Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.05.10

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

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

Month may 12, edition 000505, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. AGAINST MODERNITY
  2. MADE FOR EACH OTHER
  3. COUNTDOWN TO CHAOS IN NEPAL - ASHOK K MEHTA
  4. MAKE EDUCATION MARKET FRIENDLY - MK BHAT
  5. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT - PC SHARMA
  6. PAPERING IT OVER - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. UTTARAKHAND SOWING SEEDS FOR A BETTER TOMORROW - BABA MAYARAM

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. GREECE AND US
  2. MISSION POSSIBLE
  3. CAN PAKISTAN BE SECULAR? - GAUTAM ADHIKAR
  4. 'INDIA CAN BECOME A MEDICAL TOURISM DESTINATION' - ROMAIN MAITRA
  5. HANG 'EM HIGH - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NO PLACE FOR PARALLEL COURTS
  2. IS HE IN THE HOOD?
  3. STRIKING A HIGH NOTE - MARK SOFER
  4. A BLINKERED VISION - SAGARIKA GHOSE

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. UPWARD & ONWARD
  2. 50,000 REASONS
  3. MY CASTE AND I - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  4. THE HANDS THAT FED THEM - EJAZ HAIDER
  5. UNUSUAL POWERS OF PERSUASION - JAITHIRTH RAO
  6. THE STRIKE THAT FAILED TO IGNITE CHANGE - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  7. THE GREAT GAME FOLIO - C. RAJA MOHAN
  8. VIEW FROM THE LEFT - MANOJCG

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. TRAI AGAIN
  2. GEARING UP FOR GROWTH
  3. HOW CAN ORISSA NOT BE GREECE? - AJAY SHAH
  4. BANNING COTTON EXPORT IS NO SOLUTION - MADAN SABNAVIS
  5. TRANSPARENT RATINGS PLEASE - ASHISH SINHA

THE HINDU

  1. ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE
  2. CHECK ON ARBITRARINESS
  3. SAVING THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION MIRACLE - VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM
  4. BENCHMARKING REHABILITATION AND RESETTLEMENT - SUJAY NAG
  5. UNEQUAL QUEST FOR EQUALITY - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
  6. WHITE HOUSE IN FINAL PUSH FOR CLIMATE BILL - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
  7. RECESSION CUTS LABOUR TAXES

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. WRONG THING IN THE WRONG PLACE...
  2. HATRED IS LIKE TAKING POISON
  3. INDIA SHINING OR INDIA STARVING? - PERKY CRAVINGS

DNA

  1. THE KHAP TRAP
  2. FRIENDS LIKE THESE
  3. CHINDIA BEE IN JAIRAM RAMESH€™S BONNET - VENKATESAN VEMBU
  4. ROOTING FOR REBELS - AMULYA GANGULI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. JAIRAM'S MANY INDISCRETIONS
  2. 'UNCLE JUDGES' TO GO
  3. IMPROVING HIGHER EDUCATION
  4. DAMAGES CAUSED BY RADIOACTIVE SOURCES - BY A. GOPALAKRISHNAN
  5. DOWN TV MEMORY LANE - BY RAMA KASHYAP
  6. SOCIETY NEEDS NO MORAL POLICING - BY SAJLA CHAWLA
  7. HYDRO POWER WITHOUT DAMS! - BY BHARAT DOGRA
  8. BANGALORE DIARY - SHUBHADEEP CHOUDHURY

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. GETTING REAL IN CITY OF GOLD

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. LOOSE CANNONS
  2. MISMANAGING FOOD
  3. BUILDING BOSTONS, NOT KANPURS - SANJEEV SANYAL
  4. SEE YOU AT THE POST OFFICE - SUBIR ROY
  5. BENEVOLENT INTERVENTIONS - M J ANTONY
  6. WILL THE CRISIS IN EUROPE SPREAD?
  7. THE GAS IN THE RELIANCE CASE - G V RAMAKRISHNA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. TOILET TRAINING AND CRICKET!
  2. FOR FAST RESOURCE REALLOCATION
  3. COMBATING KHAP PANCHAYATS
  4. GOVERNANCE & OWNERSHIP IN EXCHANGES - SANDEEP PAREKH
  5. OPEN GAS MARKET STILL A PIPE DREAM - SOMA BANERJEE
  6. NO COUNTRY FOR LADS - VITHALC NADKARNI
  7. STICK TO TIMEFRAMES FOR DISPOSAL OF CASES
  8. PRIORITISE SECURED CREDITORS' CLAIMS
  9. NEED PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT SPECIALISATIONS: WIPRO CEOS - SUJIT JOHN, MINI JOSEPH TEJASWI & ANSHUL DHAMIJA
  10. EMAMI OFFERS VALUE PRODUCTS: ADITYA V AGARWAL, DIRECTOR, EMAMI GROUP - ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. WRONG THING IN THE WRONG PLACE...
  2. PERKY CRAVINGS - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  3. EU IS SINKING. CHEER UP, IT COULD BE WORSE - BY ROGER COHEN
  4. INDIA SHINING OR INDIA STARVING?  - BY VANDANA SHIVA
  5. REASONS OF THE HEART - BY S.M. SHAHID
  6. HATRED IS LIKE TAKING POISON - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

THE STATESMAN

  1. PAKISTAN EXPOSED
  2. TRIAD' DOCTRINE
  3. ON THIN ICE
  4. IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO - BY MR VENKATESH
  5. UK BIDS FAREWELL TO US-STYLE POLITICS
  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
  7. GREECE WRESTLES WITH ITS CONSCIENCE

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. OUTDATED IDEA
  2. CLIFF'S EDGE
  3. FEAR AND FOREBODING  - K.P. NAYAR
  4. REAL DEBATE  

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CASTE ASIDE
  2. CHINESE FANTASY
  3. SOREN'S GOMANGO ACT - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
  4. RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AGE OF CATASTROPHE - BY MARIO SOARES, IPS
  5. DUBIOUS DUBAI - BY VINITA KRSIHNAMURTHY

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. REJOICE ON JERUSALEM DAY - BY ISI LEIBLER
  2. TERRA INCOGNITA: THE DANGERS TO INFORMATION IN TODAY'S AGE - BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
  3. ACCEPTING ISRAEL AS THE JEWISH STATE - BY DANIEL PIPES
  4. GRAPEVINE: A 'BIBLICAL WEATHER EVENT' AT THE ISRAEL MUSEUM - BY GREER FAY CASHMAN
  5. CLARITY ON JERUSALEM DAY
  6. JUST PLAIN LUCKY - BY YOSSI ALPHER

HAARETZ

  1. THE MEA SHE'ARIM MOB - BY SHAHAR ILAN
  2. AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM CHINA - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  3. ISRAELIS' STATE OF DENIAL OVER TREATMENT OF PALESTINIANS - BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. ACADEMIA AND ECONOMIC GROWTH - BY MOSHE ARENS
  5. JERUSALEM DAY CELEBRATES AN ILLUSORY UNIFICATION - BY DAPHNA GOLAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. INDUSTRY DOESN'T STEP UP
  2. IS IT SAFE TO GO BACK IN?
  3. A DEAL FOR BETTER SCHOOLS
  4. OUR INNER NEANDERTHAL
  5. THE EVIL OF LESSER EVILISM - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. GREECE'S NEWEST ODYSSEY - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  7. BRITAIN'S COALITION OF PAIN - BY ALEX MASSIE

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON ENERGY: DON'T USE OIL SPILL AS EXCUSE TO DEEP-SIX DOMESTIC DRILLING
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON ENERGY: HALT OFFSHORE EXPLORATION - BY BILL NELSON
  3. WE'RE NOT YET GREECE, BUT ARE WE STILL AMERICA? - BY DAVID M. WALKER
  4. SENATE'S WAY IS NO WAY TO CONFIRM A JUDICIAL MVP - BY JONATHAN TURLEY
  5. WILL PHILIPPINES' CYCLE OF CORRUPTION EVER END? - BY LEWIS M. SIMONS
  6. AFGHAN GLASS IS JUST OVER HALF-FULL - BY ANTHONY CORDESMAN AND MICHAEL O'HANLON

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. MR. NETANYAHU IN A BIND
  2. STRENGTHEN FDA'S ROLE
  3. HIGH COURT NOMINEE KAGAN
  4. 'GOD BLESS AMERICA'
  5. TALIBAN IN TIMES SQUARE?

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. PREPARING FOR THE BIG ONE IN TEHRAN - BY M.A. SAKI

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE REAL CULPRIT IN BAYKAL'S FALL
  2. WHAT'S GOING ON IN TURKEY? (II) - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  3. BUSINESS JETS WORTH $170 BILLION TO BE SOLD IN 10 YEARS
  4. US AGAINST THEM! - BURAK BEKDİL
  5. SEX, BAYKAL, AND VIDEOTAPE - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  6. BAYKAL'S DEPARTURE IS GOING TO CHANGE A LOT - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  7. SEX, POWER AND POLITICIANS - JOOST LAGENDIJK
  8. SHOULD BAYKAL RETURN? - YUSUF KANLI

I.THE NEWS

  1. HILLARY'S CHARGES
  2. SETTING BOUNDARIES
  3. HUNZA AT RISK
  4. THEIR BEST IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. FREEING EDUCATION - BASIL NABI MALIK
  6. WASHINGTON'S TOUGH TALK - AMIR ZIA
  7. THE PRICE OF DEFIANCE - M SAEED KHALID
  8. FIVE-YEAR NPT RITUAL - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
  9. NOT ALL BAD NEWS - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. RUSSIAN ENVOY IN INDIA LIVING IN FOOL'S PARADISE
  2. A BIG JOKE WITH TOURISM
  3. VERY PERTINENT REMARKS OF APEX COURT
  4. HILLARY'S STATEMENT LIKE INDIAN OUTBURSTS - M ASHRAF MIRZA
  5. PAKISTAN'S EXPECTATIONS FROM WEST - MAHMOOD HUSSAIN
  6. WHY THREATEN PAK, SECRETARY CLINTON? Z - SHAHID R SIDDIQI
  7. WHY US? - SHAIMA SUMAYA
  8. WAR IS FUN: MORE WAR PLEASE - JOHN PILGER

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. CLAIMING THE CREDIT AS THE GOOD TIMES RETURN
  2. GOOD EFFORT FROM ABBOTT, BUT HE STILL NEEDS MALCOLM
  3. EUROPE CALMS THE BEARS FOR NOW

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. WITH GOOD POLICY - AND A LOT OF LUCK
  2. ALAS, THE GANG'S BACK IN TOWN
  3. POLITICAL WOES SHOULD NOT OBSCURE ECONOMIC SUCCESS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. THE COALITION GOVERNMENT: SWEETENING THE PILL
  2. GOVERNMENT TRANSITIONS: MEMO TO THE FUTURE

THE GAZETTE

  1. WE ALL WANT TO KNOW HOW OUR MONEY'S SPENT
  2. ÇA SENT LA COUPE!

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. AN INCONCLUSIVE VOTE IN BRITAIN
  2. DEMOCRACY FAR FROM PERFECT - BY DAVID HOWELL
  3. A DANGEROUS DEFICIT OF DEMOCRACY IN BRITAIN - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. SUSNO THE SONGBIRD
  2. NATURAL GAS POLICY REVISITED - HANAN NUGROHO
  3. ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH - FITHRA FAISAL HASTIADI
  4. DEFENSE AND LEADERS TRANSFORMATION - EVAN A. LAKSMANA

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. ATOMIC RACE
  2. HISTORICAL RECONCILIATION
  3. THE ABUSE OF HISTORY AND THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR BOMB - SHLOMO BEN-AMI
  4. ELENA KAGAN AS SUPREME COURT NOMINEE
  5. WHO GETS REPORTERS' RIGHT TO SHIELD SOURCES?
  6. CARRIERS STILL CRUCIAL TO PROJECTING U.S. POWER
  7. MAKE BP PAY ITS FAIR SHARE OF THE OIL SPILL

CHINA DAILY

  1. HARVESTING RAINWATER
  2. NOT AN EASY EXIT
  3. MIXED SIGNALS FROM KIM'S VISIT - BY ZHANG LIANGUI (CHINA DAILY)
  4. PEOPLE AT HEART OF ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM - BY GRAYSON CLARKE (CHINA DAILY)
  5. HOW DRAGON AND KANGAROO CAN FLY TOGETHER - BY YANG DANZHI (CHINA DAILY)
  6. WILL ASSET BUBBLE GO THE JAPAN WAY? - BY SYETARN HANSAKUL (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. BATTING FOR OTHERS
  2. WILL JAPAN'S DIPLOMACY SAVE SRI LANKA AT UN ?
  3. V-DAY MAY 18: RIGHT TO DO, BUT DO IT RIGHT
  4. PLUSES AND MINUSES OF THIRTEEN-PLUS AND MINUS 

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

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

THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

AGAINST MODERNITY

KHAPS HAVE NO PLACE IN 21ST CENTURY INDIA


It is extremely unfortunate that someone who had projected himself — and had come to be seen — as a young, educated politician has now chosen to side with regressive social forces in Haryana. That Congress MP Naveen Jindal has decided to champion the cause of khap panchayats and take up their demand for amending the Hindu Marriage Act is deplorable. It is one thing when politicians like INLD chief OP Chautala justify the existence of khap panchayats and defend their so-called role in maintaining 'social harmony' — no one expects anything better from him and his ilk who have traditionally factored in khap panchayats in their electoral calculations. But if young MPs like Mr Jindal — who are supposed to represent the new generation of youthful, forward-looking politicians — start making common cause with khap panchayats then there is every reason to criticise such short-sighted, cynical, competitive electoral politics. For, there is no debate about the fact that these self-proclaimed guardians of social mores are a manifestation of a medieval mindset. Those who justify crimes such as 'honour killings' in order to enforce their writ under the guise of 'safeguarding' our social fabric have no place in 21st century India. There is absolutely nothing pious about their intentions. Khap panchayats are of the same mould as the Taliban: Both use terror to enforce their writ on hapless innocent people; both claim their actions are sanctioned by religion; both take recourse to fanaticism. Those politicians who claim to stand for a modern, forward-looking India must desist the temptation of garnering votes by extending support to khap panchayats; political parties must denounce them and keep a distance.


The demand of khap panchayats to amend the Hindu Marriage Act in a manner so as to reflect their narrow outlook deserves to be rejected without debate or discussion. The Hindu Marriage Act is one of the most egalitarian civil legislations ever enacted and has worked very well since it became law in 1955. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to tamper with this Act, least of all at the behest of khap panchayats. Moreover, capitulating before the khap panchayats will only encourage other negative forces in society to force their demands through violent means. The price that those who defy the diktats of khap panchayats have to pay is well known — several cases of targeted murders in the name of 'family honour' have surfaced in recent months. To even consider their demand would be to legitimise them. Indeed, any attempt to convey the demands of khap panchayats to Government in order to initiate a 'debate' would be tantamount to granting legitimacy to what is patently unacceptable. The Constitution and not khap panchayats must rule supreme in India.

In any event, khap panchayats do not represent significant opinion, leave alone majority opinion. Their 'influence' is limited to parts of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. It is absurd to suggest that khap panchayats represent the 'aspirations' of the Hindu community as a whole — nothing could be farther from the truth. It is welcome that Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily has asserted that the Hindu Marriage Act will not be amended according to the wishes of khap panchayats and that the Government will bring in a new law to punish those guilty of honour killings. This is exactly the kind of firm approach that is needed to keep backward forces at bay.

 

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


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MADE FOR EACH OTHER

US CAN NEVER ACT AGAINST PAKISTAN


The US has once again demonstrated how weak-kneed it can be while dealing with Pakistan and its global enterprise of exporting terror. After the unravelling of the failed plot to bomb Times Square and the arrest of a Pakistani American, Faisal Shahzad, the Obama Administration had indulged in what has become ritual sabre-rattling by the Americans whenever confronted by the monster of Pakistani terror. Soon after 9/11, the Americans had threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if the then Pakistani regime headed by Gen Pervez Musharraf did not join the US-led war on terror. President George W Bush, not given to the sophistry of his successor, Mr Barack H Obama (the world seems to have forgotten that the current occupant of the White House has a middle name) had been more blunt when he declared: "You are either with us or against us." But though such tough words and fire-and-brimstone threats saw the Pakistanis making a show of joining the American war effort, nothing really changed on the ground. The Islamabad-Rawalpindi alliance became more devious and did under cover what it was doing openly till then. Soon, even that veil was discarded and Pakistan's war on jihadi terror became a terrible joke, despite Frankenstein's monster turning on its creator with mind-numbing cruelty. It's a perverse desire to advance Pakistan's 'strategic' interests by using the weapon of terrorism which continues to compel the Pakistani establishment to nurture jihadis and keep them in fighting spirit. Ironically, the US has been picking up the tab by way of aid to Pakistan to fight terrorism!


If Pakistan had nothing to fear of the Bush Administration, it has no reason to be apprehensive of the Obama Administration's wrath. All it has to do is to feign outrage, organise street demonstrations by mullahs screaming "Death to America", and pass resolutions in its National Assembly. The impact is inevitably magical: Washington begins to bow and scrape to put Islamabad in good humour. Therefore, it is not surprising that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's dire warning to Pakistan that it should be prepared for the consequences if any link was found between its agencies and Shahzad has now turned into whimpering clarification by apologetic bureaucrats in the Obama Administration. As was to be expected, Pakistan furiously remonstrated after Ms Clinton's comments and its lawmakers raucously denounced America while mullahs took to the streets. By Tuesday, anger in Washington had given way to placatory statements, including the incredible clarification that Ms Clinton had been misquoted. In a sense, Pakistan and the US are made for each other.

 

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

 


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

COUNTDOWN TO CHAOS IN NEPAL

ASHOK K MEHTA


Operation Topple, the Maoist-led indefinite strike to unseat the coalition Government headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal through mass mobilisation and street power has misfired. It was billed as the last battle of the decisive phase of an urban-centric insurrection — even called Jan Andolan III — to recover power Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' and his party had lost constitutionally in May 2009 due to their ill-fated attempt to sack Army Chief Gen Rukmangad Katowal.


The latest people's uprising had the lofty aim of promulgating peace and a people's Constitution from the streets after removing the Nepal Government by a final assault on Singha Durbar, the historic seat of power in Kathmandu.

What went wrong? The Maoists are known to plan operations meticulously, stage-managing every minute detail and factoring the unexpected. But they overlooked the law of diminishing returns when ordinary people, fired with expectations of a new Nepal, were instead confronted with periodic disruptions in normal life (and 12-hour power cuts) due to the Maoists' protracted campaigns of protest and agitation to win back power. "We decided to withdraw the strike due to hardships faced by the people and to foil the Government's conspiracy to instigate confrontation among the masses," announced Prachanda last Friday.


At least the English print media openly questioned the Maoists' un-constitutional strategy to recover power by substituting peaceful protests with selective violence. For once civil society, media, professionals, business and industry staged a peace rally opposing Maoist misuse of people's power. For a change, international pressure from the entire diplomatic corps in Kathmandu, criticism by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Richard Bennett blaming the Maoists for using lathis and rods and involving children, and, significantly, lack of support from Kathmandu's prosperous Newari community were the other reasons for the orders to retreat and regroup.

Prachanda blamed the media and intelligentsia for their 'dishonesty' in working against the Maoist movement and said: "We will settle scores with journalists and intellectuals." The threat has to be taken seriously after what has happened in the past to journalists like Uma Singh, Tika Bisht, Muktinath Adhikary and others. While 27 professionals have sought an apology from Prachanda for his "indecent, irresponsible and undemocratic threat of war", the Federation of Nepali Journalists has issued a statement accusing him of creating terror in the media. The riposte taken together is unprecedented. The banner headline in Republica encapsulated the mood in Kathmandu: "Triumph of People Power: Maoists Withdraw Strike." Another newspaper headline read: "Silent Majority Awakens: Big Setback for Maoists."


Useful lessons have emerged from the failed people's uprising. First, what worked against King Gyanendra during April 2006 will not bear fruit against a constitutionally-installed Government. In seizing power, Maoists have tried two of their options: The gun which they abandoned by choice in 2006; and gradual subversion of the state through mass mobilisation, threat, intimidation and psy-war. This is the favoured strategy.


Returning to the jungles is a closed option but options for waging war by other means — as 'Operation Topple' has shown — have not been exhausted. While some of the Maoist leaders may have transformed into legislators espousing democracy, their foot soldiers in both the People's Liberation Army and Young Communist League remain in the business of smash and grab. From the recent cacophony of bluster and rhetoric, the one sane word that has resonated is 'consensus'. Only by adding compromise to consensus is there a reasonable chance of crafting the elusive package deal to break the political deadlock.

Initially the Maoists had said they would call off the indefinite strike only once Mr Nepal had resigned followed by a national unity Government led by Prachanda. Their fallback position is that Mr Nepal has to go before any talks can take place with the Government. But Mr Nepal, after the Maoist withdrawal of the strike, has raised the stakes for his resignation from "call off the strike and find a national consensus candidate to replace me" to "first disband YCL and integrate Maoist combatants". The peace process is turning into a game of snakes and ladders.

While most people in Nepal are saying that the prickly issues are the PLA's integration and drafting a new Constitution, few are focussed on the centrality of who gets to lead a national unity Government of consensus — Prachanda, as the Maoists insist, or someone else? The rehabilitation and integration of the PLA is a tactical problem and has little bearing on drafting the Constitution except whether it should be completed before it or after. What numbers — 5,000 or 8,000 PLA fighters — are to be integrated with the Nepali Army is a bargaining chip in the package deal.


The two other outstanding issues are dismantling of the YCL and return of seized properties. Even if they agree, it will not be easy for Maoists to implement these on the ground before May 24 (the proposed date for clinching the deal), just four days before the deadline of May 28, when the Constituent Assembly will cease to exist and

the 2006 interim council will expire.


Sixteen days are left to put the peace process back on the rails. Nepalis claim they have the divine skills to wrap up any agreement at the eleventh hour. This time around a new Comprehensive Peace Agreement, reworking the implementation of past commitments within the framework of a new national unity Government, appears to be a bridge too far. The reality is that only a Government with Maoists on board can achieve a two-thirds majority to avert a constitutional crisis on May 28.


Assuming Nepal succeeds in forming a national unity Government before May 28 with a package deal, the Constituent Assembly can then amend the interim Constitution, extending its life by six or 12 months. Should this not be possible President Ram Baran Yadav (whom the Maoists detest) will resume Emergency powers to either extend the House by six months or order fresh elections. The Maoists will want neither the dissolution of the House (as they will lose their primacy as the single largest party) nor new elections for fear of the unexpected, resulting from the fall in their popularity.

 

Finding a consensus Prime Minister for the national unity Government is the challenge, for he would have to belong to a party other than the three main ones — Maoists, Nepali Congress and UML. Prachanda as Prime Minister, on the other hand, will acknowledge the people's mandate, but through the back door.

 

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


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MAKE EDUCATION MARKET FRIENDLY

MK BHAT


The hype created by the Human Resource Development Ministry regarding changes in higher education makes it imperative to evaluate the costs and the benefits of the planned reforms. Higher education in the country is under pressure to perform mainly due to the increase in demand in the service sector and an increase in the number of students going abroad for further studies. The latter, representing a serious outflow of funds and resources from the country, is increasing every year. Indian students spend more than $ 40 billion annually for their education abroad. Earlier, students preferred foreign institutions for specialised studies only. But now, our youth are even opting to do their graduate studies from foreign varsities.


The question arises: Why can't our universities attract international students like they used to in the past? The truth is our varsities fall way short of the mark when it comes to research. Thus, in order to compete with international universities and restore the prestige that higher education in India once had, a huge amount of investment, both financial and material, is required at the higher education level. Our education system needs to be market-oriented.


It is not cheap labour but the availability of a vibrant pool of scientists, engineers, management specialists, etc, that can help India surge forward. But suspicion regarding private educational institutions on one hand and the failure of regulatory authorities to maintain acceptable standards of quality in higher education on the other, has made things murky. On top of this, the Government has neither funds nor the will to improve the existing set-up. This is exemplified by the culture of paid seats that has come to be.


Government institutes for higher studies continue to draw students because they hardly have any competition. But it is precisely because of this reason that they have failed to adopt to market changes. Thus, for higher education in India to improve, there needs to be competition for the Government-aided colleges along with a more welcoming approach to the private education sector, notwithstanding strict scrutiny.


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


THE PIONEER

OPED

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

THE TRIAL OF AJMAL AMIR KASAB SHOWS THAT OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CAN DELIVER RESULTS IN TIME EVEN WHILE FOLLOWING THE DUE COURSE OF JUSTICE. IT RESTORES FAITH IN INDIA AS A COUNTRY GOVERNED BY LAW AND UPHOLDS THE MAJESTY OF THE INDIAN JUDICIARY. YET, WE DO NEED URGENT REFORMS AND A TOUGH LAW TO COMBAT TERRORISM TO SAFEGUARD INDIA'S SOVEREIGNTY

PC SHARMA


The media coverage of the trial and sentencing of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab has been most telling. "Kasab gets what he gave — DEATH", said a headline in a leading daily articulating, perhaps, the cathartic relief that Judge Tahilyani's judgement seemed to have given to millions of people troubled by feelings of vengeance and vendetta.

No terrorist strike schemed in and launched from a foreign land convulsed the nation more than the events of 26/11. Being in fight for long against home-grown as well as foreign-based terrorism, India woke up to an altogether new reality on November 26, 2008 when Mumbai was attacked by depredators coming from Pakistan via the sea route. This strike was first of its kind for the targets chosen and weaponry employed. In its intensity, it was close to an invasion. Obviously a traumatised nation demanded quick response and speedy justice.

The trial of the case registered against the only surviving accused, Kasab, took 17 months. Six hundred and fifty witnesses were examined and an estimated Rs 35 crore was spent, a major portion of which was used for ensuring foolproof security to the prisoner at Arthur Road Jail. In a system often criticised for its delays and interlocutory litigations, Kasab's trial, therefore, deserves genuine applause for delivering speedy justice.


People are exercised over the acquittal of the two Indian men accused in the case, Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin, who are said to have laid the ground for the terrorist attack. Certainly, the law will take its course in their case but let this not cloud our view of the Indian criminal justice system of its fairness, transparency and freedom from prejudice. The high legal standards displayed in providing legal aid to Kasab demonstrates the majesty of our legal system which has, undoubtedly, enhanced India's reputation as a nation espousing the rule of law. It goes without saying that this case is also an example of the human rights standards being followed in India even for people accused of, and under trial for, the gravest of offences.


Mumbai was blighted in the past also by serial bombings in March 1993 and the bombing of commuter trains in July 2006, resulting in the loss of hundreds of innocent lives and huge damage to and destruction of property. The task before the investigating agencies and the courts was, undoubtedly, both daunting and stupendous, but the long time taken in investigations and the much longer time taken for trial tended to undermine the faith of the people in the credibility of the criminal justice system. A stay was granted on the trial of those accused of being involved in the train bombings which has been vacated only a few days back. The judgement in the cases of the 1993 serial bombings was delivered in 2007. In comparison, the trial of Kasab has been the fastest and should serve to restore faith in the criminal justice system.


Kasab's case holds both a lesson and a hope. It is a lesson for the state to learn that cases of terrorism demand fast track investigations and speedy trials and it is hoped that a sound justice delivery system can be an answer to terrorism. Needless to say it is an imperative in the context of terrorism which has been universally acknowledged as a threat to human existence and civilisation.


Justice lies not in retaliatory actions (though when the situation demands it is criminal not to resort to them). In a society governed by the rule of law it has to be pursued intrinsically through the criminal justice system and within the boundaries of constitutionally granted norms. But if a crime has been committed, the criminal justice system must operate to mete out punishment following the due process of law. As has been famously said, "Law should not sit simply, while those who defy it go free and those who seek its protection lose hope."


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, on several occasions, stated unequivocally at national and international fora that fighting terrorism should be accorded utmost priority. Let strengthening our criminal justice system, too, be accorded the same priority "to ensure the protection of the weak against the strong, law abiding against the lawless, peaceful against the violent".


In his report on reforming the criminal justice system, Justice Malimath has critically examined the areas that need urgent reforms aimed at, among other things, providing "effective response to the challenge of terrorism". Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, in a recent interview, said, "India should consider putting in place a tough anti-terror law that can enable and help probe agencies crack terror cases… it is time for Parliament to debate the need for a suitable anti-terror law in India." Let us address this issue seriously; as jurist Fali Nariman puts it: "This is the last bus to catch."

