secured diplomatic and even intelligence and military support from India while simultaneously obtaining arms and economic assistance from China and Pakistan, together with economic assistance from Japan.

 

With the US deciding to work together with India on regional issues during the Bush Administration, things turned around for the embattled President, once the Americans adopted a more understanding approach even while the Sri Lankan government effectively resisted European pressures to halt military operations. Most importantly, the successful conclusion of the ethnic conflict ended all doubts in Sri Lanka about India's commitment to its unity and territorial integrity. The once powerful Sinhala chauvinist, pseudo-Marxist and anti-Indian Janatha Vimuktha Perumana (JVP) was badly mauled in this month's parliamentary elections.

 

The end of the ethnic conflict was accompanied by the displacement of 300,000 Tamil civilians. New Delhi's primary concern in recent months has naturally been about the rehabilitation of internally displaced Tamils. With an investment of $110 million, India has provided emergency supplies of medicines, temporary housing and cement, and undertaken demining of Tamil habitats located in the battle zones. But this is necessarily only a beginning, in a larger package of assistance that New Delhi has to provide to the Tamil population in the war-affected parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. With plans underway to have an Indian Cultural Centre and renovate the famous Duraiappan Stadium in Jaffna, India would have to invest substantially in building higher educational and technical training institutions in Tamil areas to enable the Tamil population to integrate into an emerging pluralistic and economically dynamic Sri Lanka.

 

Politically, President Rajapakse should be persuaded to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution enacted in 1988, pursuant to the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Agreement of 1987. Moreover, if a return to a situation of Tamil discontent fuelling insurgency is to be avoided, it would only be wise for Sri Lanka to also enact legislation to implement the provisions of the "Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Amendment Bill" of August 3, 2000, and effectively end human rights violations of innocent Tamils.

 

This Constitutional Amendment Bill was presented after extensive consultations by President Kumaratunga's advisers G.L. Peiris and Neelan Tiruchelvan and was withdrawn because of domestic opposition. The implementation of this bill, together with the 1988 Constitutional Amendment, will largely address Tamil concerns and aspirations. But, at the same time, the Tamils of Sri Lanka would have to recognise that with the East becoming very different from the North in terms of its ethnic composition, demands for a united north-eastern province may no longer be tenable.

 

Concerns naturally exist in India about growing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka and especially its partnership in the development of Hambantota Port. This port, being built with a concessionary Chinese loan of $300 million, will eventually have a LNG refinery, fuel storage facilities, three separate docks, together with facilities for ship repair and construction. It can serve as a base for bunkering and refuelling. Moreover, China has been the largest supplier of military equipment to Sri Lanka in recent years and is involved in projects for the construction of highways, railways and a coal-based power plant.

 

China's trade with Sri Lanka has doubled during the last five years to $1.13 billion in 2009. Given the Chinese desire to increase its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, including in South Asia, while working through Pakistan, New Delhi will have to make it clear to Sri Lanka that any facilities provided to China, in the context of its overall policies of encircling and containing India, would not be welcome.

 

Despite the foregoing, it does appear that Sri Lanka has no intention of causing undue concern to India. When blocks for oil exploration were parcelled out in the Gulf of Mannar, the Sri Lankan government gave equal opportunities and benefits to both India and China, allocating one block each to both countries. Moreover, with bilateral trade reaching $2.02 billion in 2009, Sri Lanka is today India's largest trading partner in SAARC. India, in turn, should be more forthcoming in opening its markets to the export of tea, spices, rubber and textiles by Sri Lanka.

 

India has extended the Lines of Credit amounting to $592 million to Sri Lanka for upgrading of the Colombo-Matara rail link, the supply of railway equipment and construction of railway lines in Northern Sri Lanka. Proposals are under consideration for the interconnection of the grids in Sri Lanka and India. But New Delhi would do well to ensure that negotiations are finalised for constructing a 500 MW power plant in Trincomalee.

 

With an over 90 per cent rate of literacy and life expectancy of females reaching 76 years, Sri Lanka has a far better record in human development than India. Moreover, despite a raging civil war, the island has shown a remarkable growth rate, averaging 6.3 per cent since 2003. Unlike some of India's other neighbours, the Sri Lankans have shown a readiness to integrate their economy with the economies of neighbouring South Indian states. Projects involving Indian private investment of around $500 million have been approved for implementation in Sri Lanka, where India is today the fourth largest foreign investor.

 

With the ethnic conflict over, there should now be fewer inhibitions on expanding bilateral military ties. In this otherwise optimistic scenario, one hopes that with a massive mandate, President Rajapakse will show statesmanship and magnanimity in addressing the legitimate aspirations of the island's alienated Tamil population.

 

***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BEATING THE AMERICANS

BY ROOPINDER SINGH

 

Ah! That's one thing in which we are far ahead of the Americans!" I wondered what had brought out this ironically delivered pronouncement from Jaspreet, since yours truly considers himself a bit of an authority on the US of A, having spent a number of youthful years there.

 

Now for the disclaimer. I did see the inside of cop stations, but purely because of my journalistic pursuits. I was never arrested and nor did I serve any time there. Neither, have I, for that matter, been able to set up anything like a multi-million dollar empire, but then I digress, as has most of the country in the past few weeks.

 

President Obama was on his pulpit, addressing the world, glancing left and right for the slim electronic teleprompters that provide him with the right words which he delivers with such eloquence. The leader of the Land of the Free asked politicians to "think more about the next generation than the next election".

 

Think of the next generation….the penny dropped. We have a strong tradition of thinking of the next generation. Anyone seeking the validation of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's "family-resemblance" theory just has to glance at the Indian political pantheon. When a few families control the destiny of a nation, we call it a dictatorship. When they are elected, we call it a democracy…it gives us a moral high ground, you know.

 

How we take care of the next generation! First we provide for it - at least for the next seven generations is the norm. Then we secure their future by "getting them into a suitable line." Matrimonial alliances are entered into to secure their future, and religious intervention is sought to leave nothing to chance. In case a prodigal son stumbles, we are there for him, assuring him our full support, and maintaining that he could have done nothing wrong.

 

The darling was denied a drink and someone was shot? Too bad. A few people were mowed down after a few too many were consumed? Sad. However, witnesses maintained that it was not a BMW but a truck that had done the deed. A foreigner was raped? No way could our dear have done it! Besides, you know how the French are, and she never returned to the city of her trauma to testify. A scuffle and shots fired? Come on, these little things happen when boys are growing up!

 

Not that the Americans did not have their Chappaquiddick incident, but it was an aberration and ensured that Ted Kennedy could never lay to rest the ghost of his party companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, who died in a car he was driving.

 

American children learn early that actions have consequences. The privileged in India seldom have to face the consequences of their actions. We can take care of the elections as well as (our) next generations. We beat Americans, but at what cost?

 

We could better them sometime, but only after we learn to equip our children to take care of themselves, rather than devote our lives to "taking care" of them and crippling their growth potential.

 

 ***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

OPED

QUITTING LIFE EARLY

SUICIDES ARE PREVENTABLE TRAGEDIES 

BY NONIKA SINGH

 

The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy — Alfred North White Head

 

Alas, more and more young people in India are embracing tragedy by choice. Quitting lives in the prime of youth, they are calling it an end game even before it has begun. Two suicides in the tricity of Chandigarh in two days alone-last one recorded on April 20 when an unemployed youth committed suicide in SAS Nagar-preceded by an attempted one by a Punjab University student over 10 days ago, might seem an aberration or sheer coincidence, but is actually symptomatic of the fatal phenomenon that has a pan-India dimension. Our young ones may be lip-syncing the popular number "All is well" with gusto, clearly many of them are fast losing control of their lives.

 

Psychiatrists know of cases where children as young as eight-year-old nurse suicide ideations. So what has happened?

 

Yes, in the innocent guileless world of our youngsters the monster of stress has crept with a vengeance that knows no bounds. Invariably telling agonising suicide notes point fingers at the growing academic pressure. Failure, rather inability to cope with it, is exacting a price no society can turn a blind eye to.

 

Dr Parmod Kumar, consultant psychiatrist, Silver Oaks Hospital, SAS Nagar, feels that attributing academic failure as the number one reason for the growing number of suicides among young is too simplistic a presumption or conclusion for that matter. A report suggests that some children deliberately time their suicides around examination that lends credence to the thesis—suicide is not an impulsive decision. According to Dr Kumar, the desperate measure is not an isolated phenomenon but an outcome of depression, an illness that could be caused by genetic or biological factors.

 

According to him, worldwide research has as yet provided no definitive conclusion on what role environmental factors play in exacerbating suicidal tendencies. But yes circumstances are important. There is little doubt that children today are living in highly stressed times where both parental and societal expectations bog them all the time.

 

Punit Singh, counsellor, Carmel Convent School, Chandigarh, feels that pressures playing havoc with the minds of young ones are not academic alone. Says she, "Emotional pressures are equally acute and interpersonal relationships determine their dysfunctional behaviour to a large extent." An agony aunt "Preeto Maam" of a website concurs that broken affairs often lead young ones down the fatal path. Bottled-up emotions, heart-breaks, a rigorous academic system, indeed suicide has many fathers. After the fatal seed has been implanted within their impressionable minds, the flashpoint could be any.

 

Students have committed suicide for reasons like the Telangana issue that have no immediate impact on their lives. Indeed, the age group 16 to 25, according to Dr Parmod Kumar, is exceptionally vulnerable. Research says that suicide is the sixth leading cause of death among six to 14-year-olds and the third leading cause for 15- to 25-year-olds.

 

But the moot question is-can the susceptible ones be helped? Fortunately, the answer is a big yes. As it has been widely believed, first and foremost, the onus rests with parents. Though there is no litmus test that can warn them, parents must be alert of pervasive and persistent change in the behaviour pattern of their children.

 

After parents, expectedly educational institutions and the teaching community are the most significant others who can help. Of course, in a country where a probe can indict a principal for harassment where suicide notes have accused teachers and where teachers' insensitivity is more of norm than exception, can teachers rise up to the challenge? Maybe the task can then be best handled by school counsellors, which are a must for every institution.

 

Online counselling, strangely, despite the advantage of anonymity that it grants to the person concerned, however, is not recommend by experts for they argue that personal touch is a must. Still, for young ones desperate enough to call it a day, any measure— helplines included— that reaches out to them can prove to be a saviour. Suicide threats of distress callers too feel experts are meant to be taken seriously, not to be dismissed as sheer blackmail.

 

The bottom line is most suicides can be prevented as Dr Kumar says, " By its very definition suicide is a preventable cause of death." Only parents, teachers, NGOs, media, health professionals and other pressure groups need to put their heads together to ensure that young ones choose life over death.

 

***************************************


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WOODEN WIVES BEHIND TIGER HUSBANDS?

BY RAJEEV TANWAR

 

Tiger Woods recently became the favourite of tabloids, news channels and on the internet not because of his golfing skills, but for trying his macho prowess outside his marriage with numerous damsels of questionable repute.

 

The incident throws up an interesting debate as to whether Tiger is solely responsible for his extramarital escapades and his wife, Elin Nordgren, is a poor hapless cheated wife, or his wife is also indirectly responsible for driving Tiger to other women.

 

History is replete with innumerable incidents of infidelity by the rich, famous and powerful elite. Swami Nityanand, N.D.Tiwari, Bill Clinton's Shane Warne, Shiney Ahuja and Madhur Bhandarkar can be labelled as a part of this syndrome. Amir Khan is also rumoured to have fathered a son out of wedlock.

 

The syndrome appears to be particularly limited to males. Generally females do not have sex scandals. One cannot help but wonder as to what prompts these highly successful, rich, famous and powerful males to show their amorous prowess. Perhaps variety is the best aphrodisiac. Does being elite, oozing with extravagant perks makes them choose the path of infidelity or the poor victimised, cheated wife sitting at home is also responsible for showing them this path?

 

Even though women now are liberated, self-reliant, rich and famous as well, why don't women have sex scandals? Is fidelity a virtue only for women and males cock a snook at it? The few plausible explanations forwarded for it include women work extra hard at office and home. Therefore, they are too busy and less willing to risk everything for a momentary pleasure. Also women are inherently overwhelmingly less susceptible to physical temptations. Successful, rich women usually fall for males who are more successful, rich and powerful than them; whereas rich and successful males fall for women not as rich and successful as them. Men usually get intimidated by females more successful and powerful than them.

 

Biology makes mass production of sperms, hence naturally the male has to distribute it widely, whereas eggs are produced once a month hence the mother nature makes female hardwired to be selective in deciding which male should get the opportunity to mate with her, thus favouring quality over quantity. This naturally leads to females getting attracted towards successful and rich males and the males by nature are more than obliging, because for them once the lights are off all women are equally beautiful !

 

Society adopts double standards in the way it perceives cheating in a marriage. No one ever calls a cheating man a cheater, forget about calling him a slut or a whore, in fact, no one ever calls a cheating man anything in society! Secretly within their hearts most men adore such cheaters for having the guts to eat a cake as well as have it.

 

Quality of one's married life, respect and love for each other also play an important role in this syndrome. All relationships need constant inputs. Relationships are like candles, the wick can glow and make the surrounding glow only if constant input of wax is there, otherwise the wick gets burnt out and there is darkness. Nothing runs for ever without refueling and recharging, and marriages are no exception.

 

Wives, once they have managed to get married to the most desirable male around, just go into a relaxation mode. Once kids come into their lives, the poor husband is pushed into the background like a used piece of furniture. Most men of meagre means with pressures of earning a livelihood experience a decreased secretion of testosterone in their bodies, hence accept such degradation meekly.

 

Daily grind also takes its toll on the female physiology, reducing the secretion of oxytocin and oestrogen hormones. The physical outward appearance of the female begins its distortion journey and a few years down the line her figure starts melting and bulging at all the wrong places.

 

Success, power and riches normally boost the secretion of testosterone hormone in males causing increased libido. Unfortunately, this is not reciprocated appropriately by his wife. This mismatch forces the man to find alternatives to release his pent-up desires and fantasies. Eager females around him are quick to snatch the opportunity, which they had earlier missed out to that woman who is his wife now! The wife becomes WOODen and the Tiger is on the prowl! 

 

***************************************


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DELHI DURBAR

UNITING A DIVIDED FAMILY

 

The Supreme Court does not depend on legal provisions all the time to adjudicate cases. Recently, in a dispute between a divorced couple over the custody of children, the judges asked the lawyers whether their clients were present. Not only the clients but two boys, aged 11 and 9, were also watching the proceedings from the visitors' gallery.

 

The two judges promptly had a chat with the four during the lunch break. The boys told the judges that they wanted to stay only with their father with whom they had been living for nearly seven years. It was not difficult for the judges to know why they had no feelings for their mother.

 

Noting that it did not want to traumatise the children by handing them over to the mother, the Bench said the better course would be to allow her to make the "initial contact with the children, build up her relationship with them slowly and gradually restore her position as their mother." For this, the court granted weekly visitation rights to her, besides asking the children to spend half of their three annual vacations with the mother.

 

Sibal's gesture

Who says union ministers do not care about their juniors in the department? The other day, Minister of State for Human Resources Development D. Purandeshwari was in for a pleasant surprise when Kapil Sibal, HRD Minister, decided to host a special celebration in the ministry office for the former's birthday, which fell on April 22.

 

It all happened very casually. The minister learnt by chance about Purandeshwari's special day. Just when she rang up Sibal to say she was leaving for home, the minister had her come over to his office, where a surprise awaited the daughter of former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and a legendary actor NT Ramarao. To top up the celebrations, Sibal had even ordered a birthday cake from the Oberois for his junior. She cut it in the presence of all top ministry officials. It was quite a day for her!

 

Poor development

For all the love and concern our politicians may profess to the rural poor, their affection for the rustic is barely skin deep. To demonstrate this concern the Rural Development Ministry is listed every year as one of the few ministries whose demands are discussed in the House. Only a few ministries are discussed every year and the rest put to guillotine. But for all protestations and claims, hardly anyone among the MPs or even political parties is interested in this ministry.

 

So during this discussion, there were only four members on the BJP benches. Attendance in other Opposition parties was no better. There were some Congressmen sitting. But that is because Sonia Gandhi herself sat through the debate. Even she spent most of her time drawing trees with a pencil on a piece of paper which she quietly put away in her spectacle case, the moment she noticed someone watching. Then why blame poor Preneet Kaur, who was sitting and solving a crossword puzzle in that morning's newspaper?

 

Contributed by R. Sedhuraman, Aditi Tandon and Faraz Ahmad

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

PHYSICIAN AND POET

DANNIE ABSE COMBINES HIS EXPERIENCES OF BOTH ROLES IN HIS LATEST BOOK OF POEMS, THROUGH WHICH HE FONDLY REMEMBERS HIS LATE WIFE JOAN

 

The Welsh poet Dannie Abse (b 1923) published his first book of poems in 1949, when he was still a medical student. His New Selected Poems 1949-2009 was published to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his first book of poems. And this year he has published his latest book of poems, Two for Joy: Scenes from Married Life, celebrating his more than 50-year marriage to Joan Abse, who died in a car crash in 2005. Abse ran a chest clinic in London for more than 30 years. He has also edited anthologies, written six novels, plays, prose, besides 16 volumes of poetry. And he's still writing. In fact, he seems to be at the height of his powers.
Anthony Whittome who has been Abse's editor at Hutchinson since the 1970s writes, "His work covers a variety of writing disciplines… but poetry is its heartland." Abse's poems draw on his experience as a doctor, his Jewish background, the horrors of history, his family, his marriage, his wife's death. He
has been described as "one of our few    great poets of married love". His
 gaze, Whittome says, "remains    clear-eyed (but) his tone is always    humane, full of understanding and affirmation."


Many poems bring various strands of experience together. In Case Study, a patient, unaware that the doctor is both Welsh and Jewish, denigrates both. "'Most Welshmen are worthless,/an inferior breed, doctor.' /He did not know I was Welsh./Then he praised the architects/of the G e r m a n death-camps--/did not know I was a Jew./…When I palpated his liver/I felt the soft liver of Goering;/when I lifted my stethoscope/I heard the heartbeats of Himmler…" The clinic has a number of poisons: "Yet I prescribed for him/as if he were my brother."


 There are also a number of light-hearted poems about his wife. In Thankyou Note, he thanks her for, among other things, "applauding my poetry, O most perceptive spouse…" But in Lachrymae, he writes of the crash which killed her, while he suffered only a broken rib: "I crawled from the noise of the upturned car/and the silence in the dark began to grow./I called out her name again and again/to where neither words nor love could go."


But Abse also recalls small, intimate things in the same sequence: "Last night, lying in bed/I remembered how, pensioners both,/before sleep, winter come,/your warm foot suddenly/would console my cold one."
   And of course there is a poem on his illustrious forbear, Dylan Thomas. He says to those who gossip about Dylan Thomas' tumultuous life, "Death was his voluntary marriage… So cease your talking./Too familiar you blaspheme his name and collected legends:/some tears fall soundlessly and aren't the same/as those that drop with obituary explosions./Suddenly, others who sing seem older and lame."


Help! I don't seem to be able to stop quoting from the poems. But New Selected Poems Anniversary Collection 1949-2009


is a marvellous collection. I don't yet own Two for Joy, which he published this year and in which he celebrates his long and happy marriage. But I'm now determined to read everything Abse wrote, and shall no doubt treat you to some more quotations before long. But indulge me for the moment with two more quotes, both of which I think will mean something to you. Valediction is a four-line poem which reads, "In this exile people call old age/I live between nostalgia and rage./This is the land of fools and fear./Thanks be. I'm lucky to be here."
   But the last poem in the book, a haunting one called The Abandoned which I quoted in an earlier column, he says, "Dear God in the end you had to go./Dismissing you, your absence made us sane./We keep the bread and wine for show."

 

***************************************


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

EDITORIAL

UNHOLY DUALITY

HOW ACCOMMODATIVE SHOULD RBI BE OF GOVERNMENT?

 

Opinion is divided on whether the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did enough on the monetary policy front last week to rein in inflation. Is RBI behind the curve or on the ball? Those who defend RBI believe that its response was along expected lines given the circumstances. These "circumstances" include the massive government borrowing programme (Rs 2,87,000 crore in the first half of 2010-11 itself). Can the central bank afford to shift focus away from inflation and try to balance it with other objectives like lowering the government's cost of borrowing? This can be gauged by answering another simple, counter-factual question. Would monetary policy rates have been much higher had the government's draft on funds been significantly lower? If the answer is yes, as the RBI's critics would argue, then there is a problem. Keeping monetary policy easy to "accommodate" a large fiscal deficit, they point out, is somewhat akin to printing notes to pay for the government's excesses. This, as history shows, is likely to lead to high inflation in the future. The implication is that if inflation fuelled by surplus cash indeed begins to escalate, RBI will have no option but to go in for a one-off adjustment in rates. This could be disruptive not just for the financial markets but for the economy as well.

 

Those who are critical of the RBI's soft touch claim that this potential "shock" to the system (from a large one-off increase in interest rates) can be avoided if the central bank shows tougher love to the fiscal authorities at this stage itself. Thus, if RBI were to fall in step with the curve by tightening monetary policy more aggressively now, the need to catch up later through sharp moves in policy rates will not arise. RBI is by no means alone in its dilemma. Governments across the world, particularly those in advanced OECD economies, have run up large deficits to fight the slowdown, saddling central bankers with the task of ensuring that these deficits don't push up interest rates too high and poop the recovery. The critics would point out that there is an important difference in the imperative faced by RBI and its counterparts in the developed world. The latter have to contend with the problem of a fragile economic recovery that threatens to reverse at the first sign of trouble. The pick-up in India's economy seems far more robust and entrenched — hence inflation should get policy priority. However, while the jury could still be out on how quickly RBI should reverse its stance, there is consensus on the fact that the perception that RBI takes orders from the fiscal mandarins will seriously compromise the central bank's credibility and set financial reforms back by a couple of decades. Some see the central bank being divested of the job of managing public debt as an option. This too cannot work unless an office for the purpose is truly independent of the finance ministry.

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BEND IN THE BRAHMAPUTRA

GEOGRAPHY OF INDIA'S CREDIBILITY ON RIVER WATERS

 

China's confession that it is building a dam on the Brahmaputra, after denying this for long, is only a half-truth. Many believe that it is part of a much bigger plan for diversion of Brahmaputra waters to China's water-starved areas, including the Gobi desert, which is believed to be expanding by 3 km per year. Besides, Beijing's claim that a "small project" at Zangmu in Tibet on river Brahmaputra (called Tsang Po in China) will not impact water flow to India does not sound credible. Going by media reports, this project itself is only the first of a series of at least four other dams proposed to be built by China on the same river system. China is already known to have given the contract for the implementation of this project to one of its largest engineering and construction companies, and that fact is now in the public domain. That, in fact, may have been the reason for China to admit some activity on the river. What should indeed worry New Delhi is not this project alone but China's ultimate designs on diversion of Brahmaputra waters. There have been reports that China has drawn up an ambitious, even if technically challenging, plan for constructing "Western Canal" for this purpose which may be in place by 2050. Moreover, the reports also speak of a plan to carry Brahmaputra waters to the dying Yellow River to augment water supplies to Shaanxi, Hebel, Beijing and Tianjin.

It is not clear how seriously the Indian government is taking up this issue with the Chinese authorities. If China goes ahead with its water plans, it will spell disaster for the ecology and hydrology of vast areas in the Indian north-east as well as Bangladesh, where a sizable chunk of population rely critically on Brahmaputra waters for survival and livelihood. The danger appears real because China has the technical competence, manpower as well as fiscal resources to carry out such grandiose projects. At stake is also the prospect of harnessing the hydro-power potential of this mighty river and its tributaries like Siang, Subansiri and Lohit which is reckoned at around 50,000 Mw in the north-eastern states. Part of this potential, around 2,000 Mw, is already under development with contracts having been awarded to different firms. Any indication of paucity of water in this river system will worry investors and stakeholders.

 India does not have any formal river water sharing treaty with China, but that does not undermine its legitimate claim over Brahmaputra waters as a lower riparian. India and China have an expert-level mechanism to address water issues. But that forum may not be adequate in addressing what could become a major diplomatic and political issue. Since Bangladesh is also an interested party, the matter could well be discussed trilaterally. India's water diplomacy must be more sophisticated than it has been so far, and must have a holistic framework, since India is both an upper riparian and a lower riparian state in the region. Indeed, India can boost its credibility and credentials with all neighbours by drawing attention to the fact that as an upper and lower riparian, it knows the needs and appreciates the concerns of both.

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE CRISIS IN ECONOMICS

ECONOMISTS DIDN'T PREDICT THE 2008 CRISIS - GEORGE SOROS' NEW INSTITUTE, WHICH SEEKS TO UNDERSTAND WHY, HAS ITS TASK CUT OUT

SUMATI MEHTA

The recently launched Institute for New Economic Thinking, promoted by thinker and philanthropist George Soros, has a tough mandate — to provide fresh insights and thinking, with a view to promoting changes in economic theory and practice. This is likely to be a tough task because the modes of thought, in respect of our current economic system, have got embedded in the psyches and mindsets of the very same folks, who now have to attempt to change these mindsets. Notwithstanding the terrain which is likely to be arduous and uphill, the task has to be achieved and credibility restored to the profession, the discipline and the body of knowledge, which embodies the discipline.

Where does one begin?

Naturally, one needs to begin by seeking clarity on the question: What exactly is the crisis in economics? The crisis in economics has come about because of the failure of economists as a body of professionals, and economics as a field of knowledge, to provide advance warning regarding the economic and financial crisis which the global and national economies witnessed in 2008. Advance warning from the custodians of knowledge could have enabled timely action to avert the crisis. This did not happen. Instead, a full-blown global economic tsunami hit the global and individual economies across the world in the September of 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The free fall of economies could be arrested only after a massive coordinated effort by world leaders from the G-20 nations. The aftermath of the crisis is still continuing.

 

Why and how did the crisis occur?

The factual answer to this question, is well documented. What is crucial to understand is the fact that the crisis in economies and economic institutions was only an outward manifestation of a deeper crisis in economics as a body of knowledge or discipline. Economics and economists are charted with the task of attempting to explain how economic agents interact and how economies work. This they could not, or did not, do as they should have to be effective practitioners of their discipline.

Why did this happen?

The answer to this question was recently deliberated upon at the inaugural conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking held at King's College in Cambridge. Most of the presentations zeroed in on one or more of the following reasons for the inability of economics to predict/avert the crisis:

Firstly, it was pointed out that the model of Rational Expectations, on which most or all of economic theory is premised, has proved to be an inadequate or imperfect guide to understanding economic behaviour.

Secondly, the Market Efficiency Hypothesis has also been found to be more absent, than present, as economists themselves have discovered and elaborated on, for different reasons, and on different counts.

Thirdly, the representative agent models which assume that all economic agents function in like manner also does not hold true in the real world, even though it is most often the assumption when moving from micro to macroeconomics.

Juxtaposing these realities of economic behaviour which belie some of the basic assumptions of economic theory, against the economic theory and theories which rested on this foundation and pillars of the very same assumptions, and building fancy mathematical models, on this fragile base, is enough to explain why the crisis occurred. In addition, there is one more reason, which is still more fundamental and which gives a better idea of where the fault lines actually lie.

A large part of the world has witnessed, in the last few years, a mindset which has emphasised "self" interest and glorification of the self even at the expense of social or community well-being. This has been based on a kind of blind faith in the philosophy and thinking promoted by intellectuals of the kind of Ayn Rand and others. There has been a disproportionate emphasis on individual self and personal freedom which, therefore, has, as a natural outcome, led to a society epitomising those very same values, which ultimately manifest in a culture of greed and blatant selfishness, regardless of all else. The consequences of such a mindset are now being witnessed.

This takes one logically to the next question. What should be done so as to let a crisis become an opportunity? An opportunity to think, correct, modify and transform, which is what the dictionary meaning of crisis also suggests.

The answers to this question flow from the analyses in the preceding paragraphs.

Firstly, there is a need for a change in societal "mindset", away from one promoting greed and blatant selfishness, and towards one based on respect for community and larger whole. This is not an impossibility. It only requires a conscious promotion of the values of selflessness and sacrifice.

Secondly, there is a need to search for an alternative hypothesis which is a better fit in explaining human and economic behaviour, than the Rational Expectations Hypothesis hitherto believed in, even if partially. Again, this will have to be based on deeper thinking, which attempts to understand the process of decision-making in human beings and models it only subsequently, after adequately understanding the process of thought.

Thirdly, since the Efficient Markets Hypothesis does not hold, at least most of the time, it is time for the profession and practitioners of the craft of economic systems to accept the role of responsive, responsible and stable governments as an essential requirement of miracle economies, and work towards designing common elements, if any, of the role that such governments can and should play. In fact, a next step, which is a little premature at this juncture, would be to see how a mindset of trust and cooperation can be fostered. Surely, this too is possible as understanding about the human brain, mind and consciousness increases over a period of time.

