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Friday, April 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 30.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 30, edition 000495, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













































  1. Our view on money in politics: Make CEOs and union chiefs stand behind political spots
  3. Goldman: Bad guys or just a scapegoat?
  6. 40 years after Kent State, reassessing 2010 - By Chuck Raasch











































With investigations into the Cobalt-60 contamination in a busy marketplace in Delhi finally making a breakthrough — it has been established that the radioactive material came from the Chemistry Department of Delhi University — it would appear that the episode is coming to a close. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Even though the source of the deadly Cobalt-60 has been identified, there are several questions that remain unanswered. Shocking as it is that the radioactive waste came from a laboratory of a Central university, the way the material was handled while it was in the possession of the university and at the time of its sale to scrap dealers is no less a cause for concern. This is because it is quite apparent that safety norms were blatantly flouted by the proprietors of the radioactive substance all the way till it was sold as waste. Hence, the investigation into the case should now focus on finding out how the Cobalt-60 was stored, who was in charge of the radioactive material, and how was it auctioned without following the proper safety procedures. Inquiries have revealed that the radioactive substance had been purchased by the Chemistry Department of Delhi University from Canada in 1968. But it was lying unused since 1985. Thus, the investigators also need to find out who all were responsible for handling the Cobalt-60 in the 25 years since and what prompted its sale in February this year. For, accountability needs to be fixed if we are to prevent such a disaster from re-occurring. Already one person has lost his life and seven people have been taken critically ill due to the exposure to the radioactive substance. Those responsible for the lapses in handling the material — at least those who had knowledge about what it was — and their supervisors need to be identified and punished.

The other aspect of the issue that has not got enough attention is the possibility of such radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists. This presents a significant security risk as such substances can be used to make 'dirty bombs'. The effect that such an improvised weapon would have if it were to be used in a major metropolitan city would be devastating. Therefore, from a security perspective, it is extremely dangerous to have unaccounted for radioactive material slipping from one person to another. There is no telling when it can land up in the possession of those with nefarious intentions. Having said that, the Government would do well to prepare for such a terrorist strike. It is welcome that the Delhi Government has decided to set up a 40-bed special isolation ward in one of the city hospitals to treat those who are exposed to lethal doses of radiation; other State Governments should emulate the measure. Doctors and paramedics also need to be trained to specifically deal with radiation victims. For, in the wake of the Cobalt-60 contamination, it has come to light that our hospitals, including the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, are not adequately equipped to deal with such mishaps.

But all this will hardly matter if the root of the problem is not addressed. The Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University has apologised for the radiation mishap and admitted that the lapse was on the part of university officials. It is now for investigators to take the case forward and bring the guilty to book. Or else, promises of action will remain just that — so many words and no more.







The decision of Kerala's Public Works Minister PJ Joseph to merge his Kerala Congress(J), a minor constituent of the CPI(M)-led ruling LDF, with former Minister KM Mani's Kerala Congress(M), a partner in the Opposition UDF, is causing unrest in the Congress. Mr Joseph is expected to formally announce the merger move and leave the LDF on Friday. Despite his association with the LDF for almost three decades, the CPI(M) considers his decision to part ways with it as good riddance because of the huge embarrassments he and his party colleagues have caused to the front in the past four years. Problems involving Mr Joseph and his party MLAs had forced the LDF to change Kerala Congress Ministers thrice in four years. Also, the decision of Mr Joseph to leave the LDF has come exactly when the CPI(M) is planning to turn the front into an exclusive club of Left parties. But the merger move is indeed an embarrassment for the Congress for many reasons. Several of the serious allegations the Congress had levelled against Mr Joseph and his colleagues are still relevant issues and any association with him would tarnish the image of the Congress as well as the UDF. If long-time ally Mani demands more seats in the coming Assembly election claiming increased strength because of the merger, the Congress will have to agree to it. That Congress leader Oommen Chandy has already openly complained that Mr Mani had kept the merger move a secret from the front till the last moment says it all.

The Congress may have its objections to welcoming Mr Joseph into the front but it will eventually have to live with it because the force behind the merger move is none other than the powerful Catholic Church which wants a stronger party of its own in Kerala — the various Kerala Congress groups, except one, are thriving on the support of plantation owners and workers belonging to the Christian community. The Congress cannot even think of causing displeasure to the Church and this is the trump card that Mr Mani would be playing. The Congress is already facing the prospect of losing some of its seats due to the induction of a faction of the Janata Dal (S) into the front some months back. The new situation will make the position of top Congress leaders difficult as the different factions within the party and feeder outfits have raised the flag of mutiny saying that the leadership cannot allow 'refugees' coming out of the LDF to walk freely into the UDF. Hence, it is the turn of the Left to feel ecstatic as the Congress is becoming the dumping ground for its waste, a term the CPI(M) leaders are fond of using while referring to deserters.








While the Vietnam War was raging, with the Americans unable to subdue the Viet Cong, there was a little-known war being fought against Communist-inspired and trained mountain tribesmen in the Gulf. But fortunately for the 'free world' and its dependence on petroleum, this one was decisively won in the mist-shrouded mountains of Dhofar, bordering Socialist South Yemen.

The winning force was professional and multi-national, even as the wily enemy routinely inflicted heavy casualties on it. The Sandhurst-trained Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman wisely asked for help. And so there were Iranians from the Shah of Iran's Army, the largest contingent of British forces involved overseas since the Korean War, and Omani soldiers drawn from tough men of Zanzibari and Balochi extraction.

The key to victory, however, was the discipline that had been inculcated by British officers in the Sultan of Oman's armed forces, ably assisted by seconded officers and soldiers from the fabled British 22nd SAS Regiment of commandos. This war, largely off the world's radar, secured the Arabian Gulf from a determined takeover attempt by Communist forces from both China and the Soviet Union, working through 'Adoo' tribal irregulars.

Following the recent hardening of the conflict between the Indian state and the Maoists, the considerable similarities with that little-known war in Dhofar are remarkable. Hopefully we will be spared the fact that the war in Dhofar raged for two decades.

The Dhofar war is in mention again thanks to the appearance of a new book by British SAS officer Ian Gardiner who was there. It's called:In the Service of the Sultan, published in February. This book is relevant because it raises some of the very same issues at stake now in India, particularly when viewed from the perspective of a Chinese Communist-backed insurgency.

The Maoist insurgency has only nominally to do with tribal neglect and underdevelopment. It is more about a determined and well-planned attempt by the Maoists to take over the Indian state from within. The Maoists are dead serious. And their war on the Union of India is designed to ruthlessly debilitate, injure, thwart, bleed, encircle, corner, and destabilise a thriving, if far from perfect, democracy.

Yet, even as India stands bloodied, it remains complacent and does not call for external help from nations like Israel trained in counter-insurgency and battling guerrillas. You would think that we were being threatened by bow-and-arrow-wielding Adivasis, and not trained commandoes expert at jungle warfare and thoroughly conversant with their territory. They allegedly have access to training by military experts from China and the erstwhile Tamil Tigers, apart from many others.

Not only have the Maoists demonstrated their savage military prowess and the penetration of state agencies by their intelligencce-gathering squads, they have also managed to grab media space to publicise their so-called 'lofty motives' and whitewash their crimes through sympathisers among the NGO community and certain Left-leaning members of the intelligentsia.

The Government has underestimated this threat for far too long. The dilemma is about what level of force to use to deal with an internal challenge to the state. The Omanis, however, did not suffer from such semantic worries. They used helicopter gunships, fighters, the best and latest weaponry and training, intense patrolling, and a powerful hearts-and-minds campaign. Even then, it took two decades to finally win the war.

So, it is interesting to consider, as we fiddle around with debates on the choice of weapons, what kind of South Asia might obtain if we were to lose to the Maoists. Instead of becoming a counterpoint to Chinese ascendancy, India would all but lose its sovereignty to become a sort of Vichy State under Chinese over-lordship.

The Dhofar war had to be prosecuted not only in the mountains bordering Yemen but also far away in order to cut supply routes across the Indian Ocean. It was also to protect the arteries that connected Omani oil fields, pipelines and highways across the country. It forced the rapid modernisation of the sultanate from aoverlooked backwaters into a modern state and valued strategic ally of the West, perched as Oman is at the mouth of the Gulf of Hormuz.

There are lessons in this for India. The Maoists have already talked of taking the battle into the cities for example.

Coincidentally, I have lived in both Bastar and Muscat. I was a little boy in 1959 when we lived in Jagdalpur. My father was a Government civil engineer and had volunteered for the experimental Dandakaranya Project for the resettlement of East Bengali refugees.

I remember idyllic afternoons catching mud crabs on the banks of the river nearby and Mowgli-like trips to the deep forest replete with tented camps, jungle sounds, thunderous waterfalls and bare-bodied, bow-and-arrow-toting tribals. But even in 1960, the steel smelting furnaces of Bhilai were being lit. The propaganda of neglect which is treated as nearly axiomatic in the debate on causes of Maoism may actually be much exaggerated.

We lived in Oman also, through its scorching developmental years even as it fought off the Communists using the most modern means at its command. India too needs to modernise its armed response to the Maoist insurgency, even as its economy develops rapidly. We need to invest all the men, resources, planning, soft skills and technical expertise necessary to eliminate the Maoist threat in the shortest possible time. Given that we are confronted by hostile neighbours on more than one front, in addition to the depredations of Islamist terrorists and other insurrections in the North-East, we cannot afford the luxury of a long war of attrition.


Guerrilla war may indeed mean 'little war' in Spanish; but with its reliance on trickery, sabotage, ambushes and raids, its efficacy can be borne out by its disconcertingly successful track record. Witness the People's Liberation Army in Mao Tse-Tung's China, Fidel Castro's rebellion in Cuba, the Viet Cong in North Vietnam, the Irish Republican Army, the Kosovo War and so on.

In fact, guerrilla war, with its flexibility, relatively low cost, its undeclared ability to harass and weaken, could well become the preferred mode of future conflict between nations. There are indeed many advantages to its conduct, both stated and unstated. But as Henry Kissinger famously explained, "The conventional Army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose."







It is exactly a fortnight after two national dailies reported that the Domestic Violence Act can apply to women accused as well that a Delhi High Court judge has refuted the same, reserving the matter for deliberation. Why cannot our judiciary make up its mind once for all? Why unsettle the settled issues and put up obstructions in the justice delivery system so that domestic violence victim are denied justice? It is unbelievable that judicial minds are still scratching their heads over he subject.

There is absolutely no ambiguity about the fact that women accused of domestic violence — mothers-in-law, sisters-in-laws, etc— can be booked under the Domestic Violence Act. The reason why questions are being repeated raised over this settled matter is because some judges who have been at the receiving end of martial woes are unable to see a woman victim come away with justice in domestic violence cases. Hence, it would be appropriate to detail the marital status of these judges before they are assigned to such cases. For, they cannot be expected to sit in judgement in domestic violence cases if they have/are going through a troubled phase in their married life.

After all judges too are human beings. A judge with a background of an unhappy married life because of matrimonial discord is not in a fit mental state to sit in judgement in cases of domestic abuse. A judge who has in his own personal life been ill-treating his own wife can hardly be expected to deliver a fair-minded judgement in a domestic violence case.

Chief Justices of our High Courts and district judges must carry out a detailed check of the background of a judge as far as state of his married life is concerned before he is allowed to sit in judgement in matrimonial cases.

Moreover, at this juncture when a national debate on corruption in the judiciary has been initiated, this cross-check of a judge's married life is a must. It is a measure of his sensitivity towards a suffering domestic violence victim. Hence, in the interest of justice, judges' marital life should be examined before they are assigned domestic violence cases.







The present coalition politics at the Centre has made strange bedfellows and a classic example would be the NCP and its parent party, the Congress. They have always had a peculiar love-hate relationship. During the current IPL controversy it has come to surface once again that how even cricket could become an irritant between the two parties. However, both are compelled to remain together as coalition partners because of political compulsions. Power cements their ties more than anything else. Besides its share at the Centre, the NCP is an important partner in Maharashtra, Goa and Meghalaya.

Why do strains develop between the two? First, it is because of the inherent contradictions in the alliance. Despite 10 years of being coalition partners, there is no cohesion at the ground level as there is suspicion and mistrust. This becomes more evident at the time of elections.

Second, it seems that NCP chief Sharad Pawar has not forgotten his removal from the Congress in 1989 and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has not forgiven him for raising the 'foreigner' issue against her. This is one of the reasons why there is no assimilation between the NCP and the Congress.

Third, the Congress has not been able to digest that its offspring like the NCP and the Trinamool Congress have become dominant partners in Maharashtra and West Bengal respectively. The friction had been visible with senior Congress leaders from Maharashtra like Industry Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh having a jibe at Mr Pawar. In the past six years, whenever there was a problem pertaining to his Ministry, the Congress leaders did not leave the chance to criticise him be it on the farmer's suicide or drought relief or now the IPL controversy. They even opposed alliance with the NCP before the 2009 Assembly elections. The result: Parent parties and splinter parties weaken each other. This is true for both the NCP and the Trinamool Congress.

Fourth, although the Congress would like the NCP's merger with it and there are many takers for this suggestion in the NCP, Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar is not in for the merger. Even recently the NCP working committee had rejected such an idea. There is fear of a succession war between Mr Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, his nephew Ajit Pawar and some senior leaders like Mr Chagan Bhujwel and Mr RR Patil.

The IPL controversy has once again triggered a friction between the Congress and the NCP with fingers raised at the alleged involvement of some NCP leaders in the IPL scam. The IT raids and probing into the BCCI and IPL affairs have sent a political signal to the NCP leaders about their vulnerability. At one point of time, the controversy was moving from cricket to politics but the Congress quickly realised that it needed the NCP's nine votes for passing the Finance Bill in the Budget session. The Congress managers knew that the elbowroom for manoeuvrability is very limited in a coalition Government. After Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram had a meeting with Mr Pawar, things were worked out to the satisfaction of both. The Congress has achieved what it wanted and got rid of Mr Lalit Modi as the IPL commissioner. The NCP had voted with the Government on the Finance Bill and will be spared from any more embarrassment from the Income Tax and the Enforcement Directorate. So all is well that ends well.

Interestingly, cricket seemed to have soured the Congress-NCP ties even earlier. In 2004, Mr Pawar lost the race to head the BCCI to Mr Ranbir Mahendra, backed by the Congress. The combined strength of the NCP and the BJP together could not get him elected as the BCCI chief. Again, in 2006, the friction between the two parties surfaced when the Congress backed Mr Jagmohan Dalmia against the candidature of a West Bengal police officer to snub Mr Pawar who was supporting him.

Now that the Finance Bill has been passed smoothly, the Congress is quite relieved. It is clear that nothing more can be expected on the IPL investigation. Even the Ministry of Corporate Affairs is going slow on the IPL affairs. Mr Lalit Modi has become the fall guy and the Congress has sacked junior Minister Shashi Tharoor. There are some who see the return of Mr Modi after six months or a year. In the case of Mr Tharoor also there are rumours in the Congress that he may be rehabilitated at the earliest after a respectable cooling off period. So where does that leave the public? Those who are watching the political scene become more cynical and predict 'business as usual' sooner than later.

The NCP chief is a mature politician and knows how to handle the Congress although he has gone wrong in his calculations sometimes. The Congress leaders also have come to have a working relationship with the NCP. The Congress leaders seem to have learnt to deal with the Maratha strongman. It is a game of give and take and it is also a game of power play. Who wins and who loses depend on the capacity of the players?








Consistency is the hallmark of the small-minded; therefore, the large-minded leaders of Indian politics have abandoned the convention of pursuing tense binary positions at all costs and adopted with enthusiasm and creativity more flexible strategies with the purpose of being permanently in win-win games.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the cut motions moved by anti-Congress parties in the Lok Sabha produced an array of responses. Complicated as the dynamics of these alignments are, these reveal the shedding of a lot of baggage by the Left. To jump to the conclusion that a new politics is emerging that produces combines based on issues rather than ideology, history and principles would be hasty and possibly incorrect.

The Communist Party of India(Marxist) and the BJP are on the same side because they have a common foe — the Congress. That is familiar history; but what is new is that increasingly they are willing to vote together, coordinating moves rather than contradicting and undermining each other. This does not amount to camaraderie; it does point to calculated complicity.

Thirty odd years ago, the Left would not have been caught in the uncomfortable position of voting on a motion moved by the BJP. Nor would it have agreed to allow the cut motions to be clubbed together and moved en bloc. Because it would not vote alongside the Jana Sangh, the CPI(M) pulled the rug on the Morarji Desai Government in 1979. In 1991, even though it rescued the minority Narasimha Rao Government by abstaining from the vote of confidence and bailed it out once more by staging a walkout on a Budget vote, it remained officially in denial about these moves.

In 2004, the CPI(M) shed more of its inhibitions and became less squeamish by extending outside support to a Congress-led UPA. It sat at the same table and negotiated over policy, taking credit, however hotly disputed by the Congress, for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme among other things.

Post 2008, the CPI(M) set out to establish new ties with regional parties and produced embarrassing failures. In Uttar Pradesh, the deal with the entirely whimsical Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Ms Mayawati unravelled. The Congress benefited. The realignment paid off on April 27; Ms Mayawati declared her principled opposition to the Congress's failure to curb price rise and then in a magnificent gesture extended support to keep the communal forces at bay. Fussier than Ms Mayawati, both Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav distanced themselves from the Congress as well as the BJP even as they promised to vote with the Left but were not given a chance to make good on it.

Even though these permutations and combinations mean the CPI(M) can and does willingly sup with its enemy, the BJP, because both are united in their anti-Congress politics, there is a remarkable absence of fuss. However, fastidious some may be in the CPI(M), the significant change is that it has abandoned its position that there are pariahs and there are others within the political space.

Untouchability, however, is not a practical guide to 21st century politics. Nursing grudges too is not practical any more. Even though the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have been at loggerheads over seat distribution in the forthcoming municipal elections, Ms Mamata Banerjee jumped into save the UPA on Tuesday. She did so without once registering her protest over the Congress failure to curb the rise in prices of food.
Her unconditional support is intriguing. She could have done what Ms Mayawati did; she chose not to. By voting without a fuss with the Congress on the cut motions, the Trinamool Congress has signalled that it needs the parent party to cement its victory run in West Bengal. Therefore the failure to arrive at a formula for seat-sharing, especially for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, has been partly compensated by Ms Banerjee's support on April 27.

In Kolkata, the alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress is elastic; it is stretched to accommodate Ms Banerjee's claims. To the extent the partnership is between two parties, there are few complexities, unlike the tortuous alignments that are unfolding between the Congress and its supporters on the one hand and the anti-Congress left and the anti-Congress right and communal parties on the other.

For, to win is all. The cost of faltering now would be the equivalent of sudden death in a tense tennis match.








Following the death of a labourer as a result of multi-organ failure, after exposure to radiation in the capital's Mayapuri scrap market earlier in April, the Union Cabinet, Parliament and all responsible political parties need to take a hard look at India's lax monitoring of imports of foreign waste. Seven persons were severely burnt in the mishap, of whom one died. Experts from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, National Disaster Management Authority, Defence Research and Development Organisation and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had to be called in to isolate the radioactive substance — Cobalt-60 — and take it away.

According to BARC, the radioactive waste reached the scrap dealer's shop in West Delhi from the international scrap market. Global and local trade in waste transportation, disposal and recycling is estimated to run into billions of dollars. Reports from around the world suggest that enforcement of free trade laws over the past two decades have increasingly turned developing countries into dumping grounds for the most dangerous industrial and chemical wastes from other countries, especially the First World. Dirt-cheap labour; a dismal human rights record; civil society indifference; callous and venal governance; and extremely slow judicial processes account for India and its ilk becoming the preferred destination for ships that need to be broken up; computers and other discarded electronic items that require disposal; lethal industrial effluents; and god knows what else.

Anti-dumping activists, whose pleas have been ignored by policy-makers, now feel vindicated. Consequently, the land, where even the gods apparently yearn to take birth, is becoming a polluted, toxic terrain which, in the years to come, might become unfit for any species of healthy life. Much has already been written about the poisoning of groundwater and water bodies, and resultant maladies, as well as the state's colossal failure to counter this. Waste dumping is an issue that needs to be focussed upon with the same urgency, given the lethal repercussions. And it goes beyond the ambit of the environmental and commerce industries. Blame for the Mayapuri disaster must fall also on the local administrators, MLA and city Government, as too on the Centre for failing to ratify the amendment to the Basel Convention — Basel Ban Amendment 1995 — effectively prohibiting export (or import) of such waste.

The amendment came into being to give more teeth to the earlier international law, adopted in 1989, which monitored the movement and disposal of dangerous waste across boundaries. It forbids export of hazardous waste for final disposal and recycling from Annex VII countries (parties to the Convention that are members of the European Union, Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) to non-Annex VII countries (other parties to the Convention). India has ratified the Basel Convention but not the amendment, reportedly under pressure from traders in such waste. ToxicsWatch Alliance, which is working to increase public awareness about the tragic fallout of India's imports of toxic waste, and trying to influence policy in this regard, claims that about 88 countries have banned such imports via their own laws or regional agreements. In times of war, apparently, such trade is common. But India, during peace time, has turned a blind eye to it. Perhaps it is the weak-kneed response of successive Governments to the Union Carbide pesticides' plant leak at Bhopal in December 1984 that has commercial buccaneers targeting India for quick gains and hazardous enterprises. An estimated 8,000 people died within days of the leak, and an equal number, reportedly, over the next few years. Many affected by the gas leak developed crippling disorders. But civil and criminal cases against the accused here and in the United States have failed to bring the culprits to book.

The UPA Government's National Environmental Policy is said to refer to strategies for cleanup of poisonous and hazardous waste dump legacies; doing a national inventory of such dumps; online monitoring of the movement of waste; taking legal recourse to solve related problems; and so on. But the most important question that arises is whether any safety mechanisms have been put in place. The Mayapuri disaster provides the answer: None. One also just needs to look at the shipyards in Alang on the Gujarat coast for further corroboration. Since the early-1980s, these have gradually captured about half the ship-breaking and recycling business in the world. The work is done manually for a fraction of the cost entailed, say, in Baltimore in the US. But while providing livelihood, it does great damage to human health and environment.







Right to Education has been a three-decade long struggle for those who believe that education should reach every child in this country. Finally, education is a constitutional right for every child between ages 6 to 14 years. It is a reflective of social and political ethos, a reiteration the nation's commitment to build its pool of human talent, skills and resources to take the leap into a promising future.

However, there remains a niggling doubt, that in spite of all the right sounding noises, something does not ring true. Why is the Government which needs to go all-out to implement this on the ground, not only in form but in spirit now seems to be lagging behind?

There is dimension at work, not fully explicit but it throws up the uncomfortable angle of co-opting the private sector into what is clearly a Government's mandate towards its people. Large areas and sections of its implementation will be left to private hands who may have little or no commitment to the underlying principles behind this Act. Is the Government trying to say that private educators are driven by the same motivation as the state in implementing this right?

The Act says that every private school should ensure a reservation of 25 per cent of its seats for underprivilged children. The burden of educating these children will lie with the Government, so nothing goes out of their own coffers. The Ministry of Human Resources is moving ahead on the presumption that private sectors will develop infrastructure in the beginning that the Government will repay them as fees in 20-30 years.

This means Government resources would be used to create private property. There is again a contradiction here. While the Government will spend its funds to pay the fees and bear the education expenses of underprivilged children in private schools, it will not allocate its funds to create structure for the coming five years. Why is public money being used to benefit private sector?

At another level, the role of the Panchayats in the education system in villages would naturally diminish. With private players in the fray, the responsiveness of the system at the ground-level to the needs of the community could also take a blow.

While private schools would proliferate in cities and towns, would they open schools in remote rural areas, for adivasis and backward sections in remote areas? Would they not turn out a child once he/she turns 14 years and the Government stop paying fees? How will the parents, from poor backgrounds cope?

The shedding off responsibilities by successive Governments in public welfare and basic rights sector in the name of public-private partnership has become a pattern. This has been happening, in different sectors, each with its own trajectory since 1991, the beginning of liberalisation as the era is referred to.

The Government has categorically said that it does not have the resources required to implement this Act. But this statement, rather than being taken at face value smacks of a ploy to bring in private players into this arena. In last financial year, the Government has given a benefit of Rs 4.18 lakh crore to corporate and private sectors. The tax benefit given to the middle and upper class has cost the government Rs 55,000 crore. Yet the Government is unwilling to give Rs 1.78 lakh crore over five years for education.

These private players are not going to carry the onus of the Right to Education as a social commitment but a way to expand markets. Business organisations could be looking at generating revenue of Rs 3.4 lakh crore in next 10 years through the implementation of the Act.

When all the arguments are stated and the cards laid on the table, it all comes together in perhaps one simple short statement. According to the Constitution, the Government not private sector is responsible to ensure the Right to Education for every child. If it reneges on it, then it has to answer to the people of this country.








IT WAS the Austrian writer Karl Kraus who said that corruption is worse than prostitution.


" The latter might endanger the morals of an individual," he wrote, " but the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country." In the case of Indian bureaucrats, corruption has taken on far more sinister proportions.


The result of one bureaucrat's dishonesty was responsible perhaps for the death of some of the 75 CRPF jawans and a Chhattisgarh state police official, who were killed in an ambush by Maoists in the forests of Dantewada district on April 6.


Actually, since the home ministry has scrapped the trials and the re- trials of bulletproof jackets after allegations that Radhe Shyam Sharma — now under CBI arrest — was favouring a particular company for procuring them, India's paramilitary forces would have to wage war against internal security threats such as the Maoists without this potentially life- saving equipment for a year.


Bureaucratic corruption has become so rampant in India that it is getting difficult to separate the honest officers from the dishonest.


It is a sad irony that in a government headed by one of the most honest prime ministers India has ever had — Manmohan Singh — corruption has prospered like never before.


The same day as Sharma was arrested for his shady involvement in the Rs 200 crore worth deal, another senior bureaucrat — a joint secretary in charge of the National Disaster Management Authority in the home ministry — was found to have allegedly earned Rs 25 lakh as payback for helping six firms in Daman evade taxes worth Rs 340 crore. Our honest prime minister needs to ask himself whether he has done all he could to check the growing cancer of official corruption. If not, the consequences could be worse than a Dantewada.







EVERY round of fresh bidding in the ongoing auction of 3G spectrum has served to magnify the extent to which telecom minister A Raja's acts of omission and commission have robbed the government of revenue. The minister's explanations for why he chose to give away precious 2G spectrum resources to rank new entrants at 2001 prices without any bidding have failed to convince anyone.


Now, allegations have surfaced that the government has evidence in its possession, by way of tapped telephone conversations of a powerful lobbyist, of underhand dealings and kickbacks. Regardless of the veracity of these charges, the bloated bottomlines of some of the players, whose only ' achievement' was to bag the licences, was enough evidence to warrant some sort of action against Mr Raja.


The scandal also underscores the urgent need to review the way public resources and assets are defined by law. With technological advancement, resources are no longer simply uncut forests or un- mined mineral resources.


As the 3G auctions have shown, airwaves can turn out to be more precious than diamonds.


It is time the government brought the rules governing the control and use of resources into the 21st century. And it is high time that the Prime Minister, whose personal probity is unquestioned, ensured that his colleagues in government kept the same standards.







IT IS not just Khusboo and women rights activists who will welcome the Supreme Court quashing criminal cases against the actress for speaking in favour of pre- marital sex. Civil society which has bemoaned the recent trend of illiberal people using the legal means to harass prominent citizens will also be relieved. If Khusboo as an individual thinks that premarital sex is desirable — and several arguments can be made backing this view — it is her fundamental right to air her stand in the public domain.


The Supreme Court seems to have been unnecessarily patient with the complainants in the case, trying to explain to them that no crime was made out against the actress.


Courts in this country must send out the message that they have far more important matters to attend to than grievances that stem from obscurantist or skewed sensibilities.


It is surprising indeed that this basic fact was not appreciated by the Madras High Court when it refused to quash the cases against Khusboo.








MY SON uses a Gillette Mach III Turbo Triple Edged Razor, recently upgraded from the Double Edged Gillette Sensor Series 2. In the half hour it takes him to shave, he also uses a range of beard softeners, gels, aerosol cans of foam and after shaves, finally emerging with a mild reduction of facial hair. By contrast, my father only used an old Bharat blade, which he carefully saves for the next day's shave. The transformation from Bharat blades to Gillette Mach III in a mere 30 years, spells a generational shift from an era of useful functional objects to one of mindless consumer frivolity.


From the 1960s to now, just look at the range of ordinary conveniences that have undergone this change. Before liberalisation, the primary car on the Indian roads was the Ambassador. It came in three striking colours: beige, cream and egg shell, and could be repaired by anyone at the roadside tea stall using strings and rubber bands. Luxury meant an Ambassador with a sun visor and a fan on the dashboard.




Today's car brands are known not just for their colour, size, make, engine, gadgets, upholstery and sun roofs, but for a variety of other indecipherable assets. At a bar, it isn't unusual to hear someone say, " Yaar, mine is a Luxury Ex3L and a 4.8 Overhead Cam with Power Disc Sonic brakes and 520 CL Automatic Cruise Control. ( But you will not hear the same inane trivia for a washing machine. " Yaar we got the Whirlpool Cool Wash 351 Dx with the Automatic Spin Cycle." In matters of social class, the car is at the top of the heap).


Sadly, the dissociation between function and appearance is a phenomenon of our time, and one of the primary contradictions of the many new objects flooding the market. The shoe store is now a Foot Accessory Studio. Hundreds of sport shoes back lit on a wall of plexiglass.


Shoes for tennis, football, running, walking shoes, trekking shoes, strollers, hikers — all displayed with worryingly scientific tags: Triple Density All- purpose Fibre reinforced base with CVA Heel Support and Gel- pad Shock Absorbers. If you stand in front of the aerodynamic Apollo series with a guiding light in the heel, the salesman will tell you, " Notice that it's got a narrow footprint to reduce ground friction and air resistance". The all- purpose PT shoe is a museum relic.


I listen to about eight songs on my IPod.


Which is a real shame since it has a capacity to store 40,000, plus several full length films, office accounts and property tax data, and who knows what else? The Apple I- Phone 3G has video recording, voice control, GPS, maps, a compass, email, camera and many other non- phone features. Is this the new form of convenience living, to carry all your gadgets in a single object? When being so multipurpose overwhelms the original purpose, doesn't the implement in fact become less handy? Similarly, a wrist watch with multiple dials that provide the weather forecast, wind speeds, altitude, heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and humidity levels, can hardly be called a watch. That it is sold at watch and jewellery stores and not at a chemist is another matter.


But its wearer, proud of its link to Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, is hardly concerned with finding out the time. Nautilus, a watch that can take water pressure pressure up to a hundred metres below the ocean, is usually worn by teenagers who barely go near a swimming pool. Is this plain stupidity or just good marketing? If you think that adding new uses to old things is unique, then look at items that do away with the original object altogether.


Kindle, the electronic reader, has dispensed with the book. You hold an electronic page, barely a quarter inch thick, and pretend that there is a whole book in your hand.




Can a 10 inch long, light- weight wireless screen, ever be a substitute for a heavy 300 page hardback, with curry stains and a torn book jacket? Will technology ever be a substitute for the sensory pleasure of a book's weight? Amazon, the promoters of Kindle, even promise, " We want to have every book ever printed in any language available within 60 seconds on Kindle". Downloading can hardly be a substitute for browsing in a musty bookshop.


More often than not, advancing technology needs serious scrutiny before application. Remember, when Windows 98 was given a shut down command, within seconds the computer had switched off. Try giving the same command to the more advanced Windows XP, you are offered a choice of Standby, Turn Off and Restart. If you choose Turn Off, the computer screen displays another sign indicating that it is logging off, but while doing so it asks you if you'd like to save your settings. Is this advancement or regression? Certainly, technology's ability to give greater access to a range of activities is a good thing, but there is always the danger of the abuse of technology. However, in a product culture everything gets designed, redesigned and over- designed to fit the changing demands of the era.


In the 1950s, furniture had spindly legs that splayed outwards.


The 60s and 70s returned to the straight line requirements of the age of chrome and steel. After the 1980s, objects began to bloat. CD players became fat and rounded with numerous dials and knobs; Cielo cars bulged as if they had consumed a few Marutis. Of late, the Mahindra Scorpio, baring its chromium teeth grille, is looking threatening enough to make its own road. Big and ugly and powerful is the design dictum of our times. And big and ugly will remain, till some Italian or Scandinavian designer says it's time to move on to things angular.




Companies too will continue to rely on people's desire for conformity to ensure that their investment in new products is safe. Rolex watches, Gucci bags and Adidas shoes, instead of reflecting the individual personality of its users, are ironically given a mass produced image of individuality. This way everyone can display the same brand without the guilt of private choice. To have what you don't need, to buy what you can't afford, to display that which everyone has, is the real success of advertising.


By employing seduction, pictorial imagery, sci- fi aesthetics and other inessentials of design, marketing companies evoke a sense of newness with the product and ensure that you feel hopelessly outdated if you don't conform and buy. Consequently, design changes in objects are mostly cosmetic and pointless.


Products like car accessories are downright useless: wipers on headlights, indicator lights on side mirrors, sun roofs in the June heat, dimming light switches for dashboards, cup holders, foot lights, lights in the boot, foot level AC, spoilers … uselessness upon uselessness, fripperies to astound the most excitable consumer.

There is probably a full Research and Development division where grown men sit around a table bouncing off ideas.

" Hey Prakash, why don't we put a light in the dicky." " But why?" " Just so the luggage can read on long journeys." " Let's at least carpet the dickey so the luggage is comfortable". " Great idea. Let's also carpet the road so the tyres can take it easy". The debate rages. As long as there is advertising, people's needs can only grow.


The writer is an architect








THE Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a significant indictment of the way Pakistan is ruled. Its conclusions are worth noting and require comment.


The Report shows a realistic understanding of how politics was played in Pakistan in the run- up to Benazir's assassination. The nature of the political " deal" between Benazir and President General Pervez Musharraf brokered by the UK and USA, how and why it soured closer to the general elections and the highly dubious role of the ubiquitous " establishment" are explained matter- offactly.


But it is extraordinary that the Report should have concluded that the federal government, Punjab provincial government and Rawalpindi police and administration of the time " deliberately" did not provide adequate security to Benazir and prevent the assassination.


Indeed, the dubious role of the " establishment" – whose " permanent core" is defined by the Report as comprising the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies – in subverting the original political " deal", then endangering Benazir's life, and finally pulling strings and obfuscating and obstructing the investigations, are underscored with great clarity and courage.


SUCH an approach is due in no small part to to the composition of the three- member commissio, which is headed by Chile's Permanent Representative to the UN, Heraldo Munoz, whose historical opposition to military rule in Chile is documented in his recent book on the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who overthrew the democratically elected regime of President Salvador Allende with the assistance of the United States in September 1973.


The Report also sheds indirect light on why the PPP government took a year after coming to power before asking the UN to lend a hand in investigating Benazir's murder. Mr. Zardari was privy to the rights and wrongs of the political " deal' and shared Benazir's aversion to, and apprehension of, the " establishment" which had twice earlier in 1990 and 1996 sent PPP governments packing.


Initially, therefore, he targeted the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (" Qatil" League) instead of General Musharraf directly, because he didn't want to give the general any excuse to delay the elections further, but also because the PML( Q) was the PPP's " established" competitor. After forming the government with General Musharraf's concurrence, however, Mr. Zardari tried to seize control of the ISI while getting rid of General Musharraf. He failed abysmally in the former objective and was therefore chastened not to clash with the " establishment". Instead, he sought outside ( UN) assistance to investigate Ms. Bhutto's murder.


The UN Commission met with some officials from the USA, UK, Afghanistan and UAE. But it laments the fact that it was denied access by the US government to intelligence officials, including Michael Hayden, a director of the CIA who had alleged an Al- Qaeda- Baitullah Mehsud hand in Benazir's assassination. This is inexplicable, unless the US motive was simply not to embarrass the Pakistani " establishment", with which Washington is currently working closely in the " war on terror", by commenting on its not- soinvisible links with the Jihadis and Taliban who carried out Ms Bhutto's assassination! The Commission makes several major recommendations. ( 1) " The Pakistani authorities should consider conducting an independent review to determine responsibilities and hold accountable those individuals who seriously failed in their duties". How this can be done, with the powerful establishment very much in command, is not spelt out. In fact, the best that the Zardari government has been able to do to the guilty policemen named in the report, is to make them Officers on Special Duty! Equally, the DG- MI, Major- General Nadeem Taj, whose role is questioned in the report for authorising the hosing down of the scene of crime, has submitted a defiant four page denial to the Inquiry Commission constituted by the government after the UN Report. As far as the " establishment" is concerned, this is the final word on the subject and an end to the matter.


( 2) The UN Report wants the government " to undertake police reform consistent with the principles of democratic policing and operating in a structure of accountability for protecting the Rights if Individuals as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Tombs have been written on this subject and are collecting dust. The police in Pakistan is deeply politicised and linked to the " establishment". Without redressing the original sin – the civil- military imbalance – it is futile to try to radically reform the police to become efficient and accountable.


( 3) " The autonomy, pervasive reach and clandestine role of the intelligence agencies in Pakistani life underlie many problems, omissions and commissions set out in the Report… the actions of politicised intelligence agencies undermine democratic governance… [ therefore] a thorough review of intelligence agencies based on international best practices" is required. This is easier said than done. All politicians, including the current crop of popular leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, have concluded that discretion is the better part of valour in this matter of the " establishment". Indeed, even the newly independent media is in thrall to the " establishment" for " national security" reasons! ( 4) " The assassination of Benazir Bhutto occurred against the backdrop of a history of political violence that was carried out with impunity. To address this issue, Pakistan should consider establishing a transitory, fully independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate political killings, disappearances and terrorism in recent years." Hah! That is like asking the " establishment" to investigate itself, indict itself, punish itself and disband itself in pursuit of some lofty UN principles of human rights when the very life purpose of this " establishment" is to continue to do exactly the opposite with ruthless unaccountability and impunity in the national interest! Therefore it is no surprise that the " strategic dialogue" between Pakistan and the US is currently being conducted by the Pakistani Establishment rather than the democratically elected Government of Pakistan!

The writer is Editor of The Friday Times



CAN you imagine? The Hospital ( as in mum's place, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital) in Lahore has received a directive saying two portraits should be put up immediately in the lobby. One of Zardari as President and the other of Shahbaz Sharif as Chief Minister, Punjab. The directive says the Hospital can also put up my portrait if they like. Alright, I said, put up Zardari and Shahbaz's pictures with the caption: " Two reasons to feel sorry for Pakistan". And under my photo, the head doctor suggested we put the caption: " No danger of reason". What a great idea. I've also told them to put up a sign saying " Mum's Sums" on the door to the accounts department.


Zardari's finished. And Nawaz Sharif is also finished.


His problem is he doesn't want to upset the apple cart.


Once a tradesman, always a tradesman. I should write a book about Pakistan's unscrupulous and corrupt politicians. I know all about them. In case you've forgotten, I'm the one who unearthed Zardari's Surrey Worry. Jimmy Goldsmith was alive at that time and as my father- in- law, he very kindly offered to ferret out everything else on the Bhutto- Zardaris in Switzerland and France where he put Jacques Chirac, God rest his soul in peace, on the job. At that time, Asif Zardari accused me of using my in- laws. You should know, I told him, and if we don't use them, someone else will. So, I think I'll plan a book on Pakistan's corrupt politicians.


And then I'll get someone else to write it, as I always do.


Chapter 1 will be written by Mick Jagger, Chapter 2 by Prameshwar Godrej, Chapter 3 by Fruity Fitztightly and so on till Chapter 10, with internationally renowned has- beens and some never- weres doing the writing. My best friend Yusuf Salahuddin said, " go on. Why stop at Chapter 10?" I said, " because I've run out of fingers". Then Yusuf said, " You've called President Zardari and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif so many names. What are you going to call them when they're no longer President and CM?" I said, " Asif Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif." I took my latest squeeze out to dinner in a private club in Islamabad. Against my advice, she wore a dress. But it was down to her ankles so she had her legs covered.


I had everything else covered. The waiter asked her what she'd like. She said, " Grilled fish, please". He said, " what about the vegetable?" She said, " He'll have the same". Then the waiter asked me. I said, " I'll have ibex steak". He said, " Well done?" I said, " thank you so much". Then my latest squeeze kicked me under the table. We're so deeply in love. She with me and me with me.


Im the Dim







A quarter-century after its establishment, SAARC continues to struggle in limbo. As so many of the previous summits of South Asian leaders under its aegis have been, the just-concluded conclave in Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, has revolved around the elephant in the room the fraught India-Pakistan relationship. And given that this is the 16th such meeting, one thing has become abundantly clear. SAARC will make no real headway while tensions between its two largest members remain.

Since South Asian cooperation is nevertheless a must, it therefore falls to India to build a web of such cooperation through bilateral ties with SAARC member states. The most effective way to do this is through boosting trade flows between SAARC member states. As it stands now, the concept of a South Asian free trade zone a SAARC initiative hasn't taken off. Smaller steps are needed first, and it is here that India can lead the way. It currently has a free trade agreement only with Sri Lanka and another one with Bangladesh in the works. New Delhi would do well to look at opening up its market to other South Asian neighbours as well.

This is not to say that SAARC does not have its functions. But expecting multilateral initiatives within its framework to ease bilateral tensions is putting the cart before the horse. The flaws of this policy have been thrown into stark relief by the various leaders at Thimphu this time around. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has admitted that declarations and meetings do not amount to much while Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley has been even blunter, pointing out that SAARC has not been a success, waylaid too often by squabbles between member states.

Good atmospherics were reported when Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, the most positive outcome of which is that talks between India and Pakistan are back on track. Engagement needs to be kept up no matter what differences between New Delhi and Islamabad there might be. That's true even if a lot of energy is likely to be expended on what the structure of future talks or "modalities", that word beloved of bureaucrats on both sides is going to be. It, however, remains a moot question how much Pakistan's embattled civilian authorities are in charge of its foreign policy, particularly India policy. Talks, no matter how structured they are, are unlikely to succeed unless New Delhi also moves outside formal structures and engages Pakistan's military and security agencies.







Jharkhand has been here before. Four months after being sworn in, the coalition government in Ranchi has been reduced to a minority. Hectic parleys are on to salvage the JMM-BJP government, with a range of possibilities being discussed. Some of the options are bizarre since ideological common ground has ceased to matter in coalition building in Jharkhand. The deliberations are driven by self-interest and political parties are intent merely on capturing office. Shibu Soren's decision to vote for the UPA on the cut motion in Parliament was an act of self-destruction. A feeble attempt to blame Alzheimer's for Soren's faux paus didn't pass muster with the BJP. The party's sense of outrage is understandable since it broke convention to persuade the chief minister to attend Parliament. His action has left the BJP leadership looking silly.

Political uncertainty has dogged Jharkhand since its inception in 2000. The powerful tribal movement that led the struggle for a separate state has fragmented. The political churning in the state has spawned numerous outfits but there's been no sign of any ideologically coherent and stable coalition. The political instability has resulted in the formation of seven different governments, including one headed by an independent MLA, in the past nine years. The frequent change of governments has not helped governance in the state. This mineral-rich state continues to house some of India's poorest and vulnerable people because successive governments have failed to develop public institutions and make use of the state's resources. Maoists have exploited the crisis in the political system and built a base in the state. A stable government is sorely needed to improve administration and keep the Maoists under check.







Enthusiasm will be in short supply tomorrow when Maharashtra's movers and shakers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the state. Most Maharashtrians are far too concerned about the problems assailing them from all sides to respond to the hype and hoopla. Indeed, the claims that the ruling establishment is bound to make about the strides the state has taken over the past five decades can only generate a torrent of cynical despair.

On the face of it, certain statistics that the rulers advance to bolster their claims might appear to be upbeat. Since 1960, the proportion of the literate population, for example, has more than doubled from around 35 per cent to a little more than 77 per cent. Only Kerala among the major states has a more impressive record on this score. The figures for infant mortality and life expectancy, too, give cause for satisfaction.

The bald statistics about the overall growth of the economy are, at first sight, also pretty impressive. The state's income has increased manifold as has per capita income. The latter stands at more than Rs 47,000, a figure that places Maharashtra way ahead of most states. But once you begin to go through the statistics with a fine toothcomb, the picture changes in a dramatic fashion. In Mumbai and its surroundings, the per capita income is close to Rs 74,000; in the Konkan, a little more than Rs 66,000; in Marathwada, it stands at some Rs 30,500; and in Vidarbha, it is Rs 29,000.

It is thus no surprise that about a third of Maharashtra's population lives below the poverty line. On this count, in the country as a whole, the state figures third from the bottom as far as the number of people is concerned and fifth from the bottom in terms of percentages. Part of the reason for this must be attributed to the mismanagement of agriculture. Over the past five decades, the output of wheat, jawar, bajra, cereals, pulses, cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane has decreased, in some instances quite drastically.

Add to this the state's failure to address the bleak situation in the drought-prone areas, notably of Vidarbha. Since 1995, over 40,000 indebted farmers have committed suicide, not least because they haven't been able to benefit in full measure from various government schemes. The latter have in fact been niggardly compared to the schemes of other state governments surrounding Maharashtra.

The low agricultural output accounts for the sharp rise in food prices. This burden would have been easier to bear had people been gainfully employed. However, despite the setting up of manufacturing units, IT software enterprises and growth in other service sectors, job losses have been mounting. From 1995 to 2008, as many as 1,800 people lost jobs everyday. This was before the recession struck. Indeed, according to official figures, jobs generated by various government schemes declined by 30 per cent.

All this would have been enough cause for Maharashtrians to bemoan their fate. What also galls them is that the creation of the state has not allowed them to control the levers of the state's economy. Before 1960, a bulk of commercial activity was in the hands of non-Maharashtrians: Gujaratis, Marwaris, Khojas, Bohras, Sindhis, Parsis and Punjabis. That is true today as well.

With the exception of the Kirloskars, no Marathi-owned company figures prominently in the country's corporate world. The Marathas, who dominate politics and therefore hold the bureaucracy in a tight grip, have done pretty well for themselves. Political clout has enabled them to operate in areas where the resources of the state can be manipulated for personal gain: real estate, agricultural cooperatives and educational institutions.

In national politics, too, there is no Maharashtrian with an all-India appeal. That requires a reputation for intellectual rigour, personal integrity and a steadfast commitment to a set of ideas and principles. The last politician with such a reputation was Y B Chavan. Much the same conspicuous absence can be found in areas of scientific and artistic endeavour. How many Marathi-speakers have emerged as national, let alone international, icons? In some fields notably classical music and cricket you can cite three or four names. Add to that a couple of scientists and writers. In the upper echelons of the armed forces and civil services, in think tanks and prestigious universities, in the national media and in the entertainment business too, Maharashtrians are few and far between.

Unable or unwilling to accept why things have come to this pass above all, an aversion to risk and adventure most Maharashtrians prefer to rail against the world. Those who exploit Marathi grievances for short-term political gains are content to promote vada-pao, force shop-owners to put up signs in Marathi and compel taxi drivers from outside the state to speak the language. Such swagger in an urban, increasingly cosmopolitan India invites ridicule. Maharashtrians need to regain their self-esteem. That is possible only when they discard their quintessentially mofussil mindset as, for instance, Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar, Kishori Amonkar and R A Mashelkar have done with such exemplary success.