Kasab's case also calls into focus the role of the police. They are the first in setting the legal machinery in motion in the criminal justice system. Police investigations of terrorist crimes —which are crimes under the established laws of the land — are the bedrock of all court trials. Their response has to be the first response in any situation that imperils internal stability.


Failings in the functioning of the police have been critically examined by the High Level Inquiry Committee appointed in the aftermath of 26/11 and headed by former Union Home Secretary RD Pradhan. Chinks in their armour have been clearly identified. While applauding the supreme sacrifices made by the police and the people in confronting the terror attack, the committee has not failed to point out the lapses on the part of individual officers which deserve serious action and should not be ignored at all.


Regarding the failure of intelligence agencies, indeed, there was failure. A new genre of advisories and warnings lacking in specificity and couched in abstract terminology is not a good name for intelligence. Credible intelligence containing area-specific information which has proximity to events serves the purpose of not only forewarning but fore-assuming as well.


Lastly, this is a moment in independent India's history that should compel all wings of the state — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — to do serious reflection on the need to usher in reforms in all their respective spheres that should act as a bulwark against not only terrorism and militancy but any threat to India's sovereignty. If we do that we shall re-emerge as a nation stronger in spirit, buoyed by a new vision and united forever.

-- The writer is a Member of the National Human Rights Commission and former Director of CBI.

 

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

 


THE PIONEER

OPED

PAPERING IT OVER

WITH CIVIC POLLS NEARING, TRINAMOOL AND CONGRESS DOWNPLAY DIFFERENCES IN BENGAL

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


Clarity, surely, rather than confusion was the objective of the Trinamool Congress-Congress decision for a mutual separation, at least for the forthcoming municipal elections. As celebrity political faces from the Congress abandon the grand old party, the latest being Ms Mohua Moitra, to join Ms Mamata Banerjee the acrimony and the bitterness ought to have spiralled.


Curiously, the contrary is true. With election day coming up, both sides seem to be eager to present a patch-up. Having lashed out in the most vivid language, Ms Banerjee's volte-face urging her party candidates in Kolkata to speak with restraint, avoid hurling abuse and blaming the Congress for the break-up is intriguing. The Congress always more staid had not indulged in over the top descriptions of the Trinamool Congress after the break-up. Even so, the Congress is trying to impress upon voters that the decision to separate is a temporary affair.

If neither side is comfortable going it alone and both want to leave almost every door open to stage a quick re-entry once the municipal elections are over, then why did they indulge in acrimonious exchanges in the first place? In 13 out of 81 municipalities, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have reached seat adjustments. With 20 days left to go, the chances of more adjustments are increasing, giving a lie to the ringing declarations of rivalry that preceded the final date for submitting nominations.


Ms Banerjee has welcomed what she described as the "peoples" eagerness to bring about an alliance in specific areas and for specific seats. Bitter Congress leaders like Mr Abdul Mannan have accepted that mutual adjustments of the two parties in Hooghly district are naturally occurring phenomena.


While there could be a variety of reasons for the Trinamool Congress and the Congress belatedly agreeing to say and do nothing that will jeopardise the alliance once this test run is over, the most obvious is that they need each other. The Congress needs the Trinamool Congress to project a respectable presence in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress needs the Congress even more because the 13-14 per cent votes that the "signboard party" attracts could mean a world of difference for Ms Banerjee, certainly in Kolkata, where the mother of all battles is being fought and in Hooghly and East and West Midnapore where the Communist Party of India(Marxists) are on shaky ground.


This being the municipal elections, there are no rural votes to compensate the damage for any of the parties in the fray. Unlike the urban voter, especially the Kolkata voter, who is notoriously fickle, the rural voter takes longer to switch political sides. Therefore appealing to voters and delivering a message that sticks is critical. The deliberate underplaying of differences, rivalries and bitterness between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress is clearly an attempt to ensure that the non-CPI(M) voter goes in for tactical voting; that is, pressing the button on the symbol most likely to win in that constituency.


There are "theories" galore about how all this is affecting the canny Kolkata voter for one and the urban voter in the remaining 80 municipalities across the State. The first theory is that "even though the Trinamool Congress is a bad option, there is no alternative." In other words, the CPI(M) is not an option under any circumstances. The second theory is that "the Congress will be wiped out" having fallen apart from the Trinamool Congress. Underlying this is the presumption that the grand old party has no independent presence in West Bengal. The third theory is that "the Congress may do badly but the Trinamool Congress will do worse," implying that the CPI(M) will benefit from the rift. None of the theories, of course gives the CPI(M) a chance at winning in Kolkata and long odds at winning in all the 54 municipalities that it controlled after the 2005 elections.

The abundance of theories and the variety of choices that the voter has indicates that at the ground level, there is a churning. The municipal elections may reflect some of that churning up, but it could take longer for the soil to be fully ploughed up and to resettle. As has happened in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is beginning to revive after being almost wiped out. It is presumably because the party has a phoenix like capacity to be reborn that there was a fight with the Trinamool Congress. The test of course is not for the Congress to stay in the game with a respectable number of winners; this election is about the CPI(M)'s capacity to deliver the impossible — 50 per cent of votes in every ward of the 81 municipalities where elections are being held. Ambitious, delusional or realistic? Voters and the CPI(M) will find out on May 30..

 

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


THE PIONEER

OPED

UTTARAKHAND SOWING SEEDS FOR A BETTER TOMORROW

THE WAY FORWARD TO SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE LIES IN STICKING TO TRADITIONAL METHODS, WRITES BABA MAYARAM

 

At a recent agricultural festival in Indore, Uttarakhand was represented by a stall displaying traditional seeds. Fascinated by their texture, colours and sizes, I was tempted to pick them up. The stall stocked small plastic bags containing seeds of dhan, rajma, mundwa (kodo), marsa (ram dana), jhangora, wheat, lobia and bhatt. I later learnt that the credit for this display and the 'seed movement' that has ensured that these seeds remain in circulation amidst an environment of aggressive biotech altered varieties goes to conservationist Vijay Jaddhari. He comes from the land of the Chipko Movement which practised the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled.


Mr Jaddhari has actively been protecting the biodiversity of the region through the 'seeds movement'. He started to revive traditional agricultural practices once he sensed the damage chemical fertilisers and new technologies could wreak on farming practices. This was the motivation behind the movement and at the core of this lay urgency to protect local varieties of seeds.


The move towards replacing traditional practices with chemical agriculture has, according to him, been a surreptitious one. Hapless farmers, unaware of the disastrous effects of chemical fertilisers, were literally lured into using them. This in a sense signified the departure from traditional and sustainable agricultural practices.


According to Mr Jaddhari, "We tried to find native seeds… we kept searching for it. Finally, we met such farmers who do mixed farming". This was a turning point in his search This was the concept of 'Barahanaja' which literally means 12 seeds at one time.


This holistic agricultural practice has been handed down for generations. 'Barahanaja' helps in producing a good crop, retaining productivity of the land and ensuring that the cultivation is integrated with animal husbandry, the other crucial sphere in the agricultural sector. Farming and maintaining livestock are two pillars of the agricultural economy and 'Barahanaja' lends itself very well to this interface.


The number 12 is only indicative; it does not mean that the cropping and sowing pattern cannot use more varieties. The core idea is the strengthening of the twin pillars of farming and animal husbandry. This implies optimum utilisation of by-products of each to boost the other. For instance, the non-harvested portions of the crop become fodder for animals and the dung from the animals become fertile manure for the farms. By-products of harvested crops could also be used to produce bio-fertiliser this holistic pattern of agriculture has been the base of traditional farming.


Going back to the stall at the agricultural festival, I was curious to know what kinds of seeds are commonly used for this 'wonder package'. I learnt that koda (mundwa), marsa (ramdana), ogal (kuttu), jonyala (jawar), corn, rajma, gahath (kulath), bhatt, raiyas, urad, sunta, ragadwas, tor, mung, bhanjgir, til, jakhya, san, kakhdi are some of the varieties. The cultivation pattern hinges on the irrigation facilities available. Thirteen per cent of land in Uttarakhand has irrigation facilities while 87 per cent remains non-irrigated. Interestingly, it is the un-irrigated land, which is suitable for cultivation of Barahanaja, dalhan (a mix of 'dal' seeds), tilhan (a mix of oil-producing seeds). It is common to find fields left uncultivated after harvest, a natural way to enable it to regain fertility. In today's milieu when the focus is to suck out the most from the land, this seems a misnomer. It would be considered a good farming practice, for instance, to produce three crops in a year. However, this is tantamount to the abuse of nutrients and moisture inherent in the soil. This would eventually render the soil unfit for use beyond the immediate sense.


'Barahanaja' though in use in Uttarakhand is not confined to the region alone. The actual seeds may differ but the concept remains universal. Several mixed-crop cultivation patterns are popular in dry lands of Madhya Pradesh. One such is 'Utera' practiced in forestlands of Hoshangabad. Here farmers sow corn, urad, soyabean and jawar. The dry lands of Satpuda forest and non-irrigated areas are used for Utera. 'Birra' a modified form of Utera uses wheat and chana.


It is undeniable that Barahanaja and similar practices are invaluable for the ecology as it retains the productivity of the soil and thus ensures sustainable agriculture. They play a vital role in protecting rural livelihoods, which in our country are largely agriculture based. This type of mixed farming signifies a safety net for farmers. If one harvest fails, one can cover the deficit in the next harvest. This does not happen in the case of cash crops as if once damaged by insects or natural calamities, the loss for farmers is permanent.

 

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


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

THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

GREECE AND US

 

The near-trillion dollar EU-IMF bailout for Greece and other weakened Eurozone nations was meant to "shock and awe". It achieved the intended effect, at least early this week. Indian shares gained the most in Asia piggybacking on a big global markets rally, with the Sensex on Monday swinging to a 10-month high after a week of bearish sentiments. With Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy threatening to catch Greece's flu, investors had been spooked everywhere. The global economy's recovery is still fragile. That this rebound won't be derailed courtesy resolute action the US, UK and Japan have also unlocked liquidity channels got a thumbs up from the bourses.


While letting Greece sink was never an option, EU members have shown grit about sticking together. This was key to rebuilding market confidence in their ability to tackle any sovereign debt issues and shield the euro. But are Europe's troubles over? Not just yet. The bailout package may have political costs for individual governments. It's resented in many European societies, including big player Germany. As for Greece, austerity-related conditionalities mandating deep cuts in public spending that'll affect workers are unpopular. Protests against them may not subside anytime soon. It's also felt that easy aid flow to loan-hungry European nations could deepen their long-term indebtedness apart from fuelling inflation, unless fiscal discipline and institutional reform go hand in hand.


For India, the EU's a hefty trade partner and investor. Besides, Europe makes for over a fourth of its exports. So, we can't but be concerned how the Greek drama plays out. But if the issue is contagion, it may be said that India's relatively insulated. If anything, since the US subprime crisis broke in 2008, emerging economies and growth engines like India and China have looked in top form as investment destinations. Concerning Greece's more recent turmoil, policymakers rightly say India's stock can only rise further with global funds seeking secure parking lots. It's no accident the government is said to be considering hiking the FII limit in the domestic debt market.


However, one reason why Asian dynamos like India won't be hit hard by Greece is precisely the way their debt market has been structured to manage risks. Global rating agency Standard & Poor's has said high debt countries like India are unlikely to face investor fickleness, unlike European nations, because they borrow mainly domestically and keep external debt manageable. The importance of instruments for financial cushioning should be kept in mind in these uncertain times. The other obvious lesson for us is that growth, fiscal rectitude and reform are interrelated. Post-Lehman global crises have demonstrated this like never before.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

MISSION POSSIBLE

 

When the government of India proposed to inject substantial funding to boost its solar energy mission that aimed to generate 20,000 mw of grid connected power by 2020 the idea was to encourage both the demand and supply side of an energy resource that was renewable as well as clean. Investment in solar and renewable energy should be strategic, as these are sectors that will be big in the near future and enhanced Indian capabilities in solar and renewable energies will stand the country in good stead in more ways than one. If we could develop indigenous nuclear capabilities, why not solar or renewable know-how as well? In developed countries in Europe, for example, there has been ample investment by local companies in solar energy production, opening up markets not only at home but also in the export area.


In that context the government's decision to import wholesale solar cells and modules from other countries to attain the objectives of the solar mission, rather than source them from domestic equipment makers, is disappointing. Contrast China, where a $586 billion stimulus package has been given to encourage domestic manufacturers. Though the government's argument is that opening the market to foreign competitors will only help speed up achievement of solar energy mission goals, care has to be taken not to kill off domestic initiative altogether. Some ways to negotiate this chasm are to initiate joint ventures between foreign and domestic manufacturers, adding value to the product, and mandating a certain amount of domestic content in renewable energy imports as many other countries do.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

CAN PAKISTAN BE SECULAR?

WASHINGTON: To anyone who knew him in this country, Faisal Shahzad seemed like a likeable but unremarkable young man, a naturalised American citizen, living a middle class life in Connecticut with his wife and two children. Then came Saturday, May 1, 2010, when he allegedly tried to blow up a van loaded with explosives in New York's crowded Times Square. He failed and was later arrested. His story has set off a flurry of questions here: Why did he do it? What are the links between Islam and jihad? And, why does Pakistan figure so ominously in a majority of terror-related incidents around the world?


The British authorities said sometime ago that 70 per cent of terror-related events in their country had a link with Pakistan. Indians can shake their heads in empathy; so can the Americans after a series of attempted cases of terrorism involving US citizens becoming radicalised after hooking up with jihadi outfits in Pakistan. What is it with Pakistan that jihadis find such a hospitable climate for their activities?


Writing in The Washington Post last Monday, Fareed Zakaria asked why Pakistan remained a terrorist hothouse at a time when jihadists were losing support elsewhere in the Muslim world. "The answer is simple," he said. "From its founding, the Pakistani government has supported and encouraged jihadi groups, creating an atmosphere that has allowed them to flourish." Unsurprisingly, it's a conclusion with which many thoughtful Pakistanis agree. That much was evident last Monday at a seminar in this town.


Inaugurating the conference on 'Competing Religious Narratives in Pakistan: Can Islam Be an Agency for Peace', Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's erudite ambassador to the US, offered a strikingly candid set of observations. He began by quoting from an April 1957 essay by Hasan Suhrawardy, then the prime minister, in which the veteran politician wondered, apparently in exasperation with Islamist ideologues, whether the insertion in the constitution of the adjective "Islamic" to describe the state was meant in any way to be a sign of courage or moral excellence. Today, said Haqqani, the 'vision' thing is hardly discussed. Popular discourse in Pakistan is over trivialities and dominated by conspiracy theories.


Is Pakistan an ideological state? Or is it a nation state, asked the ambassador, making it clear that he stood with those who wanted it to be a nation, in which secular politics formed the chief channel of discourse, and not a theocratic entity. "Politics is the grand avenue of service to humanity," he declared. Religious parties could have a legitimate role in politics but they must not have a veto over the country's direction by threatening those who would support pluralism and democracy.


Haqqani's act was followed by similarly insightful and forthright presentations by, among others, two Pakistani intellectuals. Farzana Shaikh, who is with Chatham House in London, pleaded for the introduction of a minimal form of secularism in a rapidly declining Pakistan which she said was struggling to survive in "desperate times". The state's identity was not clear from its very start. Given the circumstances in which the demand for a separate nation called Pakistan arose, even its early secularists had to rely on Islamic terminology to state their case. "An ambiguous and ample role was awarded to Islam," she pointed out. Later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto flirted with a form of "folk Islam" while General Zia-ul Haq openly implemented an "ulema-inspired, shariatised Islam". The military, in power for most of that country's life, relies today on a "Muslim communal discourse".


Ayesha Siddiqa, who wrote a fine account in her book Military Inc of the spread of the Pakistani military's financial tentacles, warned that jihadist influence was far more widespread than just in the FATA region. Contrary to the belief of many who thought some jihadi groups worked independently from others, she asserted that all jihadists were interconnected. She too pleaded for an attempt by the country's elite to separate Islam from politics of the state. For that to happen the educated would have to "create a new narrative" on secular politics and give up attempts to argue that this or that variety of Islam, such as Sufism, could bring moderation to the land.


It is probably too late in the day to introduce a strict form of secularism in Pakistan. The nation was founded as a separate land for Muslims of the subcontinent. That did not happen; most Muslims in South Asia live outside Pakistan, which in fact stopped further Muslim migration soon after its creation. It has become a military state, with a patina of democratic representation without real power. And it is becoming a land for ideological Islamists instead of a nation for Muslims. Can secularism work there?


Secularism exists in various forms. The French have a hard variety, in which the state tries to preserve a republican non-religious uniformity; the Americans believe in keeping equidistance from all religions while maintaining a wall between religion and the state. India offers a third variety, in which the secular state tries to treat all religions equally; the state, as well as the judiciary, often intervenes in religious affairs while religious considerations can influence public policy. But it maintains a pluralist tolerance and allows all religions free play.

Can Pakistan become a bit like India? Probably not, but it may be worth a thought.


The writer is a FICCI-EWC fellow at East West Centre.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

'INDIA CAN BECOME A MEDICAL TOURISM DESTINATION'

 

Thailand imparts seminal importance to tourism. From fewer than 1,00,000 foreign tourists five decades ago, it now welcomes over 14 million overseas visitors each year. Zadok S Lempert, a noted expert in healthcare tourism and president, Medico Management & Travel Services International Co Ltd, Bangkok, spoke with Romain Maitra about how health and medical care could be successfully combined with tourism:


What is the scope of medical tourism offered in Thailand?

Thailand looks back upon a rich traditional and natural alternative medical history containing the famous Thai massage and the well-known Thai wellness spa therapy. Complementing these physical treatments, Thailand banks on a very special cuisine, made of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, which when cooked carefully with fish, is the basis for many detoxification, weight loss, rejuvenation methods for people who wish to refresh and re-energise from a hectic lifestyle.


All these are part of the complementary medical treatments available alongside the numerous state-of-the-art hospitals in Bangkok and the major cities of the country, which were developed over the past 5-6 years. These hospitals now termed as 'international' have upgraded their facilities and personnel to cater to the needs and expectations of demanding international visitors. They offer special reception facilities with multilingual staff, swift and sophisticated referral procedures, leading edge diagnostic technology paired with experienced and knowledgeable physicians who have gained practical experience abroad. The range of treatments in the hospitals covers different parts of the body, from top to toe, and the prices are very reasonable for people coming from the dollar/euro/pound zones.


How do you combine tourism with the medical treatment package?

People who travel with the purpose of purchasing medical and wellness treatments alongside any other desired infrastructural services (logistics, attractions) are defined as medical tourists, and belong to the special interest segments of general tourism. Hospitals, besides having to offer specialised medical interventions, have become part of overall travel-services packages. Although the major point of interest for a medical tourist is taking care of his health conditions, complementary services like airport welcome, transportation, accommodation, escort and translations, accounting-audits are also booked and assembled into a services package.


Accompanying persons (family, partners or friends) need attention while their companions are being treated. To complete the whole picture, rehabilitation treatment is usually provided in specialised health resorts, mostly outside of towns. Besides, specialised packages in rehabilitation, prevention, rejuvenation, re-energising mostly sought after by Europeans seeking holistic treatment vacations should also be considered part of the larger healthcare tourism. These are booked as typical (however, specialised) vacation packages.


Do you think India has the potential to develop medical tourism?

India has all the ingredients to develop into a sophisticated medical tourism destination. It has a long-standing traditional herbal and alternative treatments history, it has various weather zones to cater for different types of stay, people speak English, its academics and physicians are sophisticated and knowledgeable. What is needed now is the upgrading of infrastructure and facilities.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

HANG 'EM HIGH

JUG SURAIYA

 

Last week, the media were full of images of joyous celebrations in various parts of India. People were shown lighting celebratory firecrackers and distributing sweets. One young lad held up a large placard with a message scrawled on it: 'Hang him in Bhendi Bazaar'. The reference, of course, was to Ajmal Kasab, the abominated and sole surviving assassin of 26/11.

 

Interestingly enough, all the people shown on television and in the papers seemed to be Muslims, as could be told by the caps they were wearing. Do Muslims in India have to try harder than the majority community to prove their patriotism, as some have suggested? Or is it just that it is the media which create this impression through their own bias in the selection of images that they make public?

 

In any event, the boy with the placard seemed to sum up the overall public mood, across all communities: most people wanted Kasab to hang, and not a few wanted him to be hanged in public. Regrettably for them, the authorities tend to be prissy about these matters and are unlikely to oblige. If Kasab is eventually hanged -- and this still remains a big 'if', dependent as it is on further due processes of the law, including the possibility of a presidential pardon -- it will be a closely-guarded, almost hush-hush affair, attended only by law enforcement personnel, representatives of the legal system, official physicians and perhaps a maulvi.

 

Those who believe in the deterrence factor of capital punishment might be puzzled by the veil of discretion with which officialdom masks the executions it periodically carries out. If the legal and moral justification for capital punishment -- be it for a terrorist like Kasab, or any other perpetrator of the 'rarest of rare' crimes -- is not revenge but the belief that it will deter future criminality, then surely it would make sense to make hanging and other forms of execution as public as possible, ensure prime-time viewing, so to speak, to maximise their deterrent message?

 

However, in India and in other countries where capital punishment is still practised, the authorities concerned tend to be squeamish about making such events into a public tamasha. This was not always the case. Till as late as the early 19th century, public hangings were quite the order of the day in many parts of the world, including England and Europe. Eyewitness accounts have described them as being festive occasions, like fun fairs, with vendors of snacks and souvenirs doing brisk business.

 

Particularly popular as a spectator sport was the form of execution, discontinued in the 18th century, in which the condemned person was hung, drawn and quartered: hung by the neck till almost dead, brought down and disembowelled alive, and then 'quartered' by having both arms and legs chopped off.

 

These extreme methods of making condemned persons pay 'their just dues to society' were gradually discontinued because of qualms that such spectacles -- whether or not they deterred criminals in the making -- might brutalise the general populace. It is such fears of societal brutalisation that has made all executions -- including those carried out by 'humane' injection in the US -- off-limits for the public.

 

Are such fears justified in the Indian context? The widespread enthusiasm generated by news of Kasab's death sentence suggests that they might not be. As so-called 'honour' killings, bride-burning, and regular outbreaks of caste and communal carnage show, India's is a violent society, a polity of a billion-plus in which human life is cheap. Would a few, well deserved public executions further brutalise us?

 

A lot of people who said they wanted a grandstand view of Kasab's execution don't seem to think so. If public executions regain favour thanks to popular support they might even become money-spinning events. Could there be a rival to T20, a new IPL: the Indian Phansi League?

 

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


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

HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO PLACE FOR PARALLEL COURTS

 ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES CAN HAVE NO TRUCK WITH BACKWARD KHAP PANCHAYATS

 

Regressive forces are known to take a mile when given an inch. This seems to be the case with the khap panchayats of Haryana who have now taken to issuing ultimatums to MPs and MLAs to support their illegal acts which masquerade as tradition. Recent statements from a former chief minister of the state and a prominent MP appear to have emboldened these village courts which dispense instant justice to those they perceive as crossing the lines of `culture' and `tradition'. The main issue that these khaps have been raising is that of marriages within the same gotra for which they have sought amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Fortunately, the government has turned this down. It is a fact that under guise of punishing, often with death, those who pur- portedly marry within their caste, the khaps are actually vic- timising those who chose to marry someone of their choice.


Very few who have been at the receiving end of the khaps' bru- tal justice have actually married within their own caste. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, and this crime is doubly compounded when it seemingly gets the sanc- tion of elected representatives who are the ultimate custodi- ans of the law.

While these public functionaries may intend to express their support for traditional societal structures, the message that goes out is that they condone the barbaric practices unleashed by these khaps. The Haryana khaps should take a leaf out of the book of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in Punjab that decreed that anyone found guilty of female foeticide or sex selection tests would be ostracised from the community. It has also instituted a cradle scheme for unwanted girl children. Haryana has the second highest per capita income in the country but among the lowest male- female sex ratios. The khaps would be better employed fighting these social evils than trying to ensure the purity of caste in marriage.

 

The disregard for the due process of law on the part of the khaps was blatantly on display in a recent incident in Mirchpur village in which 20 Dalit homes were torched by upper castes. A handicapped girl and her father died in the incident. Yet the khaps have decreed that the culprits were innocent and issued an ultimatum to the government that they be released. The khaps must clearly be told both by the law enforcement agencies and elected representatives that no one has any quarrel with upholding traditions. But when under guise of doing so, they are threatening the constitutionally guaranteed right to life of people, they must face the appropri- ate punishment. No one should have the licence to run a parallel judiciary.

Regressive forces are known to take a mile when given an inch. This seems to be the case with the khap panchayats of Haryana who have now taken to issuing ultimatums to MPs and MLAs to support their illegal acts which masquerade as tradition. Recent statements from a former chief minister of the state and a prominent MP appear to have emboldened these village courts which dispense instant justice to those they perceive as crossing the lines of `culture' and `tradition'. The main issue that these khaps have been raising is that of marriages within the same gotra for which they have sought amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Fortunately, the government has turned this down. It is a fact that under guise of punishing, often with death, those who pur- portedly marry within their caste, the khaps are actually vic- timising those who chose to marry someone of their choice.
Very few who have been at the receiving end of the khaps' bru- tal justice have actually married within their own caste. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, and this crime is doubly compounded when it seemingly gets the sanc- tion of elected representatives who are the ultimate custodi- ans of the law.

While these public functionaries may intend to express their support for traditional societal structures, the message that goes out is that they condone the barbaric practices unleashed by these khaps. The Haryana khaps should take a leaf out of the book of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in Punjab that decreed that anyone found guilty of female foeticide or sex selection tests would be ostracised from the community. It has also instituted a cradle scheme for unwanted girl children. Haryana has the second highest per capita income in the country but among the lowest male- female sex ratios. The khaps would be better employed fighting these social evils than trying to ensure the purity of caste in marriage.

The disregard for the due process of law on the part of the khaps was blatantly on display in a recent incident in Mirchpur village in which 20 Dalit homes were torched by upper castes. A handicapped girl and her father died in the incident. Yet the khaps have decreed that the culprits were innocent and issued an ultimatum to the government that they be released. The khaps must clearly be told both by the law enforcement agencies and elected representatives that no one has any quarrel with upholding traditions. But when under guise of doing so, they are threatening the constitutionally guaranteed right to life of people, they must face the appropri- ate punishment. No one should have the licence to run a parallel judiciary.

 

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

IS HE IN THE HOOD?

 

Is the poor lady feeling the pressures of office? How else can you explain US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest take on Pakistan's commitment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden? In an interview to a TV channel, Ms Clinton said some lower-level officials in the Pakistani administration, not the top leaders, know where bin Laden and Mullah Omar are. However, she added, the US needs to "stand up to the current dispensation in Islamabad" because there's a "sea change" in their assurance towards the anti-terror strategy. Are we the only ones who are confused?

But how did Ms Clinton get this bit of news? Surely, there's no hotline between these lowly officials and her office. Or is this part of a cunning ploy on the part of US spooks to let old Osama know that his whereabouts are no longer of great concern to the mighty and that this knowledge is in the hands of those lower down the pecking order? Could this egg him on to fold up his tent in the Tora Bora caves and reveal himself to the world if only to reinforce that he cannot be taken so lightly.

But perhaps Ms Clinton in her efforts to sound menacing is missing a vital piece of information that eagle-eyes M. Ahmadinejad of Iran has discerned. The fact that Osama may be lurking around somewhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now the Iranian prez may be on to something. Where better to cool your heels when Uncle Sam is looking for you all over the world than near the Commander-in-Chief of the US forces. Maybe someone low down in the US administration's hierarchy has some dope on this.

Is the poor lady feeling the pressures of office? How else can yo explain US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest take on Pakistan's commitment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden? In an interview to a TV channel, Ms Clinton said some lower-level officials in the Pakistani administration, not the top leaders, know where bin Laden and Mullah Omar are. However, she added, the US needs to "stand up to the current dispensation in Islamabad" because there's a "sea change" in their assurance towards the anti-terror strate- gy. Are we the only ones who are confused?

But how did Ms Clinton get this bit of news? Surely, there's no hotline between these lowly officials and her office.
Or is this part of a cunning ploy on the part of US spooks to let old Osama know that his whereabouts are no longer of great concern to the mighty and that this knowledge is in the hands of those lower down the pecking order? Could this egg him on to fold up his tent in the Tora Bora caves and reveal himself to the world if only to reinforce that he cannot be taken so lightly.