Fourthly, and finally, for the purposes of this particular article, though not for the future of new economic thinking, where an ocean of new knowledge waits to be mined for oysters and pearls, future aversion of crises will hinge on having in place a framework of global governance, designed specifically to meet the specific requirements of the highly interconnected and technologically advanced world of the 21st century. While the G-20 and international financial institutions are moving in the right direction, there is a need for greater speed in thought and action if events are not to overtake us as we passively watch the world race by. The time to act is now, before it is too late, once again. The Institute for New Economic Thinking has its tasks laid out. Its hands should be more than full.

The author is a civil servant. The views expressed are personal

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

STRONG MEDICINE

ECUADOR IS ISSUING COMPULSORY LICENCES TO BRING DOWN THE COST OF PATENTED MEDICINE. IS INDIA LIKELY TO FOLLOW SUIT?

LATHA JISHNU

Latin America never fails to surprise. Its unfettered cultural verve, its political poets and working class heroes who invest their democracies with extraordinary dynamism are part of the constantly evolving political ethos of the region. That is something the world is more or less familiar with; less known is its radical attempts to redefine intellectual property rights (IPRs) in a more humane framework.

First, it was Brazil which showed the way under Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva, the charismatic trade unionist who is now about to end a path-breaking two-term innings as president. Lula has done much to spur new thinking on the inequitable IP regime in pharmaceuticals by talking on the fearsome patent warlords in his determination to ensure that the country's fundamental right to health was not jeopardised by the high cost of life-saving drugs. He did this by an adroit mixture of threats to use compulsory licences (CLs), the flexibility offered under the World Trade Organisation's TRIPs agreement and by actually issuing one. Nothing has had a more salutary effect on drug pricing than the Lula strategy.

That strategy is being taken up by other players in Latin American — and in even more radical ways. Last October, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa signed a decree that would allow the country to issue CLs to ensure access to affordable medicines. In that decree, Correa declared access to essential medicines as a public right, basing his decision on Article 31 of the TRIPs Agreement and the Ecuadorean Constitution.

Depending on which side of the IP divide you view the decree from, Correa can emerge as either crazy or a daring politician. Who exactly is Correa and what prompted him to issue this amazing decree? One of the more interesting facts about Rafael Correa is that he is an economist — and an economist with a doctorate from a Belgian university. His doctoral thesis was focused on the consequences of orthodox, market-based reforms and how these have increased inequality in Latin America by hampering its development.

Correa, a man who pulled himself up by bootstraps, is keenly aware of the poverty of his countrymen and is even keener to ensure that the fundamental right to health and medicines is not blocked by an incomplete understanding of global IPR systems. Correa, as he makes it clear, is only using the flexibilities available in the WTO rules. Two weeks ago, on April 14, after ensuring that all laws were in place, Ecuador issued the first CL for Ritonavir, an antiretroviral drug used to combat HIV/AIDS to a local company, Eskegroup. Interestingly, Eskegroup is the local distributor for Cipla, the stormy petrel of India's generic drugs industry.

This is the first CL and more are expected in coming days as Ecuador tries to cut the cost of its soaring health care bill. Analysts say the Ecuador example could be widespread across Latin America once the savings in health care costs are toted up. CLs can be granted on grounds of public interest, in case of emergencies or to meet national security, and is applicable in the following cases: when a patent has not been worked for three years, for reasons of public interest, emergency or national security and for reasons of competition.

Cut to India, where the mere mention of CLs makes the authorities markedly nervous. Despite repeated demands from health policy experts and activists, the government has set its face against establishing a committee to examine the issue of CLs. Instead, it thinks a committee to negotiate prices with patent-holders is a better bet, although all evidence points to the contrary. However, a recent move by the Patent Office asking patent-holders and licensees to furnish information on whether their patents were being worked has set off ripples of speculation if India is re-examining the issues of CLs. The rumbles so far have emanated from patent attorneys in the pay of drug giants.

The speculation has arisen in the wake of the December 24, 2009 move, reminding patentees and licensees to file the mandatory form on the working of their patents. They have to furnish details of the patent's commercial use in India after the third year of the grant of patent. Commercial working of patents in India is a mandatory requirement. If not, the patent could be taken up for compulsory licensing or could even be revoked.

But is India ready to bite the bullet on CLs? It seems unlikely given the widely prevalent notion in government that CLs can be issued only in the case of national emergencies, although the law clearly states that patents should not impede the protection of public health or in any way prohibit the Central government from taking measures to protect public health. Besides, medicines have to be made available at affordable rates under the law.

With the deadline for filing the information having ended on March 31, all attention is now centred on what the Patent Office will reveal in coming days.

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

EMITTING TROUBLE

CUTTING EMISSIONS BEYOND 2020 IS TOUGH; LAND AND WATER NEEDS WILL CREATE SOCIAL TURMOIL

CHANDRA BHUSHAN

The last two years have seen a flurry of reports projecting India's long-term greenhouse gas emissions trajectory. Most of the reports talk of the huge emissions-saving potential in all sectors of the Indian economy, and the ease with which we can avoid emissions — some on our own and some with financial help from the developed world through emissions trading. But is the task of reducing emissions in India so simple?

A look at the six most emissions-intensive industrial sectors — steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers, paper and power, which account for over 60 per cent of India's CO2 emissions — shows many of them are actually operating at global best levels.

 India's cement industry is one of the most efficient globally due to its use of modern technologies and blending materials (flyash and slag). Urea plants, especially gas-based ones, are today defining global-best practices. Eighty per cent of the aluminium industry is already using global best smelting technology; the remaining are converting as they cannot compete due to high energy costs.

India's coal-based thermal power plants are more efficient than the global average. The country's biggest power utility, NTPC, operates at 33 per cent efficiency, one of the highest in the world given the sub-critical technology and poor quality coal the company uses. Of course, efficiencies would rise by installing supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants, but India's poor coal quality and high temperature and humidity will always impede efficiency gains.

The sectors that are lagging behind, and will in future lag behind, are steel and paper. This is largely because of raw material and fuel constraints and the characteristics of the industries themselves.

Steel production is moving towards the coal-based sponge iron route because of non-availability of coking coal; by 2030, 60 per cent of steel will be made from sponge iron which is energy-inefficient and polluting, and has lower potential to improve efficiency. The developed world reduced the emissions-intensity of steel by using scrap. We don't have that luxury. The technology choice we are making — coal-based sponge iron — means steel production will remain emissions-intensive even if we use all known and available technologies.

The paper sector is hamstrung by problems of small size, multiplicity of raw materials, technological obsolescence and multi-product nature of plants. The saving grace (so-called) is the decisive shift in raw material — instead of wood, bamboo and agro-residues, more paper in India will be produced from wastepaper and market pulp. This will reduce the emissions intensity significantly. But this is akin to outsourcing emissions. The tragedy is, India's paper industry can become carbon-neutral by sequestering carbon through its social and farm forestry (ITC claims to be a carbon-neutral company), but it seems that the sector would rather import wastepaper and market pulp than work with farmers to raise wood.

Considering the present performance of these emissions-intensive sectors, the view that India's rising greenhouse gas emissions are due to inefficient industry and power sectors is completely off the mark. But the larger question is the technological future for these sectors. How much more emissions-reduction can be achieved by improving technology and management practices?

Carbon-constrained growth path

An 8 per cent GDP growth rate for the next 20 years means production in all sectors, other than fertilisers (urea), will grow four-five fold. Steel production is likely to reach 300 million tonnes in 2030 compared to 60 million tonnes today; production of cement will rise from 181 million tonnes now to 922 million tonnes, while power from utilities will jump to about 3,200 terawatt-hours (TWh) compared to 750 TWh now.

Energy price is a big driver of change, especially in India where industrial energy cost is one of the highest in the world. In the normal course, Indian industry will adopt energy-efficient technologies; this is already apparent in all sectors. By 2020, other than power, most sectors in India will operate at best available technique (BAT) levels or what can be practically achieved, considering the characteristics of the industry. In the power sector, everything will depend on how ambitious we are in deploying low carbon/renewable technologies. Cost would be the major factor, as high-end renewable technologies like solar are very expensive today.

Reducing emissions after 2020 will be a challenge. By 2020, India will exhaust all "low-hanging" options as well as high-end commercialised technologies. Post-2020, new, high-cost and not-yet-commercially-available technologies will be required to reduce emissions significantly. India's voluntary commitment to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP (excluding the agriculture sector) by 20-25 per cent by 2020 in comparison to the 2005 level, assumes a new significance.

The 2020 commitment is easy to meet. It will cost, but not enough to be left undoable. The tough part begins after 2020, when the emissions intensity of the sectors starts to stagnate once we cross the current emissions-efficiency-technology threshold. The options are either to change the energy source (from coal to renewables) or develop new revolutionary technologies. Both are theoretical as of now. By 2030, even if India installs 100,000 Mw of solar energy (none of this exists today), 90,000 Mw of onshore and offshore wind energy (only 11,000 Mw of onshore wind energy currently exists), 50,000 Mw of biomass power (1,800 Mw currently), 100,000 Mw of hydropower (38,000 Mw at present), 30,000 Mw of nuclear power (4,500 Mw currently) and 50,000 Mw of gas-based power (18,000 Mw now), coal will still have to provide close to 60 per cent of the total power generation. After all this, we will still not be able to substantially reduce our dependence on coal. India also faces the challenge to provide affordable power to a huge number of people who are still not connected to the grid. The bottom line, therefore, is that reducing emissions in an 8 per cent growth trajectory post-2020 is going to be tough. This message must go out loud and clear to the developed world, which thinks it can "buy" its way out of the climate crisis by reducing emissions in developing countries. It is for this reason that India must not give up on its demand for an equity-based global agreement on climate change.

Climate change won't be the only obstacle to India's growth prospects; water and land have an almost equal potential to derail things.

Water
Freshwater withdrawal today by steel, cement, aluminium, fertiliser, paper and power sectors is equivalent to the total domestic water demand (around 42 billion cubic metres per annum). Freshwater consumption (water that is lost through evaporation, products and wastes in industries) equals the total drinking and cooking water needs of India (5.6 billion cubic metres per annum). The difference between freshwater withdrawal and consumption is the wastewater discharged by industries, which pollutes our rivers, lakes and groundwater.

By 2030, freshwater withdrawal by these six sectors will increase by 40 per cent and freshwater consumption by more than three-fold. A three-fold increase in consumption means less water will be available downstream for other users. There is already a growing conflict between industry and local communities on water scarcity and pollution. This will exacerbate in future.

Land
Currently, around 0.7 million hectares (ha) of land are occupied by these six sectors — 0.4 million ha to mine coal, iron ore, limestone and bauxite, and 0.3 million ha for the plants. In an 8 per cent growth trajectory, another 1-1.3 million ha will be required by these six sectors — which means the amount of land needed in the next 20 years will be far higher than what they have acquired in last 60 years. It is important to understand that India has an adverse land-population ratio (per capita land availability is a mere 0.25 ha), and acquiring land for industrial and mining projects is a major cause of conflict. Land is already a major resource constraint in the present economic model, and this would worsen unless ways of "inclusiveness" are devised in which local communities benefit proportionally.

India has always faced what may be called "the challenge of the balance": just growth, or growth that is "just" to the people and the environment. The "old" challenge of natural resource management still remains; we now have a "new" challenge of climate change. The future growth story of India depends on how we address both.

The author is associate director, Centre for Science and Environment. He is the author of Challenge of the new balance, which analyses low carbon growth options for the six most emissions-intensive sectors and their land, water and resource requirements.

Cutting emissions beyond 2020 is tough; land and water needs will create social turmoil

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

IPL NEEDS 'FIT AND PROPER PERSONS' TEST

KANIKA DATTA

When it started, Lalit Modi said the Indian Premier League (IPL) was supposedly modelled on the hugely successful English Premier League (EPL), which began in 1992 and has emerged as one of the world's most popular and richest sporting events. Actually, there are significant differences between the two in terms of structure and format that could partly explain why the cricketing version is so convulsed in controversy within three years of starting. This is not to say that EPL hasn't had its share of disputes, but nothing on the IPL scale, involving senior ministers or attracting the attention of the income tax authorities.

The divergence begins with ownership structure. EPL is a corporation owned by the country's top-20 clubs that participate in the 10-month-long tournament on a promotion and relegation basis. Shareholding, thus, is driven by meritocracy. Each season, the bottom three clubs drop out and relinquish their shareholding to three clubs that top the lower league, losing access to lucrative broadcasting and other revenues. Meanwhile, the top-six clubs in EPL qualify for different, and equally profitable, European competitions. All the participating clubs have a say in the way the tournament is run and administered.

On the other hand, IPL is owned by the powerful and cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and is a one-way street. It leases out team franchises that parties have to bid for, a critical difference with EPL in terms of the balance of power between participating teams and tournament administration. This not only opens the door for corruption and opacity as it appears to have, it also gives the money-making aspect of the tournament precedence over meritocracy, which is surely the very basis of any sporting event.

This is already blatantly evident in the tiresome TV commercials that machine-gun a viewer every second and excessive on-field branding, all of which make EPL almost look like a poor cousin. Also, IPL is played among a closed group of the same teams that earn a fixed share of the pooled revenues which is only partially linked to the previous year's performance. For fans, this scarcely matters, but surely this amounts to creating a protected monopoly, since the entry of additional teams is, again, dictated by the IPL administration.

Obviously, it is difficult for IPL to replicate the EPL format. In the latter, teams that are relegated don't vanish; they continue to play in the lower leagues that are administered by the English Football Association (which is, by the way, a "special shareholder" in EPL with veto rights over the appointment of top executives and rule changes).

This, however, is the key issue with IPL that people so dazzled with its monetary success have overlooked. Because it is so unique in its "privatised" structure, IPL operates in a niche within the larger cricketing universe. Unlike EPL, which competes with similar leagues in Spain, Germany, Italy, France and so on for players, owners, fans, viewership and even managers, IPL has no competitors. It is a global monopoly and, in fact, has been allowed to be one.

Within India, BCCI, the body that is supposed to promote the game in the country, annihilated Subhash Chandra's competing Indian Cricket League by effectively barring contestants from playing for the national team. Nor has it cared to promote the scores of lower-level club competitions that could have provided ballast for IPL. The irony is that in imaginatively combating a national monopsony, IPL has created a privatised monopsony.

This explains the impunity with which IPL has been able to get away with opaque rules of franchise ownership and so on. True, it is not as though EPL clubs have entirely desirable ownerships. There is Roman Abramovich, a Russian tycoon with questionable sources of wealth, who bought London club Chelsea, Mohammad Al Fayed, the Egyptian owner of Harrod's whom Egyptians prefer to repudiate, who bought Fulham, Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former prime minister who stands accused of all manner of corruption, who bought and then sold his stake in Manchester City.

But whatever their provenance, fans know who own their clubs. In IPL, this is increasingly coming under question and putting the tournament in disrepute. Also, unlike IPL, EPL directors stand to be disqualified if they hold shares in EPL clubs.

IPL stresses financial criteria (bank guarantees and so on) for potential owners. In 2004, EPL introduced the "fit and proper persons test" or FPPT to club ownership criteria to ensure that, among other things, owners were not guilty of criminal offences, were not involved in running another Premier League clubs and were not involved with insolvent companies. It was under the FPPT rules, for instance, that Shinawatra sold his stake in Manchester City after his wife was found guilty of tax evasion. In IPL, since nobody's even sure who owns what, the question of FPPT does not arise.

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE G-20, POWER, AND IDEAS

THE DISPERSION OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC POWER AUGURS WELL FOR THE ROLE OF IDEAS IN POLICY-MAKING

ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN

The wobbly West and the rising rest. That is now the context to all gatherings of the world's economic policy-makers. The monopoly on power and influence wielded by the hegemon (the United States) and by the other advanced economies is being broken for real and for good. Key decisions will emanate less from conversations amongst a few and more from a wider group. It is difficult to predict whether the theatre of real action will be the G-20 or some other collectivity. But we can be increasingly sure that the "halcyon" days of the G-1 or the G-7 are behind us.

This makes for both bad news and good news. The dispersion of power will probably make international cooperation more difficult to secure, except perhaps in times of crises as we recently witnessed. More countries having a say means more countries having the right to say no. As more vetoes are exercised, efficient and expeditious decision-making at the global level could prove elusive.

 But the unambiguously good news is the impact of the de-monopolisation or de-cartelisation of power and influence on the role of ideas. In the international economic sphere, especially in relations between the West and the rest, power and ideas have interacted in two ways in the past.

In some cases, monopoly power or rather the power monopoly has simply overridden ideas. The best example relates to the intellectual property (IP) negotiations in the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations (TRIPs). Then, developing countries, especially the poorest amongst them, had the compelling intellectual case that stronger rules on IP were not in their interest: up to first order, TRIPs was a rent-transfer mechanism from consumers in poor countries to pharmaceutical companies in the rich world. But the combined commercial might of the United States, Europe, Japan and Switzerland overwhelmed the developing country case.

That economic power can affect policy and rules is far from new. The really troubling aspect to the TRIPs saga was the intellectual complicity of the World Bank, especially the deafening silence of its research department. At a time when AIDS was ravaging Africa, and TRIPs was threatening to impede access to HIV-related drugs, the World Bank remained a silent spectator, failing to make a clear and unequivocal case about TRIPs' adverse impact.

We will never know whether the intellectual leaders at the World Bank during the TRIPs saga (circa 1990-2003) attempted to speak up but were muzzled by the Bank's political masters (the power monopolists) or did not even attempt to speak up, imposing self-censorship, in anticipation of the likely political response (We can rule out the third possibility that they did not see the underlying merits of the developing country argument as that would have been incompetence). Regardless, this intellectual blight on the World Bank's record illustrates the ability of power to muzzle good ideas.

A second type of relationship between power and ideas is more subtle. Those who have power work to promote a belief system that will ensure the perpetuation of power. Power influences ideas and absolute power ensures that self-serving ideas stamp out all others. One example of this, of course, relates to the finance fetish, domestic and foreign. The links between Wall Street and academia rocket scientists tempted by the lure of astronomical compensation and the funding by Wall Street of universities in general and finance programmes in business schools in particular, helped play a role in ensuring that there was enough supply of intellectuals who promoted the veneration of domestic and foreign finance. Intellectuals too have a price, and for Wall Street this cost has been chump change.

Thus, Simon Johnson's energetic call for breaking up the large financial houses in his engaging and feisty book 13 Bankers is as much aimed at attenuating the link from economic power to political power as from economic power to idea power (or, in the case of those doing God's work, from economic power to spiritual power).

In short, as power gets dispersed, the hold of power over ideas gets weakened. Good ideas have a better chance of getting a hearing and bad ones face a greater threat of being flushed out. Can these propositions be validated or falsified in the near future? The fate of two bad ideas (there are several others) could serve as a testing ground for the proposition that the G-20 might be better for the marketplace of ideas than the G-7.

Idea 1. The leadership of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank must be a monopoly of the wobbly West. If and when Dominique Strauss-Kahn returns to seek political office in France, there will be a vacancy to fill at the IMF. A class of moderate opinion is lobbying for selection of the IMF's managing director position based on merit without regard to nationality. We must be clear. The selection of a meritorious European simply will not do. There will be no way of distinguishing whether this choice reflected new merit-based procedures or cynical perpetuation of the old. To avoid all doubt, to be more chaste than Caesar's wife, the process must deliver a non-European this time around. Over time, as the process is placed beyond reproach, the focus can be on the process rather than on the outcome.

Idea 2. Completing the Doha Round is indispensable to the credibility of the WTO and the health of the world economy. It is clear to most that the pursuit of Doha recalls the Mallory motive for scaling the Everest: because it has been around (and for a long time). Yet, there is collective public denial on this. The most pressing issues in the trading system are not within the scope of the Doha Round as Aaditya Mattoo of the World Bank and I argued last year in a piece in Foreign Affairs. Addressing these issues expeditiously must be the goal. The immediate and public debate to be had is on whether getting there quickly requires finishing the Doha Round and harvesting the modest gains it offers, burying it with the appropriate diplomatic rites, or creatively re-packaging it.

So, as the road show that is the G-20 moves on, it is time not just to celebrate the economic rise of emerging markets but also to be hopeful about ideas being unshackled from power and hence gaining their rightful role.

The author is senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A LESSON IN CLASSICAL MUSIC

 

Three years ago, Joshua Bell, one of the best classical musicians in the world, walked into a busy Washington metro subway station in jeans, T-shirt and a baseball cap, and started playing his violin just like any street musician. In the next 45 minutes, Bell performed some of the best compositions ever written. Free for all. Yet, there was hardly a listener.


More than a thousand people passed by and just seven stopped to listen. And only one person identified Bell who collected $32.17 for the performance. Just three days earlier, he had a full-house show at Boston Symphony Hall where a decent seat went for $100. The metro stunt when some of the best music fell on nobody's ear was initiated by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten who used it to join the classic debate on beauty and highlight the frenetic pace of modern life. He got a Pulitzer for his article.

It could have happened anywhere. The response would not have been much different in Delhi or Mumbai. In fact, almost 20 years before Bell's metro performance, rock star Bruce Springsteen once joined a street musician in Copenhagen to play a song. Not many people noticed him. How come? It's not that people are not interested in music. Some of those who passed by, completely ignoring Bell, may have been his fans. The US is, after all, the largest market for music, be it classical, rock, rap or live performance. Yet, that day, the superstar violinist was royally ignored. It's not just life at the speed of light. People were busy, and in a hurry. In the video — it's there on YouTube and the Washington Post website — one can see people strolling by without even noticing the musician.


In fact,there was a fairly long queue in front of a lottery machine in the station. People had to wait 5-10 minutes for their turn. It might have been the most inactive 10 minutes of their day, yet nobody in the queue had time for a street musician. They would rather listen to Joshua Bell on their iPod! Or talk on their phone or chew on their nails. Everybody was preoccupied. With the business of their lives; with hundreds of small and big tensions that make up their lives. From meeting an official deadline to picking up a child from day care to booking a holiday to whatever, everybody is engrossed in their private tensions, their private lives, their private worlds.

Joshua Bell was alone in public world. And his music — loud and clear and beautiful — was there for everybody, to share and enjoy. Yet, very few got it. The problem is with the system. It forces people to be on their own, to fend for themselves.It encourages selfishness and calls it competitiveness. It forces people to scramble for their lives and calls it fairp lay.The challenge is to amass maximum wealth.


Nobody is spared. Everybody is in a Formula One car, racing with everybody else. You are either a winner or a loser. Either way, you are alone, in your private, air-tight world. It's inhuman, yet this lifestyle was the most sought-after; at least then. It was 2007, before the financial crisis rocked the world. Every country wanted to be the US. Every people aspired for the American way of life — a lifestyle then-president George Bush would not yet compromise. And those people who walked through some of the best music with their ears shut are supposed to be among the luckiest, living the rest-of-the-world's dream.


What is it that makes capitalism at the same time inhuman and romanticised? Why it is not challenged? Where are the world's social philosophers? Why are their voices subdued? Capitalism may or may not be the best system-but it is effective. And it's selfish,like its successful practitioners. Any person or idea that challenges it is labelled 'communist' or 'loser' or 'unrealistic' or whatever- a nono zone for the smart and the hip.

Things could be changing though, however slightly. After the global crisis that felled once-deemed-invincible institutions such as Lehman Brothers and General Motors and forced a change in the American gas-guzzler way of life, there are more talks and action on sustainable growth, clean technology and regulated markets.


They point to a less selfish, more human system. There is no evidence that these changes and the saner voice of President Barack Obama have made Americans slow down a bit and keep their eyes and ears more open to the world around. Perhaps it's time Joshua Bell repeated his metro performance.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

REVENUE IMPLICATIONS OF GST

 

It is almost certain that the goods and services tax (GST) will be levied from April 1, 2011. Frantic efforts are being made by both the central and the state governments to arrive at a consensus for a rational structure of the tax. The Centre is keen on a single rate with a wider coverage of GST. The GST base would include some of the taxes in the state list. This proposal has not found favour with the states. Another issue hampering the fast-track consensus is related to the revenueneutral rate (RNR), the rate that should entail no revenue loss for both the tiers of the government.


The Constitution emphasises the role of the Centre in redistribution and assigned most of the buoyant sources of tax revenue to the Centre. This has resulted in a tax system where the Centre collects 68% of the revenue, with the remaining revenue as states' share. Given this bias in the allocation of income-elastic resources to the Centre, further transfer of resources to the Centre will not be based on the tenets of sound federal finance.

While it is ideal to have a single GST rate, a review of GST around the world indicates that many countries have two rate categories. In a democratic set-up, it is difficult to have just one rate, especially if the rate is high enough to affect the aam aadmi. In some countries, such as Canada, where there is only one rate, the rate is just 5% and the income-tax department sends refunds for the tax that a poor person pays on account of the GST levied on his purchases.


For revenue reasons, it is not possible for India to have a low rate of GST. One cannot even visualise an effective coordination between the GST and the income-tax departments to give a refund of GST to people below the poverty line. Therefore, it is advisable that the GST should have two rate categories: 4% on a select necessities and a standard rate of 8% on all other goods and services. The standard rate could be the RNR. In fact, this standard rate has been discussed on the sidelines of various meetings of the empowered committee. Projections of revenue from GST for the period of award of the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) indicate that the states need not have a major concern regarding the loss of revenue under the GST regime.


Estimation of GST revenue is, however, fraught with limitations in the availability of data that further puts a constraint on the methodology to be used for estimating revenue (GST in India: Structure, Administration, and Revenue Implications). Therefore, based on the availability of data, three approaches — revenue approach, turnover approach and the consumption approach — are used to estimate revenue from GST. Further, the revenue approach could follow three methods: growth rate method, buoyancy method and tax-GDP ratio method. While the first two methods are used to estimate resources accruing from the central taxes, the tax-GSDP method is used for estimating the revenue from state taxes.


Following the above approaches, the FPEPR has made estimates of revenue for the TFC (http://fincomindia.nic.in) based on the current rates of cenvat and service tax, and the present base of state VAT and related taxes. In doing so, the study uses the turnover approach (for goods) and consumption approach (for services), for estimating revenue from CGST and the revenue approach (tax-GSDP ratio) for goods and consumption approach (for services) for SGST.


The revenue estimates for CGST and SGST indicate that the revenue would almost be the same in 2010-11. The projected revenue for the later years also shows a similar trend. In fact, the yield from SGST is a little higher than the level of the current projected revenue for all the major states. The situation is similar for the other special category states.

Here, it is important to note that in estimating this revenue, it is assumed that the structure of the Indian economy during 2010-11 to 2014-15 would be stable. The economy is expected to grow at a faster rate as compared to 6-7% per annum in the past. It is also expected that the proposed GST will have better tax compliance, improved transparency and greater mobilisation due to scientific risk management policies adopted by the states.

 

It is also envisaged that greater integration of the Indian economy with the world economy would make an impact on the overall trends in the tax revenue. Further, the integration of the Indian economy coupled with development of the economy will result in a change in the basket of GDP and composition of consumption.

The above RNR — with a low rate for a small list of necessities — and the tax base of GST will not lead to a major change in the basic structure of allocation of resources between the Centre and the states. The states would still continue to collect 32% of the revenue that they are collecting today. Also, the regulatory taxes — such as motor vehicles tax and state excise — and taxes on income and property — such as stamp duty and registration fee — assigned to them by the Constitution would continue to be with them, giving them the leeway for mobilising the much-needed resources in times of necessity.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SLAP-UP SOLUTIONS

 

People watching the current political shenanigans in India cannot be faulted for wondering whether a well-directed smack or two would not be well-deserved. Good thing that we belong to a largely tumultuous Asia then, and not increasingly-regulated Europe that would take a dim view of our violent thoughts.


Britain's resolute stand (so far) against outlawing parents chastising their children with a well-directed smack on the bottom has earned the ire of Council of Europe. Parents reprimanding their children has been practically likened to blood-thirsty medieval practices such as bear-baiting and witch-burning and is sought to be banned on human rights grounds. The handful of countries holding out against a complete ban on parenting practices based on 'authority' — even if they are not diehard advocates of the 'spare the rod and spoil the child' axiom — are, therefore, seen as the modern-day equivalents of the marauding Barbarians, with harried mothers and fathers cast as the modern avatars of Attila the Hun, if not the vicious Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays.

It's a no-win situation — if parents say they are prosmacking, images of Dalmatian puppies cowering before a cane-wielding Cruella De Ville come to mind; if parents say they are anti-smacking, it seem they favour raising uncontrollable, indisciplined brats. Parents on the horns of this dilemma should look to the animal kingdom for inspiration.

Blissfully unaware of such existential debates, fourlegged creatures are not averse to a thwack or two when their young get out of hand. Nor does either side seem to emerge scarred for life. If this simple device (coupled with the honing of survival skills) can lead to a well-run jungle, the lesson to be learnt is obvious. Not letting parents have even a small degree of autonomy at home among their offspring smacks of highhandedness!

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A WELCOME MOVE

 

The insurance watchdog did the right thing, asking life insurers to disclose the commission paid to agents selling unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips). This is a logical step after the cap on Ulip charges. The move will bring in more transparency, discourage mis-selling of Ulips and help investors take informed decisions.


The disclosure on commissions will also blunt the sting in the spat between the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) and market regulator Sebi over Ulips. Mutual funds that Ulips compete with launched a vehement attack on insurers for charging hefty upfront commissions to drive Ulip sales. Irda has, therefore, been forced to tighten regulation.