Jai Maharashtra! all the same.






As we celebrate 20 years of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA is readying its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), for launch in 2013. With physicist Stephen Hawking's reiteration that all math points to intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, the powerful JWST is key to detecting life-sustaining atmospheres of Earth-like planets. Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, who heads the team evaluating JWST's planet-hunting capabilities, spoke to Prakash Chandra:

While hunting for habitable planets, how do telescopes study their atmospheres?

Ground-based Radial Velocity Technique measurements enable us to observe the wobble of the star when tugged by its orbiting planet. This tells us the mass of planets. From this we calculate their density and analyse spectral fingerprints. Venus and Earth seem alike in terms of size and mass, but Venus's spectrum only shows absorption of carbon dioxide, while Earth, even in very low resolution, shows water, oxygen, ozone, carbon dioxide and methane.

How can we specifically detect oxygen?

By splitting white light into individual wavelengths or colours -- much like a rainbow -- we measure the intensity of individual colours. The planet's atmosphere absorbs some of the light, which we find 'missing' in its spectrum. Since each molecule absorbs at a characteristic position in the spectrum, we know what chemical is in the atmosphere when we see what flux is missing. Carbon dioxide, water, oxygen and ozone in Earth's atmosphere are relatively easy to measure, so they should be easy to detect in Earth-like planets.

Which is more effective: direct imaging -- studying light from the planet itself -- or the transit technique?

Right now, transits are our only means to study planets and their atmospheres. If we are lucky, the orbit of a planet will be aligned just right for it to transit, which would let us screen it with the Hubble or the JWST for habitability.

You have zeroed in on planets orbiting red dwarf stars as likely candidates bearing conditions suitable for life. Why?

The signal from a planet is usually drowned in the radio 'noise' from its star. If the star is smaller, the 'noise' is less. So it is easier to study planets around small stars like red dwarfs, and it takes less time too. The smaller -- and thus cooler -- the star, the closer the planet must orbit to be warm enough to have liquid water on its surface and be habitable. It also needs less time to orbit: in one Earth year we'll find the planet circling its star more than once, which lets us gather signals from more than one transit.

Isn't it conservative to look for carbon-based life in space?

Absolutely. But we do not know what else to look for that could indicate life based on other chemicals. As long as we cannot make life in the lab, we can only observe the telltale signs of life as we know it in a planet's atmosphere. Any signal we can't explain will be exciting, but we have no one-to-one reference of what they would mean. I am waiting for someone to generate 'life' from its building blocks. If that works we'll see if carbon is really the best material to base 'life' on. Or, if other chemicals also work, what gases such life would produce, which we could then detect remotely in a planet's atmosphere.







As global aviation limps back to normal after being rudely interrupted by an erupting volcano, stories pour in about people who were stranded, far from home, by Eyjafjallajokull blowing its stack. While some of these stories are about travellers exploited by unscrupulous hoteliers and others who took advantage of the situation, many more are about the kindness that people often show to strangers. Having briefly been refugees ourselves, many years ago, Bunny and i can attest to this kindness of strangers.


In 1973, Bunny and i were on a six-week tour of western Europe. Our travel bible was Arthur Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars a Day, and we were going to stick to that budget, despite friends and family repeatedly telling us it couldn't be done. We were determined to prove them wrong. And we almost did.


We travelled by coach and train, through France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria. Our last destination in Europe was Munich, from where we were to take a Syrian Arab Airline flight to Delhi. The two one-way cut-price tickets had been bought in London.


To keep within our budget we often skipped meals: a missed lunch paid for admission to an art gallery or museum. Food could come later; Picasso, or Rembrandt, couldn't. By the time we reached Munich, both of us were half-starved. And in Munich a bombshell awaited us. Unknown to us on our travels, an Arab-Israeli war had taken place, as sudden, swift and fierce as a desert storm. Syrian Airlines' entire fleet of three planes had been damaged or was ferrying wounded Arab troops back from the front. As the airline was not an IATA member, no other carrier would fly us. In Munich we demanded a refund on our tickets. We were told we'd have to go to London for the refund. Our family in India wanted to pay our airfare home, but RBI rules wouldn't permit it.


Money fast running out, we were stuck in Munich, one of the most costly cities in the world. We lived on a diet of rejected supermarket chocolate, the cheapest food available. Eventually, all our money exhausted, we had to go to the Indian consulate and apply for repatriation. Declaring ourselves destitute we had our passports defaced in front of us and were issued one-time travel warrants, normally reserved for escorted criminals. Air India flew us to Delhi. At the airport i wanted to kneel and kiss the ground. We were home. But one memory of Munich we'll never forget.


Waking past a street fair one day, Bunny had stopped before a woman selling toffee apples. The woman had smiled and held out two apples. Bunny had shaken her head, held up one finger; we could afford only one apple. The woman seemed to intuit our plight. She accepted money for one apple. Then she'd held out the second apple, indicating it was free. Bunny had hesitated. Hunger is bitter; pride is even more bitter to swallow: Bitte, the woman had said. Please. Please? Why had she made a plea for us to accept her gift? Because, by accepting the kindness of strangers, the recipient gives back the greater gift of trust? Bunny had taken the apple. And by doing so, had perhaps given back something in exchange. A belief in our common humanness, a mutual recognition that the person who receives is also a giver.A simple thought to remember, particularly when we in India are -- at long last -- preparing to reach out to those of us who all their lives have known only hunger and poverty. Think of what they might be waiting to give us. Not gratitude, never that. But perhaps a mirror -- flat, hard and unsentimental -- in which we see ourselves, as we might have been, as we might be one day. The gift of ourselves for the price of a toffee apple? What better bargain in the world. But why does it take wars, or volcanoes, for us to find that out?








Radio frequency sold for a song to telecom operators two years ago is making headlines yet again when auctions are on for spectrum that can provide Indians high-speed internet services on their cellphones. The highest bid for countrywide third-generation (3G) spectrum has already crossed Rs 9,000 crore in a month-long online auction with another week to go before the hammer comes down. Comparisons are being drawn to the first-come first-served process conducted by the Department of Telecommunications in 2008 when pan-India licences for slow-speed telephony were handed out at Rs 1,600-odd crore a pop. Subsequently, a couple of start-ups sold stakes to foreign telecom majors that valued them upwards of five times the fee they paid for the licences — without having a single cell tower or subscriber to their name. Essentially, these companies were as valuable to their buyers as the licences they held. This underselling of scarce airwaves, argue auditors, courts and a section of our lawmakers, cost the exchequer anything between Rs 26,000 crore and Rs 100,000 crore.

The ongoing auctions could be a better proxy for the revenue forgone in doling out spectrum for second-generation (2G) telephony services at prices set in 2001. Especially since bids in the 3G auctions are being pushed higher by cities where mobile networks are choking up for lack of frequency and where analysts expect a big chunk of the new spectrum will be used to carry the regular voice traffic. Upgrading a 2G cellular network to 3G costs around a third of what it takes to set up a 2G network from scratch. Factor that into the final bids for 3G spectrum and we get a fix on the extent of markdown in 2008.

All this must be read with a caveat, though. India is adding 20 million cellphone users every month as the cost of calls dip to levels the countryside can afford. Huge upfront costs, like spectrum fees, must be passed on to customers and don't permit the bruising price war Indian telecommunications's been witnessing. Auctions at home in 1995 when the first bunch of companies bid for telecom licences and Europe's 3G spectrum sale show companies tend to bid themselves out of the market. The larger goal of universal telecom access may not be best served by setting the entry cost so high that subsequent investments get delayed or scrapped. Spectrum auctions might yield better price discovery for high-end niche services like streaming cricket matches on your cellphone. But a more statist approach may be needed for the spread of India's telecommunication revolution to its villages. Which is all the more reason this mechanism should be above board.





You'd have to be a heartless beast — or the proverbial mad man from Ranchi — not to feel for Shibu Soren. The man has been ticked off by the BJP for voting against the BJP-Left-sponsored cut motions against the UPA. The truth of the matter is that the poor man was confused. Voting against the UPA's economic policies meant voting for the cut motions. Mr Soren, his head brimming with just the word 'against', must have pressed the red button and then cast the 'wrong' paper vote thinking he was supporting his allies in the Jharkhand government, the BJP.

Which brings us to the second level of confusion. The JMM never walked out of the UPA at the Centre for the BJP in the state. So, taking a cue from those masters of bipolar behaviour, the Left, Mr Soren may have been under the belief that in Delhi he should support the central Judas government and in Ranchi, he should support the state BJP. And the man, on Tuesday was in Delhi. So...

But the heart really breaks for another man: BJP president Nitin Gadkari. After Mr Soren played Vibhishan with the BJP in Parliament, the BJP removed its support from the Soren-led Jharkhand government. Mr Gadkari, however, was supping with — to switch metaphors — Judas. Perhaps no one in the BJP leadership had told him of Mr Soren's momentary lapse of reason; perhaps they did and he was suffering from his very own condition that makes people forget. Poor Congress, now having to deal with a confused 'new old' friend. But hang on, weren't we supposed to spread the pity about Mr Soren? Sorry, our human error.





Fourteen years ago, as a 13-day A.B. Vajpayee government fell, the BJP's man for all seasons, the late Pramod Mahajan, offered an interesting explanation for what had gone wrong. Speaking to a group of  journalists, he said, "We were all so excited at having become the single largest group in Parliament and being invited to form the government that we forgot you need 272 MPs to win a confidence vote!"

Two hundred and seventy-two: that magical number that even Sonia Gandhi tripped over in 1999. Politics, as practised in a television studio may be about its vocabulary, in the heat and dust of a campaign about its chemistry, but in the forbidding corridors of Parliament it is about plain arithmetic. The 2009 general elections ensured that the maths was firmly in favour of the Congress-led UPA. The UPA won 265 seats, seven short of an outright majority, but still more than a 100 seats better than the NDA with 151 seats. The Left was virtually wiped out with 23 seats. The gap was simply too wide to allow a non-UPA combination to stage a democratic coup.

Which is why it's fanciful for some Opposition leaders to have actually believed that they could bring down the Manmohan Singh government through a cut motion in Parliament. That the Left and the Right were excited enough to shed ideological inhibitions and vote together against the government is no surprise. The Left's been itching to teach Singh a lesson since it was isolated on the Indo-US Nuclear Bill. The BJP still hasn't entirely got over its defeats in two successive Lok Sabha elections that it believes it should have won.

But what the Left and the Right seem to have forgotten is that the notion of a 'combined' Opposition is a misnomer in contemporary politics. In 1977, the excesses of the Emergency brought the entire non-Congress Opposition together against Indira Gandhi. In 1989, the Left and Right famously came together to support the Janata Dal government of V.P. Singh. Two decades later, any hope of repeating a 1989-like experiment is betrayed by the reality of a political climate where convenience, not conviction, matters. Anti-Congressism and anti-BJPism — both powerful glues for previous experiments in oppositional politics — have now been replaced by naked self-interest and, in some cases, sheer survival instinct.

A Mayawati may challenge a Rahul Gandhi on home turf in Uttar Pradesh. But she needs the Centre to bail her out in the Supreme Court. A Shibu Soren, a proven political bigamist, may have entered into a shotgun marriage with the BJP in Jharkhand. But his romance with the UPA in New Delhi will endure till such time as the fear exists of another jail sentence. And then, there're Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, both of  whom also face the prospect of a judicial knock on the door. Both are conscious of the Congress's attempts to invade their territory, but also cannot afford to be seen publicly siding with the BJP.

This disparate group of non-NDA, non-UPA, non-Left 'others' is a substantial 103 MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha. It includes parties like the Biju Janata Dal, which has seemingly committed itself  to principled 'equidistance' but mainly comprises political outfits whose leaders are caught in the 'DA trap': not dearness allowance, but disproportionate assets. Their legal tangles make such political leaders acutely vulnerable to pressures from the State machinery, and the CBI — now dismissively referred to as the Congress Bureau of  Investigation — in particular.

But while the UPA is clearly in the comfort zone, there is the danger of comfort turning to complacency. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi's 400-plus majority withered away as the Opposition was treated with disdain. Singh is not Rajiv: if he does have an ego, he hides it well under his turban. And yet, there's a growing sense that in UPA-2 the Congress, as the dominant party, appears to be moving away from a coalition dharma towards a single-party rule mindset, sanguine in the belief that its position is unchallenged till 2014. The result is a gathering disquiet among some of its allies whose support is critical to the government's well-being.

The Nationalist Congress Party, for example, appears convinced that the Indian Premier League (IPL) 'leaks' have been engineered from within the government to embarrass its leadership. The Trinamool, numerically the largest ally, is worried that ahead of next year's West Bengal elections, the Congress may trip it up at the last moment. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, too, sees next year's assembly elections as a test case: a surprise defeat could lead to another political realignment. Not to forget Lalu, once a staunch ally, now feeling sidelined after being kept out of the Cabinet. There is also a seething anger across parties at the way in which the Women's Reservation Bill was sought to be rammed through.

Yes, the numbers are still firmly with the UPA government, and there seems no immediate danger to the stability of the ruling coalition. But in politics appearances can be terribly deceptive, and the calm waters may only be masking a certain inner turbulence. To take the IPL analogy: just a month ago, it appeared that Lalit Modi and his team were here to stay forever. It took one tweet to bring down the entire edifice. Politics is far more slippery than cricket. This April has been open season in cricket. Next year, it could well be the case in politics.

Post-script: When asked of his father Shibu Soren's decision to vote with the UPA in Parliament, his son Hemant described it as 'human error'. He's not wrong. It's the frailties of human nature that make politics so unpredictable and exciting.






Amid the frenzied welcomes recently greeting newly-married Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik in Pakistan, there came an intriguing remark. Malik's brother-in-law reportedly stated, "If the government wants us to celebrate in the dark, we'll do so."

The comment illuminates an area of ire in Pakistan. The country is suffering from a severe power crisis that has hit governmental, social and private realms hard. Some regions are undergoing power outages up to 18 hours a day, with business slow-downs and angry protests.

Electricity generation in Pakistan currently equals 10,300 megawatts daily while national demand is 17,000 megawatts. A host of 'crisis measures' have been introduced to plug a gap of over 6,000 megawatts. These include load-shedding for homes and offices, a shortened five-day week, early closure of shops, curbed power supply to street lighting, agriculture and industries and restricting marriage activities to three hours a day.

Despite their aim of power-saving, the measures have not met with uniform popularity. The dissonances emerging shed light upon fissures that cut across Pakistan's polity. While Lahore traders agree to close shops by 8 pm, Karachi traders reject the proposal. They cite the authorities' failure to provide power during the day, pointing towards private generators that keep business going despite load-shedding. Power supply to Karachi from the national grid has been slashed by 300 megawatts. Additional generation using oil is being planned. However, traders in Pakistan's commercial capital are not happy to stand by in the dark meanwhile.

Things aren't peachy in Lahore either. In addition to the time-curbs on wedding venues, the Punjab government has imposed an 'austerity' measure of 'one-dish' to be served at marriage parties. For food-loving Lahoris, this is deeply troubling. Weddings in Lahore are cuisine events, dishes from around the world showcased alongside Punjabi favourites. Mountains of kebabs stand by fountains of chocolate and hills of fruit. Stalls feature spicy chaat, cooling sweets, Arabian, Oriental and European delicacies with rich biryanis, paya and nihari. There are even a few vegetarian offerings (like palak-gosht) amid the rivers of fish and tandoors of bread abounding at Lahore weddings.

Imagine Shoaib Malik's consternation then, having transported Sania and the in-laws from the feasts of Hyderabad, to be allowed only a simple chicken curry at his wedding function in Lahore. To be given no additional time or lighting either might have got Malik's goat.

Interestingly, lessons from Pakistan's power crisis can be learned by India too. Smarting from shared heat and power failures, Indians and Pakistanis should consider how desperately our region needs to develop power sources alternative to hydroelectricity. It is blazingly obvious we have enough solar energy to harness; if we could tear ourselves away from developing the latest in missiles, perhaps we could make something useful instead.

Another lesson lies in how we continue thinking of power as a predominantly middle-class experience. Both countries bemoan the pressure on inverters and diesel-run generators but few accounts explore the world of the poor who enjoy extraordinarily little power to begin or end with. Nationhood, more than a celebration of sameness or an exposition of ideals, is about empathising with difference. It might be refreshing for a middle-class householder to not obsess over her inverter during the next power cut but consider her rural equivalents.

For developing nations, sharing experiences and according dignity to those who have less rather than more are as essential as the enjoyment of resources. While India and Pakistan both negotiate this, there is one more lesson we might learn from them; how to do the bhangra in the dark.

Srijana Mitra Das is a social anthropologist. The views expressed by the author are personal.








Little did Richard Nixon and his pals know that their wickedness (or stupidity, depending on how you wish to look at it) would be immortalised for generations (and rip-offs) to come. Watergate, it seems, was the Waterloo that closed the floodgates of creativity forever.


So, even as con men and crim- inals continue to dream up those ingenious schemes to keep authorities running around in circles, their laudable hard work is not being mirrored by that of us hacks. In direct contrast to your average media person's imaginative potential, taglines are lagging way behind head- lines. No sooner did a fresh scan- dal hit the airwaves, than we went scurrying off to add a rather stale, uninspired suffix to the lead character in the eye of the storm.


The jerky christening and re- christening of the current indig- nation that is keeping our par- liamentarians busy is a sad comment on a nation famous for inventive nicknames. From flirt- ing with `Tharoorgate' and `Twi- ttergate' to `Kochigate', the fran- tically-jumping roulette ball has stopped at `IPL gate' and stuck.
And bingo! We have our latest scam.


When will we finally unlock the rusted gates to our creative imagination and do what we do best: break the mould even as we break the news. And why, when it comes to homegrown rogues and their tales, must we be shackled by American folk- lore? Let's go local, I say. In fact, I quite like the sound of `IPLkala- fdaghapla'. What's more, this would get those western tongues rolling a bit, and even the scores a little for having to embarrass- ingly mumble `volcanic ash' every time that flight-grounding, smoke-spewing volcano with the sadistically unpronounceable name is mentioned.


While we're on the subject, don't you ever wonder how we celebrated India's sporting suc- cesses before `Chak De' came waltzing in and just refused to leave? Like Scamgate on loop is our country's victory song. Oh, and I'm sure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must definitely be thinking twice about flashing a victory sign these days, shak- ing in his boots at the thought of having Snoop Doggy Dogg synch a hundred replays of `Singh is King' as he marches out of a gru- eling Parliament session. In fact, I wonder if BBC might get away with serenading Gordon Brown with `The Final Countdown' one of these days?


So I say, let those Yanks enjoy their 21st century reincarnations of Nixon's bumbles in the form of `Climate gate', `Trooper gate' and what not. Why must we be bound by their lack of imagin- ation? Come now, it's our scand- al. Why pay obeisance to some- one else's? And while we're at it, let's hear some new tunes, eh?



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 BJP may be inclined to blame it all on a Lok Sabha vote gone awry. Having staked political capital on rallying support to cut motions in an effort this week to find out the UPA's numbers in the Lok Sabha, its own tally was found to be one ally short. Shibu Soren, the chief minister of Jharkhand, who is still a member of the House (pending election to the state assembly, but that is another drama), had voted with the treasury benches. Even as the BJP cried betrayal, the comic situation it's found itself in yields from more than the vote.


Consider the entreaties from Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha that BJP leaders have had to field. Soren's vote was a mistake, born of confusion and not intent to side with the UPA. And if Soren had indeed created bad faith, why not just abandon him and carry on the BJP's coalition with the JMM by anointing another chief minister? And however much the BJP clarifies it, the postponement of the meeting with Jharkhand Governor M.O.H. Farook to formally withdraw support only gave strength to speculation that it was considering the merit in these arguments by the JMM. If the BJP today finds itself caught in a trivialised politics, the reason goes beyond the cut motion. It draws from an alliance clearly of convenience that was put together in December 2009 — and the lack of political coherence was made evident right at the beginning when Soren called off anti-Naxal operations without a strong response from the BJP. Of course, Jharkhand's record of statehood is one of alliances of pure convenience, without even the semblance of any common programme for governance — and in this both national parties have been complicit, with Soren himself being in and out of alliance with the Congress in the recent past.


This entrenched culture of political expediency has, predictably, resulted in a governance deficit. But it has also fed the stereotype of government in the resource-rich state as a facilitator in deal-making. Jharkhand's sorrow is that Madhu Koda's case has become emblematic of governance in a state which was won as the flagship of tribal entitlement. To blame it on split verdicts would be a mistake. Blame it instead on a politics that's reduced itself to just a numbers game.







On April 28, the Supreme Court of India upheld actor Khushboo's constitutional right to free speech and quashed 22 cases of criminal defamation filed against her. The apex court's decision comes almost five years after her comments on pre-marital sex. In those five years, Khushboo's life was made hell. Violent protests were staged; case after case was filed against her in different courts. During one of her many court appearances, she was pelted with eggs and tomatoes. Now that she has finally been found innocent, who is to blame for what she has suffered? Opportunistic politics and moral policing are, of course, the usual suspects. However, the incident also asks a big question of our legal system: given the delays, is not the process much too often a punishment?


As of 2009, there were around four million cases pending in the high courts and 27 million in the lower judiciary, as per one estimate. Apart from procedural hurdles like adjournments, there is a paucity of resources. A million Indians share, among them, a mere 10 judges. There is then the government problem, meaning that India's largest litigant clogs up the courts with unviable appeals. Law Minister Veerappa Moily has spoken of the need for an "internal mechanism" to reduce government litigation. Such a mechanism must disincentivise needless appeals while protecting civil servants from an archaic provision of law that links file closure with corruption. But the law ministry is still to flesh out its "internal mechanism". In a similar vein, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan emphasised, on April 25, the need for more judges and courts to combat case pendencies. It is hoped that this too is followed by a time-bound action plan.


The costs of judicial delay are not just that the process becomes a punishment. Delay enables the guilty to push the verdict into the future, buying time while the grinding wheels of justice move ever so slowly. From their statements, it appears that both the higher judiciary and the law minister are seized of this problem. But, as with the legal process, time is of the essence.








After the lethal cobalt-60 found in a scrapyard in Delhi's Mayapuri left seven people seriously ill from radiation exposure and killed one, India has been forced to confront its spotty record with radioactive waste. While fingers were first pointed abroad, the problem turned out to be home-grown — from an imported gamma irradiator machine from Delhi University's chemistry department that had been stashed in a storeroom for 25 years, and then thoughtlessly auctioned off as scrap to dealers in Mayapuri. The dealers peeled off the lead covering, leading to the radiation exposure. Of course, Delhi University has failed to conform to the standards expected of any minimally responsible research unit — but the incident has also highlighted how weak the regulatory shield around radioactive material is.


India has long been lax about the ways in which industrial equipment and medical scanners with radioactive content are disposed of. Our vast recycling market, which scavenges and smelts metal to recast and sell, is largely unmonitored at each link of the chain. Data is dated and incomplete and despite limits set by the Environment Protection Act (last amended in 2003), a city like Delhi is still dotted with illegal dumping sites. While India plans to install radioactive detectors at all ports to ensure that no toxic material slips in from abroad, there is no point of scrutiny at the foundries.


This legal framework is just as vague — neither the Bio Medical Waste Rules 1998 nor the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules cover norms for radioactive waste-management and disposal, though a comprehensive set of rules on electronic waste under the Environment Protection Act is being drafted. Indicating helplessness, the government has also pointed to the fact that no law exists for civil compensation for these victims of radioactive accidents. One can only hope that this incident, which has exposed our criminal carelessness about hazardous waste, will finally galvanise the government to put safeguards in place.









Social science has recorded, and tried to understand, the incidence of transformative processes, including revolutions; scholars have sought to nuance the idea and differentiate between political and social revolutions. If the current high tide of judicialisation of politics in Pakistan is anything to go by, we might have to add another category to the literature on transformative processes — judicial revolution.


But let's start with some facts.


After the February 2008 elections, there was an overall demand from all political parties to revisit the Constitution and cleanse it of the toxics put in it by military dictators. A committee was formed with representatives from almost all political parties. The debate was intensive, spanned some nine months and reviewed over 100 clauses of the Constitution. The result: the Eighteenth Amendment.


The procedure is not as rigid as envisaged by the United States Constitution but difficult enough, requiring two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament, to push an amendment through. The reason: an amendment, as opposed to simple legislation, must reflect the broadest possible will of the people through their representatives.


End of the story? No. One of the changes, the new Article 175, which deals with the appointment of judges, has become the red rag for the judicial bull. Instead of the Chief Justice of Pakistan deciding in his infinite wisdom who to appoint as a judge of the superior courts, there shall henceforth be a two-tier process. A judicial commission shall nominate judges who shall be appointed, unless vetoed with a three-fourths majority by a parliamentary commission.


This new provision regarding the appointment of judges has now been challenged in the Supreme Court as a violation of the basic structure of the Constitution. Such challenges are now routine but what makes these particular ones worth noting is that they are filed not only by the usual legal flotsam but also by the Supreme Court Bar Association.


Reinforcements have come from one media group which has decided to headline and front-page warnings of an impending "judicial crisis" when there is none in sight. And the rest of the media, barring some exceptions, instead of checking the law, has blithely and blindly followed the trend.


The question: can the Pakistani Supreme Court strike down a constitutional amendment? The answer: yes, it can. The reference: the Indian Supreme Court's judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case. Of course, the reference completely ignores the fact that this judgment was rejected, by name, by the Pakistan Supreme Court less than five years ago! The court's argument: "The position adopted by the Indian Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati case is not necessarily a doctrine which can be applied unthinkingly to Pakistan. Pakistan has its own unique political history and its own unique judicial history."


Despite the transparent attempts to whip up hysteria, the hope was that better sense would prevail and the judiciary would resist the calls to challenge Parliament's turf. This impression was reinforced by the fact that the bench announced by the chief justice to deal with the Eighteenth Amendment was composed of five members and hence bound by the 2005 judgment in which the Supreme Court had unequivocally stated that it did not have the power to strike down a constitutional amendment.


The impression was short-lived. On its very first meeting the five-member bench threw the gauntlet by requesting the chief justice to form a bigger bench, if not to convene the full court to deal with this issue. Whither now? One thing is clear. If the chief justice grants the bench its request, the court would be on a warpath with Parliament. One can say, somewhat indignantly, that Pakistan faces bigger problems than the method by which judges are to be appointed; or, even, that the Eighteenth Amendment represents the single biggest gain for parliamentary democracy since the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution.


But there are more cogent arguments against what the judiciary might be spoiling for. For one, framing the Constitution is the preserve of Parliament. The judiciary can judge and interpret, not frame. There are precedents in case law to that effect. But more than that, the important question is, where must the judiciary draw the line? If judges have to go beyond interpreting into the domain of framing the Constitution, then we might as well send the legislators home.


Some members of the bar and former judges have begun trotting the argument that legislators do not have the capacity to judge the judges or understand subtleties. We have heard this argument before, except, until now, it was made by the army to justify its coups. One jurist friend dryly remarked that this "deliberate creation of a crisis leaves one with the impression of a temperamental diva, unable to come to grips with the fact that the camera is no longer focused on her fading charms."


The writer is national affairs editor, 'Newsweek Pakistan'








One can sense a lot of creative tension within the Congress leadership over how to intellectually nuance the discussion over the growing Maoist threat in different parts of the country. This debate seems to have gathered fresh momentum after the ambush of over 70 CRPF personnel by Maoists in Dantewada. Many agree that by ignoring development in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the Indian state created conditions over the decades for the Maoists to take control. So there is a growing consensus developing within the Congress that much more redistributive intervention may be needed in the backward regions of the country to give a renewed boost to the development agenda, and consequently blunt the edge of ultra left-wing movements that have taken roots in a third of India's districts.


In a way the growing Maoist presence appears to have further strengthened the section within the Congress which has always had a strong left-of-centre bias. Indeed, this section had very close relations with Left leaders and often acted as mediators between the Congress leadership and the CPM on critical issues during the UPA's first tenure. The left-of-centre group within the Congress would often fire from the CPM's shoulders, and vice versa, for greater socialist intervention.


Both Sonia Gandhi and the Nextgen Congress leadership led by Rahul Gandhi have a strong bias for redistributive intervention even while letting the government pursue its market-based economic reforms agenda. Now, there is bound to be creative tension between these two opposing ideological strains and that is part of a new dialectic that Indian politics is currently witnessing. Just note the manner in which the Planning Commission increased the population coverage for the proposed food security legislation. This was clearly done after pressure came from the left section of the Congress leadership! The revival of the National Advisory Council under Congress President Sonia Gandhi is clearly meant to institutionalise and give shape to this new dialectic of socialist intervention within the larger framework of capitalist growth agenda.


In a sense, this contradiction is most visible in the Maoist controlled areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa which are rich in iron ore and other minerals. Big companies want to pump in huge capital to exploit these resources in the midst of resistance from local communities. There cannot be a better social science laboratory to understand how the dialectic of capitalism's historical and unrelenting march will get finessed by socialist interventions. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are as much students of this laboratory as are those companies which want to create massive steel projects in these regions.


However, dealing with this Marxian contradiction is easier said than done. This requires an intuitive understanding of how to take society to a new social and material equilibrium without upsetting the applecart. Of course, Marx believed that an enlightened bourgeoisie would manage to take society to higher stages of material condition even as the owners of capital appropriate surplus value from labour. The bourgeoisie would also create a welfare framework, such as minimum wages, better work conditions and adequate pension, as seen in the West, in order to ensure a smooth functioning of capitalism. The question is, how will India's political class manage this fine balance as it comes under increasing pressure to move 60 per cent of its population from a feudal, pre-industrial condition of existence to a more modern capitalist framework. In some ways, the task for India is much harder as this transition process began in the West before democracy, with all its modern institutional attributes, was put in place. In India, this transition is occurring in the midst of a robust, often fractious, democratic political process.


Therefore, managing the contradiction between capitalism's march and simultaneous welfare interventions, both of which would appear necessary, will have to be thought through in a rigorous manner.


Off-the-cuff and random interventions, like the one made by Congress leader Digvijay Singh, will not necessarily help matters.


The Congress's dilemma is somewhat similar to that of the CPM's in West Bengal after it did badly in the Lok Sabha elections. The failure of the Left Front was analysed in a lucid article by Prabhat Patnaik, a professor of economics at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and a CPM ideologue, where he implied that the Left (read Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) in West Bengal did not have enough theoretical clarity that socialist intervention must be a constant process, softening the inherently surplus-seeking tendency of capitalism. He also suggested that the Left perhaps got misled by the "stage theory" which implies socialist intervention is only possible after capitalism has somewhat matured and created enough surplus value that can be redistributed. Translated in plain terms, what Patnaik probably meant was Buddhadeb did not do enough in terms of assuring people of their long-term livelihood before launching the massive industrialisation programme in West Bengal.


This also seems to be the Congress's main dilemma today in the context of allowing massive capital infusion for exploiting India's rich mineral resources in the tribal areas. It is under pressure to clear the forests of Maoists so that businesses can smoothly implement big steel projects. For that the state also has to put in place proper rehabilitation programmes for the local, tribal populations and ensure they have a long-term stake in these projects.


Though Patnaik rejects the "stage theory", in advanced capitalist societies this seems to have worked quite well. For instance in America, substantial socialist interventions came after massive surplus value got created over the decades through the advance of capitalism. Take the case of just two icons of American capitalism, General Motors and Ford. In the '60s, the two companies committed substantial post-retirement pension benefits to their workers. This was subsequently derived from the surplus value created by the companies. At one stage, the cost of pension benefits amounted to nearly a fifth of the price of a car. This was the cause of GM and Ford's near bankruptcy in 2008 when the US government intervened with a big bailout packages to sustain the pension benefits of workers. The lesson here is that more substantive state intervention can come after adequate surpluses are created by capital accumulation. It is to be seen whether this model works in a fractious polity such as India's.


The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








Dad, I know who is going to win the finals today, said my daughter. No you don't, I said, dismissing her with the same casual flourish with which the IPL commissioner promised to swat away Shashi Tharoor. She was as adamant as teenagers usually are: I know. Everyone is saying it.


Yes, really? Who and how did you figure that one out?


It's fixed, Dad. You should know.


Those are just silly rumours, I said, feigning indifference. I moved on but I am compelled to revisit the mood and the moments of just a few weeks ago.


I have never been the IPL sort, so had stubbornly resisted the occasional urge to go and see the circus. It helped that the 2008 matches were held at that collapsing monstrosity, the Wankhede, where if you left your precious seat for even a moment, by the time you returned a different posterior would claim to be its legitimate title holder. IPL 2 was abruptly transported to South Africa, and it wasn't worth flying eight hours to watch a three-hour gig. IPL 3 was back in familiar territory; better still, it was being held in the Cricket Club of India, of which I am fortunately a member. But I still resisted.


However, IPL's marketing mantra clearly worked. My tennis-playing, football-watching daughter said: can I go for the IPL match this weekend? For a cricketing purist that was sacrilege, but she was going with a whole bunch of equally excited chums so the blasphemy angle was promptly discarded — a convenient excuse for me too.


At first, what hit me in the CCI was the maddening noise, sustained efficiently at high decibel levels throughout the match. Every time there was a dull session (meaning not a single six) the DJs would punctuate the "terrible boredom" with a typical ear-splitting truck horn, and, like in Pavlov's famous experiment, the crowd would respond with an equally loud, incoherent cheer.


The advertising sideboards flashed brightly, shuffling between sponsors. The giant scoreboard flashed ads even during the over; during the action replay one could see players check their acrobatics on it with a satisfied smugness. Intermittently, giant lights flashed on and off for no perceptible reason, as if to remind us that electric power supply was a national priority. When the match got over, it was like a Diwali firecracker display that nobody really cared for.


The Mexican wave usually started from the vociferous east stands, after a few aborted attempts. When it reached the more stuffed-up pavilions of the glitterati it fizzled out. My daughter enjoyed it; she and I exchanged SMSs, as she was in the family stand.


The DJs would periodically announce: Mumbai, do you want a six? The crowd yelled "Yes!", in a brilliantly coordinated chorus. I kept suspecting bowlers patiently awaited the DJ's cues before running in to bowl.


Cricket is not just innocuous entertainment in the IPL. It is like Roman gladiators on a giant 70 mm screen. To satisfy the bloodthirsty urges of its watchers, the demands for ruthless destruction from the willow, only sixes will do. As Kieron Pollard hammered one hapless soul into abject submission, the stadium burst into wild celebrations and paroxysms of derisive laughter.


The IPL also has an ingenious device to keep everyone on tenterhooks, awaiting fleeting fame, as anyone could, via TV cameras, appear on the giant screen at any time. Almost everyone secretly hopes to be there, briefly overshadowing Sachin Tendulkar. The lottery element is clearly central to the IPL, involving even the spectators.


In the distinguished members' enclosure, the aroma of fresh vegetables, blue cheese and garlic mayonnaise in Subway sandwiches dominated French perfume. People moved gingerly, balancing cans of beer in their forearms. Middle-aged couples bounced to the latest hits; the demographic dividend crowd exchanged SMSs as they sat next to each other in the din. Others blew franchise-branded horns, waved flags and had several curse them from behind for blocking the view.


Everyone looked everywhere but at the cricket pitch, where attention was diverted only when the bowler ran in to bowl. Everyone had presumably concluded that field placements in the IPL are superfluous. In fact, most seemed more glued to TV sets, strategically placed to ensure that they did not miss out if Shah Rukh Khan decided to drop casually in. Usually, all dismissals were first spotted there, rather than on the field right in front.


After the first few games, I felt a sense of ennui and forced exhilaration , but I may have been a solitary figure out here. I couldn't care less, though. I had conceded partial defeat to the oversold commercial logic that the IPL reflected genuine consumer demand being professionally satiated by franchise owners. If IPL was indeed a reality of our times, so be it, and frankly, how did my opinion matter?


But then, just as suddenly, chaos. Modi tweeted. A minister resigned, million-dollar kick-backs were discussed, IT raids followed; slush money trails, conflicts of interest, shameless profiteering, and political involvement became the new evening distraction. Then someone talked of betting syndicates, and before long the dreaded shadow of match-fixing made its appearance after a decade in hibernation.


My daughter watched all seven of the Mumbai Indians' local matches at CCI over the past few weeks, bunking tuitions, missing play practice, sleeping late at night, following Tiwary's heroics. But, on the Monday morning that followed the IPL final late Sunday night, she went to school not even wanting to know if they won the final.


Jha is the author of '11 — Triumphs,Trials and Turbulence: Indian Cricket 2003-2010', to be published soon







Eyjafjallajokull, that unpronounceable volcano, prompted inevitable chatter about nature's awesome fury and the inadequacy of human invention to deal with it. Few Europeans had even heard of the volcano before, and they marveled at, but mostly grumbled about, how such widespread havoc could be caused by such teensy particles of ash, adrift from Iceland. On the whole, Europeans tend to forget about Iceland until some fresh calamity compels their attention. The last was the banking implosion, and a line making the rounds in Europe has it that Iceland's final wish after its economy kicked the bucket was to spread its ashes across Europe.


Other jokes were even worse. Unforeseen though the event with Eyjafjallajokull was, it seems to have liberated Europeans to traffic in some predictable, hoary, but affectionately intended stereotypes about one another. Globalisation notwithstanding, supposed national traits prove to be surprisingly resilient, and on one level today they're also instructive.


So, initially there were the Italian authorities lingering over a second espresso during what they hoped was a crisis only for northern Europeans — which, predictably, it wasn't. And then it was like a Zeffirelli opera production. The Italian Civil Protection Agency had to set up hundreds of cots and air beds at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome. Railway stations, meanwhile, became mob scenes, endless lines forming before ticket machines that took forever to work or too frequently didn't.


Fortunately, Italians are compassionate people, and the national public transport unions (trains, buses and subways) postponed a planned strike — unlike those in France. True to form, French workers declined to pause a strike that had begun before the ash arrived, volcano be damned. Thus, it was theoretically possible to travel by train from, say, Paris to Geneva, but not Paris to Bordeaux, exacerbating the general level of chaos and grief. When air travel resumed, the strike ended.


Not to be outdone, the Greeks, in a defensive lather owing to their self-inflicted economic meltdown, seized the moment to stage a strike or two of their own. Greek civil servants struck, and so did a communist-backed union, disrupting ferry service.


Meanwhile, the British dispatched (what else?) the fleet, including the aptly named HMS Ark Royal, rescuing British tourists marooned in Calais and trouble spots like Ibiza, along with soldiers returning from Afghanistan. This allowed the beleaguered prime minister, Gordon Brown, behind in the polls but kind of rallying, briefly to play Lord Nelson.


And in Russia, as The New York Times reported, a sudden black market in transportation tickets, not all of them authentic, sprang up. Huge lines at Belorussky station made Soviet nostalgists misty eyed.


As for the Germans, at first they said don't blame anybody. Nobody was to blame. But once the German airlines started moaning about lost revenue and the German news media began to fume about how the German government, forever playing the oldest brother anxious to please its father, had once again rolled over, by acquiescing to the broad European flight ban without sending up its own test balloons, the issue became a business matter, and an economic scandal.


Treacherous though they can be, different responses to Eyjafjallajokull nonetheless underscore, if nothing else, just how diverse Europe remains, culturally speaking, and how occasionally fractious is the unity of the European Union that ostensibly binds much of the continent together. Based on economic cooperation, the union has increasingly — and as it were after the fact — had to confront a barrage of moral, cultural and ethical issues like immigration and human rights. These are inextricable from economic welfare but pose a challenge to national sovereignty — the sort of issues the United States has grappled with from its founding.


In a nondescript building not far from the historic centre of Rome there is a sleek 24-hour command centre straight out of a James Bond villain's lair (minus the television screens playing Italian game shows), where military officials, meteorologists and emergency workers track all manner of potential natural calamities. From the center, aid to L'Aquila was swiftly coordinated after the earthquake struck last year.


At the heart of the centre is a cramped room devoted to the Big One: activity from hot spots like Mounts Vesuvius and Etna. Streaming videos deliver inky views inside the steaming volcanoes. The proud official in charge, the head of civil protection, Guido Bertolaso, explained on a late-night tour last year that this room was the ultimate reason the centre existed, a volcanic explosion posing a cataclysmic threat to Italy, and requiring perhaps the most coordinated planning and help.


The volcano. Nature has devised the perfect metaphor for the burden of unionhood, forcing Europeans to recognise, like it or not, that they are bound together, a family of nations, albeit with Iceland as the exceptional and slightly alarming cousin at the end of the dining room table who still believes in elves. According to Interfax, the Russian news agency, an organisation called the Association of Orthodox Experts piped up during the Eyjafjallajokull crisis in an attempt to link the volcanic ash to Iceland's role as a "centre of European neo-paganism of an Aryan occult kind." It turns out that, in addition to all its genuine woes, Iceland is headquarters to the Association of European Ethnic Religions, which brokered a merger between the World Pagan Assembly and the International Pagan Alliance.


Whatever. The point is that families have to pull together when there's trouble, as did those Italians stuck in Victoria Station in London. They found each other, bonded, hired a van and drove back home.


It's another Italian stereotype: only notionally a nation much of the time, a family in a pinch.








The Thai armed forces opened fire, but the Red Shirts refused to budge. Farmers still sat outside the Louis Vuitton and Prada stores; the stores remained shut. Bangkok's elite stayed holed up in their homes; government officials jumped out of windows as the Reds broke into government buildings. Streets normally, famously jam-packed with cars now held human traffic jams, the sound of engines replaced by chants of "down with dictatorship". What started seven weeks ago as a movement to unseat current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lingers on today — with the prospect of further escalation.


The Red Shirts called for fresh elections, they questioned the constitution and marched through the streets of Bangkok. Rallies were held, financial districts became camp sites. When the Reds broke into government buildings, the riot police were called in and yet the Reds soldiered on — for they believed that what they had failed to achieve over the past five years could be a possibility now. After all, this time it was not just the farmers, peasants and rural folk dissenting: lower middle class Bangkok had joined in too. The support base was growing, slowly.


Vejjajiva's request for military intervention, and the decision by the armed forces to open fire on protestors, has made the situation in Thailand more complex. For one, over the past five years the streets have been dominated by two political colours: red and yellow. March 10, however saw men in black; their faces hidden behind balaclavas, toting guns. The Reds claim to have nothing to do with them, but both are fighting on the same side. An executive order is in place to hunt down the terrorists, interrogate any suspects, to imprison them if there's any doubt.


Few things remain constant in the Thai political landscape. But primary amongst them is the power of the army. Thailand underwent a political restructuring in the 1930s — absolute monarchy was replaced with constitutional monarchy, but the new constitution was much too weak. Political institutions too were underdeveloped, the legislature given limited power. Thus in the absence of a fully functioning civilian regime a politicised military grew in power, scope and importance.


In 1997, finally, a progressive constitution was written; it was after the drafting of this constitution that Thaksin Shinawatra came to power. Yet Thaksin is something of the villain in the Bangkok plot. How? Through his manipulation of the 1997 constitution. The new constitution allowed for increased power for political parties: Thaksin banked on this and used it to strengthen his party, Thai Rak Thai. It was this power that allowed him to control the legislature and ensure that key bodies — the Auditor General's Office and National Counter Corruption Commission — remained under his control. Simply put, his control was so far-reaching it silenced the opposition. But he angered the elite, and the elite and military have a close kinship. Thus the coup that overthrew the wildly popular PM.


The current protests, though pitted between the rural and urban (the north and the south) also need to be viewed through a post-Thaksin prism. Thaksin created anger at the traditional wealthy of Bangkok. One scholar at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York puts it thus: "the struggle is a battle between elites. Thaksin, a hard-driving telecommunications billionaire, symbolised new wealth in Thailand, which has developed an antagonistic relationship with the scions of older power, who tended to look down on the nouveau riche like Thaksin and his close associates."


Thus the on-going chaos. In the past five years, the two governments that were elected following Thaksin's self-imposed exile were affiliated to him. This further irked both the military and the elite.


Experts expect military involvement to only increase. James Ockey, the scholar of Southeast Asia, has written that the military have traditionally had a sense of entitlement in Thailand's political affairs that stems from their very first intervention, the 1932 coup that led to the overthrow of the monarchy. Military involvement is always an option.


But the matter gets murkier. Factions within the military are divided on the sort of response to the current crisis. Thai specialist Surachart Bumrungsuk says there is a division in tactics: on the one hand General Anupong — the current armed forces commander, on his way out — prefers a softer response, and political dialogue. Second in line General Prayuth Chan-ocha "would have liked a harder crackdown."


Ultimately there is only one real mediator in Thailand: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to whom both factions claim allegiance. Thus far he has spoken very briefly asking for "restraint." It was he who mediated during the 1973 student uprising and in the 1992 anti-military protests. As the situation on the street unfolds, spectators can only wait for the king.







A few weeks ago, traveling in Kazakhstan, I had the sobering experience of standing at Ground Zero. This was the notorious test site at Semipalatinsk, where the USSR detonated 456 nuclear weapons. There was little on the vast and featureless steppe to distinguish this place. Yet for decades it was an epicentre of the Cold War — like similar sites in the US, a threat to life on our planet. Its dark legacy endures: poisoned rivers and lakes, children suffering from cancer and birth defects.


Today, Semipalatinsk has become a powerful symbol of hope. On August 29, 1991, shortly after Kazakh independence, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, closed it and abolished nuclear weapons. It was a tangible expression of a dream that has long eluded us — a world free of nuclear weapons.


Now, for the first time in a generation, we can be optimistic. On the day I visited Semipalatinsk, President Obama announced a review of the US' nuclear posture. It renounced the development of new nuclear weapons and foreswore their first use against nations in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. Two days later, President Obama and Russian President Medvedev, signed a new START treaty in Prague — a fresh start on a truly noble aspiration.


Momentum is building around the world. Governments and civil society groups, often at odds, have begun working in common cause. At the recent nuclear security summit in Washington, 47 world leaders agreed to do whatever is necessary to keep such weapons and materials safe. Their shared sense of urgency reflects an accepted reality. Nuclear terrorism is not a Hollywood fantasy. It can happen.


The United Nations is destined to be at the centre of these efforts. I proposed a five-point nuclear action plan in late 2008, as well as a historic summit meeting of the Security Council last September. On Monday, leaders come together at the UN for the periodic NPT review conference. Their last gathering, five years ago, was a failure. This year we can look for advances on a range of issues.


We should not be unrealistic in our expectations. But neither can we afford to lose this opportunity for progress: on disarmament; on compliance with non-proliferation commitments; on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.


Looking ahead, I have proposed a UN conference later this year to review the implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. We will host a ministerial-level meeting to push the pace on bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force, and I have urged leaders to begin negotiations for a binding treaty on fissile materials. In October, the General Assembly will consider more than 50 resolutions on various nuclear issues. Our aim: to take the many small steps, today, that will set the stage for a larger breakthrough tomorrow.