But perhaps Ms Clinton in her efforts to sound menac- ing is missing a vital piece of information that eagle-eyes M.
Ahmadinejad of Iran has discerned. The fact that Osama may be lurking around somewhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Now the Iranian prez may be on to something. Where better to cool your heels when Uncle Sam is looking for you all over the world than near the Commander-in-Chief of the US forces.
Maybe someone low down in the US administration's hierar- chy has some dope on this.

 

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

STRIKING A HIGH NOTE

MARK SOFER

 

In the words of the founding father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, "If you will it, it is no dream". This year we celebrate Herzl's 150th birthday, together with 62 years of Israel's independence, and 18 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. The number 18 in Jewish tradition signifies life, and I can proudly say that never have the relations between our two countries been more alive than they are today.

Mutual civilian trade has multiplied over 20-fold, cultural relations are booming, agricultural ties on both the federal and state level are unprecedented and other fields of joint interest such as tourism, defence, homeland security, political interaction, telecommunication and academic cooperation have blossomed far beyond expectations.

Underlying these dynamics lies the high repute in India for Israeli achievements in the fields of water management, drip-irrigation technologies, "making the desert bloom" and hi-tech innovation, coupled with the awe and admiration in Israeli society for Indian culture and mentality and its capacity to absorb and adapt state-of-the-art technology. At the basis of Israeli and Indian society lie the highest respect for education and the family, a shared value system of democracy and freedom of expression, and striving for just peace for themselves and their neighbours in their respective conflict-ridden regions.

While mutual civilian trade has topped the $4 billion mark and two-way investment is not lagging far behind, I feel perhaps the greatest sense of pride in the burgeoning agricultural activity between us. Since the signing of the Indo-Israel Agriculture Cooperation Agreement in 2007, this cooperation has grown dramatically. Aimed at the small farmer, it encompasses the setting-up of excellence centres in such fields as horticulture, floriculture, post-harvest management, training, yield improvement and new technologies, with the emphasis on Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

At the private sector level too, Indo-Israeli agricultural cooperation has reached new heights as seen in the establishment in Rajasthan of seven olive plantations, using the world's most advanced technologies or by the establishment of a dairy farm in Andhra Pradesh using Israeli technology that brings yields of over 40 litres of milk per cow per day. Israeli drip-irrigation systems are prevalent throughout India and our new area of cooperation — water management and technologies — offers great promise in this era of rising food prices.

But over and above the practical ramifications of Indo-Israel cooperation lies the friendship between our people. Annually 40,000 Israeli tourists visit India. This 'pilgrimage' to India is common for young people after their national service and for their parents who come to discover 'Incredible India's' past and are fascinated with its present. India is a big hit in Israel. There are local variations of the palak paneer and masala dosa in the numerous small Indian restaurants throughout the country. Bollywood films are watched on cable TV channels and the faculties of Indian studies are exceptionally popular among Israeli students.

In the final analysis, bilateral relations must be dedicated, primarily, to the betterment of the welfare of our respective populations. It is against this background that Indo-Israel relations can look to the future with a true sense of enhanced optimism.

It is tragic that the resolution of the conflicts in South and West Asia has yet to be achieved. In the Middle East, the rise of extremism, the polarisation and mistrust are all deeply troubling, but I am of the firm belief there are enough pragmatists on both sides of the divide who can — and will — turn the tide away from demonisation toward confidence–building and, eventually, accommodation.

It is my hope and prayer that this year will bring together Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world in a just and lasting peace for the benefit of the children of all the peoples in our war-torn region.

Mark Sofer is Ambassador of Israel to India

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

A BLINKERED VISION

SAGARIKA GHOSE

 

The headlines scream almost every day: 'Girl allegedly murdered because of inter-caste romance', 'Couple killed by relatives because of caste honour'. The matrimonials are unabashed: 'Match sought for fair khatri girl' or 'Brahmin boy seeks Brahmin partner.' A Delhi mother whispers that her daughter's choice of husband is not "our kind of person," but stops short of admitting that the prospective groom is not from the same caste. Characters in Bollywood films bear surnames that are drawn from the very narrow social pool of Sharma, Mehta and Roy. Indians may be holidaying in Phuket, shopping at Mango and devouring Sex and the City. But one social reality just refuses to go away. And that reality is caste.

Should caste matter to a modern Indian? Of course it shouldn't. Yet, whether we like it or not, caste is still a defining category. Excluding a narrow westernised elite band, Indians marry according to caste, socialise within similar castes, education is determined by caste and caste, by and large, corresponds to class when it comes to backwardness. Twenty years ago when then Prime Minister V.P. Singh implemented the Mandal recommendations reserving 27 per cent government jobs for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), many caste Hindus heard the word OBC for the first time. Today there are similar feelings of dread that the government has decided to include caste in the 2011 census. But it's time that the elite and middle class came to terms with caste, debated it openly and exorcised caste demons.

When Parliament pushed for a caste census there was near panic about an impending caste war. It was argued that counting OBCs would only add further muscle power to the caste chieftains to once again lobby for that terrible 'Q' word: quotas. But will counting OBCs make caste loyalties deeper or will it, on the other hand, provide, for the first time, hard reliable information on how many OBC castes are there and  what their numerical strength is? Confronted by real numbers, it may be more difficult for the quota warriors to argue for reservations. The Constitution makers aimed to progressively abolish caste discrimination, not abolish caste as an identity. Unless we all understand and study caste, we will never be able to fight it or develop a genuinely anti-caste mindset.

Political scientists Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande say that a colonial caste-based census where all castes, including the Hindu 'upper castes' , are counted and ranked is neither feasible nor desirable. What we need is to count OBCs in the same manner as we count SCs and STs. We need to count Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) in order to get an accurate picture of their actual number. We are, thus, not counting all castes, but only backward communities. When reservations for OBCs have been provided for at the Union and state levels, surely a census is essential to find out what the hard numbers are and whether the quotas are accurate.

So how does caste operate nowadays? There is the robust argument that caste is irrelevant in contemporary India. What matters is quality health and education for all irrespective of caste. Increasingly, elections are showing that caste is no longer the sole criterion for voting preferences: voters are voting for bijli, sadak, pani, padhai and hardworking candidates and not for Gujjars, Reddys and Ezhavas. But while caste may be irrelevant for a minority, it is highly relevant — indeed saliently — for others.

When it comes to social and economic progress, certain castes have done better than others and the advantages of the English language and a modern education are distributed along caste lines. Generalisations are risky, and rural Brahmins can be impoverished and backward too. Yet, access to English and to quality education has traditionally been the monopoly of upper castes. Class and caste are still by and large coterminous, and there is every likelihood that an upper class person in India is also 'upper

caste' and a 'lower class' person is also 'lower caste'. Secure amid our Krishnamurthys, Sens and Vermas, we never stop to think about how we got so secure in the first place.

The English-speaking elite is overwhelmingly 'upper caste' that is comprising the forward levels of the Hindu varna system. The Bengali 'bhadralok' class, or the genteel class, which was supposed to be the only non-caste class in India, is also a caste-based category, as the bhadralok are restricted to the upper caste even though they may not be exclusively Brahmin. A Bengali Dalit bhadralok is still unheard of. In 1996, when B.N. Uniyal undertook a survey of national newspapers, he found that among 686 journalists accredited to the government, 454 were upper caste, the remaining 232 did not carry their caste names and in a random sample of 47, not a single one was a Dalit. In a survey of matrimonial advertising carried out in 2000, ad agency McCann Erickson noted that caste remains as important in the new century as it was four decades ago. In 2002, Virginius Xaxa found that only six of Delhi University's 311 professors are Dalits.

Thus, a caste census should not be seen as simply a political instrument designed to secure quotas. The fight against caste is best fought when we know the enemy. Caste is an immutable, invisible and overwhelming reality in our daily lives. If we continue to act as if caste does not exist, or deny its existence, we would be failing to do battle with one of the most urgent social inequalities of our time.

Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN

ghosesagarika@gmail.com

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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


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

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

UPWARD & ONWARD

 

One good thing came out of the Greek crisis that seized the world markets over the past week: the price of petroleum, which had seemed to be heading inexorably upward, plateaued. But Europe seems to have decided to bail itself out, and while this is good news for international economic stability, it means that oil futures are heading through the roof again, with investors betting that the price of oil will head back up towards $80 and perhaps eventually $100 a barrel. And that has definite repercussions for Indian policy-makers — and not so pleasant ones either. Because India has for too long avoided taking the necessary steps to liberalise oil pricing, to pass international prices on to the actual consumers of petrol products, the thought of pricier oil this summer has us sweating.

 

It would be difficult to find an informed voice in government that would not agree with the proposition that the current system, in which the exchequer subsidises oil, is unsustainable. It is an environmental disaster; artificially low prices won't help us adjust to a future with scarcer oil. It creates an unpluggable hole in the Centre's already dangerously high fiscal deficit: the oil ministry has just asked the finance ministry for Rs 19,621 crore to make up for the difference between how much kerosene and gas costs, and how much consumers pay for it — quaintly called "under-recoveries", when a more honest word is "losses". And it shoves a big burden off onto oil marketing companies — the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and Oil India Ltd are shelling out Rs 14,430 crore because of under-recoveries on petrol and diesel. ONGC and OIL sell to the public sector "downstream" majors — IOC, HPCL, BPCL — which have been forced to absorb Rs 80,000 crore losses since 2004-05; this is in spite of massive, but partial, compensation from the finance ministry, Rs 14,000 crore this year alone. Forcing publicly floated PSUs to share some of the burden of a government decision is the same as any majority shareholder that bullies his minority shareholders into doing something that's not in their interest.

 

We now have a date for when the empowered group of ministers that's considering oil price deregulation is due to meet. They know what they have to do: follow the expert Parekh Committee report's recommendations, freeing the price of petrol and diesel and raising that for kerosene and cooking gas. Otherwise, as international prices go up further, we might be almost Rs 100,000 crore in the red before the summer's out.

 

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


INDIAN EXPRESS

50,000 REASONS

 

A full fifty thousand." Or in the original: "Poore pachaas hajaar." That's all it took for Mac Mohan to count amongst the icons of Hindi cinema. In turn the veteran actor of 175 films was for ever profiled by those three words in the 1975 hit Sholay. In the most famous scene in India's most famous film, Gabbar Singh mock-asks his sidekick Sambha, played by Mac Mohan, "What price has the government placed on me?" Sambha's three-word answer has been imitated by millions since. Mac Mohan's death from cancer this week shines the light, yet again, on the film that continues to grip us 35 years later.

 

Sholay is India's highest grossing film ever (adjusting for inflation), and every trivial detail is part of popular culture. Apart from Sambha's baritone, the bumbling Soorma Bhopali was such a hit, that it spawned an eponymous film of its own. Amjad Khan's front-shot moment, where lying on his stomach his gleeful eyes track a fly until he suddenly swats it, may have become Bollywood Villainy 101. But in later biscuit commercials, Amjad Khan reprised the role for comic relief. Even Ramnagaram, the south Karnataka village whose boulder-strewn terrain gave Sholay its Wild West feel, is now a pilgrimage spot. Imitation is often the clearest evidence of flattery, and besides cinematic take-offs, Gabbar Singh's mannerisms, for instance, were copied by bad guys far and wide.

 

Film aficionados often wonder how a Spaghetti Western rip-off with a clichéd plot line could etch itself on the Indian psyche. Memorable characters provide one answer. But perhaps the film's competing themes of private vengeance and official justice provide another. The legal system is always there, from jail scenes and police chases to the tense finale where Gabbar is handed over to the police, instead of being stamped to death. But so is the urge for private vengeance: an ex-cop hires two small-time crooks to protect himself from bigger fish; having lost Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), Veeru (Dharmendra) takes on Gabbar to get even. And in the director-approved alternative ending, Gabbar is shown being killed by a vengeful Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar). Whatever be the reasons — and there could well be, in Sambha-speak, a "full fifty thousand" — Sholay's grip shows no sign of relaxing.

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MY CASTE AND I

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

The decision to, in principle, enumerate caste in the Census is a monumental travesty. At one stroke, it trivialises all that modern India has stood for, and condemns it to the tyranny of an insidious kind of identity politics. The call to enumerate caste in the Census is nothing but a raw assertion of power wearing the garb of social justice, an ideological projection of Indian society masquerading under the colour of social science, and a politics of bad faith being projected as a concern for the poor.

 

It is not news that India is deeply structured by hierarchies of various kinds, including caste. These hierarchies still appallingly define structures of opportunity and oppression. But the vision of a just and modern India was founded on an aspiration to promote justice without falling into the same pinched up identities that had kept us narrow and bigoted for so long. The premises of a caste census reproduce the very things we had so long laboured to fight. The precise contours of the Census are still not clear, and much of the debate has been on the practical difficulties of this exercise. But there is little doubt how enumerating caste will condemn us in a normative sense.

 

First, a caste census condemns us to the tyranny of compulsory identities. The premise of enumeration is that we can never escape caste. Our identities are not something we can choose; they are given as non-negotiable facts which we can never escape. The state has legitimised the principle that we will always be our caste. This is a way of diminishing our freedom, agency and dignity in a way that even votaries of tradition could not dream of. It takes away the fundamental freedoms we need to define ourselves. Is there not a deeper indignity being inflicted on those to whom emancipation is being promised? You will be your caste, no matter what. There is a risk of gracelessness here. But we have too many purveyors for whom social justice is endless stratagem to assert the power of compulsory group identity, rather than finding the means to escape it. In the name of breaking open prisons, they imprison us even more.

 

Second, a caste census condemns us to misidentify the remedies of injustice. Caste has, particularly for Dalits, been an axis of deprivation. And discrimination needs to be addressed. But it does not follow from that fact that you need a census to attack injustice. Make a list of all the things that are necessary to empower the disempowered: education, resources, food security, economic resources, political participation, etc. Not a single one of the major things that need to be done to make an impact on people's empowerment requires a caste census. The instruments of justice are ready at hand, if we only shed diversionary illusions. The focus of justice should be on universalising basic provision, as is now possible. It is simply false to say that building a just India requires Census data on caste.

 

Third, giving in to a caste census is giving in to a discourse of raw political power. The blunt truth is that designing remedial measures for Dalits, including addressing discrimination does not require a census. This demand has rather been fuelled by politically assertive groups like OBCs, who first hijacked the Dalit discourse on deprivation to their own ends.

 

Fourth, a caste census is the basis for a self-destructive politics. The consequences of a caste census depend a lot on the terms on which a census is carried out: whether it enumerates all jatis or counts OBCs. Which particular groups solidify and mobilise their identities may be an open question. But what is not an open question is that mobilisation will take place only along caste lines, displacing other and more consequential axes of stratification. It will also reinforce an inordinate emphasis on the politics of reservation, pitting one group against the other for purported benefits.

 

Fifth, a caste census invites misrecognition. Census did not create castes and the deprivations associated with it. But it is naive to think that a caste census is an enumeration of an objective reality. In a context where the state privileges certain categories over other, gives incentives to certain group identities, enumeration based on caste creates its own reality. Caste pre-existed the classifications of the modern state; but the classifications we use fundamentally transform the institution. In that sense, the Census will bring into being a new social reality; it will not simply describe an objective one. Caste facts are shadows created by our politics.

 

Sixth, the politics of caste has diminished our sense of self. Imagine what society has become: a vast web of enumeration and suspicion. Dealing with discrimination is one thing. But testing the legitimacy of every institution by seeing how many of what caste there are undermines both the purpose of the institution and our own relationship to it. The project of enumerating caste in Census is fundamentally inspired by a cast of mind that measures the legitimacy of everything largely through caste. What more pinched up conception of citizenship can we imagine?

 

Seventh, the politics of caste has also largely become the politics of cowardice and hypocrisy. It has not produced much justice, and has in fact diverted attention from things that are more consequential. But what it has produced is a fundamental distortion of our character, where the variance between what we privately acknowledge to be true and what we profess in public increases by the day. Indeed, the subtle corrosion of reason and character alike that the tyranny of caste categories is producing by displacing reason with identity, reciprocity with group narcissism, is a price we are already paying.

 

Finally, the manner in which the Congress took the decision betrays its fundamental casualness about all the values that form our moral compass. A well-considered decision, taken by nationalist leaders whose understandings of both moral values and our infirmities as a nation far surpassed ours, was overturned in a matter of minutes at the altar of political expediency. It sends the message of crass political instrumentalism. The backlash may not be immediately apparent, in part because the opposition has also stopped thinking. But the Congress's casual caving in to a retrograde demand is reminiscent of all reactionary politics it spawned in the '80s, pitting one group against another. And what does it say about its character, that its young MPs, exemplars of India's modernity, have no will to resist? It is already a sign of how small caste makes it. And now we will count it at every step.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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

 

 

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE HANDS THAT FED THEM

EJAZ HAIDER

 

Khalid Khawaja, a former air force officer and known sympathiser of the Taliban, was killed by a group of Punjabi sectarian terrorists on April 30. His body was dumped near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. The fate of his two other companions, Brigadier Amir Sultan Tarar (retd), a former Special Services Group and ISI officer, better known by the nom de guerre Colonel Imam, and Assad Qureshi, a Pakistani-British documentary-maker, still hangs in the balance.

 

Why would the militants kill Khawaja, whose sympathies for the ultra-right were known and documented? Even more, why would they capture Colonel Imam who has had, and retains, deep linkages with the Taliban? Imam, an infantry-SSG officer helped organise the emerging Taliban in the '90s. Unlike Khawaja, who was more a braggart, Imam has known personally, and had access to, the top Taliban leadership, including Mullah Omar.

 

The episode reveals some interesting facts about how these groups are configured, what the allegiance pattern is, and whether they can be talked to and trusted.

 

Khawaja was a mediocre officer and was suspended from flying at the pre-solo stage while at the PAF Academy. He subsequently served as an air traffic control officer. It doesn't seem like he showed much talent there either, and as squadron leader was sent to the ISI. That was in the mid-'80s. While there, he was never involved with the Afghan theatre but had developed a religious streak. That made him write a letter to then-President and army chief General Zia-ul-Haq, asking Zia to enforce true Islam in the country. That got him reverted to the air force from where he was relieved.

 

After that Khawaja kept travelling to Afghanistan and developed some links with groups there through charity work. But he liked to present himself as a big actor. He was questioned and arrested for having met with Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl after the latter went missing in Karachi. Khawaja also told some journalists that he was instrumental in trying to get then-CIA Director James Woolsey to talk to the Taliban. At one point he said that he had arranged for Nawaz Sharif to meet with Osama bin Laden and that bin Laden had funded Sharif's campaign against Benazir Bhutto.

 

In 2007 it was reported that he was acting as an interlocutor between the government and the Lal Masjid clerics. Ironically, the militants killed him primarily for having played a double game then, and for having linkages with the ISI and the CIA.

 

Khawaja's family told me he was on a "peace mission" and wanted to dissuade the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its various affiliate groups from their violent activities within Pakistan. He had made an earlier trip to North Waziristan carrying a list of militants that, he told the TTP leadership, were working for India's Research and Analysis Wing. At the time the TTP leadership was on the run and relocating after its strongholds in South Waziristan were captured by the army.

 

In the murky world where intelligence agencies interact with the "bad guys", playing this kind of role can always be dangerous. But Khawaja's credentials gave him confidence.

 

It seems that his eagerness to play a mediator's role, which might have more to do with his desire to pull off something big rather than any double game that he was playing, also made the TTP and its affiliate groups suspicious of him.

 

What Khawaja wasn't counting on was the fact that the groups, now led by very brash 20- and 30-somethings, have no regard for the older leaders, most of whom are either under arrest, have gone underground or stay at a safe distance from the war zone.

 

The younger fighter-leaders also have no previous linkages with any of the intelligence agencies. They have been burnished in the crucible of a war in which intelligence agencies like the ISI are seen as siding with the enemy — that is, the United States. The ISI is to be attacked and the last two years have seen multiple attacks on the agency's detachments, safe houses and vehicles.

 

Much effort was made to get Khawaja and his companions released and the interlocutors included many heavyweights — but to no avail. North Waziristan has become a witches' brew. It houses multiple groups, and while they cooperate in mounting attacks on the army or defending against any military operation, central leadership is very loose to non-existent. There is no papal figure to control the actions of groups, sub-groups and, in many cases, sub-sub-groups. This has consequences for policy-making, both at the operational and strategic levels.

 

Khawaja has paid for Icarian overreach. But by killing Khawaja the Pakistani extremist groups may also have overreached. Those who have been supporting them in the media and the courts would now be less confident of a beast that can eat its own kind.

 

The writer is national affairs editor, 'Newsweek Pakistan'

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

UNUSUAL POWERS OF PERSUASION

JAITHIRTH RAO

 

It was hilarious to watch Hillary Clinton on TV threatening Pakistan with unmentioned dire consequences if a "successful" terrorist attack was launched against the US by a person with a Pakistani connection. Unsuccessful terrorist attacks are quite okay is what she seemed to say!

 

American pressure should work on Pakistan, shouldn't it? The US is a superpower and most countries, unless they are powerful like China or Russia or eccentric like Venezuela, Iran or North Korea, are amenable to superpower persuasion. Additionally, the US and Pakistan have been allies for almost 60 years. The US is Pakistan's principal arms supplier and aid-giver. After the attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Bush administration arm-twisted Pakistan. Secretary of State Colin Powell is supposed to have talked of bombing Pakistan unless they broke off diplomatic relations with Mullah Omar's government in Afghanistan. Things have changed since then. The Pakistani response is all over the place — the US needs to deal with its citizens, Pakistan will arrest some family members of the accused, but framing a person of Pakistani origin is part of an Indian-Jewish conspiracy etc., etc. The Obama administration does not have the reputation of being able to follow through with bombing threats, like Bush did. Hillary has less clout with Pakistan than Powell did. That is the biggest change of the last decade. Ally or no ally, arms-supplier or not — the Pakistanis just do not care about America enough to succumb to American pressure or even listen to American lectures.

 

From India's perspective, both Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have operated on the basis that the best way for India to influence Pakistan is to do so through the US. At the time of Musharraf's Kargil misadventure, US pressure did seem to work on at least some sections of the Pakistani government. In retrospect, that has begun to look like an isolated outlier. Currently, the American administration tells us that they are putting pressure on Pakistan to deal firmly with the conspirators behind the Mumbai attacks. But it does not seem to be working. Of course, the US administration could be lying to us and this would not be the first time that they have practiced terminological inexactitude. But watching Hillary Clinton on TV suggests to me that American pressure just won't work.

 

The vast majority of Pakistanis hate and distrust their oldest ally. Every opinion poll conducted in that country comes up with this conclusion. Members of the Pakistani elite too are cynical about the US. They feel that successive American administrations have used them: Pakistani bases were used to spy on the Soviet Union during the Eisenhower days; in Nixon's time, Pakistani troops were used by Jordan, an American client state, to fight Palestinians; Nixon and Kissinger used Pakistan as a conduit to Mao's China; the Reagan administration used Pakistan to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan; today American drones casually violate Pakistani airspace killing Afghan terrorists and Pakistani civilians in equal measure. The result is that even the most "progressive" English-speaking, Scotch-drinking Pakistani leaders are almost viscerally anti-American. Of course, religious fundamentalists, who have continued to grow in numbers and influence over the last 60 years, view America as the Satan that seeks to corrupt the young and undermine their traditions. There is simply no pro-American constituency left in Pakistan. In political terms, being seen as succumbing to US pressure on Indo-Pak issues would not just be a mild vote-loser. It would be suicidal for any public figure in Pakistan.

 

India, on its own has very little influence in Pakistan. Candle-lit vigils at Wagah and maudlin ghazal-filled evenings cannot change the fact that Pakistanis view us as the neighbourhood bully who split their country some 40 years ago, and who still hangs on to pieces of geography that rightfully belong to Pakistan. The average Pakistani no doubt does not support terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But that does not mean that they are incensed about it. Many of them actually believe in wild conspiracy theories that imply that the Indian government is actively behind terrorist attacks in Lahore and Peshawar. Sympathy for India is at best limited. In this situation, why would any Pakistani leader ruin his domestic position by advocating cooperation with India? What then does India do? The question that has haunted all his predecessors, now rests with

 

Manmohan Singh. How can we have a modicum of influence on the policies and actions of our troubled neighbour? The question arises: if we cannot influence them, if the Americans won't and for that matter, can't bully them, where do we turn?

 

Eureka — two words, one country: Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has tremendous credibility in Pakistan. The religious fundamentalists respect the Saudis as the original Wahabis; Saudi Arabia has in the past helped resolve tensions between Pakistani leaders like Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif; Pakistan respects the Saudi monarchy so much that the town of Lyallpur has been renamed Faisalabad in honour of a Saudi king; all Pakistani leaders need Saudi visas to make their pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina; the Saudis have pots of money which they are willing and able to use to further their interests.

 

Now we begin to understand why Manmohan Singh is the first Indian prime minister after Indira Gandhi to visit Saudi Arabia! Despite the tweeting controversy, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is a welcome "interlocutor" for us! As a high growth economy, we are a good place for the Saudis to invest their funds in equities. And Dr Singh has welcomed this. Over the next few years, if Saudi investment in India increases dramatically, as it should, they will automatically have a vested interest in India's stability and will have an incentive to influence Pakistani leaders to tread the path of reason. Given that the Saudis are credible in Pakistan, they actually do make for good interlocutors (again that word!), which the Americans no longer are. Dr Singh's next stop should be Beijing. China too has credibility with Pakistan!

 

The writer divides his time between Mumbai and Bangalore

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE STRIKE THAT FAILED TO IGNITE CHANGE

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

The government mostly stayed indoors as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPPN-M) cadres across the country, armed with lathis and Nepali khukuris, brought the nation to a standstill for six days.

 

During those six days, the government response was limited to issuing statements denouncing the strike and briefing diplomats on the unfairness of pushing people to misery and shortage.

 

But ordinary people came out on the streets — in some cases, in confrontational mode — clashing with Maoist cadre and asserting their right to livelihood. What could be more painful for the farmers, who had to throw out their produce on the streets, after the strike blocked their access to the regular markets? Subsistence was even harder for daily wage earners. About 300,000 industrial employees suffered as industries and business were forced to close down. According to available government figures, hotels suffered losses close to a billion rupees. All this made the Maoists appear anti-poor and anti-proletariat.

 

The Maoists took this unpopular step as its cadres and sympathisers were apparently confident that their party would capture power this time, declare a constitution from the street, and have it endorsed by the "people" on the appropriate occasion. But that calculation was decisively dashed when the media — including the ones who initially sympathised — changed their tune, and the Kathmandu community refused to extend the hand of cooperation towards Maoists. Their message to the Maoists was clear: they must sit and talk it out with other political parties and chart out a clear agenda for promulgation of the constitution and total adherence to the peace process.

 

To demonstrate public support to this line and record their displeasure towards the Maoist strike, various professional groups and the Federation of Nepal Chamber of Commerce hosted a massive peace rally in the capital on May 7, ignoring the Maoist warning that it will be taken as a challenge to their "decisive movement". Lathi-wielding cadres were deployed to warn the pro-peace, white-clad citizens — but they had little impact.

 

That perhaps came as the biggest setback to the strike. Top Maoist leaders privately admitted that the hostility towards the movement, both at home and in the international community, was much more than initially perceived. The easy way out was to call it off. But asking the cadres who had come to the capital determined to capture power to go back empty-handed would have its own costs. Loss of face would have been the certain and undesirable consequence of that withdrawal.

 

The UCPN-M leadership made every effort to minimise that erosion in its credibility when Prachanda addressed the cadres in Kathmandu's open theatre on May 8, a day after the withdrawal of the strike. He targeted the media, organisers of the peace rally, the "intelligentsia", and Kathmandu locals, among others. His abusive, slander-filled speech reflected frustration, as he threatened to settle scores with journalists. He had harsher words for the Kathmandu community — "you have insulted the ordinary village people who came here to catalyse a change. You will have to pay the price". And on May 9, the cadres implemented that command with fury, injuring at least half a dozen.

 

No one knows yet whether the outbursts were aimed at pacifying the UCPN-M cadres who could have otherwise targeted their own leaders for this "surrender" or whether Prachanda was referring to a future where conflict and "annihilation of the class enemies" would be a given. Maoists, with their insurgent background, are not yet used to accepting setbacks normal for democratic parties. The past four years of the peace process have not seen the Maoists transforming into a democratic party. Instead, the major pro-democracy parties including the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), have followed every agenda and method dictated by the Maoists, ostensibly to stop them from raising arms. "We agreed to abolish our commitment to constitutional monarchy on assurance from the Maoists that they would come to peace and the democratic fold", declared Congress leader K.P. Sitaula, who played a crucial role in what now appears like a fledgling peace process. The extent of division between the political forces that joined hands to oust the monarchy in 2006 has ensured that they are no closer to their common pledge to deliver a new constitution and a stable democracy paving the way for economic prosperity.