True, in an under-insured country like India, there has to be an incentive to market insurance products. However, a commission as high as 40% of the premium on insurance covers defies logic. Insurance companies should lower commissions and eventually transit to a fee-based model. A government committee on investor awareness has recommended a fee-based model for all financial products. The suggestion would allow an investor to negotiate charges directly with the agent. Ideally, this is the way a financial product like Ulip should be sold.


An agent who offers a service to the investor should charge a fee that is mutually agreed upon, and not solely fixed by the seller of the financial product. Sure, this would make the task of agents more difficult. But they should reconcile to that correction. Sebi has already shown the way. It scrapped entry loads on mutual funds, paving the way for investors to negotiate charges directly with distributors.


The pension fund regulator has gone a step further and adopted a load-free model. However, such a model runs the risk of slow offtake. Fees are in order. Investors need choice and better disclosures in financial products to take informed decisions. In a country where many do not understand the difference between term insurance and investment-linked insurance, the regulator should go all out to enhance disclosure that would serve to raise the level of financial literacy as well.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

PIGS DON'T FLY!

 

There are two reasons to believe Standard & Poor's rating downgrade — the agency cut Greece's rating to junk and lowered Portugal two notches — will not have a long-lasting effect on the global economy. The markets have already factored in the fiscal ills of two of the EU's weakest economies. Indeed, going by the data emanating from the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), this is only the first of the downgrades that are likely in the coming months.


Further, it is doubtful the EU and the IMF will stand by idly if, as some doomsayers apprehend, fear turns to panic. To be sure, when rating agencies finally play catch up with the market and what is de-facto becomes de-jure, markets do wobble, as seen by the way stocks, bonds, crude oil and commodities tumbled on Tuesday on news of the downgrade. But it would be naïve to attribute more power than warranted to sorely discredited rating agencies.


The reality is the four PIGS, once lionised for their tearing growth are all in trouble, to a lesser or a greater extent. Thanks to a spending binge during the good times that failed to provide for a rainy day, when the downturn came in 2008, they had no cushion to fall back on. This, despite the fact that, unlike the US and the UK, their banking systems are in relatively good shape! Spain, in particular, was widely feted for conservative regulation that saw its banks emerge relatively unscathed from the crisis that laid many of its US counterparts low.

In the event, the need for fiscal stimulus to keep their economies above water saw a huge explosion in sovereign debt. Simultaneously, the common currency denied them recourse to devaluation. The net result, especially in the case of Greece, has been punishing margins on their debt, as investors, wary of default, demanded their pound of flesh.


It did not help that Germany, the euro zone's strongest economy, has been unwilling to pick up the tab for its more irresponsible brethren. Understandably so! However, it cannot remain aloof if troubles mount. Even so, it is also doubtful if this is the last of the tremors from the 2008 financial crisis.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A SINGER OF DIVINE TUNES

VITHALC NADKARNI

 

In his Journal of Disquiet, Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa confesses that he "cultivated hatred of action like a greenhouse flower". That is because he was never convinced of what he believed in. "I filled my hands with sand, called it gold," he wrote, "and opened them up to let it slide through. Words were my only truth. When the right words were said, all was done; the rest of the sand that had always been."


Pessoa was also haunted by the feeling that any book he imagined he could write would always be an imperfect shadow of the vision shimmering in his mind. But for all his aversion to the active mode of life, he would not give up.


For most of his life, Pessoa laboured in secret on this constantly-changing book, a book of fragments and scraps, a record of his uneventful, non-existent life, a 'factless autobiography', a book about the impossibility of writing the book of his dreams and imagination.


By the time of his death at the age of 47, the poet had left behind alifetime of unpublished and unfinished work, some 25,000 pages that have been housed in the Portuguese National Library. Although a couple of volumes have been published, the monumental work of editing his entire pile of manuscripts is still in progress.


In retrospect, Pessoa's stoic effort may seem akin to the goalless diligence extolled in the Bhagavad Gita. That might also explain why some friends described the poet as a virtuoso of pre-Christian innocence, a Dionysian singer of oceanic melodies who could also be called a Portuguese teacher of Zen.


The poet himself was far more circumspect about accepting labels. One of his constant preoccupations, as part of his dichotomous character, was that of his own identity: he claimed not to know who he was, or rather, he felt he had failed at achieving the ideal identity he hankered after.


Wanting to be everything and inevitably failing, despite having taken recourse to scores of pseudonyms, Pessoa was ultimately forced to throw up his hands in surrender. "All else is up to God," the poet exclaimed (Tudo o mais é com Deus!); all beginnings are involuntary (Todo começo é involuntário)."


Such a doer forms attachments nowhere, says Sri Krishna to Arjuna. He neither exults when an auspicious event befalls him, nor does he mourn an inauspicious happening. Restraining his senses like a tortoise taking in his limbs, he remains absorbed in the universal.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROBLEM ARISES WHEN AGENCIES BECOME PAWN IN POLITICANS' HANDS

 

There is no incompatibility between phone tapping and democracy as long as it is legally authorised. The authorisation should be against a specified individual and for a specified period. However, in recent years, criminal and anti-national elements have started using third parties' facilities, with or without their knowledge, for communication. The mushrooming of public telephone booths and cyber cafes has made the task of detecting them more difficult.


Under the present laws, the agencies have to seek fresh authorisation for intercepting the communications of third parties, public telephone booths and cyber cafes, which can be time consuming. Any delay can sometime frustrate the very purpose of interception. The agencies need capability and authorisation for detecting and identifying criminal and anti-national elements.


This might call for random, but not indiscriminate, monitoring of communications that could result in the interception of messages having a bearing on serious crimes, terrorism, narcotics smuggling, espionage and so on. In India too, after 9/11, there has been a mushrooming of technical intelligence capabilities in different government agencies. But the risk is obvious. The use of random sweeps can be made to collect information that has no relevance to crime and terrorism, but provides vital information for the ruling party for use against its opponents.


But the real issue is not about the principle of tapping; it is about the motives behind it. The problem becomes more serious when the men at the helm of these agencies are only too willing to do their political masters' bidding. A few of them have themselves become major players in the political power game.


The fact is that no action was taken on the revelation by a senior retired IB officer MK Dhar in his book that agencies even bugged the office of the then prime minister Chandra Shekhar in 1991, apparently, to curry favour with the party that was more likely to come to power at that time.


It would not be correct to put too many restrictions that make the collection of intelligence an impossible task in the name of democratic rights. No right can be absolute. The terrorists and the crime mafias violate the most basic human right of other citizens: the right to life. And they cannot be allowed to go about their activities without fear of any legal punishment.


At the same time, there can be absolutely no justification for snooping on political leaders for partisan ends. There is sanctity attached to the fundamental rights of a citizen enshrined in our Constitution, and anyone violating them to please his or her political masters should be immediately and severely punished and not rewarded as generally believed to be the case. This is the key.


Obviously, we need a balanced approach that takes into account the needs of national security without compromising on the fundamental rights. Unfortunately, the attitude of successive governments towards this very important issue does not inspire much confidence. It is not surprising that after every change of government, a new and more 'loyal' officer is appointed to head the IB and the more loyal ones are handsomely rewarded for the services rendered by them to the ruling party.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CANNOT REJECT PRIVACY COMPLETELY OF EVEN THOSE IN PUBLIC LIFE

 

Taking Aristotle's distinction between the public sphere of politics and the private sphere of intimacy as their referral, political theorists and human rights lawyers have strongly defended the right to privacy, for very good reasons.

One, individuals are rational beings who are able to live their lives according to certain norms and principles. Therefore, they do not need to be supervised or regulated by any 'nanny-like' state. Two, liberals are rightly wary of the kind of power the modern state has a tendency to accumulate, and to abuse. Individuals have to be protected against unwarranted interference by the state. State power has to stop short at the threshold of our homes.

Three, as rational and responsible agents, we should be in a position to determine to what degree information about ourselves, our conversations, our personal decisions, our acts, and our intimate lives are made accessible to others. This is essential for human freedom and for human dignity. Otherwise most of us would live lives like the animals in a zoo; constantly under watch by gawking spectators and officials determined to supervise even our 'mating habits'.


But the concept of privacy has also been challenged by feminists who argue that it serves as a cover for all manners of domestic abuse. Since the private is expected to fall outside the provenance of the state, violence within the household has for long been seen as outside the jurisdiction of the law. With the law taking cognisance of domestic abuse, the world of the private has been opened up, somewhat.


Equally troublesome is the notion of the private when it comes to men and women who are in public affairs. And this precise issue lies at the heart of the phone tapping incident. Do public persons who are in a position of power have this right? After all the conversations, the negotiations, and the interpersonal interests of the powerful cannot but have an impact on the public interest.


Consider the case of a politician, who in a phone conversation discusses, perhaps inadvertently, vital information on economic policies with a close friend, who also happens to deal in stocks and shares. And now calculate how this intimate conversation can impact the lives of millions of people. Given this aspect of power, can we defend the right of public persons to privacy?


The distinction between the public and the private is contested, and privacy can be abused. Yet we cannot reject privacy completely, even for people who are in public life. The world of the private matters precisely because it protects individuals against state power, and because the state has no business monitoring people even if they happen to be in the parliamentary opposition.


The challenge is to find a way for the state agencies to take very seriously cases of abuses of privacy, without dissolving the somewhat fuzzy boundary between the public and the private. When needed, state surveillance has to be justified, carried out according to procedures, and the government made accountable to a responsible body. There must be very good reasons for violations of the right of privacy.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MALL REVOLUTION HAS BEEN A RESOUNDING SUCCESS

RAJEEV TALWAR


No: Mall revolution has been a resounding success in India, both in the context of growth in number of malls and profitability of these malls as well as in the broader context of enhancing the shopping experience of Indian consumer. Before looking at the growth of malls, let us focus on the experiential aspect of Mall revolution and reasons for its rise.


Malls entered India at a time when the consumer was getting increasingly frustrated with the shopping experience on a high-street. The consumers lapped up the convenience and comfort provided by malls right from ample covered parking space, centrally air-conditioned shopping ambience, multiple brands and options for entertainment and dining under same roof. For the first time, the consumer started perceiving shopping as leisure and pleasure activity rather than a chore. This willingness to spend more time shopping and exploring new options led to growth of new retail formats. It was truly a revolution.


The mall culture has been spurred along by the growth in the middle class population, rise in number of youngster in the age group of 18 to 35 as well as the rising purchasing potential of youth. The malls provided just the outlet for this segment. The multiplex & food revolution in this country has been led by malls in changing the way India spends its weekends. Almost 5,000 to 10,000 people visit a mall during weekend purely for recreation & food, besides shopping.


In terms of business growth, the tremendous growth in Indian retail sector can be attributed majorly to the revolution brought in by malls. With increasing number of malls & retail outlets, a retailer can achieve economies of scale quickly.


The arrival of global retail majors combined with their mega projects will further boost the development of shopping malls in the country. Clearly they will need additional retail space, which is not possible without the construction of more and more malls in the country. The real mall revolution, in fact, has just begun!

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MALL REVOLUTION HAS NOT BEEN A GRAND SUCCESS IN INDIA

RAGHAV GUPTA


YES: Let's begin with defining success. In the case of a shopping mall (and most other consumer facing businesses), I believe this lies at two levels — success at a customer value proposition level (end consumer and retailer/occupier), and then at a financial level for the mall developer. For the shopping mall revolution to be considered a grand success, one would want at least 50-60% of malls in the country to deliver on these two counts.

Now, let's look at the reality. Malls were hailed as one of the key growth drivers for the retail and entertainment sector in the country 5-7 years ago, as they provided a plug and play opportunity for retailers to expand footprint and promote consumption.


Today, there are an estimated 150 malls in India, and the sad reality is that only around 20-25 of these are successful. Malls like Select City Walk and Ambience in the NCR, Inorbit and High Street Phoenix in Mumbai, Forum in Kolkata, Garuda and Forum in Bangalore have done a phenomenal job of creating shopping and leisure destinations for consumers and retailers. They have even impacted traditional high streets such as South Ex., Greater Kailash-1 (M Block) in Delhi, and Commercial Street and Brigade Road in Bangalore amongst others. However, with fewer than 20% malls delivering on the customer and financial counts, one can clearly say that the mall revolution has not been a grand success in India.


Issues with malls exist at a mindset, planning (or lack of it), execution, as well as mall management level. Few developers realise that malls are a "retail" business that needs to be planned, managed and nurtured like one, and not just another piece of real estate to sell to the highest bidder at the soonest possible. Also, with rentals taking up a disproportionate share of revenues for a retailer (25-35% for a number of fashion retailers!), this is a broken economic model for the occupier, hence for the developer. Like in any other industry, understanding, partnering and servicing customers on a continual basis is the key to success for developers. Till this happens, a number of retailers will continue to refer to CAM (Common Area Maintenance charges) as SCAM!

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GUNNING FOR GOLDMAN

T T RAM MOHAN

 

Goldman Sachs is not the most popular firm in the world today. It has benefited from a government rescue, made tonnes of money through the recent crisis and handed out generous bonuses to bankers while millions lost their jobs.


So, there will be grim satisfaction at the Securities and Exchange Commission going after Goldman with allegations of securities fraud. Goldman had it coming, many will say. Whatever the outcome of this case, however, we need to address a fundamental issue: do we want full-scope investment banks at all?


The allegation against Goldman is that it sold packages of securities based on home mortgages to various investors without making several disclosures or making false disclosures. It did not disclose that the securities it was marketing and for which it earned a fee had been created by a client, Paulson and Co, which was betting against US home mortgages. It did not disclose that some of the securities in the package had been selected by Paulson and, instead, gave the impression that an independent agency had made the selection. It did not disclose that it was itself hedging its position on US home mortgages.


When the US home mortgage market blew up, Paulson and Co made $1 billion in profit on its position, IKB, a German bank that had bought the securities package, lost $150 million and Goldman lost $100 million (although the loss occurred because it failed to liquidate some of its positions).


Whether it can be proved that Goldman violated any laws is anybody's guess. If the matter eventually goes to court and Goldman loses, the market estimates the damage to Goldman at around $1 billion. That is not a crippling sum for a firm that announced $3.5 billion in profit for the last quarter.


Many believe that while Goldman can take financial damages in its stride, the damage to the firm's reputation will be lasting. Goldman's behaviour in not disclosing or not correctly disclosing Paulson's position on the securities may not have been illegal but it was unethical.


Really? Banks and investment banks act as intermediaries and market makers all the time without disclosing who the counterparty to a trade is. They themselves take positions — on equities, bonds, foreign exchange, etc — which they do not disclose to clients to whom they sell these products. If this is unethical behaviour, institutional investors should have stopped dealing with investment banks long back.


The issue here is one of conflicts of interest that lie at the heart of the full-scope investment bank. One conflict that came to the fore during the Internet bubble in 2001 was that between brokerage and investment banking. Analysts at investment banks produce research that creates brokerage income.


The same analysts also work with the merchant banking arm that raises funds in the market for companies. The question has been asked: can analysts be truly independent in the research reports they write on these companies?

The logical solution to this conflict of interest would be to ask investment banks to hive off research to an independent unit. But this has not happened despite the outcry over biased research in the 2001 crisis. All that came out of that crisis was a norm that analysts should not be paid bonuses from fees earned by the merchant banking arm. As any investment banker worth his salt knows, this is a norm that is impossible to enforce or police.

There are other conflicts of interest. Proprietary trading is a big source of income for investment banks. Traders get inputs from the same analysts who market stocks to outside investors.


Nobody has suggested that the investment bank should be disclosing its trading positions. Private equity can be in conflict with the mergers and acquisitions unit. Brokerage can be in conflict with asset management.


Goldman is said to derive huge benefits by embracing conflicts of interest. But such conflicts of interest can be ended only if we break up integrated investment banks.


Very few have taken the position that we should. Not clients who still see merit in dealing with Goldman. Nor most regulators and politicians.


All banks are seen as villains in the present crisis. But to claim that the recent financial crisis was driven by conflicts of interest in investment banking would be quite a stretch. The financial crisis involved banks that failed due to bad risk management. Goldman Sachs was not among the failures. It did a better job of risk management than others.


The short point is that regulatory reform cannot be driven by Goldman Sachs-envy. The regulatory failures lie elsewhere: excess leverage, liquidity risk, banks that are too big to fail, and concentration in banking and investment banking.

The Barack Obama administration wants to push through reforms that will address these issues. The banking industry is lobbying hard to defeat the reforms and the US administration is understandably annoyed. But it's hard to see how bashing Goldman Sachs will help matters.

 

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MY CONSCIENCE IS CLEAR: SHARAD PAWAR

ARATI R JERATH

 

The man in the eye of the IPL storm, Sharad Pawar, seemed unfazed by the controversy swirling around him. He told ToI that his years in public life have taught him not to take such attacks to heart when his conscience is clear. Excerpts:


You have been in the thick of the IPL controversy with allegations about your involvement in one of the failed franchise bids.

These are all a media creation. Explain the allegations to me and I will definitely reply. If there is nothing there, what can I say? I have faced such controversies many times in my life. I know they are far away from reality and truth. I know that if my conscience is clear, there is nothing to worry about.


This is the first time that your family has been dragged into controversy.

I know there is no truth in what is being reported. I asked my son-in-law (about the 10% sake in Multi Screen Media that owns the telecast rights to IPL matches). There is not a single share in his name. His father had taken a stake in the company many years ago before IPL. He is now 84-85 years old and was in a coma for five months. There was some dispute between him and other shareholders. He authorized his son to take care of the dispute and gave him a power of attorney. They were not shares of my son-in-law . I think a certain section of the media gets happiness from creating this type of news.


Were you hurt and upset by the attacks on you and your family?

I have experienced this type of attacks many times in my life. What is there to feel upset or hurt? I am in public life. I can understand that some people will try to create such type of news.


You are supposed to be Lalit Modi's mentor and it is said that he had the audacity to bypass the BCCI because he had Sharad Pawar's protection.

This is not true. I appointed him IPL commissioner when I was BCCI president . I believe in decentralization and gave him autonomy. I was in a supervisory role. But for the last two years, I am not with the BCCI. I have no say in the Board's activities.


They say that the attack on Modi was a proxy attack on you by the Congress because it wants to cut you to size.

Do you think I will feel disheartened by some gimmicks here and there? I only laugh. I have been in public life for 44 years without a break. I have been CM of my home state four times. I have been leader of opposition four times. I have been a minister in the union government and leader of the Congress party in Parliament. After reaching this stage, what are these pinpricks?


It is said that Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram asked you to distance yourself from Modi.

This is a total lie. We met in Pranab's chambers to discuss some issues about wheat stocks. It is a 100 percent lie that we discussed Modi.


Will the IPL survive with Modi's dynamism to drive it?

I am vice president of the ICC. I am not supposed to comment about activities of associated boards. At the same time, any product that the Indian cricket board has produced has been accepted globally. The product (IPL) and concept are popular so whether he (Modi) is there or not is not important.

 

But isn't IPL Modi's creation?

It was a collective effort. Modi popularized a new product. He has taken huge responsibilities and worked very hard. There are no two opinions about this. But the success of IPL is a team effort . I believe in a collective working system and that is what I encouraged when we started the IPL during my regime in the BCCI.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BHARTI IS THE ONLY OPERATOR WITH A FREE CASH FLOW: CEO

JOJI THOMAS PHILIP

 

Bharti Airtel's new CEO Sanjay Kapoor is not a worried man even as the relentless tariff war in India's over-crowded mobile market has led the telco posting its first profit fall in 12 quarters. In an exclusive interaction with ET's Joji Thomas Philip, Mr Kapoor shares his views on the road ahead for the nation's largest telco in terms of both customers and revenues. Excerpts:


This is the first time in three years that Bharti has posted a profit fall. You start your stint as Bharti Airtel CEO with this. What is your take on the performance of the company in the fourth quarter?

Our peak net profit, in the history of the company, was in the first quarter of the past financial year when we hit Rs 2,517 crore. But that was prior to the price war. If you look at the quarter ended March 2009, our profit was at Rs 2,239 crore, which is 8% more than our current net income for the three months ended March 2010. This net income decline has been caused by a one-off acquisition-related cost in Q4 of FY10 of about Rs 98 crore as well as the deferred tax effect of forex gains/losses of Rs 179 crore. But for these two items, the net income would have actually grown by 4%. We, therefore, don't see any fundamental shift on profitability, and this is why our EBIDTA margins for mobiles have remained in the same ballpark. Considering the hypercompetitive market, this is good job done. Our biggest endeavour was to increase our traffic share and get back the volumes. Earlier, we were not competing in that segment because we had not responded to the price war. But the moment we did that in Q3, and within a quarter, if we can show positive growth in revenues, cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark in sales, add 19.5 billion additional minutes to the network, plus 10 million new customers, it shows we are resilient - this is the first victory. We are the only operator with a free cash flow, which was over Rs 1,000 crore in Q4.


Your 'minutes factory' business model, where you have outsourced most operations, has served you well in the past. Going forward, what will Bharti do to reinvent its business model, especially in the current market scenario. How will you cut costs further? What is the future for Bharti Airtel in India?

Shared services will remain the core part of our strategy and this will remain our ethos to build a lean and mean organisation. Our existing business model has served us well, but it cannot be good for life. This model continues to be enhanced and redefined and we are in the process of doing both. This business model is now being extended from mobile to other parts of our businesses - telemedia, DTH and enterprise services. We are reconfiguring the SLAs, terms and deliverables with all our strategic partners on a continuous basis. We bring the learnings of the past phase in all the new contracts we sign with our partners. There are also so many areas in our organisation that are not covered, for instance, the transmission factory, and we have invited RFPs to outsource the rest of our fibre business. Again, areas like HR and financial services provide us with opportunities which we will unfurl as we move to the next phase of our journey.


After the series of price cuts, can tariffs go down further?

The current prices and rates in the market are not based on economics and are not sustainable for most of the operators, especially, the new ones. If there is further irrationality, then we cannot predict or comment on. But rationally, we don't think that a similar incident as that of last year will be repeated. There are still many other discounting schemes that are offered to customers. The moment there is consolidation in the sector, these free minutes that are currently being thrown away in desperation by certain operators will squeeze out. This will automatically result in rates going up. Right now, tariffs are being pulled down artificially.


Your mobile market share is down to 21.8% as of March 2010-end when compared with 24% a year ago, while market share of net additions fell to 14.8% in the three months ended March, the lowest over the past several years. Concerned?

Each of the operators employs a different standard for counting their customer base. For the newer operators, they are reporting only the gross numbers because for the introductory schemes they offer, the churn will reflect only after six months. But incumbent players are reporting their net subscriber additions. These figures are, therefore, academic in nature for us. We follow the most stringent norm - any customer who makes a minimum of one call/month is not reflected in our customer numbers. We only believe in comparing our revenue market share. We must look at customer numbers in tandem with revenue market share. Our revenue market share is around the 31% mark.


Minutes of usage has finally gone up? Can you sustain this?

In this round of price wars, where even the top players slashed tariffs, the lowest belly in the market increased their consumption and minutes of usage went up. Customers who were at the least amount of ARPUs, their usage shot up. Despite going rural, we have always been in the range of 450-500 minutes of usage per customer per month and we have been able to maintain that. But, as penetration in small towns and rural areas goes up, the usage for these customers will increase. We have maintained this ballpark. One important thing we have to consider is that for India, other means of communication are not just available - access to internet and fixedlines are limited and this (mobile) is the only form of communication that people have.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE EXPECT VC DEAL SIZES TO REMAIN IN $5-MILLION RANGE'

ARCHANA RAI

 

He is among the most active risk capital investors in the Indian market with a track record of having backed companies such as Mindtree Technologies during an earlier stint as head of global fund, Walden International India. Currently, Sudhir Sethi is the founder, chairman & managing director of IDG Ventures India, a $150-million early-stage technology venture capital firm that has invested in a clutch of technology product firms such as Perfint Healthcare, Apalya Television, Manthan Systems and 3D Solid Compression. Mr Sethi's firm worked on collating proprietary data on the private equity and venture capital industry, in a bid to document the emergence of India as a significant player in the global risk capital space. In an exclusive interview with Archana Rai, prior to the formal release of the report, Mr Sethi discussed why technology companies will account for over a tenth of all risk capital that will come into India between 2010 and 2015. Excerpts:


What are the factors that will contribute to India attracting $100 billion of private equity and venture capital funding in the next five years?

We are projecting capital flows above $75 billion in this period provided there is a comprehensive government policy to encourage PE/VC investments and that the government opens up key sectors like retail, education and energy to foreign investment, this can go up to $100 billion. We also need to have more risk capital generated from Indian limited partners, that is capital from India-based high network investors and institutional risk capital. Finally , for there to be a supply chain that venture and private equity investors can tap into, we need more angel investors who will provide seed funding at very early stage of company formation.


As a tenth of these investments are expected to be in the venture capital space,


What is the average deal size you expect?

We expect deal sizes to remain in the $5-million range as VCs operate at the smaller end of the deal spectrum, where early stage companies cannot absorb much more capital than this. Most VC investments, over 70% almost are in technology, which is a highly capital-efficient sector. The cost of setting up and running a technology business is low in India compared to the US. Even in the US, where the cost of running a start up is much higher, the average VC deal size last year was $6.3 million.


What will be the favourite sectors for venture capital investments?

We have picked three sectors, this includes software products where data shows high returns and high capital efficiency specifically in areas such as business analytics and security. Also, the large mobile user base and falling voice ARPUs, (average revenue per user) and the adoption of 3G will drive more mobile value added services companies.


The third big bet is the energy sector, this will be driven by power requirement of 150,000 MW in five years as well as the need to meet energy efficiency and emission reduction requirements set by the government and customers.

Which areas do you expect Indian start-ups to provide breakthrough technology in?

Through the 20 years' success of the Indian services industry, management and technical skills will enable Indian companies to create world class software products.

 

Within the software product universe, Indian companies are likely to excel in areas where there is a large Indian market, such as mobile technology products, or where enough domain knowledge has been built through services, such as business intelligence products or security.


There is a significant opportunity in hardware technology products from India as well, where the low-cost engineering approach will be the differentiators for Indian companies. For example, our portfolio company Perfint makes an artificial intelligence-based robotic arm for cancer biopsies, a complex medical device requiring precision engineering, at a fraction of the international cost.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TATAS WILL GAIN RS 1,200 CRORE BY DENYING POWER TO CITY: RINFRA

 

It's a face-off between two of India's largest business houses as they fight for power distribution business in Mumbai. Anil Ambani's Reliance Infrastructure is locked in a battle with Tata Power over the right to get 500 MW of power to supply to 3 lakh of their customers in Mumbai. RInfra's CEO Lalit Jalan tells ET NOW how, in this battle, the Tatas will gain a whopping Rs 1,200 crore by denying Mumbai's customers their share of power.

You are saying this is not power war between Reliance Infrastructure and Tata Power. Then what is it?

This is not really a question of a fight between two companies, but about the power shortage situation in Mumbai. Mumbai has got total demand of 3,100 MW and all the power of Reliance and Tatas combined make up for only about 2,500 MW. So, there is a shortage of 600 MW, which has to be bought from outside. Secondly, in the early 1980s and 1990s when Tatas were setting up these power plants, companies were short of equity and all the consumers of Mumbai had contributed nearly Rs 533 crore of equity for the Tata Power plants. This was a number which was initially ignored by Tata Power and its only later that they accepted it.


So, what happens to the consumers of Mumbai? Will their tarrifs go up?

Yes absolutely. If Tata Power is withdrawing this 500 MW from me and selling it in the free market outside, they will make a supernormal profit of Rs 1,200 crore a year and the consumers of suburban Mumbai will have to dish it out to fill the coffers of Tatas. It is completely lunatic. RInfra, in turn, will have to buy this power so that consumers do not suffer load-shedding and this Rs 1,200 crore will have to be paid by them.


Has Tata Power already begun selling this power outside Mumbai?

Absolutely. As we speak, Tatas are selling 100 megawatts of power outside Mumbai. That is besides the fact that chief minister has promised that all power produced by the Mumbai producers, which means Reliance and Tatas, will be sold only in Mumbai at regulated rates. Moreover, they are threatening us and the government that post April 30, they want to take away more of this 500 megawatts and sell it outside. It is completely crazy.


If the government doesn't decide in your favour, how will it impact RInfra's profitability?

There is no direct hit to Reliance Infrastructure. As per the Electricity Act, the power purchase cost is a pass through. In this case too, if the 500 MW is not made available to us, we will have to buy this power at the next best available price and then that cost of power will be passed onto my consumers. If you want to replicate RInfra's network today, it will cost you Rs 15,000 crore and we basically make money on this network. We do not make money on the power purchase cost. So, consumers will pay the additional money, which will accrue to Tata Power's bottom line. Basically, the money will go to Tatas.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ITALIAN CLOTHING BRAND DIESEL TO MAKE INDIA OUTSOURCING BASE

NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA

 

Renzo Rosso is a self-confessed Indophile. He has named his youngest daughter India. And he swears by Indian creativity and people's ability to create and transform things. The global brand that he has created, Diesel, screams 'Be Stupid'. A tattoo on his left ankle says 'Only The Brave', the name of his company that owns Diesel and several other brands. And nobody will miss his green-tinted Diesel Fossil watch. Here is the owner of a e1.3-billion company with operations in more than 80 countries. He plans to make India an outsourcing hub, thanks to his faith in the country's creativity and the ingenuity it adds. Besides its majority held joint venture with Reliance Brands, Only The Brave has a wholly owned production unit in India. The company has already moved a lot of production here including bags, jackets and trousers, Mr Rosso told ET's Nandini Raghavendra in an interview. Excerpts:


Is India the last frontier for Diesel?