All this work reflects the priorities of our member states, shaped in turn by public opinion. Everyone recognises the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons. Just as clearly, we know the threat will last as long as these weapons exist. The earth's very future leaves us no alternative but to pursue disarmament. And there is little prospect of that without global cooperation.


Where, if not at the United Nations, could we look for such cooperation? Bilateral and regional negotiation can accomplish much, but long-lasting and effective cooperation on a global scale requires more. The UN is the world's sole universally accepted arena for debate and concord, among nations as well as broader society. It serves not only as a repository of treaties but also of information documenting their implementation. It is a source of independent expertise.


The United Nations stands today at a new Ground Zero — a "ground zero" for global disarmament, no longer a place of dread but of hope. Those who stand with us share the vision of a nuclear-free world. If ever there were a time for the world's people to demand change, to demand action beyond the cautious half measures of the past, it is now.









There is suddenly a renewed momentum to overhauling financial regulation in the US, following the SEC's charge of fraud against what is arguably the world's most reputed investment bank—Goldman Sachs. The accusation against Goldman is that it knowingly sold investment products certain to fail to unwitting clients. The charge will, of course, have to be proved in a court of law. But in the court of public opinion, the shadow of suspicion is itself very damaging, coming right after widespread anger over huge profits and massive bonus packages being reported at America's leading banks, the very ones that the wider public holds responsible for precipitating the financial crisis in the first place. The political class has little choice but to do something substantive to overhaul regulations. Of course, some of the elements of the overhaul proposed earlier this year in January are likely to be less contentious, like new regulations for credit card lenders and mortgage lenders. Reckless lending (and borrowing) was after all at the base of the financial crisis. There is also likely to be some new regulation—the details will, of course, be debated—on limiting the size of large financial institutions to prevent another 'too big to fail' event. There is still little agreement on how a bailout, if necessary, will be funded—the IMF proposals may not cut much ice with the US Congress.


However, the most contentious proposal is likely to be the one known as the Volcker Rule, which will ban proprietary trading by all deposit-taking institutions that in the post-crisis phase include the likes of Goldman Sachs. The logic is simple enough. Banks get excessively leveraged to engage in trading for their own profit, whereas they ought only to be trading their clients' money. If restricted to the latter, leverage in banks will obviously come down automatically. Combined with another proposal on making the trading of derivatives completely transparent (no OTCs), there will also be less likelihood of banks peddling fraudulent/'likely to fail' products. Wall Street will obviously oppose such stringent regulations. After all, most of their profits in recent times, before and after the crisis, have come from the very proprietary trading that is now proposed to be banned. Wall Street will inevitably be able to drum up some political support to nix these regulations, but in the aftermath of the exposure of Goldman's dubious practices, it is becoming harder to argue that such stringent regulations are not necessary. Free enterprise is a good thing but reckless practices by a select few cannot be allowed to hold the whole system hostage.







The reported move of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) to discourage power trading through unscheduled interchange (UI) and encourage greater use of power exchanges by imposing an additional charge of 40% on UI trading is a welcome step. The UI mechanism, an indigenously developed innovative model that had successfully enforced greater grid discipline, is now creating distortions in the market as many potential buyers preferred to use the UI mechanism for trading instead of the exchanges. In fact, numbers for 2009 show that although the volume of the short-term power trade through UI transactions was comparable to transactions using trading licences and much higher than that through even the two power exchanges. The UI mechanism originally evolved in response to the chaotic conditions in an earlier era, where grid operators were faced with the challenge of relentlessly enforcing some semblance of order, as power producers and distribution utilities pumped in or withdrew power from the grid with impunity, thereby threatening the very reliability of the network. The UI mechanism replaced this command and control system with a contractual approach under which a schedule of supply and demand for power was worked out and priced as per the agreement between buyers and sellers. Any deviations from meeting this previously agreed demand-supply schedule are termed unscheduled interchanges or UIs and the suppliers or purchasers have to pay for their errant behaviour at a real-time market determined rate. This not only encouraged greater grid discipline but also ensured some flexibility in operations. The UI prices also served as an indicative ceiling for traders in bulk electricity as the utility had the option to overdraw from the grid instead of buying from other sources in the short-term markets if the real-time prices were lower than those of the traders or in the power exchanges.


But over time, the UI mechanism has slowly evolved to become an alternative mechanism to formal trading as the potential buyers preferred to use this mechanism wherein the cost of transactions was lower as were power prices. In 2009, the average price of electricity transacted through traders was Rs 6.41/kWh, while it was Rs 5.73/kWh in the power exchanges and just Rs 4.99 for UI transactions. This has also created new problems for the transmission networks as the UI electricity transactions are very uncertain, forcing them to keep, as reserves, a relatively larger proportion of transmission capacity. The result is a distortion of the markets, which suggests that the UI system has outlived its utility. It is time to move ahead and work out new models for enforcing grid discipline.








The US Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) job is to regulate the securities industry and investigate wrongdoing, if any. However, it has managed to sleep through every bubble and bust in recent memory and has done virtually nothing by way of enforcement for years. It woke up from a long slumber this month and announced a civil fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. The entire business world, including the stock markets, has gone hammer and tongs about Goldman because it is a done thing to call names, when the mighty falls. Its stock price has come down from $185 on April 14 to $153 as of April 28. It is not as if Goldman hasn't done anything wrong. It has. However, it isn't a blood-sucking greedy Dracula that it is being made out to be. Before we get on with Goldman bashing, let's understand the facts of the case that the SEC has filed against the investment bank.


The SEC on April 16 brought securities fraud action against Goldman and a Goldman employee, Fabrice Tourre, a 31-year-old vice-president working at the structured product correlation trading desk. This desk was created in early 2005. One of the services it provided was the structuring and marketing of a series of CDOs called Abacus whose performance was tied to residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS), which are the collateral used in Abacus. The RMBS does well if house owners are paying their EMIs. If the homeowners default on their home loans, the RMBS's price goes down. If the collateral value goes down, the CDO price, too, goes downhill. Let's say, I bought a house for Rs 90 lakh by taking a loan for Rs 80 lakh from a bank. If my house is worth only Rs 30 lakh now, I would rather want that the bank takes possession of the house and suffer the loss, than me suffering the loss by repaying the loan of Rs 80 lakh.


In the case filed by SEC, Goldman is supposed to have misled their clients into buying CDOs linked to subprime RMBS. The reason they purportedly did it was that another client of Goldman—a hedge fund—wanted to sell those CDOs. This hedge fund called 'Paulson Credit Opportunity Fund' was run by John Paulson (not to be confused with Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary and CEO of Goldman). Paulson wanted to take a bearish view of subprime mortgage loans. He was betting that the subprime loans would go bad. He needed somebody with whom he could play this bet, so that if his view turned out to be right, he could make money. It was a zero sum game like any other bet. And he got Goldman to get the other party who would bet the other way round by taking a view in 2007 that subprime assets were good. He got the bet bang on—the consequent subprime meltdown, as they say, is history. And did he make some money! He became a multi-billionaire by getting his bets right and is now the 45th richest man on earth with a net worth of $12 billion.


Although the jury is out and Goldman, for its part, is trying to say all the right things, I think that Goldman did intentionally mislead its investors by not disclosing that they were structuring this transaction because another client wanted to bet against the subprime loans. Is it a normal market practice among investment banks? Surprise: yes it is. Were these investors to whom they were peddling this stuff naïve. No, they were not. It wasn't as if Goldman was selling this to grandpas and grandmas who had no clue about CDOs. The investors were financial institutions, albeit not as smart and sophisticated as a Goldman or a John Paulson. True, it is unlikely that the investors would have bought CDOs had Goldman disclosed the information that another hedge fund was shorting it. If investment banks were as squeaky clean and honest, they would not be able to do a very large portion of the business they do right now. This is not to suggest that such behaviour should be condoned. Just that, that's how the financial markets are, or for that matter all markets are. It is similar to a vegetable vendor palming off rotten stuff to you because somebody else wants to sell it and the vendor is getting paid well to do the selling. Paulson paid Goldman about $15 million to structure and market Abacus. As an investor, it does hurt that you bought financial instruments from the market leader with an enviable reputation and the stuff turned out to be rotten. It is unethical for sure, but I suppose Goldman would be upbeat about defending itself.


The SEC had been sleeping all this while, impervious to such practices. Now that it has woken up, it might be a good idea to focus on regulations that would help clean the stables. The easy thing to do, however, would be to investigate this case and then put the blame for everything on Goldman and go back to sleep again.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance








On April 7, 2010, RBI issued a notification to amend the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident outside India) Regulations. The amendments, published in the Official Gazette on April 21, 2010, came into force from the date of their publication and amend inter alia the method of calculating the price at which shares are issued to non-residents.


Prior to the above stated amendments, a person residing outside India, or an entity outside India, whether incorporated or not, could purchase shares of Indian companies in keeping with the FDI guidelines and the FDI scheme, which forms a part of the regulations. For the shares of an unlisted company, the scheme stipulates that the price of shares issued to non-residents shall not be less than the fair valuation of shares done by a chartered accountant as per the guidelines issued by the erstwhile Controller of Capital Issues (CCI guidelines).


Under the CCI guidelines, if the consideration payable for the transfer does not exceed Rs 20 lakh per seller per company, then the price may be mutually agreed upon between the seller and the buyer. It should be based on any valuation method currently in vogue and must be substantiated by a certificate issued by the statutory auditors of the unlisted company whose shares are being transacted. Where the consideration exceeds Rs 20 lakh, the price taken is the lower of the two independent valuations of shares, one by the statutory auditors of the company, and the other by a chartered accountant or by a merchant banker registered with Sebi. These valuations could be based either on the net-asset value method or the profit earning capacity value method.


With the April amendment, the pricing of shares issued should not be less than the fair valuation of shares carried out by a Sebi-registered merchant banker or a chartered accountant as per the discounted cash flow method (DCF method). Although not defined under the regulations or the Foreign Exchange Management Act, the DCF method relates the value of an asset to the current value of expected future cash flows of the asset. Notably, the method has previously been used by the department of disinvestment since it found favour in the disinvestment commission's recommendations for valuations of public sector undertakings. Considered fairly popular, the DCF method takes into account all the free cash flows available in the company by taking into account the cost of capital, the cost of debt, the cost of equity and market returns. It also takes into account the risk to which a corporation is exposed and attributes value to the non-core assets that may otherwise not be reflected in the cash flow of the company. The DCF method further takes into consideration the intangibles of a company like the brand, goodwill and market share, all of which have a significant bearing on a company's valuation.


Reflecting on the amendments to the share price valuation methodology, one can't help but note that while valuation methods use quantitative models to arrive at a determination, as the disinvestment commission observed, the input leaves plenty of room for subjective judgments. It is exactly for this reason that experts have for long argued that valuation must be differentiated from the price of the company. It is necessary to recognise that application of valuation methods depends on the intrinsic structure of the company being evaluated, the nature of the industry in which such a company operates and inherent strengths and weaknesses of the company. Since these factors are subject to constant change, so must the valuation. Interestingly, the above stated amendments, in so far as they relate to the issue of shares on a preferential allotment, are slightly unclear on the valuation process to be followed. It remains to be seen whether the erstwhile CCI guidelines will continue to apply to such preferential allotment or whether the regulator expects these valuations to be also based on the DCF method. Eventually, the process of price discovery needs to be transparent so that the seller is satisfied that the price paid by the buyer helps him realise the true value of the transaction.


The author is an advocate based in New Delhi. These are his personal views








In the midst of the exuberance over ever-rising bids for the auctions of the 3G spectrum, the government seems to have once again lost sight of the misdemeanours of telecom minister A Raja. While it is common knowledge that the auctions took place despite him, the minister has left no stone unturned to spoil the government's party. He chose to speak to the media about 4G auctions, while the 3G auctions are still going on. Such remarks coming from the minister have the propensity to dampen the bids.


Perhaps that was an innocent act of folly, but what does one make of the minister's frequent remarks in the media over the last few days on the subject of how long the auctions would last, the point of price discovery, etc? Surely the minister should not speak on such sensitive matters as it could amount to dishing out insider information. In any case, even the minister should not be aware of such information.


So it was most off-putting to hear the minister tell the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the auctions are expected to end in the next two days. Does this not send a hint to interested parties?


Such statements by A Raja convey to the operators that the government might increase the level of activity from the current 80% to 90% the next day. That can easily be taken as a cue to shift out from the category-A circles to the next rung of B and C. According to the auction guidelines, there are three parties involved, namely the DoT, which represents the owner of the spectrum to be auctioned; the auctioneer—NM Rothschild; and the bidders, the private operators.


In order to have a free and fair auction the rules allow all three parties to have the same level of information. All the bidders have been refrained from giving out any information regarding their plans and strategies during the auction and the only information available is the bid amounts at the end of a day and the number of operators bidding in each circle.


To prevent any leakage of information the government has even forbidden itself to act as proxy for bidding for operators in case of a technical hitch. Is it right then for Raja to speak on such matters while the process is on? Can he not wait for the auctions to end if he has to give his views on the entire process?








The euphoria in the United Progressive Alliance camp over the defeat of the Opposition-sponsored cut motions in the Lok Sabha is belied by the numbers: 289 for the government and 201 against. Exclude the Bahujan Samaj Party's 21 MPs — and it is immediately apparent that the Manmohan Singh government is a minority regime surviving on divisions within the Opposition, and leveraging its position to exploit the vulnerability of some of its rivals. That the dramatic rescue act by the BSP owes to some deft back-room understanding is plain enough. The larger question is the impact of this quid pro quo agreement on BSP-Congress relations in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP and the Congress have formally aligned just once, in 1996 when neither could have foreseen a situation where they would emerge as principal rivals in U.P. With 83 of 85 Lok Sabha seats from the State in 1984 and 269 of 425 Assembly seats in 1985, the Congress was master of all it surveyed in India's most populous State. Yet by 1991, the party was out of the reckoning in U.P. with only five seats in the Lok Sabha and 46 seats in the Assembly. While the Congress' marginalisation in U.P. was politically humiliating, it allowed the party the freedom to throw its weight behind whoever it perceived as a friend — the BSP in 1996 and the Samajwadi Party in later years, with a fair amount of cross-wooing thrown in.


Once Ms Mayawati wrested power from Mulayam Singh, the Congress's equation with the BSP changed — from on-again, off-again friendship to bitter rivalry accentuated by the deep personal animosity between the U.P. Chief Minister and Rahul Gandhi. The BSP chief and the Congress general secretary tend to bring out the worst in each other. The two fought bitter public battles much before the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The feud intensified after the Congress staged a surprise victory over the BSP. Not only has the Congress' rising star set himself the task of winning the 2012 U.P. Assembly election, he has left no one in doubt that he means to achieve this by weaning away Ms Mayawati's phenomenal Dalit following. But the BSP chief did not earn her formidable reputation for nothing. She has not deviated from the strategy of building an independent base and repeatedly testing its strength. Following her Lok Sabha setback, she has assiduously targeted her core constituency, placing Dalits in key positions of power and directing resources to Dalit-specific programmes. Against this background, it is difficult to see either party giving effect to the new 'friendship' forged at the Centre. It is a cardinal principle in politics that principal rivals cannot be friends. And that is how it looks, at least in U.P.







Greece has confirmed its expected request to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout of €45 billion as initial assistance in its economic crisis. Athens will have to pay out on bonds worth about €8.5bn which mature in May and also has to pay €54bn this year as debt-servicing on €300bn. In addition, the country's budget deficit for 2009-10 was 13.6 per cent of GDP, or about €300 billion; the eurozone rules allow member states only three per cent. As for the bailout itself, the EU as a whole cannot provide such. Individual member states will contribute €30 billion for three years at five per cent, with Germany and France providing half that sum; the IMF is due to contribute €15 billion. Conditions will most probably focus on public-sector cuts and substantial changes to the state-pension system. Early public reactions in Greece have been hostile, with demonstrators particularly resentful of IMF involvement. Financial markets have responded selectively, despite Standard and Poor's downgrading of Greece's debt rating to junk.


Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist, points out that national debt defaults and restructurings usually follow banking crises. He concludes that Greece must do all it can now to maintain international financial credibility so as to avoid IMF-imposed restructuring in future. But the matter is more complex than this assessment suggests. First, Greece is hardly alone; the U.S. budget deficit for 2008-9 was 9.9 per cent and the U.K.'s was 10.9 per cent for 2009-10. Sweden has also survived a comparable crisis. Secondly, Ms. Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), faces a hard reelection battle in the province of North Rhine-Westphalia and needs to talk tough on Greece. Thirdly, the preceding Greek government, a conservative one, hugely expanded public spending and the budget deficit, by increasing public-service employment and failing to tackle widespread tax fraud. Meanwhile, the EU's regulatory bodies did nothing about the country's rising budget deficit, and Greece colluded with an investment bank to falsify the figures. Finally, Prime Minister George Papandreou has announced measures to crack down on tax evasion, to raise taxes, and to cut the budget deficit by four percentage points in the current financial year. The EU is also likely to adopt tougher regulations, which will reduce the capacity of private players to attack member states through financial markets. The Greek crisis, though serious, gives the EU an opportunity to help a member state, curb predatory financiers, and improve its own institutions and procedures.










The importance of decentralisation of the administration of justice as a means of realising access to judicial institutions has been argued strongly by no less a distinguished jurist than V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India ("Questions of Judicial Access," The Hindu, February 3, 2010). Although Justice Krishna Iyer has advocated the setting up of four regional benches of the Supreme Court, I believe that the establishment, instead, of four regional Courts of Appeal (along the lines I suggested in the recent R.K. Jain Memorial Lecture) would be a more effective means to ensure that the poorest litigant from the farthest corner of India has inexpensive and ready access to justice. My proposal to create four regional Courts of Appeal as final appellate courts, while restricting the Supreme Court of India to its true function as a Constitutional Court, appeared to be acceptable to Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, who was the Chief Guest at the Lecture ("I Can't Let Apex Court Split: Chief Justice," DN A, January 31, 2010).


Over the last six decades, the Supreme Court's extraordinary power has manifested itself in the form of judgments encompassing every sphere of the nation's activity. No grievance has been too insignificant to attract the court's palliative and curative jurisdiction. Inspired by the desire to give true meaning to the Constitution's promise of justice, liberty and equality for all, no litigant has been turned away by the Supreme Court, and there is virtually no area of human endeavour in regard to which it has not exercised its jurisdiction, original or appellate.


There is, however, a price to be paid for the court's metamorphosis into a powerhouse of judicial activism: the problem of mounting arrears. As of September 2009, there were no less than 53,221 cases pending before the Supreme Court. Many would say that the writing was on the wall as early as in the 1970s. Arrears in the Supreme Court had leaped from 680 cases in 1950 to over 100,000 by 1989. The pendency of cases came down to 19,000 in 1997 due, in large part, to the manner in which petitions and interlocutory applications came to be numbered together. There has, however, been a worrying 150 per cent increase in total pendency between 1997 and 2009. In my view, this calls for a reassessment of the normative and constitutionally mandated role of the Apex Court. I am not convinced that merely augmenting the number of judges in the Supreme Court will solve the problem of arrears. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that expanding the capacity of the court may aggravate rather than alleviate the inefficiencies in the current system.


A cursory glance at the Supreme Court's Practice and Procedure Handbook will reveal how far the court has strayed from its original character as a Constitutional Court and gradually converted itself into a mere court of appeal which has sought to correct every error it finds in the decisions of the 21 High Courts and numerous Tribunals from which appeals lie to it. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court may now be invoked in relation to matters falling within any of 45 categories listed in the Practice and Procedure Handbook. These include the entire gamut of routine cases involving labour law, the rent act, direct and indirect taxes, acquisition of land, service law, criminal law, family law, and so on. These 45 heads further have 140 sub-categories under which the court may be called upon to exercise its appellate jurisdiction. For example, there are 22 sub-categories under service matters alone and 35 sub-categories under indirect tax matters. Under family law matters, the court may be called upon to decide cases involving divorce by mutual consent, restitution of conjugal rights, child custody, adoption, minority and guardianship, alimony cases, and so on.


Surely, however generous one may be in seeking to render justice to all, it will be obvious to anyone that if an Apex Court attempts to adjudicate all such cases, it will defeat the great purpose for which the court was established under our constitutional system. In such a scenario, it necessarily has to accumulate vast arrears over a period of time, which will be impossible for it to clear in any foreseeable future. According to me, this is a self-inflicted injury and the cause of the malaise which has gradually eroded the confidence of litigants in the Apex Court, mainly because of its failure to hear and dispose of cases within a reasonable time-frame.


The effort, then, in the words of Justice K.K. Mathew, a former Judge of the Supreme Court, must be to voluntarily cut the coat of jurisdiction according to the cloth of the importance of the question, and not to expand the same with a view to satisfying every litigant who has the means to pursue his cause. I do not mean to imply that the Supreme Court should be the sole preserve of the wealthy or well-connected. Rather, it is my view that the cause of justice and the interests of the litigant public would be best served if the court entertains only those cases which measure up to the significance of national or public importance. It will be my thesis, for reasons to be stated presently, that cases which do not raise questions of national or public significance should be finally decided by intermediate courts which are to be created by an amendment to the Constitution.


Previous attempts to tackle arrears by making additions to the Bench have proven to be unsuccessful. The original strength of eight judges in 1950 has progressively been increased by amendments to the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act of 1956, to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1977, 26 in 1986 and 31, today. It is against this backdrop that I would suggest the creation of four regional or zonal Courts of Appeal that would absorb the 140 categories of cases spanning matrimonial, rent control, labour, service, land acquisition and other matters entertained by the Supreme Court today. These cases would belong to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Appeal that would be established in the four regions of the country. The chartered High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, and additionally, the High Court of Delhi, could themselves well be the seats of these Courts of Appeal which would be manned by judges of the same calibre as the judges who would otherwise be elevated from the High Courts to the Supreme Court. The age of retirement of the Judges of the Courts of Appeal would be 65 as, logically, they would need to have a higher retirement age than Judges of the High Court. Correspondingly, the age of retirement of Supreme Court Judges may have to be enhanced to 68 or even 70 years as is common in countries like Australia and Canada. The Supreme Court would then be left with only those cases which would fall within the jurisdiction vested in it by the framers of the Constitution and covering essentially the following matters:


1. All matters involving substantial questions of law relating to the interpretation of the Constitution of India or matters of national or public importance;


2. Settling differences of opinion on important issues of law between High Courts or between Courts of Appeal;


3. Validity of laws, Central and State;


4. After the Kesavananda Bharati case, (1973) 4 SCC 217, the judicial review of Constitutional Amendments;


5. Resolving conflicts between States and the Centre or between two States, as well as the original jurisdiction to dispose of suits in this regard; and


6. Presidential References under Article 143 of the Constitution.


I would conceive that the Constitution would be amended by adding Article 136A, whereby the regional Courts of Appeal would exercise the powers which were hitherto being exercised by the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. This means that the Courts of Appeal would finally decide all cases arising from the High Courts relating to the 140 sub-categories mentioned earlier, without any further appeal lying to the Supreme Court. If, however, any question arises before a Court of Appeal which would fall within the newly carved-out jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as elaborated above, it would refer the same to the Supreme Court for decision. Similarly, I would omit Article 32 from the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This means that actions alleging breaches of fundamental rights would be brought before any of the Courts of Appeal instead of the Supreme Court which would only exercise its appellate jurisdiction in such cases if questions are presented whose resolution will have immediate importance far beyond the particular facts and parties involved.


( K.K. Venugopal is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. This is the first part of a two-part article.)








 "When the shooting began", wrote the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, "he thought it was thunder, another storm approaching. But he saw the sheer terror in the eyes of the creatures closest to him, and he saw how they went mad, running into each other, falling, getting into each others' way, blinded and stupefied by panic, unable to decide whether they should flee to open country or return to the caves and he saw the first ones whimper and fall, bleeding, their haunches opened, their bones splintered, their muzzles eyes ears torn apart by bullets."


Graceful vicuña, prized for their wool, lay dead all around. "In their world strategy", the young guerrilla who had led the killing explained to their caretaker Pedro Tinoco, "this is the role they've assigned us: Peruvians raise vicuñas. So their scientists can study them, so their tourists can take pictures of them. As far as they're concerned, you're worth less than these animals."


Four decades ago, Peru's Sendero Luminoso, or "the Shining Path", launched an insurgency almost unparalleled in its savagery — the inspiration for Mr. Llosa's masterpiece, Death in the Andes. Before it was eventually crushed by a brutal military campaign, seventy thousand lives were lost; half, Peru's Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) estimates, at the hands of the Maoists and a third to government bullets. Sendero began to fall apart after the 1992 arrest of its leader Manuel Rubén Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, but small numbers of insurgents continue to operate in Peru's jungles. The story of the Maoist group's life and death — and fears of its possible rebirth — hold lessons for India.


Peru first saw an insurgent movement in 1965, inspired by the uprising in Cuba. Less than six months on, they suffered a crushing defeat. The country's military, which deposed President Fernando Belaúnde Terry in 1968, learned some lessons from the experience and instituted land reforms.


During the tumult that preceded the 1965 uprising, Peru's communist party — the Partido Comunista del Peru, or PCP —split. In January 1964, a faction led by Saturnino Paredes set up the PCP- Bandera Roja, or "Red Flag". In 1970, Guzmán led a split within the PCP- Bandera Roja. From the small provincial University of Huamanga, where Guzmán taught philosophy, the Frente Estudiantil Revolucionario por el Sendero Luminoso de Mariátegui (Revolutionary Student Front for the Shining Path of Mariátegui) slowly spread out.


Sendero launched military operations a decade later, targeting the police with considerable success. In the

summer of 1982, groups of guerrillas launched simultaneous attacks on police stations at Vilcashuaman and Luricocha, over a hundred kilometres apart. The police were forced to withdraw from rural areas of Ayacucho, leaving Sendero in de-facto control of the countryside. Maoist courts began to settle disputes and enforce justice — often in a brutal fashion. Like India, the Maoist ascendency was founded on the state's anaemic presence in the heartlands. The police, in particular, were poorly trained, under-resourced and had little usable intelligence.


Many analysts believe the underlying objective of Sendero's strategy during this period was to precipitate a military coup against the Belaúnde regime, which held power between 1980 and 1985. Sendero hoped to precipitate a crisis which would compel the military to depose Belaúnde — leading to increased repression and an upsurge in peasant and proletarian militancy. Belaúnde was obliged to declare an emergency in some of Ayacucho's provinces in October 1981. Hundreds of federal police were pumped into the area, but with little success. Later that year, troops were finally flown in to the central sierra — setting off a decade-long war of attrition.

A Defeat Destined

In a 1982 party document, Desarrollamos la guerra de guerrillas, Sendero claimed the Peruvian state was "bureaucratic and landlord, dominated by a dictatorship of feudal landowners and the big bourgeoisie under the control of imperialism". Much of Sendero's conception of Peruvian society drew on Mao Zedong's 1926 Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society and Left-wing author Jose Carlos Mariátegui's popular Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality published two years later.


Mao's simply-written tracts were profoundly attractive to a new generation of Maoist leaders emerging from Peru's desperately poor highlands: first-generation university students from artisan, peasant and petty-bourgeois backgrounds who were seeking an explanation for the backwardness and poverty of their people. Peru's complex hierarchy of race — with white Peruvians at the top and native Andean people at the bottom — coloured their Marxism. Slogans like necesitamos un gobierno de Indios (we need a government of Indians) or hay que matar a los blancos y destruir las ciudades que siempre nos han explotado (we have to kill the whites and destroy the towns, that have always exploited us) were just as popular as the work of Ernesto Guevara.


But, as the Cambridge University scholar Lewis Taylor noted in a perceptive 1983 essay, Sendero's characterisation of Peru as a rural, pre-industrial society dominated by feudal landlords was "hopelessly mistaken". "Feudal landlords", Mr. Taylor noted, "play no role in today's Peru, while large-scale landlordism, feudal or otherwise, as an economic force was decimated by a thorough-going agrarian reform between 1969 and 1976". Post-reform Peruvian society, he argued, "was characterised by an expansion in the ranks of medium-scale farmers and comparatively well-to-do kulaks, who co-exist alongside vast numbers of semi-proletarianised minifundists [small farmers] and landless labourers, 'feudal' landlords being conspicuous by their absence".


Even in the backward Ayacucho zone where Sendero flourished, Mr. Taylor pointed out, "the only people who even remotely merit the title of large-scale landowners are in no way feudal, being involved in that most capitalistic of businesses, the cocaine trade. Neither has nearby Hauncavelica been a zone of great landlord influence, being a predominantly mining region".


Put simply, Sendero sought to bring about a peasant revolution in a country that had ceased to be a peasant society. In 1980, agriculture contributed just 10 per cent of the Gross National Product and 20 per cent of the country's exports; some 70 per cent of Peru's citizens lived in its cities.


Peru's Maoists often adopted tactics that alienated their core constituency. In August 1982, Sendero destroyed

the University of Huamanga's agricultural experimentation farm and slaughtered livestock that had been painstakingly acclimatised to the region's harsh environment. Workers at the farm were told it was an example of "imperialist domination", since it was part-funded by western aid. Electricity generation and transmission systems were frequently destroyed, telephone networks disrupted and shops and schools burned down. Factories run by major multinationals such as Bayer and Nestlé were also targeted. In one bizarre operation, television stations relaying the finals of the 1982 football World Cup were destroyed — an action Sendero claimed it took because the sport was exercising a narcotic effect on the population.


Many groups of the Left had long understood that Sendero was headed towards a dead end. Between 1977 and 1980, Peru's working class mounted successful struggles for better working conditions and brought about a widening of democratic space. Key communist factions participated in the June 1980 general elections that Sendero had chosen as an occasion to launch its armed struggle. Even Peru's peasants increasingly turned against Sendero. In 1983, the organisation felt obliged to massacre 69 children, women and men in the village of Lucanamarca in the face of assaults by rural militia set up to support the military.


By 1992, when a Sendero car-bomb killed 24 and injured 200 in Lima, the organisation had lost much of its popular base. President Alberto Fujimori, who had staged a coup that April and dissolved Congress, was able to unleash the army and private death squads against the group, capitalising on the outrage.




Despite Sendero's death, there are well-founded concerns that conditions exist for the organisation to take root again. Ever since 1999 there have been credible reports that the group has tapped the cocaine trade in the valleys of the Apurimac and Ene rivers — a jungle region close to its birthplace. Sendero guerrillas have succeeded in mounting a series of murderous raids against Peru's security forces despite their numerical weakness. In next-door Colombia, the Maoist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has also used narcotics revenue to recruit new cadre and build resources.


Peru is not India; but the key narrative elements of Sendero's story will be depressingly familiar to anyone who

has followed the rise of Maoist power in recent years. Both the government and the Maoists need to reflect on the horrors that seem, with increasing inevitability, to lie ahead.







the headquarters of the Panamanian defence force. Inside the compound, shattered masonry and bullet holes in the walls bore witness to a coup attempt by junior officers. The putsch had failed. Now the people outside were waiting for the General. They wanted to see him, to know for certain he was still alive.


Further down the pavement on Calle 23, a woman sobbed. People said her Army officer husband had not

returned home, that she feared he was among the 50 mutineers reportedly killed in the U.S.-backed coup. As the crowd grew and the sun came up, an old man sold lottery tickets and on a balcony overlooking the street, a woman hung out her smalls to dry.


Then, suddenly, the doors of the comandancia flew open and out came the man they were waiting for. Here, in crude good health, was President George Bush Snr.'s pet hate figure, America's most wanted, and Panama's answer to Colonel Gaddafi: General Manuel Antonio Noriega himself — an indicted drug trafficker and at that time perhaps the world's most infamous dictator.


Acknowledging the cheers of the crowd, Noriega, small and burly in crisp green combat fatigues and a red baseball cap, wore a triumphant smile. "Who did this?" a journalist shouted at him in reference to the attack on the comandancia. "The Americans did this. The Americans, the piranhas did this. They want to finish Panama," Noriega replied.


Though he had no inkling of it that morning, Noriega's days in the sun were numbered. Two months later, Mr. Bush sent the American Army to finish what the coup leaders began. After causing a large and still disputed number of civilian deaths in the El Chorrillo neighbourhood around the comandancia, U.S. forces hunted down Noriega, arrested him, put him on trial in Miami, and sentenced him to 40 years.


The stated reasons for the U.S. intervention were many: anger at the harassment of military personnel based in Panama, worries over the safety of American nationals, the failure of diplomacy and sanctions, the security of the Panama canal, the city's position as a leading entrepot and money-laundering centre for illegal narcotics, and the importance attached to Mr. Bush's top domestic political priority — winning his self-declared "war on drugs".


But Noriega's extradition to France this week, where he faces more drug-related charges, has refocused attention on the unspoken reasons why the "Maximum Leader", also known as "Pineapple Face", became such a threat to the then U.S. government and why such extreme measures were taken to silence him. His case also serves as a reminder of the U.S. policy of direct and indirect interventionism in Central America that bedevilled the region for decades.


America's thug


Noriega was a thug. But for many years, he was America's thug — until he turned on his mentors. Trained in military and intelligence matters at the School of the Americas, he became for a time a valued CIA "asset" working for the agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.


Government documents submitted to the Miami court in 1991-92 confirmed that Noriega was paid (at least) $320,000 by the U.S. government for services rendered.


Simply put, Noriega knew too much. He acted as a Cold War listening post for the U.S. during turbulent times in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to William Buckley's book, Panama: the Whole Story.


The jury in Noriega's trial on 10 narrowly defined drug-related counts heard none of this. Nor did it hear about Noriega's contacts with Oliver North, John Poindexter, CIA chief William Casey and other key figures in the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations who, allegedly, connived in the supply of arms to Nicaragua's Contra rebels paid for with Medellin cartel drug cash.


Proof of connivance


There were many other such allegations, and Noriega claimed to have proof of senior U.S. politicians' connivance in drug trafficking for political purposes. But none was allowed in evidence. Nor was the new Panamanian government's demand that Noriega be returned there for trial accepted.


In Panama, Noriega would have been free to tell all he knew. And for many powerful men in Washington, some of whom are still alive, that prospect was potentially dangerous.


The outcome of the Miami trial, like the 1989 invasion, was never in doubt. It was a show trial, a warning to others. It was pure vengeance. It was a cover-up of decades of illicit regional meddling. But it was also a demonstration of raw American power, of which the world was soon to have more frightening examples. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








  1. India and Pakistan wisely decided to transcend the confines of nomenclature and form in the dialogue
  2. The talks will not work if the leaders succumb to the temptation of playing to domestic galleries


The history of India-Pakistan relations is full of examples of leaders from both countries travelling to distant points on the globe — from Tashkent and New York to Sharm el-Sheikh and Havana — to meet each other only to end up standing still. Meetings held in the subcontinent, on the other hand, have invariably led to breakthroughs, big and small. Think Simla and Lahore, Islamabad and Delhi. Each of these encounters produced conceptual breakthroughs that briefly carried some promise of momentum before being swamped by the forces of inertia, dead habit, treachery or bad faith that are the constants in this cursed relationship.


To the list of promising South Asian summits can now be added the name of Thimphu, where Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani met on Thursday. Defying naysayers within their respective establishments and wider strategic communities, the two Prime Ministers crafted a simple but elegant formula for breaking the current impasse, thereby ensuring that the process of engagement — stuck for several months — now has some chance of moving ahead. The Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers have been tasked with meeting each other to assess the current state of the relationship and identify the reasons for the trust deficit. This is to be the first step in what will eventually lead to a dialogue process aimed at discussing and resolving all outstanding issues and disputes.


With the "composite" nature of the dialogue becoming a political stumbling block, India and Pakistan wisely decided to transcend the confines of nomenclature. The process they engage in may eventually take the form of the composite dialogue or, more likely, improve upon it. But that will depend on two factors, both equally important: the results of the review the two sides conduct, and their ability to reduce the trust deficit.


For India, the restoration of trust depends on very simple metrics. New Delhi's overarching priority is to get Islamabad to honour its commitment to prevent terrorists from using Pakistani territory to launch attacks on India. Mr. Gilani reiterated this promise in Bhutan but the Manmohan Singh government will need more than mere words in order to convince sceptics at home. It needs the seven Lashkar-e-Taiba men currently on trial in Rawalpindi for their involvement in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai punished. And it needs credible evidence that anti-India terrorist organisations like the LeT and their leadership no longer have the freedom to operate. Infiltration levels in the valley, which have been rising over the past few months, also need to fall.


Even within the constraints of what Pakistan's increasingly independent judicial system is prepared to accept, there is a lot more that the Pakistani government can and must do to address Indian concerns. The current thaw assumes the absence of engagement is making it easier for the military establishment in Pakistan to justify the continuation of its links with anti-Indian extremists. Prime Minister Singh's decision to agree to the resumption of dialogue is based on the principle of trust but verify. If terrorist groups continue to speak and operate with impunity, chances are any substantive talks the two sides begin on issues like Kashmir or Siachen will flounder. After all, the oxygen of trust is needed to scale those daunting heights, which no leader has managed to ascend so far. As for water, it is hard to imagine India agreeing to surrender rights given to it by the Indus Water Treaty or shouldering obligations not enumerated there — which is essentially what Pakistan would like it to do — in the absence of trust and normality. Putting the terrorists out of business is, therefore, very much in Pakistan's interest.


As the two sides review the relationship, they will try and come up with a framework that can build on what the composite dialogue has accomplished so far while transcending its limitations. It is clear, for example, that bureaucrats and officials have done all they could to resolve Sir Creek and Siachen and that those discussions have reached the stage where a dialogue between politically-empowered envoys is the only way a settlement can be produced. Similarly on the "core issue" of Jammu and Kashmir, the back channel has proved to be a more effective platform for serious negotiation than the front channel operated by the two Foreign Secretaries. Should the Kashmir dialogue, too, be made political?


An obstacle here, of course, is that the Pakistani side appears to have repudiated the understandings reached between 2004-2007 on maintaining the territorial status quo, making borders irrelevant, demilitarising the area and crafting administrative links between the two parts of Kashmir. But even that is not the biggest problem since either party is well within its right to walk away from the back channel. Today, however, the real challenge in reviving and working the back channel is the lack of clarity in Islamabad about who Riaz Mohammed Khan — the designated counterpart of Satinder Lambah — will report to.


Political circumstances allowed General Musharraf to work within the dictum of l'etat c'est moi and India dealt with him as such. But today there is no clarity. Depending on how the wider internal politics in Pakistan plays out over the next year, some clarity may emerge. It is in India's long-term interest that democracy in Pakistan gets stabilised and empowered. This means, every effort must be made to work with Prime Minister Gilani and his government, while keeping lines of communication open with other political parties and leaders. There have also been suggestions in several high-level Track-II meetings that a dialogue between the intelligence chiefs of both countries could serve a useful purpose. These are issues that need to be discussed and evaluated when the Foreign Secretaries and Ministers take stock of where the relationship stands.


Alongside this evolving process, forward movement on trade, investment and energy sector cooperation would produce mutual gains that could enlarge the constituency for peace in both countries. None of this will work, however, if the leadership in India and Pakistan succumbs to the temptation of playing to domestic galleries. Going by the record of the past few years, terrorists will attempt to destroy this latest attempt to restart the dialogue. Acting with maturity and restraint in the face of provocation will pay more dividends in the long run. In Thimphu, both Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Pakistani Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi struck the right tone even when "nationalist" questions were thrown at them. If the dialogue process is to survive the critical early months, leaders and officials up and down the food chain in India and Pakistan need to exercise great caution.








April.30 : India's campaign in the third edition of the ICC World T20 Championship — which begins in the West Indies on Friday — will be closely watched. Three years ago the Indians, then led by Rahul Dravid, were among the favourites for the World Cup title they had last won in 1983 under Kapil Dev, but a poorly-managed campaign was cut short early on and the Men in Blue eliminated in the very first round. That event was also marked more for its off-field controversies that culminated with the death of Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmer in Kingston, Jamaica. A world-level tournament returns to the Caribbean under the sceptical gaze of the cricketing world. Having said that, India — champions in the inaugural edition of the T20 Worlds in South Africa — will once again go into the tournament as one of the better-favoured teams based equally on the diehard optimism of their fans as much on the solid preparation almost every member of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's squad has had at the recently-concluded IPL-3. Other than Ravindra Jadeja, who sat out the domestic extravaganza after he was banned for the season having sought to renegotiate his contract midway through its validity, all the other 15 have been in the thick of the action that culminated in the Chennai Super Kings walking away with the title they had first come agonisingly close to at the first  IPL final in 2008. At the same time, a host of players from around the world too start the T20 Worlds battle fit for the same reason. Given what happened in 2007 and more recently during the business end of IPL-3 — with off-field battles elbowing the cricket off centrestage — cricket's bosses around the world will be hoping that the quality of the sport on display at St. Lucia, Guyana and Barbados will bring the spotlight back where it belongs.

As far as the tournament itself is concerned, there are at least four teams that look equally good — at this stage — for the title. Other than India, defending champions Pakistan must be counted as being among the teams that matter. They may not have had the best of preparation and have been torn apart by infighting, but Pakistan have the best record at the T20 Worlds, having been finalists twice, winning it once and with an enviable 22-7 win-loss record in 30 matches, with one no result. South Africa are always a dangerous team and the core of their team — Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, the Morkel brothers, J.P. Duminy and Ab de Villiers — are all match-fit after IPL-3. The West Indies too have to be reckoned with both as hosts and as a side bursting with talent in the form of skipper Chris Gayle, the big-hitting Keiron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, the super-quick Kemar Roach and the ever-dependable Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan to drive their campaign. England will be the other team to watch out for, and that does not in the least discount the ever-dangerous Australia and even Bangladesh who have some serious ability in the shorter formats of the game, as Dravid discovered in 2007 in Trinidad. Still and all, the calm presence of Dhoni at the helm — as much as his title win with CSK — is a huge plus for India, as is the form of some of his key players. With the organisers at pains to avoid the pitfalls that ensnared the 2007 World Cup, it is to be hoped the calypso flavour of the Caribbean that was so badly missed three years ago will counterpoint some memorable cricket this time.







There is a draft Seeds Bill in Parliament which could be enacted any day now. The new Seeds Bill, drafted originally in 2004, will replace the old Seed Act of 1966 which was meant to set standards for trading in seed. The conditions of seed production have undergone a sea change in the last 25 years, with a growing presence of the seed industry. Earlier, seed production was largely in the hands of the public sector. So a new Seeds Act is needed to respond to the altered conditions. A law regulating the seed trade is necessary to ensure that farmers are protected against spurious seeds and that seed producers are obliged to put into the market only seeds of good and reliable quality. But the current Seeds Bill is not the new law that this country requires. It favours the seed industry and is against the interests of farmers.

The Seeds Bill is structurally flawed and bad in principle. This is because it has strayed from its original mandate of setting standards for the seed that will be traded and has attempted to meddle in affairs which belong in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) legislation. The seed industry, which has been angry over the pro-farmer provisions of the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFR), has attempted to reclaim ground by getting the PPVFR provisions overtaken by the provisions of the Seeds Bill. The draft Seeds Bill undoes many of the pro-farmer provisions of the PPVFR .

The Seeds Bill requires mandatory registration of the varieties/seeds which the PPVFR does not. In the PPVFR, the breeder applies for registration for a Plant Breeders Right. This right is valid for a period of 15 years for crop varieties and 18 years for trees. The Seeds Bill allows the period of protection to be doubled so that the seed variety can be protected by the seed producer for 30 years and 36 years respectively. This extension of the seed owner's right will allow monopolies to be established.

A serious shortcoming of the bill is the failure to include a provision that would make it mandatory to declare the parentage (passport data) of the new seed that is developed and for which registration is sought under the law. This is not only shoddy science, it is also unethical because it would allow the seed industry breeders to use crop varieties developed by farmers and public sector scientists without acknowledging the source. This amounts to theft. It also means that no opportunities for benefit sharing are in place post commercialisation and profit making. Not declaring passport data will make the new variety a black box. This will facilitate unrestricted commercialisation of varieties in the public domain, including farmer varieties, by private parties. It also will permit the industry to use farmer varieties without paying the mandated fee for such use into a National Gene Fund designated for the purpose, under the PPVFR.

In the case of the Seeds Bill, the registered varieties will be made known to the public only through periodic publications. The public has no opportunity to object to a new variety for any reason. This lack of transparency could mean that varieties of dubious performance could get registered without giving people a chance to oppose such grants.


Unlike the PPVFR which allows legitimate opposition to the grant of a registration for a new variety before registration is granted, the Seeds Bill has, despite several appeals from civil society, refused to accommodate a provision for pre-grant opposition. Enlightened law-making in many parts of the world, including our own, now allows the public an opportunity to record its objections to the grant of certain legal rights like patents. Gene Campaign has been pushing for a pre-grant provision in the Seeds Bill so that if a seed company was wanting to register a seed which had used material from other, unauthorised sources, objections could be raised. But the government, anxious to please the seed industry, refuses to include a provision for pre-grant opposition.
Because the bill does not require the parentage of a variety to be declared, it allows misappropriation of materials belonging to others. The seed industry breeders could in principle have free access to all available genetic diversity of crop plants without having to go through prior informed consent or engaging in benefit sharing. All this amounts to legalising the piracy of valuable genetic materials like elite breeding lines.
Further cause for alarm are the provisions of the Seeds Bill that deal with price control. In the PPVFR, regulation of seed supply and seed price is to be managed through a process of compulsory licensing. This safeguards the interests of the farming community since it places the responsibility of ensuring an adequate seed supply at reasonable price, on the government. The Seeds Bill fails to provide any such protection to the farmer.
There is no mechanism to regulate seed supply or seed price. This could result in a high cost of seeds fixed arbitrarily by the seed companies, leaving the government with no means to control the price. It could also mean that seed providers are under no obligation to ensure a reasonable seed supply to farmers. This will defeat the very rationale that had kept seed production in the public sector so far.  The government's new mantra of allowing market forces to "rationalise" seed production could strike at the foundation of national food security and farmer livelihoods. Seed producers, whether in the public or private sector, must be compelled to ensure that seed is available to every farmer in every agro-ecological zone in the country.

The liability and compensation provisions of the PPVFR that allowed farmers to be compensated for spurious or poor quality seeds, has been dispensed with in the Seeds Bill. Instead a compensation committee has been constituted. A straightforward insurance package linked to the seed would be a system that would work far better for farmers. If the seeds did not perform, the insurance claim would become automatic.

The stringent punishment and large penalties for violating the law that was put in as a deterrent against bad seeds in the PPVFR, have been reduced to a token.The penalties for violation under the Seeds Bill are so low (Rs 5,000) that even if someone is caught stealing public sector material or that belonging to farmers, the punishment is practically non-existent. The current Seeds Bill, rather than protecting the farmers, opens up avenues allowing the seed industry to steal their material.

Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on the faculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the Gene Campaign

Suman Sahai






 "The further east one goes", wrote the chronicler, "the more elephants there are". Given how central the great beasts have been to warfare in this continent for two-and-a-half millennia, this was, to put it simply, an observation that mattered. That elephants thin out in numbers and dwindle down to nothing as the rainfall declines with the path of the monsoon in north India is widely known.

But its consequences are less apparent at first glance. The writer of the quote above was a prince in search of fame, territory and fortune. The lands east of the Indus gave him all and more. His name was one to reckon with, not only as conqueror but also as a naturalist: Zia ud din Muhammad Babar.