 

In the coming days, the Maoist course of action will determine the future of the peace process and that of democracy. Already, people have started openly venting their frustration and sense of betrayal about the Maoists and other political parties. The withdrawal of the Maoist strike in no way guarantees citizens' support to the current government. The "heroic" forces of the 2006's political change are fast falling in people's esteem. The cost to the cause of peace and democracy will be heavy, to say the least.

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE GREAT GAME FOLIO

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

Karzai's tough love

After more than a year of hurling public insults at Hamid Karzai, the Obama administration has finally decided to bite its tongue and show a bit of respect to the Afghan president.

 

A day before he arrived in Washington for a fence-mending visit this week, news leaks from the White House said that President Obama has ordered a new set of new rules in the engagement with Karzai. Underlining the new approach, The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece signed by Karzai. As it receives Karzai, who has gone to Washington with 12 of his senior cabinet ministers, the Obama administration is signalling its commitment to a comprehensive and expansive dialogue with Kabul.

 

Washington's course correction was long overdue, as the Democrats who swept into power at the turn of 2009 had badly underestimated the survival skills of Afghan leaders and their capacity to surprise their overbearing benefactors.

 

It is one thing for Obama to make nice to Karzai; it is entirely another to find ways to bridge the growing distance between Washington and Kabul. Beyond the smiles and public embrace of Karzai, news reports from Washington say Obama is expected to be quite tough in his demands that the Afghan president get his act together and address US concerns on corruption and governance.

 

If Obama is consumed by the belief that good governance is the key to winning the war in Afghanistan, Karzai is quite concerned that Washington will cut and run from Kabul, sooner than later. The two leaders are also deeply divided over the timing and principles that must guide the engagement with the Taliban leadership and its local leaders.

 

The disagreements between Washington and Kabul are even sharper on the role of Pakistan in the construction of a durable order in and around Afghanistan.

 

Whether they begin to narrow their differences or merely paper them over this week, both Obama and Karzai know that a new phase in the political evolution of Afghanistan is at hand and that the current status quo can't hold for much longer. Washington's decisions taken this week after the meeting with Karzai are bound to have immediate consequences for all those with stakes in the future of Afghanistan — including the Taliban, Pakistan and India.

 

Paying Pindi

 

As links between the suspected Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and extremist groups in Pakistan come to light, there are expectations in Delhi that the Obama administration might begin to review its current dalliance with Islamabad and finally crack down hard on the sources of international terrorism and their supporters in Pakistan.

 

Some of Washington's warnings to Pakistan — especially from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have got much play in India. Sceptics, however, would dismiss any suggestion of a fundamental change in Obama's Pakistan policy. They insist that the bigger the trouble with Pakistan, the larger will be the cheque that Washington will write for the Pakistan army headquartered in Rawalpindi.

 

The cynics have a point. For six decades, the relationship between Washington and Rawalpindi has been simple and transactional. (West) Pakistan occupies a strategic space and its army was for geopolitical hire. The bigger the perceived American need, higher the cost — economic and political — of hiring Pindi's services. This paradigm could surely change some day when the US concludes the arrangement is not working.

 

The Times Square plot has by no means brought us closer to that moment. In the next few weeks, we will know how many boxes the Obama administration might check in the long list of deliverables that Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani had left behind when he was in Washington leading Pakistan's strategic dialogue with the United States.

 

Wooing Tehran

 

After Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's visit to Tehran in February, it is now the turn of the External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna who is heading to Iran this week to participate in yet another meeting of third world leaders.

 

No one is holding their breath to see what the G-15, long presumed dead until the Islamic Republic chose to revive it, might do. Krishna, however, will get a chance to intensify Delhi's current political outreach to Tehran.

 

As Washington's embrace of Pindi gets tighter, Delhi's insurance policy now seems to include the search for a stronger partnership with Tehran. What is not clear at this stage is how far India and Iran can satisfy each other's concerns without affecting their political equities elsewhere.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL 

VIEW FROM THE LEFT

MANOJCG

 

BLAME US

Whether Islamic terrorism or the new Hindu variety, Indian communists have found a US angle behind them all. Their argument: the CIA has been found to be behind a number of terrorist attacks that took place in different parts of the world after 9/11, and the agency controls and guides even Osama bin Laden.

The lead editorial in the latest edition of CPI mouthpiece New Age says that ever since the 9/11 attacks happened, the US has been trying to convince everyone that the WTC attackers have spread all over the world and they are the only threat to the world peace.

 

"We are not contending that there is no Islamic fundamentalist organisation that carried out the heinous crimes of killing innocent people through bomb blasts and other such actions. Our assertion is that these fundamentalist organisations and leaders like Taliban and Osama bin Laden are the creation of US agencies," it says.

 

"Even, today they are controlled and guided by the CIA and other imperialist agencies and its agents like David Headley," it says. The CPI's arguments are in the context of revelations that Hindutva outfits have a role in the Ajmer as well as the Mecca Masjid blasts.

 

So, the CPI wants the government to take a fresh look at all incidents of terrorist attacks and apart from Islamic fundamentalist outfits, it should also probe the role of Hindu groups. In CPI's view, "Hindutvawadi forces, particularly the RSS outfits had been hand in glove with imperialist forces since their inception."

 

HISTORY REFRESHER

On the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, the CPM makes a forceful attempt to reiterate the role played by the erstwhile Soviet Union in defeating Hitler's Nazi Germany. The attempt, according to the CPM, was necessitated because of "falsification of history" by the West.

 

It feels a strong ideological campaign is underway to decry the role of communism and the USSR in defeating fascism. An important corollary of such an attempt, it points out, is equating communism with fascism as was recently done by the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

 

"The effort is to distort history with an intent to intensify the anti-communist propaganda by seeking to portray the victory of the Western allies in the Second World War as the triumph of the struggle against fascism and communism. They deliberately conceal the fact that for every Allied soldier who laid down his life, courageously fighting fascism, there were forty Soviet soldiers who laid down their lives," it says.

 

The special edition titled "65th anniversary of victory against Fascism" argues that it was the Communist Red Flag and the Red Army that played the decisive role in defeating fascism and liberating humanity and claims that the reason for launching an aggressive anti-communist propaganda drive is US imperialism's urgent need to establish its credentials.

 

BIOTECH TERMS

The comrades view the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill as a piece of legislation directed against farmers and in favour of multi-national companies like Monsanto. It feels that states would be left without any say in matters related to biotechnology since the bill envisages only an advisory role for them.

Against this backdrop, the Left wants the "pro-multinational sections" in the bill rectified. It feels risk assessment cannot be left to the three regulatory divisions proposed by the bill, but should instead consist of an evaluation of the biosafety dossier submitted by the crop/product developer including mandatory independent, public scrutiny and independent testing for further verification of results.

 

An article in New Age says the nuclear liability legislation should have express clauses on "redressal or compensation and remediation or cleaning up" and a clause that "makes the crop developer solely liable for any leakage, contamination and so on throughout every stage of the product development cycle." It feels that a penalty of a year's imprisonment and Rs 2 lakh fine is no deterrent, and should be enhanced. Interestingly, it argues that the clause spelling out punishment for those who mislead the public about the safety of genetically modified organisms without any evidence or scientific record is targeted at civil society groups, and wants it removed.

 

 

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


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

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TRAI AGAIN

 

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's much-awaited report on spectrum allocation and pricing was expected to shed light on the telecom minister's arbitrary giveaway of 2G licences at throwaway prices in 2008. Instead, the telecom regulator seems to have, rather unfortunately, endorsed A Raja's rather dubious handing out of 2G spectrum by saying that it simply wasn't feasible to conduct auctions in the 800-1,800 Mhz spectrum band. Trai, therefore, believes that telecom minister A Raja's actions did not cost the exchequer much money at all, certainly not the Rs 60,000 crore that is often bandied about by critics of the telecom minister. After having set out this logic, Trai peculiarly goes on to suggest that from now on 2G spectrum could be priced at a level discovered through 3G auctions, thereby endorsing auctions as an appropriate way to discover prices. But the regulator ought to have applied the same logic on auctions and price discovery to the 2G licences that were handed out in 2008 without auctions, at what were 2001 prices.

 

There can be no defence for the manner in which the telecom ministry gave out the 2G licences to Unitech, Swan et al. The fact that these were given at below market prices was more than evident when Unitech and Swan sold out stakes to mobile operators Telenor and Etisalat at prices that were many multiples of the fee paid for the licence and spectrum. Given that Unitech and Swan had set up none of the infrastructure necessary to actually operate 2G services, the buyers were essentially paying what they thought was a good price just for the licence and spectrum. So, Trai's contention that no significant revenue was lost to the exchequer or that there would be insufficient buyers in an auction for 2G spectrum is simply not borne out by facts. Trai also struck a blow on the biggest existing service providers by mandating that they all pay a charge for spectrum that they hold beyond 6.2 Mhz. Again, the price to be paid will be linked to the discovery made at the 3G auctions. This is ostensibly to create a better level playing field for all operators. However, given that Trai has overlooked the biggest distortion in the telecom sector in recent years—the giveaway of 2G licence at a pittance by A Raja—its claims on bringing a level playing field elsewhere will be met with suspicion.

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GEARING UP FOR GROWTH

 

Buoyed by strong economic recovery and rising consumer confidence, growth in cars sales touched a new high of 39% last month, which was the biggest rise in sales since April 1999. The buoyant sentiment was evident across the board with 14 of the total 16 carmakers witnessing healthy growth in demand in the first month of the current financial year. The month of April usually reports subdued sales as consumers and institutions bunch purchases at the close of the financial year in March to take advantage of tax breaks on depreciation. On that count, the numbers for April are impressive, underlining the pent-up demand for the sector. More robust was the sales growth of medium and high commercial vehicles at 103%, which reported de-growth for more than a year during the global financial crisis. The trend reversal now further substantiates the domestic growth story and the pick-up in industrial activity across all sectors. But these staggering numbers are not cheering automakers entirely this time around as the rise in the cost of raw materials—steel, rubber and aluminium—will likely dent the profit margins of companies. Steel prices went up 28% in the December to March quarter and rubber prices by 20% in the same period. The industry association, Siam, expects the automobile sector to grow at around 14% this financial year as compared to 26% last year and the rise in interest rates and spike in oil prices are the other major headwinds that the industry will have to factor in the medium term.

 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that companies have started facing severe bottlenecks in sourcing components, as manufacturers did not anticipate such a quick recovery after the crisis. In fact, a number of vehicle makers and suppliers had cut back on production during the slowdown and since the demand turnaround was faster than expected, the capacity crisis has stymied the sector now. Analysts are estimating a lead-time of 3-6 months to bridge the supply-demand gap and the rise in cost of raw materials may further widen the gap. Although a major part of the recovery in the auto sector came from the government stimulus package and banks reducing their lending rates, the automobile industry will now have to chalk out a long-term strategy. Global auto manufacturers are keen to develop India as a manufacturing hub for auto components and are ramping up the value of components they source from India. With the growing popularity of India in the automotive component sector, the Investment Commission has set a target of attracting foreign investment worth $5 billion for the next five years. Launch of new models and ample liquidity will augur well and ensure that companies hold back price hikes in the near-term.

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW CAN ORISSA NOT BE GREECE?

AJAY SHAH

 

The euro is probably not a good currency for Greece. Is the rupee a good currency for Orissa? The answer is only a partial Yes. More needs to be done on intra-India mobility of goods and people.

 

When the euro was created, the countries of Europe were compared with states of the US. If the US gains a lot by being a single big country with a single currency, should Europe not have a similar arrangement? The bottleneck lies in the stabilisation policy. Before the euro, when Greece experienced bad times, the most important element of stabilisation was exchange rate flexibility. In good times, a floating exchange rate appreciates. In bad times, a floating exchange rate depreciates.

 

By signing up for the euro, Greece lost this powerful tool of stabilisation. But how does the US handle this? If there are bad times in Michigan or in Texas, there is no exchange rate that can depreciate. The story runs in two steps. When there are bad times in Texas, wages go down, which brings more business to firms in Texas. And, when times are bad in Texas, people leave. The number of migrants does not need to be large, in order to deliver the desired result, but a significant scale of migration is essential.

 

What about India? If there is a downturn in Orissa, there is no currency that can depreciate. How can stabilisation be achieved? How can Orissa stave off a Greece-style protracted slump? The answer is: through nationwide trade and labour mobility. When Orissa has a downturn, wages go down. Firms in Orissa should get more business from all across the country, which requires India as a unified common market. And, people should migrate out of Orissa.

 

The US does this right, where a unified currency goes along with full mobility of goods and people. The euro is not such a great idea for Europe because while they have a single common market for goods, they do not have adequate labour mobility. A single currency is not such a great idea for the states of India, since we lack full mobility of both goods and labour. Our currency unification strongly requires national integration on the crucial issues of movement of goods and people.

 

The agenda of India as a unified common market has come to be accepted. It requires building high quality infrastructure, including roads, railways, ports and airports, supporting intra-India trade. It requires implementing the GST, accompanied by the removal of each of the myriad state and local taxes that interfere with intra-India trade.

 

The agenda of creating conditions conducive to migration is less understood. It involves five issues. The first is the language barrier. Individuals who know English are more capable of moving between locations across the country. The spread of English education (which, in turn, is associated with private schools) helps increase labour mobility.

 

The second dimension is rented housing. In pre-independence India, it was easy for a migrant landing in Bombay to rent a home. Today, this is not the case in most cities. By emphasising the rights of tenants, the legal system has led to a shrivelling of the rental market. On a related theme, tax rules need to have a level playing field between renting and owning. A country with more rental housing has more labour mobility.

 

The third dimension lies in transaction taxes such as stamp duty on the purchase or sale of real estate. The easier it is for a person to sell a home in one city and buy a home in another city, the more labour mobility goes up. This is yet another ramification of the deep idea in public finance that all transaction taxes—whether stamp duty or securities transaction tax—must be eliminated.

 

The fourth dimension lies in the interface between citizens and the state. Migrants often face considerable problems in accessing public services. This constitutes one element of the motivation behind the UID project. In addition, state and local governments need to create a more migration-friendly framework by offering citizen interfaces in English rather than exclusively in the local language.

 

The fifth dimension is maps and road signs. There is a continuum in mobility from travel to migration. Out-of-towners and migrants are more easily able to get around when signage and maps are good.

 

In the past, India has got away with a migration-unfriendly environment owing to the domination of informal labour contracting. When bad times came to Orissa, migration did not take place and trade in goods was stifled, so wages fell sharply. In the future, the footprint of Indian labour law will go up, owing to a bigger formal sector. This will yield reduced wage flexibility and set the stage for Greece-style distress. Hence, it is important to push on three fronts: reform labour law, achieve a single common market and create a migration-friendly environment.

 

The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics

 

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

 


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BANNING COTTON EXPORT IS NO SOLUTION

MADAN SABNAVIS

 

The decision to ban the export of cotton is significant as it has implications, not just for the industry, but also for the ideology that guides policy. In the past, too, the policy response to higher prices has been to restrict the export of the product. This was witnessed in the case of pulses and wheat in 2007, maize in 2008 and sugar in 2009—and now in cotton. The dynamics of such price movements and policy reaction needs to be put in perspective.

 

Cotton is a unique crop that was influenced by the introduction of the Bt variety, which has had an impact on its cultivation. Prices are sensitive to supply conditions. While there is a minimum support price that is offered to farmers, it is under discussion as the subsidy bill has been increasing. Production has tended to be cyclical and output that had started accelerating from 2003-04 to peak at around 26 million bales in 2007-08, slipped in 2008-09 to 22 million bales and remained stagnant in 2009-10. Demand, on the other hand, has been increasing from both domestic and global segments. This has been the primary reason for the increase in prices.

 

India is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world and a ban on these transactions means that some of the purchasers like Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, etc, will be affected and will have to look out for other avenues to sustain their textile industries. Quantitatively speaking, around 2.5 million bales of cotton will be required from other countries to fill in this gap.

 

The immediate impact is that the 25% increase witnessed in prices has been arrested, affecting the incomes of the farmers. From a price of around Rs 2,900-3,000 per quintal that had been fixed, they are now getting a lower return of around Rs 2,500 on account of this move, as the shortage has translated into excess supply. This fall in income has affected the incomes of farmers, especially those who cultivate a single crop in a year. Farmers had earlier tended to bring in more area under cotton cultivation by using Bt seeds. However, with lower prices this season, there could be a tendency for them to move to other crops such as soybean, which

 

is the closest substitute, in terms of soil conditions. This could affect the future area under cultivation, which will re-create the problem of supply in the next season.

 

The ban has already seen the global prices rising as major importers have started looking at sourcing cotton from other countries, particularly the US, which is the largest exporter of cotton. This has put pressure on the prices, which was reflected in the ICE cotton futures that have shown an upward movement. Higher international prices do tend to get buffered into domestic prices with price correlation being around 60-80% for most products. So, in the medium run, prices may remain at a higher level.

 

The broader issue to be debated is whether or not an export ban is a solution to the problem of higher prices. The argument here is that as long as prices are being guided by fundamentals, enhancing supplies is the only way to reduce prices. There are some issues regarding when a ban should be imposed. The first is that farmers would tend to substitute cotton with other crops, which will tilt the crop-balance in favour of others. Second, while prices will come down in the immediate run, the change in cropping pattern will affect prices in the following season. Third, export bans in particular will turn the competitive advantage in the product to other suppliers, which can make it difficult to recoup the loss in market share. Fourth, the very industry that the government is trying to protect through such a ban will find it more difficult to plan in the future with both the supply and demand sides being potentially affected. Last, such bans would affect the external credibility of the industry as legal disputes arise from reneging on contracts. This will impact the country's ability to export in the future.

 

Interventions are hence not normally advisable, either in the form of bans (in terms of exports or futures trading) or price intervention through diktat. The issue is not just one of supporting the farmers or the user industry. With growing integration of commodity markets and prices, it will be difficult to control these linkages. An export ban will only push the country out of the market, which will be leveraged by competitors. And as we have seen in the case of sugar, bans did not help with the global price linkage returning to push up the prices further. There is need for more extensive debate on the issue of export ban, which goes beyond the current issue of cotton.

 

The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TRANSPARENT RATINGS PLEASE

ASHISH SINHA

 

Whether private broadcasters and advertisers like it or not, the government is going to get a direct say in the business of television ratings. It is not only going to review the existing system of TRPs, but it is also going to look for an active role for itself. This means, all the secrecy surrounding the TRP business may just get replaced by a transparent system, or so the government hopes. The broadcasters, advertisers and rating agencies are alarmed with the move as they see direct government interference in their private business. Well they should not be.

 

All private stakeholders should see this as a positive move. A government-backed TRP system in the future will help the advertisers, as it will throw up a transparent mechanism. The rating agencies will also find a role for themselves in the future TRP system, as it is specialised work that will require their necessary expertise and participation. The review of TRP system will encompass the entire methodology adopted by the existing systems of TAM and aMap, the two private TV measurement bodies. The government may just infuse funds to seed more people-meters—a device that captures the viewership data that ultimately helps in generating TRPs, something the private agencies could not do so far.

 

But the point of worry for the broadcasters is the linkage drawn by the government between TRP and the televised content. Broadcasters are alarmed that under the garb of putting a transparent system for TRP, the government may dictate the course of television content. The I&B ministry has assumed that misleading TRPs tend to adversely impact the viewers at large. Instead of keeping the broadcasters, advertisers and the existing ratings agency out of loop on the future TRP system, it will be prudent on the part of the government to take into confidence all the stakeholders. Lack of trust between the current ratings agencies and other stakeholders should be replaced by a transparent system of approaching a new TRP system. If the government demands transparency in the TRP business, it should start the process by adopting a transparent approach to any future TRP system.

 

ashish.sinha@expressindia.com

 

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


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

THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE

 

The explosion that destroyed the offshore oilrig, Deepwater Horizon, at a well owned by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico has been an environmental catastrophe. A surge of gas and oil burst through safety valves and exploded, killing 11 of the 126 crew on April 20. The rig, owned by the BP contractor, Transocean, and partly equipped by Halliburton, then sank on to the well-head itself and is at a depth of about 1,500 metres. Current estimates are that 210,000 gallons of oil are flowing into the ocean every day. All attempts to cap the well have so far failed. A relief well to intercept the damaged one would take about three months to drill. The technicalities are extremely challenging, as only robot submarines can do work at these depths. The oil spill will cause the extensive death of marine and related wildlife, and could seriously harm the entire coastal economy of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, as well as parts of Texas. Oil that strikes the coastline could enter the food chain through the vegetation. Recovery from this huge setback will take years.

 

The catastrophe is also changing the political climate. There is rising public anger against the oil industry and a widespread demand for federal government action. BP's initial evasiveness was a repetition of its conduct over the 1989 stranding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaskan waters. Then, 10.8 million gallons of oil were spilt and investigators later found that BP had neither the rubber booms (as it had claimed) so that the oil could be contained, nor the teams to deploy the booms. This time, some nine million gallons have already been spilt, and many people involved are speaking out. Some of the rig survivors have said they felt coerced by company officials to sign statements that they had not seen what happened. When in office, U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, a former Halliburton executive, exempted the oil industry from using expensive safety switches. The Obama administration, however, is moving with commendable speed to bring the industry in line. BP will have to pay all costs, including those for U.S. Navy and Coastguard help; President Obama has suspended permission for new offshore drilling; and federal regulators are to inspect all relevant installations. Congress has drafted legislation to raise oil company liability from $75 million to $10 billion. Significantly, the American States most affected by this calamity have been governed, in recent years, by Republican leaders who have been ideologically committed to doing away with governmental regulation. Now the people living in these States are paying the price.

 

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


THE HINDU

CHECK ON ARBITRARINESS

 

The recent Supreme Court judgment falls short of guaranteeing Governors security of tenure but will have the salutary effect of discouraging their removal from office on political or subjective grounds. The five-member Constitution Bench, which heard a writ petition challenging the dismissal of four Governors after the United Progressive Alliance government assumed office in 2004, held that the removal of a Governor is open to judicial review "if the aggrieved person is able to demonstrate prima facie that his removal was either arbitrary, mala fide, capricious or whimsical." In a way, the court has staked out a middle ground. While it has rejected the petitioner's contention that Governors may be removed only for compelling reasons such as physical or mental disability and acts of corruption, it has also refused to accept that the power of dismissal by the President under Article 156 (1) of the Constitution is absolute and unfettered. While the reasons for removal need not be spelt out, there must exist "valid reasons"; these would vary depending on the "facts and circumstances" of each case. While desisting from enumerating the valid reasons and grounds for dismissal, the court has clearly stated that being "out of sync with the policies and ideologies of the Union government or party in power at the Centre" is not one of them.

 

At a practical level, the issue of the dismissal of Governors is closely tied up with the nature of their appointment. Politicians and retired bureaucrats close to those in power are favoured choices for the post — a practice that tends to erode independence and impartiality. The Supreme Court may hold that Governors are neither employees nor agents of the central government but in practice many of them do behave like agents. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that apart from being eminent in some walk of life, a Governor should not have taken too great a part in politics, particularly in the recent past. The spirit of the latest judgment, which cites various recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, is to press for a measure of security of tenure to gubernatorial office. But the Supreme Court rightly points out that it is for the legislature to consider such recommendations; as a court of law, its powers are limited, in this context, to examining the issue of removing Governors in the light of Article 156. It is doubtful that this judgment will put a stop to the arbitrary removal of Governor. But it will certainly make the central government think twice before exercising a power that has so often been misused.

 

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

 

THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SAVING THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION MIRACLE

THE RTI JUGGERNAUT HAS BEGUN TO ROLL OVER INDIAN BABUDOM. LET US NOT TURN THE CLOCK BACK.

VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM

 

Over the past week, there have been reports that the Prime Minister's Office, responding to Sonia Gandhi's muscular intervention, is backing off on the dreaded amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005.

 

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that the amendments scare has never been too far away. It resurfaced as recently as April 30, 2010 — this time in the benign form of a friendly letter to an RTI applicant. The letter, from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), was in response to his application seeking details of the amendments under consideration, and it confirmed that far-reaching changes were in fact under way.

 

And yet, whatever the outcome of this see-sawing confrontation between the government and the growing band of RTI stakeholders — activists, Information Commissioners, ordinary citizens — one thing is clear. Almost against its will, official India is changing.

 

The DoPT's letter is an example in itself. In the past, the department, the nodal government agency for matters relating to RTI, would get into a lather if anyone so much as asked a question. RTI activists and the Central Information Commission (CIC) fought a marathon battle to get the DoPT to acknowledge that the Act allowed access to file-notings. The department stubbornly maintained the opposite on its website, providing just the excuse the other Ministries needed to stonewall demands for file-notings.

 

The DoPT's April 30 letter is accommodating to the point of disbelief. In reply to "point number 8," it says: "copy of file noting is enclosed." Was this the same government organ that possessively clutched file-notings to its bosom? Not just the DoPT. There is reason to believe that RTI glasnost is wrecking babudom's practised ways everywhere in government. If today we know for a fact that Ms Gandhi and the Prime Minister hold opposing views on amending the RTI Act, it is thanks, ironically, to RTI. The Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi correspondence was accessed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI zealot with an unmatched penchant for bombarding government offices with complicated queries — the kind that would have normally got the government bristling.

 

Yet today he has in his possession documents of unimaginable importance. To name only a few: The entire 2004 and 2010 Padma awards records, including a 2004 "secret" letter from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on norms for deciding the awards; information on the wealth and assets of judges as well as expenditure on the travels of judges and their spouses; files relating to appointment of judges; the Naveen Chawla-N.Gopalaswami correspondence; details of RTI amendments under consideration; and most recently, a CIC ruling extending the RTI Act to correspondence between the Prime Minister and the President.

 

Indian Express has scooped significant stories using the RTI Act, and recently published the entire lot of letters exchanged between Ms Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh over the term of the first United Progressive Alliance government. The letters confirm what many have suspected for long: that two different visions inform the offices of the Prime Minister and the Congress president.

 

The CIC has far surpassed expectations, pushing the envelope to uphold transparency and accountability in the public sphere, and shaking up the judicial fraternity with its daring interpretation of the RTI Act. The CIC's January 2009 ruling that the Act covers the assets of Supreme Court judges is beyond anything one could have imagined in pre-RTI India.

 

To understand the import of this decision one has only to look at the incredible phenomenon of the Supreme Court appealing to itself against the Delhi High Court order upholding the CIC's ruling in the judges' assets case. Significantly, the effect of all this has been to open rather than shut doors. One judge after another has come out voluntarily to declare his assets.

 

A little over a month ago, this writer filed two RTI applications with the Ministry of Rural Development. Twenty days later, I got a call from the Ministry. Over the following week, officials incessantly fussed over me, worrying that I was not finding the time to go over and inspect the files. Once in the hallowed corridors of Krishi Bhawan, officials eagerly obliged with mounds of files, pointing out file-notings and such, and printing out photocopies late into the evening.

 

In the case of the second application, the Ministry overshot the RTI deadline of one month by five days. But no harm done. A Deputy Secretary was on the phone profusely apologising for the "unwarranted" delay. The ease with which officials parted with file-notings was a knock-out surprise. Indeed, the experience was almost surreal. Did I owe the kindness to my being a journalist or was something else happening here? The former possibility is fairly ruled out because the fourth estate is not a particular favourite of the bureaucracy.

 

In truth, not just me, RTI applicants everywhere are possibly finding it just a bit easier to approach the giant behemoth called the government. The term "top secret" which was the bureaucracy's single biggest weapon, no longer looks that forbidding. A correspondent from The Hindu approached a member of the Padma awards committee seeking details of the controversial Padma Bhushan award to NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal. The member threw a fit: "How dare you even call me? Don't you know our decisions are secret?" Yet thanks to RTI, within days we had full information, not just on the award to Mr. Chatwal but on the 1,163 names considered by the committee. The awards committee member, like so many from the "secrecy" era, had not understood that what was secret in his time was open information today. The Hindu correspondent actually held in her hand President Kalam's "secret" note to Prime Minister Vajpayee. And the letter was handed out by the Home Ministry, once the proud repository of all things secret.

 

Spectacular as these breakthroughs are, it is the smaller stories involving a score of poor RTI applicants that truly point to the transfer of power taking place on the ground. Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi's favourite story is of a man in rags who was treated with respect at the ration office only because he had filed an RTI application. "The same officer who used to treat him like dirt offered him a chair and tea," says Mr. Gandhi. "The man understood the power of information, and told me what he had achieved was far more than a ration card. From being always overpowered, he actually felt powerful."