India is the last frontier because it is the last country we have entered with Diesel. And India too is ready for us—the Indian economy is growing and Diesel will grow with it. Our first two stores opened in Mumbai and by this yearend, we should have seven stores. We aim to have 32 stores in five years. The biggest challenge here is finding the right location. As markets change rapidly in India, we also have to think what each location will be in three or five years as each store is signed on for at least 8-9 years.


We have seen many brands come into India and over-distribute. Diesel is not a mass brand; it is a premium brand. Our clothes have that intangible that Diesel has been able to preserve. We cannot dilute that halo around the brand.


You have often been quoted as defining Diesel as cool. What is cool?

Cool is a brand that is a dream for the consumer, it is a brand that can drive the lifestyle, a brand that is fresh and modern, a brand that is seen worn in the best places by the best people. These people are very important because it is they who make the brand so desirable.


You have said you would now concentrate on building your holding company Only The Brave. What are your plans?

We are not buying any other brands. We are happy with what we have on board. I would like to develop the ones we have and make them more visible. So we have Margiela and Viktor & Roff, which have a lot of potential. Dsquared is not ours, it is a license and we are very close to closing that deal. Sophia is a creative designer for Diesel Black Gold and she just had a first fashion show in New York and it was a huge success as she managed to infuse the Diesel DNA into the very premium segment. Her own brand is becoming very, very exclusive but it is not part of Only The Brave anymore, it is owned by Sophia.

 

In fact, these brands weathered the crises very well, as they are fresh, modern, non-conservative so they in fact we grew sales by 20%.


What is Diesel brand's contribution to the total turnover of the company (e 1.3 b in '09)?

Diesel would contribute 85% of the turnover. The others, because they have a potential for growth, will eventually contribute more to the overall turnover.


Besides you joint venture with Reliance Brands in India, you have a 100% subsidiary based in Chennai. What are the plans?

This is for production. We love the Indian style in production; the way they develop their creativity, unlike China where they do exactly what you tell them to do. We have in fact, moved a lot of production here. Bags, jackets, trousers, leather bags, woven stuff...


Denim dominates the Diesel collection. What does denim mean to you?

Denim is something you can never miss in your wardrobe. It stands for freedom, comfort, blue sky, weekends, green garden, something which will never die. We are still developing more and working on a new line for the future. I see its importance growing.


In 5 years, where do you see Only The Brave? Will it still be a privately-held company?

I see Only The Brave as a very cool company. A company that other companies as well as and consumers continue to derive aspiration and inspiration from. I don't care how big it will be, or if it grows dramatically, as long as we remain a brand the consumers dreams and desires.


Only The Brave will continue to be privately held. I have six children and two of them, the boys, are already working. It is nice to be private as you do not have to prepare numbers for the market. Instead, you spend that 20% to run the company.


What about your succession plan?

I am 20 years younger than the most famous designers, I have more space in terms of time but my company is very well set up. I work on the creatives and part of the strategy. While one son is creative director of Diesel55, the second one, Stephano, is in charge of marketing and controls the whole company. So I suppose he will replace me when it is the right time.


Be Stupid is the vision of Only The Brave. Follow your heart is the mentality of the company.

 

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UPA'S FLOOR WIN IS TRIBUTE TO PRANAB

 

The extremely convincing victory of the Congress-led UPA government during Tuesday's voting on the cut motions moved by the Opposition parties underscores the incomparable skills of the finance minister and Leader of the House, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, in political management. The Congress had only 207 members present in the House, but it managed to defeat the BJP- and Left-led motions by comfortable margins of 289-201 and 246-162, with many on the other side breaking ranks, to the Opposition's dismay. The BJP's biggest shock came with the desertion of the JMM supremo, Mr Shibu Soren, who was running the Jharkhand government with the BJP's support. The Opposition should have learnt a lesson when the Congress won the confidence vote in July 2008 on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal. At that time it was the Samajwadi Party which came to the UPA's rescue. It is unbelievable that Opposition leaders in charge of floor management failed to grasp that their various parties did not constitute a homogenous group and there was no politically-effective glue which could make them stick together for even a few hours. It is politically futile on the Opposition's part to blame their defeat on the Congress' alleged misuse of the CBI to secure the crucial support of the BSP supremo, Ms Mayawati, as well as some others. Veteran Opposition leaders like Mr L.K. Advani and Mr Gurudas Dasgupta are no novices in the art of floor management, and they should have been capable of devising a counter-strategy before attempting to topple the government through the parliamentary device of cut motions on the Finance Bill. The Congress, in the end, almost effortlessly managed to outsmart them, not least because almost no section of the House — including the BJP, Left, the Yadav leaders and Ms Mayawati's BSP — is prepared for the general election that will inevitably follow if the government were to fall on the floor of the House. The Yadav leaders — Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Lalu Prasad — proved to be a little smarter than the BJP and the Left. They found the necessary pretext to walk out of the Lok Sabha before the voting took place — so that they didn't have to support either the Congress or the NDA. Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who has spent several decades in Congress politics, is one leader and minister who commands the respect of almost all political parties across the entire spectrum. His credibility and his relationship with different political leaders is par excellence. That is why he was used by the Congress high command, and not for the first time, as its principal firefighter. He has never failed the party. He has not been touched by the Congress weaknesses of sycophancy and treating other political leaders as political untouchables. He has the maturity to understand that whatever be a person's politics, he or she is a human being above all — and this enables him to transcend pettiness and build a personal rapport with almost all leaders. His ace card is unflappability. People who know him well claim that he has the knack of putting himself in the other person's shoes, and being able, therefore, to understand them better. This puts him in a extremely strong position during political negotiations.

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TIPPY, TIPPY, TAP

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

The furore in Parliament over the alleged tapping of telephones has unerringly focused on the periphery of the problem. Politicians from the Opposition are agitated about the possible interception of their telephonic conversations. The government, for its part, has assured them that no such tapping had been authorised. Both sides, however, agree that such measures might be warranted by considerations of security. The opportunity for a full debate on this dimension appears to have been passed up. A pity, for the issue animating Parliament is an outcrop of deep-seated problems with our surveillance laws. And in rectifying these, Parliament will have to play a major role.

The Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has stated that monitoring of telephone and electronic communications for national security and counter-terrorism is subject to "multiple checks and oversight". The issue is not the number of levels of oversight, but rather their adequacy.

Contemporary terrorism does pose thorny challenges, owing largely to changes in communications technology. Consider the facts unearthed by the Italian police in relation to the Mumbai attacks. The attackers and their Pakistan-based handlers used a US-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) for real time communication. The VOIP number was owned by a Belgian firm, which in turn had leased it to an American telecommunications company. The VOIP account was activated by money transfers via an Italian franchise of Western Union under a false name and identification. These moves were carried by two Pakistanis based in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

In the face of such ramified threats, it is understandable that the Indian government has procured advanced surveillance and data mining capabilities. The nub of the problem lies in the manner in which these are employed. Electronic surveillance undertaken by the intelligence agencies is regulated by the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. Section 5(2) of the act allows the Central or state governments, in the event of a public emergency or in the interest of public safety, to intercept communications if satisfied that it is in the interest of: the sovereignty and integrity of India; the security of the state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.

Whilst the section clearly, if somewhat expansively, lays down the conditions under which surveillance can be ordered, the procedure for the exercise of this power remains less than satisfactory. Until the mid-1990s, the Central government had authorised the directors of various intelligence outfits to exercise these powers. The state governments similarly authorised their police or intelligence agencies.

These practises were challenged by the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in a public interest petition. In an important judgment of December 1996, the Supreme Court held that telephone tapping was "a serious invasion of an individual's privacy". It affirmed that the right to privacy was guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution; hence, it could not be curtailed unless permitted under the procedure established by law. The ruling laid down some procedural safeguards. The order for tapping could only be issued by the home secretary of the Central or state government. A review committee headed by the Cabinet secretary or a state government's chief secretary would provide oversight.

The key problem with this arrangement is the absence of judicial scrutiny. This point did come up in the 1996 case. The counsel for PUCL argued that there was only one effective safeguard to the right to privacy of an individual: judicial scrutiny before an order on tapping was signed, a procedure along the lines of obtaining a warrant. This alone would remove concerns about arbitrariness or unreasonableness of actions. However, the Supreme Court held that it was for the government to make rules on this subject, powers for which were available under the act.

It is time the issue was revisited. In doing so, it may be useful to consider the experience of other democracies. The United States enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. This legislation was spurred by the post-Watergate revelations of abuses of governmental authority for electronic surveillance of political opponents. The act created a special FISA court that reviewed applications for surveillance by the department of justice. It also established an appellate body — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. This is clearly a strong arrangement aimed at preventing misuse of powers.

But the procedure of prior judicial approval is not unproblematic. For one thing, it is more suited to cases where the purpose of surveillance is to gather evidence for prosecution. In such cases, the identity of the person to be placed under surveillance will be known. The requirements of counter-terrorism are likely to be rather different. The purpose of interception is to ascertain whether the individual is linked to a terrorist network, and the objective is prevention, not prosecution.

Furthermore, such a procedure may end up focusing on the collection of intelligence rather than its subsequent use. In some ways, and under some conditions, the latter may be more important than the former. On the one hand, it is now possible to intercept and screen calls and emails without the involvement of any human being. This is already changing notions of what we consider intrusions into our privacy. After all, we readily allow our email service provider to "read" our mail and filter it for spam. On the other hand, the capacity for data mining, by the private sector as well as the government, is increasing tremendously. Surveillance law should, therefore, be concerned about the use of information and not just its collection.

For the purposes of counter-terrorism, then, it may be more practical and useful to provide for strong judicial oversight post-hoc — in close supervision of the surveillance that is undertaken once the government has authorised it. In any event, the existing framework needs to be thoroughly reconsidered. But this can happen only if our parliamentarians shed righteous indignation and get down to their real business: that of legislation.

* Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ENERGY BILL NEEDS OBAMA AND HIS GRAVITAS

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

China is having a good week in America. Yes it is. I'd even suggest that there is some high-fiving going on in Beijing. I mean, wouldn't you if you saw America's Democratic and Republican leaders conspiring to ensure that America cedes the next great global industry — ET, energy technology — to China?

But, before I get to that, here's a little news item to chew on: Applied Materials, a US Silicon Valley company that makes the machines that make sophisticated solar panels, opened the world's largest commercial solar research and development centre in Xian, China, in October. It initially sought applicants for 260 scientist/technologist jobs. Howard Clabo, a company spokesman, told me that the Xian centre received 26,000 Chinese applications and hired 330 people — 31 per cent with Master's or PhD degrees. "Roughly 50 per cent of the solar panels in the world were made in China last year", explained Clabo. "We need to be where the customers are".

And what kind of week is America having? After months of heroic negotiations, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that, while far from perfect, would have, for the first time, put a long-term fixed price on carbon — precisely the kind of price signal US industry and consumers need to start really shifting the economy to clean-power innovations. The bill was supposed to be unveiled on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed because of Graham's justified fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, had decided to push immigration reform first — even though no such bill is ready — in a bid to attract Hispanic voters to revive his re-election campaign in Nevada.

After all the work that has gone into knitting together this bipartisan bill, which has the support of key industry players, it would be insane to let this effort fail. Fortunately, on Tuesday, Reid was hinting about a compromise. But, ultimately, the issue isn't just about introducing a bill. It's about getting it passed. And there we are going to need the President's sustained leadership.

The US President, Mr Barack Obama, has done a superb job in securing stimulus money for green-technology and in using his regulatory powers to compel the auto industry to improve mileage standards to a whole new level. But he has always been rather coy when it comes to when and how much he will personally push an energy/climate bill that would fix a price on carbon-emitting fuels. Without that price signal, you will never get sustained consumer demand for, or sustained private investment in, clean-power technologies. All you will get are hobbies.

The President clearly wants this energy bill to pass, but his advisers are worried that because the bill will likely result in higher electricity or gasoline charges, Republicans will run around screaming "carbon tax" and hurt Democrats in the mid-term elections. I appreciate the President's dilemma. But I don't think hanging back and letting the Senate take the lead is the right answer. This is a big leadership moment. He needs to confront it head-on, because — call me crazy — I think doing the right and hard thing here will actually be good politics, too.

I'd love to see the President come out, guns blazing with this message:

"Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I'm not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream 'carbon tax!' Well, what do you think you're paying now to Opec? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It's just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don't care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists".

Much of our politics today is designed to make people stupid, confused and afraid of change. The GOP has been particularly egregious on energy and climate. I believe if you talk straight to the American people on energy and climate, they will give you the right answers, and, ultimately, the support needed to trump the vested interests and lobbyists who have kept us addicted to oil. Obama has all the right instincts on this issue. He just needs to trust them. If he brings his A-game to energy legislation, Americans will follow — and then maybe we can have a good century.

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

COLLATERAL DAMAGE OR SPYING?

PHONE-TAPPING IS AN ESSENTIAL TOOL FOR AGENCIES INVOLVED IN NATIONAL SECURITY PHONE-TAPS CRITICAL INTELLIGENCE TOOL

BY ARUN BHAGAT

 

There is a worldwide acceptance of the necessity of phone-tapping. It's a legitimate means to fight crime, terrorism, insurgency, crimes related to narcotics, flesh trade and foreign exchange violations in the country. In a country like India, phone-tapping is necessary in the interest of national security. Without this, Indian security agencies will be handicapped and cannot fight insurgency, terrorism and other crimes effectively.

 

All countries have permitted phone-tapping. The Supreme Court of India, in fact, has held that it is permissible and does not in any way infringe on the privacy of citizens. There is nothing wrong in it as long it is carried out after orders are obtained from the courts or the government's authorised functionaries.


There have been allegations in the past of illegal phone-tapping as well. Unlike in the present instance, such allegations have usually been made by politicians who are in the Opposition. I recall complaints from politicians in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Bihar of phone-tapping by government officials. But phone-tapping is very difficult to prove and I don't recall any instance in India where it has been proved.

The government has framed rules for phone-tapping on the lines of the directions given by the Supreme Court. These provide for close scrutiny of the purport and reasons cited in the request to tap phones. A regular review of all the orders signed by a competent authority is conducted by an independent committee. Elaborate guidelines are in place which are set out when permission to tap the phones should be given. The competent authority and the review committee are required to apply their mind in a judicious manner. These safeguards can be further strengthened if necessary but this essential tool to combat terrorism and serious crime should not be denied to law enforcement agencies.


When India is facing problems like cross-border terrorism, it becomes important for the security agencies to keep a close watch on those who are helping anti-national elements. In that case, tapping becomes necessary. Same is the case with other crimes. Therefore, tapping becomes necessary when we talk about national security.

— Arun Bhagat, former director,Intelligence Bureau

 

VIOLATION OF RIGHTS BY INSECURE GOVT

BY D. RAJA

The revelations regarding the phone-tapping of leaders of political parties, including the allies, by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is shocking. The tapping of phone conversations is an assault on the civil rights of citizens, and an assault on the democratic polity. India is a democracy and transparency and good governance are considered to be the expertise of a democracy. Surveillance of political leaders and their conversations can be expected in a militarised state, but not in a democracy. It is an act of a government that feels insecure and threatened.

 

The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the technical intelligence agency, was created after the Kargil War. But instead of gathering information about the activities of anti-nationals, smugglers, terrorists and tax evaders, the government is misusing it to tap the conversations of political leaders in order to prolong its political survival. It is an unethical, unconstitutional and shameful act on the part of the government of India. It shows the cowardice of the government and a fear for its survival. Phone-tapping also goes against the directives of the Supreme Court.

The home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has said that the UPA government has not authorised the phone-tapping of political leaders. But he didn't say anything about the unauthorised tapping of phones being done by the agencies. It is being said that every superintendent of police may be monitoring conversations of political leaders as a matter of routine. Moreover, with digital, wireless communications coming into use, new ways of phone surveillance are being used.

 

Mr Chidambaram has said that such monitoring is necessary to fight crime, for national security and for counter-terrorism efforts. But are political leaders a threat to national security? There is a political agenda here that is being questioned. And anyway, this is not the first time such an incident has come to light. The home minister is hiding many things. Whatever has been revealed is only the tip of the iceberg. Hence, a complete disclosure is necessary. We demand that the government release the list of political leaders whose phones were tapped. We also want the government to take action against those who are responsible for it.

 

 D. Raja, CPI national secretary

 

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GOD LIVES IN BROKEN HEARTS

BY SADIA DEHLVI

Encountering friends faced with calamity often prompts me to share how tribulations enabled me to submit to Allah, igniting my love for Him. A particular passage from the Chishti master Baba Farid's life impacted me deeply. The Sufi blessed his disciples with the prayer, "May God endow you with pain". Further readings of Islamic scriptures helped me understand the blessings and benefits of tribulation. I learnt how they are both nourishing and necessary for those who truly seek to purify and liberate the mind, body and soul. I realised that spiritual endeavours leading to states of ecstasy are rooted in grief. God, by His own admission to Moses, revealed that He lived in broken hearts.

Deciding to try never to complain was a decision that changed my relationship with God, family, friends and the world. Allah says in the Quran, "Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness" (42:30). Elaborating on the same, Prophet Mohammad said, "The believer is not afflicted with illness or hardship even if it be worry that troubles him or a thorn that pricks him, except that his sins would be expiated as a result of it". Calamities come for a deep wisdom, with hidden benefits and blessings. They remove the delusion that we are in complete control of our lives, helping to realise Qudrah, power of Lordship. Part of the six kalimahs, declaration of Islamic faith is, " …La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah al ali-al azeem", there is no power except He. The Quran confirms, "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch thee with happiness, He hath power over all things" (6:17).

A troubled soul can be numbed temporarily, but its anguish cannot be removed without submission to the Creator. Afflictions are often opportunities to gain blessings by submission and closeness to God. Exercising patience in the midst of calamity while waiting for a fatah, opening from God, becomes a high form of ibadah, worship. A theme that runs through the Quran is, "…Allah loves those who exercise patience".
Islamic scholars have reiterated that no one was given a blessing more vast than patience for it brings to the heart the love of Allah. Prophetic traditions affirm that the patient ones are given rewards from Allah without reckoning. Tribulations teach compassion, for those who experience tragedy and pain can feel what others go though in similar situations. Commenting on the state of the truly pious of earlier communities, the Prophet said, "By the one whose hand is my soul, they would show joy on the onset of a calamity, as you show joy at time of ease". Islamic spirituality prepares the soul to be in a continuous state of mutmainah, contentment. It teaches not to be perturbed, anxious and never to prejudge Allah, for He knows best — the Quran informs us that humanity is given only a small amount of knowledge, the explanations of the unseen will unfold in the hereafter. Allah tells us never to despair from His rahmah, mercy, for, "Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief" (96:4).
The true lovers of God pray for afiyah, well-being and forgiveness, submit to Him, remaining content with whatever God decides for them.

I love this prayer of the 8th century woman mystic Rabia Basri, "May Allah take away from you all that which takes you away from Him".

 Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at sadiafeedback@gmail.com [1]

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HACKING DEFENCES

BY VIKRAM SOOD

The United States launched its experimental USAF X37B space plane on April 24, which is capable of doing Mach 20 and has been described as the first step towards the militarisation of space. The Russians claim they have a similar programme.

Simultaneously, the US is developing missiles that travel at Mach 5 and would be capable of reaching anywhere in the world in an hour with their conventional payload. This Prompt Global Strike programme has the Russians and the Chinese worried as the US prepares for dominance in a possible non-nuclear world. These are the big ticket items being designed by the US to protect itself in the future where the emphasis is on size and speed.

Miniaturisation is the other catchword in military technology. At today's rate of progress, we will see doubling of progress every 10 years, which will be the equivalent of a century's progress. American scientists like Ray Kurzweill predict that by the end of 2020, artificial intelligence would be indistinguishable from human intelligence. Given that there are no limits to human creativity, to the power of ideas and also to human depravity, the use of this power will have wide consequences for mankind. As Winston Churchill once said: "The empires of the future will be the empires of the mind".

America's defence department has begun to use technology that creates virtual-reality surroundings in which to train their soldiers. Cellphones are being introduced in clothing that project sound directly to the ears. Computers in a few years from now will become essentially invisible. They will be embedded in our furniture and environment.

Smarter weapons that "think" and are designed for precise missions to maximise damage and minimise own-side casualties is the trend. The state-of-the-art Predator-armed UAV could become rapidly out of date with this new minitiarised technology, where future UAVs would be the size of a bird and much more lethal. The Pentagon's research has been towards Future Combat Systems — smaller, lighter, faster, more lethal and smarter. The US Army plans Brigade Combat Teams, with unmanned robotic systems where a battalion of 120 military robots is fitted with swarm intelligence software to enable it to mimic the organised behaviour of insects. They are even developing Smart Dust, which are devices smaller than birds and bumblebees, not bigger than a pinhead. Once developed and deployed, swarms of millions of these could be dropped in enemy zones to provide detailed surveillance intelligence and also support offensive military operations.

In another part of the world, in West Asia, the Al Qaeda began its new audio production which enables downloading jihadist propaganda to iPods for believers. A prospective jihadi no longer has to go to a remote madrasa in Balochistan or Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan to imbibe this fervour. He can get it online. These two events — the X37B and iPods for jihad — only means that while the exponential growth of science and technology might make life comfortable for us, it does not necessarily make us more secure. Ironically it also means that the US spends billions to protect itself while the terrorist merely takes the low-cost spinoffs from this technology to harm the West. In turn, the West spends trillions more to develop techniques to protect itself against these attacks.

In March 2007, the CIA began working on a digital library of national intelligence information that would have everything from raw data to analytical information. This is expected to be even bigger than the Library of Congress, which today is the world's largest, with 120 million books/journals stored on 850 km of shelves, with 10,000 books added daily. Besides, there is such tremendous information overload that agencies have difficulty keeping track of the electronic traffic that is out there. Sixteen US intelligence agencies employ 45,000 analysts to track and analyse this traffic. The first text message was sent in Britain in 1992, while more than four billion messages are sent daily now. This does not take into account Twitter and other social networking sites. There are 1.6 billion people online today, and 60 per cent of the world's population of 6.6 billion uses cellphones, up from 12 per cent in 2000. Huge amounts of this work has been outsourced in the United States to private companies who collect and transmit the data to produce the finished product of intelligence. A new intelligence-industrial complex, similar to the earlier military-industrial complex, operates in the US.

Intelligence and surveillance will also increasingly be electronic. It is no longer necessary to use "plumbers" to break into opponents' headquarters as Richard Nixon did in 1972; all this can be done online, without any legalistic rigmarole. However, so can the terrorist access computers through WAN (wide area network). Technology makes this possible. Cyber espionage has become the new game. The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto detailed how a China-based operation, which it called the Shadow Network, pilfered documents from the highest levels of the Indian defence ministry, National Security Council secretariat, diplomatic missions and think tanks such as the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The attacks were all over India, targeting Indian military formations and Air Force bases. The base of operations was Chengdu, in the heart of China.

China began developing its cyberspace doctrine and capabilities since the late 1990s as part of its military modernisation programme. This doctrine of active defence, under which China should be ready to respond to aggression immediately, emphasises the development of cyberwarfare capabilities. The focus of this strategy of asymmetric warfare requires developing capabilities that circumvent US superiority in command-and-control warfare. The idea is to weaken the critical importance of the cyber domain to America's military and economic power. Chinese hackers succeeded in high-level penetration of target computer systems, data has been stolen from foreign governments, financial and commercial institutions. Non-governmental organisations like the Falun Gong and Tibetan groups in India were not spared either.

Pakistan too had begun to develop its cyberwarfare capabilities in 2000 with a project interestingly named Operation Badr. The idea was to raise 313 "Java Mujahideen architects" across the world and 10,000 developers. Whether this is just an obsession that Pakistan's military rulers have with religious symbolism or it signifies battles of another kind is difficult to say, but it is also difficult to ignore — considering the contribution the Pakistani state has made to terror in India and globally.

The future, with all its possibilities and dangers, is upon us. One wonders if we are ready to handle this.

* Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CREDIBILITY LOST

OPPOSITION 'CUTS' ITSELF TO SIZE 

 

PRESSING cut motions and similar instruments of parliamentary censure is the Opposition's right, it cannot be faulted for going the distance in the Lok Sabha. Yet it could pay a price for floating balloons about the government's vulnerability, crunching out numbers to "con" those who fail to understand that the legislature is no mere numbers game. That price could be credibility: for in confirming an inability to rise above ideological differences and forge a common platform on an issue that affects every citizen, the message sent out was that securing political advantage is preferable to serving aam aadmi's cause. Was there valid reason to suspect that the government was shaky? It is not just hindsight that exposes the hollowness of the boasting of the last couple of weeks: the BJP-Left animosity prevented moving a single, unified cut motion and that was the 'd' in 'disaster'. For as "guillotine hour" approached it was clear that the Opposition was fragmented, crumble it did when the push came to a shove. All the self-comforting claims such as "moral victory" etc. ring false. Before opting to give UPA-II its first supposedly serious test, the leader of the Opposition ought to have undertaken a serious exercise of floor-coordination; reached out to other parties, so that she "spoke" on their behalf. In her first genuine "assault", Sushma Swaraj has done little to suggest she is the leader of more than the BJP. The UPA, its Dirty Tricks department included, worked overtime. No matter how much the methods used to muster the numbers may be derided, the result is what counts. The implications are ominous: LK Advani would insist he is not imagining a re-run of the times preceding the Emergency, the 88-vote victory in the Lok Sabha might further embolden the government. It would now be inclined to ignore all the disruptive activity, shouting from the well and so on. You just can't get away with "crying wolf".


There was a major gain for the legislature on Tuesday ~ the Speaker's principled ruling that parliamentary practices and conventions do not supercede Constitutional provisions. In less than a year Meira Kumar has risen to heights little expected when she was elevated to the Chair, and has proved such a dignified contrast to some of her immediate predecessors. Yes, there might be another gain from the vote-count, this one a trifle dubious: a lifeline may have been thrown to the less-than-impressive parliamentary affairs minister.

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHOLLY DISGUSTING

TWISTED STRATEGY OF THE BANDH 

 

Just over a year ago, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had declared with refreshing candour it was unfortunate he belonged to a party that believed in strikes. He may have faced indignant comrades at Alimuddin Street but had no reason to be deterred because of inspiring encounters with industrialists at chambers of commerce meetings. He had gone on to express his determination to keep the IT sector protected if he couldn't do anything about Citu activists running amuck elsewhere. Tuesday's shutdown that covered Writers' Buildings confirmed the death of a dream. In the new scenario, the chief minister may not be certain if he would like to push for industrialisation with the energy he had displayed in the past, or whether it is prudent to appease trade unions that will be the party's main weapon in the elections. To that extent, it is not surprising the chief minister and his colleagues were literally locked out of Writers' Buildings while thousands of government staff were told they could apply for a day's leave should they be "unable'' to come to work ~ in striking contrast to the proactive action to keep everything open during an Opposition-sponsored bandh. Where the party proposes, the chief minister merely has to avoid embarrassing questions on whether his priorities have taken a beating.
The party has other priorities. At the risk of being accused of rank opportunism, it needs to time the bandh in protest against price hikes well enough to kick off the campaign for the municipal elections. The battles being fought within the Opposition alliance are no consolation when the Left itself is grappling with the combined effects of discontent, disillusionment and lack of direction. As against the projections for growth and employment that Mr. Bhattacharjee had been stressing, there is the need to remain  in power so that more dreams can be sold. If he needed to look for good examples of twisted strategies, there were his regular sympathisers, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad, who fought all the way through the debate on the cut motions only to take the most prudent step of walking out before the vote so that bridges with 10 Janpath would remain intact. Opportunism is a game all parties play but at a cost that people in West Bengal ought now to find disgusting.

***************************************

 


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TO GANGA, TO GANGA! 

THE POLLUTED WATERS OF THE PILGRIM CENTRES 

 

IT is an unfortunate irony of governmental endeavour that the Ganga Action Plan has virtually floundered where the river has traditionally been venerated as the icon of the robustly faithful. The exercise has been so half-baked as to be almost ineffective even during the Kumbh Mela, the supreme pilgrimage of the devout. Murky waters have made the pilgrim's progress murkier still. The worst affected are said to be the towns that in popular imagination are regarded as among the holiest of the holies. From Kolkata's waterfront to the river banks of Uttarakhand, funds have never been cited as a constraint. A sum of Rs 1,742 crore has been sanctioned for the pilgrimage centres of the current Kumbh Mela. A stunning lack of initiative alone explains why the basics are not in place. Little or no effort has apparently been made to cleanse the waters. Sanitation remains ever so primitive. The absence of sewerage and effective drainage has inevitably expanded the volume of muck in the river. To the unnerving degree that even an auspicious  dip can turn out to be a health hazard. As much is implicit in this newspaper's report on the deepening degradation of the environment in the pilgrim centres of Uttarakhand. 