Elephants fascinated him: their power and prowess in fields of battle had to be seen to be believed. Villagers near Kalpi and Manikpur earned a living by catching and taming them. Here, Babur had revenues that would not be taken in cash or grain, but in captive elephants. Thirty-odd villages gained from this.
The India of Babur or for that matter his successors had room for elephants and much more. Recent estimates of populations of the Mughal Empire reckon about 114 million people in India. This meant less than one in four acres was permanently tilled or cultivated. Vast stretches of forest, savannah and scrub dominated much of central and north India. The central region was Gondwana and large areas were known to harbour elephants.
Jahangir in the 17th century's first two decades had as many as seven drives to catch elephants in Gujarat, in its southern reaches, where tigers were still extant till a few decades ago. The Timurid rulers (as they called themselves) were much enamoured of elephants. As many as five men looked after one and favourites like the magnificent tusker Gajraj were portrayed by ateliers.

No one needs reminding of the huge changes in the land in the last two centuries. Not only have forests shrunk in size, the animals have vanished from regions and places where they were well known as parts of the landscape. Yet, though so much is taken, much still abides.

India is among the few Asian countries where elephants might still have a chance of survival, provided enough habitat stays intact. Babur would have sympathised with its plight. "An elephant", he sagely observed, "eats as much as two strings of camels".

He may not have known its fate was worse in a country as rich and significant as India in the pre-modern era: China. The premier historian of that country's rich ecological pasts, Mark Elvin set out to write a millennium long account of change. He did what anyone with such a rich record of written sources would do. He covered not one but 4,000 years. The title is a giveaway: The Retreat of Elephants (Yale University press, 2004).
Whereas in India, the Mughals and their successors were heirs to a centuries-old tradition of elephant craft, the last instance of the use of the animals in warfare in China was in 1662. Classical texts speak of the delicacy of an elephant's trunk and describe how best to cook it, something unknown in mainland India (though not in the Northeast).

But the retreat had less to do with courtly gastronomy and more to do with the larger economic changes. Writing as early as 1087, a poet wrote of Jiangsu province, "In the southern hills, rest and return to life, wait the forests of chestnuts/Yet iron, stubborn ore from the hills to the north, will be no trouble to smelt". Iron ore mining versus forest ecologies: this could be a manual from our own century.

But more than that there was the growth of Han peasant agriculture. There has been a 3,000-year war of humans versus the animals. The latter's retreat is inversely proportional to the advance of the rice-based Han peasant agriculture. Chinese farmers and elephants do not mix.

Of course, trapping vast numbers for captive use was a drain on the herds in India. India too has seen a great expansion of cultivated arable at the expense of forest.

Human struggles in the past were a matter of life and death. China's riches rested on the extinction of wild lands, while Indian rulers saw such lands as a source of strategically valuable assets: war elephants. This even influenced the British who in the 1870s enacted laws to protect them in British India for sound imperial reasons.
These dilemmas are not only from yesteryears. Nearly half-a-millennium after Babur, how and whether Asia reconciles human existence with nature's survival is a question that stares us in the face.

Peasant agriculture at the forest's margins in much of India and some times well beyond has to contend with the mobile mega-herbivores. Elephants in China are a "ghost  species", so few are left that the memory of them is wider than their actual presence. Zhou Se in 3rd century Sichuan wrote of "rhinoceros striving with elephant — to determine who canters more swiftly", but the animals are gone. Only verse remains.

India fared better than China in this respect in the past, but will it continue to do so? The world's eyes may be on Asia for its phenomenal rise in economic terms, but much of the challenge is on how we reconcile this vast creation of wealth with a new and stable peace with nature.

What better place to begin than with the continent's largest land mammal so "huge and intelligent" that its fate might well mirror our own?

Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of the book Making Conservation Work

Mahesh Rangarajan







 "The further east one goes", wrote the chronicler, "the more elephants there are". Given how central the great beasts have been to warfare in this continent for two-and-a-half millennia, this was, to put it simply, an observation that mattered. That elephants thin out in numbers and dwindle down to nothing as the rainfall declines with the path of the monsoon in north India is widely known.

But its consequences are less apparent at first glance. The writer of the quote above was a prince in search of fame, territory and fortune. The lands east of the Indus gave him all and more. His name was one to reckon with, not only as conqueror but also as a naturalist: Zia ud din Muhammad Babar.
Elephants fascinated him: their power and prowess in fields of battle had to be seen to be believed. Villagers near Kalpi and Manikpur earned a living by catching and taming them. Here, Babur had revenues that would not be taken in cash or grain, but in captive elephants. Thirty-odd villages gained from this.
The India of Babur or for that matter his successors had room for elephants and much more. Recent estimates of populations of the Mughal Empire reckon about 114 million people in India. This meant less than one in four acres was permanently tilled or cultivated. Vast stretches of forest, savannah and scrub dominated much of central and north India. The central region was Gondwana and large areas were known to harbour elephants.
Jahangir in the 17th century's first two decades had as many as seven drives to catch elephants in Gujarat, in its southern reaches, where tigers were still extant till a few decades ago. The Timurid rulers (as they called themselves) were much enamoured of elephants. As many as five men looked after one and favourites like the magnificent tusker Gajraj were portrayed by ateliers.

No one needs reminding of the huge changes in the land in the last two centuries. Not only have forests shrunk in size, the animals have vanished from regions and places where they were well known as parts of the landscape. Yet, though so much is taken, much still abides.

India is among the few Asian countries where elephants might still have a chance of survival, provided enough habitat stays intact. Babur would have sympathised with its plight. "An elephant", he sagely observed, "eats as much as two strings of camels".

He may not have known its fate was worse in a country as rich and significant as India in the pre-modern era: China. The premier historian of that country's rich ecological pasts, Mark Elvin set out to write a millennium long account of change. He did what anyone with such a rich record of written sources would do. He covered not one but 4,000 years. The title is a giveaway: The Retreat of Elephants (Yale University press, 2004).
Whereas in India, the Mughals and their successors were heirs to a centuries-old tradition of elephant craft, the last instance of the use of the animals in warfare in China was in 1662. Classical texts speak of the delicacy of an elephant's trunk and describe how best to cook it, something unknown in mainland India (though not in the Northeast).

But the retreat had less to do with courtly gastronomy and more to do with the larger economic changes. Writing as early as 1087, a poet wrote of Jiangsu province, "In the southern hills, rest and return to life, wait the forests of chestnuts/Yet iron, stubborn ore from the hills to the north, will be no trouble to smelt". Iron ore mining versus forest ecologies: this could be a manual from our own century.

But more than that there was the growth of Han peasant agriculture. There has been a 3,000-year war of humans versus the animals. The latter's retreat is inversely proportional to the advance of the rice-based Han peasant agriculture. Chinese farmers and elephants do not mix.

Of course, trapping vast numbers for captive use was a drain on the herds in India. India too has seen a great expansion of cultivated arable at the expense of forest.

Human struggles in the past were a matter of life and death. China's riches rested on the extinction of wild lands, while Indian rulers saw such lands as a source of strategically valuable assets: war elephants. This even influenced the British who in the 1870s enacted laws to protect them in British India for sound imperial reasons.
These dilemmas are not only from yesteryears. Nearly half-a-millennium after Babur, how and whether Asia reconciles human existence with nature's survival is a question that stares us in the face.

Peasant agriculture at the forest's margins in much of India and some times well beyond has to contend with the mobile mega-herbivores. Elephants in China are a "ghost  species", so few are left that the memory of them is wider than their actual presence. Zhou Se in 3rd century Sichuan wrote of "rhinoceros striving with elephant — to determine who canters more swiftly", but the animals are gone. Only verse remains.

India fared better than China in this respect in the past, but will it continue to do so? The world's eyes may be on Asia for its phenomenal rise in economic terms, but much of the challenge is on how we reconcile this vast creation of wealth with a new and stable peace with nature.

What better place to begin than with the continent's largest land mammal so "huge and intelligent" that its fate might well mirror our own?

Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of the book Making Conservation Work

Mahesh Rangarajan






 It looks like India is turning into a house of scandals. Last week, several skeletons tumbled out of the country's closet as allegations were being made of how in the Indian Premier League (IPL) money-laundering took place in the name of cricket and under the garb of "global entertainment". The question today is not who all were involved, but who among the celebrities are not involved. As the curtain rose on the financiers behind the painted faces, we got a sneak peek at some dubious (Dubai-based) personalities. The drama is just beginning to unfold. But the IPL is not alone. Huge scams break out with every changing season. Last year we had the Satyam scandal. Its chairman B. Ramalinga Raju, who had received many awards for best entrepreneur, best management practitioner etc, turned out to be a crook who had defrauded the government and public of several thousand crores of rupees.

With the Satyam founder in jail, the focus turned to the very institution of auditors. The institution has taken action against the auditors who were alleged to have colluded in the fraud, but what about the institution itself? The shadow of suspicion falls on it too when several cases of auditors not revealing the truth about corporate accounts surface.

Media reports say that other regulatory institutions have also been exposed. During the reign of senior Congress leader Arjun Singh as Union human resources development minister, over 33 private institutions were recognised as "deemed universities". Now the curtain on this series of recognitions has been removed and the resulting exposure of muck has resulted in the University Grants Commission itself coming under the scanner. The regulator for technology institutions, the All-India Council of Technical Education, has already seen chairman Ram Avtar Yadav and secretary Narayan Rao guillotined for their role in awarding recognition to suspect or sub-standard institutions and departments. Rao was caught demanding money to give recognition to an engineering college in Hyderabad.

Every day new fraudsters and scamsters are exposed by the media. The most recent one is the architectural regulator, the Council of Architecture. According to news reports, as many as 28 architects working with the world-famous Charles Correa have petitioned the government against this regulator of architectural education and practice. Apparently, the rot is far more widespread than we thought. The trail of sleaze and subterfuge is widening and reaches the government's altar. The government was revealed to be misusing the recently-installed technology for security agencies to tap the telephone lines of various politicians, including some United Progressive Alliance (UPA) members.

One newspaper reported that the role of telecom minister A. Raja in the high bids for 3G spectrum puts the focus on him once again. Last year he was accused of selling fresh telecom licenses at prices that were determined in 2001 when the mobile phone network was just expanding. The allegation against Mr Raja was that by deciding to sell 2G spectrum at a paltry Rs 1,651 crores to eight operators, he caused a loss of Rs 60,000 crores to the exchequer. But Mr Raja, who comes from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a coalition partner of the UPA-2, is stated to have used his political clout to sit pretty and safe in his chair despite the scandal.
The Congress-led UPA-2 government has let loose the income-tax sleuths on the IPL promoters. But this display of virtue is marred by the fact that all these IPL auctions had been going on for quite some months but the I-T authorities ignored the mystery — Who are they? From where do they bring so much money? Only when the Congress' blue-eyed minister was touched by the dispute were the I-T sleuths unleashed. This leads us to the core of the rot. It is a part of the economic policy that is a wholesale adoption of the American model of growth.
Look at the current controversies in the US involving financial companies like Goldman Sachs and Wall Street stock manipulators and the biggest fraudsters of them all, GM, who is said to have swallowed up to $52 billion of investors' money. US President Barack Obama is fighting Wall Street operators to bring some probity to the American financial markets. Goldman Sachs chief, India-born Rajat Gupta, is alleged to have been accused by US investigators of using insider information to benefit certain people. Financial scandals, sexual shenanigans and corporate rape surface day after day in the US, some even touching the US Congress.

It is significant that from the day the Congress' Bofors scandal hit the headlines, successive Congress or Congress-led governments have all been blackened by scandals. Bofors, Harshad Mehta's market operations, the Bharat Shah scandal, the Sukh Ram residence-turned-treasure house of ill-gotten money, the bribing of some tribal MPs for votes under the Rao government, the deal of its senior leader Natwar Singh's relatives with the Iraqi dictator in the oil-for-dollar scheme and now revelations about favouritism during the days of Arjun Singh as HRD minister and the rot that festered in the educational regulators under him — the list seems endless.
During Jawaharlal Nehru's regime, the first instance of misuse of office occurred with then finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari. This led the Prime Minister to demand Krishnamachari's resignation. But his daughter Indira Gandhi promoted corruption in the name of socialism and secularism. We recall how the Pondicherry licence scandal report implicating the then money-spinner of the Congress government, L.N. Mishra, was kept under wraps despite Opposition pressure to let people know the truth.
The Congress fought tooth and nail to buy time on the Bofors scandal but even the joint parliamentary committee farce did not save it from the people's wrath. However, the time gained enabled some of the accused to transfer their money from one account to another, from one country to another, and finally when after a decade the account was zeroed in on, strange things started emanating from the government in New Delhi that helped the chief accused to cock a snook at the government. The Congress' saga of scams and sleaze is endless. By the time this column appears, the country may have moved on to yet another scam.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Balbir K. Punj







The request by Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed, that India and Pakistan sort out their differences, provides some points for the two countries to ponder. The remarks were made at the opening of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Bhutan on Wednesday, where bilateral issues are not normally discussed. But evidently other member countries feel that the big two and their endless problems are detrimental to the progress of the neighbourhood economy. It was enough for them to speak out.


Certainly, the development of South Asia and its search for a stronger voice on the world stage rests on the India-Pakistan dynamic. And since the terror attacks of November, 2008, the relationship has stalled, if not suffered. But when several regions in the rest of the world are working towards setting aside their regional differences so that they can grow together, it is perhaps time for India and Pakistan to at least attempt greater regional cooperation, as implied by Saarc.


On India's part, while its neighbours are dependent on it, its sheer size creates a mental block for them. Even without actually behaving like the neighbourhood bully, India is seen as one. Perhaps, India has to work on its appearances. As for Pakistan, this may be a wake-up call. Its obsession with India, due to which it foments and supports terrorist activities on our soil, is a danger to the entire region. Thanks to the Afghan conflict, and the US efforts to enlist Pakistan in its larger war against the Taliban and the al Qaeda, all the nations in the region feel vulnerable.


No one would be naïveenough to suggest that India-Pakistan problems will be sorted out just because this suits the smaller members of Saarc. But the fact that our neighbours have spoken out shows that the concern about safety and security in the region is paramount. If Saarc is to achieve its full potential, it has to become a serious contender with significant bargaining powers — like Asean. That is unachievable as long as its two largest members are involved in internecine warfare.


While the core Indo-Pak relationship will take some time to mend, it may not be a bad idea for India to offer its neighbours a greater share of the Indian market by preferential tariffs. If nothing else, it will create a larger constituency for economic cooperation — which is what Saarc is about anyway.







The debt crisis that has engulfed Greece, and which is now spreading to Spain and Portugal, has been confirmed officially by the downgrade of the sovereign bonds of these countries by credit rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P). It's been a year in the making, but the downgrade is evidence that the financial squall that hit the US markets in the autumn of 2008 is now gathering momentum across the Atlantic.


The difference between the two crises is this: the US meltdown occurred because of irresponsible risk-taking by private sector banks and financial institutions.


In southern Europe, it is the governments which have been caught in the whirlpool of public debt. In the US, once Lehman Brothers went under, the American government acted quickly and brought the situation under control. Will Europe have to do the same with Greece?


The $41 billion loan offered by European leaders and the $20 billion expected from the IMF will see Greece through 2010. But an estimate by The Economist suggests that another $90 billion of long-term official loans will be required over the next few years to help it get over the debt hump in 2014. That's a lot of money, but just as some banks are too big to fail, countries have no option but to be rescued. The money will have to be found.


The crisis could lead to a larger debate on the effectiveness of the European Union and its common currency, the euro. But that is not the immediate issue. The European crisis will weaken the economic recovery that seemed to flicker on the horizon towards the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. The sluggishness in the European markets would mean that global economic woes will persist longer.


There are lessons in this for governments elsewhere, including India and the US. Unfettered public spending, whether it is for saving private players, as in the US, or to prop up social spending in India, leads to serious problems unless it is seen as a temporary, emergency measure.


Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is acutely aware of this. What is needed is real economic growth in terms of a rise in industrial and agricultural production, creation of jobs and increase in earnings at the corporate and individual levels. The other major warning from Greece is that fudging deficit figures will lead to a catastrophe.







The ability of the Manmohan Singh government to survive the cut motion in the Lok Sabha this budget session was never in doubt. What is significant is the dynamics behind the scale of the margin when it came to a vote.


This is both a measure of the strengths and limitations of the government and, as the summer unfolds, it will become clearer which of these — the apparent advantages or the deeper infirmities — will prevail.


There is little doubt that it was the Women's Bill and its passage in the Rajya Sabha that was the catalyst for the attempt of north India centered parties to exert their muscle. Even after the government assured all that the Bill would not be brought before the Lok Sabha in this session, the Yadav duo decided to try exerting pressure on it.


Yet, they are now a shadow of their presence from, say, a decade-and-a-half ago. Then, they had the social justice platform and also the advantage of the support of minorities disenchanted with the Congress. The picture is radically different now and neither is in control of a state government.


They also proved more amenable to pressure on the various tax and disproportionate asset cases lodged against them. These gave Congress party managers just the leeway they needed to prise apart the Mandal-based parties from their rekindled relationship with the Left.


The Yadav duo's dilemma is shared by other political formations, most of which had never been in power at the Centre till just over 30 years ago. Since then all major parties have either been integral to government formation or support and, in the process, many have picked up what were earlier seen as traits of the Congress alone.


But the spotlight has not been on the Mandal-based forces as much as the premier Dalit-led party, the BSP. Mayawati's 21 MPs were crucial to the survival of the government. As in the other cases, the Union government going soft on her cases in court may well have had a role in softening her up.


But there is a second major factor at work here. Rahul Gandhi's campaign launched with some fanfare on Ambedkar Divas on April 14 has not had the kind of response that had been hoped for.


Mayawati, in turn, has shrewdly exploited the Congress' inability to mount an offensive on all fronts. The alliance has only a wafer-thin majority in the Lok Sabha in contrast to the Bahujan Samaj Party's majority in the state assembly in Uttar Pradesh. Further, successive by-elections have shown her continued hold on the popular vote even though the kind of cross-class appeal she once had may well have got diluted.


Her situation is also unusual in more than one sense. She has a certain aura that makes specific tactical moves that she or her party makes irrelevant to the base on the ground. So attacking her for letting down the anti-Congress camp makes little headway. The BSP after all is the only major national party that was formed after the Emergency of 1975-77 and has no specific view on this critical watershed in Indian politics.


Further, on the issue of the Women's Bill, which many ruling party managers had seen as a game changer, Mayawati, as much as other opponents, has fought the government to a crawl, if not a standstill. The idea that gender-based mobilisation would unleash fresh forces the way caste-based reservation once did has not died down. But it needs to be attuned better to other divides in society and the body politic.


In turn, the BSP too has been shown up to lack the kind of appeal outside Uttar Pradesh and pockets of neighbouring states that it has in the heartland. In common with many regional parties, it loses its political antennae once it moves outside its core region of support. The inability to cultivate regional leaders or define a larger programme have made its strategy centered on one state, which however populous, is not synonymous with India.


For the Congress and the ruling alliance, what has been the great blessing is the inability of the premier opposition party to find its feet. Despite impressive mobilisation on the issue of prices, the BJP did not choose its ground carefully on the floor of the house. Its direct attack on the prime minister has shown that it has not outgrown the strategy it followed, with unhappy consequences in the last general elections.


Where does that leave the polity at large? The ruling alliance has its challenges cut out. Rising prices will undercut the mass appeal it has and pose a continuing challenge. But unless there is a clear and sustained Opposition mobilisation, this discontent will not amount to a direct challenge. It showed that the dice for now is still loaded in Congress' favour







Cell No. 743

Cyber-offenders Wing

Her Majesty's Prison

The Isle of Wight,



Dear Friends, I was to go to Germany last week to speak at a University but, with millions of others, was prevented from travelling by the twin disasters of the explosion of volcanic ash over Europe's airspace and a French railway strike which prevented one travelling beyond Calais — if of course, one could get to that place across a very booked up English Channel.


One takes these little hitches in life with equanimity. I personally console myself that the plight of others, stuck in Rawalpindi, for instance and unable to take any flight except one to Lagos and take one's chances by boat, after paying twenty thousand pounds to the non-existent shipping company... is infinitely worse than mine. One counts one's blessings or remembers the parable my great grandmother taught me at her knee:


"I cried because I had no shoes

Then I saw a man with Jimmy Choos.... "


Apart from this mantra, I found that the best way to ward off the blues occasioned by the forced postponements in my professional timetable was to run a lucrative competition, related to the volcanic disaster, on the Internet. With the help of an Icelandic friend I devised a web page which challenged anyone stranded by the volcanic eruption anywhere in the world to enter the competition for a small fee and take away a huge prize if they won.


The competition couldn't have been simpler. Contestants, using their computer microphones and Skype cameras had to correctly pronounce the name of the volcano that had erupted in Iceland and caused the closure of European and African airports.


The word, the elusive name of this mischievous volcano, as the world knows, but hasn't yet successfully pronounced is Eyjafjallajoekull. The competition, my website announced, would be judged by a scientific voice-comparison of each competitor's offering with the authentic Icelandic pronunciation of the word. Winners were promised huge rewards for a small stake.


What my website didn't reveal to potential competitors was that just as Eskimos have a thousand words for snow and each of these has its own unique pronunciation, and just as there are a thousand-and-one names for God and no human can authoritatively say that 'Yaveh' or 'Allah' is a better way to address the almighty than 'Ahura Mazda', 'Jehova', 'Our Father' or 'Ishwar', so Eyjafjallajoekull has as many pronunciations as there are people in Iceland. There is no one unique pronunciation — and there's the rub!


I was not to know that under British law, while it is completely accepted that bookies deprive punters of millions of pounds a week through betting on horse races, dog races and the results of football matches; and while the government itself runs a number lottery with a billion-to-one odds stacked against entrants, it is illegal to formulate an unwinnable competition. So, for instance, I can with complete freedom, ensured by the constitutional right to free speech, ask the next man, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" or "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" — but I can't charge them money to attempt to solve these riddles.


The food is not bad here. But, my friends, UK lawyers are very expensive and so if any reader can see his or her way to contribute to the legal expenses entailed in proving my innocence they should send contributions to: PO Box number 420, Lagos, Nigeria.

God bless you,

Farrukh Dhondy










That India is not averse to holding talks with Pakistan for resolving the issues plaguing their relations has been highlighted again by New Delhi despite no credible action by Islamabad so far to punish all those behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, during their one-on-talks on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit at Thimpu on Thursday, India-Pakistan cooperation in different areas was essential for faster socio-economic growth in South Asia. Nothing can be allowed to come in the way of progress in the region, home to a large chunk of the world's poor. It is, therefore, encouraging that the two sides have decided to hold talks at the levels of Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries as soon as possible. As Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao pointed out during her Press briefing after the Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting, the two countries will not shy away from discussing all issues of concern despite their differences in approach and perception. Dialogue, after all, is the key to promoting peace in region.


The stand taken at Thimpu is no different from the one announced at Sharm-al-Sheikh (Egypt) on July 16, 2009, though there was no mention of delinking the fight against terrorism and the cause of dialogue. But India cannot afford to allow those behind the Mumbai terrorist strike to go scot-free in Pakistan. That is why Dr Manmohan Singh urged Mr Gilani to ensure that these culprits got adequate punishment for the heinous crime they committed on November 26, 2008. India wants to be updated on the proceedings in Pakistan to bring these culprits to justice.


If the Thimpu talks between the two Prime Ministers appear to have paved the way for the resumption of the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue process, this does not mean that India will reduce its pressure on Pakistan to abandon the policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Islamabad will have to change its approach towards the anti-India terrorist outfits based on the other side of the border. With a view to creating an atmosphere congenial to the success of any dialogue process, Pakistan will have to honour its past commitment that it will not allow any territory under its control to be used by terrorists of any persuasion.








The deepening water shortage in Punjab and Haryana and in some areas residents getting dirty water should be a cause for concern to governments in both states. A growing population, consumption-driven growth, climate change, increased cultivation of paddy, over-exploitation of groundwater, non-recycling of used water and poor conservation habits are widening the gap between demand and supply. The water woes of Shimla, Chennai and Bangalore are well known. Delhi-ites will soon be forced to consume treated sewage water as they do in Singapore. In Rajasthan water resources are guarded and even animals are denied free access. A McKinsey report warns that Indian cities could turn into "dry, stinking holes" by 2030.


It is a matter of regret that in Punjab and Haryana the crisis is partly self-created. Farmers have abandoned traditional crops that consumed less water and switched to paddy, a water guzzler, lured by frequent Central hikes in the minimum support prices. If the cost of a sharp decline in the water table and installation of submersible pumps to extract water from deeper levels is factored in the MSPs, the paddy grown here will carry a prohibitive price tag. Farmers of Punjab and Haryana are actually subsidising rice consumed in other states. Free power has only helped them use and waste more water than required. No wonder, experts suggest either denying the land-owners the ownership rights of groundwater or levying a cess on its extraction.


Gujarat's Jyotigram scheme is widely appreciated for separating agricultural and non-agricultural feeders for supplying power in villages to cut water misuse. Check dams have been raised to harvest rainwater. Sprinklers are replacing flood irrigation. Village ponds have been levelled in this region. All such water bodies will have to be revived with community effort to ensure that groundwater gets replenished. Climate change, given its serious effect on water resources and agriculture, has to be contained before it is too late. Better water management at the individual, state and national levels is the need of the hour.









Wednesday's ruling by the Supreme Court quashing all cases filed against Tamil actor Khushboo for her views on pre-marital sex in metropolitan cities will come as a much-needed relief to her. The fact that 22 cases of defamation were slapped on her for her comments to an English fortnightly not only added to the courts' burden but also subjected her to avoidable harassment. The Madras High Court, instead of rejecting the complaints against Khushboo in April 2008, consolidated them and ordered a joint trial.


The ruling does not come as a surprise because the apex court held last month that no law prohibited pre-marital sex or live-in relationships. Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan aptly questioned, "when two adults live together, what is the offence and under which section of Indian law?" Apart from violating Khushboo's constitutional right to freedom of speech, the complainants have confused a pompous moralism with the law, leading the apex court judges to say that what was seen as unethical and indecent by certain sections of society could not be termed an offence.


Significantly, Justice Balakrishnan has now ruled that Khushboo's remarks amounted to "fair comment", protected by her fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The Tamil actor had claimed in an interview that women who indulged in sex before their marriage should take care to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, but her words were taken out of context to suggest that she had urged women to be "immoral". The complaints of defamation by vested interests were frivolous and mala fide with the sole motive of getting political mileage and publicity, she contended. The apex court has at last quashed all cases filed against Khushboo, but who will compensate her for the mental torture she had to undergo for long?

















AS was only to be expected, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, barely audible in the midst of the Opposition's loud protests, has emphatically denied that the United Progressive Alliance government authorised the tapping of mobile phone calls of its political opponents as well as of a Congress leader. He has also stated that there was "no substance" in the cover story of the newsmagazine Outlook alleging large-scale misuse of its phone-tapping capacity by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO). However, the Home Minister kept an escape hatch open. If there were any proof of unauthorized "eavesdropping on political leaders", he said, appropriate agencies would investigate it thoroughly.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should normally have made the statement on this delicate matter, if only because the NTRO is under him, not the Home Minister. But he was busy receiving Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and by the time he was ready to come to the House, it had been adjourned for the day because of bedlam. Unfortunately, he chose to speak on the subject outside the House though only to declare that there was no need for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the matter. But the BJP is now accusing him of breach of parliamentary privilege.


As for the Home Minister's statement, it absolves the UPA government of all blame. But by implication it does concede that the NTRO may have listened to the conversations of political leaders and other citizens without being asked to do so. As Stalin once said famously, secret agencies of all countries, including his own, were a law unto themselves. Even so, it is doubtful that Indian intelligence agencies can afford to be brazenly defiant of the political authority. Therefore, Mr Chidambaram would have been well advised frankly to tell the country that because of the highly advanced technology at its disposal, the NTRO sometimes overhears conversations it doesn't intend to. Rotating interceptors, called "Eagles", targeting areas in need of careful watch, pick up every phone call, fax or other communication within its range. What the agency does with the information thus gathered is a different matter.


Let me hasten to add that what the NTRO - formed around the communications intelligence apparatus of the foreign intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), after the Kargil War - is doing is nothing miraculous. America's National Security Agency (NSA) has been in a position to monitor all communications across the world since soon after World War II. Britain's GCHQ, Government Communications Headquarters, and similar agencies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand have the same capability. Moreover, these five agencies work in tandem. It should, therefore, be obvious that almost every conversation over a mobile phone or any other communication channel is vulnerable, not only to agencies in this country but also foreign ones.


From the foregoing it does not follow that the citizens of India have no defence for their privacy or the powers that be can eavesdrop on their political opponents with impunity. On the other hand, in a country facing terrorism, both cross-border and indigenous, Maoist menace, other insurgencies, smuggling, organized crime and money laundering, intelligence agencies cannot be so bound down as to be made dysfunctional. There has to be a proper balance between the nation's need for security and stability and the privacy of the innocent citizen and propriety in politics. Regrettably, neither this country's politico-administrative system nor its civic society is such as to be able to sustain the requisite balance the way the mature democracies manage to do.


Yet, it must be added that despite our relatively limited resources, the relevant agencies have given an excellent account of themselves. During the Kargil War, RAW tapped the phone call between General Musharraf in Beijing and his chief of general staff, General Aziz, in Islamabad. This exposed the Pakistan Army's role in what Pakistani propaganda was making out to be the handiwork "entirely of the Mujahideen". Even more valuable was the recording by the NTRO during 26/11 of the conversations between the terrorists attacking Mumbai's five-star hotels and their handlers in Pakistan. This gave the lie to the initial Pakistani claim that it had nothing to do with the savage onslaught.


Organizations like the NTRO, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau have a lot more to do to become more effective and cohesive. Similarly, the heavily criminalised political order has to cleanse itself. Otherwise, someone will have to monitor the phone calls of even "prominent" politicians.


What follows is not intended to justify any wrongdoing by any intelligence agency with or without the government's approval. The idea is to underscore that complaints being voiced so angrily today are not new. Allegations of political opponents and even colleagues being under surveillance have been endemic in this country under all regimes over the last six decades. Nor are Western democracies wholly immune from this malaise.


Even in the time of the most liberal and democratic ruler of this country, Jawaharlal Nehru, a Cabinet colleague he liked, T. T. Krishnamachari, publicly complained that his phone was being tapped and he named the then Intelligence Czar, B. N. Mullik, as the culprit. Twelve years earlier, when bugging devices were rudimentary and scarce, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a Cabinet colleague totally trusted by Nehru and, therefore, entrusted with a delicate security mission, was confident, for good reason, that the formidable Sardar Patel would get his telephone tapped. He made no fuss. As Communications Minister he simply got the general telephone at the AICC office shifted to his residence. On the phone that Rafi Sahib normally used the IB only heard grocery orders, dinner menus and family chatter.


There are many other such instances. But let me skip them and get to the era when the nadir was reached. Sadly, this happened when Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister got all the phones of President Giani Zail Singh tapped. Of course, Gianiji, a past master in political intrigue, was then busy plotting Rajiv's dismissal despite the Prime Minister's four-fifths majority in the Lok Sabha.


In V. P. Singh's time his rival, Chandra Shekhar, claimed that his phone was being tapped and VP's short-lived government stoutly denied this. So did another Prime Minister with a brief tenure, H. D. Deve Gowda, who was accused of snooping on several leaders, including former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. There is no need to go on and on.








Many in Chandigarh, with hoe in hand, are finding joy in their home kitchen garden. Gardening gives them satisfaction of creating something. One may not give birth to a rose but one can grow one.


Many glad gardeners of Chandigarh have won applause and reward in flower shows. Their products and pictures have adorned newspapers pages. The "oxygen" of publicity generates in them a new vitality to hoe better. May their buds bloom!


This bud-brigade has a considerable strength. They hail from all walks of life. There are doctors, engineers, lawyers, university and college teachers, contractors, and other engaged in the hoe hobby. The most notable are senior citizens. Many often grow grapes in their backyard to make wine at their house. One I know has grown up a sort of hanging garden for his heady hobby.


When these green fingers cluster, they discuss their prize possessions, and promise to swap saplings. They talk about roots and stems, leaves and branches, petals and pollen. Questions like, why are leaves becoming yellow, why are petals falling are floated and flouted.


Ladies' fingers, brinjals (not the Bt variety), green chillies, mint, coriander are fondly sown, manured and lovingly harvested.


The very mention of their green crops swells their chest. Late Prof. R.C. Paul, Vice-Chancellor, Panjab University, once showed me a home-grown cabbage the size of a big water melon.


One gets emotionally attached to plants. When a fully blooming lime plant in our backyard was uprooted by labour during re-construction, I cried. The sad scene still haunts me. The tree fallen like a wounded soldier, refuses to be rubbed off my mental screen.


There are other plus points. When you are plucking roots, dead twigs or leaves, no fine fingers pluck at your nerves. You tame your tensions.


One is far from the cares of the world when one digs the earth, inhaling its musty flavour. There is a kick in it as typical as the one you get from opening a book after long years.


Small, green gardens grown and tended with loving care, lend nature's balming effect to the house, and in a small way, offset the menacing effect of jungles of concrete.


Soil your fingers, grow mini forests and green your home. You will have a wonderful feeling of peace and harmony.









Legal hurdles notwithstanding, the Gujjars are once again up in arms in Rajasthan, seeking a 5 per cent quota in government jobs. With the memories of violent Gujjar agitations still fresh, the government doesn't want any bloodshed and would like to redress the issue amicably.


However, unlike previous occasions, the present Congress regime has limited options in view of the legal hurdles the Bill providing 5 per cent reservation to the Gujjars is facing. Interestingly, the Gujjars too have no choice but to hold dialogue with the government, which is very much clear from their approach till now. In fact, having learnt their lessons from the past, both sides are cautious.


The state government is committed to providing a 5 per cent quota in government jobs to the Gujjars, but is wary of promising anything which it cannot deliver in future. Similarly, the Gujjars, after having lost over 80 lives in the previous agitations, are making sure that their agitation is peaceful and respond positively to offers for talks.


At the root of the legal tangle is the Bill, which was introduced in the Rajasthan Assembly on July 14, 2008, by the previous BJP regime. The Bill provided a 5 per cent reservation to the Gujjar, Banjara, Gadia Lohar and Raika communities under the Special Backward Class (SBC) category, besides a 14 per cent quota to the poor among the upper castes under the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) category.


Though the House passed the Bill, the then Governor SK Singh sat on it for a year before signing it on July 31, 2009. However, the Rajasthan High Court stayed the Bill on October 13, 2009, on the ground that it exceeded the 50 per cent cap on reservations set by the Supreme Court.  The state already has a 21 per cent quota for the OBCs, 16 per cent for the SCs and 12 per cent for the STs, making it a total of 49 per cent. After the Bill the total reservations went up to 68 per cent.


The legal options the government has are: (1) separating the 5 per cent quota for the Gujjars under the SBC category from the 14 per cent reservation for the EBCs and (2) providing the community a 5 per cent quota within the limit of 50 per cent reservations. The state government is mulling a new Bill to end the stir. There is a proposal to rework the quota Bill without reservations to the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs).


The proposal suggests that the 14 per cent reservation to the EBCs clubbed with the 5 per cent quota to the Gujjars be separated from the existing law. This would bring the total reservations down to 54 per cent. The Gujjar leaders now insist that they be given the reservation under the 50 per cent cap so that it cannot be challenged in court. They feel that the government can achieve this by extending them the reservation through a sub-category within the existing quota for either the STs or the OBCs.


However, with the strong Meena community (ST), which is always at loggerheads with the Gujjars, making it amply clear that they would not share their reservation pie with anyone, the government is left with the only option of carving out a sub-category in the OBC quota. The government can take a 4 per cent share out of the 21 per cent for the OBC and add another 1 per cent to it, to give a 5 per cent quota to the SBCs within the upper limit of the 50 per cent reservation, but the move may prove to be politically tricky to the Congress government. 
A section of the Congress leaders allege that the Gujjar agitation is remote-controlled by the BJP. Bainsla had joined the BJP on the insistence of former CM Vasundhara Raje and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Sawai Madhopur last year. He is also a special invitee to the National Executive of the BJP.


Interestingly, the Gujjars have found support from an unexpected quarter this time – the Meena community, which was at daggers drawn with the former during the previous stir. This is because the Gujjars are no more stressing on their inclusion in the ST category under which the Meena community falls. The Gujjars are currently focussing on the 5 per cent reservation, irrespective of the category. In the last agitation, the Gujjars were seeking ST status. However, the Meena community, which has ST status, was against the Gujjars being granted the same status.








The citizens of Delhi are worried and there is a reason — the city is fast being swallowed by debris and garbage. Even where there is no construction there has been a sharp increase in rubble — bricks and mortar — plastic bags, empty snack bags and other such stuff on roads and even high-end markets like Basant Lok.


It is as if the MCD (Mother of All Corporations) — its highly paid sweepers and malis (getting Rs 18,000 per month), who I am told sign attendance ledgers in the morning and skip to other lucrative jobs for the day — has totally abandoned its tax-paying citizens.


Perhaps, the biggest bane of our collective existence is this blighted institution that is known to leave huge unguarded pits, which swallow poor children. It declares there is no waterlogging on roads when newspaper photos show flooded roads, it charges its citizens huge bribes for "completion certificates" and subsequently seals and destroys the property with aplomb because it is now considered illegal.


An institution that has ghost workers on the pay rolls and is now agitating for more junior engineers —an organisation, in short, that is completely unaccountable to the people it is supposed to serve. And we, the people, are forced to pay taxes to sustain such bureaucratic behemoths riddled with corruption. Is this democracy?


Even where the Metro and other such excavations are not going on, it seems like the MCD, Jal Board, PWD and other such public works have combined all their resources to dig up Delhi. I am almost sure that if all the debris in Delhi were to be collected it could build a whole new city!


The city government would no doubt declare this is all being done for the beautification of our capital for the Commonwealth Games. But we who are living here know one thing for sure that when any agency digs up a road, the dividers or even the pavements, these are seldom covered neatly. Near every excavation there is invariably a pile of rubble to be picked up by someone else — and heads of the various public works are quick to point fingers at one another, while doing absolutely nothing to resolve the problem.


To make things worse, next to each mound of debris pedestrians feel it is fine to throw their own little packets of gutka, plastic bags and whatever they want to discard as someone else will pick them up. And while we are all waiting for that someone else, filth is literally burying us alive.


I do think the foreigners about to visit our much-excavated city would prefer cleanliness to new pavements. They will definitely notice the dirt. As for beautification, as they say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I put my bet on visitors noticing debris and trash more than a fancy divider or a pavement. Even our Environment Minister has declared that Indian cities could get a Nobel Prize for being the world's dirtiest if such a prize existed.


I can honestly say most Delhi-ites (except those working for the above mentioned organisations) would agree that we should get rid of these government organisations and outsource garbage collection and waste management and even the beautification to good accountable companies in a fair and transparent manner so that money doesn't change hands and go to the favoured contractors. Is this too much to ask?








Popular actress of yesteryear and Samajwadi Party MP Jayaprada is likely to return to her home state and join the Telugu Desam Party from where she began her political odyssey 16 years ago.


The internal developments in the SP, leading to the exit of her political mentor Amar Singh, have left Jayaprada with no option but to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Ever since she quit the SP in solidarity with Amar Singh, the actress has been mulling her political options.


The buzz in Andhra Pradesh political circles is that she is in touch with the TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu and bargaining for a key position in the regional party. She is likely to head the party's women's wing, a post she had held in the past before migrating to the Samajwadi Party.


Out of power, the TDP is also keen on adding a touch of glamour to the party and infuse new enthusiasm among the cadre.


Trial by fire

The fallen IT icon B. Ramalinga Raju may well go down in the Indian corporate history as the longest-serving under-trial prisoner. The founder chairman of Satyam Computers has been in judicial custody for the last 15 months. The fraud he had scripted in the software company was also the biggest in the country's corporate history.


The trial is yet to commence as Raju is undergoing treatment at a city hospital and the doctors have ruled out his appearance in court. Though a special fast-track court was set up six months ago, not a single person has been questioned so far as the court has been adjourning the case every week because of Raju's ill-health.


The CBI has listed 800 witnesses and submitted 1.60 lakh pages of documents pertaining to the case. Besides, over 100 material objects were filed. The trial is going to be a long and grueling process.


Non-stop work

The software industry, an important contributor to Hyderabad's brand image, has reasons to cheer. The state government recently issued an order bringing IT and IT enabled services under the purview of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to insulate them from disruptions due to agitations and shutdowns.


This means that employees cannot resort to strike nor can they cite shutdowns or curfew as an excuse for their absence. The IT industry representatives have been demanding the application of ESMA to ensure uninterrupted development. The demand became more vociferous in the wake of the recent turmoil over Telangana.


AP has 1,300 IT companies employing about 2.50 lakh professionals.










Continuing with the next part of a series of historical landmarks around the BSE, there is an absolutely awe-inspiring building of the bygone era located right opposite the hugely popular Jehangir Art Gallery – The Elphinstone College (which has arts, science and commerce subjects).


The college is one of the oldest in the city even precedes the formation of Mumbai University (set up in 1857).

 Named in honour of the outgoing governor of Bombay at the time, Lord Mountstuart Elphinstone (1819 to 1827), the history regarding the formation of the Elphinstone College is extremely interesting.

 By the 1820s, Bombay was a commercial nerve centre, and though the British were not in favour of educating the natives (i.e. Indians) an English School was set up in 1824 by the Bombay Native Education Society. A resolution was passed in 1827 to set up an institution for the promotion of education under the auspices of the aforesaid society, which would be called Elphinstone College, thereby emphasising the difference between high school and college. A princely sum of Rs 2,29,636 was collected by forward-thinking citizens of Bombay to fund and finance teaching professorships, not only in the English language but also literature, science and arts of Europe. The college was finally constituted in 1835 while formal education began to be imparted in 1836 at the Town Hall by two professors - Arthur Bedford Orlebar (who taught natural philosophy) and John Harkness (who taught general literature).
These classes were amalgamated in 1840 with the high school of the society to form the Elphinstone Native Education Institution while this name was curtailed in 1845 as the Elphinstone Institution. The actual formation of the college, as we know it now, was formalised on April 1, 1856, when it was separated from the high school.
   The college was finally affiliated to the University of Bombay in 1860 but it was temporarily shifted to a building in Parel on February 20, 1871, while the current building located at Mahatma Gandhi Road (earlier known as Esplanade Road) was occupied in April 1888.

This building, which reeks of royalty and magnificence, was designed by Trubshaw and Khan Bahadur Muncherjee Murzban in the 1880s. It was initially meant to host the Government Central Press but was finally completed by John Adams (Executive Engineer of the Bombay Government) at a cost of Rs 7.5 lakh, which would not have been possible without the benevolence of Sir Cowasjee Jehangir after whom the college building has been named.


Coincidentally, this college has spawned quite a few other educational institutions indirectly. Initial classes of the Bombay University were held at Elphinstone College. In 1855, legal education was born in Elphinstone College in the form of Perry Professorship (a chair of jurisprudence) when Dr R T Reid was appointed the first professor of jurisprudence at the Government Law School (GLS) which has metamorphosed into the Government Law College (GLC). Initial classes for Jaihind College (during morning) were also held at Elphinstone College while the Sir J J School of Arts, which as formed in 1857 also held initial classes at lphinstone College.

 A glorious past has seen luminous alumni being added to the diaspora, some of which are: Dadabhai Naoraji, Jamshedji Tata, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dr B R Ambedkar, Sonal Mansingh, Kishori Amonkar, Madhav Apte, Bhulabhai Desai, Homi Bhabha, P L Deshpande, Sanjay Dutt, Vijay Merchant, Ajit Wadekar, Manish Malhotra, Mahesh Manjrekar and Bharat Dabholkar.

A grade I heritage structure, Elphinstone College was awarded the Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2004 by UNESCO and has recently been rated "A" grade by the NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council). It has a hostel facility for boys and girls, a brilliant library with more than one lakh books, wellequipped computer and science laboratories and a state-of-the-art fitness centre.


Nearly half the area of the college is shared with the Maharashtra Archives Department.
Next Week – The sixth part of a close look at some of the historical landmarks near the BSE



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It is a sad commentary on an organisation that at its silver jubilee it should be reminded that the glass is still half full as far as its stated aims and actual achievements are concerned. That is what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh very correctly told the sixteenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) in Bhutan this week. The challenge before Saarc, Dr Singh said, is to "translate institutions into activities, conventions into programmes, official statements into popular sentiments". No one will disagree with Dr Singh that summit declarations cannot substitute for regional cooperation and integration on the ground of which there is still very little evidence in South Asia. The Indian prime minister's view that regional cooperation should enable freer movement of people, goods, services and ideas and that, in the specific South Asian context, would have to be based on a shared view of the future, if not the past, is well taken. If Saarc's glass remains half empty, or half full depending on how one would like to see it, it is because the process of regional cooperation has not yet found an emotional connect among the people of the region. Saarc is a body in search of a soul. Official-level meetings and government-sponsored events and organisations alone do not create a regional association.

Any successful regional group needs a shared security concern or increased people-to-people (P2P) and business-to-business (B2B) linkages. These generate the required emotional connect. Organisations like Asean and the EU came out of shared security concerns during the Cold War era and then moved on to create strong P2P and B2B links. Saarc began as a trade union of India's mid-sized neighbours and has been in perpetual search of a region-wide cause for existence. In recent years, a regional free trade agreement, a regional development fund and a South Asian university have been created. Some infrastructure projects have come up to create links. But bilateral disputes and the growing influence of China haunt the organisation.

 One way out of this low-level equilibrium would be for India to be more proactive in promoting regional integration and India is trying to do that, despite all its domestic economic and political constraints. But the real answers lie beyond economics. Unless India has better political relations with key neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Saarc's glass will remain half empty. What India needs is more out-of-the-box thinking on how to improve relations with its neighbours. Getting Saarc out of South Asia, making it a "Southern Asia" grouping, with China, Iran, Myanmar and whoever else wants to join it, could be one way out. It is a path that a G-20 power like India should feel confident to take. India has gained little from a purely "South Asian" association, it can loose little from an open-ended "Southern Asian" association. In the end, India's challenge is at home. Consistent high growth, increased share of regional and global trade and investment flows, and a more open India will by themselves fill the glass.







As a statutory body regulating medical colleges, their affiliation, new colleges, and doctors' registration, the Medical Council of India (MCI) is the guardian of ethical practices in the medical profession. It is mandated with maintaining the highest standards of integrity and answerability to consumers and the nation. Its very own code of ethical conduct for the medical profession prevents the realisation of any personal benefit in cash or kind from entities that may benefit from recommendations and practices of the profession. But Ketan Parekh, its own president, stands accused of accepting bribes from a medical college. Personal propriety aside, there are a host of accusations against the MCI of not carrying out its responsibilities in a manner desired. Consequently, quality of many colleges is suspect; protection against poor practices of doctors is more or less absent; and the list of registered practising doctors has errors of omission and commission. The MCI is a professional body consisting of membership from within the profession. But interest groups and lobbies have taken it over and that has impacted transparency, un-biasedness and professionalism. It is quite apparent that the MCI needs to be reformed if India is to meet its health goals in the near future.