 

The implications of this transformation are surely not lost on the top echelons of government. Though not fully by any means, feudal, secretive India has adapted to an open information culture sooner than anyone could have anticipated. Who could have thought that government departments would treat information seekers with deference? If this is the case with the number of RTI users still being minuscule, one can guess the scale of the havoc a fully operative RTI Act would cause.

 

Says RTI pioneer Aruna Roy: "What we are witnessing is a potentially massive transfer of power. This is democracy at the grassroots, and that is why it is hard to believe that the government will let go of the amendments. RTI has opened a million cans of worms. It has put the fear of God into the bureaucracy."

 

And so we have a strange situation. One half of the government is ever so slowly relaxing its hold on information, while the other half is far from giving up. The conflict becomes visible every now and then. Last month, the Home Ministry released the details of the 2010 Padma awards aspirants but advised the RTI applicant who sought them not to make them public.

 

At a South Asia RTI workshop convened in Delhi recently, delegates from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka seemed in awe of the Indian achievement in RTI. Pakistan framed a freedom of information ordinance in 2002. However, official data from that country shows that all its federal departments and ministries put together get less than five information applications a month. Between 2003 and 2007, only 51 complaints reached the office of the Federal Ombudsman (equivalent to the Indian CIC). Of these, only eight were filed by ordinary citizens. The Indian CIC in the single year of 2009 received 21,500 appeals and complaints, of which it disposed of 19,500.

 

India's RTI activists and Information Officers are an unusually inspired lot. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has passed landmark rulings that have changed the rules of governance. Information Commissioner Gandhi has been working with a rare dedication, spending his own money to employ staff, and disposing of 5,800 cases annually. Aruna Roy and countless other activists breathe and sleep RTI.

 

For all their sake, and more importantly, for the sake of the common citizens, the miracle called the Indian RTI Act must be saved.

 

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

 

 


THE HINDU

BENCHMARKING REHABILITATION AND RESETTLEMENT

DESPITE THE BEST OF INTENTIONS ON THE PART OF THE GOVERNMENT, MANY PEOPLE HIT BY LAND ACQUISITION FOR PROJECTS CONTINUE TO GET A RAW DEAL. ONE CORPORATE'S EFFORTS IN THIS FIELD MAY SERVE AS A MODEL TO FOLLOW.

SUJAY NAG

 

The Government of India had laid down as the objective of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, the "rehabilitation and resettlement of persons affected by the acquisition of land for projects of public purpose or involuntary displacement due to any other reason, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

 

Yet, as recent communications from the former Minister for Rural Development, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, to the Prime Minister pointed out, the government's inaction on the Bills concerning land acquisition amendment and rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) has been striking. He has sought to drive home the point that activists, social scientists and development economists have been making: that there is poor commitment to recognising the role of those who give up their critical assets for the sake of development as key stakeholders in development projects. The apparent urgency in having these bills introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 24, 2009 and passed the next day petered out into nothingness: the bills were not even introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

 

Understandably, members of the lobby that wants to usher in quick industrialisation will want to ride roughshod as they mount the "efficient use of resources" horse. They will not be overly concerned about brushing off the indigent, on whose way of life, culture and livelihoods they will want to trample. The point is that in a democratic structure — irrespective of the state of dispossession of the poor — it is not quite possible to bypass the legitimate rights of any stakeholder all the time.

 

For a government that constantly talks of inclusive growth, stakeholder rights become all the more significant if they pertain to the sector that is ' excluded' from the substantial development that the country claims. Indeed, there had seemed to be a fair recognition of the plight of the displaced in the proposed Bill, which provided for the "basic minimum requirements that all projects leading to involuntary displacement must address." The Bill has a saving clause to enable State governments, public sector undertakings, agencies or other bodies to continue to provide or put in place greater benefit levels than those prescribed under the Bill. It seemed to have responded to India's horrific record on the R&R front for those displaced by "planned development" in the post-Independence era, especially in the power, mining, heavy industry and irrigation spaces. Even by conservative estimates some 50 million persons have been displaced and only about 25 per cent of them have been resettled. The reality is grimmer.

 

Given this perspective and the government's hesitation to put in place an R&R policy, it is imperative that those planning investments in these areas peopled by vulnerable communities take the business of R&R as seriously as they take other commercial calculations. Self-interest, if nothing else, should inform them that the support of a fair and transparent R&R policy, preceded by the establishment of a healthy relationship with the host community, would be critical to the success of any investment.

 

The contours of what a good R&R plan should be are fairly well-known. There are enlightened corporates in the public and private sectors that have executed fair R&R programmes, as there are many that have ignored them with impunity. But for the Bill, there is no law that seeks to confer on ousted persons the explicit right to rehabilitation.

 

Some models

It is important, then, to examine some R&R schemes and position them as models that deserve emulation. Tata Steel's "Parivar" concept for those displaced by its development initiatives seeks to provide a protective umbrella for rehabilitated families. The beneficiaries are given a sense of belonging by means of identity cards. More important, the documentation of the promises made to each beneficiary is monitored to ensure that the company delivers on them.

 

The objective is to ensure that the quality of life of each beneficiary is substantially improved by way of improved civic infrastructure, supported by sound socio-economic and cultural infrastructure. This includes a training programme for skill-upgradation through an initiative called 'Prerana', under which 373 people have been trained in different trades. Of these, 201 have been absorbed by construction partners and 47 families have found self-employment. In more specific terms, one member of every displaced extended family (there are 1,200 of them) is given employment or one-time assistance in lieu of employment. The company is offering a tenth of an acre (4,356 square feet) of homestead land (developed plots) to each displaced extended family in its rehabilitation colonies at Trijanga, Sansailo and Gobarghati. There is free transportation for those shifting with their belongings; a welcome package comprising 39 utility items, and provision for transit camp accommodation and rented house facilities apart from payment assistance for a temporary shed. Each Tata Steel 'Parivar' resettlement colony has a free dispensary, all-weather motorable roads, concrete drainage, piped water and electricity connection to each house, street lighting and solid waste and garbage management facilities. The family is given a month's groceries and Rs. 1 lakh as house-building assistance over and above the Rs. 1.5 lakh mentioned in the R&R policy, as well as the extra replacement value of the structures in the original village. Families also get a monthly maintenance allowance of Rs. 2,300 till they are appropriately employed.

 

Other components of the R&R package are free medical treatment, crop compensation, house structure payment and livestock compensation. Children of the displaced or their nominees get the Tata Parivar Scholarship to pursue engineering, medical or diploma courses. Some 39 families have benefited from this.

 

The land-owners received the first round of compensation during the period 1992-95. Given the passage of time and the concerns of land-owners, Tata Steel gave an additional ex-gratia equivalent to Rs. 400,000 an acre of acquired land to match the market value. The company is paying for the replacement value of the additional structures constructed on the land. Some government land in the project area was encroached upon by families that were to be displaced and an ex-gratia proportionate to the land encroached is being given. This is done in consultation with the community and the district authorities, to address the concern of loss of tenancy rights.

 

There are two special initiatives. One is to empower people through Self Help Groups: 22 SHGs with 295 women members are engaged in income-generating programmes such as poultry and goat -rearing, pickle-making, food processing, mushroom cultivation, phenyl making, Saura painting, stone carving, stitching, and nursery and backyard-farming. Besides, 11 SHGs formed by 167 men are engaged in micro-level enterprises. The second initiative is built around educating the children of the displaced through a pre-school education (balwadi) programme that is mainstreamed with government and private schools. Children are also enrolled in residential ashram schools and the Kalinga Institute of Social Science in Bhubaneswar.

 

The company has internal and external redressal cells that take care of any day-to-day grievances of the relocated persons. The external cell provides third-party checks, helps audit R&R activities and provides independent feedback on stakeholder concerns.

 

Overall, the idea is for companies to go beyond mere lip service. The per family spend on the rehabilitation package works out to Rs. 16.91 lakh. The total expenditure is around Rs. 213 crore. Does that resolve all issues around displacement? It may not. At least it provides a global benchmark around how companies ought to address the concerns of the key stakeholders in a development process.

 

( Sujay Nag is a former senior resident representative of Tata International in Bangladesh.)

 

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

 


THE HINDU

UNEQUAL QUEST FOR EQUALITY

JAPAN NOW THINKS THAT IT MUST RELUCTANTLY CONTINUE PLAYING SECOND-FIDDLE TO THE UNITED STATES ON A KEY MILITARY QUESTION. AND PRIME MINISTER YUKIO HATOYAMA HAS DISCOVERED A NEW ISSUE TO CHEER WASHINGTON WILLINGLY.

P. S. SURYANARAYANA

 

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has emphasised how difficult it is to say 'no' to the United States over its military preferences in his own country. The message, after he held urgent consultations with his cabinet colleagues on May 10, is that he remains unable to strike an "equal relationship" with the U.S., despite his efforts to do so since he became Prime Minister over eight months ago.

 

The U.S. is Japan's long-standing military ally. At the same time, Japan, China, and South Korea are also engaged in trilateral diplomacy at the summit level under what can be described as Fukuoka consensus. The consensus is in essence a political matter of potential hedging against the U.S. by these three neighbouring Northeast Asian countries. It was at Tokyo's initiative, prior to Mr. Hatoyama's rise to power last September, that these three countries held their first-ever full-fledged summit at Fukuoka in Japan. Under this process, the Foreign Ministers of Japan, China, and South Korea will now meet on Saturday and Sunday (May 15 and 16) to prepared the ground for yet another summit.

 

Many in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa want the Americans to wind up their show and go home. Okinawa is home to some state-of-the-art military bases that underpin Washington's forward-deployment strategy in East Asia. Mr. Hatoyama visited Naha, Okinawa's capital, last week to apologise for his inability to negotiate a reduction in the U.S. military footprint in that prefecture.

 

At stake now is the popular clamour among the people of Okinawa for shifting the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station out of that prefecture or, if possible, out of Japan altogether. The factors driving this demand include Washington's perceived "imposition" of this facility on a densely-populated area. Another key issue is the "unacceptable" off-base "misconduct" of U.S. Marines. And the Futenma issue is just one manifestation of an overall unease, among sizable sections of the Japanese, over the ubiquitous U.S. military presence in their country.

 

Under an existing Japan-U.S. accord, entered into before Mr. Hatoyama's ascent to power last September, the Futenma station is to be shifted to a less populated area in Okinawa itself. In his electoral pledge, he committed himself to getting this base shifted out of Okinawa or even Japan altogether. In a change of political tune, he has now said that it will be difficult to get this done, because of two reasons: the current state of Japan-U.S. relations and the continuing role of this base in the effective deterrence that the American troops in Japan provide for its benefit and for Asia-Pacific stability.

 

If Japan now thinks that it must reluctantly continue playing second fiddle to the U.S. on a key military question, Mr. Hatoyama has in fact discovered a new issue to cheer Washington willingly. He can be happily on the same political wavelength as U.S. President Barack Obama over his quest for a new American dream of a "world without nuclear weapons" at some unknowable stage in the future.

 

Surely, Mr. Obama's futuristic vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world and the existential presence of U.S. troops in Japan are totally different issues on Mr. Hatoyama's agenda. But there is in fact no real irony about a possible partnership between Japan and the U.S. for efforts to create a "world without nuclear weapons."

 

Japan is the only country to have been bombed with nuclear weapons – at the hands of the U.S. itself in the Second World War. Successive governments thereafter in these two countries have, by and large and almost until recently, justified their military alliance as a mutually-convenient sequel to the outcome of the Second World War. Surely, a sequel in just realpolitik terms!

 

The alliance was firmed up in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, those realpolitik terms have generally been understood differently in these two countries. Shorn of the intricacies of those perceptions, the alliance was upheld, until almost a year ago, by nearly all successive governments in both Tokyo and Washington. On balance, the general refrain was that the alliance was in fact suited to the differing national interests of Japan and the U.S. More importantly, these interests were also seen to be compatible and not mutually exclusive in scope.

 

Decisive, in such a contemporary context, is a new political nuance which can be detected in the current public debate in Japan over its ties with the U.S. Surely, the Japanese leaders like Mr. Hatoyama and others, including those in some key prefectures, have not given up the conventional view that the national interests of Japan and the U.S. are essentially compatible. However, the new nuance is that the independent national interests of Japan and the U.S. are somewhat mutually exclusive in certain respects.

 

In particular, Japanese leaders increasingly tend to recognise that their policy towards China must be a constructive engagement and not containment of any kind at the global or East Asian level. Mr. Obama does not, of course, advocate an open containment of China in its relentless drive for economic and military modernisation. However, he has not also abandoned the basic tenets of Washington's foreign policy, which are still designed to sustain U.S primacy as the world's reigning superpower. In a sense, therefore, Mr. Obama's actions are primarily designed to pull the U.S. out of its current distress.

 

From a U.S. perspective, there is perhaps nothing wrong about this, but Mr. Hatoyama does not want to see Japan's ties with China under the U.S. prism. This sense of autonomy is not really negated by his latest move for accommodating the U.S. "interests" in Okinawa. Such an apparent appeasement of the U.S. is obviously seen by him as some diplomatic nicety dictated by the present reality of Japan's dependence on the American deterrence. This brand of foreign-policy nuance in Japan is also reinforced by a growing popular aspiration there for a return to "normality" as a sovereign nation.

 

The persistent lack of "equality" in Japan's engagement with the U.S. is traceable to the significant asymmetry of the relative political and economic strengths of the two countries in their alliance calculus. Of equal relevance is the inevitable disparity between their differing vision coefficients.

 

Even under a "new-age leader" like Mr. Obama, the U.S. continues to see itself as a global superpower, although its capabilities in that position are fast eroding, especially so in the all-important economic domain and not really in the military sphere so far. And, Mr. Hatoyama's latest comments in Okinawa show that he has begun to see America's military dimension as being beneficial to Japan. Interestingly in this overall context, an expert like Michael Mandelbaum, who is known for the idea of a frugal superpower, has suggested that the current "retrenchment" in U.S. global power can be traced to the country's "fiscal condition" in particular.

 

By contrast, Japan is a quintessential East Asian power in the neighbourhood of China, which remains on the rise as a potential superpower.

 

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


THE HINDU

WHITE HOUSE IN FINAL PUSH FOR CLIMATE BILL

THERE ARE CONCERNS THAT THE DEBATE ABOUT THE ENERGY FUTURE COULD BE LOST IN THE WRANGLING ABOUT OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING PERMITS.

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

 

U.S. Senators are set to take a last run at producing a climate and energy law on Wednesday, betting on the spectre of environmental disaster raised by the BP oil spill to build support for a comprehensive overhaul of America's energy strategy.

 

But despite a strong push from the Obama administration, there are concerns that the debate about the energy future could be lost in the wrangling about offshore oil drilling permits.

 

The official roll-out by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman caps eight months of negotiations with political figures and industry executives aimed at getting broad support in Congress for shifting the economy away from coal and oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate legislation passed by the U.S. Senate could unblock a major obstacle which prevented agreement on a binding global deal at last year's Copenhagen summit.

 

"We are more encouraged today that we can secure the necessary votes to pass this legislation this year in part because the last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment," Kerry and Lieberman said in a joint statement.

 

The White House is also trying to use the disaster to make a case for a bill. "This accident, this tragedy, is actually heightening people's interest in energy in this country and in wanting a different energy plan," Carol Browner, the White House climate adviser told Bloomberg television at the weekend.

 

Time is fast running out for climate and energy legislation, with Democrats expected to suffer heavy losses in the mid-term elections.

 

But the thinking in Congress is that the economic disaster in the Gulf is more likely to hurt, than help, such efforts in large part because offshore drilling was a key part of the proposals.

 

The two Senators deliberately gave a boost to offshore drilling under a strategy that saw the Obama administration and the White House working to build support among Republicans and industries that stood to be affected by the new regulations.

 

Early drafts promised to build more nuclear power plants and expand offshore oil drilling. The pro-business message was further underlined in plans for a roll-out originally scheduled for last month, which envisaged a public show of support from big oil companies. The proposal is expected to require a 17 per cent cut in emissions levels from 2005 levels by 2020. Earlier versions suggested a sector-by-sector approach to emissions cuts. Electricity producers would face a cap in 2012, with heavily polluting industries such as steel and cement manufacturers winning a delay until 2012.

 

In addition to financial incentives for nuclear power and offshore oil and gas drilling, the proposals would have created funds for carbon capture and storage.

 

The proposals would also have curbed the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to acting on emissions, and would have stopped states, such as California, from imposing more stringent environmental regulations.

 

Such concessions to the nuclear and oil industry, while angering environmentalists, do not appear to have created a solid bank of Republican support.

 

Kerry and Lieberman lost their lone Republican ally, Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Senator, who initially withdrew his support over a dispute about immigration, now argues the spill in the Gulf has wrecked any chance of success.

 

"There are not nearly 60 votes today and I do not see them materialising until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill," he said in a statement.

 

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, also cast doubt this week on the likelihood of getting a comprehensive climate and energy bill through the Sentate. He told Spanish language Univision network a limited energy-only bill — that would not cap emissions — stood a better chance.

 

Meanwhile, the battle lines are being drawn on offshore drilling. Some Democratic Senators are now threatening to vote against any climate bill that allows expanded drilling. "I will have a very hard time ever voting for offshore drilling again," Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat told reporters.

 

Others, including Graham, remain adamant in their support for drilling.

 

Environmental organisations are also expanding their campaigns against drilling, both in the Gulf of Mexico, and new projects scheduled for Alaska.

 

That could force yet another revision to the proposal by the time it sees the light of day on Wednesday. "The one part we are still talking about is the offshore drilling," Lieberman told reporters. "The other parts are really in pretty solid shape."

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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


THE HINDU

RECESSION CUTS LABOUR TAXES

 

The economic recession has reduced taxes on the workers' earnings in most developed countries, the Paris-based Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday in a report.

 

Due to government stimulus packages and guarantee measures after the worst global depression since the Second World War, "average tax and social security burdens on employment incomes fell slightly in 24 out of 30 OECD countries last year," the OECD reported. According to the OECD's annual Taxing Wages report, New Zealand, which already imposed relatively low taxes on labour incomes, recorded the biggest falls. Turkey and Sweden also recorded big declines.

 

OECD said last year many countries cut income taxes, some reduced employer social security contributions and others, including Germany, Japan and the United States, recorded lower wage tax due to lower average wages after the economic crisis. Hungary, Greece and France were the highest-tax countries for one-earner married couples with two children earning the average wage. The difference between the total cost of employing a person and their net take-home pay, or "tax wedge," was 43.7 per cent in Hungary and 41.7 per cent in Greece and France, well above the OECD average level of 26 per cent, the report said.

 

For single workers, Belgium, Hungary and Germany recorded the highest "tax wedges" at 55.2 per cent, 53.4 per cent and 50.9 per cent, respectively. At the other end of the scale, Mexico, New Zealand and South Korea took only 15.3 per cent, 18.4 per cent and 19.7 per cent, respectively. This scale's average reading for OECD countries was 36.4 per cent.

 

— Xinhua

 

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


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

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WRONG THING IN THE WRONG PLACE...

 

It is a pity about minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh. He is among a small set of ministers who are intellectually well-equipped and steeped into the modernist tradition. More of this kind are needed as India seeks to forge ahead. A minister needs to understand this country's complex realities and show a subtle grasp of its interplay with other nations. At the same time, it is clear that political adeptness and a sense of proportion are necessary qualifications for senior government functionaries if they seek to court success in framing appropriate policy and in its successful dissemination and implementation. It is in these realms that many who run the race come up short, as the case of Mr Ramesh demonstrates so well. Everything which he had to say in Beijing about India's security establishment and the home ministry being "paranoid", "alarmist" and "defensive" in assessing Chinese investments in India amounts to caricaturing this country's overall equation with a powerful neighbour with which relations have been more down than up. Even so, Mr Ramesh's assertions on these counts constitute the lesser of his follies. Far more serious is the minister taking up cudgels for Chinese multinational Huawei, a company that attracted adverse notice from the beginning of its innings in India. The point here, however, is that Mr Ramesh's observations in respect of Huawei  expose him and his government to the charge of lobbying for particular international business entities. For a political party or a minister, it would be a sin even to speak up for an Indian business venture in the way that Mr Ramesh has done for the Chinese firm.
The BJP has already accused Mr Ramesh of lobbying for Chinese commercial establishments. It is decent of the party not to demand his ouster from the government. Or maybe it just plans to carry out a campaign against UPA-2 on the issue of foreign multinationals and their flag-bearers within the council of ministers. Such a campaign can get off the ground only if a minister charged with a misdemeanour is permitted to remain in office. Not long ago Shashi Tharoor had to go when the first whiff of his possible financial involvement with a prospective IPL franchisee surfaced. Had he been allowed to stay on, Mr Ramesh's controversial statements in support of a Chinese company would have been an additionality of an unsavoury kind. And now if Mr Ramesh stays put, the breaking of another scandal — and no modern governments are immune to the possibility — can affect the composure of the Union council of ministers.


Even if Mr Ramesh had not batted for Huawei, what he has had to say about the functioning of the Union home ministry on the issue of Chinese investments in India is enough grist to the Opposition mill. The Manmohan Singh government should count itself lucky that the controversy did not break during a session of Parliament. But there can be little doubt that questions will be raised during the Monsoon Session. While it is up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to decide what to do with Mr Ramesh, doubts over the functioning of foreign companies in India, and the manner in which the government tackles these, is a legitimate concern for the country. Parliament will be within its right to ask the necessary questions.
Apart from pointing out the inadvisability of one minister criticising the domain of another, the Prime Minister has quite correctly questioned the propriety of a minister being critical of his own government while on foreign soil. It is pertinent to point out that leading Opposition figures also make it a point not to hit out at the government when they
travel abroad.

 

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HATRED IS LIKE TAKING POISON

 

A young man once asked his grandfather about an injustice that had left him enraged. The grandfather admitted that he, too, had felt such rage. "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart", he told him. "One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one".


The grandfather continued, "I, too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much from my life with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die". When he finished talking, the grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" "The one I feed", replied the grandfather.


Perhaps it was due to two wolves fighting in the heart of Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, that he asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Math 18:21-22).


One of the major struggles we often face in our lives is to do with people who need our forgiveness or those from whom we seek forgiveness. Sometimes we find it as difficult to forgive someone as others might find to forgive us for our wrongdoing. Nurturing a grudge against someone, we feel, gives us psychological satisfaction.


A few years ago when Gladys Staines, whose husband Graham and two young sons were burnt to death, appeared before the cameras after the incident and declared that she forgave the murderers, it left everyone stunned. Almost five years later when she decided to go back to her country, one of the leading newspapers carried an Internet survey which asked its readers, "Is the example that Gladys Staines set in India worth emulating?" A substantial 59.23 per cent of readers responded with a firm "No".


The readers' answers were born out of their (and our) own human, often extremely painful, experiences, where forgiving someone for such monstrous acts rarely surfaces as an option. Thus one is not surprised when one hears from the family members of the victims of violence that they want the culprit to be punished. As far as law is concerned that is what should, of course, be done.


But whether the law punishes the culprit or not, what happens to the one who suffers the loss and starts building hatred towards the other in one's heart. And what about those times when issues are more personal than legal? For instance, when we are betrayed by a friend or when a trusted person stabs us in the back or someone whom we have never harmed goes and does terrible things against us. Such incidents, besides leaving us wounded, make us angry, hurt and bitter. We may keep looking for an occasion to pay back the person in the same coin — and this, if we do not take care, can eat us up from within.


King Yudhishthira was asked by Draupadi, referring to the answer of Prahlad to his grandson Vali, "If forgiveness or might was meritorious?" In a rather long response Yudhishthira answered, "O beautiful one, one should forgive under every injury. It has been said that the continuation of species is due to man being forgiving. He, indeed, is a wise and excellent person who has conquered his wrath and shows forgiveness even when insulted, oppressed and angered by a strong person… forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind".


No wonder then that when his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus made it a point to make the prayer powerful but also added something to the prayer that would bring great healing: "…And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…" and hastened to add, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Math 6: 12 & 14-15).


Jesus is doing his best to show the importance and, indeed, the usefulness of forgiving others, like the grandfather telling his grandson that "hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die". Would we really not be creators of an incredible society when we would be able to forgive one another from our heart? And would that not be an ideal recipe worth adopting in the daily menu of life?


— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. 

 

Dominic Emmanuel

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

INDIA SHINING OR INDIA STARVING?

 

India became independent soon after the Great Bengal Famine that claimed two million lives. An independent and free India reclaimed her food sovereignty and food security.


The Harijan, a newspaper published by Mahatma Gandhi and banned from 1942 to 1946, was full of articles written by Gandhi during 1946-1947 on how to deal with food scarcity politically, and by Mira Behn, Kumarappa and Pyarelal on how to grow more food using internal resources. On June 10, 1947, referring to the food problem at a prayer meeting, Gandhi said: "The first lesson we must learn is of self-help and self-reliance. If we assimilate this lesson, we shall at once free ourselves from disastrous dependence upon foreign countries and ultimate bankruptcy. This is not said in arrogance but as a matter of fact. We are not a small place... We are a subcontinent, a nation of nearly 400 millions. We are a country of mighty rivers and a rich variety of agricultural land with inexhaustible cattle-wealth. That our cattle give much less milk than we need is entirely our own fault. Our cattle-wealth is any day capable of giving us all the milk we need. Our country, if it had not been neglected during the past few centuries, should not today only be providing herself with sufficient food, but also be playing a useful role in supplying the outside world with much-needed foodstuffs of which the late war has unfortunately left practically the whole world in want. This does not exclude India".


Recognising that the crisis in agriculture was related to a breakdown of nature's processes, India's first agriculture minister, K.M. Munshi, worked out a detailed strategy on rebuilding and regenerating the ecological base of productivity in agriculture, with the recognition that the diversity of India's soils, crops and climates had to be taken into account. The need to plan from the bottom, to consider every individual village and sometimes every individual field was considered essential for the programme called "land transformation". At a seminar on September 27, 1951, Munshi told the state directors of agricultural extension: "Study the life's cycle in the village under your charge in both its aspects — hydrological and nutritional. Find out where the cycle has been disturbed and estimate the steps necessary for restoring it. Work out the village in four of its aspects: existing conditions; steps necessary for completing the hydrological cycle; steps necessary to complete the nutritional cycle, and a complete picture of the village when the cycle is restored; and have faith in yourself and the programme. Nothing is too mean and nothing too difficult for the man who believes that the restoration of the life's cycle is not only essential for freedom and happiness of India but is essential for her very existence".


THE FOOD system is broken once again. Per capita consumption has dropped from 177  cal/day to 150 cal/day. And it has been broken deliberately through the Structural Adjustment Policies of the World Bank, part of the trade liberalisation rules of the World Trade Organisation. It is also being continuously broken by the obsession of the government to turn seed, food and land into marketable commodities so that corporate profits grow, even though farmers commit suicide and children starve. Two lakh farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. Farmers' suicides are triggered by debt, and the debt trap is created by a corporate-driven agriculture that maximises corporate profits by pushing non-renewable seeds and agri-chemicals on impoverished and innocent farmers.


Every fourth Indian is hungry today, according to United Nations data. India has beaten Sub-Saharan Africa as the capital of hunger: One million children die every year as a result of under-nutrition and hunger; 61 million children are stunted; 25 million are wasted; 42 per cent of the world's underweight children are now in India. 
Tinkering with fragments of the broken chain will not fix it. The food chain begins with the natural capital of soil, water and seed. The second link is the work of hardworking small, marginal farmers and landless peasants, most of whom are women. The final link is eating.

The first link has been broken by ecological degradation and corporate hijack of seed, land and water. When peasants lose access to land, seed and water, they lose access to food. Increase in hunger is a direct consequence.


The second link that has been broken is the capacity of the farmer, the food producer, to produce food. Rising costs of production, falling farm prices, and the destruction of food procurement by dismantling the public distribution system (PDS) creates debt. Since farmers are the backbone of India's food security and food sovereignty, breaking the farmers' back is breaking the nation's food security. There can be no food security in a deepening agrarian crisis.


The third link in the food chain is people's entitlement and right to food. The combination of rising food prices, decreasing production of pulses and nutritious millets has reduced the access of the poor to adequate food and nutrition. Hunger and malnutrition are its inevitable consequences.


And while millions of our fellow citizens starve, the government fiddles with poverty figures — 37 per cent in the Tendulkar Committee Report, 50 per cent in the Saxena Report, 77 per cent in the Unorganised Sector Report. This is a deliberate attempt to avoid addressing the rootcause of hunger and poverty. Poverty is a consequence, not a cause. But instead of addressing the food crisis, the government is addressing a fragment of the consequences of the crisis.