Such ambitious schemes as "Sparsh Ganga" remain docketed in the files. Whether in Bengal's Hooghly or the Ganga that meanders through the cow belt, the reality reduces the action plan to irrelevance, a contradiction in terms. Of the 65 municipalities in Uttarakhand, only 19 boast sewerage facilities. Small wonder why aside from the Ganga, the Alakananda and the Bhagirathi also serve as garbage vats much as they draw the pilgrim on every auspicious day of the Kumbh Mela. No less polluted are the forests of the area. The region is on the brink of an ecological disaster. Maybe it's time for the union ministry of environment and forests to supplement the efforts of the state's Water Resource Development Corporation, a misnomer if ever there was one. The very "resource" is polluted and a cleansing operation must be planned with urgent despatch. At stake is the atmosphere around what ought to have been the salubrious hills. This is the larger issue that transcends the assembly of the believers.

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

FEMINISED POLITICS

NEED FOR A HOLISTIC AND INCLUSIVE APPROACH

BY SUSHILA RAMASWAMY


THE Vice-President's wife, Ms Salma Ansari, while commenting on the Women's Reservation Bill, has iterated the value of education. Till education is made available to all women, the benefits of the various schemes framed by the government would not benefit those at the grassroot level. Literacy brings with it multi-pronged benefits - modernization, urbanization, industrialization, communication and commerce.
Female literacy holds the key to women's empowerment. But the presence of approximately 10 per cent women in Parliament and state Assemblies in India explains why our political culture continues to be patriarchal and unequal and our democracy incomplete. Female literacy, health, hygiene and reservation are the interlocking components of women's empowerment.


It is widely accepted that 30 per cent is the benchmark to ensure a critical mass of women parliamentarians and by that standard, India is way behind. In the present Parliament, women form a mere 11 per cent of the members. By July 2008, 21 countries had successfully met the 30 per cent critical mass of women parliamentarians. In recent times, a dramatic change has taken place in the established rank order of countries to the level of women's representation in politics. By the use of quotas, countries like Rwanda (56 per cent), South Africa (45 per cent), Argentina (42 per cent), Senegal (40 per cent), Angola (37 per cent) and Costa Rica (37 per cent) have displaced the five Nordic countries ~ Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.


Empower the individual

According to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), the global average in December 2009 stood at 18.8 per cent. Asia as a region has only 18.5 per cent of women's participation in parliaments. This is low compared to the global standards. Within South Asia, India with 11 per cent and Sri Lanka with six per cent have a poor record. Nepal boasts 33 per cent, Pakistan 22 per cent, China 21 per cent and Bangladesh 19 per cent.
Till 1974, women's movements across the world had opposed quotas as they feared proxy representation. That has changed in light of the experiences of the Nordic countries and today, quotas ~ whether electoral, partywise or constitutional ~ are seen as 'fast track' to ensure equal political representation of women. Since political parties in India are by and large oligarchic in nature and personality-centric, time-barred  constitutional quotas should enable individual women rather than those from well-connected families to secure the benefits that political office accrues.


One amendment to the present Bill is to allow for 'quotas within quota' as gender, despite being an important social division, hinders collective identification and mobilization and has to be coalesced with class, ethnicity, religion, language and region. Furthermore, if one goes by the impact that quotas have had on the Panchayati Raj institutions, the percentages of women in various levels of political activity have increased from 4.5 per cent to 25 ~ 40 per cent. Women leaders at the panchayat levels are transforming local governance by focusing on issues of poverty, inequality and gender injustice and demanding basic facilities like primary schools and health care centres. The Nitish Kumar government's miracle in Bihar has largely been made possible by reserving 50 per cent of the seats in the panchayats for women and by providing a bicycle to every schoolgoing child at the secondary school stage.


Other than a mere 11 per cent political representation, India lags behind in all the other indicators of gender equality ~ health, adult literacy and economic participation in a region that accounts for almost a quarter of the world's population. According to the UNDP's Asia Pacific Human Development Report, South Asia, with the exception of Yemen, has the largest gap between the literacy rates of  adult men and women. The literacy gap between men and women in India is 22 percentage points, while among the world's least developed, the average gap is 18 percentage points. The gap between female and male enrolment has widened as girls and boys move upwards through the education system. At the primary level, only 94 girls go to school for every 100 boys, declining to 84 per cent at the secondary level and to a further low of 71 per cent in higher education.
According to the 2001 census of the Government of India, the overall literacy rate is 65.38 per cent. The male literacy is 75.96 per cent and the female rate is a mere 54.28 per cent. Among the states, Kerala has the highest female literacy rate with 87.86 per cent and Bihar, the lowest with a mere 33.57 per cent.
The UNDP report also states that in 2007, 100 million women went missing due to discriminatory treatment in access to health and nutrition and sex-selective abortion in the seven Asian countries. India headed the tally with 42.7 million, followed by 42.6 million in China and 6.1 million in Pakistan. India also has the lowest percentage of female population after Bhutan in the Asia-Pacific region despite a better sex-ratio at birth. The report states that more boys than girls are born in Asia as a whole than in any other region in the world and 'the divide is increasing'. 


The Economist (6 March 2010) terms the disappearance of baby girls as 'gendercide', which is due to three factors: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a foetus. South Korea has reversed the trend and that could be an example for the others to follow.


Dismal ranking

Malnutrition, according to the UNDP report, also remains a major challenge in South Asia with 41 per cent of the children being underweight. In India, approximately 47 per cent of the children below the age of five are malnourished and the girl child forms a major portion of the number. According to the 2001 census report, India accounts for 19 per cent of all live births and 27 per cent of all maternal deaths. Of the total population, 120 million are women who live in abject poverty. The maternal mortality rate in rural areas is among the world's highest.


Gender equality is guaranteed by the  Constitution. India has also ratified various international conventions and charters on women's rights such as the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (1993). In 2001, the government also announced the national policy for empowerment of women to ensure advancement, development and empowerment. Yet India's overall ranking is a dismal 113 in the 2008 Global Gender Gap Index. It is 125th as far as the economic participation and opportunities for women are concerned, 128th in health and survival of women and 116th among 160 nations in terms of educational attainment.


The status and condition of women is the key for a society to thrive and prosper. Societies that oppress and disenfranchise its women operate on a system that equates physical strength with social and legal entitlement. If India is to prosper and flourish, it must have a society based on merit and equity and that would happen only, if the lot of the ordinary Indian women is tangibly improved. It is not by raising a few women's issues or through token women candidates that politics becomes feminised, but by putting forward an agenda that treats all issues as women's issues and, by a more holistic and inclusive approach and alternative values. In other words, if politics has to be transformed it must bring in the concerns of all the marginalized and vulnerable, half of whom are women.

 

The writer is Associate Professor in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi.

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MOBILE LOST, MOBILITY REGAINED

 ISHWAR PATI


It went down the drain, literally. No, not the nose-diving Satyam shares I did not own, but my humble mobile phone. Before I could say "Ah Nokia!", it popped out of my trouser pocket, rolled down on the sloping floor of the train toilet and plunged headlong into that cavern that is tailor-made for speedy and effective removal of waste. With great presence of mind I controlled my spontaneous instinct to follow it down the "rabbit-hole". All I could do was stare in disbelief at the gaping hole into which it had disappeared.


There was a sudden vacuum in my heart without the mobile, my constant companion. The entire database of phone numbers painstakingly collected over the years was lost in one second. So dependent had I become on its memory support that, for the life of me, I could not even remember my residence number! The whole world had come to a standstill with the sudden demise of my mobile. I was cut off ~ "not reachable".


I spent an agonising day on the train till we reached my destination. I had to hunt for an outlet of my service provider and inform them to block my mobile number. Only then did I calm down. The next step was to get a replacement for my lost instrument. It was then that an odd sensation struck me. I had spent two days without a mobile, managing well without its "crutch", and no withdrawal symptoms! Far from it, the strange feeling I had was one of immense relief, as if a millstone that had been hanging around my neck forever (literally) had been lifted. No longer did I have to live under the constant threat of the ring tone going off at unexpected and inconvenient moments; no more were my ears subjected to screeching and screaming caller tunes; no longer did my blood pressure shoot up occasioned by frequent bouts of "recharging". More than that, I was freed from the hypnotic effect of its lighted screen, alluring me constantly with missed calls and SMSs. The best part was being spared the frequent interruptions by "remote control" from my wife whenever I went to the market. Even after giving me a shopping list, she would call me up every few minutes to add to the number of items, because she just "remembered" them.


Yes, I had lost my mobile phone, but regained the mobility of my senses to roam ~ unhindered, unfettered. Addition to the mobile had made me lose sight of the woods (of interesting happenings around me) for the insignificant trees (of barren numbers displayed on its screen). So far I have resisted the efforts of my friends and well wishers to replace my mobile phone. They insist that I "need" one to stay connected at all times (read "under their surveillance"). I may, eventually, give in to their herd "persuasion" and again end up owning one of those impish gadgets, even though I now know, only too well, that it is the cellular that ultimately ends up "owning" its owner.

 

.***************************************


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

100 YEARS AGO TODAY


The Sri Bharat Mahamandal (the All-India Religious Association of the Hindus) has addressed a memorial to His Excellency the Viceroy in which they say that they "have noticed with feelings of the deepest shame and disgust the anarchical tendency of the criminal acts committed by some young men within the last few months and deeply regret that such tendencies should be found in the members of a community which is naturally law-abiding and loyal". As they have reason to apprehend that such criminal tendencies and acts owe their origin to defective education and absence of proper religious training in youth, they submit that to ameliorate the moral and mental conditions of Hindu youths and to make them loyal and law-abiding subjects, it is necessary that religious education on proper lines should be regularly imparted through (a) the various schools, colleges and Sanskrit and Vernacular pathasalas; (b) tracts freely distributed in all important places and among deserving persons; and (c) trained preachers sent all over Indian to preach loyalty to God and King side by side. In conclusion the memorialists pray that Government aid for the purpose may be given in any form that it pleases, and that steps be taken that the Mahamandal may receive the support and co-operation of all Government officials, such as the Director-General of Education, Director of Public Instruction, and the District officers.


A conference of the Principals of various Colleges affiliated to the Punjab University met a short time ago and revised the inter-collegiate rules relating to admission and study in various colleges. The revised draft, which aims at strengthening discipline, has been approved by the Syndicate and Senate, and the new rules come into force with effect from 1st May.

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHY GREAT MINDS DON'T ALWAYS THINK ALIKE

WHEN GIANTS OF SCIENCE, LITERATURE AND CULTURE GET TOGETHER, WE EXPECT TO FEEL THE EARTH MOVE. BUT THESE STELLAR GATHERINGS ARE AS LIKELY TO DISAPPOINT AS DAZZLE, ARGUES JOHN WALSH


What exactly happened when Chaplin met Einstein? When Gladstone met Tennyson? When Picasso met Stravinsky? What kind of sparks do we expect to fly when globally famous figures meet? Do we assume there'll be a blinding flash, a nuclear synergy, a Hadron-style collision of celebrity atoms that will register on some celestial Richter scale? Or are such encounters always doomed to failure – not to a flaming row or a falling-out between the sainted participants, just a moment of blank social awkwardness, a mundane exchange of meaningless murmurs?


Readers of literature have always been prone to such imaginings. Spending so much time closeted with words, lives, conversations and situations, they like to imagine all their literary heroes and heroines getting on really well together – under their roof, naturally. Over here, Lord Byron whispers something mildly shocking into the ear of Jane Austen (or is she only pretending to be shocked, the minx?) while over there William Shakespeare complains to Harold Pinter about the monstrous new discovery of pipe tobacco which is making theatre punters cough their lungs out, mid-play, night after bloody night.


What really happens when Titans meet is a little more mundane. A new book, Peter Pan's First XI by Kevin Telfer, tells the startling story of the cricket team put together by JM Barrie at the turn of the 20th century. Barrie's squad of gentlemen was christened the Allahakbarries, after the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akhbar" ("God is Great") plus the playwright's surname. The team featured an extraordinary line-up of literary talents: Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, PG Wodehouse, AA Milne, AEW Mason, author of The Four Feathers, EW Hornung who wrote the Raffles stories about a dashing jewel thief, Jerome K Jerome, the humorist behind Three Men in a Boat, and a dozen lesser talents.


They weren't the greatest cricket team in history. In their first game they scored a pathetic nine runs. But they improved and (helped by the ferocious bowling of the inventor of Sherlock Holmes) crushed rival teams of artists and village locals all over the south coast. The book has a charm, however, beyond cricket; it offers a sighting of late-Victorian and Edwardian summers when the nation's leading authors blithely played games together, in an atmosphere of manly endeavour, and met their heroes in a kind of earthly Valhalla.
AEW Mason introduced Barrie to Robert Falcon Scott, of Scott-of-the-Antarctic fame, and the two became close friends; Barrie was potty about explorers. Conan Doyle made the acquaintance of Oscar Wilde and, whatever one might think would happen at the convergence of the great aesthete with the nation's most four-square heterosexual, they got on very well. They met at the Langham Hotel in London in August 1889, both invitees of JM Stoddart, the publisher of Lippincott's Magazine, who commissioned Doyle to write The Sign of Four, and Wilde to write The Picture of Dorian Gray. Stephen Fry has speculated that Doyle, the failed eye surgeon with one book published, was inspired to get back to literature by meeting this extravagantly cultured literary supernova, five years his senior; while Wilde may have been emboldened by Doyle's praise of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to try a novel with a supernatural theme. What a result! Not only did they become friends, they were mutually helpful and made literary history.


Most convergences between tremendously distinguished writers, however, tend to end in bathos. Take the head-spinning evening of 18 May 1922, at the de luxe Hotel Majestic in Paris, where a moneyed couple of London arts patrons called Sydney and Violet Schiff hosted dinner for 40 people to celebrate the first performance of Stravinsky's ballet Le Renard, performed by the Ballets Russes under the great impresario Serge Diaghilev. The Schiffs had a reputation for pulling diverse but brilliant people together; their guest list on this night, however, was exceptionally ambitious. Along with Diaghilev and Stravinsky, they'd invited Picasso, Proust and James Joyce. A perfect quintet of the arch-modernists of the 20th century, five men at the cutting-edge of innovation, the "breaking of forms" and the jettisoning of the past. Would they like each other? Would they strike sparks? Would they agree to collaborate? Would they chat in ordinary human words?


The conversational shards of these epic meetings formed the beginning of Richard Davenport-Hines's book A Night at the Majestic (2006), one of a number of books that record the convergences of the great at a fancy meal, and the consequences thereafter. Others include Richard Baldick's Dinner at Magny's, about a wild evening with Flaubert, George Sand, the Goncourt brothers and Turgenev; and Penelope Hughes-Hallett's The Immortal Dinner, which describes the evening of 28 December 1817 when the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon threw a dinner party at his house in Lisson Grove for some friends: Charles Lamb, author of Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, Joseph Ritchie the explorer, Edward Landseer the engraver and two poets, William Wordsworth (then aged 47) and John Keats (aged 22).


Haydon's plan was merely to introduce the precocious young Keats to Wordsworth; but to the awestruck eye of hindsight, it represents a meeting between the first generation of Romantic writers and the second. How did the conversation go? Apparently the poets discussed Virgil and Homer at length, and the puckish Charles Lamb was the cause of "much laughter" despite the humour-free presence of Wordsworth. Beyond that we just don''t know what was said. But how we would wish to have been a fly on the mutton, to hear how these people talked without any distinction between science and the arts – since both were regarded as fields for creative endeavour and boundless imagination. These would have been exchanges worth travelling through time to hear.
A century later, art, science and the press converged when Charlie Chaplin threw a dinner party for Albert Einstein, to introduce to, among others, William Randolph Hearst the newspaper magnate. It wasn't a success: Einstein wasn't disposed to explain his theories to the uninitiated, the boffin and the mogul failed to hit it off. Things might have frozen up completely had not Hearst's girlfriend twined her fingers through Einstein's barnet and cooed, "Albert, why don't you get your hair cut?"


Another significant meeting was that between the great British novelist Anthony Burgess and the globally revered writer and fabulist, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges delighted the younger man by referring to him as "my Mancunian namesake". Burgess could speak a dozen languages, including Malay, and could read and understand four or five others, but he deferred to the awesome omniglossolalia of the Argentine sage. When they met at a literary party, they were surrounded by journalists, anxious to catch what they assumed would be wit and repartee of a high order. In which language should they converse? Borges muttered a few words in some guttural dialect. Burgess replied in what seemed to be the same tongue. One of the more learned hacks present recognised the profusion of H-noises and told the others, "My God, they're chatting in Old English".
Soon the half-truth became a headline across the bookish world: "Literary Titans Converse in the Language of Beowulf". The truth, as offered in Burgess's memoirs, was a little more prosaic: unsure which language to speak in, Borges had quoted the first line of the old Norse poem The Seafarer – and Burgess had simply supplied the next. It was a high-table moment of showing off, rather than a revelation of linguistic brilliance.
What a potent image is offered here: the gentlemen of the press, the eyes of the world, crowded around two elderly gentlemen, striving to hear what they're saying to each other. They can hear some kind of noises emanating from these distinguished lips, but they cannot make head nor tail of it. What does this remind us of? I suggest it's a throwback to the Sacra Conversazione paintings of the Renaissance, when Veronese or Filippo Lippi, or Bellini or Piero della Francesco would paint the Virgin and Child among an informally arrayed group of saints, apparently just hanging out together and passing the time. Art critics will explain that the figures in these paintings seldom look as if they're actually speaking – they're merely communing, on a higher plane of existence than the rest of us.

Of course the Virgin and Child and their attendant saints do not need to speak (What would they say? "I'm gasping for a cup of tea – St George? Would you mind?" "See the match last night? West Ham were rubbish...") but if they did, the conversation would be so elevated, so full of divine concepts, inexpressible virtues, Heavenly visions, we could hardly bear to hear it.


That, I suspect, is what we expect to hear when we think of great artistic figures colliding: some beautiful noise, hardly accessible to human ears, the emanations of genius in stereo. Unfortunately, we never quite get it. What we find instead is what the great photographer Julia Margaret Cameron found when she lured Alfred Lord Tennyson to be photographed at her house in the Isle of Wight. As they stood under a tree in the garden, she saw that William Gladstone, then prime minister, had appeared in the house, and went to greet him. She brought him outside, introduced him to Tennyson and dashed indoors for some new photographic plates. Rain began to fall. She spent an age finding an umbrella. When she returned to her camera, she found the two men – two of the three most famous people in the country, the third being Queen Victoria – standing back to back under the tree, quite unable to find any subject suitable for discussion, once they had exhausted the rain.

The Independent

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE TELEGRAPH

PROMISED LAND

 

If politics is the art of the possible, a Bengal without bandhs may yet happen some day. As of now, though, Mamata Banerjee's promise of that golden age sounds too good to be true. If anything, Tuesday's shutdown makes it difficult to hope for such a paradigm shift in the state's politics. For as long as one can remember, the cult of hartals has defined Bengal's politics. The Leftists, who once rode to power on the back of bandhs, set a bizarre example by using their own government to force all kinds of shutdowns. Unfortunately for the state and its people, the Opposition played much the same game. Ms Banerjee herself seemed to compete with the Marxists in organizing bandhs. The vicious cycle has had a free run for so long that any promise of an end to it must inspire some hope. Ms Banerjee may have her own partisan reasons to offer the vision of a bandh-free Bengal. It is absolutely predictable of her to try and score points over her arch-enemy, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But if she is serious about her promise to not organize strikes, that alone can secure her a place in Bengal's political history. If she succeeds, it will be a far greater achievement than anything else she may be hoping for.

 

Ms Banerjee's promise comes at a time when she stands a real chance of becoming the state's chief minister after next year's polls. It is no secret that bandhs are enforced in the Left-ruled states only with the collusion of the governments. If Ms Banerjee lives up to her promise, the ugly and patently unconstitutional practice of government-sponsored shutdowns may end after all. Even the Leftists can no longer deny that the politics of forcible shutdowns has lost all credibility. In fact, their use of the government machinery in forcing strikes shows how little they trust the popular responses to strike calls. Ms Banerjee's recent electoral successes have all come from her promise to change Bengal. Before she can actually work on that promise from Writers' Buildings, she has to prove that she can change her own ways. The popular anger at the Left's political culture offers her a real opportunity. The question is whether her new opposition to strikes is only a strategy to ride to power. If it is only a new device for an image makeover, nothing much may change in Bengal even if she takes power from the Left. A realistic vision of the future requires that she makes a complete break with the ugly past.

 

 ***************************************

 

THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TRUE WORD

 

Rape always presents society with a crucial situation against which it must test itself. One manifestation of that in India was the amending of the law against rape in 1983, after the courts had first acquitted two policemen of the charge of raping a minor tribal girl. It was said in extenuation that she was used to sexual intercourse, that she did not cry out, and that her body showed no signs of coercion. The last ignored the possibility that she had been threatened. Since the amendment, the law holds, among other things, that a woman's word that she had not consented sufficient as evidence of coercion. Proving innocence thus became largely the job of the accused, a principle that goes against the general thrust of Indian criminal law.

 

It is always difficult to correct an imbalance in a balanced way, and the bias against women in Indian society makes correction even more delicate. In a recent case, the Supreme Court has reportedly said that a woman complaining of rape should be taken at her word and no corroborative evidence need be looked for, because she has to go through great turmoil before making the complaint. The court rejected the appeal by two men charged with the rape of two illiterate women. Their argument was that the women had complained 42 days after the incident, so their testimony could not be accepted without corroborative evidence. The Supreme Court's sensitivity and wisdom, for which true respect is due, may, however, suggest that a woman complaining of rape may not be questioned and that corroborative evidence is unnecessary. Not only would this interpretation of the court's comment suggest that the law is different in the case of raped women, but would also add to the difficulties that rape presents as a crime. Evidence is often elusive, especially if the violated person takes time to complain. Then the police are often unwilling to cooperate, and are slipshod in building up a case. As a result, the rate of conviction is shockingly low. The court's remarks, made in a particular context, may encourage the police to be even more careless, resulting in more undeserving acquittals. No one can be convicted without evidence; else, no innocent person would feel secure. The change in attitude should begin from the ground level of the justice system, where the police should concentrate on seriously investigating each complaint. Imbalances cannot be righted from the top alone.

 

 ***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

 

PIGS DON'T FLY

WHY THE IPL WON'T REFORM ITSELF

MUKUL KESAVAN

 

The porkers at the five-star trough have taken a strategic time-out from feeding. They've raised their snouts from superior swill, the better to bite the hand that fed them. The real spectacle of the last fortnight wasn't the sorry cricket served up by IPL 3.0, nor even Lalit Modi's fall from grace, but the sight of supple stakeholder pigs turning on a dime. News channels that gloried in partnering IPL franchises, Modi's henchmen at the BCCI, the hitherto house-trained members of the IPL's governing council, have rediscovered reporting, re-grown spines and unearthed scruples; these pigs have wings.

 

The seamless transition from being Modi's creatures to becoming his critics and the willingness of journalists, commentators and anchors to buy into this new narrative of Wicked Modi and the Duped Establishment tell us something about the damage that the IPL has done to Indian cricket.

 

Notice that every criticism of Modi is qualified by praise for his creation. The IPL, we're told, is a great 'property' and the way to fix the mess is to have the BCCI or the governing council or the tycoons who own the franchises take over its governance.

 

It's worth pointing out that the WWF is a great television property too. It is also wrestling as showbiz and, ultimately, as charade. I don't mean to imply that the IPL's matches were fixed; there's no evidence to suggest that. Dhoni's victory celebration in the semi-final match against the the Deccan Chargers and Tendulkar's willingness to play with an injured hand testify to a genuinely competitive tournament.

 

But once you define Twenty20 cricket and the IPL as a form of showbiz — the cheerleaders, the gold-trim uniforms, the filmstar owners, the mid-over commercials, the commercial crassness of the strategic time-out, the stadiums wall-papered with advertising — its main justification becomes the money that makes it a gilded marvel. When the buzz about a game becomes its success in monetizing everything from post-match parties (where guests pay 40,000 rupees a pop to mingle with tired players) to sponsored sixes, what you're seeing is cricket's transformation from one sort of heavenly body into another: from a sun that burns with its own fire to a planet that preens in the reflected glory of money.

 

And is money a bad thing in an era of professional sport? The short answer is no: more money in cricket is a good thing provided that the process of professionalization is responsibly managed. That means making changes conservatively and, crucially, resisting the impulse to trade in the integrity of the game for revenue.

 

Take football: television channels have been campaigning for decades to divide football into four quarters instead of two halves to make more time for commercials. But football's administrators have consistently refused on the ground that this would change the nature of the contest. And this despite the fact that football with its continuous flow has no natural interruptions for commercials unlike cricket which gives the broadcaster a commercial break at the end of every over. And yet India's cricket authorities allow television channels to air commercials that encroach upon actual play and, in this edition of the IPL, to run commercials between the individual deliveries of a single over.

 

Forget other sports; look at the difference between Set Max's telecast of the IPL and Channel 9's coverage of cricket in Australia. Channel 9 is technically innovative, happy to sell individual bits of cricketing merchandise like signed bats and team photos, but respectful of the rhythms of the game. Set Max chops the natural unit of cricket, an over, into little bits, shrinks the screen to allow ads along the margins in the course of play and introduces the zooming, distorting perspectives of an overhead 'spider-cam' notable mainly for its trick of making live cricket look and feel like a video game.

 

Can you imagine Fifa placing its biggest bets on seven-a-side football? Or the USPGA hustling the Augusta National Golf Club into scrapping the Masters and replacing it with a six hole Pro-Am tournament, which then becomes the centre-piece of America's golfing calendar? Or the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club deciding that it would woo a mass audience of young teens and daytime soap watchers by making Wimbledon a single set tournament played on astro turf by players dressed in gold lamé shorts?

 

Of course you can't. But you don't have to stretch your imagination in the case of cricket because that is, in fact, what the BCCI has done to the game. The IPL under Modi made it clear that it wanted larger 'windows' in cricket's calendar for this mickey-mouse version of the game and the BCCI was happy to let the Indian team's test match calendar shrink into near-nothingness. (I wanted to laugh when Pataudi said that the IPL's revenues would help prop up test cricket: you can't help test cricket when you don't play test matches.) We can't put this down to Modi vs the Good Guys: there are no good guys in the BCCI; the whole cricketing establishment, starting with Sharad Pawar, was complicit in this Disneyfication of cricket.

 

It's worth remembering that international tennis and golf attend closely to the bottom line, the market and the natural appetite of players for money: Wimbledon's winners will make a million pounds each this year and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don't play golf for love. The difference between the establishments of tennis, football and golf on the one hand and the Indian cricket establishment on the other is that the first three have an understanding of their sports that transcends money while the BCCI doesn't. They're acutely aware of the fact that history and continuity are critical to a game's sense of itself, that without them, in the long term, there's no game left to sell.

 

Modi and Pawar and Dalmiya are all operators of one sort or another; it's unfair, almost, to expect them to love the game for itself. But here's the really bad news: the people who you would expect to have this transcendent sense of the game were so coopted by this carnival of greed and vulgarity that they did nothing to prevent the IPL from becoming monstrous. Sunil Gavaskar and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, charter immortals both, served on the IPL's governing council and never once raised the alarm or asked an inconvenient question. By Pataudi's own admission in a television interview, he was so taken with the IPL's success that he and the other governing council members ignored conflicts of interest, allegations of corruption and murmurings about Modi.

 

In effect, Modi used Pataudi and Gavaskar; he used them in much the same way as the proprietor of a dodgy business might cajole famous men on to his board of directors. By serving as mantelpiece ornaments and seeing and saying nothing, they made the IPL respectable. In the course of his interview with Barkha Dutt, Pataudi was disarmingly frank about having been asleep at the wheel and he regretted, more than once, his inaction. His contrition might have sounded more persuasive if it had been accompanied by his resignation. A governing council that exercises no oversight should either dissolve itself or be dismissed.

 

It has become something of an orthodoxy in newly liberalized India to maintain that the government ought not to step in to sort out a mess like the IPL because State intervention makes bad things worse. This is often true, but given the complicity of everyone in Indian cricket in the IPL's murk — from coopted immortals to sham-honorary administrators to gelded commentators — a process of reform from within is unlikely. Pigs don't fly in this dimension.

Instead of taking over the BCCI, the government of India should appoint a Grand Inquisitor whose sole purpose ought to be to terrorize the BCCI into purging itself and its spawn, the IPL, of evil. At worst this might result in a constructive downsizing of the IPL; at best, if the GI is properly inept, the patient might die. For right-thinking people who love cricket, this has to count as a win-win solution.

 

mukulkesavan@hotmail.com

 

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BONDING OVER DISASTER

NEHA SAHAY

 

Has the Yushu earthquake brought the Tibetans and the Chinese authorities closer? Reports from the site of the earthquake, a county bordering Tibet, describe the rescue efforts as teamwork between Tibetan monks and the army, both unable to communicate in the same language, yet complementing each other's efforts perfectly. Inside tents, monks burnt diyas, chanted sutras for the dead and counselled survivors.