Who will regulate this regulator? The ability of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is itself suspect, otherwise things would not have come to this pass. Creating a new public health entity that oversees the whole sector is not necessarily the solution; for the same regulatory takeover by established interest groups and lobbies is possible there as well. While we grapple with practical solutions to this problem, there are a range of actions that can reduce its scale and scope. Each of these lies in the realm of greater transparency. First, the list of registered doctors needs to be made up-to-date. Other professional regulatory bodies, such as the Dental Council of India, are already conducting such an exercise. Second, such a list needs to be made easily accessible via the Internet, where details of every single registered practitioner are available to the public. Third, up-to-date status of every single medical college — where it has met the norms, where it has not, where improvements are required, the quality of its output etcetera — is put in the public domain. Fourth, the status of complaints against registered practitioners and the action taken on past complaints also needs to be made transparent. Last, within the profession itself, there are many voices calling for better functioning of the MCI, and these voices need to be provided a public forum.

Greater transparency cannot solve all the problems of the MCI, and ultimately it would require the profession and the government to work hand in hand. They will need to identify and implement the right set of checks and balances within the structure of professional self-regulation as has been outlined in India's Constitution. Greater transparency, a higher degree of professionalism and commitment to professional values on the part of doctors and health care institutions would help and by themselves promote reform.








Greece will default on its national debt. That default will be due, in large part, to its membership of the European Monetary Union. If it were not part of the euro system, Greece might not have gotten into its current predicament and, even if it had gotten into its current predicament, it could have avoided the need to default.

Greece's default on its national debt need not mean an explicit refusal to make principal and interest payments when they come due. More likely would be an IMF-organised restructuring of the existing debt, swapping new bonds with lower principal and interest for existing bonds. Or, it could be a "soft default" in which Greece unilaterally services its existing debt with new debt rather than paying in cash. But, whatever form the default takes, the current owners of Greek debt will get less than the full amount that they are now owed.

 The only way that Greece could avoid a default would be by cutting its future annual budget deficits to a level that foreign and domestic investors would be willing to finance on a voluntary basis. At a minimum, that would mean reducing the deficit to a level that stops the rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio.

To achieve that, the current deficit of 14 per cent of GDP would have to fall to 5 per cent of GDP or less. But to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio to the 60 per cent level prescribed by the Maastricht Treaty would require reducing the annual budget deficit to just 3 per cent of GDP — the goal that the eurozone's finance ministers have said Greece must achieve by 2012.

Reducing the budget deficit by 10 per cent of GDP would mean an enormous cut in government spending, or a dramatic rise in tax revenue — or, more likely, both. Quite apart from the political difficulty of achieving this would be the very serious adverse effect on aggregate domestic demand and, therefore, on production and employment. Greece's unemployment rate is already 10 per cent, and its GDP is already expected to fall at an annual rate of more than 4 per cent, pushing joblessness even higher.

Depressing economic activity further through higher taxes and reduced government spending would cause offsetting reductions in tax revenue and offsetting increases in transfer payments to the unemployed. So, every planned euro of deficit reduction delivers less than a euro of actual deficit reduction. That means that planned tax increases and cuts in basic government spending would have to be even larger than 10 per cent of GDP in order to achieve a 3 per cent-of-GDP budget deficit.

There simply is no way around the arithmetic implied by the scale of deficit reduction and the accompanying economic decline: Greece's default on its debt is inevitable.

Greece might have been able to avoid that outcome if it were not in the eurozone. If Greece still had its own currency, the authorities could devalue it while tightening fiscal policy. A devalued currency would increase exports and cause Greek households and firms to substitute domestic products for imported goods. The increased demand for Greek goods and services would raise Greece's GDP, increasing tax revenue and reducing transfer payments. In short, fiscal consolidation would be both easier and less painful if Greece had its own monetary policy.

Greece's membership in the eurozone was also a principal cause of its current large budget deficit. Because Greece has not had its own currency for more than a decade now, there has been no market signal to warn Greece that its debt was growing unacceptably large.

If Greece had remained outside the eurozone and retained the drachma, the large increased supply of Greek bonds would cause the drachma to decline and the interest rate on the bonds to rise. But, because Greek euro bonds were regarded as a close substitute for other countries' euro bonds, the interest rate on Greek bonds did not rise as Greece increased its borrowing — until the market began to fear a possible default.

The substantial surge in the interest rate on Greek bonds relative to German bonds in the past few weeks shows that the market now regards such a default as increasingly likely. The combination of credits from the other eurozone countries and lending by the IMF may provide enough liquidity to stave off default for a while. In exchange for this liquidity support, Greece will be forced to accept painful fiscal tightening and falling GDP.

In the end, Greece, the eurozone's other members, and Greece's creditors will have to accept that the country is insolvent and cannot service its existing debt. At that point, Greece will default.

The author is a professor of economics at Harvard, was chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors and president of the National Bureau for Economic Research © Project Syndicate, 2010  







Around 40 per cent of India's exports — about $70-75 billion a year — are made by small- and mid-sized companies. Most of them usually simply convert their inward remittances at spot, paying a spread of at least 50 paise over the inter-bank rate, particularly in the smaller cities and towns. In some cases, they may be using their Exchange Earners' Foreign Currency (EEFC) accounts, but I would imagine that cash flow being crucial in most small companies, they mostly opt for conversion at whatever rate they can get.

 Again, very few of these companies know very much about hedging and, in any case, most would not have forward limits in place. Thus, they not only get hit with the risk that the currency may move unfavourably, but also end up paying a significant charge at the bank interface. This doubtless renders them less competitive and, in many cases, brings them under constant threat of collapse.

The currency futures market, if properly reconfigured, could address at least one of these critical business problems.

Consider a small handicrafts exporter from Moradabad. Say, he has a $30,000 export order, which he has concluded when the dollar/rupee is at 46. After packing and shipment, he expects to receive the payment in a month. Say further, that he understands how to use futures markets and has the capability of managing the cash flow risk; so, he sells his dollars in the futures market at, say, 46.25. Assume the rupee starts to strengthen after this and rises to 45 at the maturity of the contract. Since the current structure of the market doesn't permit delivery, he squares off his contract (at 45 rupees) at settlement, and collects Rs 37,500 (46.25 minus 45.00 = 1.25 mark-to-market gain per dollar) from his margin account.

In parallel, he sells his dollars to his bank, but here, since he is a small player with little or no leverage, he has to settle for the card rate, which is, say, 44.25 per dollar. Thus, his final realisation is 45.50 (44.25 for his spot sale to the bank plus 1.25 on his futures hedge) — not only lower than his hedged price but also than the rate that prevailed when he concluded the export order.

This is the hard reality.

To alleviate this problem, RBI and Sebi should modify the structure of the currency futures market to permit settlement by delivery of dollars ONLY from an EEFC account. Then, rather than squaring off his futures contract, our friend in Moradabad would simply settle the contract by delivering his EEFC dollars to the clearing house. The clearing house would give him 45 rupees per dollar (less perhaps 1 or 2 paise to cover its own costs); adding his 1.25 gain on the futures hedge, he would end up with 46.23 or 46.24, a rate almost exactly at his hedged rate.

If use of currency in EEFC accounts were expanded to include settlement of futures contracts, and the receipt of dollars by the clearing house were recognised as a current account transaction, the clearing house would simply have to sell the delivered dollars in the market, without any further regulatory ado. Given that the clearing house would be a large, well-capitalised company, it would not pay more than ¼ or ½ paise as transaction spread when it sold dollars to the bankers. In effect, this model would enable the small exporter to leverage the credit quality and market access of a large organisation, enabling him to realise much better value for his exports.

Domestic currency futures were doubtless permitted to fulfil the needs of the small exporter community. While the regulators have never come out and said it this clearly, I can't imagine any other reason for allowing this instrument. Markets should not be created to provide an arena for speculation, although speculators are necessary for a successful market. Markets should be created to enable price discovery and risk management for actual users.

So, while the initiative was well-founded, and while the start-up has been successful insofar as the market has been reasonably liquid, to my mind the currency futures market has not yet addressed a real need. The modification suggested here is, in my view, a necessary condition for making this market more relevant.

Of course, a lot more would have to be done in terms of educating small exporters in the nuances of risk management and in effective utilisation of their EEFC accounts. Perhaps intermediaries could be permitted, although we would have to guard against price gouging there as well. In any event, the regulators should, at least, take the first step and permit settlement of currency futures contracts by delivery from EEFC accounts.







So we have it from Stephen Hawking (and not just Steven Spielberg) that ET isn't merely a pink newspaper that exists on Planet Earth — it's got a universal presence. In fact, though we thought we just had avatars in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune, but apparently Hawking also firmly believes that ET certainly exists in many other parts of the universe's 100 billion galaxies — in planets, stars or simply floating in the vacuum of deep space. The crucial difference between us and other ETs is that they are not likely to be as friendly and open to communication as we are. Indeed, the most famous authority on space and theoretical physics says in a new documentary that Earthlings should not be too keen to make contact with those critters. Professor Hawking avers that the more insidious ETs from elsewhere might be merely interested in raiding the Earth for its resources, in the best tradition of Martian Invasion movies. Unlike the pink ET you all look forward to every morning, we may add.

Nasa naturally begs to disagree with the scientist-seer, as trying to communicate with other worlds is part of its mission, even if it has not been as lucky as Hrithik Roshan in Koi Mil Gaya. Aliens have additional backing, for example from Britain's Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees. He says that ETs may exist in forms that the human brain cannot even conceive of, let alone comprehend. Luckily, the ET you know has nothing unintelligible about it; it's easy to see, easy to understand — and isn't looking to gobble you up either. Not that there is any danger of vast numbers of humans tempting sundry life-forms billions of light years away to come Earthwards, as making contact with those ET variants is not as easy as sending an email to







The latest estimates show that output in the core sectors — consisting of crude oil, petroleum refining, coal, electricity, cement and finished steel — grew 7.2% in March (over the like period last year). It should suggest buoyant overall growth in the offing. But strong correlation cannot be taken for granted, given the tertiary sector skew in value-added growth. In any case, the six infrastructure industries have just about 26.7% weightage in the index of industrial production. Note that core sector growth was a lacklustre 4.7% for February (year-on-year), yet the overall industrial output was up by a strong 15.1% for the month. March's credible show is also statistical optics; it comes on top of a weak 3.3% growth in core sector output last March. Besides, the fact remains that core sector growth is but a coincident indicator of current output, sales, etc. In an increasingly complex economy, we need more indicators.

India needs an official leading indicators index, to better gauge early growth trends, even as we have some such indices developed by non-government agencies. The objective ought to be to better monitor the Indian economy, detect early warning signals and firm up proactive policy in response. Leading indicators can include placement of new orders, intention to build and changes in profitability, etc. In tandem, what's called for is a suitable lagging index, encompassing levels of stocks, utilisation of sanctioned loans, the going rates of interest, etc., to clarify and confirm the emerging pattern in economic activity. Leading indicators come up before coincident indicators, which in turn are tabulated before lagging indicators. A composite index of the three indices would represent the broad industrial economy, able to iron out measurement errors due to statistical biases, cyclical trends and the like. Note that the indicator approach to macroeconomic measurement has a long and successful track record abroad. In the US, for instance, the National Bureau of Economic Research was formed back in 1920 to address issues of measurement.







The 16th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which has reached an agreement on services at Thimpu, could be a milestone. The forum can either shed some of its aura of inefficacy or continue to be seen as an underachiever. Much of the reason for that is Saarc being stuck within the India-Pakistan equation. Even now, the meeting between the Indian PM and his Pakistani counterpart, which took place yesterday, has been the centre of much attention, almost to the exclusion of other things on the agenda. The forum has thus been painfully slow to get down to the business of implementation.

India must proactively set about changing that state of affairs. As PM Manmohan Singh said in his address on the first day of the summit, the problem is that while institutions for regional cooperation have been created, they haven't yet been adequately empowered. Saarc must not only be a forum for active regional cooperation but should be envisaged as the vehicle that can enable the region's economies, policies and people to integrate better. And while the relationship with Pakistan may continue to cast a shadow, India should seek to push forward on issues like better connectivity with other member countries like Nepal and Bangladesh — the latter, for example, offers a better route of access to the northeast.

Despite the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) becoming operational in 2006, progress has been extremely slow, and Saarc lags behind all other regional trading blocs. India has expressed its intent for an agreement to bring down non-tariff barriers. But in this round, there are expected to be two pacts on environment and trade in services. Other issues like anti-terrorism and education have been discussed, but talks have been stalled due to the Indo-Pak tensions. Even an innovative idea like the South Asian University, which India has shown rapidity in setting up, has been affected with Islamabad expressing concerns over the visa restrictions on its students and scholars. The issues might not be resolved easily, but while seeking a global presence via groups like Bric and Ibsa, India must also take a lead in enabling Saarc's efficacy.








The country's microfinance sector is growing rapidly, has outstanding loan portfolio of Rs 18,000-19,000 crore. Even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has appreciated the micro lenders' ability to reach out to the poor with doorstep facilities. Yet, it has time and again drawn criticism for its corporate governance practices. Their rapid growth has also been cause for concern for many, as unbridled loan growth could lead to a degradation of asset quality. Microfinance practitioners too understand the need to improve governance issues to avoid a possibility of distress in future. Their latest self-regulation drive by putting a code of conduct in place is seen as a move towards this pursuit. Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, founder and managing director of Bandhan Financial Services, one of the leading microfinance institutions (MFIs), gives his perspective on the code of conduct and the way forward.

"All of us have agreed to the code of conduct to strike a balance between our social and commercial goals," says Mr Ghosh, who is also a board member of the new industry organisation MicroFinance Institutions Network and the existing Sa-Dhan. A majority of the MFIs started their journey with a social motive but have eventually turned into more commercially-oriented entities to support the substantial growth that the sector has witnessed so far, he notes, adding that the market was huge and offered plenty of opportunities for new entrants. That's why new investors are coming in a big way with their capital support. Social investors such as the Small Industries Development Bank of India, National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development and multilateral funding agencies like IFC and KfW are ready to invest in the MFI sector. Commercial investors like private equity funds too are exploring every possibility to make quick returns. That's why a fine balance between social and commercial aspects of the MFI business is the order of the day, he adds.

"We need to introspect more. Without playing down the need to take a commercial approach to make our business viable, we have to find out whether we are completely shifting away from our social orientation. That is why, we are now stressing upon the concept of responsible credit."

What does it precisely mean? "It means being responsible in credit delivery and that we do not lend more than what borrowers desire or more than their repaying capability. We are telling all MFI members to lend only after proper examination of cash flow of borrowers." Overexposure of loans to a borrower can lead her into a debt trap and the lender would suffer as a result. The MFI code stipulates that not more than three microlenders can lend to a single borrower and their cumulative loan offer should not surpass Rs 50,000 at any point in time. This ceiling is applicable to unsecured loans. MFIs typically offer unsecured loans of small-ticket size to poor women and that's how they make a difference when compared to bank lending.


The code also specifies the need to follow fairness in recovery and it is imperative that MFIs do not use abusive or unethical tactics to collect their dues. "We understand that if any of our practices convey a bad message, then all microfinance players will be in trouble." He admits to gaps in the disclosure mechanism and that, henceforth, MFIs will mention all features of the loan including interest rate, processing fee, security money and insurance premium in the passbook or in the application form.

"But the problem is that the poor do not understand the nitty-gritty of interest rate calculations. They are more interested in knowing their weekly payout. Many of them can't read or write or calculate interest rates, but they can compare and choose their lender. So, it is difficult to con them. But lenders still try to confuse them. We have now stressed on bringing in more transparency in our operation to avoid any misdeed," clarifies Ghosh. The MFI code has also proposed to encourage a grievance redressal system. Their umbrella network will appoint Ombudsmen in each of the six broad regions.

"The microfinance sector is fairly new and is going through an evolution of sorts. The code of conduct aims to improve the life of a small borrower and the way lenders treat their customers. But if anything, it will streamline our practices for the better so that we manage the future challenges well."







 Travel writer, Pico Iyer is known to have said: "... Travel for me is an act of discovery and of responsibility as well a grand adventure and a constant liberation." India Inc which is once again confidently striding overseas and engaging not only in setting up shop overseas but boldly acquiring companies overseas would no doubt agree.

After all, in a flat world and one which is only getting flatter, inorganic growth, especially cross-border growth is essential to emerge as a leader or at least find a firm footing on the global map. We do have astute business leaders who are willing to embark on the overseas expansion road trip, keeping in view their stakeholder's interests. However, the much-desired change in regulations to spur outbound growth remains largely elusive.

Indian companies are expanding their operations worldwide - either through acquisitions or by setting up new companies. A corresponding trend that has emerged is that more and more Indian companies use their overseas subsidiaries to hold offshore investments. One of the principal reasons in doing so is that repatriating funds to India is extremely inefficient from a taxation point of view - foreign dividends when received by the Indian investor company in India are taxed at the normal corporate rate (current of 30%) plus applicable surcharge and cess.

In addition there is economic double taxation, because Indian companies are taxed on dividends received from its overseas subsidiaries without receiving any credit for foreign taxes that were paid by the dividend-paying subsidiary (only a few tax treaties entered into by India, such as those with Mauritius and Singapore provide for underlying tax credit). Developed tax regimes avoid this issue through either providing a tax credit for foreign taxes or by totally exempting the dividend from tax in the recipient jurisdiction. For instance, the UK and Japan last year, introduced legislative changes whereby dividend income received from an overseas subsidiary is not taxed.

In fact, globally there are constant developments in the realm of taxation, to encourage outbound growth. Zenobia Aunt's Singapore attorney friend provided some interesting details. He dropped in last weekend to meet Zenobia Aunty, who is currently recuperating and is housebound.

While he was sipping a cup of Darjeeling tea, he happened to look at this paper and the headlines relating to an overseas acquisition. This sparked off a debate on whether India was really friendly to its overseas investors (domestic companies investing overseas). Our friend, the Singapore attorney, felt India still had a lot to do to catch up.

Jet lagged, he wasn't at this diplomatic best. "The Bandra-Worli sea link, isn't enough", he quipped. This invited glares from all of us and a growl from Spot. Zenobia Aunty was more realistic. While she acknowledges the liberalisation reforms carried out, she still thinks that there is a lot more we can do, or rather must do.

Singapore recently announced its budget proposals which contain some interesting features. A merger and acquisition (M&A ) allowance will be available in respect of transactions that qualify during the five-year period commencing from April 1, 2010. The quantum of the M&A allowance is 5% of the value of the acquisition subject to a cap of Singapore$5 million. This M&A allowance is to be written off by the Singapore company equally over a five-year period. Further stamp duties on transfer of unlisted shares in respect of such qualified M&As will also be remitted subject to the stipulated caps.

The Singapore government has recognised that M&As are a necessary tool for strategic growth and globalisation. The M&A allowance, in the form of a tax writeoff helps defray a portion of the costs of acquisitions. It is simple, because it does not distinguish between interest costs and other costs and hence is

Zenobia Aunty is quick to point out that the RBI has over the years liberalised the provisions relating to outbound investments. The overall limit for outbound investments by Indian companies now stands at 400% of its net worth. However, our tax laws have not been as progressive.

While anti-avoidance provisions are sure to be introduced when the direct taxes code (DTC) comes into play, progressive tax laws must not be ignored. Perhaps a cue can be taken from Singapore, and also from Japan and the UK, which have now exempt foreign dividends repatriated back to the home country. And if we could introduce an M&A write-off, nothing like it.

Recent statistics released by 'Business Monitor International' show that the outbound foreign direct investment as a percentage of GDP in developed countries is 33%. In the BRIC countries it is as follows: Russia (20%); Brazil (10%), China (3%) and India (2.6%). For India to catch up, supportive domestic legislations, especially on the tax front hold the key.







Much has already been written about how competition and regulation of competition, or more correctly, regulation of anti-competitive behaviour, leads to increased allocative efficiencies and consumer welfare. Less, however, seems to have been written on whether the structures of regulation put in place secure these desirable ends. This is particularly true in case of India where independent regulation is of relatively recent origin and is still evolving. It is, therefore, of immense importance that the structures of regulation put in place in different sectors be put under both intellectual as well as public scrutiny to see whether they are truly independent and empowered to regulate anti-competitive behaviour. It will be worthwhile to take a close look at the state of regulation in the petroleum and natural gas (PNG) sector, which has been consistently in the news of late.

The PNG sector consists of four sub-sectors: exploration and production of PNG, oil refining and marketing, natural gas transportation and marketing, and crude oil and petroleum products pipelines. Of these four, the first, referred to as upstream, is supposed to be regulated by the directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH) while the remaining three downstream sectors fall under the domain of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board of India (PNGRB).

The DGH was created by a government resolution in 1993 and was posited as the regulator of the upstream sector. Nothing could be farther from truth. It is neither independent nor a regulator. When the instrument of creation, an order of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas (MoPNG), derives its genesis from a mere resolution rather than a statute, then independence would remain an illusory concept. The DGH operates under direct and complete administrative control of the ministry. It functions with the assistance of an advisory council and members of the council and staff of the DGH are appointed on deputation/tenure basis by the ministry in consultation with the DGH. In terms of its mandate, the DGH is predominantly an advisory, rather than a regulatory body.

As per the MoPNG order, the DGH has been mandated to regulate only one area -the preservation, upkeep and storage of data and samples pertaining to petroleum exploration, drilling, production of reservoirs, etc. - and to cause the preparation of data packages for acreages on offer to companies. In all other areas relating to various aspects of exploration and production, it is only supposed to advise the MoPNG. In reality, therefore, it is the ministry that regulates the upstream sector, with the DGH virtually functioning as an advisory wing of the ministry.

Competition in the market place is strengthened when firms derive psychological comfort from the twin securities of clear policies (on pricing, sale etc) and independent regulation. Unfortunately, in the upstream sector, there is complete void on these two fronts. Amidst the claims and counter-claims of failure and success of the Nelp-VIII, the fact remains that the void referred to above will be considered by firms as a major deterrent both to placing of bids as well as to post-bid dispute resolutions. The RIL-RNRL and RILNTPC dispute is merely a manifestation of this void.

The scenario in the downstream sector is vastly different from that in the upstream sector — at least in respect of the structure of regulation. But is the end result any different? Here we have a genuine regulator, owing its existence to a statute and not to a mere resolution. In 2006, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act, 2006, was passed and the PNGRB was notified on October 1, 2006. The PNGRB has been invested with tangible regulatory powers and the statutory nature of its genesis gives it its independence. But despite its powers and independence, it is the MoPNG that seems to call the shots in the regulatory space. Nothing illustrates this better than the strange situation in the fixation of prices of transportation fuels.

Before March 28, 2002, the marketing and pricing of petroleum products including transportation fuels, namely, motor spirit (MS) and high-speed diesel (HSD), were controlled by the government under a mechanism known as administered price mechanism (APM). The APM was dismantled by a notification dated March 28, 2002, under Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Then, in 2006, the PNGRB came into existence. As a result of these two events, the theoretical position obtaining since October 1, 2006, is that all entities are free to price their products and the PNGRB is to regulate anti-competitive behaviour like predatory pricing. However, strangely, the government (read: MoPNG) still fixes the prices of MS and HSD and the PNGRB appears to be either powerless or disinterested in doing anything about it. How can the government fix these prices now? What is the role of PNGRB?

The above issues have been examined brilliantly in a landmark judgment, dated October 5, 2009, by the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, in Appeal No. 50 of 2009. The judgment, either directly or indirectly, establishes the following positions:

Sections 11(a), 12 and 25 of the PNGRB Act, 2006, together give a wide amplitude to its duties and powers to foster fair trade and fair competition among the entities.

The dismantling of the APM by the notification dated March 28, 2002, was a policy decision that has not been reversed by another policy decision. The government, therefore, cannot fix prices under the garb of policy.

Section 2(x) of the Act specifically provides that it is only the entities that can fix the price and not the government.

The above power given to the entities to fix the price cannot be usurped by the government.

If the prices are to be fixed by the government as a sovereign, then it has to be declared as a public policy after observing formalities as provided under the Constitution.

The PNGRB has so far been a mute spectator and has hardly lived up to the expectations of the firms and the nation at large. And this brings into focus another important observation: that independence may be a necessary condition but is certainly not a sufficient condition for a regulator to be effective.

(The author is director-general of CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition)








ITC's education & stationery products business continues its impressive growth trajectory, emerging as one of the biggest players in the exercise book segment with a market share of over 12%. The company is now evolving brands both for the home turf and export markets. The business has leveraged the ITC's environment-friendly paper, high-end knowledge of printing and its trade marketing expertise to successfully attain leadership. It has recently signed on stylish lefthander Yuvraj Singh and actor Soha Ali Khan as brand ambassadors. ITC's CEO (education and stationery products), Chand Das, shares insights with ET 's Anuradha Himatsingka about how the business is poised to grow in the coming years. Excerpts:

Does the education & stationery industry invest in serious brand-building? Is it one of the least advertised segments?

Education is a hugely advertised segment, whether it's IIPM or NIIT. The education stationery space is definitely awaking to the importance of brand-building. For instance, the pen industry spends nearly Rs 100 crore on advertising and celebrity endorsements represent 5% of industry turnover. All players are slowly expanding product baskets and distribution footprint.

ITC recently roped in Soha Ali and Yuvraj Singh as brand ambassadors. Is it the first instance of an education stationery player looking to make a serious brand-building effort? What's the rationale behind the move for a non-involvement category?

Not really, Sachin endorses Reynolds while Shahrukh is associated with Linc; Dhoni with Cello and Anil Kapoor & Sonam with Mont Blanc. Since the target audience comprises students and young adults, they tend to be easily influenced by youth icons. One in every two consumers enters a stationery store with a brand in mind! Brand ambassadors help in drawing attention in a media cluttered market and in making a brand aspirational. Which is why, the presence of brand ambassadors in this segment has surged.

What's the positioning of ITC's education and stationery brands? What will be the company's advertising strategy in this light?

The 'Classmate' portfolio comprises notebooks, pens, pencils, geometry boxes with more to come. The 'Paperkraft' portfolio consists of copier and printer paper, notebooks, notepads, markers and highlighters. While 'Classmate' is targeted at students, 'Paperkraft' is targeted at executives. The former is positioned as a brand that brings to life the big ideas in you and the latter, as a premium and green offering that empowers you to make a smart choice. Although our products pricing are marginally higher, but the value it offers far outweighs the price premium. We use a combination of ATL (above the line) and BTL (below the line) communication to engage with consumers.

How does ITC arrive at the right kind of look `n' feel for products, especially in a crowded market?

The challenge lies in building a differentiated and superior product in every category at every price-point. This requires consumer insight, product benchmarking & building drivers of differentiation on product, packaging, communication etc. Apart from our in-house team, international market research companies like IMRB International as well as AC Nielsen to get an understanding of consumer insight.

How serious is the challenge of selling premium items in a price-conscious domestic market? How do you take care of regional variations? Is it also a challenge to cater to global needs with the same offerings?

We need a wide assortment to cater to regional preferences. As our footprint expands, we discover new consumer needs. While our thrust is on building brands at home, we will explore opportunities for branded exports this year.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



India's campaign in the third edition of the ICC World T20 Championship — which begins in the West Indies on Friday — will be closely watched. Three years ago the Indians, then led by Rahul Dravid, were among the favourites for the World Cup title they had last won in 1983 under Kapil Dev, but a poorly-managed campaign was cut short early on and the Men in Blue eliminated in the very first round. That event was also marked more for its off-field controversies that culminated with the death of Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmer in Kingston, Jamaica. A world-level tournament returns to the Caribbean under the sceptical gaze of the cricketing world. Having said that, India — champions in the inaugural edition of the T20 Worlds in South Africa — will once again go into the tournament as one of the better-favoured teams based equally on the diehard optimism of their fans as much on the solid preparation almost every member of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's squad has had at the recently-concluded IPL-3. Other than Ravindra Jadeja, who sat out the domestic extravaganza after he was banned for the season having sought to renegotiate his contract midway through its validity, all the other 15 have been in the thick of the action that culminated in the Chennai Super Kings walking away with the title they had first come agonisingly close to at the first IPL final in 2008. At the same time, a host of players from around the world too start the T20 Worlds battle fit for the same reason. Given what happened in 2007 and more recently during the business end of IPL-3 — with off-field battles elbowing the cricket off centrestage — cricket's bosses around the world will be hoping that the quality of the sport on display at St. Lucia, Guyana and Barbados will bring the spotlight back where it belongs. Other than India, defending champions Pakistan must be counted as being among the teams that matter. They may not have had the best of preparation and have been torn apart by infighting, but Pakistan have the best record at the T20 Worlds, having been finalists twice, winning it once and with an enviable 22-7 win-loss record in 30 matches, with one no result. South Africa are always a dangerous team and the core of their team — Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, the Morkel brothers, J.P. Duminy and Ab de Villiers — are all match-fit after IPL-3. The West Indies too have to be reckoned with both as hosts and as a side bursting with talent in the form of skipper Chris Gayle, the big-hitting Keiron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, the super-quick Kemar Roach and the ever-dependable Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan to drive their campaign. England will be the other team to watch out for, and that does not in the least discount the ever-dangerous Australia and even Bangladesh who have some serious ability in the shorter formats of the game, as Dravid discovered in 2007 in Trinidad. Still and all, the calm presence of Dhoni at the helm — as much as his title win with CSK — is a huge plus for India, as is the form of some of his key players. With the organisers at pains to avoid the pitfalls that ensnared the 2007 World Cup, it is to be hoped the calypso flavour of the Caribbean that was so badly missed three years ago will counterpoint some memorable cricket this time.







It looks like India is turning into a house of scandals. Last week, several skeletons tumbled out of the country's closet as allegations were being made of how in the Indian Premier League (IPL) money-laundering took place in the name of cricket and under the garb of "global entertainment".

The question today is not who all were involved, but who among the celebrities are not involved. As the curtain rose on the financiers behind the painted faces, we got a sneak peek at some dubious (Dubai-based) personalities. The drama is just beginning to unfold. But the IPL is not alone. Huge scams break out with every changing season. Last year we had the Satyam scandal. Its chairman B. Ramalinga Raju, who had received many awards for best entrepreneur, best management practitioner etc, turned out to be a crook who had defrauded the government and public of several thousand crores of rupees.

With the Satyam founder in jail, the focus turned to the very institution of auditors. The institution has taken action against the auditors who were alleged to have colluded in the fraud, but what about the institution itself? The shadow of suspicion falls on it too when several cases of auditors not revealing the truth about corporate accounts surface.

Media reports say that other regulatory institutions have also been exposed. During the reign of senior Congress leader Mr Arjun Singh as Union human resources development minister, over 33 private institutions were recognised as "deemed universities". Now the curtain on this series of recognitions has been removed and the resulting exposure of muck has resulted in the University Grants Commission itself coming under the scanner. The regulator for technology institutions, the All-India Council of Technical Education, has already seen chairman Ram Avtar Yadav and secretary Narayan Rao guillotined for their role in awarding recognition to suspect or sub-standard institutions and departments. Mr Rao was caught demanding money to give recognition to an engineering college in Hyderabad.

Every day new fraudsters and scamsters are exposed by the media. The most recent one is the architectural regulator, the Council of Architecture. According to news reports, as many as 28 architects working with the world-famous Charles Correa have petitioned the government against this regulator of architectural education and practice. Apparently, the rot is far more widespread than we thought. The trail of sleaze and subterfuge is widening and reaches the government's altar. The government was revealed to be misusing the recently-installed technology for security agencies to tap the telephone lines of various politicians, including some United Progressive Alliance (UPA) members.

One newspaper reported that the role of the telecom minister, Mr A. Raja, in the high bids for 3G spectrum puts the focus on him once again. Last year he was accused of selling fresh telecom licenses at prices that were determined in 2001 when the mobile phone network was just expanding. The allegation against Mr Raja was that by deciding to sell 2G spectrum at a paltry Rs 1,651 crores to eight operators, he caused a loss of Rs 60,000 crores to the exchequer. But Mr Raja, who comes from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a coalition partner of the UPA-2, is stated to have used his political clout to sit pretty and safe in his chair despite the scandal.

The Congress-led UPA-2 government has let loose the income-tax sleuths on the IPL promoters. But this display of virtue is marred by the fact that all these IPL auctions had been going on for quite some months but the I-T authorities ignored the mystery — Who are they? From where do they bring so much money? Only when the Congress' blue-eyed minister was touched by the dispute were the I-T sleuths unleashed. This leads us to the core of the rot. It is a part of the economic policy that is a wholesale adoption of the American model of growth.

Look at the current controversies in the US involving financial companies like Goldman Sachs and Wall Street stock manipulators and the biggest fraudsters of them all, GM, who is said to have swallowed up to $52 billion of investors' money. US President Barack Obama is fighting Wall Street operators to bring some probity to the American financial markets. Goldman Sachs chief, India-born Rajat Gupta, is alleged to have been accused by US investigators of using insider information to benefit certain people. Financial scandals, sexual shenanigans and corporate rape surface day after day in the US, some even touching the US Congress.

It is significant that from the day the Congress' Bofors scandal hit the headlines, successive Congress or Congress-led governments have all been blackened by scandals. Bofors, Harshad Mehta's market operations, the Bharat Shah scandal, the Sukh Ram residence-turned-treasure house of ill-gotten money, the bribing of some tribal MPs for votes under the Rao government, the deal of its senior leader Natwar Singh's relatives with the Iraqi dictator in the oil-for-dollar scheme and now revelations about favouritism during the days of Mr Arjun Singh as HRD minister and the rot that festered in the educational regulators under him — the list seems endless.

During Jawaharlal Nehru's regime, the first instance of misuse of office occurred with then finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari. This led the Prime Minister to demand Kishnamachari's resignation. But his daughter Indira Gandhi promoted corruption in the name of socialism and secularism. We recall how the Pondicherry licence scandal report implicating the then money-spinner of the Congress government, L.N. Mishra, was kept under wraps despite Opposition pressure to let people know the truth.

The Congress fought tooth and nail to buy time on the Bofors scandal but even the joint parliamentary committee farce did not save it from the people's wrath. However, the time gained enabled some of the accused to transfer their money from one account to another, from one country to another, and finally when after a decade the account was zeroed in on, strange things started emanating from the government in New Delhi that helped the chief accused to cock a snook at the government. The Congress' saga of scams and sleaze is endless. By the time this column appears, the country may have moved on to yet another scam.

* Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at [1]






Among the many complaints I have heard about this unsatisfactory UK election is this one: it is impossible for the general public to get rid of a thoroughly unpleasant, or corrupt, or dangerous politician if he (or she) sits in a safe party seat or in the Lords. Such people can thumb their noses at us, and do. But there could be a thoroughly satisfying way of meeting this need, and one with wider applications than mere politics. The new Parliament, which we all trust will be more responsive than the last one, might consider going back 2,500 years in time and copying from the resourceful ancient Greeks the admirable institution of ostracism.

Most people understand the word but are unfamiliar with the process. I have been going into it while writing my present book, on Socrates and his world. Ostraka, a kind of rubbish, were broken potsherds, just big enough to make a cheap and convenient writing surface. They were used by schoolchildren for their exercises, officials for tax receipts, and the malevolent for casting spells — and for many other purposes. The Greeks used them too, but only in particular circumstances, as voting tablets.

Ostracism was probably introduced in 507 bc by Cleisthenes, the inventor of Athenian democracy, for precisely the reason it could be used to supplement our faltering democracy now. Under his law, the ecclesia or Assembly, the sovereign body of all Athenian citizens, could decide each year whether to hold a vote to ostracise anyone regarded as a public menace. If the vote was positive, the ostraka were piled up outside the entrance to the Assembly, and each citizen was allowed to write on the ostrakon the name of the person he wanted ostracised. These were deposited in a marked-off space in the Agora and counted.

The rule of the institution was that at least 6,000 citizens must vote for the process to be valid. This was a significant percentage of the total male citizen population, perhaps one tenth, and was a valid test of public opinion. The man with the highest number of ostraka against him was then sentenced. The penalty was exile from Athens for 10 years. He did not lose his citizenship or his property, and after 10 years could return with full rights restored. But for a decade he was effectively excluded from Athenian public life. Evidently some felt at times that the period of exile was too long, and it was reduced to five years.

We know the names of most of the people who were ostracised. The first (487 bc) was Hipparchus, believed to support tyranny. In 484 it was the turn of Xanthippus, father of Pericles, and a well-known general. But he was amnestied when Xerxes and his Persian horde invaded. In 482 bc Aristeides, another general-statesman, was ostracised. This showed that no one was beyond the reach of public disapproval, for he was famous for his rectitude and patriotism, and was known as "Aristeides the Just".

A pile of 191 ostraka, dating from the time when Themistocles was ostracised in 471 bc, has been found and investigated carefully. All bear his name but the writing, mysteriously, is in only a few different hands. It may well be that a systematic campaign against Themistocles was organised by his enemies, and that citizens, especially illiterates, were handed potsherds already inscribed with his name as they arrived at the Assembly. Other recovered voting-potsherds show totally unknown names, singly. Evidently some citizens took the opportunity to work off a private grudge, albeit to no purpose. But I suppose it was a stigma of sorts if even a single vote was cast against you, and it was known. Evidently there were frivolous votes too. Plutarch reports that at the time of Aristeides's ostracism, as he was hovering nervously at the entrance to the Assembly, a citizen came up to him, said he could not write, and asked him to put "Aristeides" on his voting-potsherd. Much hurt, Aristeides asked, "Why, what harm has he ever done you?" The man said, "None at all. I don't even know him. But I am sick and tired of always hearing him called 'the Just'".

The last ostracism we know of was in 417 bc, when a demagogue called Hyperbolus, a lampmaker by trade — much disliked by the comic playwright Aristophanes — who was trying to organise the ostracism of Nicias or Alcibiades, found himself voted out. After that we hear no more of such votes, though the law was never repealed, I think.
If we adopted the institution here, there would be no need to see politicians as the only potential victims. Nor would exile necessarily be the most suitable punishment. Obviously a successfully ostracised man or woman would lose the right to sit in either House of Parliament for a fixed period, or to vote, or to occupy an office of profit under the crown, such as a quango job. To this I would add the right to sit on the board of a public company or to represent Britain in sport or — perhaps the biggest punishment of all — to appear on TV or in other mass-media.

Obstracism could be directed not merely against politicians but against horrible sportsmen, foul-mouthed entertainers, greedy businessmen and bankers, nasty writers (including militant atheists), objectionable members of the royal family or indeed any of those tiresome celebrities and busybodies who grin at us safely from the newspapers.






 "The further east one goes", wrote the chronicler, "the more elephants there are". Given how central the great beasts have been to warfare in this continent for two-and-a-half millennia, this was, to put it simply, an observation that mattered. That elephants thin out in numbers and dwindle down to nothing as the rainfall declines with the path of the monsoon in north India is widely known.

But its consequences are less apparent at first glance. The writer of the quote above was a prince in search of fame, territory and fortune. The lands east of the Indus gave him all and more. His name was one to reckon with, not only as conqueror but also as a naturalist: Zia ud din Muhammad Babar.

Elephants fascinated him: their power and prowess in fields of battle had to be seen to be believed. Villagers near Kalpi and Manikpur earned a living by catching and taming them. Here, Babur had revenues that would not be taken in cash or grain, but in captive elephants. Thirty-odd villages gained from this.
The India of Babur or for that matter his successors had room for elephants and much more. Recent estimates of populations of the Mughal Empire reckon about 114 million people in India. This meant less than one in four acres was permanently tilled or cultivated. Vast stretches of forest, savannah and scrub dominated much of central and north India. The central region was Gondwana and large areas were known to harbour elephants.

Jahangir in the 17th century's first two decades had as many as seven drives to catch elephants in Gujarat, in its southern reaches, where tigers were still extant till a few decades ago. The Timurid rulers (as they called themselves) were much enamoured of elephants. As many as five men looked after one and favourites like the magnificent tusker Gajraj were portrayed by ateliers.
No one needs reminding of the huge changes in the land in the last two centuries. Not only have forests shrunk in size, the animals have vanished from regions and places where they were well known as parts of the landscape. Yet, though so much is taken, much still abides.

India is among the few Asian countries where elephants might still have a chance of survival, provided enough habitat stays intact. Babur would have sympathised with its plight. "An elephant", he sagely observed, "eats as much as two strings of camels".

He may not have known its fate was worse in a country as rich and significant as India in the pre-modern era: China. The premier historian of that country's rich ecological pasts, Mark Elvin set out to write a millennium long account of change. He did what anyone with such a rich record of written sources would do. He covered not one but 4,000 years. The title is a giveaway: The Retreat of Elephants (Yale University press, 2004).

Whereas in India, the Mughals and their successors were heirs to a centuries-old tradition of elephant craft, the last instance of the use of the animals in warfare in China was in 1662. Classical texts speak of the delicacy of an elephant's trunk and describe how best to cook it, something unknown in mainland India (though not in the Northeast).
But the retreat had less to do with courtly gastronomy and more to do with the larger economic changes. Writing as early as 1087, a poet wrote of Jiangsu province, "In the southern hills, rest and return to life, wait the forests of chestnuts/Yet iron, stubborn ore from the hills to the north, will be no trouble to smelt". Iron ore mining versus forest ecologies: this could be a manual from our own century.

But more than that there was the growth of Han peasant agriculture. There has been a 3,000-year war of humans versus the animals. The latter's retreat is inversely proportional to the advance of the rice-based Han peasant agriculture. Chinese farmers and elephants do not mix.

Of course, trapping vast numbers for captive use was a drain on the herds in India. India too has seen a great expansion of cultivated arable at the expense of forest.

Human struggles in the past were a matter of life and death. China's riches rested on the extinction of wild lands, while Indian rulers saw such lands as a source of strategically valuable assets: war elephants. This even influenced the British who in the 1870s enacted laws to protect them in British India for sound imperial reasons.
These dilemmas are not only from yesteryears. Nearly half-a-millennium after Babur, how and whether Asia reconciles human existence with nature's survival is a question that stares us in the face.

Peasant agriculture at the forest's margins in much of India and some times well beyond has to contend with the mobile mega-herbivores. Elephants in China are a "ghost species", so few are left that the memory of them is wider than their actual presence. Zhou Se in 3rd century Sichuan wrote of "rhinoceros striving with elephant — to determine who canters more swiftly", but the animals are gone. Only verse remains.

India fared better than China in this respect in the past, but will it continue to do so? The world's eyes may be on Asia for its phenomenal rise in economic terms, but much of the challenge is on how we reconcile this vast creation of wealth with a new and stable peace with nature.

What better place to begin than with the continent's largest land mammal so "huge and intelligent" that its fate might well mirror our own?

* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of the book Making Conservation Work







There is a draft Seeds Bill in Parliament which could be enacted any day now. The new Seeds Bill, drafted originally in 2004, will replace the old Seed Act of 1966 which was meant to set standards for trading in seed. The conditions of seed production have undergone a sea change in the last 25 years, with a growing presence of the seed industry. Earlier, seed production was largely in the hands of the public sector. So a new Seeds Act is needed to respond to the altered conditions. A law regulating the seed trade is necessary to ensure that farmers are protected against spurious seeds and that seed producers are obliged to put into the market only seeds of good and reliable quality. But the current Seeds Bill is not the new law that this country requires. It favours the seed industry and is against the interests of farmers.

The Seeds Bill is structurally flawed and bad in principle. This is because it has strayed from its original mandate of setting standards for the seed that will be traded and has attempted to meddle in affairs which belong in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) legislation. The seed industry, which has been angry over the pro-farmer provisions of the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFR), has attempted to reclaim ground by getting the PPVFR provisions overtaken by the provisions of the Seeds Bill. The draft Seeds Bill undoes many of the pro-farmer provisions of the PPVFR .

The Seeds Bill requires mandatory registration of the varieties/seeds which the PPVFR does not. In the PPVFR, the breeder applies for registration for a Plant Breeders Right. This right is valid for a period of 15 years for crop varieties and 18 years for trees. The Seeds Bill allows the period of protection to be doubled so that the seed variety can be protected by the seed producer for 30 years and 36 years respectively. This extension of the seed owner's right will allow monopolies to be established.

A serious shortcoming of the bill is the failure to include a provision that would make it mandatory to declare the parentage (passport data) of the new seed that is developed and for which registration is sought under the law. This is not only shoddy science, it is also unethical because it would allow the seed industry breeders to use crop varieties developed by farmers and public sector scientists without acknowledging the source. This amounts to theft. It also means that no opportunities for benefit sharing are in place post commercialisation and profit making. Not declaring passport data will make the new variety a black box. This will facilitate unrestricted commercialisation of varieties in the public domain, including farmer varieties, by private parties. It also will permit the industry to use farmer varieties without paying the mandated fee for such use into a National Gene Fund designated for the purpose, under the PPVFR.

In the case of the Seeds Bill, the registered varieties will be made known to the public only through periodic publications. The public has no opportunity to object to a new variety for any reason. This lack of transparency could mean that varieties of dubious performance could get registered without giving people a chance to oppose such grants.
Unlike the PPVFR which allows legitimate opposition to the grant of a registration for a new variety before registration is granted, the Seeds Bill has, despite several appeals from civil society, refused to accommodate a provision for pre-grant opposition. Enlightened law-making in many parts of the world, including our own, now allows the public an opportunity to record its objections to the grant of certain legal rights like patents. Gene Campaign has been pushing for a pre-grant provision in the Seeds Bill so that if a seed company was wanting to register a seed which had used material from other, unauthorised sources, objections could be raised. But the government, anxious to please the seed industry, refuses to include a provision for pre-grant opposition.

Because the bill does not require the parentage of a variety to be declared, it allows misappropriation of materials belonging to others. The seed industry breeders could in principle have free access to all available genetic diversity of crop plants without having to go through prior informed consent or engaging in benefit sharing. All this amounts to legalising the piracy of valuable genetic materials like elite breeding lines.

Further cause for alarm are the provisions of the Seeds Bill that deal with price control. In the PPVFR, regulation of seed supply and seed price is to be managed through a process of compulsory licensing. This safeguards the interests of the farming community since it places the responsibility of ensuring an adequate seed supply at reasonable price, on the government. The Seeds Bill fails to provide any such protection to the farmer.

There is no mechanism to regulate seed supply or seed price. This could result in a high cost of seeds fixed arbitrarily by the seed companies, leaving the government with no means to control the price. It could also mean that seed providers are under no obligation to ensure a reasonable seed supply to farmers. This will defeat the very rationale that had kept seed production in the public sector so far. The government's new mantra of allowing market forces to "rationalise" seed production could strike at the foundation of national food security and farmer livelihoods. Seed producers, whether in the public or private sector, must be compelled to ensure that seed is available to every farmer in every agro-ecological zone in the country.

The liability and compensation provisions of the PPVFR that allowed farmers to be compensated for spurious or poor quality seeds, has been dispensed with in the Seeds Bill. Instead a compensation committee has been constituted. A straightforward insurance package linked to the seed would be a system that would work far better for farmers. If the seeds did not perform, the insurance claim would become automatic.