In the context of the food and nutrition crisis, the proposed National Food Security Act (NFSA) is a mere fig leaf. It is inadequate because it ignores the first two links in the food chain, and reduces the scope of existing schemes for the poor and vulnerable. For example, the NFSA offers only 25 kgs of grain, instead of the 35 kgs per family per month fixed by the Supreme Court. The Indian Council of Medical Research fixes the caloric norms at 2,400 Kcal in rural areas and 2,100 Kcal in urban areas. The Tendulkar Committee, which is now the Planning Commission's official basis, fixes average calorie consumption at 1,776 Kcal in urban areas and 1,999 Kcal for rural areas. Through juggling figures the hungry become well fed, the poor become non-poor.


Food security demands a universal PDS that serves both the poor farmers and the poor eaters by ensuring fair prices throughout the food chain. Instead the government is committed to ever-narrowing "targeting" because it is committed to handing over agriculture to global agri-business, and handling over so-called food security schemes to companies like Sodexo who will collect our tax money to distribute food coupons to the poor, who will in turn use the food coupons to increase the profits of MNCs.


As small farmers are displaced by agri-businesses, the destruction of natural capital will increase, further weakening the first link in the food chain. The agrarian crisis facing two-thirds of rural India will deepen. For a country as large, as poor, as hungry as India, food sovereignty and self-reliance in food production is not a luxury, it is a food security imperative.


Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Vandana Shiva

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

PERKY CRAVINGS

 

ALTHOUGH some of the unavoidable legislative work, such as passage of the Finance Bill and even the introduction of the controversial Nuclear Liability Bill, was somehow gone through, the almost daily disruption of both Houses remained the hallmark of the parliamentary session that was adjourned sine die last week. However, despite all the raucous noise and heated exchanges that, at least once, stopped just short of fisticuffs, Parliament managed to deliver one unanimous message loud and clear: It called for an immediate hike in the pay and perks of its members. In precise terms the demand was that the salary of members of Parliament (MPs) should be at least a rupee more than that of the top civil servants. This is on par with what prevails in France, and is perfectly legitimate, and merits support.


In fact, ever since a similar, though not identical, demand was first raised in the second Lok Sabha (1957-62) I have been arguing that India's lawmakers should be paid as well as its civil servants and other professionals serving in the public sector. If that were done, the MPs' allowances would also be taxed, along with their salaries. But unfortunately, right since the dawn of Independence, politicians ruling this country, including ministers, of course, have devised a salary structure for themselves that neatly covers up greed with hypocrisy.
Invoking the name of the Mahatma, they usually pretend that they want a modest pay. No wonder even today an MP's monthly salary is Rs 16,000 which, making allowance for the phenomenal inflation over six decades, is as much of a pittance as it used to be when it was only a few hundred rupees. But the bulk of the politicians' earnings have always consisted of non-taxable daily allowance for attending Parliament or its countless committees that continue to meet even while Parliament is in recess. There are several other untaxed perks, driving one sociologist to remark that whatever R.H. Tawney might have said, Indian society was both "acquisitive and perquisite".


To be sure, there are some perks that MPs who have to contest an election every five years, if not oftener, must get. For instance, each member of the Lok Sabha has to maintain two houses, one in his/her constituency and another in New Delhi. Normally, a pied-à-terre in the capital would do. But the reality is that a large number of members occupy sprawling bungalows in Lutyen's Delhi. Remarkably, many of them are members of the Rajya Sabha who have no popular election to fight and no constituency to nurse. To make matters a lot worse, even after ceasing to be MP and/or minister, a surprisingly large number of them refuse to vacate the lavish houses. The government's directorate of estates bangs its head against their walls but to no avail. The facility of free travel within the country and abroad available to the chosen ones is also enviable.
And then there are such windfalls as Members of Parliament's local area development scheme (MPLADS). Under it every MP has at his/her disposal Rs 2 crores a year for local area development projects in his/her constituency. Although the MP decides what has to be done, it is the collector of the district who is supposed to get the project executed. Yet, over the years, there has been no end to allegations of people's representatives siphoning off a lot of cash. One MP had seen nothing wrong in spending MPLADS funds on building a tennis court in a posh club. And now that the Supreme Court has rejected a PIL praying for the abolition of MPLADS nobody is going to be able to interfere with this largesse.


Important though these matters are, they are really sideshows. The key issue is whether in their anxiety to be a cut above the highest civil servants our MPs are prepared to abide by the discipline, constraints and rules applicable to the bureaucracy here as well as in the French Republic. No one can be appointed even a lower division clerk, leave alone to all-India services such as the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service etc, if there is an adverse report against him/her. Civil servants found to be making money on the side are suspended and prosecuted. The gargantuan 2G spectrum scam underscores that politicians are immune from such risks!

No one suggests that there should be a police verification of those offering themselves as candidates in elections. But surely the current situation in which criminals get merrily elected to Parliament and even adorn ministerial chairs has to end before the deserved pay hike for MPs can take effect. It is no good anyone arguing that delay in the conviction of the politicians charged with the most heinous crimes is the fault of the judiciary, not of anyone else. The grave problem can and must be resolved if all political parties unite to amend the Election Law, and if need be the Constitution, to keep criminals out of the electoral process.
During the last days of the Budget session, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had shouted itself hoarse against the Congress-led government's "misuse and abuse" of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). A BJP delegation even met the President to press the demand that the premier investigative agency be freed from the government's control. Why didn't the saffron party bring about this much-needed reform when it was in power for six years? And what prevents it today from offering its full cooperation in unbinding the CBI and keeping criminals out of politics?


The matter does not end there. There is also the question whether after a manifold increase in their pay and perks our MPs would work and let the nation's apex legislature function.


The members of the US Senate and House may be paid much more than lawmakers elsewhere, $174,000 a year, but they work most diligently. They initiate the laws, not the government. Congressional hearings keep the administration on its toes. Here we have daily barracking, rushing to the well of the House, rude exchanges and so on. This cannot be allowed to go on forever. The wholesome principle "No Work, No Pay" must apply to Parliament, too.

Inder Malhotra

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


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

DNA

EDITORIAL

THE KHAP TRAP

 

What is the best way to deal with an old-fashioned caste council of elders when they invoke customary prohibitions against endogamous, or some kind of consanguineous, marriages?

 

One way is to shout down their insistence on banning sagotra marriages in the name of modernity and enlightened rationalism.

 

That has already started happening in the television news channels and in English newspapers.

 

But this may not be the most effective way of either proving the point or winning the argument. The old mindset survives for various reasons, but customary taboos cannot be wished away just like that. The battle for minds and hearts cannot be won merely through slanging matches or TV debates.

 

The English-educated crowd here may want to change the laws to change society but that may not be enough. Decades after we made casteism a crime, we still haven't changed society completely. Compared to caste discrimination, the khap injunction on sagotra weddings is not exactly a crime against humanity.

 

It's merely outdated. One of the things sociologists and anthropologists have learned is that customs have something to do with the needs of a society at a particular stage of evolution, and quite often many customs survive as vestiges even after the conditions that gave rise to them have passed away.

 

The Haryana khap members who ordered a boy killed for violating the sagotra rule are probably unaware of the irrelevance of the ban in current circumstances.

 

However, it is one thing to tolerate old customs, quite another to justify murder for sagotra marriages. The latter is simply unpardonable.

 

A dialogue with the diehards may be a good and even useful thing, but even this may turn into a hurdle race of sorts. This is indeed the history of social reforms. It seems that there are not enough reformers from within the communities in many parts of north India. It is a reflection of the limited penetration of modern ideas in this region compared to other parts of the country.

 

It is useful to remember the Marxist maxim that in the evolution of society a contradiction emerges between the mode of production and the social relations of an earlier mode.

 

This is what we are witnessing in the life of the Jat and other communities. Rapid and radical economic changes will ultimately wear away the old customs. What north India needs is rapid industrialisation and urbanisation.

 

Once the closed rural societies melt away, the old customs will die away and some of the rural no-changers will be shouted down by younger members.

 

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


DNA

EDITORIAL

FRIENDS LIKE THESE

 

Pakistan must count itself as very lucky to have a friend like the US. Whatever the provocation, the US seems to find enough rationalisation to stand by it.

 

Nations which have displeased the US in the past have faced consequences, but not Pakistan. The latest revelation, that an American of Pakistani origin was behind the botched attempt to set off a car bomb in the crowded Times Square area of New York, has forced the US to rap it on the knuckles.

 

But that's about it.

 

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton remarked sharply that if any attack on the US had been successful, the consequences for Pakistan would have been "severe".

 

However, behind the harsh words there is little more than a mild rebuke. It is clear to the world, and especially here from India, that Pakistan is a hub for terrorists.

 

The US can make a fine point of the fact that the present Pakistan government is not responsible for the

organisations which plan and carry out acts of terrorism, but that is no more than giving its ally a smokescreen to hide behind.

 

In fact, the attempt to attack New York again is a warning to the US that it tacitly supports Pakistan only at its own peril. The statement by the Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, that satellite imagery and intelligence show that there are at least 40 terror camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is significant here.

 

The world can see that the US is weak when it comes to Pakistan and has started to voice its own fears. As the most important component of the erstwhile Soviet Union, Russia has a stake in the area. The US must sooner rather than later reassess its Pakistan policy.

 

India has been crying itself hoarse about the use of Pakistani soil to foment terrorism, but has largely been ignored on the pretext of India's Kashmir policy. It is now clear that the terrorism that emanates from our western neighbour has long surpassed its stake in the so-called Kashmir dream and is now taking on the world.

 

Pakistan's defence has been that it too is a victim of terrorism. That may well be true, but there is one crucial difference: the terrorism bedevilling Pakistan is its own creation. The one India faces is inflicted on us from across the border. The US knows the difference, but now needs to act on what it already knows.

 

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


DNA

CHINDIA BEE IN JAIRAM RAMESH€™S BONNET

VENKATESAN VEMBU

 

It isn't easy to summon up an eloquent defence of Jairam Ramesh, the latest in a long line of ministers to be afflicted with an acute case of foot-in-mouth-itis.

 

His public criticism of two other ministries in the government of which he is a part — over restrictions on Chinese equipments in the Indian telecom sector on grounds of national security — violates established norms of propriety in governance. If he's been summoned to the professorial prime minister Manmohan Singh's chambers and rapped on the knuckles for mis-speaking on issues beyond his ministerial ambit, it's fair to say he deserved it.

 

On the other hand, it isn't difficult to trace and even defend the intellectual source of Jairam Ramesh's articulations that have landed him in this controversy. The man who is credited with coining the portmanteau word 'Chindia' — to refer to the modern-day rise of civilisational twins China and India — has long been banging the drum for enhanced economic cooperation between the two countries.

 

In fact, this isn't even the first time that Jairam has spoken out against Indian security paranoia over Chinese investments and a "schizophrenic" Indian mindset when it comes to full-fledged economic ties with China. In his 2005 book Making Sense of Chindia, he addresses it several times and makes a coherent case for mature economic diplomacy without "demonising" China or "romanticising" ancient civilisational links.

 

It is possible to argue, of course, that the 'Chindia' bee that buzzes in Jairam Ramesh's bonnet represents an oversimplification of the complex Sino-Indian relationship.

 

Enhanced economic cooperation, as reflected in galloping bilateral trade, has not automatically translated into better political relations; in fact, given the skewed profile of bilateral trade and China's admittedly mercantilist policies, even trade relations have come under strain.

 

But it is also true that India has acquired notoriety on the world trade platform for its wilful and excessive invocation of anti-dumping duties and non-tariff barriers to mask protectionist trade policies. National security interests do, of course, override trade considerations; nevertheless, India's opaque record on this front inhibits a wider appreciation of the legitimacy of its claims — and opens it up to criticism about "paranoia" in the security establishment.

 

At another level, the commentary stirred up by the latest controversy shows up a disquieting shrinking of the 'middle ground' in the public rhetoric, particularly when it comes to perceptions of public security vis-a-vis China. It also reflects a failure of official India to give voice to a confident, coherent outlining of our 'core national interests' around which a stable relationship with China can be build.

 

The latest "security hurdle" to sourcing Chinese telecom equipment can be traced to objections from the Intelligence Bureau; given the agency's undistinguished record in credible intelligence gathering down the years, and its particularly dubious role in the lead-up to the 1962 war with China, it may be unwise to formulate policy on so significant a relationship without additional field intelligence.

 

One other aspect of this episode is puzzling: why did an intelligent, articulate man like Jairam Ramesh, who obviously knows the limits of his ministerial brief, overreach and position himself so squarely — and fancifully — as the centrepiece of enhanced 'Chindia' relations?

 

Does he hanker for a bigger role for himself beyond serving as environment minister? The answer may lie in an interview he gave to a weekly magazine in 1998, in which he said: "Why wouldn't I like to be Prime Minister? Maybe 10 years down the line." Twelve years have since gone by; perhaps Jairam Ramesh is feeling restless.

 

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

DNA

ROOTING FOR REBELS

AMULYA GANGULI

 

Civil libertarians are up in arms against any possible police action against Arundhati Roy for her pro-Maoist stance.

 

There are several big guns like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze who favour a virtual anticipatory bail for the Booker prize winner. Their contention is that support for Maoist insurgency doesn't constitute a crime. Mamata Banerjee, too, is of the same view although, she was far more forthright in her expression of support for the Sahitya Akademi prize winner Mahashweta Devi. West Bengal would "burn", she had threatened, if the pro-Maoist writer was arrested.

 

There will be a measure of support for these views although not everyone will endorse Mamata's method of protest. The essence of such liberalism is that the freedom of expression should not be suppressed. It is also undeniable that Maoism elicits a kind of snobbery, especially among the well-off, where support for the rebels is intended to stress their superiority via an overt empathy with the downtrodden.

 

Or it may be a guilt complexharboured by the affluent over the destitution of the underprivileged. It is the same complex which makes a section of the upper castes root for Mayawati. Since the Maoists are supposed to be fighting for the poor, their supporters in polite society claim a higher moral status than their critics, who are the "running dogs" of capitalism, to turn to a phrase used in Mao Zedong's time against Liu Shaochi and the chairman's other opponents during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

 

The pro-Maoists believe that their case is ethically foolproof. There are occasional muted murmurs about the violence perpetrated by the insurgents, such as the killing of policemen in Dantewada. But, as the more vocal among the apologists point out, such incidents are unavoidable where the Maoists have to defend themselves.

 

It is the old Leftist argument about the state being the more violent of the two while the working class merely fends off the attacks of the rich and the powerful, thereby causing a few casualties in the process. The underlying assumption is that the state does not really represent the "people". The legitimacy for this stand is drawn from the historical battles of the Bolsheviks, Mao's guerrillas, Fidel Castro's jungle warriors and Ho Chi Minh's peasant army.

 

The scene in India is a little different in that it is neither a monarchy, nor a dictatorship, nor is it under a regime which is propped up by the Americans although the last allegation is made in a roundabout way.

 

The main charge made by Roy, Mahashweta Devi and others is that Indian democracy is devoid of any sympathy for the oppressed because its present-day rulers are under the thumb of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Again, this is an old Marxist characterisation of a bourgeois government as a committee of the exploiters.

 

However, even if the pro-poor credentials of the Maoist supporters are conceded for argument's sake, the point remains as to what extent this entitles them to behave as virtual subversives. The answer may become clearer if the activities of another group of militants — the Islamic fundamentalists — are taken into account.

 

Will the state allow their supporters the luxury of using the openness of democracy to speak for them? And will the champions of human rights be as vocal in their endorsement of the jehadi cause as the Maoist uprising?

 

Probably not. Yet, the jehadis claim to represent an even larger section of people than the Maoists, who speak for the poor in India only. The Islamists, on the other hand, believe that they are voicing the grievances of the ummah or the entire community of Muslims, who live under dictatorial regimes which are in league with the Americans.

 

In India, Simi and the Indian Mujahideen have joined the terrorists apparently for the reason stated earlier, and also because of the depressed condition of Muslims in this country and the violence unleashed against them by a seemingly biased state machinery during communal outbreaks, as in Gujarat. Like the Maoists, the jehadis also do not expect any redressal of their grievances under the existing system and want to supplant it in India (as well as in the Muslim countries run by America's "puppets") with one which is true to Islamic tenets. Their caliphate is no different in this respect from the Marxist utopia.

 

Despite this similarity, there are two reasons why the civil rights groups are more restrained about the Islamic fundamentalists than about the Maoists. The first is the fear that the state may be less indulgent towards them if they lean too far towards the jehadis. The society too, will not be all that permissive.

 

And the second is that Islamic militancy lacks the romantic appeal of Marxism, which is not dissimilar to the unending charm of the Robin Hood legend. Islamism, with its stark puritanism based on the "opium" of religion and the oppression of women, lacks that appeal for the left-liberals.

 

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

 


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

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

JAIRAM'S MANY INDISCRETIONS

THE MINISTER MUST LEARN TO RESPECT PROTOCOL

 

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has only himself to blame for the reprimand he has received at the hands of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh under full media focus. His indiscretion lay in his criticism of the government of which he is a part while he was in China in defiance of the norms that enjoin Cabinet colleagues to desist from commenting on the functioning of other ministries especially when they are on foreign soil. Clearly, Jairam Ramesh breached protocol when he described the Home Ministry as being "alarmist" and "overly defensive" about the entry of Chinese companies in India while speaking to media persons in Beijing. He went on to say that India must be much more relaxed in its approach to Chinese investments and get rid of "needless restrictions." Considering that the ban on the import of telecom equipment from Chinese firm Huawei for installation in border areas, which Jairam was provoked by, was motivated by security concerns, Jairam's stand was even more shocking. Being a no-nonsense man, it is hardly surprising that Home Minister P. Chidambaram was quick to complain to the Prime Minister who then called up Jairam to reprimand him.

 

That Jairam needed to be checked becomes evident when seen in the context of the spate of public gaffes committed by him earlier which embarrassed the government. In the run-up to the Copenhagen summit on climate change last year, he had to be contradicted by the Prime Minister when he said India would match China in carbon emission cuts. He was forced to retract by reiterating that India would not accept any legally-binding emission cut targets. Then at a function to release an environment report Jairam caused acute embarrassment when he waxed eloquent that "if there was a Nobel prize for dirt and filth, India would win it." A few weeks ago, he caused eyebrows to rise when he termed the wearing of gowns in convocations a "barbaric colonial practice." Some of Jairam's controversial statements may have had an element of truth in them, but making them was indiscreet and avoidable.

 

There indeed can be no two opinions that Jairam needs to mend his ways. There is no doubt that he is erudite and brings to bear on his job of Environment Minister a great deal of expertise. However, unless he learns to respect standards of protocol and propriety, his position as minister would become indefensible.

 

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

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

'UNCLE JUDGES' TO GO

KITH-AND-KIN SHADOW ON JUSTICE

 

Ideally, judges on their own should stay away from courts where their relatives practise. But since this has not happened, Law Minister Veerappa Moily has come out with the idea of taking an undertaking from judges at the time of their elevation that they will not function in a court where any of their relatives practises. The Law Commission of India too had disapproved of the existence of "uncle judges" in its report on judicial reforms submitted in August, 2009. The commission had noted that an advocate whose near relative or well-wisher is a judge in a higher court had better chances of becoming a judge. The judiciary, obviously, is not free from nepotism.

 

The issue had gained prominence a few years ago when Chief Justice B.K. Roy of the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued an order barring 10-12 judges from hearing cases argued by their own relatives. Many advocates supported the Chief Justice's directive and sought transfers of judges whose kin practised in the high court. The number of judges not being able to uphold judicial propriety, however, is small. There are many examples of judges withdrawing themselves from courts where their kin practised or from cases where there was a conflict of interest.

 

It is not the case that every judge would tend to favour his or her relative. An advocate may very well win a case in the court of his "uncle judge" on the strength of his legal skills. But his/her success will always remain suspect. It is the perception that matters a lot. Justice should not only be done but also appear to have been done in every case. The proposal to have an entry test for advocates will, hopefully, keep off those who enter and flourish in the legal profession mainly on the strength of their connections.

 

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

 


THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

IMPROVING HIGHER EDUCATION

NCHER BILL MUST BE PASSED FAST

 

It is unfortunate that the National Council of Higher Education and Research Bill that is meant to bring about the much-needed reforms in higher education has hit a roadblock. Four states namely Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat have rejected the draft Bill that proposes to make NCHER the apex body for higher education. While it is apt that the government has decided to rework the law, there is an urgent need to iron out differences and pass the Bill at the earliest. The moot question is not of less or more centralisation but how best to stop students from falling prey to peddlers of substandard education.

 

Over the years the quality of higher education in India barring some institutions of excellence has left much to be desired. In the recent past grant of deemed university status without proper checks and balances has been one of the many ills that plagued higher education. The Yashpal Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education had made many recommendations including setting up of an all-encompassing body to boost higher education. The proposed Bill besides establishing NCHER, which will subsume existing bodies like the UGC and AICTE, also proposes to shortlist candidates for the post of VCs. However, several state governments have resisted the proposals and called them anti-federal.

 

There is no denying that since education falls in the Concurrent List the concern of the states must be taken into account. The government's decision to redraft the Bill particularly to make the NCHER more accountable than regulatory is in this spirit. At the same time states should realise that education is too important a subject and cannot be used as a pretext for gaining political brownie points. Transparency in the selection of VCs is a must and setting up a national registry with names of eligible persons for the posts of VCs can stop political meddling in the selection process. In the interest of the future of the youth who can only be empowered by quality education, the Centre and the dissenting states must come around and see to it that the Bill, whose various provisions are aimed at improving the standards of education, is passed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DAMAGES CAUSED BY RADIOACTIVE SOURCES

N-LIABILITY BILL NEEDS TO BE REVISED

BY A. GOPALAKRISHNAN

 

In a recent radiation exposure incident involving Co-60 radioactive sources at the premises of scrap dealers in Delhi, 11 persons are so far identified to have received high levels of radiation. The incident is being investigated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and other agencies under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) .

 

This incident may not have happened if the AERB, the DAE and the AEC had exercised due diligence in comprehensively accounting for all radioactive materials in the public domain and ensured that they are safely stored, used and disposed of by the licensees. It is now clear that the AERB was unaware of the existence of these sources prior to the incident. One wonders how many hundreds more similar orphan sources have been missed by the AERB, and are lurking somewhere to create havoc!

 

It is reported that a sum of Rs 200,000 is being granted by the Delhi government as compensation to each victim of the incident. There is no indication how this paltry compensation, equivalent to about $4,500, was arrived at. I suspect that most of the victims who received high radiation are prime candidates for early incidence of cancer, and will not only need a few million rupees each for hospitalisation and medical care, but will also face a reduced lifespan and total income.

 

The government's announcement of a measly compensation prompted me to check the quantum of damage payment each of these victims would have received if only the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 , which is about to be introduced in Parliament, had already become a law. To my surprise, I find that the proposed Liability Bill specifically excludes compensation for any damage caused by radioactive items like the ones commonly used in industrial, medical and research applications in this country.

 

It is noticed that Section-2 (f) of the Liability Bill, as it stands today, defines "nuclear damage" as the loss of life or personal injury to a person, loss of or damage to property, etc — to the extent the loss or damage arises out of, or results from, ionising radiation emitted — from nuclear fuel or "radioactive products or waste".

 

However, Section-2(o) of the Bill further defines that "radioactive products or waste" means any radioactive material produced in or material made radioactive by exposure to radiation incidental to the production or utilisation of nuclear fuel, but does not include radioisotopes which have reached the final stage of fabrication so as to be usable for any scientific, medical, agricultural, commercial or industrial purpose.

 

Interestingly, under the urging of the Prime Minister and the PMO, the AEC and its subordinate organisations like the DAE, the AERB, the Nuclear Power Corporation, etc, have been feverishly working during the last two years to finalise a Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill for early introduction in Parliament. This task appears to have been progressing with the close but unofficial involvement of the industrial federations and business councils in India and the US, who under the current Prime Minister have had a decisive say in dictating how the Indian nuclear sector should be re-shaped, managed and regulated. The US President and the State Department have also been pressing our Prime Minister at every available opportunity for the early passage of such a Bill so that US nuclear companies can start selling reactors to India.

 

Though India started operating its first nuclear power reactor in October 1969 at Tarapur, so far no Indian government has been worried about the nuclear damage that nuclear operations can cause, and the compensation to be meted out to the victims in such instances, until the US pressure for liability legislation started building up after the Indo-US nuclear deal was put in place. The Prime Minister's present anxiety about the passage of the Bill is also mainly due to this US pressure and not because of any sudden compassion for the potential Indian accident victims and their likely suffering .

 

The middlemen in India — representing industry, the government and politics — who were facilitating the passage of the nuclear deal are looking forward to lucrative private sector nuclear employment and other financial benefits, and they are also, therefore, eager to rush the Liability Bill through Parliament for their personal gains. Given this background, it is no wonder that those who drafted the Bill focussed only on the big-money items like nuclear reactors and associated sub-systems, and decided to omit the compensation for potential damages from radioactive sources, a matter in which neither the Americans nor our government has any specific interest.

 

In India, several thousands of radioactive items are either locally fabricated or imported for large-scale use in various infrastructural activities. These include Cobalt-60 sources like the 100 to 500 kilo-curie source package at the Gajrawadi sewage treatment plant in Baroda, various Gamma Chambers carrying 14,000 curies or more of Co-60, and the sources dealing in medical and industrial equipment bought from within India or abroad . All these have enormous potential to cause serious and widespread damage to several hundreds of people, if lost or misused, or acquired by terrorist groups for their nefarious activities.

 

Under these circumstances, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, to be introduced soon in Parliament, must be held back and substantially revised to comprehensively cover the issue of damages and liability arising from radioactive sources and the just compensation thereof.n

 

The writer is a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of the Government of India.

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

THE  TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DOWN TV MEMORY LANE

BY RAMA KASHYAP

 

Sitting in the comfort of his bedroom, as my son surfs scores of channels to view the programme of his choice on a flat-screen television with the clarity which is amazing, I cannot help recalling my own growing-up days.

 

In the early 70s, when television had not made entry into most Indian homes, a big Murphy radio (as big as a T.V) occupied a place of pride in our drawing room. Much to the annoyance of my father, every Sunday, with my ears glued to the radio, I would listen to Sound Track (an hour-long programme based on film story) at a volume so low that no one else could hear. That was the time when for all the news, views and entertainment, there was one and only one All India Radio to depend upon.

 

Television arrived with a big bang in our life. The city was buzzing with excitement when Pakeezah, a Meena Kumari starrer, was to be shown by Jalandhar Doordarshan in its inaugural telecast. Unforgettable was my first date with T.V. Huddled together in our neighbour's drawing room, we watched in amazement, the black and white movie in a dark room (lights were switched off to create the ambience of a cinema hall).

 

Towards the late 70s, when long antennae started dotting the landscape of the city, our excitement was tremendous when we purchased our first T.V set. A black and white television with wooden shutters replaced our grand old Murphy radio. But viewing television in those days was a challenging task, needing a lot of patience and manoeuvering. Every now and then somebody had to climb on the rooftop to adjust the direction of the antenna; there would be a loud exchange of words regarding the picture quality.

 

Often we would slap the T.V to adjust the picture. Eventually when the reception was clear we would merrily settle down to watch the programme. Of course there was not much to choose from. Unlike today, it was Doordarshan monopoly with the telecast being limited to just a few hours in the evening.

 

Yet those few hours of evening telecast were eagerly awaited; my favourite being Chitraahar, a programme based on film songs. Especially nostalgic are the memories of serials like Hum Log, Buniyad, Ramayana and Mahabharata which caught the fancy of the nation.

 

During the telecast of Mahabharata, keeping all the activities on hold, people would remain glued to their television sets. No wonder the roads looked deserted and a curfew-like situation was created in the city during the telecast. I still remember, when on my sister's wedding, the relatives won't get ready until telecast of Mahabharata episode from Doordarshan was over. Such was the addiction to the serial!

 

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

THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SOCIETY NEEDS NO MORAL POLICING

ACTRESS KHUSHBOO MAKES A POINT

BY SAJLA CHAWLA

 

Organisations like the Shiv Sena and Ram Sene, which do not have a well-defined ideology, play the card of public morality, hoping to get validation for their existence. They think the public would fall for their self-righteous dos and don'ts of social behaviour. Political mileage and publicity is sought by picking up the issue of women's sexuality and its expression.

 

Take the case of famous actress Khushboo. Her spontaneous, off-the-cuff remarks were objected to by some self-righteous, moralistic people and organisations and a whole debate ensued about pre-marital sex. Sex is such a personal experience and personal choice that no social regimentation can really kill the impulse.