 

Outside, as soon as the army's equipment moved rubble and sensed life underneath, the monks would plunge into it to rescue survivors. Even before the army reached, monks had rushed in and started digging with their bare hands, sometimes not even aware that their hands were bleeding.

 

Their familiarity with Yushu's extreme climate made the monks indispensable. At least 200 fire-fighters and para-military troops from the coastal regions had to be evacuated from Yushu within three days after they found it difficult to breathe and their lips turned purple. The monks, on the other hand, would often take over digging from the professional rescuers, seeing them breathless in the thin air.

 

The local Gyegu temple became the centre of the rescue efforts, with bodies kept there for three days. Probably to show that they care for their most rebellious minority, the Chinese government went all out to respect the victims' religious beliefs. It announced that destroyed temples will be rebuilt first, and the disposal of dead bodies was done as per the monks' wishes.

 

The monks brought millions of yuan in relief from their temples; but the army also requested them to distribute

the relief sent by the government. For survivors, getting relief from a high priest was a bonus. Some high priests were quoted praising the government, but it's the children who may never forget what the army, a symbol of suppression to Tibetans, has done for them. Three days after their school was destroyed, 60 out of a total of 165 orphans were back to class in four rooms built by the army and the volunteers.

 

Help at hand

 

The Sichuan earthquake flattened many schools, prompting allegations about poor construction quality. Though it was not officially announced that school reconstruction would be a priority, the official in charge of relief in Yushu declared that schools here would resume functioning by the end of the month. A survivor told President Hu that more than food and clothes, what they wanted were homes and schools. Away in Brazil when the earthquake struck, the president reached Yushu after four days. The vice-premier reached on the day the earthquake struck, and the next day, Premier Wen arrived on a two-day visit, cancelling a trip to Indonesia. As he had in the Sichuan earthquake, here too, he comforted orphans, held the hands of old women, squatted with soldiers, patted volunteers and checked out blankets.

 

President Hu's slogan, which he wrote on the blackboard of a makeshift classroom, making the children repeat it after him — "There will be new schools! There will be new homes" — made headlines. In the rest of China, sympathy for Yushu turned to resentment when government employees found 'voluntary donations' of 100 yuan for earthquake relief cut from their salaries. Some netizens expressed anger at the scrapping of public entertainment programmes, including sports events, for the one-day national mourning a week after the earthquake.

 

Even private websites were asked to suspend music and video games. Newspapers and private websites went black- and-white; but government websites retained their characteristic red format. Asked why, the reply was: "Turning it black would just be for appearances."

 

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A DAY IN WONDERLAND

 

A year after Aila, the State wants the Sunderbans to become the 'new seventh wonder'. Is that what the islanders want as well? asks Uddalak Mukherjee

 

To understand how the State has, over the years, failed the Sunderban's people and environment, it is necessary to visit the islands as many times as possible. I had gone to Satjelia and Lahiripur last August — three months after Aila — and witnessed the marks of devastation. Last week, almost a year after the storm, I returned on another visit. This time, I had not one, but two objectives. First, I wanted to see for myself the tardy pace of government rehabilitation. And I also wanted to talk to the people to find out what they knew about the State's plan to organize a joint vote with Bangladesh to get the Sunderbans declared the seventh wonder of the world.

 

This time, I had decided to travel mostly by land. Last year, the vast rivers and the thick vegetation on the shore had made it difficult for me to ascertain the damage in the villages that stood guarded by puny bunds. I reached Gosaba after crossing, once again, the sullen Vidya. On the two-hour-long journey to Lahiripur on a cycle-van, I passed through Jatirampur and Sukumari, crossed the quiet Magar, and then took the land route again that connected Satjelia with Luxbagan in Lahiripur. Around me, seemingly stretched till the point where the river touched the skies, were swathes of barren, saline land. I saw clusters of empty, broken hamlets whose occupants had migrated in search of livelihood. (Kanti Ganguly, the minister in charge of the Sunderbans, admitted recently that 80 per cent of the youth there now work as migrant labourers.) I saw stunted trees, and the embankments, still made of mud, remained vulnerable. Only the rivers that circled the land looked stronger, and meaner.

 

In Luxbagan, I was met by my host, Kanailal Sarkar, a project-organizer with the Tagore Society for Rural Development. Using Lahiripur as an example, he elaborated on the incomplete rehabilitation work and the magnitude of government indifference. Since May 25, 2008, the day of the storm, of the estimated 5,000 households in Lahiripur (2001 census), only 900 have received full or partial compensation. Government aid, which reached Satjelia-Lahiripur days after the deluge, was limited to one tarpaulin, four kilograms of rice and 300 grams of pulses. The people survived because non-governmental organizations brought drinking water, dry food, medicines and mosquito nets at a much quicker pace.

 

The repair work of the embankments has been equally shoddy. In the Sunderbans, the embankments measure 3,500 kilometres, of which 778 kms are in need of urgent repair. The two sluice gates at Rajatjubileepur and Annepur, near Luxbagan, had been strengthened recently, but during bhara kotal (high tide at full moon), the one in Annepur had been damaged again. Significantly, Bangladesh, arguably much poorer than India, had concretized river embankments as early as 1952. In India, even six decades after Independence, successive Central and state governments have not shown the political will to rescue the people from their plight. Predictably, the state irrigation minister, Subhash Naskar, has absolved himself of all responsibility this time as well and blamed the Centre for its failure to provide Rs 5,000 crore. 'Let down' by the Centre, the state government has now decided to act on its own. A sum of Rs 50 crore has been allotted, and the work, originally scheduled to begin last December, is now expected to commence nearly 48 weeks after the disaster. It is not as if the government cannot act swiftly. Some years ago, it had pounced on a proposal to build an eco-tourism centre along with the Sahara Group in the heart of this fragile environment. There was also some talk of a private lease on the Matla. The apex court and an unwilling people saved the Sunderbans on that occasion.

 

Calcuttans, who have been jolted by the Sunderban's recent plight, need to know that the story of State apathy does not begin with Aila. The mounting agrarian crisis is as much the result of nature's depredations as of faulty government policies. After liberalization, local varieties of rice were replaced with supposedly high-yielding seeds that have been decimated by the saline soil. The Sunderbans have, approximately, 310,561 hectares of cultivable land, but it is not enough to feed 43 lakh people. Yet, land reclamation schemes are unheard of. Nearly 40 per cent of the population are landless labourers, but the government has not managed to provide other means of livelihood. The islands receive 1,700-1,900 millimetres of rainfall, annually, but rainwater-harvesting, which could have helped save much-needed sweet water, is not available widely. There is only one government soil-testing laboratory in the whole of South 24 Parganas, and its branch at Canning remains underutilized.

 

The dismal picture is not complete unless one mentions the poor roads, the lack of electricity and the far-flung health centres. The mutilated path that connects Satjelia to Lahiripur falls under the prime minister's road development programme, and is now in a shambles. The nearest government hospital from Lahiripur is two hours away at Gosaba. At Sukumari, I saw a dubious health advertisement that promised to cure "all illnesses" for Rs 100. Satjelia and Lahiripur have no electricity. The two power centres at Gosaba and Chotomollahkhali can produce 500 kilowatts, but they often operate well below their capacity. I saw at least five primary schools in and around Lahiripur, many of which served as flood centres. I was told that the drop-out rate after Aila had climbed to nearly seven per cent. In Lahiripur, the supply of kerosene was intermittent and firewood equally scarce. Meen chash — the catching of prawn hatchlings — had fallen by 80 per cent, and trafficking of women is on the rise.

 

It is this wonderland that the State is now trying to peddle to the world through a vote. But its efforts in this respect have been equally slipshod. None of the panchayat members in Satjelia and Lahiripur knew about the contest. Some NGO workers mentioned that they had been informed about the initiative in a recent conclave that was attended by the ministers of forests of India and Bangladesh. But a blueprint to raise awareness levels is yet to be prepared. But can there be anything more perverse than the idea of goading an impoverished, defenceless people to vote in order to win international recognition? The State wants the Sunderbans to become the seventh wonder of the world. So the people of the islands must vote, even though what they would like, ideally, is to elect a government that would repair embankments and provide food and fresh water. The vote, supposedly a symbol of a healthy democracy, has been corrupted to force upon a people choices and needs that are alien and unnecessary.

 

But then, India's democracy is inherently elitist. Be it in the Sunderbans or the forests of Bastar, marginalized voices and their needs are seldom represented. In Sunderban's case, this is also reflected in the conservation efforts. For instance, the people's pleas to raise awareness about the disappearing baine, a mangrove species that strengthens soil and grows at a faster clip, have been ignored.

 

Wilful exclusion breeds anger. At night, my host and I chatted with a village school-teacher. The river lapped in the dark, and the eerie forest, lit up by fireflies, loomed nearby. The two men said, matter-of-factly, that blood would spill if the bunds were breached again. Their words, and not the river or the forest, chilled my bones. Apathy also brings with it unimaginable despair. The following morning, on my way back to Gosaba, I saw a mad man throwing stones into the river. The van driver said that the man had lost his family, and his mind, to the storm. He now spends his days tossing pebbles and stones, hoping that the waters will not rise again. Of all the unforgettable men and women in the islands, I remember him the most.

 

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FANTASY OF THE WILD

DUAL IMAGE

 

A curious combination of euphoria and despondence characterizes governmental attitudes to the Sunderbans. Recently, the West Bengal government affirmed that India would join Bangladesh in a campaign to have the Gangetic delta recognized as one of the new seven wonders of nature. Only a year ago, however, the region was rent by Cyclone Aila. It left behind a sinking land, with angry waters straining against weak embankments. The inhabitants of the islands struggle to piece their lives back together, but as the monsoons approach, the "worst situation" is yet to come, says Kanti Ganguly, the Sunderban affairs minister of West Bengal. The fantasy of "wonder" must be preserved in the face of this devastation. A global rhetoric of conservation, many researchers feel, has been imposed on the ground realities of the region.

 

"This initiative will be in collaboration with a number of NGOs," Ganguly says, "we plan to carry out the campaign on the internet and through mobile phones. The media must play a role in popularizing it." In order to beat the other contender for the title, the Amazon Basin, India and Bangladesh will jointly have to raise 11 crore votes. The "blueprint" for this mammoth endeavour awaits "financial clearance", says Ganguly. According to reports, about 72 villages in the area are expected to be involved in the campaign. Yet for a region riddled with dire social, economic as well as ecological problems, the aspiration to "wonder" seems a ghastly irony.

 

Ganguly argues that the Central government needs to be more closely involved in the region, especially in providing relief to those affected by Aila. The Centre had promised Rs 1,000 crore towards repairing the damage caused by the cyclone, he says, but the money is yet to come. "The state government cannot manage on its own," he declares. The Union minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh, has pledged his support to the joint campaign only when the "blueprint" is produced. While conservation receives considerable attention, there is not enough focus on development, Ganguly feels. If successful, the campaign is likely to provide an impetus to conservation efforts in the region and, as Ganguly observes bitterly, "unless the tiger is saved, the people of the Sunderbans will not be saved either".

 

The campaign may be the latest in a tradition of fantasy projected on the Sunderbans by centres of power, usually operating from urban centres. Wonder, mixed with fear, also characterized the colonial administration's response to the wild, uncharted terrains. In the 19th century, efforts at land reclamation had failed and in 1911, this 'waste' country had not yet been brought under the census. It must have haunted the colonial imagination. In an 1875 account, William Hunter calls it "a sort of drowned land, covered with jungle, smitten by malaria and infested by wild beasts". In the same year, however, the region is declared a reserved forest. The colonial administration was also quick to recognize the Sunderbans as a source of revenue. Presumably to protect natural resources, it imposed user fees and licences, setting in motion a gradual displacement of the local inhabitants, who had been using the forest resources for years.Post Independence, this displacement has continued under the 'universal' imperatives of conservation. The urban fantasy about the Sunderbans as a place of immense natural beauty and home to the Royal Bengal tiger had to be preserved. Project Tiger was started in 1973 and the Sunderbans, increasingly identified as a tiger reserve and a tourist attraction, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. With global systems of science and knowledge in place, critics argue, the interests of the local inhabitants have been further disenfranchised. As one frantic campaign succeeds another, however, this darker picture of an impoverished and underdeveloped region is not often allowed to intrude on the fantasy of wilderness.

IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY

 

***************************************


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

EDITORIAL

BRITTLE UNITY

''IT'S DOUBTFUL IF ANY PARTY WANTED THE GOVT TO GO.''

 

The opposition's performance in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, when it was expected to pose the most serious challenge to the UPA government since its coming to power last year, shows that it is willing to strike but is afraid to wound. If the government had lost the trial of strength on the cut motions moved by the Left and the BJP it would have collapsed. But it was the opposition unity seen in the last few weeks that collapsed, with the BSP coming to the aid of the government directly and the fair-weather friends SP and RJD indirectly helping it through non-participation in voting. It became clear that none of the parties wanted the fall of the government and the prospect of fresh elections. It is doubtful if even the Left and the BJP, which led the assault, wanted to defeat the government.

 

The UPA managers had also done enough spade work to keep the flock together and enlist support from the opposition by striking deals wherever necessary. Mayawati's BSP had a price tag for its support and it was obvious that the government was ready to pay it when the CBI told the supreme court last week that it was ready to consider her request to close the investigation into the disproportionate assets case. The government was also willing to accommodate Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh in their problems with the income tax department relating to disproportionate assets. Political support was bought with personal favours, at the expense of principles and the state exchequer, and still the Congress has the gumption to say that the CBI is an independent body. The support that the BSP extended to the government is not lasting too, as the party and the Congress are rivals in UP. The reluctance to join hands with the BJP, which the parties have given as the reason for bailing out the government, is an excuse. What counted was self-interest, and that too personal interests of leaders. That is not new because much politics has revolved around personal interests in the past also.

However, the government has in the process emerged stronger and the claims of opposition unity have suffered a knock. The non-BJP, non-Congress platform of 13 parties, led by the Left, has also crumbled. With its position strengthened, what the government should concentrate is to clear the heavy legislative agenda as early as possible.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STILL STONEWALLING

"INDIA HAS RIGHTLY RULED OUT HANDING OVER KASAB."

 

Pakistan's continuing stonewalling in bringing to justice its nationals who plotted and facilitated the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai has been laid bare yet again. It has responded to the three dossiers India handed over to its officials in February this year by claiming that the evidence is not credible or enough to prosecute Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six others who are being tried in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court for their role in the Mumbai attacks. To facilitate their prosecution it has requested Delhi to hand over Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks and his associate Fahim Ansari to Pakistani authorities. It has also asked for three Indian officials — two magistrates and an investigating officer — to testify in the ongoing trial in Rawalpindi.


India has rightly ruled out handing over Kasab to Pakistani authorities. Even if there were no legal obstacles in the way — there is no extradition treaty between the two countries — handing over Kasab to Pakistan is a bad idea. Kasab admitted his role in the terrorist attacks — although he went back on that statement later — and provided much information on the role of Pakistani citizens, including senior officials in the military, in the plot. His confessions put Pakistan in an embarrassing spot. Many in the LeT and the Pakistani military are therefore likely to be keen to silence him. There is a possibility too that Kasab's friends in the military might facilitate his escape while in Pakistani custody.


Some will argue that Pakistan's request for Kasab is aimed at putting the onus of responsibility on India to take forward the trial of the LeT operatives. There is no need for Kasab's physical presence in Pakistan. The testimony of the magistrates, in writing if not in person, should be enough to convict the LeT operatives. India has already provided Pakistan with enough and more evidence on the role of the LeT in the Mumbai plot. If Pakistan has not been able to convict them yet this is because of the absence of political will to do so. It is not just bilateral ties that are being marred by Pakistan's obstinate refusal to act against the accused. The failure to act against the terror networks is threatening the very survival of Pakistan.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CRICKET NEEDS LEGISLATION

CRICKET IN INDIA HAS REACHED SUCH PROPORTIONS IT CAN NO LONGER BE LEFT TO THE WHIMSICAL DECISION-MAKING OF PRIVATE BODIES.

BY ADITYA SONDHI


While the ongoing IPL fiasco has assumed bizarre proportions, one is bemused to learn that the BCCI, despite claiming to be 'the single national governing body for all cricket in India' is, by its own reckoning, a mere private, autonomous entity with no public mandate or governmental control.


This position taken by the BCCI before the supreme court in the case of Zee Telefilms Ltd vs Union of India, and upheld by the court by a 3:2 judgement, intriguingly, was at loggerheads with the stand taken by the Centre before the court that the BCCI has always been subjected to de facto control and recognition by the ministry of youth affairs and sport.


It also contended that the team selected by the BCCI represented the country as the official Indian team, that the permission of the government of India is required, and indeed sought, by the BCCI for visiting foreign teams and that the BCCI performs a public function, being accountable to the government and to the people of India at large.
Rather than intervene in the functioning of the BCCI in a circuitous manner, as has recently been done through income tax raids, enquiries through the Registrar of Companies, etc, the Union government ought to vindicate its stand by enacting a law to deal with the establishment (or recognition, as the case may be) of such a national cricket body and its powers and functions.


This is all the more imperative as any international cricket match played in India brings into its fold various aspects, which collectively, have an uncanny resemblance to governmental activity. These  include (a) the regulation of the right of the viewers to witness the match on television and other media; (b) the right of the public to attend and witness the match in compliance with security protocols and the ICC Anti-Racism Code; (c) the provision of high-level security for the players and spectators; (d) the regulation of ancillary activities such as awarding of television contracts, team franchises, player endorsements, distribution of prize money and public relations.


Apart from the official economy of scale that the BCCI enjoys by way of whopping cricketing revenues, the government also needs to take cognisance of an organised black-market for betting on cricket as well as the menace of match-fixing and money laundering involved in the sport. All of these evils cry out for legislative correction.


There is, however, a constitutional conundrum involved as  'sports' is matter falling under the State List contained in Schedule 7 to the Constitution of India. Hence, the Union of India lacks legislative competence to enact a central law on the subject.


In national interest

In these circumstances, one needs to resort to Article 249 of the Constitution whereby the Rajya Sabha could propose a resolution with a special majority that parliament legislate on the sport of cricket, being a matter of necessity and/or expediency in national interest.


Alternatively, parliament needs to resort to the more complex but oft-used option of amending Schedule 7 to introduce 'sports' as an entry in the Concurrent List, as was sought to be done by the 61st Constitutional Amendment Bill, 1988, which is now on the verge of being withdrawn. Indeed, the national sports policy 2001 itself provides for the "inclusion of 'sports' in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India and introduction of appropriate legislation..."


While constitutional hurdles undoubtedly exist, they are not insurmountable. Sadly, when it comes to sport, there is still a perceivably apathetic approach on the part of the government despite the fact that cricket in India has reached proportions where it can no longer be left to the whimsical decision-making of private bodies.
While other prominent cricket-playing countries like England and Australia continue to be governed by non-statutory bodies — English and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia — the preeminent position that India enjoys in world cricket is reason enough for her to take the lead in legislating on the subject.


The more apposite comparison is to football in Brazil, where the sport is a veritable national way of life, just as cricket is in India. Brazil has had a formal sports law in place since 1941 and has more recently codified the 'Zico Law' in 1993 and the 'Pele Law' in 2001. Indulgent as the names may seem, the laws are far-sighted, dealing with matters ranging from players' and spectator-insurance, players' contracts, labour issues, formulation of leagues, et al.


Ultimately, the prevalent ad-hocism in the management of Indian cricket is unacceptable to a jurist and a cricket-fan alike, and the time is ripe for the Union government to rise to the occasion by propounding an original and exhaustive piece of legislation that addresses the issues facing India's national pastime (though hockey still remains our national sport!).


Such a step would be a giant leap for the development of sports law in India and transparency in the conduct of the game, and would make us a torchbearer for the rest of the cricketing community worldwide.
(The writer is a practising advocate)

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SWEET MEMORIES

WOULD IT EVER BE POSSIBLE TO WIPE OUT OLD MEMORIES?

BY NALINI MURALIDHAR


What does one do with memories? Pack them up neatly in a box and keep them away? Dust the cobwebs and look at them one by one when you fancy? Or just linger a moment and let them flood your mind, sweeping you away in a wave of emotion?


The rusty old gates of 'Arunoday' creaked as I opened them. It was the first time that I was coming home after my parents had passed away. The etching of my father's name on the gate was still intact, albeit a little weather-beaten, the black paint a little run down and the No 31 rusted and smudged. But my father's name in all its glory, was there for everyone to see. A name which for me had given me an identity from the time I was born till way past 50, even after I had got married and become a mother.

 

I stepped inside the garden. The leaves of the neem tree swayed gently, fanning a cool breeze, its shade a balm to a tired body. How well I remembered amma's authoritative voice ordering the servants to pluck the leaves to soak in water for a therapeutic bath. The jasmine tree exuded a smell so strong and unique.


Three steps and I was on the verandah — anna and amma's favourite place. It was here that they had their morning cuppa and their afternoon tea, lounging on the easy chairs. Often a neighbour or relative would be sharing the tea with a few home-made snacks. Amma would shout out her orders to the cook, "Meera, a few more cups of tea and some more plates." And so afternoon would turn to evening and evening to night and the tea sessions, accompanied by rounds of laughter and talk, would never end, even after the moon came out and played hide and seek with the trees, casting a silvery sheen to the scene below.


I went inside and the drawing room stood intact, just as it had been but dusty and unkempt. Amma would have looked on disapprovingly. The TV stood in the corner, mute now but at one time anna's most faithful companion, blaring out the news hour after hour. Next came the puja room and arrayed on low stools were the idols of the different gods and goddesses, with photographs in the background.


The bedroom had all the familiar things in their places —the reading glasses, the dressing mirror with all the creams, powders and perfume bottles on them. It was as if time had stood still, save for the presence of my parents. I looked at the familiar things through the mist in my eyes. Would I ever be able to forget the past and wipe out the memories, I wondered. Just then my grandchild came crawling and tugged at my saree. I knew then that it was time to get back to the present. Yesterday could never be wiped out but tomorrow stood bright and beckoning. It was time for new beginnings.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

OPEN SESAME: THE INDO-BHUTAN BORDERS

WHEN YOU BUY A PACKET OF CIGARETTES ON THE INDIAN SIDE AND PAY IN RUPEES, YOU GET THE CHANGE IN NGULTRUMS.

BY BHASKAR DUTTA-BARUAH

 

Probably one of the most volatile border areas in India, the region stretching from Darjeeling district in West Bengal to Bongaigaon in Assam, has from a very long time been the centre of massive political and economic upheavals. One of the most bio-diverse and naturally wealthy regions in India, this belt is the doorway between the countries of Bhutan and India and history has aptly been named, the Dooars (literally meaning 'doors' in Bengali, Nepali and Bhojpuri).


Assam and the Dooars region is the lifeline of the Bhutanese people, who do not have access from point A to point B within their kingdom through their own territory because of the mountainous terrain. They depend on the Indian Dooars to transport people and goods even within their own kingdom. Various treaties were signed between the two countries during the post independence era in order to sustain their bilateral relations and also for facilitating the landlocked Bhutanese in maintaining their ties with the outside world, through the Indian terrain.

Article 4 from the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, amended and signed between the governments of India and Bhutan in 2007, shows the extent to which this tiny mountain kingdom is dependent on 'Big Brother' India even for its own defence.


Equal treatment

Article 5 from the same agreement reads: The government of Bhutan and the government of India agree that Bhutanese subjects residing in Indian territories shall have equal justice with Indian subjects, and that Indian subjects residing in Bhutan shall have equal justice with the subjects of the government of Bhutan.
But, all those who have travelled to Bhutan would have noticed the massive gates at the borders. This is where the control of the Bhutanese regime begins. An Indian citizen entering Bhutan with valid documents like a passport or a voter's ID card gets his travel documents stamped; if he does not possess any of the mentioned documents, he should get himself identified from the nearest India House. He proves the purpose of his visit to the satisfaction of the Bhutanese immigration officer, gets his baggage checked for customs clearance and finally disinfects his vehicle wheels (if driving) with a red fluid whose name I do not know. But a Bhutanese National entering Assam by car or on foot does not go through any checks, immigration, customs clearance, etc on the Indian side. This is the greatness of India, we believe in a world without borders  — 'Welcome to Utopia'.

Now take Manas National Park, also within the Dooars, for instance — a Unesco world heritage site and a biosphere reserve. There is a tiny Bhutanese village called Panbang beyond the Park and across the border, a place that produces some of the finest oranges found in this part of the world. Heavy vehicles transporting these oranges cut through the Indian side of Manas in order to reach the bigger markets of Bhutan. This is an ongoing process of disturbing the wildlife, the jungle roads and the flora of this rich park.


One observes the absence of checkpoints on the Indian side to screen and also restrict (where applicable) such transits. But the Bhutanese are in the process of identifying a point on their side of Manas to check the inflow of tourists, ie the casual visitor from the Indian side wishing to catch a glimpse of the Royal Manas National Park (the Bhutanese part) by crossing the Beki River. A fine step indeed, but it should be a reminder to the Indian government to take matching measures on our side as well.

Article VII from the Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between the governments of India and Bhutansigned in July 2006 states: "Trade between India and Bhutan will continue to be transacted in Indian rupees and Bhutanese ngultrums.


But a reality check proves the contrary. Bhutanese authorities ask for payments in US dollars and amounts paid in Indian currency being converted as per existing USD rates is a fact.


Indian currency notes in denominations of 1,000 are not accepted. It means that a traveller or a small time trader from India should either carry a whole stash of cash in smaller denominations or depend upon plastic money in Bhutan, since Ngultrums are not available to purchase in the regulated Forexmarket in our country.
Imagine the vulnerability of the Indian security veil, when you can buy a packet of cigarettes on the Indian side of Hathisar, pay in Indian currency and receive the change in Ngultrums because the unlicensed Bhutanese shopkeeper did not possess any Indian currency! India's porous borders with Bangladesh have been an issue of concern for decades now, but the borders with Bhutan are no less precarious.

 

***************************************


*****************************************************************************************

THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR CYNICISM

WHATEVER EGYPT'S GOALS ARE IN CALLING ON ISRAEL TO JOIN THE NPT, THIS IS NO FRIENDLY MOVE.

 

 

There is more than a touch of schizophrenia in Egyptian policy toward Israel. Egyptian attitudes sometimes appear positive, but Egypt is also a hotbed of anti-Israel propaganda and spawns repeated initiatives which cannot but be regarded as inimical.


Egypt aspires to the role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be conferring with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week. Egypt is reportedly mobilizing Arab League support to wrest PA President Mahmoud Abbas out of his intransigence.


Egyptian efforts to prevent massive gunrunning to Gaza's Hamas dominion may not be sufficient, but they have been upped since Operation Cast Lead. The same goes for curtailing human trafficking and illegal migration from Africa via Sinai. While Egyptian policing of the border may be questionable, as in the arrest of an Israeli cyclist who strayed innocently across the unmarked line, cross-border cooperation can be effective; the Israeli was returned four days later.


On the debit side of the ledger is the outright Judeophobia so endemic in Egypt. Apart from the notorious Mein Kampf and "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" remaining high on Egyptian best-seller lists – and its government-controlled press featuring noxious libels and Der Sturmer-style caricatures – Egyptian headliners frequently heap invective upon Israel, and the current climate discourages even the most constructive contact between Israelis and Egyptians.


The inbuilt contradiction of Egyptian attitudes is exemplified by the recent incident in which Egypt's foreign minister reportedly labeled Israel an enemy during a visit to Lebanon. He later clarified, saying that he meant to imply that Beirut views Israel as an enemy.

 

THIS DIPLOMATIC split personality is perhaps most evident in Egypt's perennial campaign to deprive Israel of whatever nuclear powers some believe it possesses. This is a persistent Egyptian theme. Egypt's latest gambit is to coerce Israel to sign the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


The 189 NPT signatories will confer at UN headquarters next month, with Egypt helping to divert the focus of their agenda from Iran to Israel. Egypt is openly threatening to block all NPT Review Conference resolutions if Israel's purported nuclear arsenal isn't targeted. Egypt already scuttled the previous NPT conference in 2005.

The danger this time is that more and more states – bona fide democracies among them – are willing to play along with Egypt. The current US administration is plainly far more amenable than its predecessor to the idea of reviving yesteryear's "ban-the-bomb" rhetoric of a nuke-free and menace-free world. Last fall, with much fanfare, President Barack Obama chaired the UN Security Council session which re-sparked the vision of nuclear disarmament.


Moreover, there is a pronounced predilection in the West to vent the frustration Iran foments by spotlighting Israel. Egypt cynically exploits such predispositions and has already secured many co-sponsors for its resolution.

On the face of it, Egypt can claim moral equivalence. But this is a counterfeit claim. Egypt and like-minded co-sponsors all know that Israel is as prudent a democracy as exists anywhere. If Israel actually has the bomb, then it has had it for the past 50 years, almost as long as the original "Atomic Club" members. In all that time, in line with Israel's pledge not to be the first country to introduce the use of nuclear weaponry to the region, no wrongful use has been made.