The stringent punishment and large penalties for violating the law that was put in as a deterrent against bad seeds in the PPVFR, have been reduced to a token.The penalties for violation under the Seeds Bill are so low (Rs 5,000) that even if someone is caught stealing public sector material or that belonging to farmers, the punishment is practically non-existent. The current Seeds Bill, rather than protecting the farmers, opens up avenues allowing the seed industry to steal their material.

* Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on thefaculty of the Universities
of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the Gene Campaign






Three stonecutters were breaking stones for building a temple. When asked what they were doing, one said, "I'm breaking stones". Said the second, "I'm working for wages to support my family". Singing as he sweated, the third said, "I'm building God's temple!" While all three were doing the same work, only one enjoyed it, working for the sheer joy of creating something for God, with God. The Bible not only stresses that human beings ought to work, but that God also works and we must cooperate with God to build a beautiful world.

Ancient Greco-Roman thinkers considered labour demeaning. Aristotle's "perfect man" would not soil his hands with work. Xenophon advised people to alternate blows with food to extract work from slaves. Cicero and Virgil preferred a life of honourable indolence to manual work. Seneca held that nature supplied life's necessities; therefore, the trades were unnatural and despicable. He said: "Non desiderabis artifices, sequere naturam!" meaning, "Don't depend on craftsmen, follow nature!" By contrast, the Bible considers work as being natural and willed by God.

The Book of Genesis tells us that God worked to create the world; and, like a potter, moulded man with his own hands (Genesis 2:7). God then placed man in the Garden of Eden "to till it and keep it" (2:15). Man and woman are created to care for all creatures, toiling and tilling the earth, making it bear fruit. The lazy man is advised "to observe the ways of the ant and learn wisdom from her" (Proverbs 6:6) and the industrious housewife is praised for "she works with willing hands… cares well for her household and does not eat the bread of idleness" (Proverbs 31:13, 27).

Watching ants work is absorbing, much as being as busy as bees could be rewarding. But, busy bees and enterprising ants are neither aware that they're working nor will they ever build better beehives and anthills simply because they're incapable of self-reflection. You and I, however, are free to work or to rest, to reflect upon our work and to rejoice in its recompense, to create and to innovate. And when we labour with love, we gift to society not merely some product, but our deepest selves.

International Workers' Day is celebrated on May 1 to commemorate the toil of millions of workers, worldwide, whose work sustains and sanctifies society. Be it in Parliaments or on pavements, the worth of one's work is neither judged by the influence it exerts nor the income it earns, but by one's disposition of being selfless and joyful. How sweet the sweat of one who tills the land as if every grain of rice were to be eaten by one's beloved! And how wonderful if one could see one's work rise up as worship!

Although some Christians do not venerate saints, Catholics celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus on May 1. Joseph was a diligent worker — a carpenter, to be precise. In times when trades were passed on from father to son, Jesus was publicly recognised as being "the carpenter's son" (Matthew 13:55). Joseph and Jesus must've worked very hard as any craftsman in their day would. The Gospels hardly mention anything about their "worldly work", and emphasise rather the "religious work" that Jesus did: his teachings on God, his life of service, his sacrificial death and resurrection.

Christian communitarian prayer is called "liturgy", from the Greek leitourgein, which primarily means "public service". Indeed, one simply cannot divorce "prayer service" from "public service". Work and worship are wedded: true work is worship, and true worship engenders work.

Love and service are two pillars upon which Christianity stands. Jesus proclaimed that he came "not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45). And selflessly serve, he did, throughout his life. Religions refer to work as seva and selfless servers as karsevaks. But, it is not uncommon to meet evaders of work — the proverbial kamchor — who brags about earning lots for working little. Kamchors are, at best, beggars; at worst, thieves. So let's celebrate Workers' Day with a resolve to work hard. Realising that our work is worship, like that stonecutter, while working we could say: "I'm building God's temple!"

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








THE Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008, which came into effect on 2 October 2009, is gradually being implemented across the states. It provides for courts at the level of panchayats or a cluster of panchayats. These courts will deal with specified categories of civil and criminal cases.


This legislative enactment comes at a time when rural mobs in north-western India, operating as "pretender panchayats", have been defining certain crimes, even awarding  summary punishment. These irregular organisations, now widely known in Rajasthan, Haryana and adjoining areas as khap panchayats have for some years been pronouncing punishments on the medieval pattern. They are targeting couples who marry within the same gotra (comprising individuals related through the paternal agnatic lineage up to any degree). The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, limits the prohibition to three generations through the mother's line and five generations through the father's line. This is disregarded by the khap. In its reckoning, a couple belonging to a common gotra are as good as "brother and sister" even if the lineage-relation is not such as to be barred under the Hindu Marriage Act.


These so-called panchayats have also targeted marriage outside caste groups, an attitude that fuels the anti-Dalit violence as witnessed recently in Hissar. The problem is rooted in the fear of the village elders that they are losing control over society. They feel that the young are more assertive thanks to new opportunities and the freedom of choice. 

Extra-legal fiat

A recent khap panchayat meeting raised the demand that the law be amended to bar marriages within a gotra. This is  an admission, if only implicit, that what the khaps have been seeking to enforce is an extra-legal fiat. They ignore the fact that while the existing law bars all marriages within a gotra, it doesn't give the khaps criminal jurisdiction to enforce the "death sentence" that they have been pronouncing from time to time.
Mahatma Gandhi's writings on irregular panchayats call for reflection. In the aftermath of the boycott of British institutions as part of the non-cooperation movement in the 1920s, attempts were made by certain quarters to confer civil and criminal powers upon village elders. Gandhi condemned  the move though he favoured panchayats and spoke of village republics. In Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh, the ostracism of non-conformist families is fairly frequent even now. To sections of these communities, this is one of the mildest punishments. When some panchayats had resorted to social ostracism of political  opponents as part of the non-cooperation movement, Gandhi had warned: "Ostracism of a violent character such as the denial of the use of public wells is a species of barbarism…". (Young India, 8 December 1920). 

"Social boycott in villages", Gandhi iterated 11 years later, "has been found to be a dangerous weapon in the hands of  ignorant or unscrupulous men". According to him, the imposition of fines by panchayats was also undesirable as it "may lead to mischief".  On a visit to Nainital, Gandhi discovered "that in certain places in UP even criminal cases like rape were tried by the so-called panchayats". He wrote: "I heard of some fantastic judgments pronounced by ignorant or interested panchayats". He received a report from Chaparmukh in Assam that some Congressmen had set up a parallel administrative machinery which was imposing fines in criminal cases  and passing decrees in civil suits. "This is bad if it is true. Irregular panchayats are bound to fall to pieces under their own unsupportable weight". (Young India, 28 May 1931). Of course, this would apply to all  kangaroo courts, whether of the reactionary Right or of the extreme Left. 

Gandhi had closely observed the functioning of panchayats, including the irregular ones. He had laid down certain guidelines regarding the powers and duties of panchayats that were formed in the course of the freedom movement. It was stipulated that  they would have no criminal jurisdiction; even their civil jurisdiction should be heavily circumscribed. No one would be compelled to refer any matter to the panchayats. And no panchayat would have any authority to impose fines, "the only sanction  behind its civil decrees being its moral authority, strict impartiality and the willing obedience of the parties concerned".

Gandhi also outlined the duties and constructive work to be performed by such panchayats. These included the education of boys and girls in the village, sanitation, medical needs, cleanliness of  wells and ponds and the uplift of  the so-called Untouchables.  Discussing the sanction behind the orders made by such panchayats, Gandhi raised an issue that political theorists would call the question of legitimacy: "Where a panchayat is really popular and increases its popularity by the constructive work of the kind suggested, it will find its judgments and authority respected by reason of its moral prestige. And that surely is the greatest sanction anyone can possess and of which one cannot be deprived". (Young India, 28 May 1931).
The Mahatma appealed to the panchayats, whether regular or irregular, not to overreach themselves and instead focus on their own duties relating to the basic needs of the people in their area. This has some bearing not only upon the activities of khap leaders but also on their Left radical counterparts in eastern India.  

Rural courts

THE Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008, has been promulgated in the current khap-dominant scenario. The subjects under the purview of the Gram Nyayalayas may not bring them into direct conflict with khap leaders in the north-western parts of the country. The introduction of rural courts with some statutory authority should provide a positive counter-weight to the irresponsibility and high-handedness of khap panchayats. 
The Gram Nyayalayas will not be able to try cases involving offences punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. However, certain features of the Gram Nyayalayas Act will give rise to concern. Having conferred both civil and criminal jurisdiction upon the Gram Nyayalayas, the enactment provides for plea-bargaining in criminal cases. This is plainly dangerous, especially if social pressure forces an innocent suspect to plead guilty to a lesser offence and thereby incriminate himself.  For  similar reasons, the provision made in civil cases that no appeal would lie  from a Gram Nyayalaya's order if it is passed with the "consent" of parties, seems too sweeping. An appellate court ought not to be prevented from inquiring into the question whether the consent of the parties was freely obtained or if it was the result of undue social pressure and whether the final order is  fair to all concerned. How the statutory institutions set up under the Act, are able to function in the eastern parts of the country remains an open question.







EVEN as details of the findings/recommendations of the Rammohan inquiry into Dantewada are awaited ~ some might not be disclosed for operational reasons ~ initial indications of flawed leadership and inadequate coordination suffice to confirm apprehensions that the home ministry has been reluctant to accept: the force was under-prepared. True the particular CRPF unit had anti-Maoist experience in Bihar, but on the ground it proved itself "raw", ignoring even the basics. It would be fair to assume the same holds true of other CRPF units deployed along the Red Corridor. The largest paramilitary organisation is, as the saying goes, a "jack of all trades, master of none". Confirmation of it having come up short in these operations is found in plans to develop a dedicated anti-Naxal force by carving out units from the present paramilitary, imparting specialised training (inducting young men from the conflict zone would help, both in providing valuable local inputs as well as offering employment). Given the now proven "military" prowess of the insurgents, it is apparent that only highly focused forces, a blend of state and central, will deliver. The government will deny an Operation Greenhunt, it cannot back off from having attempted a counter-offensive. In the absence of any dramatic success that negates the reverse at Dantewada, one conclusion is that the offensive was launched in haste.
History educates. Even no-nonsense Indira Gandhi took the advice of Manekshaw-Jacob (or was it the other way around?) and abandoned proposals for politically-preferable military action in March 1971 till the forces geared themselves to script a "classic" that December.  

Chidambaram talks in terms of years, so he must give his forces time to prepare. Time, admittedly, is precious when the Maoists are holding sway. Hence the immediate tactical doctrine must be to contain them, put a multi-state cordon of sorts in place across the affected zone, choke supplies. Then, as quality forces become available, move gradually forward with their escape routes plugged. With development task forces working just behind the frontline, and political action by way of back-up. That calls for patience, coordination, determination. If the situation is as grave as the Prime Minister depicts, it is vital to put pride and prestige aside and get hands dirty. This one won't be won by being "smart", or articulate in Parliament!



THE disruptive negativism is uniquely Bengal where any development project can be hamstrung by inter-party rivalry. The East-West Metro, a Centre-State joint venture with Japanese funding, entails no acquisition of land or displacement of  people, let alone the payment of compensation. And yet the railway minister's overriding anxiety to secure brownie points alone explains why  Eastern Railway has been dragging its feet over the handing over of sites for the construction of underground stations at Sealdah and Howrah. Not that the state has defaulted in making the payments to the Railways; work orders have been issued at a value of Rs 937 crore for Howrah and Rs 909 crore for Sealdah. Even the shifting of utilities, a prerequisite for the construction of underground stations, has not been carried out despite a total payment of Rs 5 crore on this account. There is no explanation yet as to why the sites have not been handed over. Is Miss Banerjee buying time till her prospects of becoming chief minister materialise? A not dissimilar attempt at procrastination was manifest in the Trinamul's second thoughts on the Presidency University Bill. Happily, the Chief Minister had his way. The Opposition's tactical line to stall development may well be unacceptable to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is providing the funds.   


The political cold-shouldering would be anathema no less to parties in any other state, including the BJP's Gujarat. Political enmity can be bad economics. The Railway ministry ought to realise that any delay will entail the payment of compensation to the foreign lender.

And the net result can be deleterious. It will lead to an inevitable hike in the total cost outlay, make nonsense of the 2014 deadline and drive an urban transportation project almost literally off the rails. In the net, the impact of the delay may necessitate another Planning Commission review of the outlay. Not that there exist critical issues that need to be sorted out. The deadlock is contrived. The Japanese sponsors must be shaking their heads in disbelief over what is essentially a clash of political egos. Once again, one must add, uniquely Bengal.

Get talking Centre, Ulfa must change tack


AFTER the exchange of useful and extensive views by prominent Assamese citizens at a state-level convention in Guwahati on 24 April, it was concluded that the preconditions set by both the Centre and the Ulfa stood in the way of any direct contact and needed to be done away with. This is a very relevant suggestion, what with both sides continuing to justify their respective stands. While Ufla self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua ~ the only "big fish" not in the net ~ and his colleagues now in jail stick to their demand for sovereignty, the Centre insists on negotiations only within constitutional parameters. It has even sought a formal letter from Ulfa leaders committing themselves to talks. It is clear that unless a neutral team steps in to get the two sides together there is little possibility of any direct contact. The recent formation of the citizens' forum in this respect deserves support and encouragement if it is to achieve its objective. But even as the forum's peace initiative was being circulated, Barua tried to pre-empt it by saying there would be no talks unless the core issue of sovereignty was taken up. If Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's reaction ~ "let there be no personal views on the question of sovereignty" ~ is anything to go by, the last word on this issue has not been said yet and the final decision rests with the outfit's central committee.  

Barua's belligerence and rejection of realistic courses suggests he is not ready for any constructive dialogue. But his colleagues in jail are far too uncomfortable in their present set-up and the least the Centre can do now is free them. If two of them faced with serious charges could be granted bail, why not the others? Safe passage for Barua is justified and only after this gesture is spurned can the top leaders decide a future course. One man alone cannot stop the restoration of peace in Assam.








SIR, ~  After the outrages in Silda and Dantewada, I was amazed at the manner in which the security forces were outflanked by the Maoists. The home minister, P Chidambaram, spelt out the government's plans to tackle the extremists. The Maoists, we were told, had scant regard for democracy. To substantiate his argument, he quoted Maoist literature in which Parliament has been referred to as a pig's sty.   

Yesterday, I watched the Lok Sabha proceedings on television. The Opposition had brought a cut-motion on the price rise. It was defeated ostensibly because of the excellent floor management by the Congress. One was amazed at the behaviour of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both had vehemently opposed the price rise. Yet at the crucial juncture, they stepped out of the House and abstained from voting. So who actually helped the government defeat the cut-motion? They are Mayawati, Mulayam, Lalu and Sibu Soren. And what is the common strand that binds these politicians? The CBI is enquiring into corruption cases against them.
For the first time in my life, I am having doubts about the functioning of our democracy. When the Maoists describe Parliament as a pig's sty, I guess they have a point.

;Yours, etc., RR Singh,

Durgapur, 28 April.

Doomed to fail

SIR, ~ It was a foregone conclusion that the cut-motion would fail.  Even before the introduction, the position would have been clear if one had assessed the numerical strength of all the major parties in the Lok Sabha. The combined strength of all the Opposition members would have fallen short by at least 30 votes. The indirect support extended to the government by the RJD, the SP, the JD(U) and the BSP was obviously in return for the Congress willingness to defer the discussion on the Women's Reservation Bill.

;Yours, etc., Arun Malankar,

Mumbai, 28 April.


SIR, ~ This is with reference to the report, "Woman diplomat held, charged with spying for Pak" (28 April). One used to be proud of Nirupama Rao and other lady diplomats in the MEA. But that a Second Secretary in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had been spying for Pakistan for the past two years is as disgraceful as it is distressing. In independent India, Madhuri Gupta's case is probably the first instance of a woman being involved in espionage. It is a crime that cuts across gender. She may have had an axe to grind against the IFS lobby which she claims treats B-category officers shabbily. But that is no provocation to send e-mail messages to Intelligence operatives in Pakistan. She spied for filthy lucre.

;Yours, etc., Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee, Faridabad, 28 April.

Presidency range

SIR, ~ Your editorial "Presidency University" (21 March) compares and contrasts well with your previous comment on 6 December 2009. Both are equally forthright, but subtle. The former gets its message laced with welcome caution, while the latter seems more assertive and sounds prophetic: "The transformation of Presidency from college to university shall hinge hugely on the content of the Bill. Chief among the provisions must be the imperative that aside from matters fiscal, the university is unshackled from the stranglehold of the party or/and government." The second editorial is more assertive in its praise for the Bill.
  However, it has missed out on certain clauses and sub-clauses of the legislation. For instance, Articles 45, 55 and 56 bear unmistakable evidence of what your first editorial warns against ~ in short, the scope and provision for wanton interference of the government or the ruling caucus into the internal affairs of the so-called autonomous Presidency University.


You have rightly hinted at the real motive of "crass self-interest" of the pro-CPM West Bengal Government College Teachers' Association. Their primary interest is a posting in Presidency. You have also correctly examined the Opposition tactic of one-upmanship during the passage of the Bill in the Assembly. That said, you have overlooked our Chief Minister's pioneering one-upmanship while announcing at a public meeting in November 2009 his recommendation for Presidency University. This was in response to "the famous lady of Bengal's" crying foul in public in September 2009 over the state government's abject failure in granting autonomy to Presidency College. You have correctly gauged the Opposition gameplan of "delaying" the process of the Bill to become an Act.   


;Yours, etc., Rabindranath Banerjee, (Retired Professor and Head, Department of Philosophy, Presidency College),
Kolkata, 25 March.






 'Poverty cannot increase in our country and it can only decrease," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said emphatically a few days before the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. Less than a year later, his government has accepted the Tendulakar Committee report and pushed up the Below Poverty Line to 37.2 per cent from 27.5 per cent. Although this upward revision is specifically for food security purposes, it can be described as very timely. With this decision over 100 million families will come the under food security net.


There has been, as usual, initial dithering in the Planning Commission with regard to the poverty level. The mandarins in Yojna Bhavan negated earlier reports of commissions and committees formed at the behest of various ministries besides the judiciary. For example the National Commission on Enterprises in Unorganised Sector found that 77 per cent of the people lived on less than Rs 20 a day. The NC Saxena Committee, the Wadhwa Committee and other such exercises put the poverty line much above the Planning Commission's official figure of 27.5 per cent.

Two years ago when the Global Hunger Index made the startling revelation that India figured at 66 rank among 88 countries in the hunger index and was in "alarming category" and that Madhya Pradesh was in the "extremely alarming" category, it did not unnerve planners. They rather adopted an ostrich-like approach. They were oblivious of the fact that in many countries which were even in the "moderate" category like Egypt, Malaysia and Tunisia had winessed food riots. Several other countries which were in the "alarming" category also faced violent protests. If India did not have the same experience, it was because of its docile "praja" and the habit of relying on fate under the so-called "benevolent" government.

At a time of excruciating hunger, this myth can be exploded. The history of mass movements suggests that public outbursts have small beginnings. Madhya Pradesh and states like the Naxalite-infested Jharkhand, Bihar and Odissa are sitting on a powder keg.

What adds to the misery is food inflation that has touched all-time high of 19.9, putting even the lower middle class in the vulnerable category. This segment is politically active and can erupt any moment.
"Food prices undermine political security which has a strong two-way linkage with food security", according to the International Food Policy Research Institute in a recent report. Food riots occur even in otherwise tame societies like Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Haiti and Pakistan. The government is also oblivious of growing rich-poor divide which can be the main reason for social tensions.

The decision to raise the BPL level to 37.2 would mean nearly more than 10 crore families will have access to food under the new Food Security Act. In simple terms, more than one of the three persons will have such an access to food. A great task ahead! And it all depends on how effectively the state agencies perform the task. At a time when foodgrain reserves have touched an uneconomic 60 million tons and a large portion of it is rotting because of mismanagement, there is hardly any faith in the efficacy of government agencies.
A recent government report suggested that if foodgrain damage caused by the faulty storage system by the FCI and other government agencies is stopped, every family can get 45 kg of rations every month. The biggest problem of hunger would then be solved.

It is not without reason that the Ifpri report has linked food security to political security. Lopsided development has intensified dissatisfaction among the have-nots. In a country where more people use mobile than toilets, this has to be set right before it is too late.

Though the Group of Ministers at the behest of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi has accepted the Tendulkar Committee recommendations, there are still problems since the Planning Commission is not inclined to accept the BPL at the 37.2 per cent level. Thus there may be two sets of BPL figures — one for development schemes and the other for food security. It will make the process of development planning a mockery.


The writer is a freelance

contributor based in Ghaziabad







Eighties action hero movies were the Reagan era's answer to the cowboy films in old Hollywood, albeit often with a bit of martial arts Eastern mysticism thrown into the mix. The popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and their cohorts was regarded by many as evidence of a backlash against wimpy New Man politics of the 1970s.

This raises the question as to why action heroes are again now flourishing in the early days of the Obama era. The action movie is back, bigger than ever before. This summer, we'll see Stallone, Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger together on screen in The Expendables. Remakes of Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja and even a big-screen version of TV's The A-Team are in the works. Meanwhile, Stallone has already successfully re-branded Rambo and Rocky.

So what is behind the revival of high-testosterone yarns about sweaty men with big muscles? Is it to do with compensating for the waning of US influence as a superpower? Is it a belated reaction to Bush's war on terror? Is this celebration of lawless individualism cinema's answer to the Tea Party protest movement? The answer is much simpler. Audiences are still looking for the same adrenalin-filled escapism that the best action movies have always provided.

One of the ironies about the return of the action-man movie is that the same stars are still being press-ganged into service. When the news filtered out last year that Stallone had broken his neck while filming The Expendables, sceptics couldn't help but think that Stallone had brought his misfortune on himself. After all, Sly is 63 going on 64. That is really not the age to be wrestling with a hulk like former WWF stalwart Stone Cold Steve Austin, as Stallone was when he hurt his neck.

Stallone's broken neck was presented to the media as the sort of everyday scrape that action stars suffer all the time. Stallone was keen to point out that The Expendables featured real, old-fashioned stunts and fighting – not the computer-generated mayhem that passes for action today – and the odd broken vertebrae simply came with the territory. In case anyone doubted the fact, the star posted X-rays of his injury on the internet.
There were both commercial and ideological reasons why action heroes flourished in the 1980s. One explanation for their popularity is that the US was still smarting from the indignities of the (lost) Vietnam war, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis of the Carter era. Audiences wanted strong crusading, red-meat-eating heroes who could avenge (at least in symbolic fashion) the humiliations that the Americans had suffered in the 1970s. They were sick of all those earnest, liberal character-driven-movies like All the President's Men.
This was certainly the theory espoused by karate champion-turned-flag-waving movie star Chuck Norris, whose younger brother had been killed in the Vietnam war. "I think a lot of people are tired of depressing, boring films. I think they like to feel good at the end of a film", he told The New York Times in a 1985 interview. Norris was a big Reagan fan. "I want a strong leader and he is a strong leader. And ever since he has been in office, there has been a more positive, patriotic feeling in this country," the star explained.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Western genre itself had become increasingly complicated and self-referential. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) was a magisterial film but one that shot holes through the simple-minded myths of the John Wayne era. It showed killing for what it was and mocked the vainglory of cowboys aspiring to gallantry. Lines between heroes and villains were blurred. In '80s action movies, though, filmmakers could still get away with the simple minded good vs evil morality that had sustained the Western in its earlier, less complicated days. Instead of a fast-shooter like Shane slaying the bad guys and riding off into the sunset, action movies offered heroes like Colonel John Matrix (Schwarzenegger), in Commando (1985) or Van Damme as the heroic everyman in John Woo's frenetic Hard Target (1993). These films may have been violent and explosive but they were also straightforward folk tales, unburdened by moral complexity.
There was an economic imperative behind the action genre. In the video age, action movies were hugely lucrative, relatively inexpensive to make and easy to market. All you needed was a poster, a catchy title and a semi-familiar star with big biceps and a menacing stare. Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin likes to tell the story of how his career was launched in 1982 when he travelled from his native Finland to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Market. He couldn't help but notice how easy it was to sell action movies and with a friend decided to make one themselves. Back home in Finland, they wrote a screenplay, which they called Wild Force, designed a poster and slapped the name Chuck Norris on it. At the American Film Market the following year, they were able to sell the movie all over the world... even though they hadn't actually made it. In the event,  Norris didn't appear in the film, which was rechristened Arctic Heat and then finally made as Born American with Norris' son, Mike. It was a roaring success but the film-makers had made such bad deals that they made no money from it.

Enterprising producers were ready to cut corners to get their action movies made. Former Cannon boss Menahem Golan famously drew up a contract with Stallone on a napkin for him to play an arm-wrestling lorry driver in Over the Top. It was Golan who discovered Jean-Claude Van Damme -- or Van Damme who discovered Golan. The Belgian gave an impromptu kick-boxing demonstration in an LA restaurant to Golan who – at least action-movie legend has it – promptly hired him to star in Kickboxer (1989.)
Gradually, the wheel turned and action movies fell out of fashion. The collapse in the video market was an important factor in their loss of popularity. It didn't help, either, that there were few new stars who were able to match the movies warriors of the '80s: Norris, Seagal, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme.
You can tell that a genre is struggling when it resorts to self-parody and self-reflexiveness. Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD (2008) was widely praised by the critics, always a suspicious sign when it comes to action movies. In the film, Van Damme plays a version of himself. He is a washed-up movie star in the midst of a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife. The film comes laden with references to other action films as well as ramblings about how much they cost and how much Van Damme thinks he should be paid.
After JCVD, it was a struggle to see how the action movie could reinvent itself. Stallone seemed to be swimming desperately against the tide by bringing back all his old action-movie mates to star in The Expendables.

Of course, in all the best action movies, the heroes find a way of winning. This is what Stallone and his team are now managing in real life too. This isn't just a case of eighties nostalgia running rampant with middle-aged executives in Hollywood. The studios are convinced there is still money to be made through a genre that, a few years ago, looked downright arthritic.

The Independent






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 general election in the UK is built around TV debates – most importantly between the three party leaders, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. For the public, the attraction of live debates is that they force politicians to explain themselves and what they believe so that we can compare them.
The trappings of office are stripped away. The spin doctors are locked away. It isn't possible to hide behind party propaganda, sympathetic newspapers or friendly interviewers. You are out there on your own. The debates are a sign that democracy, despite the scandals, does work.

The debates are civilised. There is enough spontaneity to show serious concern for the issues with none of the squabbling we see among politicians in India. There is sharp criticism, but no abuse or name-calling. I am a first-time voter in the UK and I enjoy listening to the debates. I wonder if Indian politicians would be willing to take a cue from their British counterparts.

In India, disruption of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament and state assemblies has become a norm. When the elected representatives are so disorderly, is it any surprise that the bureaucracy is equally amiss in the discharge of its duties? When MPs do not obey rules, it is futile to complain that drivers on the roads do not do so.

The electorate has become habituated to the unruly behaviour of MPs. When an important report is tabled, it is usually done amid turmoil, slogan shouting and scuffles. Members start shouting, urging that they should be heard first and that their demand should take precedence over everything else though the day's business has been fixed earlier and there are prescribed rules for drawing the Speaker's attention to a matter of importance.
I read in a news report on the internet that more than 20 per cent of the 14th Lok Sabha's time was lost because of the unruly behaviour of parliamentarians and disruptions. The lack of accountability among legislators on their boisterous behaviour in Parliament translates into lack of accountability with regard to maintaining law and order on the streets. Interestingly, politicians continue to shed tears for the aam aadmi while the bandhs that they call prevent daily wagers from earning their livelihood and disrupt the functioning of hospitals and educational institutions. Is it any wonder that 62 years after independence, India has not been able to eradicate poverty and illiteracy?

The writer is a freelance contributor







Everyone in Indian politics loves a crisis. It is the time to make and break deals. And, in Jharkhand, which has seen seven governments during 10 years of its statehood, the opportunities for politicians during a crisis can be endless. The Bharatiya Janata Party's threat to withdraw its support to Shibu Soren's government has opened up fresh possibilities of deal-making. The defence that Mr Soren's son, Hemant, has put up for his father's "mistake" during the voting on this week's cut motions in Parliament is simply laughable. But the BJP's moral posturings over the chief minister's action too look rather suspect. Despite several corruption scandals involving him, the sangh parivar had no problems in joining a government headed by him. It is no surprise, therefore, that the BJP now sees in Mr Soren's "betrayal" an opportunity for the party to take over the chief ministership. But the transition can hardly be as smooth as the BJP might wish. For all its disclaimers, the Congress is almost certain to try and make its own deals with Mr Soren and his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. After all, before he became the BJP's ally, Mr Soren had been an ally of the Congress.


All this may be good news for the deal-making sections of Jharkhand's politicians, but another spell of political crisis is a recipe for more disaster for the state's poor people. It is one of the poorest states in the country with some of the worst human development indicators. Many of its politicians may have profited from unstable governments over the past 10 years. But political instability, corruption and an administrative collapse have together made things very difficult for the common people. This is a dangerous vacuum in a state where the Maoist rebels have long threatened the rule of law. And it is no secret that the Maoists draw their cadre mostly from the impoverished tribal communities. The absence of a credible administration is just what the rebels need in order to recruit more tribal people to their ranks and to spread to wider areas. Unfortunately, endless political uncertainty keeps Jharkhand's politicians too busy with power games to fight either poverty or the Maoists. It is a great betrayal of the hopes that the tribal people had over the creation of the new state. The rise and the fall of governments in Ranchi are only a footnote to this bigger tragedy.








India is full of silly people. That might have been dismissed as India's special misfortune if they had not been taken seriously. Their presence looms so large that those with respectable IQs cannot express their opinions without being forced to contend with them at some point in their lives. The Tamil actress, Khushboo, suddenly achieved national fame by having remarked in the course of a talk on AIDS awareness that women who have sex before marriage should protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and from pregnancy. Silly people, together with other silly people motivated by business competition — Ms Khushboo was an anchor on a television channel — immediately kicked up a rumpus, claiming that she had defamed Tamil women. Then they went to court. The Supreme Court has at last quashed 22 cases filed against the actress in 2005.


That the silliest people should have a say is certainly part of democratic culture, just as the free expression of opinion is also a very significant part of the same culture — as long as it does not incite one group against another. That is one of the arguments given by the court in quashing the cases, but the question is, why should the court have to say this at all? The substance of the cases against Ms Khushboo, bringing charges of licentiousness, evil influence and opposition to that strange creature called 'Indian culture', did not seem to deserve the courts' attention. This is not the first time that the higher judiciary has had to say that there is nothing wrong with live-in relationships or sex between consenting adults. And that people are meant to have different opinions. Where does law come into all this? With its enormous backlog of cases, the justice system is strained to its utmost. The court's time is precious; the court itself should screen out cases that waste it. Or get them over with in a couple of days. Instead, it has taken years to quash these cases, which is all the more amazing because there is virtually nothing to be said except a few platitudes. The court takes on many issues that should be the responsibility of the administration, such as the environment or the distribution of food. There it might be argued that the administration is not doing its job, so the court has stepped in. But that is not the situation in Ms Khushboo's case. Giving silliness so much importance would merely encourage the rest of India to be sillier.











Of all the politicians thrown up by the New Labour dispensation in Britain, few can match Lord Mandelson's reputation for cleverness. Blessed with an impeccable political pedigree (he is the grandson of Herbert Morrison, a cabinet colleague of Clement Atlee and the first head of the London County Council), natural erudition and a mastery of committee politics, Mandelson has often been regarded as the brain behind the reinvention of the Labour Party by Tony Blair in the mid-1990s. Despite two resignations from the cabinet for dodgy personal conduct, the former member of parliament for Hartlepool has been such an adroit political manager that neither Blair nor his dour successor could afford to keep him away from the cabinet room for long. This time, as Labour faces its most difficult election since 1983, Lord Mandelson is back as the party's principal strategist, fielding hostile questions from the media and putting his spin on the campaign.


Yet, so awesome is Mandelson's reputation for cleverness that not even the noble act of waging a rearguard battle for Labour is free from speculation over his hidden agenda. It is whispered, in the rarefied circle of hacks with expense accounts, that 'Mandy' knows that Gordon Brown is a lost cause and that he is in the game to manage the post-defeat wave of recriminations: ensure a relatively hassle-free leadership transition from Brown to either one of the two baby-faced Miliband brothers, sons of the redoubtable Ralph Miliband of the London School of Economics and Socialist Register fame, or to someone less cerebral but more charismatic.


Curiously, the belief that Mandelson is in the game to ensure another orderly management of decline isn't shared by his opponents. The perception of Mandelson as a reincarnation of John le Carré's Karla is so strong that even the possibility of a hung parliament is being attributed to him. The spin doctor, it is said, couldn't ensure a Labour victory, but at least he will prevent an outright Conservative victory by boosting the prospects of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democratic Party.


Here's what the London mayor, Boris Johnson, had to say about Mandelson's 'devilish' plot to induce Britons to vote for another election: "I have it on good authority…, that the puffing of Clegg — all that ostentatious 'I agree with Nick' stuff from Gordon Brown in the first debate — was entirely deliberate. In agreeing to the debates, Labour thought it had spotted what the Tory high command had missed: that if you put Clegg and (David) Cameron simultaneously before the nation, and the electorate saw two vaguely similar products — telegenic 43-year-old public schoolboys with an air of deep reasonableness — then all at once the Tories would lose their Unique Selling Point." Even the diabolical Karla couldn't have done it better.


If British elections have truly been reduced to an elaborate chess game involving Grandmaster Mandelson and two spirited amateurs, it would have signalled a remarkable counter-revolution. If the voters are indeed so gullible and so easily prone to clever manipulation, politics would have become a simple extension of advertising, leaving no role for ideas, policies and social organization.


The remarkable Liberal Democratic surge — some pollsters suggest, particularly after the prime minister's 'bigoted woman' gaffe, that Labour could slip to third place in vote share — may be unappetizing to the Conservatives, and the resulting political impasse may leave Britain more vulnerable to an impending economic crisis of Greek and Icelandic proportions. But the reason for Clegg's rise in popularity has little to do with the fact that he mirrors Cameron, as Johnson has suggested. A more persuasive clue to the rise of the third party may be located in the social changes that have scarred Britain.


In the past, British voting behaviour was governed by social certitudes: the working class, immigrants and public sector employees voted Labour, the middle classes and the countryside were Conservative bastions and Liberals picked up seats in the Celtic fringe and on the strength of individual candidates. The outcome of an election was settled on the votes of some five per cent floating voters. Occasionally there were major shifts: Margaret Thatcher picked up a large chunk of working-class votes and Tony Blair's New Labour ate into the Tory share of the middle-class vote.


The most remarkable feature of the 2010 election is the erosion of the core strength of both Labour and Conservative. The cloth-cap socialism of Labour centred on the manufacturing centres has become an anachronism, but so has the robust patriotism and culture of deference that defined the Conservatism of Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan. The epicentre of New Labour wasn't the East End of London; it was better reflected in the partly gentrified Islington and Ealing. Likewise, Cameron consciously took the heart of the Conservative Party out of the 'Shires and tried to transplant it into London's gentrified Notting Hill. It's not that Cameron necessarily believed that this shift was desirable. Like many Conservatives frustrated at being in opposition since 1997, the shift was electorally expedient.


Unfortunately, both parties cannot afford to abandon their old constituencies entirely. Brown can talk about his 'middle-class values', a departure from the language of the Red Flag, but he cannot jettison the party's faith in high taxes to pay for an expensive, expansive and unaffordable public sector.


Cameron, on his part, has forced constituency parties to select more women, blacks and individuals with 'alternative' sexual proclivities. He has shied away from addressing the widespread concern over unchecked immigration and he has tried his utmost to reassure voters that the Tories aren't pathologically hostile to the elaborate social sector. In particular, he has tried to remove the stigma of the Conservatives as a 'nasty' party. In a bid to underplay accusations of personifying privilege, he has frequently appeared without a tie, tried to live down his membership of the Bullingdon Club in Oxford, and made the silly decision to send his children to state schools.


Sadly, these gestures have often been seen as too contrived by an emerging class that is more European than British in its social outlook. In the second television debate, an earnest member of the audience actually asked the leaders what they had 'personally' contributed to lowering carbon emission. It resulted in Brown having to say that he is using trains rather than taking flights; and it compelled Cameron to proclaim the virtues of some solar panelling in his Notting Hill house. I can't recall what Clegg waffled but the question was precisely the type of concern that defines the Liberal Democrats — irreverently described as the 'yellow peril' on account of their party colour.


The Liberal Democrats are the proverbial 'nice' guys who believe in community action, recycled garbage, unilateral nuclear disarmament, human rights, amnesty for illegal immigrants and the euro. Not too many people know what they stand for but they like Clegg for his polished preachiness. In the past, those who felt both the main parties were useless either stayed at home or experimented with the loony far-Right or even the Green Party. Today, the growing ranks of the exasperated who neither like the incumbent nor care much for the decisive belt-tightening that will invariably accompany Tory rule, have an appealing alternative: the unsullied piousness of Clegg.


If the Liberal Democratic bubble doesn't burst before May 6 and Britain is landed with political uncertainty, it will be a reflection of the fact that too much of Britain has changed unrecognizably, and not necessarily for the better. It is beyond even Mandelson to manage this awkward reality.








The cut motion in Parliament was a display of the worst elements of Indian politics. The opposition benches were unruly, and many of the leaders had a strange smirk on their faces that gave one the sense that they were merely poking and pinching the ruling dispensation with no real purpose, thereby wasting time and money at the cost of the people of India. Parliamentary proceedings, now shown live on the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels, allow India to participate in the democratic process of decision-making through debate in both the Houses. The medium is salutary but, unfortunately, the message is very disturbing.


To see elected representatives of national parties make a constant mockery of everything that is important for India and its people is demeaning and embarrassing, to say the least. It is as though they have been coached in certain unchanging behavioural patterns. If in the Opposition, be raucous, undignified, prevent discussion, adjourn the House, live off the land, take home the allowances and perks, and disregard the mandate. This is the sad truth.


It was disgusting to witness the uncouth shouting and disobedience shown towards the exalted chair of the Speaker, who happens to be a woman this time. One wondered how a quiet new generation was responding to this hugely unsavoury tamasha on issues of concern that plague the nation. Is this the idea of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left Front of a 'symbolic' protest against spiralling prices? Is this how they alleviate the misery of the electorate? Did they genuinely believe that they would win the vote, or was this charade a crude game of 'time-pass'?


New Gandhi


We have taken the horror to a level from where it cannot descend further. Respect for the political class has dipped to an all-time low. Its racketeering across a diverse range of areas— from real estate to benami shareholdings in dodgy companies — has made the profession unclean.


We are akin to small, struggling nations where the rule of law is a mirage and where those at the top of the pile exploit rapaciously. It must be very depressing for an honourable prime minister such as Manmohan Singh to have to preside over this truth. His pensive patience laced with deep distress, as he watches the scene in the House being replayed over and over again, is palpable.


The horse-trading for lucrative deals and positions is a sideshow that Indians are witnessing through innuendoes and references in the media, and through exposures. Whispers — in the traditionally oral transmission system that is our medium of communication — make us voyeurs on the outside, abreast with all the irregularities happening within the corridors of the government, ranging from lobbyists on the payrolls of large corporations wanting particular persons to be placed as ministers to fiddling with middle-level administrators to make them do their bidding.


Rahul Gandhi seems to be the only politician working diligently to fight the malaise his generation has inherited. His intention is clearly not just to have an office in government that will co-opt him into a moribund reality, but to be out there on the field, leading a Gandhian overhaul of a corroded reality. He is on his way to becoming the Mahatma Gandhi of this period of our turbulent political history.


Were he to announce that he would contest elections to become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and blow the lid off the superficial chatter about the prime minister's chair being kept warm for him, chances are that he would win over the electorate across class, caste, creed and faith. There is the underlying anger against the presiding political class that is ripe for being addressed to bring about real change.




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





Victims of rape could find their quest for justice becoming a bit easier. The supreme court has ruled that in rape cases, especially when the victims are illiterate, the oral testimony of the victim alone is enough to convict the accused. This means that a victim's statement when it is "cogent, reliable, convincing and trustworthy" will not need corroborative evidence. The apex court has taken a sympathetic view of rape victims. Often the victims fail to undergo a medical test immediately after being raped. This is because they are unaware of the legal procedure involved or the importance of medical evidence.

Often they are in a state of shock and badly traumatised. Besides, victims of rape are unwilling to make public their ordeal as they want to avoid the social stigma attached to being raped. This makes them reluctant to be examined by a doctor. There have been several instances where the private parts of victims of rape have not been injured. That does not make the sexual act consensual. But scores of rapists have been able to get away with their terrible crime as courts have hitherto insisted on evidence of injury to the victim to show that sex was forced and not consensual. By doing away with the need for corroborative evidence, the supreme court has sent out a clear signal of support to rape victims.

Misuse of the law to frame someone for rape is possible and it needs to be guarded against, but such instances are few compared with the number of rapes that occur in our society. Proper investigation by police can sniff out false cases that might be filed.


For most rape victims, court trials feel like they are being raped all over again. The way society looks upon them and the manner in which they are questioned during the trial often deters victims from going to the police or the courts.

The defence often engages in character assassination of a rape victim to undermine the credibility of her statement. What is more, rarely do victims get justice. The figures speak for themselves. Just 27 per cent of rape cases in India end in conviction, showing how biased against victims the law and order and justice mechanisms in the country have been hitherto. That is now changing. The supreme court ruling will provide victims with a supportive environment to pursue justice.








International politics and relations are graveyards of words, and as the world moves on reorganising itself in political and economic terms, individual countries and groups define themselves in newer and newer ways. Old descriptions that do not match with new realities are discarded and dumped into the dictionary of history. This has happened with expressions like the Third World and NAM which were once potent carriers of political meaning. The recent declaration of World Bank president Robert Zoellik that the coinage Third World is dead, may not be as cataclysmic as philosopher Nietzche's dictum that God is dead, but is a useful reminder of how the old world order changes, yielding place to the new.

If the Third World gave a conceptual framework for the developing countries' bloc in the second half of the last century, distinguishing them from the capitalist and rich First World, led by the US, and the socialist Second World, led by the then USSR, the distinction has blurred now with the rise of countries like China, India and Brazil. It is a reflection of the changing balance in the world, and new names like BRIC, which denote combinations of countries based on new interests, are emerging.


Even on the other side of the divide, groupings have gone through a nomenclatural evolution, like the movement of G-somethings, which transformed themselves from G-10 through G-5, G-6, G-7 and G-8 to G-20, shows. G-20 may now represent the best of all the three old worlds, but the weighted balance may slowly shift in favour of the old wretched of the earth. It will take a long time, but the growing irrelevance of the old frames of reference is a pointer to the emerging perceptions about the future world.

Political thinkers and economists have tried to explain the world in various ways. But a history of the world through acronyms would be interesting. They may not always describe the world correctly, but catch popular imagination by combining reality with perception and possibility. Words are only approximations of reality and no country should feel flattered or disheartened by its place in the matrix of words in which it is placed. In the beginning was only the world, which became many a world, which the moving mind writes, and having writ, moves on from.







A significant factor in the spiralling of prices in sectors like real estate and the hoarding of commodities, is the parallel economy.



Recent increase in the interest rate by the Reserve Bank of India to reduce the money supply should provide a lesson to the pundits who are blaming the neglect of agriculture, a long-term factor, for the rising prices in recent months, which is a short-term phenomenon. Inflation in India, including food and energy, or other volatile components, is still rising, while the farmers are leaving their potato and tomato harvests on the fields due to the low prices of their products. Inflation in India is mainly due to the wrong monetary policy of the Indian government, when too much money is fuelling speculative drive.

The source of money that is fuelling inflation has three main sources: (a) money from the parallel economy; (b) money from abroad through short-term borrowing and investments; (c) foreign multinational companies. The parallel economy is just as big as the visible economy. According to some estimates, the government could not collect Rs 1,20,000 crore of taxes. The banks could not collect Rs 1,50,000 crore of unpaid loans from the defaulters. A significant factor in the spiralling of prices in sectors like real estate and the hoarding of commodities for speculative gain, can be attributed to this parallel economy.

India is experiencing an unprecedented surge in short-term capital inflows. Net capital flows into the country rose from an already high $23.4 billion in 2006 to $44.9 billion in 2007, whereas during 2003 to 2006 only $8.8 billion a year came on an average.

Indian companies have been exploiting the liberalised external commercial borrowing policy of the RBI and borrowing massively abroad. Figures for the January to May period indicate that borrowing totalled $15.3 billion in 2007, with $10.8 billion and $3.4 billion during the corresponding periods in 2006 and 2005 respectively.

As a result the RBI has lost control over the supply of money. The RBI initiated a programme to sell government bonds to take out some money from the system, but it was too late and too little. There is no crisis on the food production front. As the government is not interested to maintain the public distribution system, it is not willing to give proper prices to the domestic farmers. That has created the shortfall in procurement and increased imports to a country where enough is available if the government is prepared to raise the procurement prices for the Indian farmers.

The government's decision to allow private multinational firms to speculate in the Indian 'Futures Market' has created havoc in the Indian food prices. These private companies like ITC, Cargill, AWB India, Britannia, Agricore, Delhi Flour Mills and Adani Enterprises, procured about 20 lakh tonnes of wheat during the rabi marketing season (April-July) in 2007.

Speculation in food

The 'Futures Market' intensified the speculative activity in the food market in India, which is novel for India. Speculators see much gain in betting for the future prices of various commodities, including rice and wheat. Abundance of liquidity has, paved the way for massive amounts of cash becoming available for investment (by equity investors, funds, etc) in markets that use financial instruments linked to the functioning of agricultural commodity markets.

Portfolio flows

India has witnessed over a decade of portfolio flows and with each passing year, portfolio flows have gained in their significance and have played a key role in the overall Indian economy. The Union Budget 2003 announced that dividends would be exempt from tax in the hands of a shareholder. Further, long term capital gains arising on transfer of equity shares (held at least for one year) in a listed company, acquired between March 1, 2003, and February 28, 2004, would be exempt from tax. These initiatives were specifically targeted at attracting portfolio investments into India. Foreign Direct Investment in real estate is now possible without the need for permission by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

So, the liberalised FDI regime, coupled with the strong potential of the industry is going to help pump money into the sector. Sustained flows of foreign money, thanks to the excessive global liquidity in the world, has fuelled the rise of the stock markets and real estate prices in India to unprecedented levels.

Thus inflation in India is the direct results of flows of money through short-term borrowings and speculative activity. Introduction of multinational companies in the commodities market has increased the speculative activity and reduced the ability of the government to procure enough essential food grain to sustain the public distribution system.

Short-term borrowings are highly volatile elements in the financial system and normally create a speculative bubble, which can be burst soon creating serious recession in the economy even bankruptcy. The experience of Thailand and South Korea in 1978 showed the damage these short term flows of foreign money can cause. It normally push up domestic prices so that exports prices will go up causing increased balance of payments deficits.

As a result the rupee would start falling causing an outflow of these short-term money. That will lead to further fall of rupee and very soon the government will be unable to repay the foreign debt. A situation like this has ruined Thailand and South Korea for many years. India may be heading for such a catastrophe.