 

How then in a democratic country, where men and women rub shoulders at work places, offices, colleges or while commuting or on social occasions, can it be possible to monitor the personal lives of people and consequently their sexual lives?

 

It is a fact of modern existence that the internet, mobile phones, smses make communication and accessibility between the sexes easy. Khushboo merely accepted this reality and remarked that it was fine for girls to indulge in pre-marital sex after taking precautions to keep unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases at bay. Later, she justified her statement by saying no educated man could expect his partner to be a virgin.

 

In no way does the statement encourage or discourage pre-marital sex. It only speaks of what is an evident reality of our times and hence the need to be careful. However, the organisations which objected to this deliberately misconstrued it and implied that she, as an icon, was encouraging pre-marital sex, which according to society, is immoral for all, especially for women!

 

In a patriarchal society, women often have to bear the burden of morality, much more than men. From their childhood they are supposed to be demure, subservient and need to uphold family honour by acting in a socially acceptable way. Women's sexuality still makes many people cringe with embarrassment. Socio-economic inequalities inherent in our society make women vulnerable in all relationships. But now when women are coming out of their cocoons and making individual choices regarding career, lifestyle, partners and social behaviour, society is suddenly at a loss at handling this liberation.

 

In psychological terms people who are the least at ease with their own "self", talk and gossip the most about others. Their morality gets easily threatened by someone who embodies a different set of morality. And is that morality so shaky that to protect it, you have to go on witch-hunting and public lynching as was done to Khushboo?

 

Ram Sene has branded "social choices" for women as "social vices". Referring to the attack on women in a pub by his party workers, Muthalik said: "Women are being misused and misguided. We oppose this. Women have to be protected as the law has failed. We are the custodians of Indian culture… Their method was wrong. I apologise for that. It should not have happened. But it was done to save our daughters and mothers from an alien culture".

 

We would like to ask Muthalik what he is protecting us against. Is he voicing his concerns about feticide or going on hunger strike against the practice of dowry or leading a campaign against rapes? No. His Ram Sene ignores all such issues. Instead, its workers attack women in a pub.

 

A similar impulse led to a fatwa against Sania Mirza for her short skirt. The "culture" that Muthalik seeks to protect itself is so multifarious that one cannot ascribe a single monolithic definition to it. India is a country where different eras coexist simultaneously and often anachronistically.

 

We live in many Indias. There is the India of highly educated, economically independent urban women who get a chance to make their own choices in everything that matters. There is a rural India where women on the wrong side of class, caste and gender have almost no choices at all.

 

There is a liberal India which almost follows the West in its lifestyle and values and there is a feudal India with an extreme patriarchal set-up as is evident in parallel law enforcers like Khap Panchayats. There is an India where everything is commoditised in the great economic boom and there is an India that does not get two meals a day. In a country that shows no uniform development, there are bound to be clashes – economic, moral, ethical, personal or social. A country cannot move forward unless its entire people walk together. When they do not walk together, fundamentalist and moral brigades get a chance to exploit social, cultural and economic inequalities and indulge in moral policing.

 

For a large majority like us, who live their lives without much sexual deviation or aberration or propensity, relationships are deeply emotional and personal along with being physical. Now why in the world would we as individuals be influenced by the likes of Ram Sene regarding our own individual sexual choices?

 

Khushboo has rightly made her triumphant statement as she emerged victorious after a long and traumatic battle against the moral brigades. Like her, we all want these people, who harangue about other people's morality, to SHUT UP.

 

The writer is a former teacher of Delhi University

 

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


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HYDRO POWER WITHOUT DAMS!

BY BHARAT DOGRA

 

In recent years there has been a growing concern about the social and environmental impact of dam projects. At the same time at the time of escalating energy crisis, many people do not want to give up the potential of hydro power. In the middle of this dilemma now comes the interesting and thought-provoking news that it can be possible to harness significant amounts of hydro power without having to build dams.

 

Explaining this concept, Patrick Mccully, Executive Director, "International Rivers", writes in 'World Rivers Review' (March 2010), "Non-dam hydro comes in a diversity of forms. It includes all technologies to generate electricity using water without dams. The two sectors receiving the most attention are wave power and 'hydro-kinetic' turbines that capture energy from the flow of water in rivers, estuaries and ocean currents, and even irrigation canals and water supply and disposal pipes."

 

Patrick Mccully writes that hydro-kinetic turbines should not be confused with "run-of-river" hydro power which includes a dam, but usually not a large reservoir. This clarification is important in the context of India, particularly hydro development in the Himalayan region.

 

Here when big dam projects like Tehri faced a lot of criticism for their adverse social and environmental impact, the authorities came up with the alternative of "run of the river" projects which were promised as environmentally safe. However, in the case of many of these projects, this turned out to be a false promise. Actually some of these small dam and tunnel projects also proved to be highly disruptive, particularly when a chain of such projects was constructed in ecologically sensitive areas in ways which involved an indiscriminate use of explosives. Therefore, there is a need to be cautious when alternatives to large dam projects are examined.

 

In fact, even Mccully agrees that not all non-dam hydro technologies may be benign and environmentally appropriate at all sites but it appears likely, he asserts, that these technologies could be very low impact compared with dam-based hydro. However, more research is needed to ensure that the turbines and associated facilities do not harm fish or other aquatic life. In the case of 'conduit hydro' — kinetic turbines installed in pipes and irrigation canals — environmentally impacts can be almost zero.

 

Again if we look in India's context in the Himalayan region, we are immediately reminded of the tens of thousands of watermills that already exist (called ghats or ghrats or by other names) in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmmir and the north-eastern states.

 

These water-mills can be slightly improvised to add hydro-generation which can meet a hamlet's needs. I recently saw an example of such "conduit hydro" near Uttarakashi and it was very impressive.

 

An additional benefit I saw here of decentralised functioning was that power-generation had been stopped at a time when villagers needed more irrigation water. Such adjustment with the villagers' needs is only possible in a system which is managed by villagers themselves. This is what we really need in India's context.

 

The question of appropriate technology is also linked to who controls technology and in whose interest. This aspect should have been given importance but unfortunately the government neglected this crucial aspect when the government was exploring alternatives to big dams. This is why in a hurry so-called alternative projects were awarded to companies which did not really understand the needs of villagers.

 

This led to further problems which also attracted national attention in the upper parts of the Ganga/Bhagirathi river. However, in other areas also serious problems have emerged. We need to be very careful about the alternatives that villagers truly need. Perhaps the first step should be to help villagers to repair and give a new lease of life to ghrats (watermills) and guls (irrigational channels) and then we can consider the next step of environment-friendly small-scale hydro generation.

 

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


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BANGALORE DIARY

GETTING ENGAGED

SHUBHADEEP CHOUDHURY

 

Bollywood actor Sanjay Khan's luxury hotel at the outskirts of Bangalore would see another high-profile event after actor Hrithik Roshan got married at the same venue with Sanjay Khan's daughter, Suzanne. This time it is Shashi Tharoor who is getting engaged to his ladylove Sunanda Pushkar at the hotel. Their affair made headlines when the IPL scandal broke and Tharoor lost his place in the Union Council of Ministers for helping Sunanda become a co-owner of the Kochi IPL team without her investing any money.

 

The couple visited the hotel last month and apparently liked the spa and overall ambience of the place. The engagement, it is learnt, will take place next month. The hotel, belonging to one of Bollywood's most stylish actors, boasts of a helipad also. This is considered an advantage since many of the guests are expected to arrive for the function in choppers. The couple has already booked the resort, though details like food menu, etc, are yet to be finalised.

 

Racing car

 

It's been India's IT hub for long. But Bangalore is quickly making a mark in other areas of technology development as well. Students of PES Institute of Technology in the city have built a racing car which has been named Haya. The car, which has been created as part of students' college project, will be exhibited at the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) competition in Michigan, USA, starting from May 12. Some of the world's best engineers compete in the event to design a small Formula-style car. The car is meant for non-professional race enthusiasts.

 

Halappa sick?

 

Karnataka minister Hartal Halappa, accused of raping his friend's wife, complained of chest pain and got himself admitted to hospital after he was arrested. Nobody is ready to believe that Halappa, who resigned from the Cabinet in the wake of the controversy, is really ill.

 

"Hallapa uncle needs some 'MENTOS' ..dimaak ki batti jalane ke liye .. same old ideas , why are people not being creative anymore", wrote a young reader to an evening daily which provides an opportunity to its readers to air their views. "Earlier hospitals were there to save patients' lives. Now to squeeze money from innocent people and save criminal politicians, rapists and murderers", wrote another reader.

 

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


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

MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

GETTING REAL IN CITY OF GOLD

Mahesh Manjrekar's film on the lives of workers after the closure of textile mills in Mumbai continues to do well despite leaving many viewers disappointed

 

Yet another person disappointed, or disillusioned as he puts it, in his letter to the editor of a Marathi daily. "There was much hype," he says, "that Mahesh Manjrekar had made a film that would be a great support for the mill workers' struggle. But his focus turns out to be one family. The Lalbaug area which we see in the opening scene suddenly vanishes and we zoom into the chawl where this family lives."


 Another letter comes from someone who once lived in this chawl and was witness to the tenacity and dignity with which mill workers fought the combined power of greedy mill-owners and their conniving cronies in government. This woman charges Manjrekar with having distorted reality to add insult to their injury.
Meanwhile, Manjrekar's Lalbaug Parel and its Hindi sibling City of Gold are doing very well thank you. And if some people are disappointed, so be it. Manjrekar has gone on record to say that his aim is to ensure that the producer who has invested money in his film gets his returns. Manjrekar's trilogy on the Marathi manoos of which Lalbaug Parel is the third part, works on a successful formula. He identifies an issue close to the Marathi heart, portrays the species as victims of non-Marathi moneybags, injects the story with as much violence or pious preaching as it will take, cocks a contemptuous snook at old-world redundants like logic, reality and historical truth, and brings the tale to a close with a sentimental flourish. His pace is racy, his technical standards high and actors' performances good. In City of Gold, the version I saw, Seema Biswas (mother), Veena Jamkar (Manju) and Karan Patel (Naru) turn in very fine performances. The audience doesn't ask for more. Their paisa, along with the producer's, is positively vasool.


The letter writer who talks about the advertising hype that preceded the film, must remember that similarly hyped fairness creams do not alter skin colour and wearing a certain brand of baniyan doesn't get drooling women to drape themselves over the wearer.


 Marketing is marketing. But the film itself does not deceive. Manjrekar makes it very clear right at the outset, that he is steering clear of the struggle itself.


 The film opens with the narrator and his live-in partner looking down at Lalbaug from the exalted heights of a highrise where they plan to set up home. So what do we have here? A narrator who has left behind not only his old home and his class, but also the institution of marriage. From this spatial and cultural distance, he shows his partner the chawl where he once lived. She is utterly charmed. Imagine! He lived down there. Tell me all about it, please, she says. What he tells her is the story.


Naturally, his story is about his family – parents, two brothers, one sister – and a few neighbours. Amongst them is Mami, who wears hipster nauwaris and teeny-weeny cholis. Mami lusts after the narrator's brother Mohan and has a baby by him. The husband, made aware of his inadequacies, understands, and the menage a trois and the child live happily ever after.

 

 Some more sex is provided by the sister, Manju, who sleeps with the local grocer's son and later with other men. While the other men are doing their bit, the camera zooms in on the wad of notes clutched in her helpless hand. She's doing it for the money, see?

 Blood and gore are provided by Naru and his gang who work for the local Bhai.


They have a ball kicking, punching and pumping bullets into people identified by their boss for the treatment.
 So where do the real mill workers get off? Perhaps Manjrekar should have dedicated the film to them: "To all those who fought and suffered with dignity, but could not be made the subject of this film for commercial reasons."

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


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

EDITORIAL

LOOSE CANNONS

PRIME MINISTER'S HEADACHE, MEDIA'S DELIGHT

 

Barely a month ago, on the 10th of April to be precise, the cabinet secretary of the Government of India wrote a letter to all the members of the Union Council of Ministers, letting them know that the prime minister would like them not to go beyond their brief in interacting with the media. The letter was quite categorical. The cabinet secretary conveyed "the decision of prime minister that in respect of issues considered to be sensitive by him, one ministry/department will be designated as the nodal ministry/department as a single point for interaction with the media and accurate articulation of the actions taken/being contemplated by government as well as the stance adopted by government" (underlined in the original). How much more explicit can a prime ministerial directive get? Even if the cabinet secretary and the Prime Minister's Office had not got around to finishing the process of designating "nodal ministries/departments" that could be the "single point for interaction with media" on issues like India's policy on foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecommunications and power sectors, or, in general, on India's policy on Chinese investments in India, it would require a considerable stretching of one's imagination to think that a minister for environment and forests would be the appropriate node or single point! One can pardon a minister in the external affairs ministry, even a compulsive media attention-grabber like Shashi Tharoor, speaking on China. One can even pardon a minister for telecommunications, even someone who unabashedly promotes corporate interests, like A Raja, speaking on FDI in telecom. But whatever took hold of our minister for climate change and tigers that he should roar so eloquently about the climate for Chinese investment in India?

 

Not only has Jairam Ramesh, the union minister for environment and forests, spoken out of turn but he has also flouted a prime ministerial directive and embarrassed India. Having just sacked Mr Tharoor for his indiscretions, the prime minister may not have the heart, the stomach and the energy to sack yet another minister. But his telephonic reprimand was the least he could do. Pity a prime minister who finds his best and brightest commit such unacceptable faux pas. In a talent-deficient ministry, Mr Tharoor and Mr Ramesh are among the few who have what it takes to be an efficient and competent member of the Union Council of Ministers. Both have proved their mettle in their time in office. If the prime minister were reconstituting his Council of Ministers, neither would have been on his first list of dismissals on the grounds of incompetence, even if there are other good reasons for putting them out to pasture, as was the case with Mr Tharoor. It is perhaps a realisation of their relative worth that must make them so over-confident and arrogant that they have become political loose cannons and media's delight. Ministers like them should learn from the example of the prime minister himself, and other senior ministers like Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, whose quiet competence, not flashy hubris nor arrogant self-importance, has stood the government and the nation in good stead.

 

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MISMANAGING FOOD

TIME TO RETHINK FOOD PROCUREMENT POLICY

 

Bizarre are the ways of the government when it comes to managing, or mismanaging, the country's food economy. On the one hand, it goes on mopping up bulk of the wheat and rice arriving in the mandis to build up its grain stocks, clearly to prevent foodgrain prices from falling below the minimum support price (MSP) level. On the other hand, it plans to offload 3 million tonnes of wheat and rice, in addition to the normal supplies from the public distribution system (PDS), to slash its overflowing grain stocks and bring down grain prices. This is not only bad management but also bad economics. The empowered group of ministers, which has taken this decision, has pegged the sale price of wheat at Rs 8.42 a kg, nearly half of the actual economic cost (procurement cost plus overheads) of around Rs 16 a kg. Similarly, rice is to be sold at Rs 11.85 a kg, against its effective economic cost of around Rs 19 a kg. This will cost the exchequer Rs 2,000 crore over and above the food subsidy, which is set to overshoot this year's budgetary provision of around Rs 55,600 crore by a wide margin. Some estimates project it at over Rs 70,000 crore this year. The subsidy bill is soaring also because of higher inventory carrying costs due to over-stocking and non-revision of the issue prices of wheat and rice for the PDS since 2002, even though the procurement prices have nearly doubled during this period. On the eve of the beginning of the current rabi marketing season on April 1, the government held over 16 million tonnes of wheat, four times the buffer norm of 4 million tonnes, and over 26 million tonnes of rice, nearly two-and-half times the buffer need of 12.2 million tonnes. Since then over 20 million tonnes more wheat have been bought from the fresh crop and the purchases are still continuing.

 

To top it all, the government eliminated import duty on wheat in November 2009. This was the time when the domestic wheat availability had turned comfortable, thanks to a couple of surplus wheat harvests, and the international prices had begun to soften. This mistimed, as also needless, policy intervention has resulted in regular wheat imports at southern ports, where its landed cost works out cheaper than the cost of wheat transported from the north, accentuating the grain glut. So, why should an open-ended grain procurement policy continue? The total requirement of the PDS is much lower than the government's annual purchases. Even if the government goes in for a new food security law, giving the right to the poor to get 35 kg grains per month, instead of the original proposal of 25 kg, the total foodgrain requirement will still not increase as, even today, the ration card holders, poor as well non-poor, are entitled to this much grains. In fact, the grain bill may decline if the non-poor are taken out of the PDS system after the enactment of the food law. There is, thus, an urgent need for the government to revisit its food management policy and think of a system which would ensure availability of grains to the really poor at affordable prices without over-stocking and needlessly stressing the exchequer.

 

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SANJEEV SANYAL: BUILDING BOSTONS, NOT KANPURS

WHY INDIAN CITIES MUST LEVERAGE THEIR UNIVERSITIES

SANJEEV SANYAL

Around the world, universities are the stuff that makes great cities. Imagine Boston without Harvard, MIT and the myriad other institutions that are clustered around the Boston-Cambridge area. In Britain, Oxford and Cambridge are vibrant urban centres that derive their vigour almost entirely from playing host to famous universities. Even large and diversified global cities like London and New York would be much diminished without the intellectual clustering of LSE, Columbia, UCL and NYU. In each case, the universities are an integral part of the urban landscape and are consciously leveraged by their host cities.

Yet, Indian cities do not think of their universities and research institutes as important drivers of urban growth. At most, they are seen as utilitarian places for teaching students. Their importance for clustering human capital and driving innovation is simply not seen as part of overall urban strategy. Indeed, universities built after Independence have been sealed off on campuses, often in distant locations, that deliberately discourage interaction with the wider city. Thus, Kanpur and Kharagpur benefit little from being host to a prestigious institution like the IIT. This is absurd.

 The software of cities

Urban development is not just about the "hardware" — buildings, roads, plumbing and so on. It is the people, their social/economic activity and their continuous interaction that bring cities alive. Successful cities are those that can cluster human capital and encourage innovation, creativity and exchange of ideas. This has always been true. Think of the great cities of the past: Athens, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Ujjain and Varanasi. However, the this factor has become even more important in the 21st century. Never before has the economic value of ideation and creativity been greater. In short, the "software" is critical to the evolution of a city.

Universities are key to the software of a city. They attract young talent, encourage the churn of ideas and trigger innovation. The physical infrastructure of the university provides the venue for conferences, seminars and cultural/sporting events that allow for intense human interaction. Note how NYU played an important role in regenerating Lower Manhattan in the 90's.

Next generation global cities like Singapore recognise this dynamic and use it actively as part of urban/national economic strategy. For instance, Singapore has built out a number of new institutions like Singapore Management University over the last decade. In most cases, these have been clustered in the middle of the city rather than on remote campuses. The city benefits from having a throughput of young people in the city-centre. At the same time, the university benefits from easy access to industry, government and urban "buzz".

Prior to Independence, the urban role of universities was appreciated. The colleges of Bombay and Calcutta Universities were built into the city much like the colleges of London. Even Delhi University, although built as a separate campus, was still seen as a part of the overall urban fabric. There were even important towns like Allahabad and Aligarh that were driven largely by their vibrant universities, much like Oxford and Cambridge.

Contrast this to how tertiary education institutions were built after Independence. All the IITs and IIMs are large, sealed campuses built originally outside the city. The model was the industrial-era factory township. The physical walls that surround them have continued to wall them off socially and intellectually from their host cities even where urban growth has brought them inside the city. How different from the urban campuses of MIT and Harvard Business School. This is a loss to both sides.

Perpetuating the mistake

We appear to have learned little from our past mistake. Indeed, this is not even considered an issue worthy of attention and debate. Thus, the establishment of a new university or institute is still about acquiring large tracts of land, often hundreds of acres, and then building out stand-alone buildings. If anything, success is measured by how much land has been acquired rather than the quality of education/research.

This is a very wasteful process at many levels. First, it is unnecessarily converting productive farm and forest land. Why does Vedanta need 6,000 acres in Orissa and IIT Jodhpur 700 acres in Rajasthan for teaching a few thousand students? Second, it requires the creation of expensive infrastructure in isolated locations, including staff housing, convocation halls, seminar rooms and so on. How many times a year is the convocation hall used by the institution itself? In a city location, these facilities would have added to the overall urban infrastructure. Third, such remote campuses are inconsiderate of the social, educational and career needs of the families of the faculty and staff. This is a major constraint to finding good faculty. We cannot build universities as if they are industrial-era factory townships where the wives stay at home and the children study in the company school. Finally, and most damagingly, these campuses are unable to generate the externalities that one would associate with a good academic/research institute. Students come and leave. There is no clustering or inter-linkage with the real world.

The proposed IIT in Jodhpur is an example of how we are perpetuating the flawed model. The government has already acquired 700 acres of land about 22 km from Jodhpur. There a lot of talk about how it will be a "green" campus with solar panels and electric buses ferrying people from the city/airport. A number of complex options are being discussed to supply it with water. This is all meaningless when the most energy-efficient solution is to have had a compact campus that is nearer to the city. This would have automatically reduced the need to travel long distances and recreate social infrastructure. In addition, Jodhpur city has a problem with rising water tables and there is absolutely no need for expensive water-supply technologies when it can simply be pumped out. Worst of all, given the distance, the existing city will gain nothing from the creation of all the new and expensive infrastructure.

To conclude, universities are an important part of the urban economy and should be seen as an integral part of city-building. As we build out new institutions, we urgently need to stop thinking of them as fenced-off factory townships. We do not need more Kanpurs and Kharagpurs. If India wants to play on the global stage, it needs to create its very own Bostons and Oxfords.

The author is president, Sustainable Planet Institute

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SEE YOU AT THE POST OFFICE

INDIA'S POSTAL SYSTEM IS A HUGE ASSET WHICH IS CURRENTLY UNDER-UTILISED, UNDER-SKILLED AND UNDER-DEVELOPED

SUBIR ROY

 

India's postal system is a huge asset which is currently under-utilised, under-skilled and under-developed. The 1.5 lakh post offices in a country of 6.4 lakh villages (that's where the post office really matters) represent a reach unmatched by any other organisation. If it is developed and used well, it can give a leg-up to those parts of the country and their denizens who have benefited the least from the high growth of the post-reform period.

 Till not so long ago, post offices were relics of the past where the urban middle class would not venture unless absolutely necessary. The burgeoning private courier companies appeared to be driving the last nail in the coffin of the slowly declining giant. But then, just as hope always triumphs in India, the post office began to change. It gave itself a new logo, prominent urban post offices began giving themselves a new look and you could spot PCs across counters.

The post office management is now getting bolder by the day and big brothers in the government have given it permission to spend Rs 2,000 crore in the next two years to bring in an IT revolution. All post offices will be linked, a core banking solution will be installed and pre-paid cards will be introduced with which you will be able to send money from anywhere to any post office through your cellular phone. All that the person at the other end will have to do to get instant credit is have a savings bank account with his post office.

For that last leg of the operation to be completed, the post office's savings bank operations will have to be transformed. That can happen in only one way — by converting the financial services operations of the postal department into a proper bank, giving it a banking licence. Banks have well defined procedures and processes, the skills needed to run them are standardised, as are the benchmarks by which they can be judged. And you can easily get the public sector banks to lend a helping hand to enable the Post Bank of India (PBI) to get going. Initially, PBI will be an outreach for the established banks, but over time it should be able to give vigorous competition.

A parliamentary standing committee has again reiterated the demand for such a bank to be set up. And if or when (it is really a matter of time) it is, it will be a behemoth from day one. In financial year 2008, postal savings bank schemes had total outstandings of Rs 3.4 lakh crore, which was second only to the deposits of the State Bank of India that stood at Rs 5.4 lakh crore. (ICICI Bank came third at Rs 2.4 lakh crore deposits.) In the same year, postal mail traffic fell by 4 per cent. So did the number of money orders, by 8 per cent, but their total value went up by 7.8 per cent. Simultaneously, the post office's "business development activities", the cumbersome name for newer services like Speedpost, grew revenues by 24 per cent to almost a quarter of the department's total revenue. So like it or not, the post office is changing. It only makes sense to get it to change the right way.

Once the post office becomes a bank with a logistical arm and not the other way round, it will be able to bury the canard that it is a loss-making outfit. In 2008, the postal department's budgetary deficit was Rs 1,511 crore. If it were a bank with assets equal to the savings bank liabilities, it should have been able to earn a very modest return on assets of 0.5 per cent, which would have put it at the bottom of the public sector banks league table. That works out to Rs 1,727 crore, over Rs 200 crore more than the deficit. Right now it is the Government of India and the finance ministry that keep the postal department poor. All the deposits go to the central exchequer, to be passed on to states as loans in proportion to their small savings. The department earns a fee to run the inefficient and archaic savings bank system.

Why is it necessary to reinvent the post office and improve the self-esteem of postal employees? The post office with its reach is the best placed to open bank accounts for the beneficiaries of the rural employment programme, recipients of government pensions and the like. The postman remains the best equipped to affirm a person's proof of residence. Once the banking function of the post office gets going and expands, it will give a boost to India's financial savings the same way bank nationalisation did and helped push up the national savings rate. The whole scenario is predicated on PBI being run efficiently and on keeping its transaction costs low with the use of information technology and processes for handling no-frill accounts currently being evolved.

The big question is, what does PBI do with its deposits which are relatively costlier as postal rates are higher than banks'. It should remain a narrow bank, eschewing retail and commercial lending and instead investing in secure but relatively high-yielding bonds issued by infrastructure companies looking for longer term funds. PBI could also subscribe to Nabard bonds whose proceeds Nabard could lend to microfinance organisations whose members could get paid through their savings bank accounts with PBI. You have a bit of a virtuous cycle there. An efficient PBI will not only boost financial inclusion but help reduce fraud in social welfare payments. All this must be made to happen.

subirkroy@gmail.com

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BENEVOLENT INTERVENTIONS

JUDGES HAVE OFTEN STEPPED IN TO FILL A LEGISLATIVE VACUUM AND SUCH FORAYS HAVE BENEFITED SOCIETY

M J ANTONY

Jurists never tire of an old chicken-or-egg wrangle: Whether judges should merely declare law or make law. The question has become momentous in this country as lawmakers are found more in the well of Parliament shouting at each other than debating Bills to catch up with the times. This definitely leaves large gaps between the ageing laws and the new problems faced by society, which has to run fast, like Alice in Wonderland, to remain where it is.

One bench of the Supreme Court, in December last year, asked the chief justice to set up a Constitution bench to sort out the riddle of separation of powers, in the University of Kerala vs Council of Principals case. The bench was of the opinion that judges could neither make law nor take over executive functions, nor act as an "interim Parliament".

 While the question still awaits a definitive answer, a bench headed by the ex-chief justice last week did make law in the field of cheque-bouncing. Though the sun is setting on the age of cheques, complaints of cheques being issued without sufficient fund in the account are mounting. More and more special courts are being set up in cities to tackle cases under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

In the Damodar Prabhu vs Sayed Babalal case, the Supreme Court pointed out that "at present a disproportionately large number of cases involving dishonour of cheques is choking our criminal justice system, especially at the level of magistrates' courts. As per the 213th report of the Law Commission, more than 38 lakh cheque -bouncing cases were pending as of October 2008. This is putting an unprecedented strain on our judicial system".

The relevant provisions of the Act have been amended several times in recent years, but the ingenuity of the drawers of cheques, aided by their lawyers, has always outstepped the law's reach. Therefore, the Supreme Court itself passed certain "guidelines", which will have the force of law.

Since one of its own benches has questioned such exercise in judicial activism, the judgment was almost apologetic while laying down the rules. It explained: "We are conscious of the view that the judicial endorsement of the guidelines could be seen as an act of judicial law making and, therefore, an intrusion into the legislative domain. It must be kept in mind that the Act does not carry any guidance on how to proceed with the compounding of offences under the Act."

It was to fill the crevices in the law that the court laid down the new rules. The judgment said: "Even in the past, this court has used its power to frame guidelines where there was a legislative vacuum."

The court has used the power under Article 142 of the Constitution which grants it the discretion to pass any order to do "complete justice". This power is unique to the Indian Constitution, and is one reason why the Supreme Court is called one of the most powerful courts in any democratic country. The power is rarely used, but in extreme cases that called for urgent and equitable solution of knotty issues, the court has not stood idle bowing to the doctrine of "separation of powers" of the judiciary, executive and legislature.

In fact, the Constitution does not follow the doctrine strictly and there is a lot of overlapping between the roles of the three arms of the state. Therefore, the court has a duty to do "complete justice" in certain circumstances, and it has declared that it will do so.