Iran is the diametrical opposite of Israel – a regime professing extreme Islamist doomsday theology whose bywords are volatility and unpredictability. There's no equivalence between a self-defending democracy and an expansionist tyranny.

Egypt's ploy is to demand a nuclear-free Mideast predicated on the 1995 NPT Review Resolution to create a regional WMD-free zone. Yet it's quite outrageous to ignore the variety of WMD modes and concentrate on the Mideast's one beleaguered democracy. The implication is that democratic Israel can be pressured, while autocratic Iran will get away with flagrant obstructionism. The good guy will be disarmed, and the out-of-control aggressor will be armed to the teeth.


Is this what Egypt seeks to accomplish? Does it wish to weaken Israel? Does it intend to ignite more tension between Jerusalem and Washington? Whatever Egypt's goals, this is no friendly move.


The irony is that Egypt knows full well that Teheran's ayatollahs do not merely imperil Israel. Their fiery brand of Islam primarily targets the so-called Arab moderates, Egypt first and foremost. Egypt would do best to be a force for stability rather than friction.

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SEEKING PEACE, OR JUST PRETENDING?

BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD


Israel and the Palestinians want peace with the Obama administration. Peace with each other is another matter.

 

 

Finally, there's a Middle East peace process under way, and both sides appear anxious to make progress.


No, not the one between Israel and the Palestinians. I'm talking about making peace between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. After months of acrimony, accusations and attack ads, both sides, feeling battered and bruised, say they're ready.

 

The White House, stung by criticism from many of its friends and supporters in the Jewish community and on Capitol Hill, launched an "aggressive" PR "blitz" to reassure critics that the relationship remains "unshakable and unbreakable," in the words of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.


He was just one of a squadron of top-level officials, starting with the president, spreading the message and trying to head off "domestic repercussions of the recent clashes" between Washington and Jerusalem, reported Politico's Laura Rozen.


IT IS a victory for Netanyahu, who complained to supporters here that the administration has been unfair and unkind to him. He has a reputation for clashing with American presidents, and a propensity to intrigue against them with their political foes to foil what he considers aggressive peace policies.


The prime minister has resisted pressure from the Obama administration, which at times was clumsy and heavy-handed, to force a construction freeze in east Jerusalem and elicit other concessions to the Palestinians in an effort to resume peace talks suspended since late 2008. But recent talk of an American peace plan may have changed Netanyahu's mind. There are reports – understandably denied – that he has frozen new construction in east Jerusalem, and has offered Palestinians a package of confidence-building measures in the hope of heading off an Obama initiative.


Aaron David Miller, a veteran peace envoy, suggests the determined "peace processors" are all just treading water.

Peace "requires leaders with the legitimacy, authority and command of their politics to make a deal stick," he writes in Foreign Policy, and neither Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has that. Both are "more prisoners of their constituencies than masters of them." There are no "bold and heroic Arab and Israeli leaders... willing and able to do serious peacemaking," he said, and there are no signs of any waiting in the wings. "Right now, America has neither the opportunity nor frankly the balls to do truly big things on Arab-Israeli peacemaking," he writes.


Both Netanyahu and Abbas say they want peace, but their actions tell a different story. Neither is looking for opportunities to narrow differences, but rather for excuses to avoid serious negotiations and blame the other for the failure.


Netanyahu has made a number of important moves since his election – notably endorsing a two-state solution – but he has failed to get much credit because he gives the impression that he is being dragged kicking and screaming to the peace table by the big bad president of the United States. That may placate some of his ultra-nationalist coalition partners, but it doesn't help him convince the Arabs, the Europeans, most Israelis and the Americans that he is serious when he says he wants peace.


ABBAS, FOR his part, seems to be trying to make Netanyahu look dovish. He refuses to meet face-to-face unless his several demands are met, including a freeze on construction in every part of the land that he wants for a Palestinian state. His latest move is a call for Obama to "impose" a settlement on Israel.


That drew a quick rejection. The president wrote a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations declaring "peace cannot be imposed from the outside."


That message has been repeated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.


This week, following meetings with US peace envoy George Mitchell – he's trying to launch indirect talks – both Netanyahu and Abbas sounded more conciliatory, perhaps because the White House was busy making peace with Bibi and Abbas got an invitation to the Oval Office.


Netanyahu said he wants to begin talks "immediately," including on final-status issues of borders, refugees, sovereignty and Jerusalem, and Abbas told Israel's Channel 2 news that he expects negotiations to resume next month. Abbas also made conciliatory remarks about solving the refugee issue, and said he opposes a unilateral declaration of statehood.

Don't rush out to order your tickets for the peace treaty signing ceremony. All this really means is that Israel and the Palestinians want peace with the Obama administration. Peace with each other is another matter.


I'm no great fan of former secretary of state James Baker, but he was right when he declared the US can't want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. And right now, Aaron Miller suggests, there are more important issues facing the US than trying to help forge agreements between Israelis and Palestinians whose leaders are not ready, willing or able to make difficult decisions and carry them out.


bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FROM PRO-ISRAEL TO ANTI-ISRAEL APOLOGIST

BY ISI LEIBLER

 

Could Indyk's recent op-ed in the 'New York Times' be the last hurrah from those Jews pressing Obama to intensify pressure?

 

 

Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has emerged as one of the leading Jewish apologists for President Barack Obama in his confrontation with the Israeli government.


With the American public now beginning to express resentment of the anti-Israeli tilt adopted by the Obama administration, Indyk has been intensifying his attacks on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, blaming him for the crisis and slandering him as an instrument of extremist nationalist elements.


Indyk has had a remarkably successful academic and political career. Educated in Australia, he was employed by the Australian counterpart of AIPAC. In the US, he subsequently assumed a research role in AIPAC, following which he was appointed executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and taught Middle East studies in various universities.


He served as a special assistant to president Bill Clinton, and was a member of secretary of state Warren Christopher's Middle East peace team. After adopting US citizenship, he became the first foreign-born and first Jewish US ambassador to Israel, serving two terms. Currently he is director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute. Indyk is also an enthusiastic supporter of the New Israel Fund, and recently vigorously defended the NIF in Australia after the invitation to NIF president Naomi Chazan was revoked following the uproar concerning NIF grants to organizations collaborating in the compilation of the despicable Goldstone Report.


SO HOW are we to understand Indyk's recent outbursts? Jewish supporters of Obama's harsh and one-sided offensive against the current government fall into two broad categories.


There are those like J Street who are either genuinely anti-Israel or convinced they know better than Israelis what is best for Israel and are willing to lobby their government to force the Jewish state to continue making unilateral concessions. Needless to say, according to the most recent poll, more than 90 percent of Israelis are opposed to Obama imposing a solution.


The second category are the acolytes of Obama seeking to ingratiate themselves with the administration by acting as its apologists.


Indyk understands both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the nature of Israeli domestic policies, and on the basis of his ferocious criticisms of the government, one is tempted to conclude that as a member of the administration, he is not merely promoting a partisan agenda, but deliberately distorting reality.


His most recent defense of Obama's offensive was an International Herald Tribune op-ed titled "When Your Best Friend Gets Angry."


He accuses Netanyahu of being responsible for the current crisis. Yet he is aware that he has skillfully navigated his government to a centrist position which the vast majority of Israelis support. Indyk must appreciate that by appeasing Obama and initiating a settlement freeze, Netanyahu made a concession that none of his "dovish" political predecessors would ever have contemplated. This and other unilateral concessions to the Palestinians were neither reciprocated nor even acknowledged.


Indyk's extreme views should perhaps be viewed in the context of his colleague Dennis Ross being reportedly accused of having dual loyalties for suggesting that the administration was making demands that could not be implemented within the democratic constraints of the Israeli system. Indyk need not be concerned about facing any such suspicions, and also implicitly distanced himself from Aaron David Miller, a long-term State Department critic of Israeli government policies, who recently also expressed disillusion with the path adopted by the Obama administration.


INDYK EVEN went to the length of reiterating that Israeli intransigence was contributing to US military casualties – a manifestly untrue accusation (as Indyk himself must know) – repudiated by Gen. David Petraeus, who emphasized the positive aspects of Israel as a strategic ally. Indyk effectively claimed that American soldiers were dying because Israelis are endangering "a vital national security interest for the United States," presumably by building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.


In subsequent more explicit comments, Indyk said 200,000 US troops are fighting terrorism and Obama is obliged to write between 30 and 40 condolence letters a month – far more than the Israeli prime minister. Such chilling remarks from a mainstream American Jewish public figure have the capacity of inflicting enormous damage on Israel and the Jewish community.


Indyk also repeats the absurdity that by making more unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, Israel will enable the US to resolve the Iranian nuclear threat, again linking the construction freeze in Jerusalem with Obama's ability to deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


This balderdash is compounded when he also urges Israel to cede the Golan to Syria – ignoring the latter's alliance with Iran and its increasing aggressiveness toward Israel.


To top off this vicious barrage, Indyk cynically invokes the memory of Yitzhak Rabin, whom he refers to as "Israel's greatest strategic thinker." Yet he would be aware that Rabin exploded when Diaspora Jews sought to encourage US administrations to exert pressure on the elected Israeli government.


He would also know that Rabin would never have displayed Netayahu's restraint had an American president treated his country like a vassal, as Obama did to his erstwhile ally.


Indyk's recent intensified attacks on the government could be in response to the extraordinary groundswell of protest against Obama's hostility toward Israel.


AMONG JEWS, ADL's Abe Foxman is no longer a lone voice protesting the Obama policies. World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democratic Obama supporter Alan Dershowitz, former New York mayor Ed Koch and many other mainstream Jewish leaders are now raising their voices in protest. There is a groundswell of anger among Jewish Democrats who feel that Obama reneged on his pre-electoral commitments. The most recent poll (Quinnipiac University) shows that 67% of American Jews (78% of whom voted for Obama) disapprove of his policies, while only 28% approve; 73% believe that Palestinians should be obliged to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition to further negotiations.

 

This extends to the wider American public, the majority of whom also disapprove of Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with 66% saying he should be a strong supporter of Israel and only 19% opposed. Twice as many Americans support Netanyahu as those opposing him.


This was reflected in resolutions passed by the House and the Senate with overwhelming majorities urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bring an end to the confrontation.


Of late, the message seems to have penetrated. The more recent statements from both Obama and Clinton not only reiterate the "unshakeable relationship" between Israel and the US, but are trying to promote the appearance that relations are on the mend.


Most Israelis and Americans would certainly welcome this. Thus, perhaps Indyk's op-ed was a last hurrah from those Jews pressing Obama to intensify pressure. Indyk's warning to Israelis to distance themselves from the policies of their government "or there will be serious consequences" should therefore be treated with the contempt it deserves.


ileibler@netvision.net.il

***************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WANNA BUY A BRIDGE, MR. MITCHELL?

BY LARRY DERFNER

 

How much more evidence does anyone need that Israel, of its own accord, isn't about to budge from the West Bank?

 

 

We make a point of judging everybody on their deeds, not their words – everybody but ourselves.


When we say every Israeli wants peace, when two out of three Israelis consistently tell pollsters they'd give up settlements for peace, when our Likud prime minister tells the world he now accepts the two-state solution, we say: You hear that? Listen to our words. What further proof does anyone need of our peaceful intentions?

But then there's this little matter of deeds, of what Israel actually does. On the ground. And our deeds tell a somewhat different story than our words.


"Despite a 2002 road map commitment and years of pledges by successive prime ministers including Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel has no intention in the forseeable future of dismantling any of the 23 unauthorized West Bank outposts built after March 2001, The Jerusalem Post has learned." So began Tovah Lazaroff's lead story yesterday.

Now really, how much more evidence does anyone need that Israel, of its own accord, isn't about to budge from the West Bank? US envoy George Mitchell, who just came here, left and is on his way back for more, was quoted in The New York Times saying: "I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement."


What is needed from Israel in a peace agreement, according to everyone who matters, is the removal of about 100,000 settlers from the interior of the West Bank, and the handing over of that land to the Palestinian Authority. If Mitchell is really asking himself whether Netanyahu would do that or not, then I'm afraid he may still be a little bit behind the curve.


LET HIM try this experiment. Let him say to Netanyahu: How about a confidence-building measure, a minimal show of good faith, a small gesture to convince the Palestinians you mean what you say about the two-state solution? Since the PA has come such a long way from the days of Yasser Arafat, since it's been fighting terror seriously for three years, since it's been working closely with the IDF and Shin Bet (!), since it's helped make the West Bank safer than it's been in nearly 25 years – since the PA has gone so far in giving Israel peace, Israel ought to do its part by giving the PA at least some land.


Not much. Just one settlement. Which one? The smallest one, okay? Give up the smallest settlement in the interior of the West Bank, on the far side of the security barrier, one of those tiny little ones with only about 200 or 300 residents. It doesn't have to be right away, of course – give them a year's notice. Tell them they can move anywhere they want on this side of the security barrier – even to Gush Etzion or Ma'aleh Adumim. They can go on being settlers in Judea and Samaria!


Or they can move to any of the Jewish neighborhoods in "liberated" Jerusalem – to French Hill, Ramot, Gilo. They can go live in any of the big settlement blocs close enough to the Green Line for Israel to swap for with a Palestinian state. They just can't keep living in the heart of the West Bank because then there's no place for Palestine.

To make room for Palestine, about 100,000 settlers are going to have to go. I'm just asking for 200 or 300 as a down payment. Give them a year. Compensate them to the moon – you could take the money out of the $3 billion a year we give you. Are you worried about security? Are you afraid Iran would move in where the settlers left? Fine, keep your soldiers there, declare the place a closed military zone and only hand it over to the PA after a peace agreement is signed. You'll have more security there with soldiers instead of civilians.

One tiny settlement, 200 or 300 people, a year's notice, and afterward it's an IDF outpost. Bibi, what do you say?

I DON'T think anyone with any understanding of Israel today has the least shadow of a doubt what Netanyahu would say. However he might put it, his answer would be no. It is unthinkable for this prime minister to remove any of the permanent West Bank settlements, even the smallest.


And now we learn he's not going to remove the makeshift settler outposts, either.


Yet people say Netanyahu supports the two-state solution. What on earth is that supposed to mean? It's crap. It's Israeli propaganda. You have to be a Pollyanna to believe it, or even to wonder if it may be true, and Mitchell is no Pollyanna. He just pretends to think Netanyahu may come around because he couldn't do his job otherwise.

Here's the skinny: Netanyahu would probably be willing to take down the makeshift outposts and even a few small permanent settlements if the Palestinians would drop all further demands. He's not a religious fanatic about Judea and Samaria; he'd be ready to trade a small fraction of the land and move out a few thousand settlers in return for full peace, i.e. the Palestinians' surrender.


But he can't even do that. His own party wouldn't let him, not to mention the Likud's even further-right-wing coalition partners. Ariel Sharon had the popularity, stature and determination to face down the settler movement and evacuate 8,000 Jewish residents in Gaza. Menachem Begin had the popularity, stature and determination to uproot 5,000 Jewish residents in Sinai.


Binyamin Netanyahu doesn't have the popularity, stature or determination to remove even one settler from Judea and Samaria, let alone 100,000, which he wouldn't dream of doing even if he could.

 

No, not only won't he end the occupation, he won't even stop it from growing. The most he will do is slow the occupation's growth slightly, which is what the current settlement "freeze" may, if we're very lucky, accomplish. At best, Netanyahu will take the occupation one step back over here while taking it three steps forward over there.


That's what Israel is doing. On the ground. Every nation's intentions can and should be judged by its deeds. All the rest is words

**************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WHEN SAUDI ARABIA GOES NUCLEAR

BY MICHAEL FREUND

 

The Saudis realize that developing a nuclear industry may be good energy policy, but it is also good foreign policy.

 

 

Last week, a news item appeared which should send a shiver down the spine of anyone concerned about the future of the Middle East. In a story out of Riyadh, the official Saudi Press Agency announced that the kingdom has decided to go nuclear.


That's right. The same country which boycotts Israel, finances the spread of radical Islamist fundamentalism worldwide and, less than a decade ago, spawned 15 of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks, now plans to develop nuclear technology.


According to the report, the Saudi regime will open a new center, dubbed the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, ostensibly because of "sustained growth in demand for power and desalinated water due to high population growth and subsidized prices of water and power."


In other words, the Saudis are insisting that their motivation is entirely peaceful.


But it's hard to take such claims seriously. After all, according to the US Energy Information Administration, Saudi Arabia has some 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, which amounts to "around one-fifth of proven, conventional world oil reserves." In addition, it maintains "the world's largest crude oil production capacity," estimated at some 11 to 12 million barrels a day.


So it is not as if Saudi citizens are in danger of having to dim the lights.


Clearly, Riyadh is casting a wary eye northward, watching nervously as Teheran sprints virtually unhindered toward the nuclear finish line.


The Saudis realize that developing a nuclear industry may be good energy policy, but it is also good foreign policy, especially when Washington appears to be asleep at the switch.


IN THIS respect, the Saudis are not alone. Gulf Arab states, which traditionally view Iran with suspicion, are naturally terrified at the prospect of the ayatollahs having their finger on the button, so an increasing number have begun to plunge down the path toward nuclear know-how.


Earlier this month, oil-rich Kuwait signed a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with France. And last week, the United Arab Emirates' Nuclear Energy Corporation announced that it has chosen a site to construct the country's first nuclear power station, which will go on-line within seven years. Other Arab states, such as Egypt and Qatar, have also declared an interest in developing nuclear technology and infrastructure.


And at a conference in Paris last month, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal Mekdad said Damascus is looking at "alternative energy sources, including nuclear energy." He insisted that "the peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolized by the few that own this technology but should be available to all."

And so we have all the makings of a region-wide proliferation of nuclear know-how. Of course, all the countries involved have adamantly maintained that they are only seeking to split atoms for "peaceful purposes" and that they have no military aims in mind. But can we really rely on the assurances of an array of Middle Eastern dictators and despots?


I don't know about you, but the thought of the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia or the Kuwaiti royal family going nuclear just doesn't help me sleep at night.


This dreadful scenario is a direct result of Washington's mishandling of Iran's atomic ambitions, first under George W. Bush and now under Barack Obama. By allowing Teheran to proceed apace across the nuclear threshold, Washington has unwittingly created the conditions for a nuclear arms race that will destabilize the entire Middle East.


The lack of American will to confront the ayatollahs and stop them in their tracks has given various Arab leaders plenty of incentive, as well as a good excuse, to proceed down the nuclear trail. Indeed, it may already be too late to prevent this trend from spreading, as contracts are signed and checks cashed.

 

But in any event, it is time that Washington realize the damage it is doing to its own interests, as well as to its allies, by allowing Iran to continue its mad dash to build nuclear weapons. If the Iranians aren't stopped, and soon, we may wake up a few years from now to discover that Saudi Arabia and other unfriendly regimes have decided to upgrade their "civilian" nuclear programs into weapons-making industries.


Like it or not, the only way to prevent this is to remove the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. It should be clear to anyone who wishes to see: The sooner the tyrant of Teheran is stopped, the safer all of us will be.

 

**************************************


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ISRAELI ARCHITECTURE: AN ETHICAL CRISIS

BY GERARD HEUMANN

 

If we want to avoid another Holyland, Israeli architects had better wake up and confront the challenges they face.

 

The Holyland scandal has raised many issues that the architectural profession has conveniently brushed aside for many years. We have by now reached the point where anti-urban and anti-social building projects are the norm, with Holyland only the latest to be added to a long list. Closed residential enclaves, segregated technology parks and exclusive marinas are growing in number each day. The view, the landscape and the beachfront have all come to be regarded as valuable commodities to be sold to the highest bidder, a matter only of supply and demand.


Today's architect functions in a difficult world; in an economic climate where even public agencies and municipalities often behave as if they were private corporations, where few are concerned with the urban problem which has at its heart social and inter-personal relations and relations between the natural landscape and the community, short-term, maximum profit being their only goal.


Architects have of course largely cooperated with this state of affairs, their standard excuses related to problems of stability and security.


Architecture is the least rewarding of the professions when it comes to return business. The architect whose practice is built exclusively on return clients is unusual. Moreover, the relatively small number of commissions puts unusual stress on the architect in obtaining work. These factors introduce a certain instability to the profession. The architect who would refuse a commission based on his belief that the project to be undertaken will prove destructive is rare.


Once having agreed to do the work, the pressure placed upon him by his clients, be they private or public, can be very great. Resisting them is no simple matter. Holyland might be cited here as the perfect case in point. But how can architects expect to achieve works of quality if they themselves are unprepared to fight for them.

SIMILAR PRESSURES can be felt by public-sector architects whose main task is to guard the public interest. From his very first day in office as mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert pushed for high-rises.


A substantial part of the environment is shaped by people who have little or no visual training and who are simply unaware of the aesthetic and social consequences of their decisions – including mayors, lawyers, real-estate men and developers, businessmen and engineers. The public at large has little understanding of design, not to mention many people who do not differentiate between an architect and a contractor .


Those who paid good money for apartments in Holyland, blind to its destructive impacts, could not imagine the present scenario. If social awareness is to be translated into design which encourages community values, education at every level is the key. A crash course in environmental design for mayor-elects would be a good place to start.


IT IS no secret that the status of the architectural profession has been seriously eroded over the last generation. One reason is that more and more building projects are large-scale, requiring the participation of multi-disciplinary teams.

The architect is no longer the sole leader he once was. Other factors too have taken their toll. Large numbers of so-called practical engineers having received their diplomas after just two years of study, are permitted by Israeli law to design and build structures up to four stories in height.


Why hire an architect when you can get a P.E. for far less? Especially if you can't tell the difference between them.

Recent years have seen several works here by big names, world-renowned architects, the results highly questionable: Ron Arad's Holon Museum is much more package design than it is architecture; Calatrava's suspension bridge was unnecessary, as there was no river to cross; Leibskind's and Gehry's buildings won't be counted among their best.


All of this, of course, at the expense of local architects. Bowing low to starchitects is embarrassingly provincial. We do not need more showcase architecture.


Building a viable architectural culture is dependent also on critics, persons of great knowledge and unimpeachable integrity having a wide, panoramic view of events.


American architecture without Sybil Moholy-Nagy and Vincent Scully or British architecture without Reyner Banham and Kenneth Frampton, would not be the same. Men and women of such stature are sorely lacking here.

But the problems are not just external, as in circumstances beyond the architects' control.


One of the most serious and pressing ethical problems to be faced concerns the many colossal failures of leading architects, Israel Prize winners and professors of architecture who have gone from failure to failure with the greatest success, supported by a conspiracy of silence and misplaced tribal loyalty. Architectural and urban design horrors such as the Ramot Polin residential complex and the Gilo Absorption Center in Jerusalem, the "new" Tel Aviv bus station and Kikar Atarim – urban slums all – were designed by recipients of the Israel Prize.

A professor of architecture at the Technion designed the Panorama Center's twin towers on Haifa's Carmel ridge, a project dwarfing all of its neighbors.

 

Judging by the recent comments of leading architects in defense of their work at Holyland, there has been little appreciation of the size and depth of the ethical crisis, little sign it has been internalized. Until it is finally confronted, there can be scarce hope for architects to regain the ground they have lost. Hanging in the balance is the future of their profession.


To be sure, the ethical crisis in architecture is world-wide and not the privilege of Israel alone, yet this should be of little comfort. Israeli architects can ill afford another Holyland.

Let's get it right, right here, right now.


The writer is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.

 

**************************************


******************************************************************************************

HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

LAME JUSTICE

 

The judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court justice and former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, paints a dire picture of the judiciary's conduct in his annual report released Tuesday. Goldberg, who served for more than three decades on all levels of the judiciary, complains about foot-dragging by judges and their unreasonable delays in issuing rulings.


In the spirit of the saying "justice delayed is justice denied," the ombudsman says that "justice delayed is lame justice." Last year the ombudsman received more than 1,000 complaints, 10 percent of which were found to be justified. Many of the complaints were about delays and judges' inappropriate behavior in court.


The report also exposes disrespect shown toward courts by lawyers. Goldberg does not ignore that judges have difficult and exhausting workloads, but he says this is not always a justification and insists on "dealing with the problem at its root."

 

In recent years, the judiciary has striven to shorten waiting periods, and the number of pending cases has declined. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch is leading what she calls "a quiet revolution" aimed to have cases heard on consecutive days. She also wants more immediate rulings and the two sides in a case to present their arguments orally.


Judges will thus be able to rely on fresh impressions of what witnesses have said. A pilot program for hearing cases on consecutive days is underway at the Jerusalem District Court, and the trial of former president Moshe Katsav is being carried out this way.


To fully address the untenable situation, extreme care must be taken in picking judges, who must be able to deal with the pressure and heavy workloads. The few judges who fail to meet the system's requirements should retire, and some cases should be sent to arbitration and mediation.


It is also appropriate to evaluate the ombudsman's proposal that he receive legal authority to initiate inquiries into complaints of shortcomings in judges' behavior or work.


We also need cooperation between the judiciary, Justice Ministry and the Israel Bar Association. Improving the system and understanding its obligation to provide reasonable service to its many clients is an essential public interest.

**************************************


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

OLMERT'S ROTTEN KINGDOM

BY ARI HAVIT

 

Ehud Olmert is innocent. Uri Lupolianski is innocent. So are Dan Dankner, Yaakov Efrati and Avigdor Kelner. There is no doubt that Shula Zaken is innocent. The former prime minister, bureau chief, Jerusalem mayor, Bank Hapoalim chairman, Israel Lands Administration director and chairman of the Channel 2 television franchisee Reshet are all innocent. The whole Olmert gang is completely innocent at this time. But Israel's democratic system of government, which enabled this gang to rule us, is far from innocent.


Weeks, perhaps months, will pass before we know whether the Holyland case will lead to indictments. Years will pass until we know whether anyone will be convicted. Was there a vast network of bribes given and taken among Israel's leadership? This difficult question will accompany us for a long time, unanswered. But three facts are known to all and beyond doubt even now.


Fact 1: A fortress of greed was built over the last decade in one of the most beautiful spots in Jerusalem. Was it also a fortress of crime? That is not yet known. But every Jerusalemite who did not receive building rights or scoops from Olmert has known for years that a heavy stench envelops the monstrosity on the mount.

 

Nobody could prove that its construction involved criminal corruption, but everyone knew that its construction involved public corruption. It was clear that whoever enabled the Holyland horror maimed Jerusalem, sabotaged the public interest with which he was entrusted and deliberately betrayed his responsibility as a civil servant.

 


Fact 2: The Israel Lands Administration gave the Dankner family grossly excessive building rights on Salt Industries' lands in Eilat and Atlit. The Dankner family made a fortune not by its initiative and resourcefulness, but because it received public property rights in a dubious way.


Some time later, Dan Dankner used his new-found fortune to acquire part of the controlling interest i n Israel's most powerful bank. A while later, he became this bank's chairman. Using a fortune acquired in a questionable manner, a controversial man became the state's leading banker.


Fact 3: It was all open and known. The writing was on the mountain. Nobody knew if money had passed from hand to hand. Nobody knew if there were envelopes and what was in them. But every reasonable onlooker knew something was rotten in Olmert's kingdom. Every reasonable onlooker knew Dankner was not a man suitable to head a bank.


And yet, Olmert became prime minister. And Dankner became the economy's master. The system that was supposed to weed out people like Olmert and Dankner didn't work. A supposedly civilized, properly-run country allowed the Olmert gang to take control of it.


Olmert and Dankner's rise to the top was not accidental. Both Olmert and Dankner were darlings of the highly concentrated economic regime that rules Israel today. Both were charming men, who knew how to bestow favors on friends and intimidate rivals. Both were masters at building a network with one end in the heavens and the other in the gutter.


But precisely because of that, the fact that Olmert and Dankner ruled the state and the economy for several years is bloodcurdling. Even assuming the two are innocent, they were patently unsuitable and unworthy. The democracy that enabled them to get that far is a sick democracy.


A grand drama is playing out these days in police interrogation rooms. If the men in blue crack the network, the earth will tremble. If they manage to substantiate the charges, Watergate will pale by comparison to the many-tentacled Holyland affair.


But if the network cracks the men in blue, then the State Prosecutor's Office and the police will be the ones in danger. If the allegations of criminal wrongdoing are refuted, the attack on the rule of law will be unprecedented. And Israel, irrevocably and terminally, will become an Olmert state.

 

***************************************


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL'S TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY IS DANGEROUS

BY GIDEON LEVY

The only democracy in the Middle East is perhaps unique, but it's doubtful if it's the real thing. Results of a poll published in Haaretz yesterday reflect what has been known for a long time: a combination of ignorance, a basic lack of understanding and a fascist mood. An ill and dangerous wind is blowing toward a government that is threatened with collapse.


According to the poll, which was conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, there is a clear, solid anti-democratic majority. It's a majority that wants to punish people who expose wrongdoing by the military, and it's not willing to allow human rights groups to operate freely. It's a majority in favor of punishing those who call for a boycott on Israel, and it wants heavy sanctions against journalists who reveal information about immoral acts committed by the Israel Defense Forces.


Punishing and punishing, and delighting in the silencing of the critics - that's what the people want. That's their opinion. Of all the real and manufactured dangers lurking against Israel, this is the greatest, most real and most immediate.