Conventional trade statistics gives us a distorted picture of the trade imbalances between countries.



Economists have long analysed trade, why nations need it to prosper, and what governments do to reap the gains while managing the costs. But if the economics of trade policy are clear, the politics of trade are highly complex. Trade policy, like so many other areas of policy, has ramifications on how resources are distributed, and this inevitably creates competing interest groups within society.

The public debate that inevitably accompanies the formulation of contested trade policy challenges the notion that open trade brings overall societal benefits. At the same time, contested policy provides fertile ground for the incubation of urban legends and misconceptions with popular appeal. One such widespread fallacy is that it is unhealthy for trade to grow faster than output.

After the World War II, international trade grew much faster than world production. The ratio of international trade to world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen from 5.5 per cent in 1950 to over 20 per cent today. Some argue that this development poses a danger to the health of the global economy. However, in reality it is simply a reflection of the international fragmentation of production and the rise of trade in intermediate products.

Literally global

Reductions in transport costs, the information technology revolution, and more open economic policies have made it easier to distribute production across a range of countries. The parts and components that make up a final product are manufactured in different countries around the globe.

These intermediate goods may cross national borders several times before they are assembled as a final product. Thus some of what passes for international trade is in reality intra-firm trade, exchanges of intermediate inputs and goods for processing between establishments that belong to the same company. By allowing each country in the supply chain to specialise in the part or component, the internationalisation of supply chains creates enormous economic benefits.

This growth in the trade of parts and components means that statistics on imports overstate the degree of competition that comes from one's trading partners. In international trade theory, trade in goods is seen as a substitute for the movement of factors of production.

Thus, a country's imports of goods from a trading partner are seen as additional supplies of the partner country's labour and capital, which compete with the importing country's own workers and entrepreneurs. But the share of value added by the country originating a product is considerably lower than in the past.

Take the example of an iPod assembled in China by Apple. According to a recent study, it has an export value of $150 per unit in Chinese trade statistics, yet the value added attributable to processing in China is only $4.

Consequently, the degree to which a given volume of imports implies competition between the factors of production in the country of origin and those in the importing country is overstated.

Focusing on gross values of trade or imports from a particular country also understates the degree to which the importing country's own firms benefit from trade because part of their output is incorporated in the imported good.

Conventional trade statistics gives us a distorted picture of trade imbalances between countries. What counts is not the imbalances as measured by gross values of exports and imports, but how much value added is embedded in these flows. Let us take again the bilateral trade between China and the US.

According to data from the Institute of Developing Economies and WTO estimates, in 2008 the domestic content comprised 80 per cent of the value of the goods exported by the US. The comparable figure was 77 per cent in the case of Japan, 56 per cent for Korea, and 42 per cent for Malaysia and Chinese Taipei, meaning that about half the exported value originated from other countries.

Conventional trade statistics would overestimate the US bilateral deficit vis-a-vis China by around 30 per cent as compared to measuring in value-added content. This figure would reach more than 50 per cent when the activity of export processing zones is fully taken into account. It makes sense for us to start measuring trade in value added rather than in gross value, as is the case today. Debunking fallacies about trade is not enough. We need debate and make informed choices, because trade has an impact on our lives, whether as workers or as consumers.

(The writer is director-general of the World Trade Organisation)








I suffer periodically from this disease — painteritis — maybe once every six years. The symptoms are allergies bringing on red eyes, incessant sneezing and headaches. Also prevalent are IBS (Irritable Behaviour Syndrome) and CTT (Compulsive Temper Tantrums). The suffix 'itis' denotes disease, deriving from Greek, caused by the first part of the word — in this case the specific genus of house painters.

Like most diseases, this one could have been avoided. Unlike most diseases this one was directly invited in. I could not bear the state of the bedroom, the kitchen and the balconies any longer. Thus the onset of the disease. They trooped in — six of them plus the supervisor, all rough looking, in paint splashed trousers and tattered tee shirts, with bandana like cloths around their foreheads, looking for all the world like Mexican bandidos about to launch guerrilla warfare. But appearances are deceptive, for they were really extremely polite, even if being inconsiderate on certain issues. And they set to work, talking all the time, scraping, putting prime coats with steady brush strokes, carrying around their own two dilapidated wooden ladders and my own sleek aluminium ones.

Swathes of paint dazzled my eyes. It was difficult to distinguish between oyster pink and oyster beige, rose beige, grey tinted rose and rose tinted grey, mushroom pink and mushroom rose, or oatmeal pink and oatmeal beige. This one, I said, jabbing at one small rectangle among so many equal sized rectangles, whereupon the supervisor said: "Are you sure you want this, madam, and not this?" And I would seethe in a cauldron of indecision. My husband of course, was all for stopping everything on the second morning itself and said: "I think my blood pressure is rising. You make the decision."

Of course, they came with just their clothes and two ladders. They needed from me buckets, brooms, cloths, glasses for their endless supply of water and tea, etc. When I asked my top-work woman, Mary, why the chairs had not been dusted, she went into a sulk and said she had no duster cloth as they had appropriated all of them. One advantage was, that in all the moving, I found some treasures — my father's walking stick collection (under the bed), a stack of old photos ( behind the books) an old stamp album (under the sofa), etc.

To give credit where it's due, they finished in five days and I am left with a very dusty house and clean walls and ceilings. And my IBS and CTT have disappeared. So have my sneezing, red eyes and headaches. In fact, suddenly the world looks wonderfully rosy.











A standoff between Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Fatah has been brewing for some time. It was not too surprising, therefore, that at the end of a four-day meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah this week, Fatah officials called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to strip Fayyad of three key portfolios: Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance – effectively disempowering him.

Fatah leaders see Fayyad, an independent politician who does not belong to the movement, as a major threat to their power. The US-trained former World Bank and International Monetary Fund economist has been "accused" of cutting off funds to Fatah figures and institutions by insisting on government transparency.

Fatah's opposition to Fayyad's ambitious two-year plan for the creation of a Palestinian state by August 2011 is another source of tension. In "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State," the 54-page document outlining Fayyad's Palestinian state-building mission, Fatah, an organization so central in the formulation of the Palestinian narrative, does not even appear in the first pages of the document, though the PLO does. Fayyad's approach also contradicts the Fatah Congress's reaffirmation of a one-state solution in the event that negotiations over a two-state solution fail.

Fayyad's downfall, were it to come about, would appear to be a negative development for Israel. A pragmatic "bottom up" strategy of building roads, a judicial system, health institutions and the infrastructure needed for a thriving economy is in Israel's interests. The more Palestinians invest in their own welfare, the more they have to lose from the destructive effects of terrorism.

Much of Fayyad's approach represents a refreshing departure from Yasser Arafat's blend of violence, terror and duplicitous politics. Consequently, Israel has responded favorably to Fayyad's success in restoring order with the help of Palestinian forces, trained under the auspices of US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton. This has enabled the IDF to remove dozens of security checkpoints, easing movement restrictions and invigorating the Palestinian economy. Placing its faith in Fayyad's government transparency, the US Congress could felt it could trust the PA with $200 million of American money.

IT WOULD be misleading, however, to confidently portray Fayyad as a harbinger of peace. Peace with Israel is not a dominant feature of his 54-page blue-print, and peace with Israel the Jewish state finds no reflection there at all.

Some of Fayyad's actions, too, raise doubts over the sincerity of his calls for a nonviolent struggle for Palestinian independence. According to Palestinian Media Watch, Fayyad paid condolence calls to the mourning families of three terrorists who murdered Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai and were later killed by the IDF, as well as to other families of dead terrorists. Just two weeks ago, on Palestinian Prisoners Day, Fayyad sponsored a fencing championship named after Abu Jihad, who planned many major Fatah terror attacks, including the worst in Israel's history, in which 37 civilians were murdered in a bus hijacking led by Dalal Mughrabi in 1978.

It should be noted in this context that Fayyad's plan calls for massive Palestinian development in Area C, which is currently under Israeli civil and security control. If Fayyad succeeds in building a semi-viable state by next summer, the PA could seek to unilaterally force a highly problematic arrangement on Israel by going to the UN Security Council and demanding recognition of a Palestinian state and the immediate evacuation of settlements located in "Palestine."


Given the present state of relations between the Obama administration and Israel, there is less confidence today than once there would have been as to how the US might respond to such a move. Israel would need to thwart some of the potential consequences, including the exposure of Israel to rocket and missile threats not only from Gaza and Lebanon but from within the West Bank, at all costs.

That is not to say that Fayyad's institution-building work should be opposed. The Netanyahu government has plainly reached the same conclusion. A peace agreement reached through direct negotiations based on mutual trust has the best chance of succeeding if the Palestinians have taken the pains to prepare themselves for independence. After investing resources, energies and hopes in the construction of a future Palestinian state and tasting the fruits of a growing economy, personal security and increased freedom, the Palestinian people would have a vested interest in ensuring that proximity talks lead to direct negotiations that lead in turn to a sustainable accord.

That, at least, is the current Israeli government's hope on the eve of proximity talks. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that it is the government's expectation.








Hysteria gripped the right wing in the Knesset after an Arab delegation of MKs and dignitaries visited Libya. The chairman of the Knesset House Committee, Yariv Levin (Likud), hastened to adopt MK Michael Ben Ari's (National Union) request to consider denying the MKs parliamentary immunity. MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) suggested that the law be enacted preventing people who have visited an enemy state over the past seven years from becoming candidates. In other words, he wants to prevent these MKs from running for the next Knesset.

The tongues of Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, two parties that could unite under the name "the Racist Union," were abruptly unleashed as though they were dealing with an unparalleled act of treason. "This is a historic opportunity to deny once and for all the immunity and rights of the MKs who hate Israel and degrade the state," raved Ben Ari. Orlev's proposed amendment stipulates that anyone who visits an enemy state "unlawfully" will be seen as a supporter of an armed struggle against Israel. No less.

Libya is not on the list of enemy states and the MKs did not need the interior minister's permission for the trip. Libya signed the Arab League's peace initiative, holds the League's rotating presidency, and its ruler Muammar Gadhafi maintains excellent relations with the U.S. administration.


So it's hard to guess what members of the Knesset's racist bloc were more horrified at - the fear that the Arab MKs will launch an armed struggle against Israel with Gadhafi's help, or that they might serve as a bridge to acquaintance and perhaps Libyan recognition of Israel.

Israel does not enjoy abundant diplomatic ties, either with Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace agreements with it, or Libya, which still sees it as an enemy. So every chance to invite Israeli Arab representatives, especially those in official Israeli institutions, must be seen as the opening of another window, or at least as curiosity to hear about the way things are in Israel.

Such an invitation from an Arab leader would certainly have been received with great excitement had it been addressed to Jewish officials. After all, this is what Israel's government, which is demanding gestures of normalization from the Arab states, is longing for.

The Arab MKs did not go to Libya as Israeli public relations agents or ambassadors charged with vindicating Israel's policy in the territories. That's a mission even many Jewish MKs find difficult to carry out. Their trip to Libya - or to any other Arab state - is an inseparable part of their cultural and ethnic background and their desire to explain their views and position about the Israeli reality, even if these views weren't forged in the right wing's school.

Instead of tarring and feathering the Arab MKs, Israel would do well to make them partners in molding its policy and encourage them to build more bridges between Israel and Arab states. This would at least show a readiness to make peace with the Arab population.








Neil Simon's play "The Odd Couple" was first successfully staged on Broadway, and later broadcast for many years as a television series. The subject of the play is two men - one an elegantly dressed pedant who plays the piano, and the other an intolerable slob. These contrasts were funny, but the two got along very well in their shared apartment.

Why am I recalling this play? Because this week, our own odd couple starred on the world stage. While French President Nicholas Sarkozy was telling President Shimon President that he is tired of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was being received with warmth and respect in Washington.

Barak was honored a second time when, during a White House conversation with the national security adviser, the president dropped in "to say hello." On one hand, it's an excellent photo-op, and on the other, an expression of the president's personal confidence in the Israeli minister.

Did Bibi Netanyahu burst with envy? Not necessarily. Indeed, the opposite is true. Barak traveled to the United States as Bibi's envoy, not only to talk about Israel's security problems, but also in order to examine ways of beginning negotiations with the Palestinians. Barak gives a quasi-leftist stamp of approval to Bibi's Likud party.

Barak is a story in himself, a tyro politician who came to power without the help of his party, because he was elected at a time when there were direct elections for prime minister. He did not perspire in order to climb the party stairs. He had the luxury of being parachuted in from above. He still does not understand the significance of parties in the government system. That is why he is a good defense minister but a poor party leader.

"The party is being run like a closed ward in a hospital," says Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon. "Barak is in effect Bibi's foreign minister to America. They have a secret understanding between them that will determine our future. We have not had the privilege of hearing from him where he is heading. He simply ignores us."

Barak does not seem to represent his faction or speak in its name. The upholstered leather armchair in his luxurious office is his main source of political support. Nobody will move him from there. He is not working to disband the government, for fear that he will be left with two Knesset seats.

But his importance in the cabinet far outweighs his political power. He provides Bibi with legitimacy in the center, on the left and with wealthy businessmen. He brought Bibi the media and the people who dwell in luxury apartment towers.

Barak has taken control of Bibi's right ear, where he fuels the premier's fears. Then he immediately turns to the left ear and tells him: Don't worry, I'm here, I'm behind you. Barak also gives him the army, which the Americans and European admire.

The fact that his party is dying does not cause him to lose any sleep. B. and B. are giving each other political life. They share a hatred of Kadima and a reluctance to let it join the government, and they are both interested in keeping Shas in the government. After all, Shas contributed to Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni's failure to assume the premiership without elections.

Ehud and Bibi share both the advantages and the shortcomings of veterans of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. Both are native sons, both are excellent salesmen, both were elected as political meteors to head their parties, both failed in a big way and were ousted in a big way, and both left political life in order to eventually return to it. Bibi left behind a supportive public, and Ehud did not. But both Siamese twins were given a second chance in their parties, and both have failed so far to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately for them, the stew cooking in the pot is about to boil over on their watch. In the face of a bizarre political "septet" of top cabinet ministers, an unconventional foreign minister and a deputy foreign minister who ignites fires, Barak gives Bibi a sense of security, while Bibi gives Barak support against his party.

Bibi needs someone who gives the Palestinians hope. At one time, Barak offered heaven and earth to then Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, including an arrangement in Jerusalem. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was sure the plan would be accepted.

Instead, we got the second intifada. Arafat explained that a leader who had founded a national movement cannot go down in history as the one who gave up part of Palestine. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says similar things.

Until the midterm elections in November, U.S. President Barack Obama cannot permit himself a rift with Israel. Eighty percent of Jews vote for Democrats. The Jews of New York, California and Florida alone contribute 40 percent of campaign expenses. A clandestine battle is now being waged between Bibi and Obama as to when American Jews will tell Obama, who is putting on the pressure: "We've had it." But for all the covert contempt of our leftists, the Pentagon has no interest in weakening Israel.

The absurdity is that Israel's most inflated cabinet ever is dominated by two people. And the two of them are now secretly concocting a formula with the U.S. administration that will enable a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

Netanyahu and Barak, who have to hang together, know the time has come to act. Because if not, they will hang separately.






The student senate at Berkeley University in California recently passed a resolution calling for divestment from Israel. Prof. Judith Butler, the feminist theoretician, expounded to the enthusiastic audience on her new "Jewish" vision, which calls for renouncing the State of Israel. In this way, the intellectual elites once again expressed their strong belief in the theological principle whose basis is opposition to Western culture.

For these intellectuals, the Palestinians' struggle against Israel symbolizes the heroic uprising of the rejected and oppressed against the conquerors who have deprived them of their humanity and delegitimized their local narratives. And in this mythological and theological arena, there is no chance whatsoever of holding a sane debate based on facts and common sense.

Treating Israel as the worst representative of Western colonialism is particularly ironic given the Jewish people's minuscule size and Europe's virulent anti-Jewish history. Neither Russia's control of the Chechens, Irish grievances against the British or Basque grievances against the Spanish evoke the harsh criticism that Israel does. Perhaps because it does not pay to confront the Russians, while Britain and Spain really do offer their minorities democratic equality and full civil rights.

Israel, on the other hand, continues to control the Palestinians and the territories by force. And in order to maintain its Jewish identity, it also has no intention whatsoever of granting them equal civil rights. One does not have to be a critical intellectual to understand that this internal contradiction, in a state that considers itself advanced, Western and democratic, is untenable.

There is thus no way to avoid a solution that chooses one of two options - either withdrawing from all of the West Bank and establishing an independent state for the Palestinians, or granting full rights to everyone who lives under Israeli control, Palestinians as well as Jews. In that case, of course, Israel would lose its Zionist identity as the state of the Jewish people - and if it is even possible for Palestinians and Jews to live together after 100 years of hatred, the Jewish residents of Palestine would immediately turn into an insignificant minority that is at the mercy of the millions of Muslim Arabs round about.

A development of this kind, which would destroy the Zionist project, would cause most Jewish residents of the former Israel to abandon their country and try to find new solutions for themselves on an individual basis - assuming, of course, that what happened before the Holocaust would not repeat itself, and that the millions of new Jewish refugees would be able to find safe havens for themselves in the democratic countries of the West. A horrific scenario like this would take the entire Jewish people back to its historic situation of weakness and victimization, and it is hard to imagine it could take place without a tremendous upheaval.

Yet another terrifying possibility, of course, is that Israel would consciously renounce its own self-definition as a Western democracy. It would then gradually turn into a dictatorship that defines itself as Jewish. It would use armed force to continue to control all the territory west of the Jordan River, and would continue to deny the Palestinians' right to either freedom or equality. A choice of that kind would destroy Israel as a modern state, and accordingly also its ability to defend itself and to develop as a secure, flourishing, 21st-century society.

In this case as well, it is clear that most of the country's intelligentsia, and indeed anyone with initiative, would leave Israel. Israel would remain with its religious population and its rightists - some of whom are capable of defending it, but most of whom are devoid of high-level development and management skills. The Israeli-Jewish dictatorship would thus suffer from a substantive weakness that would eventually lead to its defeat at the hands of its Muslim enemies.

It is sad to think that this process has apparently already started: The collapse of education and higher learning, together with the political corruption and the tremendous growth of those sectors that are not prepared to share the social, economic and military burden, is encouraging the more talented and diligent Israelis to leave the sinking Jewish ship.

Even if treating Israel as the country that embodies the ultimate evil in fact expresses a new and ugly incarnation of traditional anti-Semitism, which always viewed the Jews as the representative of all the world's ills, the truth is still simple, but difficult to face: An Israel that does not allow the Palestinian situation to be resolved has effectively announced its own inexorable death, via the gradual destruction of the resources of knowledge and talent that have enabled it to develop and defend itself until now. In order to save Israel, we must immediately separate from the territories and their inhabitants.








You can be right but not smart, or smart and not right. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has not considered the third option - both wrong and stupid.

He was even quoted this week as saying that "large companies are threatening to leave the country if the law capping top executives' salaries passes." False. Why leave when it pays to stay? As far as its master America is concerned, Israel is overseas. And there's no need to be impressed by a tycoon's tears.

In Israel they have the best of both worlds: Life in the East and a living standard of the distant West - the upper thousandth percentile. And any connection to the realities of life is a connected person's connections.


They have no reason to leave and nowhere to go. A managerial bargain like Eli Yones, the CEO of Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, holds our salary record - NIS 1.5 million per month. The likes of him can be found in other places, where it costs them less. It's not worthwhile for a wealthy Israeli to try his luck abroad and give up hothouse conditions. London isn't waiting for him either, and he's liable to find himself on a straw mat in the City playing a flute to snakes like an Indian fakir.

Overseas is here, and much more. Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published data about salary gaps in our country. Once again it turns out that no gaps are as great as Israel's, and the inequality index here is the most despicable and disgraceful of them all - we have no rivals. So why should the Steinitzes and the plutocrats complain? It's good to live in this country, it's pleasant for the small-fry sharks to splash around in our water.

Ever since some copywriter scribbled the road safety slogan: "Don't be right, be smart," the foolish insight that justice and wisdom are opposites has become entrenched here. We recommend trying to use them in the correct proportions to discover that distributive justice is a useful principle. Countries that are satisfied with fivefold gaps are far more successful than Israel with its 50-fold gaps. Research proves that the more egalitarian a country, the more achievement-oriented and progressive it is. The less egalitarian, the more backward, ignorant and corrupt.

Israel is committed to a particularly large amount of egalitarianism and solidarity. Not only does it educate, it also has a military draft. Not for long will young people agree to spill their blood for the country, in which the bloodsuckers are multiplying. It simply can't go on like this.

This week a ministerial committee was formed, and I'll already take a gamble: If in two months the government agrees to limit top executives' salaries by law or in any other effective manner, I hereby promise to read the collected writings of billionaire businesswoman Shari Arison, beginning with the philosophical chapters.

But there's no chance: Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai have not done anything to cap the salaries of good and helpful friends and will not. On the contrary, they will remove any restrictions. What doesn't one do for donors? Everything one doesn't do for his country.

Anyone who wants to sever the triple thread - wealth, government and corruption - must dry up the well of dirty laundry in which politicians and tycoons swim. We have already discovered who your friends are, we know who you are.

Not all of them are outlaws, lovers of bribery and pursuers of payoffs. But many - too many - are friends of thieves.







U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' secret memo on Iran to the White House, which was recently leaked to the press, has once more exposed policy differences inside the Obama administration regarding Tehran.

U.S. President Barack Obama is confident that the international community will soon reach a consensus on a fourth UN Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on Iran. The result is likely to be a set of weak measures - followed by many more months of diplomacy before further pressure is applied on Tehran.

Regardless of American resolve to impose crippling sanctions, it could take until at least early 2011 before further substantive measures are adopted - and even then, China and Russia may not support them.


Thus, while discussions continue on sanctions, Gates' memo offers an opportunity not just to solicit military contingency plans but also to call for an overall reassessment of the international community's approach to Iran's nuclear aspirations.

By insisting only on a suspension of uranium enrichment, the international community is wasting its time. Backed by diplomatic overtures, economic incentives and (mostly just threats of) sanctions, this key demand has been the centerpiece of the international strategy ever since Iran's clandestine nuclear program was first exposed in 2002.

The problem is that more is needed if Iran is to be stopped from getting the bomb.

Enrichment suspension assumes, plausibly, that upon obtaining a critical quantity of low-enriched uranium, Iran could quickly convert it into weapons-grade material. The recent proposal to transfer Iran's low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further, safeguarded enrichment stems from the same logic: It sought to reduce Iran's uranium stockpile below the minimum quantity required to produce a bomb.

International diplomacy has thus insisted more on enrichment suspension and less on more stringent and intrusive inspections.

So far, the international community appears to have assumed that if Iran chooses to weaponize, it will use its declared stockpile, which is currently under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Such a step would entail Iran paying a significant diplomatic price, given that the diversion of low-enriched uranium to further enrichment would be quickly detected by the IAEA.

Iran may gain a few days' advantage, but it would eventually incur international condemnation, isolation and retribution. Worse, such action could be seen as a casus belli for either Jerusalem or Washington - precipitating a military strike before Iran completes weaponization and, crucially, before it conducts a test needed to transform its technological advances into a strategic achievement.

In fact, Iran's declared and monitored activities - including, most critically, its enrichment program - may not be where the bomb comes from.

As Washington's National Intelligence Estimate of Iran's nuclear program suggested in December 2007, the Islamic Republic was conducting two parallel programs - one was declared, for civilian purposes, and a second was concealed, with military dimensions.

Famously, the estimate postulated, perhaps wrongly, that Iran had suspended the latter in late 2003 and added, by way of explanation, that, "by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work."

The U.S. intelligence community, in other words, believed that Iran's covert nuclear activities included uranium enrichment - though at the time it also assumed that Iran had suspended all such activities.

This assumption was proven wrong when, last September, Obama, alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, exposed during a joint press conference, the existence of a clandestine enrichment site near the Iranian city of Qom designed to host a mere 3,000 centrifuges.

Its limited size lends itself poorly to commercial purposes but is suitable for weapons-grade enrichment. The revelation conclusively demonstrated that Iran's parallel clandestine enrichment program continued after 2003. Yet, had the Qom plant not been exposed, Iran might have been able to eventually begin weapons-grade enrichment. It would have gone undetected by the IAEA and by an international community that was still focused on the country's overt activities and assuaged by the U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran's military program was at least momentarily idle.

The exposure of the Qom plant should have invited a radical reassessment of strategies vis-a-vis Iran. There is no guarantee that Iran has no other such plant - yet there is no mechanism in place for IAEA inspectors to look for it. Iran still refuses to ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol on nuclear safeguards - an instrument that would give inspectors unfettered access to suspicious locations - and the IAEA cannot force it upon Iran. Thus, Iran may produce weapons-grade fissile material undisturbed and out of sight, while playing diplomatic games with the international community.

The way forward does not preclude, of course, continued insistence on enrichment suspension. But even if Iran ever conceded, pressure cannot relent.

A successful strategy must include two more instruments. First, the international community must impose aggressive, stringent, sweeping and intrusive inspections on Iran by way of a Security Council resolution - one that, at a minimum, forces Iran to give IAEA inspectors access. And second, failure to comply with such a measure must be met by crippling sanctions.

Nothing else will work. And perhaps those currently, slowly laboring for a new, toothless UN resolution have already resigned themselves to this conclusion.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of "Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb" (Profile Books, 2009).








What on earth will it take to persuade Israel to leave the occupied territories? Sometimes it seems as if nothing will work. For eight years now, the Arab Peace Initiative, which early Zionist leaders would have seen as a dream-come-true, has been collecting dust. Its terms include two states based on the pre-1967 borders, a mutually agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis, and normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and the entire Arab world. What once would have appeared to many to be Israel's salvation now seems impossible given Israel's entrenched colonial position in the West Bank and the settlers' political power.

Perhaps American college students can help bring Israel to its senses. This past March 18, members of the student senate at the University of California, Berkeley, voted to recommend to the university's governing board of regents that they divest their holdings in General Electric and United Technologies - two companies that have profited from Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, its demolition of Palestinian homes, its aggressive campaign in Gaza last year, and the expansion of settlements. Although Berkeley's student government is not the first in the United States to vote for a divestment recommendation of this nature, it is by far the most significant.

To be clear, the student bill does not call for a comprehensive form of divestment, and only targets companies involved in Israel's occupation and military misadventures.



Some see the divestment proposal as counter-productive. "From the standpoint of advancing the causes of peace and justice for Palestinians, the Berkeley bill is worse than useless," claimed Haaretz's Bradley Burston in a recent column. Burston dismissed the idea of selling "some pension fund shares in American companies which make military aircraft engines" because those companies will "continue to sell them to Israel, regardless of the vote."

But if history is any guide, Berkeley's divestment measure could have a positive impact. In the 1980s, Berkeley's student government was one of the first at any U.S. institution of higher learning to vote to recommend divestment from South Africa's apartheid regime. The UC system's board of regents initially resisted the divestment call, but student protests eventually led the regents to divest funds from companies with ties to South Africa. Eventually other campuses and local municipalities took similar actions.

The United States government, formerly one of the chief enablers of apartheid, followed the lead of the students, passing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986. The legislation prohibited all new U.S. trade and investment in South Africa, and stated five preconditions for lifting the sanctions, including a timeline for ending apartheid laws and the release of Nelson Mandela.

"In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of nonviolent means, such as boycotts and divestments, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle," Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in a letter to Berkeley's student government endorsing the current divestment bill.

Whether one sees Israel as an apartheid-like regime or not, certainly the aforementioned history could offer lessons in how to end the occupation. If more American college campuses and local agencies pass divestment measures, eventually members of U.S. Congress may come to see that they must listen to their pro-justice, pro-peace constituents and not only to AIPAC. If that happens, a U.S. anti-occupation act could become a possibility.

If the U.S. government were to seriously pressure Israel - for example, by conditioning $3 billion in annual aid on an end to the occupation and implementation of an equitable peace agreement - perhaps that would provide the incentive necessary to end the occupation.

Although the Berkeley student president subsequently vetoed the divestment bill, and AIPAC's lobbying of student senators successfully prevented an override vote by the narrowest of margins, the proposal's eventual passage seems inevitable. That will turn the spotlight onto the university regents, who will face protests if they don't follow the divestment recommendation.

We who promoted and rallied for this bill are a remarkably diverse coalition of Jews, Christians and Muslims; Israelis and Palestinians; and Americans of all backgrounds. Prominent Jewish supporters included Ofra Ben Artzi, sister-in-law of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor.

We Jews who support the divestment bill are fed up with Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights. We are unwilling to wait for political pressure to get Israel out of the territories to spring from the head of Zeus. And we believe that this move is in the best interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people.

The consequences to Israel of not ending the occupation could not be clearer. "If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote [in Israeli elections], that will be an apartheid state," said none other than Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in his address to the Herzliya National Security Conference this past winter.

Israel must choose: End the occupation or face the unraveling of the militarily enforced Jewish-majority state. The selective divestment approach that Berkeley students advocate will help build the political pressure to force Israel to make this choice.

Matthew A. Taylor ( is a UC Berkeley Peace and Conflict Studies student, co-founder of PeacePower magazine, and author of "The Road to Nonviolent Coexistence in Palestine/Israel," a chapter in the book "Nonviolent Coexistence."








The United Kingdom's most unpredictable election in a generation, scheduled for May 6, is set to reshape the country's political map, with the perennial "also-rans" - the Liberal Democrats - poised to break the Labor and Conservative monopoly on power. It seems likely that no party will win an overall majority in the vote, and consequently, the Liberal Democrats, aided by the remarkable and sudden popularity of leader Nick Clegg, will play kingmaker to either of the two larger parties. In handing over the keys to power, the Liberal Democrats will exact a political price, one that may profoundly influence the country's foreign policy and have worrying implications for the U.K.'s relationship with Israel.

On some issues, such as the economy, the Liberal Democrats are typically centrist, sitting somewhere between Labor and the Tories. However, on other matters, such as electoral reform, the environment and particularly foreign policy, they have drawn a line in the sand, differentiating themselves sharply from their rivals. Liberal Democrats proudly boast, for example, that they alone, among the big parties, opposed the war in Iraq. Similarly, Clegg's is a lone voice in opposing renewal of the U.K.'s Trident nuclear defense program, branding it an outdated Cold War measure. Ominously, his foreign policy credo is to move away from an "over-reliance on the White House," toward a closer working relationship with Europe.

Weaning the U.K. off its "slavish" special relationship with the United States, and bringing it into line with Europe would likely involve a refusal to support further U.S. military campaigns, as well as opposition to Washington's perceived "soft" treatment of Israel. As Clegg emphasized in a press conference last week, "we cannot leave it to the United States to exert influence in the Middle East."


Some have perhaps unfairly identified the Liberal Democrat position on Israel with the well-publicized and repugnant views of former party spokeswoman Jenny Tonge. She expressed empathy with Palestinian suicide bombers in 2004, and recently suggested that the Israel Defense Forces be investigated for stealing organs while carrying out relief work in Haiti. Tonge was duly removed as a spokeswoman and although some argued that this did not go far enough, most party activists appear perturbed and embarrassed by her virulent anti-Israel tone. It should also be noted that an active, albeit small, Friends of Israel faction exists within the party and that the Liberal Democrats are fielding a number of Israel-friendly candidates in the upcoming election.

Nonetheless, the specter of Nick Clegg helping to shape government positions on Israel is worrying. His views are a hostile departure from those of Conservative leader David Cameron and incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown. While Brown and Cameron were careful to highlight Israel's legitimate security concerns during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Clegg forcefully proposed that the U.K. lead a European Union-wide arms embargo on Israel, something that would go a long way toward removing the country's means of self-defense. The Liberal Democrat demand to straitjacket Israel's military continues today, until the blockade of Gaza is lifted.

A former EU bureaucrat himself, Clegg has also urged the union to use its economic muscle to apply pressure on Israel. Labor and Conservative leaders have meticulously distanced themselves from Israel boycott initiatives. Yet the Liberal Democrats recently endorsed the U.K.-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign pledge "that the EU should suspend existing trade agreements" with Israel. Adding insult to injury, Clegg smugly suggests that bullying Israel through boycotts and embargoes would force a change in Gaza policy, which he insists would ultimately benefit "the country's long-term interest."

Although Clegg's popularity and public recognition have soared over the past few weeks, he is not the only barometer of his party's position. In December 2009, an overwhelming 51 of the 63 Liberal Democrat MPs, including Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Davey, sponsored a motion in the House of Commons that pledged to "oppose any legislation to restrict the power of U.K. courts" over universal jurisdiction. This came in direct opposition to Labor and Conservative support to amend the absurd loophole in the law that had allowed pro-Palestinian plaintiffs to successfully apply to a British court last year for a warrant for Tzipi Livni's arrest. One can only assume that the prospect of Livni being taken into custody is perfectly palatable to the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs.

Of course, the realities of government can ensure that election promises do not always translate into action. Yet, the prospect of the Liberal Democrats in senior office is a worrying one for Israel. A party that advocates policies such as an arms embargo on the Jewish state will likely find little sympathy among Israel's leadership.

Party leader Clegg recently said during a live televised debate that British relations with America "should not be a one-way street." But, should he be left to drive foreign policy, Clegg could lead Israel-U.K. relations toward a dead end.


Dan Kosky is a writer and communications professional based in Tel Aviv.








I recently stumbled across an English-language Web ad for an organization based in Gush Etzion that offers a two-hour "action-packed, hands-on" session in which tourists can learn to shoot an M16 or a handgun with "Israeli anti-terror experts." Visitors bored with exploring their religious heritage, hiking through gorgeous areas or grappling with the complicated politics of this country can now get cheap thrills by pretending to shoot Palestinians.

I shouldn't be surprised. For years, summer programs for American Jewish teens in Israel have featured a Gadna experience - i.e., a simulated boot-camp program that is advertised in the following way on one Web site catering to teens:

"Want to experience what your Israeli peers will go through when they turn 18?"


"Wonder what it is like to be in the Israeli army?"


"Want to have a cool and fun time?"

Another Israeli company invites children to celebrate their birthdays and b'nai mitzvah by playing paintball. Lest one think this is some innocuous game, the firm's English-language Web site specifies that players may choose among a number of scenarios, including "hostage rescue" and "sniper takedown." Pictures of a recent tournament show students from yeshivas that cater to Diaspora youth posing with guns at an abandoned army base. Meanwhile, tourists of all ages proudly return from Israel wearing their new Israel Defense Forces T-shirts, hats and (of course) skullcaps decorated with the IDF insignia.

Diaspora Jews have long looked to Israel for the vicarious fulfillment of our tough-guy fantasies. As the firm offering anti-terror tourism puts it: "We combine together the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting." And so we drool over the sexy soldiers. They're hot! They're buff! They're armed! They're New Jews! Hearing about another death-defying mission performed by the IDF helps us to feel a bit less like impotent exiles.

In the United States, Jewish children generally do not play "Iraq war" or wear army T-shirts to school. And yet, when these same children visit Israel as teenagers or young adults, their parents and educators sometimes encourage military play.

I know that my daughter, now just a baby, will eventually ask me why soldiers in Israel carry rifles through the streets. I don't plan to describe war as "a cool and fun time." Nor will I allow her to dress up as a soldier for Purim, or to have her bat-mitzvah party at a paintball range. I will let her know that armies are sometimes necessary, and that 18-year-olds sometimes have to go to war. And I will tell her that this reality causes me great pain. Since my husband and I plan to raise her in the U.S. with dual American-Israeli citizenship, she will ultimately make her own decision about whether to serve in the IDF - or in the U.S. military, for that matter. If she does choose to serve, I hope the decision will emerge from inner struggle and a sense of duty, and not from a romantic idealization of soldiers or weapons.

Reasonable people may disagree on the specifics of the security measures Israels chooses to take, on the preferred outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on the question of whether and when the United States or Israel should allow civilians to carry guns. But all these conversations must begin with this assumption: An ideal world is a peaceful world.

Israeli and American Jews often blame Palestinians for encouraging their own children to aspire to violence. "Their children play with guns," we say. "Their cartoon characters become suicide bombers." "Their music videos teach rock-throwing." These complaints are justified; teaching children to look up to militants only exacerbates the conflict.

But we cannot condemn the behavior of others without taking an honest look at our own actions. When we advertise shooting practice as a fun family activity, when we teach teenagers that life in the military is "cool and fun," and when we let our children wear IDF skullcaps to Shabbat services - we too educate another generation to rationalize and glorify violence. If we let ourselves become lighthearted about guns and the military, we lose the sense of revulsion that would motivate us to lessen the need for them.

There is no question that Jewish law permits war in some cases. But this does not allow for the transformation of weapons into objects of worship. The Talmud forbids bringing implements of war into a beit midrash (house of study). In a modern teshuvah (legal opinion) on the permissibility of carrying guns into a synagogue, the late Israeli Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg noted the dissonance inherent in such an action. While prayer seeks to lengthen life, he taught, weapons shorten life. As such, he ruled that one must do everything possible to avoid holding a weapon while praying (Tzitz Eliezer 10:18).

Waldenberg's warning reminds us that weapons, even when necessary, always carry the whiff of death. Those of us who need to carry guns should do so with sadness, humility and dignity. The rest of us should view weapons as a burden, not as something to be taken lightly. If we teach our children not to play with fire, maybe they will be less likely to get burned.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the author of "There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition" (Jewish Lights, 2009). She is spending the current academic year as a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Institute in Jerusalem.








Three years before Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, the prayer for the safety of the state was altered. To the secular public, this was seen as "merely" a change of words, but the senior rabbis who instructed their followers to stop praying for the safety of the state's leaders knew that this was an earthquake in terms of their beliefs. The consequences were far-reaching.

On Independence Day, members of the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu distributed an amended text for the Yizkor memorial prayer in synagogues. They added a directive to remember (with shame) those who are "flesh of our flesh" and who demonstrate against "war crimes." Members of the movement also brought "material" for the singer Amir Benayun, who wrote an anthem of hatred about the traitors who stick a knife in their backs. The song is about "my bro" who "kills me."

An evil wind is blowing across the land. As has happened in many cases in history, the street hooligans sense they have support from above. Twenty-six years ago, the lens of photographer Alex Levac caught two Palestinians getting off a bus they had hijacked. The reports said they had been killed. The country was outraged. How were they killed? It is hard to believe today but, in addition to steps against the newspaper Hadashot, which ignored the censor, there was a real investigation into the affair. The event was so important that the Shin Bet security service falsely accused Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai of being responsible for their deaths.


The affair in which (Haaretz correspondent) Uri Blau and Anat Kamm tried to warn the public is, on the face of it, much more serious. We are not talking about terrorists who carried out an attack. Twenty-six years ago, on Bus 300, it was not a case of permission to kill innocents when it was possible to carry out an arrest. It is possible that the army and Shin Bet have answers, but the campaign is not against the supposed crime but against the warning. That is how far Israel has gone. After all, it is clear that according to the law, an order that is illegal prima facie must not be carried out, and it is obligatory to expose it.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been a dominant figure in the country's leadership three times. First, as head of the opposition, the demonstrators whom he led chanted: "We'll get rid of Rabin with blood and fire." Those who chanted the slogans and saw themselves as emissaries of the Likud youth shouted outside Leah and Yitzhak Rabin's home "We'll hang you like Ceausescu and Mussolini were hanged." This came at a time when it was deemed advantageous to undermine the regime from the street with acts like disconnecting Rabin's microphone and even ignoring warnings from the Shin Bet head about cooperating with extremists or encouraging the lack of denunciations of the Zo Artzeinu revolt, for which Moshe Feiglin was convicted.

During the second period, as prime minister, the leader who is "good for the Jews" would vow in the name of "the rock of our existence." And he whispered in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri that "the left has forgotten what it is to be Jewish," while associations of extremist American millionaires who supported his campaigns donated money to build in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods like Ras al-Amud.

Now it is the third period of Netanyahu's leadership, and it seems the same tune is back. The opposition is once again persecuted as "traitors to the people" and many are enthusiastic about incitement. Once again millionaires are funding intrusions into Arab neighborhoods, and now this is accompanied by evicting 1948 refugees from their homes and shattering the historical logic of compromising with the achievements of the War of Independence.

The Watergate affair, in which the regime lost hold of its mission, taught the entire world - follow the money. And indeed, those American right-wing religious messianic groups - whose vision includes the Jews ruling over Jerusalem so as to be destroyed in the war of Gog and Magog and make it possible, according to the messianic scenario, for Jesus' return - apparently help fund these activities. This happens from Im Tirtzu to the settlements in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and Netanyahu's surroundings, too.

This dance of internal shattering is taking place while Israel apparently faces a clash in the future with the Iranian messianic power. We have learned from Jewish and general history that in clashes of this kind, when the clash is accompanied by internal terror on the part of Sicarii - the extremist Jewish terrorist group under the Romans - who seek out bogus traitors, the external clash ends in an apocalypse. To meet the test, the public needs lucidity and every bit of support, both external and internal.

When the fire of the bramble bush is pointed inward, an external flame burns up the temples of the state. A movement toward proximity talks on the part of Netanyahu is not sufficient. A change in the coalition is not the main thing. Nor is denunciation of "the Feiglins" as a messianic sect. What is required is understanding that the apocalyptical messianic spirit, be its source Jewish, Christian or Islamic, is an existential threat to Israel and regional peace.

With this in mind, Netanyahu must radically change his attitude on democracy and the messianic nature of the territories. He must concentrate on a determined struggle against messianism, both internal and external, while genuinely cooperating and compromising with the pragmatic forces in the region.

If that other fire - the fire of the Dybbuk - is not removed from the land along with those who instigate, feed and fund it, the land will be annihilated. The Zionist civilization that began with "Im Tirtzu" - referring to Herzl's declaration "If you will it, it is no dream" - will reach its end with a completely different "Im Tirtzu."









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




When the European Union and the International Monetary Fund first talked about a $60 billion rescue for Greece it looked as though that might be enough to calm Europe's panicky markets. Then Germany dragged its feet, and investors raced to dump Greek bonds and bonds from the financially troubled Portugal and Spain.


Now the managing director of the I.M.F., Dominique Strauss-Kahn, says that as much $160 billion will be needed over three years to cover Greece's debts and replace private financing that has become prohibitively expensive. Investors took comfort especially after the German government — which may or may not have learned its lesson — said that it hoped a rescue would be in place by the weekend and opposition lawmakers agreed to fast track debate on Germany's $11 billion contribution this year.


Greece needs money by May 19 when about $12 billion worth of government bonds come due. And if Europe's politicians balk again, the situation could spin out of control — fast. The crisis could spread beyond Greece, Spain and Portugal and cripple financial institutions in Germany, which own $36 billion worth of Greek debt, and France, which own $54 billion. This isn't a question of charity. It is one of Europe's self-preservation.


The Greek government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund must all work to convince investors that are prepared to do what is needed to keep the country afloat and current on its debt. The $160 billion mentioned by Mr. Strauss-Kahn may do the trick. And it comes with very tough conditions attached. As part of the deal, the I.M.F. and European Union are pressing Greece to cut $26 billion from its budget — almost 10 percent of G.D.P. — by reducing military spending, raising value added taxes, cutting pension benefits and slashing public sector bonus payments.


Some economists believe that Greece may still have to restructure its $360 billion in public debt — agreeing on a plan with its creditors to reduce the principal or interest rates or extend its payouts over several more years. Greece would still need large-scale assistance while it negotiated terms and to be able to pay its bills while it recovered access to private capital markets.


Even shoring up Greece may not be enough to stave off a financial crisis in Europe's other weak economies. Portugal, Spain and Ireland are all in deep fiscal messes. Instead of waiting for things to get out of control there, the European Union and the I.M.F. should move quickly to put together a large and credible financial package — economists have mentioned up to $1 trillion — and be prepared to release it quickly if needed. Europe's battered financial markets, and its battered credibility, cannot afford many more weeks like the past one.






A fight is brewing over Arizona's new law that turns all of the state's Latinos, even legal immigrants and citizens, into criminal suspects. And this is not a local fight. The poison is spreading; there is talk in Texas of passing a version of the Arizona statute.


President Obama has called the law "misguided" and promised to keep an eye on it. But when racial separation finds a foothold in any of the 50 states, the president needs to do more than mildly criticize. He should act. Here's a partial but urgent to-do list:


DEFEND CIVIL RIGHTS The Justice Department needs to challenge this law forcefully in court. The statute requires police officers to stop and question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law but says she doesn't know what an illegal immigrant looks like, leaving that to others who think they do.

The Justice Department knows what kinds of abuse that invites. It is already investigating the sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, who raids Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix. His deputies demand people's papers based on the shirts and boots they wear.


Federal law requires noncitizens to carry documents but does not empower police officers to stop anyone they choose and demand to see papers. Arizona's attempt to get around that by defining the act of standing on its soil without papers as a criminal act is repellent.


STOP ARIZONA COLD Arizona's scheme will rely on federal databases to determine immigration status. It will also need the cooperation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, in accepting detainees. ICE says its priorities are dangerous criminals and fugitives, not the peaceful workers and families who are overwhelmingly the targets of the new law. In that case, ICE will deny Arizona authorities data, cooperation and scarce resources.

TAKE BACK IMMIGRATION POLICY The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot make their own immigration laws. The Arizona debacle gives the Obama administration another chance to make it clear that the nation's immigration policy cannot be left to a ragged patchwork of state and local laws.


As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama praised a federal court's decision striking down a law in Hazleton, Pa., that made it illegal to hire or rent housing to undocumented immigrants. To start forcefully asserting the central federal role in immigration, the administration should rescind a once-secret 2002 memo from President George W. Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft, that declared that state and local police had "inherent authority" to make immigration arrests. It should have done that long ago. It should also weigh in against another reckless Arizona law, now before the Supreme Court, that revokes the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

The administration's actions elsewhere have sent the wrong message. Janet Napolitano once vetoed extremist immigration-enforcement bills as Arizona's governor, but as the homeland security secretary she defends the use of state and local police as "force multipliers." Ms. Napolitano needs to end dangerous experiments like the 287(g) program and Secure Communities, which hand over vital federal duties to untrained, unsupervised local deputies, openly enabling racial-profiling and undermining community policing and public safety.


These steps are no substitute for immigration reform, the future of which seems pretty murky after Mr. Obama started gingerly backing away this week. But the federal government must react forcefully to the Arizona statute. Is our core belief still the welcome and assimilation of newcomers? Arizona has given one answer. It's time for Mr. Obama to give the other.






When he arrived in Albany almost eight years ago, State Senator Kevin Parker was known as the intelligent and charming Brooklyn Democrat with a bright future. Now he is known as the man with frightening rages that could erupt at any time and on almost any subject.


A few years ago, he was charged with punching a traffic enforcement agent. There have been complaints that he menaced his staff and even fellow senators. He is presently fighting charges of assaulting a news photographer from The New York Post.


This week, Mr. Parker's outburst began at a confirmation hearing where Senator John DeFrancisco, a white Republican from near Syracuse, was questioning an African-American nominee to the state power authority. When Mr. DeFrancisco said, ham-handedly, that black people are not the only ones to suffer discrimination, Mr. Parker, who is black, erupted. The next day on a radio show, Senator Parker accused Senate Republicans, including Mr. DeFrancisco, of being white supremacists.