 

Advertisement

Take accountant Haim Yoavi-Rabinovich in the Anat Kamm case. He called for the arrest and trial of Haaretz's publisher, Amos Schocken, for blackmail and treason, no less. "Kamm is not a spy, she's a traitor," Rabinovich wrote, calling for Kamm to be punished accordingly, too. It can be assumed that in the view of people like him, an execution in a public square would not be an excessive punishment.


Rabinovich is not alone. His ideas are all over the Internet and have attracted plenty of support. But he's not the problem. The likes of him exist in every proper, civilized society. The problem is that in the Israel of 2010 almost no system remains to halt this dark and ignorant Rabinovichism and defend freedom of expression, which 98 percent of the respondents in the survey, believe it or not, said is important to them.


How Israeli it is to be (theoretically) in favor of freedom of expression yet in practice be so much opposed. You don't need a poll. Most Israelis believe that democracy (only) means elections every few years, because it's enough for a narrow majority of MKs to raise their hands in the Knesset in favor of every kind of crime and injustice to make it all right. Security is used as a cover for everything. There is a connection between the politicians' flattery campaigns in the primaries and democracy; that anyone who dares criticize, expose wrongdoing, step out of line or voice a different opinion is destined to the same fate; that the majority can do whatever it wants and the minority must be powerless.


Most Israelis are fed up with any system of government supervision, which is the true test of the nature of government. To hell with the remnants of real journalism in Israel, and to hell with the Supreme Court, which doesn't necessarily always do its job. And enough already with those treacherous human rights organizations. Let's have an Israel without a High Court of Justice and without human rights groups like B'Tselem.


Such an Israel is ready to move forward in the face of any threat. Israel is ready for a monster. Nothing will stop it. Every kind of violent and dangerous leader and every war crime will be welcomed here, welcomed by the stupid and ignorant.


Our immune systems have long weakened. The press will be silent, and the Supreme Court will forgive. Meanwhile, protest slumbers and civil society, a concept on the rise in world politics, doesn't exist. Go explain to the Israel of 2010 that the media's role is to expose wrongdoing, the non-governmental organizations' role is to warn us, and the Supreme Court's role is to be a gatekeeper. Instead, all of them are to be punished. Go explain that the tyranny of the majority is no less dangerous than control by the minority. Go explain that democracy means unlimited, free criticism.


All this is gone and forgotten. We have no one to instill these values. We have survived Pharaoh, and we will survive Iran, but not this problem. It filters down from within, threatening to bring everything down on the people. The current public atmosphere is the classic breeding ground, as if it were taken from the history books for cultivating savage regimes. There is no need for a military coup in Israel. The defense establishment has excessive control over most aspects of life. There is no need for a dictator, either. The tyranny of the majority is dangerous enough.


"Mr. Schocken, editor of Haaretz," as Rabinovich ignorantly called him, will not be put on trial for now. And Anat Kamm will not be executed. But democratic government in Israel has already been put on trial, and the punishment is being delivered right in front of our eyes.

 

***************************************


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

EDUCATION WITHOUT FOUNDATIONS

BY ISRAEL HAREL

Some 14,500 students graduated last year from high schools belonging to the religious state school system. Of these, 4,000 completed only two units out a maximum of five in Hebrew literature, while 8,000 did only one unit. The rest did not study literature at the matriculation level at all. The situation is similar in art, music (in the old days they used to learn Hebrew songs, which instilled values no less than history, geography and Bible did) and other subjects in the humanities that are no longer taught in most of the increasingly ultra-Orthodox religious schools.


The secular state school system has chosen to exclude from its curriculum other subjects that foster Israeli social cohesion. Israeli geography, for example, is virtually not taught at all, and Talmud gets even less attention, as does the history of the Second Temple. These anachronistic and unpractical subjects have nothing to do with us, principals and teachers in the nonreligious schools probably say to themselves.

 

Most of Israel's ideological movements believe that the State of Israel is a permanent fixture in the region. And to consolidate this permanency, the architects of our education system have understood that the Arabic language must be taught. But in both state school systems, Arabic is a neglected subject. After all, in the final analysis, how important is this subject - which, inter alia, enables direct communication with the people among whom we live and want to go on living - when schools have to find more time to teach subjects that open doors to careers in fields where the money is?

 

More and more schools in both systems belong to the "recognized but unofficial" category: The state funds them, but lets them do whatever they please. The result is that Israeli togetherness - that common denominator in the realm of both values and emotions that is acquired through the study of history, literature, geography, Bible and Talmud - is shallow. The education system does not create common foundations for Israeli students.


The time that schools have at their disposal is too short to be wasted on unpractical subjects like midrash (rabbinic literature), liturgical poetry, Judaic philosophy and so on. Yet some schools do find enough time to teach, under the guise of protecting "human rights," material of a radical political nature. The funding for this comes from both Israeli organizations and international ones such as Amnesty, much of whose agenda is devoted to criticism, some of it venomous, of Israel.


Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar must establish a compulsory core curriculum in the subjects that determine our identity. In order to broaden and deepen our foundations and restore Israeli togetherness, the Education Ministry cannot let principals be the main arbiters of curricula. It must reinstate tighter supervision over schools, and where necessary force them to include the core identity-fostering subjects.


If these subjects are not internalized, and not only at a minimal level, we may well see a generation grow up here comprised of people with expertise in technology and other lucrative professions that are much in demand, but who lack a spiritual and values-oriented infrastructure. Their Jewish roots will be even shallower than they already are, and they will not find it at all difficult to devote their strength and their skills, bestowed upon them by the Israeli school system, to foreign countries and corporations.

 ***************************************


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

LIBYA TRIP EXPOSES WRETCHEDNESS OF REPRESENTATIVES OF ISRAELI ARABS

BY SALMAN MASALHA

 

This week's visit to Libya by an Israeli Arab delegation signifies a loss of both political and moral orientation. The group, which included representatives of all Arab political parties, sectors and communities, exposed the depth of political confusion among those who pretend to represent Israel's Arab citizens. The visit did nothing to gain respect for either the delegation members or their constituency.


These members despise each other no less than they despise Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk in the Zionist parties, in some cases even more so. But wonder of wonders, all of a sudden they all came together to fly off and enjoy the hospitality of none other than Muammar Gadhafi, the man who more than anyone else represents the ugly side of the Arab regimes, the tribal autocracy. This capricious and unpredictable individual can unblinkingly say one thing and the opposite in the same breath, and no one will dare to ask him to explain, out of fear that the question will be the last he ever asks.


After a meal offered by their host came the groveling speeches, which included all the tired old slogans and the superlatives that despots of the lowest kind expect to hear about themselves. Outdoing everyone was MK Talab al-Sana, who asked the tyrant whether Libya would open its universities to Arab students from Israel. And his wish was immediately granted.

 

Instead of concern for schools and education here, al-Sana wants to send students to Libya. But this orotund and energetic legislator did not say where he is contemplating sending these students, or what he expects them to learn there. Perhaps to the Libyan Institute for Nano-Embroidery, or the Libyan Academy of Barbecuing Science?

After the flattery, the great leader, His Majesty the King of Kings and Emperor of Emperors, reportedly sat his guests down and gave them two solid hours of his infantile theories. He urged them, inter alia, to take two, three or four wives each, and to have lots of children. Not one of them had a word to say in reply.


It must be said loud and clear: Not only are such trips by Arab representatives to kowtow before Arab despots an insult to the intelligence, they also harm the just struggle of this country's Arab minority. Just by going to such places and saying what they say there, they are deepening mainstream Israeli society's rejection of the Arabs - the rejection against which they have been fighting a just fight for years. By not resisting the temptation to accept the invitations of Arab dictators, whoever they happen to be, they become tools of those dictators.

Astonishingly, those taking part in the junket included members of political parties like Balad, which brandishes the banner of "A state of all its citizens," and Hadash, which day in and day out emphasizes that it is a Jewish-Arab party. All of a sudden, all these MKs forgot that they have sworn an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel in the Knesset, and whom and what they are supposed to represent. They forgot that "all its citizens" means Jewish citizens, too. They forgot that a "Jewish-Arab" party includes Jews, too. They forgot all their fine and correct slogans and flew off to take shelter in the tent of the unknown.


Delegations like these reveal the civil, political and national immaturity of this country's Arab leadership. They point up the chronic emotional, social and political abandonment suffered by Arab citizens and their leaders.

This trip to Libya has exposed the wretchedness of the people who claim to represent and lead Israeli Arab society. Arab citizens deserve a better type of leadership - one that is serious and mature.


The writer is a cultural researcher, poet and translator.

***************************************


 

 

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

EDITORIAL

THE CANDIDATE FROM XENOPHOBIA

 

As primary elections approach across the land, the award for best bottom-feeding campaigner surely belongs to Tim James, an Alabama gubernatorial candidate who vows to put an end to that grave threat posed by driver's license tests being conducted in any language but English. "This is Alabama. We speak English," Mr. James warns in a make-my-day growl.

 

"If you want to live here, learn it," he declares in a video ad attacking the simple fact that the test is now offered in multiple languages, the same as in other states.

 

Running in a four-way Republican nomination race, Mr. James, a business executive, is transparently intent on tapping into the anti-immigrant, anti-government mood of malcontent voters. "We're only giving that test in English if I'm governor," he promises.

 

A primary race, in which politicians compete to pander to the basest instincts of their party's base voters, can be a fantasy universe. In the case of Mr. James's version of Alabama, it ignores the fact that the state has been quite successful in wooing foreign automakers to take root with workers who speak Japanese, Korean and German. And English.

 

The state is now ethnically rich enough to offer tests in those languages plus Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese and American Sign Language.

 

Mr. James's spin on the Know Nothing Movement has a track history reflected in an English-only driver's test amendment already in the State Constitution. This dates to an earlier xenophobic exercise, but the state wisely declines to enforce it because court rulings suggest that doing so could cost taxpayers considerable federal aid.

 

Mr. James insists that he is not pandering to voters partial to hateful rhetoric about alien newcomers. He's worried about safety on the roads and the ability of drivers to understand signs, according to his campaign.

 

Alabama voters should be insulted. The ploy is right out of the playbook of Willie Stark, the fantasy gubernatorial candidate in Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men." Stark heeded campaign advice to low-road the voters: "Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds."

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

GULF SPILL

 

Federal and oil industry officials are using every tool they have — including underwater robots and controlled burns on the water's surface — to stanch the flow of oil from last week's explosion of a drilling rig 50 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Every hour that passes without success brings Louisiana's fragile wetlands and estuaries, and the marine life that depends on them, closer to environmental disaster.

 

The spill — by far the largest in the history of oil and gas drilling in the gulf — has emboldened opponents of President Obama's recent decision to open parts of the Atlantic Coast and eastern gulf to oil and gas exploration. It has raised new obstacles to a yet-to-be-introduced Senate energy and climate bill that is expected to include proposals for more offshore drilling.

 

The accident certainly provides further evidence of the risks of offshore drilling and is another reason why the country needs to choose where it drills carefully. It also strengthens the case for developing cleaner power sources — the main reason for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's welcome decision, announced Wednesday, to approve a wind farm off the Massachusetts coast.

 

As nerve-racking and potentially destructive as this spill is, it is not sufficient cause to abandon a broader energy strategy that includes the search for conventional fuels. Some perspective is useful.

 

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for one-third of America's domestic oil production and one-fourth of its natural gas. There are 90 exploratory rigs working there and about 3,500 oil-producing platforms. Despite all of that activity, the federal Minerals Management Service says there have been no major spills — defined as 1,000 barrels or more — in the last 15 years, a period that includes Hurricane Katrina. In that context, the blowout — while tragic and destructive — can be seen as a freak occurrence.

 

Industry's obligation — and the Obama administration's — is to make sure that this remains an isolated episode. Mr. Salazar has promised an investigation to see whether there were civil or criminal violations of safety laws by BP, the oil company leasing the rig, or Transocean, the rig's owner and operator.

 

A swift and thorough investigation is in order. If oil drilling is to be part of this country's immediate energy future, it must be done responsibly.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

DANGEROUS GAMES

 

By nearly all independent accounts, Iraq's parliamentary elections last month were reasonably free and fair. Efforts now to manipulate the process — especially but not solely by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — are an insult to Iraqi voters. They are also dangerous. The longer it takes to form a new government, and the more questions raised about the process, the easier it will be for extremists to exploit the uncertainty.

 

If this goes on for much longer, Iraq may not have a new government in place by the end of August when all American combat troops are due to withdraw. President Obama should stick to his deadline. Any sign of wavering will give Iraq's leaders one more excuse not to take responsibility for their country.

 

Mr. Obama and his aides will have to use all of their waning influence to get the election back on track.

 

The March vote split largely along sectarian lines and confirmed the fierce struggle between a predominantly Shiite coalition led by Mr. Maliki and one led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister and secular Shiite who has become the standard-bearer for many Sunnis. Mr. Allawi's coalition scored 91 seats in the new Parliament; Mr. Maliki, 89.

 

Mr. Maliki was not satisfied. He filed legal challenges claiming irregularities. And a special electoral court ordered the ballots recounted in Baghdad Province, where Mr. Maliki hopes to pick up additional Shiite votes. Kurdish parties, dissatisfied with their showing, also requested a recount in northern provinces, and the court is expected to rule shortly.

 

Recounts are a standard democratic tool, although we are not sure why one is needed. It is worrying. In the run-up to the election, Mr. Maliki proved far too adept at bullying Iraq's fragile institutions.

 

The government's election commission — which is overseeing the recount — has already raised serious doubts about its impartiality. Before the March vote, it disqualified scores of mostly Sunni candidates for alleged Baathist sympathies.

 

At the commission's request, the special electoral court has also now disqualified one winning candidate on Mr. Allawi's slate for the same reason. It is considering challenges to several more. Appeals are possible. Whether the balance between the two main slates changes or not, the maneuvering is certain to further erode Sunni confidence in government institutions.

 

We understand Mr. Allawi's suspicions and frankly share them. But his call on Wednesday for a caretaker government, supervised by the international community, seems out of proportion to what has happened so far.

 

Mr. Allawi should be putting his energy into appealing the court's disqualification of his candidate. And the Americans and the international community should be pressing the commission to conduct the recount in a completely impartial and transparent manner, with international observers, journalists and representatives of all of Iraq's political parties fully monitoring the proceedings. The United Nations and the United States must be ready to speak out at any sign of fraud. This process has already dragged on too long. Iraq has a lot of difficult issues to resolve. There is still no oil law. No plan for how to decide the future of the contested city of Kirkuk. It needs a new government that all Iraqis consider legitimate. If Mr. Maliki or any other politician allows their ambition to irreparably taint this election, the whole country will pay the price.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

ALBANY'S WORKWEEK

 

Gov. David Paterson of New York has finally gotten so fed up with the failure of legislators and the unions to deal with the state's budget crisis that he wants to do something revolutionary — make them shoulder part of the burden of saving taxpayers' money.

 

Mr. Paterson wants legislators, who have failed to adopt a budget that was due a month ago, to work five days a week in Albany instead of the usual three. And he wants state employees to work four days a week, taking a weekly unpaid day off until the budget is approved.

 

By Albany's standards, this is radical stuff, even with a historically huge state deficit that is $9.2 billion and growing. Legislators huffed that the governor does not have the authority — under a technicality in the law — to force them to put in a full week of work.

 

As for the furloughs, a state employees' union spokesman offered a one-word response: "nuts." That sounded brave and defiant coming from the American general refusing a German demand for surrender in World War II. Coming from the union spokesman, it was just the same old, tedious Albany arrogance and irresponsibility.

 

What the governor is trying to do is obvious and necessary. He wants to force Democrats who control the Legislature to deal with budget cuts that will be excruciatingly unpopular during an election year. And he wants about 100,000 unionized state workers to help roll back their costs like almost every other sector of the state government is doing.

 

Union leaders need to sit down with the governor's office and negotiate reasonable ways to cut costs. Mr. Paterson has said he would prefer furloughs for all workers rather than firing a few and thus putting more people on the unemployment lines. Plenty of private-sector workers have done that in the last couple of years.

 

Democratic legislative leaders should establish conference committees to include Republicans in the budget talks. The law requires it. And Republicans, who have been mostly smirking on the sidelines and gathering fuel for the election, need to participate in helpful ways. The Republican minority should come up with reasonable compromises — not political illusions that would only delay budget talks or force a bad budget to get even worse.

 

Unless the Legislature gets serious, the state suffers. And as Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch told one group this week, at this rate, New York might not have a budget until after the November election. For the sake of all New Yorkers, let's hope that was hyperbole.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHY ARIZONA DREW A LINE

BY KRIS W. KOBACH

Kansas City, Kan.

 

ON Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed a law — SB 1070 — that prohibits the harboring of illegal aliens and makes it a state crime for an alien to commit certain federal immigration crimes. It also requires police officers who, in the course of a traffic stop or other law-enforcement action, come to a "reasonable suspicion" that a person is an illegal alien verify the person's immigration status with the federal government.

 

Predictably, groups that favor relaxed enforcement of immigration laws, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, insist the law is unconstitutional. Less predictably, President Obama declared it "misguided" and said the Justice Department would take a look.

 

Presumably, the government lawyers who do so will actually read the law, something its critics don't seem to have done. The arguments we've heard against it either misrepresent its text or are otherwise inaccurate. As someone who helped draft the statute, I will rebut the major criticisms individually:

 

It is unfair to demand that aliens carry their documents with them. It is true that the Arizona law makes it a misdemeanor for an alien to fail to carry certain documents. "Now, suddenly, if you don't have your papers ... you're going to be harassed," the president said. "That's not the right way to go." But since 1940, it has been a federal crime for aliens to fail to keep such registration documents with them. The Arizona law simply adds a state penalty to what was already a federal crime. Moreover, as anyone who has traveled abroad knows, other nations have similar documentation requirements.

 

"Reasonable suspicion" is a meaningless term that will permit police misconduct. Over the past four decades, federal courts have issued hundreds of opinions defining those two words. The Arizona law didn't invent the concept: Precedents list the factors that can contribute to reasonable suspicion; when several are combined, the "totality of circumstances" that results may create reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

 

For example, the Arizona law is most likely to come into play after a traffic stop. A police officer pulls a minivan over for speeding. A dozen passengers are crammed in. None has identification. The highway is a known alien-smuggling corridor. The driver is acting evasively. Those factors combine to create reasonable suspicion that the occupants are not in the country legally.

 

The law will allow police to engage in racial profiling. Actually, Section 2 provides that a law enforcement official "may not solely consider race, color or national origin" in making any stops or determining immigration status. In addition, all normal Fourth Amendment protections against profiling will continue to apply. In fact, the Arizona law actually reduces the likelihood of race-based harassment by compelling police officers to contact the federal government as soon as is practicable when they suspect a person is an illegal alien, as opposed to letting them make arrests on their own assessment.

 

It is unfair to demand that people carry a driver's license. Arizona's law does not require anyone, alien or otherwise, to carry a driver's license. Rather, it gives any alien with a license a free pass if his immigration status is in doubt. Because Arizona allows only lawful residents to obtain licenses, an officer must presume that someone who produces one is legally in the country.

 

State governments aren't allowed to get involved in immigration, which is a federal matter. While it is true that Washington holds primary authority in immigration, the Supreme Court since 1976 has recognized that states may enact laws to discourage illegal immigration without being pre-empted by federal law. As long as Congress hasn't expressly forbidden the state law in question, the statute doesn't conflict with federal law and Congress has not displaced all state laws from the field, it is permitted. That's why Arizona's 2007 law making it illegal to knowingly employ unauthorized aliens was sustained by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

 

In sum, the Arizona law hardly creates a police state. It takes a measured, reasonable step to give Arizona police officers another tool when they come into contact with illegal aliens during their normal law enforcement duties.

 

And it's very necessary: Arizona is the ground zero of illegal immigration. Phoenix is the hub of human smuggling and the kidnapping capital of America, with more than 240 incidents reported in 2008. It's no surprise that Arizona's police associations favored the bill, along with 70 percent of Arizonans.

 

President Obama and the Beltway crowd feel these problems can be taken care of with "comprehensive immigration reform" — meaning amnesty and a few other new laws. But we already have plenty of federal immigration laws on the books, and the typical illegal alien is guilty of breaking many of them. What we need is for the executive branch to enforce the laws that we already have.

 

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has scaled back work-site enforcement and otherwise shown it does not consider immigration laws to be a high priority. It is any wonder the Arizona Legislature, at the front line of the immigration issue, sees things differently?

 

Kris W. Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, was Attorney General John Ashcroft's chief adviser on immigration law and border security from 2001 to 2003.

 

***************************************

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

RED, BLUE AND BROKE

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Good news! The giant Palouse earthworm of the American plains is not extinct.

 

Nobody had seen a Palouse worm since the 1980s, but it appears they were around all the time, going about their business underground. As Jim Robbins reported in The Times, spunky scientists from the University of Idaho recently located two by burying electrodes that sent shock waves through the ground and encouraged the worms to shoot up to the surface.

 

Good work, University of Idaho scientists! We're all happy to hear the giant Palouse earthworms are still with us. Even though it turns out that they're actually not all that big.

 

I am telling you this because my actual topic today is state legislatures. We all know how hard it is to keep anyone's attention when discussion veers off in this direction, so, yeah, I was going for a cheap thrill.

 

State legislatures are frequently the subject of derision, but lately they have been freaking out with such alarming intensity that you'd think a mad scientist had surrounded state capitols with electrodes just to see what would come popping out.

 

This month, the most dreadful laws have been coming from Oklahoma and Arizona. The Oklahoma Legislature just overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto on two anti-abortion bills, one of which gives doctors immunity from being sued if they conceal information about a fetus's possible birth defects from a pregnant patient.

 

Both Arizona and Oklahoma passed bills exempting state residents from gun registration rules and background checks. Governor Henry vetoed his state's version. Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, seems to sign everything that's put in front of her. But she was overheard calling the State Capitol "that hell hole," so we might presume she doesn't always enjoy it.

 

Arizona, of course, recently passed an immigration bill so draconian that even Jeb Bush hates it. The State House approved a bill requiring presidential candidates to prove that they were born in the United States. However, the Senate may not follow suit, since the Legislature is scheduled to go home this week.

 

The Arizona Legislature going home is good news right up there with the big earthworm discovery.

 

Here in New York, the legislators have not been passing outrageous new laws lately. In fact, they seem determined not to pass anything at all, including the budget which was due on April 1. The state is literally running out of money, construction projects are at a standstill and school districts are in chaos.

 

Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers have announced plans to go to Arizona and protest the new immigration law by chaining themselves to the border. Given the extremely small chance that they will be needed for anything constructive in Albany, this seems like a good plan. Maybe some state senators from Arizona would like to come to New York and throw themselves over Niagara Falls to protest our lack of a budget.

 

On the surface, it might seem as if we have a pattern here: red states pass crazy laws, while blue states can't handle money. But financial failure is color blind. A few months ago, Oklahoma won the Largest Revenue Shortfall in the Nation title, edging out — yes! — Arizona.

 

It is a little ironic that states that spend so much time complaining about federal meddling have been so dependant on the about-to-vanish federal stimulus funds to keep functioning. The Oklahoma health commissioner recently warned lawmakers that additional budget cuts could send the state sliding from 49th to 50th in the ranking for overall health of its citizens. Which is, I guess, good news if you happen to be Mississippi.

 

Arizona has been raising quick cash by selling state buildings — including the Capitol — and leasing them back from the new owners.

 

You can see where the pressure might lead elected officials to do something crazy, like pass a gun control law

so unconstitutional it makes the National Rifle Association nervous.

 

South Carolina is a very red state, but it's in one of the worst messes, budgetwise. Nevada, which is sort of purple, is facing a huge shortfall in 2011. "People always write about California and New York, but I don't think any state is in worse shape than Nevada," said the Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston. This is the sort of thing that happens to smaller states, and it is totally unfair. Your elected officials work hard to create as many disasters as possible, and where's the credit?

 

South Carolina is allegedly led by Mark Sanford of Appalachian Trail fame, and the governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, has had so many scandals that keeping them straight is like trying to explain credit default swaps. So I'm working on a theory that the states with terrible government are the ones that are A) Red, B) Blue, C) Run by someone with a sex scandal.

 

Otherwise, it's all good. We're happy as a Palouse earthworm.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

Our view on energy: Good news? Cape Wind OK'd. Bad news? it took a decade

 

Several European countries long ago managed to build many offshore wind farms. But approval of the USA's first such power plant has been stalled for nearly a decade, testament to the nation's lack of seriousness about energy choices.

 

On Wednesday, the Obama administration finally acted to stop the bickering, the excuse-making and the somewhere-else demands that have held up the coastal Massachusetts project known as Cape Wind.

 

After weighing the objections — which ranged from oceanfront property owners' worries about their views to more serious concerns about fishing, tourism and ancient tribal burial grounds — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he found "the public benefits weigh in favor of approving" the project. Once up and running, the 130 wind turbines in a stretch of ocean near Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket could supply an estimated 75% of the area's electricity needs.

 

Salazar got it right. Energy production is about trade-offs. That has been painfully clear lately from the coal mine disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29, and the drilling rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico, which left 11 workers dead and an oil slick spreading toward the coastline. Every form of energy exacts a price, and extracting fossil fuels from the ground is particularly dangerous and dirty. Relative to the risks of coal mining and oil exploration, the downsides of offshore wind turbines seem minor.

 

That's likely to be just as true at other locations where coastal waters are shallow enough to make building wind turbines economical, and where short distances to heavily populated coastal communities make building transmission lines feasible. Projects have been proposed for ocean sites off Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, plus Great Lakes sites near Chicago and Cleveland.

 

But finding a way to get those and other energy projects moving is a daunting problem. It's still much easier to stop or slow an energy project — whether it's a wind farm, an oil refinery or a nuclear power plant — than it is to build one. Even Cape Wind isn't home free. Lawsuits and regulatory hurdles could delay the project for several more years.

 

Whatever legitimacy such stalling tactics might have should be outweighed by the frighteningly steep cost of continuing the status quo. The USA gets more than half its oil from the world market, transferring hundreds of billions of dollars every year to unfriendly regimes.

 

The national security cost is matched or exceeded by the environmental price. Fossil fuels, which provide 84% of U.S. energy needs, contribute to global warming. So far, the political system has balked at pricing carbon at anywhere near its true cost. Meanwhile, useful options like Cape Wind stall out because regulatory wheels turn too slowly, court battles drag on too long and parochial concerns trump the national interest. In trying to give everyone a voice, the nation instead seems to have given everyone a veto.

 

The Obama administration has lately made controversial energy decisions that run against this tide, promoting construction of nuclear plants and opening offshore areas for oil and gas exploration. That's promising. What would help even more is legal framework for quicker decisions.

 

***************************************


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

BEYOND TARMAC DELAYS

 

For years, the airline industry was able to block just about every attempt to regulate consumer services and prevent incidents in which fliers were stuck on tarmacs for hours with no food, little water and deteriorating bathrooms.

 

But in 2006, American Airlines unwittingly stranded the wrong passenger. Kate Hanni, a real estate agent in Napa, Calif., and her family got stuck on a crowded jetliner diverted to the Austin airport in a storm. After the nine-hour ordeal, Hanni began lobbying for passengers' rights. The rest, as they say, is Washington history.

 

The grassroots group Hanni founded, FlyersRights.org, succeeded in getting Congress and regulators to do something about strandings. Starting today, airlines will have to provide basic sustenance and let fliers get off planes after three hours of delay. If airlines don't comply, they risk fines of up to $27,500 per passenger, enough to get their attention.

 

It's true that tarmac delays caused by weather can be beyond the airlines' control. But they do control how they handle delays and whether their own flight schedules contribute to the problem. Some airlines have warned that, to avoid huge fines, they'll cancel more flights. That's childish. It would be better to use today as a fresh start for renewed efforts to avoid strandings and to treat customers with more respect.

 

For the airlines, Hanni's efforts must be an uncomfortable reminder of the day in 1972 when Allegheny Airlines bumped Ralph Nader off a flight from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut. The consumer activist sued and, in a case that went to the Supreme Court, established the principle behind current rules that require airlines to compensate bumped fliers.

 

The lesson: Even one disgruntled passenger can make a difference, and Hanni has plenty of ideas on her agenda. These include refunding baggage fees when luggage arrives late, and giving passengers a share of fines imposed for tarmac delays.

 

We heartily agree with one more passenger-friendly priority: Preventing airlines from packing so many flights into rush-hour time slots that it causes delays to cascade through the day at some of the nation's busiest airports.

 

***************************************


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

'SOUTH PARK' REIGNITES CARTOON DEBATE

BY KATHLEEN PARKER

 

So this is how it ends. Not with a whimper or a bang (well, maybe), but with a simper from a social misfit with a laptop and a grudge.

 

Meet Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, aka Zachary A. Chesser, former George Mason University student, convert to

Islam and wannabe jihadist, who recently issued a death "warning" when a cartoon program offended his tender

sensibilities.

 

Nice. Quiet. Polite. Loner. You know the type. One thin-skinned young man managed to intimidate a media giant into submission over — yet again — whether the prophet Mohammed may be portrayed in any form.

 

This would be such a snooze if it weren't for, you know, the death threat.