Republicans were understandably outraged. Dean Skelos, the Senate Republican leader, said Mr. Parker's remarks had "gone over the line of decency" and demanded that the Democratic leaders take action. The Democratic response was inadequate. John Sampson, the Senate Democratic leader, said he wanted an end to "finger-pointing, name-calling and heated rhetoric" and called on "members in both parties" to get back to work.


Clearly, the Democratic leadership in the State Senate needs to do more than blame everybody for one member's ill behavior. Mr. Parker should be censured, and voters in central Brooklyn should start recruiting a qualified replacement.






A badly divided Supreme Court has overturned a good ruling against a cross that sits on federal land. The opinions did not provide much guidance but, over all, are likely to encourage those who want to entangle government and religion.


In 1934, private citizens put a cross on federally owned land in what is now the Mojave National Preserve in California, to honor Americans who died in World War I. A park visitor sued in 2001, and a federal judge ruled that the cross violated the First Amendment's establishment clause because it conveyed "a message of endorsement of religion."


When the cross was challenged, Congress passed a law that transferred the land under it to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who would maintain it. The same park visitor challenged the land transfer. A trial court ruled that it was invalid because it was simply an attempt by the government to keep the cross. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, agreed.


The Supreme Court reversed that, 5-to-4, in a splintered set of opinions by six separate justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a plurality opinion for himself and two others, said that the district court had erred when it blocked the land transfer because it had failed to properly weigh the factors Congress had to take into account when it passed the law. He directed the lower court to reconsider the question. Because of the way the other justices lined up in their separate opinions, Justice Kennedy's opinion has the force of law on this point.


Justice Kennedy wrote that the cross was "not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs." He said, it "evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten."


A cross is not a generic memorial to Americans who die in battle — something Jewish, Muslim, and atheist soldiers could attest to. Justice John Paul Stevens, in dissent, had it right when he pointed out that it is a uniquely Christian symbol with a "deeply significant meaning for those who adhere to the Christian faith."


The establishment clause prevents the government from endorsing any particular religion. Congress violated that basic principle in this situation. It should not have been a difficult case.








In 1860, Samuel Curtis, a Republican congressman of Iowa, sponsored a bill to create a transcontinental railroad. The debate over that public-private partnership was long and messy. Democrats said the proposal was unconstitutional. Others rightly argued that it meant huge giveaways to the rich.


But the railroad effort, backed by Abraham Lincoln, swept forward. "Nations are never stationary," Representative James Campbell told the House. "They advance or recede. We cannot remain inactive ... without the loss of trade, of commerce, and power."


After the legislation was approved in 1862, there were continual setbacks. The Union Pacific Railroad languished. Scandals mounted. Yet despite it all, the final spike was hammered into place at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, linking the nation and heralding a new burst of prosperity.


When you read that history, you're reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it's possible, sometimes, to achieve important things.


Energy innovation is the railroad legislation of today. This country is studded with venture capitalists, scientists, corporate executives and environmental activists atremble over the great opportunities they see ahead. The energy revolution is a material project that arouses moral fervor — exactly the sort of enterprise at which Americans excel.


As with all causes of this sort, the righteousness sometimes runs ahead of the reality. When you actually look at the details of global warming legislation, you run into myriad questions. Is cap-and-trade really the most appropriate policy tool to reduce carbon emissions? Do the benefits of the most ambitious global warming bills really outweigh the costs? I strongly recommend two essays by Jim Manzi — "Conservatives, Climate Change, and the Carbon Tax" from The New Atlantis and "Dunce Cap-and-Trade" from National Review — in which he presents data suggesting they do not.


Nonetheless, the vision is certainly right. To remain the world's pre-eminent nation, the U.S. is going to have to develop energy sources that are plentiful, clean and don't enrich the worst people on earth. That means in the short term, the U.S. has to unleash the tens of billions of dollars of potential energy investments now being pent up by uncertainty and regulatory hurdles. To make a difference in the long term, the U.S. is going to have to invest more and differently in energy research and development.


Technology companies spend 5 percent to 15 percent of revenue on research and development. Energy companies, on the other hand, spend only one-quarter of 1 percent. The federal government spends $30 billion on health research, but only $3 billion on clean energy research.


It's clearly going to take legislative action to catalyze private investment and to increase federal research to where it should be — about $25 billion a year, according to Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution. It's going to take some equivalent of the Pacific Railroad Acts to kick this into gear.


The best vehicle now is the American Power Act, drawn up by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The bill, like all politically plausible bills these days, is larded with special-interest provisions and public giveaways to defuse opposition and win votes. But it does perform a few essential tasks. To boost innovation, it raises the price on carbon and devotes some of that money (though not nearly enough) to research and development.


In addition, it establishes a predictable price for carbon. Lew Hay, the chief executive of the power provider FPL Group, e-mailed me on Thursday to say that if he can get that certainty on the carbon price and if there can be a renewable energy standard to create a market for carbon-free energy, his company could boost investments right away:


"Regarding wind energy investment at our NextEra Energy Resources subsidiary, we think we might invest about $1.5 billion to $2 billion more per year. Regarding solar, we think NextEra Energy Resources might invest $500 million or more per year outside of Florida and that our Florida Power & Light subsidiary might invest about $1 billion a year inside Florida." Last but not least, he wrote, a new law would be a "huge factor" in deciding whether to move forward with new nuclear units.


Similarly, David Crane, the C.E.O. of NRG Energy, wrote that with a new law, his company could double the number of clean energy projects, from 17 to 36; it could triple the megawatts of clean generating capacity it is planning to add; it could produce three times as much nuclear power and 40 times as much coal with carbon capture and sequestration.


You get the sense that this country is straining against the leash, eager for a new wave of energy development. There will be excess, stupidity and greed along the way. But it would be simply amazing if, through some set of narrow political gamesmanship, Washington continued to stand in the way of all this.








Hanoi, Vietnam


AT noon on April 30, 1975, when news that the liberation forces had captured Saigon spread to the North, we thought: "The war has ended. Now happiness will immediately arrive." All of us, the youth volunteers of Hanoi who were digging a big lake in the suburbs, were allowed to go home, and the next day was May Day, a holiday.


I was so thrilled to head home and enjoy my afternoon off. National flags were flying everywhere. Young people cheered and chanted, "Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh! Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh!"


But then the image of a friend who had been in the North Vietnamese special forces appeared in my mind. He had been among 1,000 soldiers who had gone out to fight together, and one of only four who returned. Their mission had been to ambush dangerous Saigonese agents — and sometimes Americans.


Soon after his return, he and I sat together on a pile of straw, and he told me a war story. He and his group had happened upon some Americans, who started shooting. My friend and his comrades had been ordered to avoid capture, even at the cost of their lives, so they tried to escape. The Americans were drunk, but chased after them. When one American was about to jump on one of our soldiers, my friend stabbed the man from behind and he fell, mortally wounded.


My friend turned him over on the ground and saw his young and handsome face. "Mama," the man said before dying — the same word so many of our own soldiers uttered before they died. My friend's heart tightened and, from then on, he said, he could never forget the American's cry.


No one could understand why my friend later decided to return to battle. I'm told that he was killed somewhere in the jungle. Only years afterward did I come to believe that after hearing the plea of the dying American, he had felt guilty about living. But why did I think of him that day, at that moment, among the cheers?


Phan Thanh Hao is a poet and translator.









DEPENDING on which side you were on, Saigon either fell on April 30, 1975, or it was liberated. Inside Vietnam, the day is marked as Liberation Day — but outside, among the Vietnamese refugees, it is called Deep Resentment Day. (The resentment is not just over losing a war, but also a country.)


On April 21, 1975, I was 11 and living in Saigon. I turned on the television and saw our president, Nguyen Van Thieu. He had a high forehead, a sign of intelligence, and long ears, indicating longevity. He had a round face with a well-defined jaw — the face of a leader — unlike his main rival, Nguyen Cao Ky, who resembled a cricket with a mustache. Thieu said, "At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis, but the United States did not keep its word. Is an American's word reliable these days?"


Growing up in Saigon, I did not witness the war, only its apparatus: tanks, jeeps, jets. I often heard the rhythmic, out-of-breath phuoc phuoc phuoc of chopper blades rotating overhead. As it did for many Americans, the war came to me mainly through the news media. Open a newspaper and you would see Vietcong corpses lying in disarray. Turn on the radio and you could hear how our side was winning. Saigon theaters even showed American movies of World War II. Saigonese could sit in air-conditioning and watch expensively staged war scenes.


We considered the VC little more than a nightmare, a rumor, a bogeyman for scaring children. Once, in Saigon's Phu Lam neighborhood, I saw four blindfolded men standing on a military truck, but there was no way to tell if they were really VC. If someone took a bad photo, you said, "You look just like a VC!" Only after April 30, 1975, did Saigonese realize there were plenty of VC among them.


Before the government fell, my father arranged for me and my brother to flee the country with a Chinese family. He sent his secretary along to take care of us. This secretary was 22, Chinese, with a very short temper, her face round and puffy. Sister Ha, as I called her, would later become my stepmother.


Before I left, my father gave me $2,000, saying, "Two thousand bucks should last you a year." American bills, I noticed, were less colorful than Vietnamese ones, though longer and crisper. After sewing the money into the hem of my blue shorts, made of rayon and extremely hot, my grandmother advised, "Whatever you do, don't take these shorts off."


Before boarding the plane, I stayed at an American compound for four days. On the evening of April 27, I got on a C-130 to fly to Guam. Sitting next to Sister Ha, I watched a kid eat raw instant noodles. When the plane landed, it was pitch dark. No one knew a thing about Guam; we knew only that we had left Vietnam behind.


Linh Dinh is the author of the forthcoming novel "Love Like Hate."





Not that long ago, European economists used to mock their American counterparts for having questioned the wisdom of Europe's march to monetary union. "On the whole," declared an article published just this past January, "the euro has, thus far, gone much better than many U.S. economists had predicted."


Oops. The article summarized the euro-skeptics' views as having been: "It can't happen, it's a bad idea, it won't last." Well, it did happen, but right now it does seem to have been a bad idea for exactly the reasons the skeptics cited. And as for whether it will last — suddenly, that's looking like an open question.


To understand the euro-mess — and its lessons for the rest of us — you need to see past the headlines. Right now everyone is focused on public debt, which can make it seem as if this is a simple story of governments that couldn't control their spending. But that's only part of the story for Greece, much less for Portugal, and not at all the story for Spain.


The fact is that three years ago none of the countries now in or near crisis seemed to be in deep fiscal trouble. Even Greece's 2007 budget deficit was no higher, as a share of G.D.P., than the deficits the United States ran in the mid-1980s (morning in America!), while Spain actually ran a surplus. And all of the countries were attracting large inflows of foreign capital, largely because markets believed that membership in the euro zone made Greek, Portuguese and Spanish bonds safe investments.


Then came the global financial crisis. Those inflows of capital dried up; revenues plunged and deficits soared; and membership in the euro, which had encouraged markets to love the crisis countries not wisely but too well, turned into a trap.


What's the nature of the trap? During the years of easy money, wages and prices in the crisis countries rose

much faster than in the rest of Europe. Now that the money is no longer rolling in, those countries need to get

costs back in line.


But that's a much harder thing to do now than it was when each European nation had its own currency. Back then, costs could be brought in line by adjusting exchange rates — e.g., Greece could cut its wages relative to German wages simply by reducing the value of the drachma in terms of Deutsche marks. Now that Greece and Germany share the same currency, however, the only way to reduce Greek relative costs is through some combination of German inflation and Greek deflation. And since Germany won't accept inflation, deflation it is.


The problem is that deflation — falling wages and prices — is always and everywhere a deeply painful process. It invariably involves a prolonged slump with high unemployment. And it also aggravates debt problems, both public and private, because incomes fall while the debt burden doesn't.


Hence the crisis. Greece's fiscal woes would be serious but probably manageable if the Greek economy's prospects for the next few years looked even moderately favorable. But they don't. Earlier this week, when it downgraded Greek debt, Standard & Poor's suggested that the euro value of Greek G.D.P. may not return to its 2008 level until 2017, meaning that Greece has no hope of growing out of its troubles.


All this is exactly what the euro-skeptics feared. Giving up the ability to adjust exchange rates, they warned, would invite future crises. And it has.


So what will happen to the euro? Until recently, most analysts, myself included, considered a euro breakup basically impossible, since any government that even hinted that it was considering leaving the euro would be inviting a catastrophic run on its banks. But if the crisis countries are forced into default, they'll probably face severe bank runs anyway, forcing them into emergency measures like temporary restrictions on bank withdrawals. This would open the door to euro exit.


So is the euro itself in danger? In a word, yes. If European leaders don't start acting much more forcefully, providing Greece with enough help to avoid the worst, a chain reaction that starts with a Greek default and ends up wreaking much wider havoc looks all too possible.


Meanwhile, what are the lessons for the rest of us?


The deficit hawks are already trying to appropriate the European crisis, presenting it as an object lesson in the evils of government red ink. What the crisis really demonstrates, however, is the dangers of putting yourself in a policy straitjacket. When they joined the euro, the governments of Greece, Portugal and Spain denied themselves the ability to do some bad things, like printing too much money; but they also denied themselves the ability to respond flexibly to events.


And when crisis strikes, governments need to be able to act. That's what the architects of the euro forgot — and the rest of us need to remember.






Our view on money in politics: Make CEOs and union chiefs stand behind political spots


Since 2002, candidates have had to take personal responsibility for their political commercials, tacking an "I approved this message" disclaimer on the end of their TV and radio spots.


This hasn't eliminated negative advertising, but at least voters now know who's responsible. If Mr. Nice Guy is running scurrilous attack ads, viewers can draw their own conclusions about his tactics and character. This kind of transparency helps keep political campaigns fair and voters informed.


Now it's time to apply the same requirement to corporations, labor unions and non-profit advocacy groups, which, thanks to the Supreme Court, recently won the right to spend freely to back or attack individual candidates. Advocacy groups should have to disclose their top funders — something that would let voters know, for example, that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity was underwritten by the coal industry, Citizens for Better Medicare by drug companies, and the Center for Consumer Freedom by restaurants and food companies.


These disclaimers, contained in the so-called Disclose Act introduced in Congress on Thursday, won't come anywhere close to ending the overwhelming and corrupting influence of money in American politics. But the measure is a useful way to give voters the same kind of information they already have about the candidates.


New rules became necessary in the wake of January's Supreme Court decision that opened the way for a huge flood of money into elections, starting with this year's congressional races. The court's conclusion that corporations have essentially the same free speech rights as individuals has been roundly attacked, most prominently by President Obama. Like it or hate it, though, it's the law. The challenge for Congress is to limit the damage while still complying with the court's view of the Constitution.


The court left disclosure and disclaimer requirements intact, so the proposal that all political ads come with a name attached — whether it's a corporate CEO, a labor union boss or the head of an advocacy group — would seem to do that. Opponents contend this would chill free speech because organizations might fear a backlash from members, shareholders or the public. The logic here is mystifying. Why should organizations be able to hide their views even while spending substantial sums to publicly advocate them?


An even odder criticism is that current restrictions against federal contractors making political contributions — sustained by the courts for fear of corruption — should not extend to paying for political ads. How is buying expensive TV commercials that help a candidate or attack his foe not just as potentially corrupting as a direct contribution? Corporations have free speech rights, but they have no right to the public's money free of strings.


The broader answer to the malignant influence of money on politics is for Congress to institute a voluntary system of public financing. In the meantime, requiring deep-pocketed sponsors to disclose who they are would at least make the process more transparent. Congress would do well to approve the change in time for this fall's onslaught of campaign ads.







Americans should have no illusions about the Disclose Act: It's on the congressional docket because the Democratic leadership fears electoral disaster in November. In particular, they fear the Citizens United decision will empower businesses and conservative groups to spend money persuading voters to throw the rascals out.


Citizens United said corporations, labor unions and political groups could urge Americans to vote for or against candidates for federal office. The Supreme Court also said Congress could require disclosure of the money supporting such speech. Mandating disclosure can provide voters with information they want. It can also go too far and impose costs on speakers that chill speech.


Any group funding an ad that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate must already disclose its donations. This bill requires far more. Business leaders and select others must appear on camera and endorse their ad. In fact, so much of an ad will be taken up with mandatory speech there will be little time for material political comment.


These new requirements will expose more donors to retribution from incumbent politicians. The sponsors of the bill may also hope that forcing disclosure will lead to a backlash by customers or shareholders against businesses or groups. If so, the leaders of the businesses or groups in question may decide to forgo the costs of speaking out and remain silent. In other words, the authors of Disclose apparently hope to chill the speech of their political opponents.


Such silence would be a shame. Spending money to express a political view harms no one. Voters rightly have the power (and responsibility) to accept or reject what they hear. But Congress should not decide for the voters what speech might be heard, even when the way to discourage debate is "only disclosure."


Disclose also bans spending on speech by government contractors and firms that received government bailouts in 2008. Courts have allowed bans on contributions by government contractors to preclude "corruption." But the proposed prohibitions apply to businesses that want to spend money on political ads. They are not donating money to candidates or to the parties. There can be no exchange of money for favors. Absent the possibility of corruption, these bans on political speech will be invalidated by the courts.


The Disclose Act is a cynical partisan ploy that violates the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment. Voters deserve better.


John Samples is director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government.





Goldman: Bad guys or just a scapegoat?

Plain Talk By Al Neuharth, USA TODAY Founder


Nearly everybody knows the recession is over, although it may take the government months more to figure that out and make it official. Right now, politicians are too busy trying to fix the blame so that they don't emerge as the villains themselves.


On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations spent 10 hours interrogating executives of Goldman Sachs to try to make them look like the bad guys. In my book, Goldman is the scapegoat.


The presidentially appointed five-member Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 to accuse Goldman of fraud. The SEC says Goldman misled investors by selling them an investment based on subprime mortgages without disclosing to them that mortgages had been picked by an investor who expected them to default.


That misses the point.


Yes, the collapse of the subprime home mortgage market led to the recession that officially started in December 2007. But Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other government entities bear far more responsibility than Goldman. They are the bad guys and gals. Facts:


•Fannie and Freddie purchased or guaranteed trillions of dollars in subprime and other dubious loans.


•Goldman's entire balance sheet is a fraction of that amount and therefore virtually meaningless to the overall problem.


Rather than putting the blame on Goldman and Wall Street for the home mortgage mess, government officials should repair their own house on Pennsylvania Avenue.


The Senate has a pending financial regulation bill. It has no reform of Fannie and Freddie. Instead of trying to make villains out of Goldman, government officials should start closer to home.








When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the most restrictive immigration bill in the USA into law, that was not the end of the debate — but just the beginning.


The law is ripe for constitutional challenges, as it appears to be an intrusion of state authority into federal jurisdiction. Latino civic groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have vowed to fight the law, most likely by invoking the Supremacy Clause and the 14th amendment.


Although it's impossible to predict the outcome of such cases, one thing is certain: Arizona will be wasting a lot of money defending this new law.


The law, in my opinion, gives state and local police the right to stop and question anyone based on a "reasonable suspicion"of his being illegal, and to arrest that person if he's not carrying proper identification. It makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly give a ride to an illegal immigrant, even a relative.


Certainly, the people of Arizona are tired of bearing the costs of our nation's broken immigration system. But the state's new law will do little to solve this crisis and will, in fact, create more problems.


I find it troubling that the law provides no guidance for police as to what constitutes a "reasonable suspicion" that a person is an illegal immigrant. Since Arizona is nearly one-third Latino, according to the Census Bureau, this sets the stage for racial profiling, harassment and discrimination against Hispanics on an unprecedented level. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that Arizona is home to 500,000 unauthorized migrants. How will the police identify them? By skin color, accent, or whether they are speaking Spanish?


While many rank-and-file police officers supported this legislation, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police did not. They rightly feared it would sow distrust in the Latino communities and take resources away from other crime-fighting activities. What's more, the law includes a provision that allows anyone to sue his local law enforcement agency if he thinks they are not enforcing the law. Arizona, already facing deep budget cuts, cannot afford all these court challenges.


In fact, the law is already costing Arizona money. The American Immigration Lawyers Association just announced that it has cancelled its fall convention in Scottsdale. Spanish-language media, the blogosphere and Facebook are awash in calls to boycott the state.


The new law will not make the border safer. Instead Gov. Brewer has done little more than appease angry voters at the expense of the civil rights of Hispanics.


Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.







The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial: "The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act, signed (April 23) by Gov. Jan Brewer, gives police in Arizona authority to question anyone if there is a 'reasonable suspicion' that he is an illegal immigrant. ... But with 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, a round-them-up-and-send-them-back approach won't work. The cost alone is prohibitive. And many who came here illegally are living upstanding lives. People who are working hard, raising families, staying out of trouble and paying taxes — on their purchases, if nothing else — deserve the opportunity to make amends and be placed on a path toward legal residency and eventual citizenship."


Rich Lowry, editor, in National Review: "The police already have the power to stop illegal aliens, a power the Arizona courts have upheld; they already can ask about someone's legal status ... and they already can detain illegal aliens. ... (Arizona) has an estimated 460,000 illegal aliens out of a population of 6.6 million. They impose countless millions of dollars in schooling, health care and incarceration costs, more than $1 billion a year in one estimate. ... Arizonans needn't, and shouldn't, tolerate this. Critics accuse the state of unconstitutionally devising its own immigration policy. If it had unilaterally declared its border open to the poor, violence-plagued country to its south, this charge might have had force. Instead, Arizona seeks only to enforce the nominal immigration policy of the United States. Perhaps the federal government should try it sometime."


The Dallas Morning News, in an editorial: "What would lead a Phoenix cop, a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy or an Arizona state trooper to suspect that this person on the street was here without proper documentation? Therein lies the problem with SB 1070. It does little, if anything, to protect Arizonans from people crossing the border illegally. But it does add a layer of unreasonable suspicion to anyone who might look as if they did. ... If you live in Arizona and look like you're from Mexico, El Salvador or Guatemala, you're a suspect who must prove your citizenship or legal status. And if you believe this law might be applied uniformly to Arizona's non-Latino residents, seriously, is that really reasonable?"


Michelle Malkin, columnist, in RealClearPolitics: "Mexican President Felipe Calderon has accused Arizona of opening the door 'to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement.' But Arizona has nothing on Mexico when it comes to cracking down on illegal aliens. ... Illegal entry into the country is equivalent to a felony punishable by two years' imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud. Evading deportation is a serious crime; illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by 10 years' imprisonment. Foreigners may be kicked out of the country without due process. ... There's been no public clamor for 'comprehensive immigration reform' in Mexico, however, because pro-illegal alien speech by outsiders is prohibited."


Los Angeles Times, in an editorial: "Thank you, Arizona. Despite our strong condemnation of a new law that will likely promote racial profiling of Latinos in your state, we must acknowledge that you have accomplished what many others — including senators, committed activists and a willing president — have failed to achieve. You put immigration back on the national agenda."





40 years after Kent State, reassessing 2010

By Chuck Raasch


WASHINGTON — May marks the 40th anniversary of two of America's most horrific campus tragedies: The killings at Kent State in Ohio, and Jackson State in Mississippi.


These memories of a divisive era provide an opportunity to reassess today's partisanship. Despite polls showing levels of anger and frustration rarely seen in this country in the past 50 years, the state of affairs might not be as dire as we think.


On May 4, 1970, at Kent State, National Guard soldiers fired on a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four. Ten days later, two young men — one a student, another a high school senior — were killed when state and local police responded to unrest at Jackson State and fired shotguns into a dormitory.


The president's Commission on Campus Unrest called the actions of police at Jackson State an "unreasonable, unjustified overreaction," but no charges were filed. The commission called the Kent State shootings "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable." Civil lawsuits and criminal investigations ensued, but there were no criminal convictions.


The two events hardened the division over the Vietnam War and racial strife of the '60s and '70s. The picture of the young woman crying out over the dying student at Kent State is one of the iconic images of the age.


Richard Nixon had been elected president in 1968 by appealing to the "Silent Majority" and by running a law-and-order campaign that his critics said was a coded appeal to racists. His defenders saw his as the right response to a country wracked by race riots and anti-war protests.


The era split families, communities, country. Trust between government and citizens was severely damaged, an impact still felt.


Humans have a certain arrogance and myopia that leads to collective belief that our experiences are the most this, or the best that, or the worst thus. Politicians play to the instinct to make themselves look better, or to push their change.


President Obama's stump speech rarely fails to mention how he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression. George W. Bush portrayed 9/11 and the financial meltdown of 2008 as unprecedented challenges. The framing helped both presidents sell massive public spending and borrowing and, for Bush, simultaneous wars.


I recently observed on FaceBook that in terms of anger, anxiety and angst, at least three years in the past half-century seemed rawer and more divisive than today: 1968, 1979 and 2000.


The case for each:


— In '68 there were race riots, the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and the violent Democratic National Convention in Chicago.


— The year 1979 included the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and President Carter's speech lamenting "malaise" at home.


— And there was 2000 and the bitterly contested presidential election that tested the constitutional limits of our courts and political system. It left permanent partisan marks on Bush's presidency.


But FaceBook friends made convincing cases for other years.


In '63, President Kennedy was killed; the Vietnam War escalated, it was months after the Cuban Missile Crisis.


In '70, as noted above, there was literally blood on campuses just two years after the Kennedy and King assassinations.


Watergate came in '72; Nixon left office in '74. In 1980, Carter stopped selling wheat to the Russians and the United States boycotted the Olympic Games. The Cold War was at its coldest.


In '87, President Clinton was impeached for lying about an affair with a former White House intern, and the country took sides for a year. A ripe moment to fix the massive government entitlement problems still facing us was lost for good.


Maybe these memories can put 2010, for all its challenges, in not so bad a light after all.


Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett, publisher of USA TODAY. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at








GOV. HUCKABEE'S 'BEST JOB' -- YET           


Mike Huckabee made a name for himself several years ago as the governor of Arkansas. Then he ran as a Republican candidate for president of the United States, but was unsuccessful.


Now he may have his best job -- yet.


He is on cable television, with a rather low-key weekly political and musical variety show. He pleasantly chats with guests, makes some political observations and engages a small studio audience -- and a large national broadcast audience. So he's still very much in the public eye.


Gov. Huckabee came to Chattanooga this week to give some political encouragement to 3rd District Republican congressional candidate Chuck Fleischmann. But another 3rd District Republican congressional aspirant, Robin Smith, claimed that a majority of the "real" Huckabee supporters favor her.


Politics has a long road. Mrs. Smith and Mr. Fleischmann are just two of several current Republican and Democrat congressional hopefuls. But is Gov. Huckabee looking ahead -- possibly to another run for president in 2012?


Stay tuned.


Politics is an interesting business, to say the least.







The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a major and troubling change in its view of religious symbols on public land Wednesday. In another narrow 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court ruling that ordered removal of a war memorial cross from a remote spot in California's Mojave Desert. The language of the majority strongly suggests the court is willing to accept the idea that the Constitution does not require the removal of religious symbols from government-owned lands. That's a troubling prospect.


Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that California judges erred when they ruled that the U.S. National Park Service must remove a Latin Cross erected in 1934 to honor World War I dead because it constituted government endorsement of religion. He said, instead, that the First Amendment called for a "policy of accommodation" toward religious displays on public land rather than a strict separation of church and state. That's a radical change from long-established practice.


It should be noted that the case is not closed. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court to sort out whether or not the dubious sale of the land on which the cross stands to a private group that agreed to maintain the cross was an improper act. Still, the majority decision, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, makes it clear change is in the judicial air.


Justice Kennedy wrote that "A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. Here, a Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten."


That stirred a spirited and thoughtful response from dissenting judges.


Justice John Paul Stevens, who will retire at the end of the current session, wrote for the minority. He said: "The cross is not a universal symbol of sacrifice. It is the symbol of one particular sacrifice, and that sacrifice carries deeply significant meaning for those who adhere to the Christian faith." He's right. It is impossible to separate a cross from its religious meaning.


Indeed, the tens of thousands of men and women whose gravestones in national cemeteries here and abroad are marked by the symbols of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hindusim and other faiths are powerful testament to the validity of Justice Stevens' reasoning. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen G. Breyer joined in dissent.


Wednesday's decision, overturns a lower court's reasonable ruling that the cross does not belong at its current location. In doing so, the high court undermines the nation's core values. The presence of the cross in the desert -- and the absence of other symbols of faith at the same location despite efforts to place them there -- implies that the government favors one faith above others.


That's not acceptable. The government should not, directly or indirectly, promote one religion to the exclusion of others. That practice is wrong and, more to the point, un-American.







What would be your reaction if a foreign army invaded the United States?


Such a proposition is so unlikely that we can hardly imagine it. The United States has been in terrible wars, but has not faced serious military invasion since the War of 1812, when British troops burned the White House.


If a foreign army attempted to invade the United States today, we surely would mobilize all of our military forces -- and all of our citizens -- to repel the invaders and defend our country and our people from the invaders.


Yet the United States is being invaded today -- and has been for some years -- by so many illegal foreign invaders that we don't even know how many are here!


Does that seem incredible to you?


By some estimates, the number of illegal aliens in the United States is as high as 20 million!


And yet we have not determined to make our borders impervious to invaders.


Arizona is "in the news" because it is facing such a massive number of illegal invaders that it has adopted a tough state law in its defense.


But why doesn't the federal government of the United States have effective defense against the illegal invasion?


Some officials are even condemning Arizona for its efforts to defend its borders, its people and its laws.


We can understand why many foreigners want to come here. They see the United States as a land of golden opportunity that they would like to enjoy. We have laws that provide for limited numbers of people to come here from foreign countries, temporarily or permanently. Some of them benefit our country and our people. But in addition, there are millions of people who have violated our laws to come here and created serious problems.


The illegal invasion has been winked at in some cases because it is a source of cheap labor. Most of the illegals are seeking work and a better life, for which we don't blame them. But some of the illegal invaders are violent criminals and drug smugglers who create great dangers.


How many illegal invaders will we tolerate? How many can we accept without a major change in the way our 300 million American citizens and legal immigrants live?


With humanitarian compassion, we may understand the aspirations of millions of people who have come here illegally. But it should be evident to all Americans that we cannot maintain our laws, our security, our economy and our historic traditions if we ignore the invasion of our country by many millions of people who violate our laws.

What other country allows unlimited illegal immigration?


We should defend the United States and our people by upholding our laws. We are failing to do that today.







The long-term discussion about U.S. health care, who will provide it and who will pay for it, continues. There should be little debate, however, that the short and long-term demand for health care in the United States will increase steadily for years to come. A new study on chronic medical conditions that could lead to heart disease -- the leading killer of American adults -- underscores that. Indeed, the portrait of the nation's health limned by researchers is not pretty.


Almost half of U.S. adults have diagnosed or undiagnosed high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, according to the study. About three percent of adults have all three conditions, and about 13 percent have two of the conditions. Most, but not all, individuals are aware of their personal health problems. About 15 percent of American citizens with one or more of the conditions are unaware of it, the study shows.


The increasing prevalence of the three conditions in the U.S. population is closely related to obesity, another troubling U.S. health trend. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults, according to the CDC, are now overweight or obese. The extra poundage can be lethal..


It increases the likelihood that an individual will have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes -- or some combination of the trio. That, in turn, makes it more likely that affected individuals will develop heart disease that could drastically affect their quality of life, their lifespan and the demands they place on the health care system.


The problem, to be fair, is as much a societal one as it is a medical one. Dependency on cars and community planning that limits, sidewalks, parks and playgrounds have reduced the opportunity for people of all ages to exercise. The availability of fast food makes it more difficult for those pressed for time to make healthy food choices. The result is as readily apparent as it is disastrous.


Reversing the current trend will be difficult, but it must be done. To do nothing or allow current trends to become even more entrenched in society is foolhardy. "If we continue on the same course, this problem will grow progressively worse," one expert says. If that occurs, the costs -- physical, societal and financial -- will be astronomical.


There's no easy way to reduce the national incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The latter, like many chronic conditions, is often irreversible. Still, attention to diet and regular physical activity can help improve health. Improved eating habits and adherence to an exercise routine that produces and maintains weight loss of even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.


Prevention of conditions that lead to heart disease is a vital step in improving individual health. It is, as well, an important component in building a national health care delivery system that will not be overwhelmed by problems directly related to poor lifestyle choices.







President Barack Obama and the liberal Democrat majority in Congress have managed to foist off a tremendously expensive socialized medicine plan on the American people in the form of ObamaCare. But Tennessee's Sen. Lamar Alexander gave us fair warning of what's coming, and recently reiterated it.


"The Obama administration's own report now confirms what Republicans feared all along -- that the new health care law will add to the federal debt and lead to higher health insurance costs for Americans," he said.


"Republicans respectfully warned the president at the White House health care summit that his plan would increase individuals' health premiums, and now it turns out Medicare's chief actuary says those fears were justified.


"Most Americans realize this law is an historic mistake because it expands a system everyone knows we can't afford instead of lowering costs so more Americans can afford to buy quality health insurance.


"The administration and the Democratic majority should heed this warning about what happens when Congress passes partisan legislation written behind closed doors."

Sen. Alexander's warning was unheeded. So, sadly, we will see the high costs rise in the years ahead.

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The problem with government tampering with the free market is that it sets off a series of unintended, and usually negative, consequences.


It was wrong for Congress to bail out big companies to the tune of $700 billion through the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program. By not letting private companies struggle or even fail after they had performed badly and by propping them up with tax dollars, Congress only encouraged further bad behavior and set the stage for future crises.


But now, the government is compounding the problems created by the bailout. The so-called "pay czar" has released "pay guidelines" for dozens of executives at five bailed-out automotive and insurance companies. The vast majority of the executives will be limited to cash salaries of less than $500,000, plus stock.


Now, that is not a "puny" salary, and you might not feel sympathetic toward someone earning that level of pay. But wouldn't it be wise to set aside animosity or envy and consider what the actual effects of the "pay guidelines" will be?


What do you think will happen when extremely talented workers -- the very type of workers the bailed-out companies need if they are to become more stable and efficient -- have to choose between working at one of those companies for government-restricted pay or at a different company that pays more? They'll do exactly what most of the rest of us would do if we were considering positions with different companies: They'll select the higher-paying jobs.


That will leave the bailed-out companies with less skillful employees who are less able to turn things around -- which ironically will increase the odds that Congress will bail out those companies again.


The solution, of course, is not to bail out companies in the first place if their own poor market performance or unethical behavior got them in trouble. What most certainly is not the solution is following an unwise bailout with unwise "pay guidelines."









It seems that UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has much to learn about the fine art of diplomacy.


Demonstrating his lack of diplomatic finesse and inexperience, the UAE foreign minister has exposed himself to the possibility of a harsh response from the Islamic Republic of Iran through his provocative remarks in which he explicitly questions the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic, the most tolerant and pacifist state of the Persian Gulf region.

With the surreptitious support of the Zionist, U.S., and British lobbies, the United Arab Emirates is now playing the role of a regional ally of the hegemonistic powers that have created a specter of Iranophobia for Arab states, which now consider Iran a serious threat to their security.

The United Arab Emirates, which in 2004 started negotiations with Tel Aviv over the establishment of an Israeli representative office in Abu Dhabi, is currently holding negotiations on a $20 million deal with the Zionist regime that would facilitate the UAE's access to the Israeli-built satellite Eros B and its high-resolution imagery.

A report published on February 23, 2009 on the American Defense News website said that "for Israel, the deal represents the latest step in forging links with a key moderate Arab state which, like Israel, worries about the threat from Iran."

The "moderate Arab state", which denies having official relations with Israel, began clandestine talks with Tel Aviv in 2006 and later signed contracts with the Israeli-based company ImageSat International.

The invitation of Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau to Abu Dhabi to attend an international conference on renewable energy in early 2010 was the latest move by the Persian Gulf state toward normalizing ties with Israel.

According to a report published by the UAE newspaper The National, the UAE is now one of the world's biggest arms purchasers and a leading client of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

On April 20, the UAE foreign minister likened Iran's control of three strategic islands in the Persian Gulf, Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, to Israel's occupation of Arab territories.

The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, came into being when Britain granted independence to its Persian Gulf protectorates and withdrew its forces in 1971. Now its foreign minister draws erroneous and misleading comparisons between Israel's criminal occupation of the Palestinian homeland and Iran's legal administration over its own islands.

The position adopted by the UAE's inexperienced foreign minister, who'll be celebrating his 38th birthday tomorrow, is a harbinger of Abu Dhabi's anti-Iranian plot, which is apparently planned and directed by the White House. Threatening Iran with "all options", warning about a potential nuclear strike, imposing crippling sanctions, promoting Iranophobia in the region, and provoking a novice state to call into question the territorial integrity of the most ancient civilization of the region are only a few of the actions the White House has taken to prevent the emergence of a powerful Iran.

The UAE claims to have a legal right of sovereignty over the three Persian Gulf islands and says that Iran has occupied its islands unlawfully. However, there is an enormous amount of historical documents and other evidence that prove the UAE is only making baseless allegations.

First of all, the country of the UAE, in its current configuration, only came into existence in the year 1971, while Iran has been a regional superpower for the past 2500 years.

In addition, Professor Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, the renowned Iranian scholar and geopolitical expert, has said that Iranian Prime Minister Haji Mirza Aqasi's proclamation of ownership of all islands in the Persian Gulf in the 1840s was not challenged by any government at the time.

In 1888, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, the British minister-plenipotentiary to Tehran, presented a War Office map to Iranian King Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar in which the islands were identified as Iranian territory.

In his 1892 book Persia and the Persian Question, George Nathaniel Curzon, the viceroy and governor-general of India, wrote that the islands belonged to Iran.

In fact, the UAE's claims are so ridiculous that one can easily dismiss them as propagandistic rhetoric and psychological warfare.

Iranian officials have so far responded to the imprudence of their UAE counterparts in a relatively tolerant way, showing the international community Iran's determination to maintain peace and stability in the region and to implement its policy of détente.

However, the Iranian people will not stand idly by while others insult their national honor.








As we neared deadline yesterday, we again were glued to televisions and computer monitors trying to divine the next moves by many players in the drama of the Greek debt crisis. Just how much money will the IMF come up with and what are the implications of this institution leading a rescue in the eurozone? Is a Greek default really out of the question? Just how broad a shoulder will the European Commission and the European Central Bank put to the wheel of a bailout?


There continue to be more questions than answers, and the anxious Greek public makes it clear each day on the streets.


Some of them are technical. Can monetary union without political union work? This is a principal one, with all manner of experts reflecting on mistakes made in the two decades since the Maastricht Treaty monetary union that culminated in the common currency in 1999.


Some of the questions demand we reflect upon policy. The global financial crisis that began in 2008 with poorly regulated housing loans in the United States quickly spread and revived fiscal activism around the world. Suddenly deficits became fashionable. And here we are wringing our hands over deficit vulnerabilities being the catalyst of a domino scenario spreading outward from Athens. Are we going from a private-sector induced crisis to a public-sector induced crisis?


Of course as we ponder these questions, we are concerned for the health and welfare of our neighbor Greece, with which we have much in common and much common cause to wage. But our broader concern is for the health of the larger European Union project. For despite our frustrations with the ups and downs in Turkey's half-century quest for EU membership, we remain committed to the goals of this historical undertaking, the sharing of sovereignty, the embrace of universal standards and the ultimate goal of true democracy for the European continent. It is in these principles that we think it imperative that Turkey share.


And the greatest risk of this crisis is an unraveling of the tenets of the European project, a failure that would have dire risks for all, a tragedy for Turkey.


Already there are signs of nativist revival, of a return to the antiquated assumptions about the unruly "south" vs. the disciplined "north," the Spartan virtues of the "Protestants" vs. the lackadaisical ways of the "Catholic" or "Orthodox" worlds. We see much commentary keyed to imagery of the siesta-seeking Greeks opposed by the punctual Germans. And we see great danger in this.


Greece and Europe face an economic crisis. It will require sacrifice. It will require change. It will require patience and endurance. But a public accounts crisis affecting less than 5 percent of the EU's collective GDP should not loose a contagion upon our shared values. The EU should not be allowed to turn against itself








The last big eruption from Eyjafjallajokull, in 1821, belched ash into the atmosphere for over a year. Perhaps even more worrying than that is the risk that the neighboring Katla volcano might erupt too.


Archaeological evidence suggests that when roused it is even more destructive. Another more immediate worry for northern Europe is the health risk that volcanic ash might bring. While the ash cloud floats miles above the earth it poses only a risk to jet engines, but reports suggest that it may have started to settle on the ground in Scotland. More could follow further south.


The World Health Organization recommends staying indoors if ash starts raining down from the sky. The agency admits that the exact health worries are unclear but reckons that inhaled particles might cause respiratory problems. Moreover volcanoes spewing ash into the atmosphere can have effects on the climate too. A far larger eruption in Iceland in 1783 threw sulfur dioxide and other gases and dust into the air creating a persistent haze that blocked out sunlight.


The Economists points out that the civil-aviation authorities had come under strong pressure from European airlines, several of whom had conducted successful test flights in the supposed danger zones. However, the engines of a Finnish military jet did suffer considerable damage as a result of breathing in the ash. Some air freight might take to the road or water—98 percent of the world's trade is already carried by ship. And plenty of the world's container vessels are sitting idly waiting for the world economy to pick up after the recent recession in the rich world. But for some freight, from Formula One racing cars stuck in China, to flowers farmed in Kenya and destined for restaurant tables in London, there is no alternative route.So far, aside from airlines and air travelers, the impact has been limited. But as the shutdown continues Europe's fragile economies will suffer as tourists fail to arrive, meetings are cancelled and businesses with supply chains that rely on air freight nervously watch stocks running down.


In February 2008 officials from air-traffic-control services across Europe, as well as representatives of weather services and airlines, ran an exercise that simulated a strikingly similar eruption. The volcano they chose was not Eyjafjallajokull, but its neighbor, Katla; the weather conditions were not quite the same, but the procedures were. The exercise differed from the real thing in some crucial ways: it ran for only a day, and it hardly affected anyone who wasn't an air-traffic controller. Eruption, in contrast, caused British airspace and that over much of the rest of Europe to be closed on April 15, and to remain shut for five days of mounting chaos. No one denies that volcanic ash can cause jet engines to fail in flight. An engine's heat melts the fine-ground rock, which proceeds to encrust the cooler parts of the mechanism, stopping it from working. Lower concentrations can damage engines without having an immediate effect on how well they work. But where the boundaries between danger, potential damage and safety lie, and how they vary with the type and number of ash particles, was not taken into account in the decisions to close airspace. Things were made worse by the fact that the computer models of the ash cloud's dispersion gave only a very broad sense of where the ash might be. That is a lot better than nothing, at least for nuclear fallout (for which the model was first developed.)


When the forbidden zone stops aircraft getting in or out of Heathrow, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, things get a bit more desperate. Over the weekend both airlines and research agencies made test flights. Air France-KLM, British Airways, Lufthansa and others carried out over 40 flights. Subsequent engine inspection apparently revealed no unacceptable damage. On April 21 the CAA established a new rule, deeming regions thought to have less than 2,000 micrograms of dust per cubic meter safe for flight. That threshold, the CAA says, was provided on the basis of data from equipment-manufacturers; Rolls-Royce, the leading European maker of jet engines for airliners, has made no comment on this. The new safety level is about 100 times higher than the background level of dust at ground level. It is also considerably higher than anything seen by research aircraft over Britain since the eruption started; those flights have encountered no patches of sky with an ash density of more than 400 micrograms per cubic meter, 20 times the background level. If the exercise two years ago did not capture the range of problems that an Icelandic volcano might cause, it did show that the general situation was entirely foreseeable.


To cut the long story short, the Eyjafjallajokull's eruption cost $3 billion and more than 100,000 flights were canceled and 100 million passengers suffered.








I was left behind the agenda while I was in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır for four days. I didn't have time to read newspapers in order to catch up with the region. In the meantime, Devrim Sevimay of Milliyet daily did a remarkable interview with renowned politician Andrew Arato. (This is Sevimay's second interview with him, the first was in 2008.) Apparently Arato's remarks have caused reactions in these days of tension.


In "social sciences," or to be more precise, "social-political theory," no scientific certainty exists. Therefore, it is impossible to say "We've found a scientist and learned what is right." Besides, even in positive sciences, everything is debatable after a certain point.


I think, instead of becoming involved in a long positivist debate over the subject matter, it was enough for me to remember the row over the swine flu vaccination.


On the other hand, it is also impossible to say everyone is entitled to speak over social-political issues however they like and all statements are equally important.


"Social-political entities" cannot be read through the naked eye nor can they be explained simply. For this reason, we have to look through a hypothetical frame and adapt a cognitive language. But of course some don't feel the necessity of doing so. On the other hand, just because some don't lend importance to great philosophers such as Voltaire or Ibn Haldun and even great theologians such as al-Ghazali and St. Augustine, it doesn't mean that the thought systems of these thinkers are of no importance. Likewise, heated discussions occur in the sphere of social-political theory as well. But taking or not taking this area of interest seriously is something to do with being ignorant or not.


Arato is known for his views on the constitutional amendment package in Turkey. He is a renowned political theorist. Whether you like his views or not… That's another question. But it is unrealistic to deny his importance just because he says something unpleasant.


So, I've just had an urge to make some clarifications here. To the more, I personally give importance to Arato and I have mentioned him in the past. I had a chance to see him on Dec. 28 at a meeting organized by the daily Radikal and Koç University. He had made quite striking remarks in that meeting too. But some at Radikal were not interested enough in the meeting to make a news report. And no one mentioned it but me.


However, Arato fiercely criticized the architects of the new draft Constitution, professors Ergun Özbudun and Serap Yazıcı. I do remember that both remained silent against Arato.


Lastly, the reason why he is considered an expert on constitutional changes though he is not a jurist is that the processes of making constitution are in fact "political negotiation processes" not limited to the area of legal techniques. Constitutions are legal descriptions of political systems. This fact is completely forgotten in our country or not known at all. (Since this is a very critical subject, even more important than discussing Arato, I will come back to this very subject.)


Since he is equipped with knowledge on political negotiation processes, Arator has concentrated on the processes of making constitutions.


His latest book titled "Constitution-making under Occupation" over the constitution-making process in Iraq is not a book on law, but a study on political negotiation process and equation. But I suggest interested parties reading Arato's previous book titled "Civil Society and Political Theory" published in 1994 by MIT Press. First let me underline the fact that these issues are not for connotations or denotation or even for rhetoric. I will come back to the subject of the Constitution.


* Ms. Nuray Mert is a columnist for the daily Radikal in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff








A Western diplomat suggested the other day that Turks must be deriving pleasure from the situation that Greece is in today. This reflects the age-old preconception that Turks and Greeks are enemies to the end.


There is little, in fact, to gloat over for Turks in the problems the Greeks are facing today. Turks have been down that road and understand the situation.


Reports emerging prior to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's upcoming visit to Athens of Turkey's willingness to help Greece face its economic hardships should not be read as "rubbing salt into Greek wounds" either. Not withstanding the momentous and painful events of history, Greeks and Turks have much more latent empathy for each other in times of adversity than many in Europe would assume.