As early as in 1980, in the First Judges Case (S P Gupta vs President of India), a Constitution bench asserted its power thus: "Law does not operate in a vacuum. It is, therefore, intended to serve a social purpose and it cannot be interpreted without taking into account the social, economic and political setting in which it is intended to operate. It is here that the judge is called upon to perform a creative function. He has to inject flesh and blood in the dry skeleton provided by the legislature and by a process of dynamic interpretation, invest it with a meaning which will harmonise the law with the prevailing concepts and values and make it an effective instrument for delivery of justice."

The courts have followed this policy since then. Where the lawmakers feared to tread, the courts have dared to set the rules. They have laid down rules for the protection of women at the workplace in the Sakshi judgment; framed regulations for adoption of children in the L K Pandey cases; and "intruded" into the executive and legislative powers in environment matters. Society is better on account of these judicial sorties.

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WILL THE CRISIS IN EUROPE SPREAD?

The euro 750-bn package shows the will to protect the EU, but yoking structurally surplus nations to deficit ones makes the euro's survival risky - more capital flows to the US and emerging markets will hurt them.

 Huge debt write-offs will still be required, a single-currency Europe cannot survive. Greater flows to the US and emerging markets as a result of the crisis will hit these countries

The European Union (EU) has surprised most with an unprecedented euro 750 billion emergency plan to prevent the Greek crisis from spreading to other parts of Europe. Given the size of the earlier bailout package, this shows a level of political will we have not seen so far. If the Greek crisis had spread to Portugal, the problem would have become more serious since once bond yields rose there, Spanish banks would have been in trouble. So it is not surprising that markets have reacted the way they have to the package which will help firewall Spain and Portugal. But I would still predict that the euro zone, as we know it, will probably not survive.

First, give credit to the EU for getting ahead of the curve and stanching the very serious prospect of contagion. For now, by deploying the Powell doctrine — throwing as much fiscal ammunition as possible in the form of money and especially guarantees of wobbly government IOUs — the crisis has been averted.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this intervention is the massive moral hazard created both by bailing out holders of government paper and now by letting the pressure off countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal to undertake massive adjustment. The good case scenario is that financial markets stabilise, growth returns and the problem countries can grow out of trouble. In the case of Greece, that looks very unlikely because its fiscal predicament requires not just adjustment and financing but devaluation and debt restructuring. Substantial debt write-offs will remain necessary. But in the medium run, two serious doubts remain about the euro zone. The recent package runs against everything Germany and German economic orthodoxy stands for. It will soon realise that it can no longer acquiesce in the situation of being the country that bails out profligate southern partners.

The second and perhaps more important, the European crisis has shown us that the attempt to integrate the periphery into the core has failed comprehensively. How it is possible to have structurally surplus countries such as Germany yoked to structurally deficit countries? So, there has to be a de facto, if not de jure, separation between the periphery and core countries. Germany is not likely to say it will generate more demand in order to avoid surpluses so that the periphery can be kept happy. In the long run, it is probably more sustainable to have deficit countries with their own currencies with perhaps the others converging around one with Germany as the anchor.

For now, the crisis might be contained, but the risk remains that uncertainty in Europe will spill over to the rest of the world in the sense there will be a flight to the dollar and to emerging markets. The strengthening of the dollar will slow US' growth a bit, but it's not going to be like Lehman since consumer spending is back; and Germany is growing again. I don't know if this is double dip since I think the US recovery will go on, with the recent turmoil not strong enough to derail US recovery. But the process is not going to be smooth, and we'll see lots of ups and downs. When the smoke clears, we'll find that there's a lot more debt that needs to be restructured in countries like Greece and Portugal, and there will be a need for two sets of currencies in Europe. Things will go up and down for another 6-12 months before they finally settle.

Uncertainty in Europe also means a problem for emerging markets since, apart from the US, they will also see large currency inflows and an appreciation in currencies. At this point, countries will be faced with the classic trilemma, so I think they'll have to start thinking of a Tobin tax. To the extent the dollar appreciates a bit, and China keeps to the peg, this will allow it to appreciate a bit automatically. RBI will have to think carefully about what it wants to do — does it want the rupee to go to 40 against the dollar?

Capital coming to emerging markets will hurt exports growth, but it won't dampen overall growth since investment levels will pick up as a result, and so will consumption. But the big danger here is of the asset bubbles that it will create, and the distortionary impact that has, including possible policy action by the central bank to correct that. Ways have to be looked at to dampen inflows.

Arvind Subramanian is also senior fellow, Centre for Global Development and senior research professor, Johns Hopkins University

Things look bad for Europe and will get worse before improving. But the problems in southern Europe are unlikely to implode into another October 2008-style crisis. Unlike the October crisis, which only a handful of analysts had foreseen, southern Europe's oncoming, inextricable mess was seen by many. The world is replete with examples of large and persistent fiscal deficits, fixed exchange rate, and falling productivity ending in tears. Southern Europe was no different. Yet the party went on for quite a while as the market kept funding the deficit-laden countries, hoping that the strength of the core (Germany and France) of the EU would delay the day of reckoning. But scarred by the October crisis, markets today are quite touchy about excessive leverage, be it in companies, banks, or governments. And so, the day of reckoning is here.

Things have also been muddied by the overlay of the economics and politics of being in the EU. Typically, countries extricate themselves from a sovereign debt crisis through a combination of fiscal tightening, monetising and restructuring the of the debt, and devaluing of the currency. But, remaining within the euro zone precludes devaluation; direct monetisation is ruled out by the Lisbon treaty; and debt restructuring is likely to be a no-go area for now. So the entire burden of adjustment has fallen on fiscal policy, which is daunting, given the massive size of the deficit and debt of these countries.

So despite the ¤110 billion rescue package for Greece aimed at taking it out from the funding market until 2013, the contagion spread to Ireland and Portugal, with Spain and Italy being threatened to be the next in line. The combined funding needs of these countries are so large (¤200 billion in next three months) that a rescue package seems inconceivable. While moral suasion on European banks and co-opting them in the Greek rescue package may reduce the risk of their cutting exposure to southern European assets, these banks have increasingly tapped the US markets for funding. US money funds can quickly become wary of the asset quality of the European banks, engulfing the whole of the EU in a crisis. The consequent economic slowdown in Europe and the further weakening of the euro would adversely affect both the US and the emerging economies. And those who prophesied a double dip in global growth would be proven right, although for entirely different reasons.

But while the economics of the EU may have hamstrung the crisis management, the politics of the EU is the key to resolving and containing this crisis. As long as the political commitment to the EU is intact, economic solutions will be stitched together. And there are solutions, thanks to our vast experiences of dealing with past debt crises. Measures such as debt buy-back by the European Central Bank (ECB) in the secondary market directly or through a created entity; extension of the ECB repo window to two-three years; EU-provided debt guarantees; and reinstated foreign exchange swap lines with the US Fed will be needed along with fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, to allay fears of financial markets.

But, in the absence of a central fiscal authority, the euro zone is finding hard to coordinate actions. And this means that ECB has to step in. This won't be easy. ECB will need to credibly explain that it is taking these extraordinary steps to preserve financial stability just as the Bank of England had to argue why monetising the deficit was needed to meet its inflation target not too long ago.

Unlike the October crisis, when the nature and the extent of the problem and that of the solutions were largely unknown causing financial markets to freeze, this time around the problem and the solutions are both known. Financial markets will remain in turmoil, but the crisis will not blow up as long as the market believes there is political commitment to the EU.

We have seen monetary and fiscal authorities globally take extraordinary actions in the last two years. Sunday's $1 trillion EU/IMF stabilisation fund is one such action. Perhaps as subsequent market reaction suggests more steps may be needed and likely delivered. The good news is that the EU is getting there. The bad news is the trillion dollars and probably some more will be added to the already massive global liquidity. But I guess in these extraordinary times we will worry about that a bit later.

Views expressed are personal

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE GAS IN THE RELIANCE CASE

THE GOVERNMENT CANNOT EXERCISE ITS SOVEREIGN RIGHTS TWICE OVER

G V RAMAKRISHNA

The first successful round of bidding for exploration and production of oil and natural gas in all the offshore areas of the country was conducted in 1985, when I was petroleum secretary. As many as seven international oil companies had bid for about 10 oil blocks, but none of them found any oil or gas.

Under the production sharing contract (PSC), there is a cost- and profit-sharing arrangement between the successful exploration company and the government. The gas utilisation contract has been added in the last few years.

 The recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the natural gas distribution and pricing by Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) raises several important questions.

According to the PSC, the oil or gas that is produced is shared between the government and the exploring party. Also, the company's share is determined after taking into account the share of the government, levy of royalty and other charges that will be paid to the government. The government also has the right to acquire the company's share of the natural resource (gas in this case) at an agreed pricing based on international prices prevailing from time to time, or as agreed in the PSC. If the government chooses not to buy the natural resource from the company, the company will be free to sell the oil (gas) to any party at a price to be determined by the company. It may sell to a sister oil company or to a third party at a price determined by it. It may sell a part of the oil or gas to the government and another to some other party. The price that the company charges the government government may be different from the price it chooses to charge the third party. As an owner of the natural resource, the government could use a price for determining the share of the private contractor, or for determining tax liability but could not force the private contractor to sell his share to another private party at a price determined by the government.

In the present case, the government fixed a price of $4.2 per million British thermal unit (mmBtu) of gas but RIL agreed to sell the gas at $2.34 to NTPC, which is a government company. The remaining part of the share of gas belonging to RIL can be sold by the company to a party at a price of its choice. If it chooses to sell gas at $2 per mmBtu, it is a contractual arrangement between the seller (RIL) and the buyer.

In exercising its sovereign right over the gas, the government has already taken its share of the gas and paid to RIL, a pre-determined price under the PSC. Having paid the government its dues, RIL will be free to sell the gas to any party of its choice and at a price agreed by it to the third party. This arrangement will come into operation only after the government has exercised its right and has agreed to pass on the company's share of gas under the PSC. The government cannot exercise the sovereign right twice over, once in determining the price, in which it will get its share, and again in fixing the price at which the company can sell its share to a party of its choice and at a price of its choice.

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

 

 

 


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

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOILET TRAINING AND CRICKET!

 

Members of Pakistan's Senate and National Assembly committee on sports have reacted as they know best to the disappointing performance of the 2009 World T20 champions in this year's tournament in the West Indies by calling for a probe!

 

The previous probe into Pakistan's disappointing performance on last winter's tour of Australia had even included feedback by the then team coach Intikab Alam on not just the infighting between past and present captains but the poor toilet habits of some players. Whether the ongoing World T20 tournament will also provide coaching feedback on the effect of inadequate toilet training remains to be seen! The reaction of cricket fans could be to wonder whether Pakistan's Senate and National Assembly legislators do not have more serious and fundamental issues to deal with.


However, there is always the possibility that Pakistan's legislators have been informed of something which the ordinary sports fan is ignorant of. Child psychologists tell us that good toilet training has a life-long impact.

If Pakistan could not score those two runs which would have made the difference between losing and winning in the crucial World T20 game against New Zealand, it could be because victory ultimately goes to the team which is better able to hold on to its nerve and everything else at the crucial stage. Like the cricketing experts keep telling us, that's what separates the men from the boys.


If it's a case for children of "you've got to go when you've got to go", the adult response could be one of "when the going gets tough, the tough get going"! It just may be that India's performance in the ongoing tournament in the West Indies was also affected by the fact that unlike ODIs and Test cricket, the T20 variety does not allow for a drinks-break where players can quickly go round the corner! Viewers can, or so Aamir Khan tells us in a commercial, take a toilet-break by recording the live action!

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOR FAST RESOURCE REALLOCATION

 

Now that the Supreme Court has finally approved formation of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), the government must quickly constitute the body to deal with corporate insolvency and other corporate law matters.

Modern economies must allow companies to restructure swiftly, close down businesses that no longer make commercial sense, sell assets or parts of the business if the situation so demands. Speedy redeployment in production of assets — land, physical and human capital — locked up in unviable units is essential for an economy's efficiency.


Unfortunately, restructuring companies has been difficult and winding up operations near impossible, given the slow pace of judicial decision-making and societal aversion to closure of any enterprise. Managements would be reviled for selling off assets. What resulted was sub-optimal employment of various factors of production, with limited mobility for factors from less productive to more productive activities.


In many instances , plant and machinery have rusted into junk, while the company awaited rehabilitation by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR). Also, capital worth thousands of crore rupees would be locked up in these companies, burdening banks and creditors. In that sense, the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitution of the tribunal as envisaged by the 2002 Companies Amendment Act, although much delayed, is welcome. The verdict raises hope that the tribunal once created, would speed up the process for restructuring or winding up companies, for mergers and acquisitions as well as for addressing shareholder grievances, and that cases would be decided in a time-bound manner.


The NCLT is envisaged to be a companies' court subsuming the functions of the Company Law Board, and the BIFR, and the high court's mandate to approve M&A and liquidation of companies. The quality of justice dispensed by the new tribunal will ultimately depend on the quality of its members and technical staff. The government would need to appoint the right people, and with dispatch.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMBATING KHAP PANCHAYATS

 

The problem of caste bodies in various parts of India passing edicts against certain marriages and relationships , and much else, is one of tradition — or what is purported to be tradition — coming up against a liberal-democratic modernity.


The law must be invoked fully against such illegal actions. But it is also a case for achieving a larger social transformation. And, critically, all political parties must spell out an unambiguous agenda on that front. In that context, the support extended by some politicians , including a Congress MP from Haryana, to such khap panchayats is highly condemnable.


Indeed, the problem is also partly located in the legitimacy accorded to such feudal and retrograde formations by the political class. The wider malaise afflicting politics in India is creating and maintaining competitive identities. And in turn, that has so emboldened such caste bodies, as is the case in Haryana, that they have openly threatened all MPs and MLAs in the state to support their regressive agenda of making their caste bias a law by amending the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.


It is patently clear that the demand to ban marriages within the same sub-caste , and within the same village, isn't only about preserving some sort of tradition. It is also about seeking to control bodies and curbing basic human and individual freedom and liberty.


The khap panchayats are directly challenging the Constitution. This isn't an armed rebellion or insurrection. But in principle, it is similar to the Taliban — seeking an overthrow or amendment of secular, liberal law based on retrograde notions of identity, religion and tradition. Witness the alarming fact of the Haryana trial judge who had handed out the death penalty to five persons for the double murder of a newly married couple seeking a transfer as she fears for her life.


But combating this cannot be solely about implementing the law. The political class, as part of the project of enabling that social transformation must also seek to engage these caste formations and their defenders . That all tradition isn't good, or even that it can't remain ossified and has to evolve and absorb the rights and laws of a democratic age, is a concept that must be embedded in society at large.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOVERNANCE & OWNERSHIP IN EXCHANGES

SANDEEP PAREKH

 

Dear Dr Jalan, I was delighted to know that a person of your stature and knowledge will be leading the effort to rethink the ownership and governance structure of stock exchanges, clearing entities and depositories. In India, we have had a very poorly thought out structure which inhibits competition and promotes entry barriers. Exchanges are a profitable business in India, in fact very profitable, with operating margins of over 40%.


There is nothing wrong with being competitive and innovative and thus profitable. Unfortunately, it is less innovation and more regulatory fiat making it difficult to set up competing exchanges that explains exchange profitability. Sebi regulations today restrict ownership of exchanges to 5% (15% in some cases) for any person along with persons acting in concert. Imagine a person who has the expertise, the money and the willingness to set up a new exchange. Such an entity, must find up to 19 investors who are willing to also invest in the new exchange and they must not be acting in concert. Each would thus have a financial stake which is substantial, but with virtually no voice in the management of the exchange. There would not be many takers for such a proposition. Witness the lethargic investments in the Bombay Stock Exchange despite liberalising the 5% limit to 15% for several entities. Add to that the unnecessary requirement of having a capital of Rs 100 crore, and the answer is clear why new exchanges have not entered the business.


The rationale for a 5% or 15% limit on control is the fear that ordinary companies will set up exchanges and since they will be conflicted, there is possibility of actual conflicts where their own stock or stock trade information of other companies is compromised . While the possibility exists, the remedy of a virtual ban on new entrants is wrong. Will anyone trade on an exchange which doesn't provide complete security? (See my column, ET, 13 Jan)


The Rs 100-crore capital requirement ignores how exchanges are run. Exchanges are essentially bundles of IT and surveillance systems. They don't need much capital. Requiring a large capital could have two rationales. To exclude small players or a lack of understanding of risk management based on the historical fact of exchanges being bundled with the clearing function. In an exchange transaction, everyone knows that the exchange guarantees the trade or in market lingo, acts as the counterparty, acting as buyer to every seller and seller to every buyer.


Thus, if any person defaults, the other party faces no risk. This perception is not accurate in reality. Actually, it is not the exchange which acts as the counterparty but the clearing corporation or house which guarantees each trade and which does the risk management. It is the clearing body which requires capital adequacy and closer risk management supervision. Even at BSE, where the clearing is done in-house, the rules and byelaws actually try to ring fence the exchange from default at the clearing house level.

 


In a modern electronic exchange where securities, whether equity, debt or currency, are traded, after the initial handshake on the price, virtually all the other work, from guarantee of settlement, to risk management and collection of margins and final payment takes place on the clearing entity. This entity could be a clearing corporation or an in-house clearing house (BSE model). Where it is a clearing corporation, it could either be a subsidiary (NSE model) or an independent body clearing for many exchanges (US model). Each model has various issues which heighten or lower regulatory concerns.


True, small, fly-by-night operators should not run exchanges. But if size is the eligibility criterion, a drug lord would be welcome while the door would be shut on an entrepreneur who can design a cheaper and better exchange system, with an outsourced capital intensive clearing function. Combined with the requirement of finding 19 other people with money but no brains, this would indeed be tough.


While exchanges are a liquidity-inviting-more-liquidity business, the supranormal profits of even the second exchange points to a malaise in the competitive environment of exchanges. Compare this position to the wafer thin, or rather negative margins in the currency derivatives market where there are three, instead of two players competing for business.


The way forward is quite clear. Lower entry barriers and, simultaneously, enhance regulatory scrutiny. Do away with the pointless Rs 100 crore capital requirement and focus scrutiny on clearing entities. The clearing entities need to move away from inhouse functions or a subsidiary function to professional clearing entities. Decidedly, these professional entities will provide more issues to resolve and possibility of a race to the bottom and thus require superior regulatory supervision. On the other hand, the lazy regulatory philosophy of banning knives will need to give way to better patrolling, surveillance and enforcement.


(The author teaches at IIM, Ahmedabad)

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

OPEN GAS MARKET STILL A PIPE DREAM

SOMA BANERJEE

 

The Supreme Court verdict in the case between Reliance Industries (RIL) and Reliance Natural Resources (RNRL) has brought crystal-clear clarity to the supreme role of the government in the gas sector. According to the verdict, the government will take the final call on pricing, marketing and utilisation of gas.


Put simply, once an energy company discovers gas, the government walks in to fix the consumer list to whom the gas will be sold, the price at which it will be sold, and the quantity that each consumer will get. The energy company that will take the risk of equity investment in exploration will have to be content with a rate of return that the government will deem fit as per its wisdom, keeping 'national priorities' in mind.


While this is perhaps the 'best solution in the given circumstances', it may not work in the long term. Private investors would want more flexibility and a decontrolled regime if they are to invest big bucks in the country's hydrocarbon sector. So, while the verdict has removed the uncertainty for RIL, RNRL and millions of shareholders, it will be seen with scepticism by future investors.


In fact, even existing investors would be wary if this was to be the permanent policy. As global fund manager, Arvind Sanger, managing partner of Geosphere Capital Management, said, the government can always second-guess the price at which the fuel will be sold. More importantly , while regulation is necessary in imperfect markets — like in India where demand far outstrips supply — the question is whether it should be the government that should double up as the regulator? After all, governmentowned companies are also competing with private oil companies for the same blocks. The government's role in fixing all these terms could certainly lead to questions over conflict of interest.


There is an urgent need to establish an independent, empowered regulator for the sector who should be able to take such decisions till the market evolves. More importantly, the regulator should be in a position to evolve the policies from time to time reflecting the evolution of the market in India and the changing global gas market.

That apart, the government has to initiate and proactively work towards establishing a market in the country. One of the biggest impediments in developing the country's gas market is the abysmal growth of the pipeline sector. Just like power transmission lines that carry electricity from the production point to the consumer, pipelines have to be up and running if the country has to maximise its gas potential.


The thumb rule for such investments is 1:1.5, that is, for every rupee spent on generation, Rs 1.5 needs to be spent on building transmission and distribution lines. The same, or perhaps more, is true of the natural gas sector. So, with gas production ramping up with new producers in the game, there is an urgent need to create pipelines, both trunk and spur, across the country that will allow consumers to access the gas.


At this point, there are only two trunk pipelines in the country: the HBJ pipeline that connects the western coast to northern India, and the recently-commissioned Kakinada-Bharuch pipeline by Reliance Gas Transmission India (RGTIL). The entire southern region, which has enough and more gas consumers like fertiliser, power and industry, has a huge unmet demand. Lack of pipeline in the region leaves the region with no choice but to buy expensive alternatives like naphtha or imported liquefied natural gas. This also tends to impact price bids. While RIL cannot be blamed — as it was following government directives — bids for the Krishna-Godavari gas — the first attempt to adopt a transparent discovery mechanism — were only called from consumers who had stranded capacity, i.e., consumers who were unable to operate at full capacity due to lack of gas.


The entire process of price discovery can only be ascertained if all players can participate in the bidding process. This will need the country to develop a gas pipeline network like the developed markets. The spot market in such economies constantly reflects changes in global demand-supply dynamics. For instance, gas prices have crashed to just about $3 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) from the highs of $11-12 per mmBtu just a year ago with the discovery and popular acceptance of shale gas in the US as an alternative form of energy source. Unfortunately, little has been done to get the pipelines going. In fact, the government's flip-flop on pipeline policy and the differences between the petroleum ministry and the petroleum and natural regulatory board — which has largely been left with little powers — has only delayed the construction of pipelines. The pipeline sector needs to be opened up and investors should be allowed to invest in trunk and spurt pipelines as long as they can take the risk of getting the gas and the consumers. The government's role in this has only jeopardised the growth and deregulation of the gas industry.


Policymakers who launched the new exploration licensing policy (Nelp) in 1999 had sought to initiate deregulation in the upstream exploration sector with this move — something which even defence lawyers (RIL's legal counsels) cited while arguing the case. RIL chief counsellor Harish Salve admitted that at one point, RIL too had approached the government for its marketing rights. The objective behind Nelp was to open up exploration to private oil companies as opposed to the earlier regime where private oil companies had to mandatorily tie up with a national oil companies to get production rights.


So, while a private oil company could take up a block identified by the government for exploration, it would have to bring in a PSU oil company as a partner to begin producing crude oil or gas. Blocks such Panna Mukta and Cairn's Barmer are cases on such nominated blocks before Nelp was introduced.


The Supreme Court verdict has brought in the much-needed clarity, removing all doubts about who manages affairs in the gas sector in the country, but this can only be a stop-gap solution to the larger issue of evolving India's natural gas market. Is the government listening?

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO COUNTRY FOR LADS

VITHALC NADKARNI

 

In her bestseller The Female Brain the American psychiatrist Louann Brizendine famously, and incorrectly, claimed that women use an average of 20,000 words a day compared with only 7,000 for men. Some feminists positively purred at the statement. But they were absolutely livid with her other claim that new mothers suffered from "mommy brain" and were incapable of focusing on anything other than their child.


Brizendine excised the women more-loquaciousthan-men bit from the paperback edition after a leading science weekly criticised her for having failed "to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance".

As for the 'mommy brain', as a self-professed feminist, Brizendine admits that her views may be painful to many modern women . Now she hopes that her latest book, The Male Brain, will help women to see the world through "male-coloured glasses" so they can better understand their sons and lovers. So why is your teenage son bored and surly? Blame it on the hormones, she advises. For if testosterone were beer, Brizendine suggests, a nine-yearold boy would be getting the equivalent of half a pint a day.

 

But by the time he is 15, he is flooded with the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day of the stuff. The macho hormone blunts his ability to read facial expressions and heightens his sensitivity to criticism.


No wonder the testosterone drenched reward centres in his brain require intensely hyped up sensations for their activation. That could account for his penchant for all those high-risk behaviours. Because the male brain is "marinated in testosterone" from the eighth week she goes on to conclude controversially that it is hardwired to cause men to lie, to take risks and to suppress their emotions.


To be fair, she also points out how the school system conflicts with teenage boys' freedom-seeking brains and their sleep cycle. Brizendine , who has a 20-year-old son, hopes to stimulate public debate on the way boys are educated and prepared for manhood.


Her work also puts a huge question mark on the conditioning and harvest of hormone-rich youngsters for conflicts around the world. There's a tragic mismatch between their potential and the way they're mown before they get there. She says with deeper understanding of the male brain and with right policies we could create more humane expectations for boys and men.

 

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STICK TO TIMEFRAMES FOR DISPOSAL OF CASES

 

The Sarfaesi Act was enacted to allow banks and financial institutions to recover debt by enforcing security without intervention of courts. However, defaulters often misuse the provisions of the Act. They often file frivolous litigation before the debt recovery tribunal (DRT) to delay the process initiated by the bank against them. The problem is compounded by the Tribunal not being able to take these matters on a priority basis.

Although there is a timeframe for disposal of disputes under Sarfaesi Act, it is usually overstepped. The lawyers play a significant part in delaying the hearings of such applications by seeking unnecessary adjournments. The Tribunals should be strictly directed to adhere to timeframes.


Frivolous litigation can be restricted by inserting appropriate provisions in the Act for payment of actual costs. Also, the notice period for a delinquent borrower can be shortened to 15 or 30 days since the account has become a non performing asset and the borrower is aware of this. The seven days provided for banks to respond to the borrower's reply is too short and should be suitably enhanced.


Further, when the possession of the secured asset is to be taken in areas other than cities — where there are Chief Metropolitan Magistrates — the secured creditor has to approach the District Magistrate — who is also the District Collector. However, the district collector is invariably unavailable to attend to these matters due to his pre-occupation with other duties, leading to inordinate delays. It would be appropriate to substitute the District Magistrate with the Chief Judicial Magistrate to hasten the proceedings.


The proposal to amend the Sarfaesi Act wherein the district administration is to be involved in taking of possession of secured asset could result in time over-runs. Therefore, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate should continue with the stipulation that orders to be issued within a fixed timeframe (maximum 60 days). However, banks and financial institutions are ill-equipped to take over the management of business of the borrower due to lack of expertise in business management.


By F M ALEXANDER Of Counsel Juris Corp.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRIORITISE SECURED CREDITORS' CLAIMS

 

The objective of the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (Sarfaesi) Act was to facilitate expeditious recovery of defaulted loans of banks and financial institutions.


The enforcement power of securities conferred on banks by virtue of this legislation has led to a drop in nonperforming assets (NPA) of banks at 1-2 % of total advances. It has also brought about better discipline among borrowers to repay loans.


The effectiveness of the Act notwithstanding, there are loopholes that need to be plugged. One issue is the priority of claims of government (arrears of tax) provided in certain taxation laws that defeats the recovery efforts of banks. There have been cases where entire amount recovered by a bank was directed to be deposited in government treasury.


The Sarfaesi Act needs to be amended to recognise the priority of claims of the secured creditor even over claims of revenue. Such an amendment would be in conformity with the provisions of the Companies Act that recognises the priority of secured debt over claims of the revenue. When banks arrive at settlements with borrowers for repayment of banks dues, consent orders are to be obtained from debt recovery tribunals (DRTs) in pending recovery proceedings in terms of the settlement.


Some DRTs have taken a stand that only they can approve such settlement terms and banks have no powers to finalise the settlement terms. It is necessary to amend the law to bring it in conformity with the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code that requires the court to pass orders in terms of the settlement whenever the suit is settled out of court.


The Act also provides a comfort to the secured lenders for recovery by taking possession of the securities. Secured credit is the driving force of the economy and the comfort of recovery provided by Sarfaesi Act results in augmentation of secured lending, thereby driving economic growth. There is a need to view the provisions of the Act from this perspective, rather than treat it as a draconian edict providing powers of recovery to the banks.

By M R UMARJI, Chief Adviser (Legal) IBA.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEED PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT SPECIALISATIONS: WIPRO CEOS

SUJIT JOHN, MINI JOSEPH TEJASWI & ANSHUL DHAMIJA

 

Post recession, global customers want more for less, and they want Indian IT outsourcing vendors to take on more complex projects. In a discussion with TOI, Wipro's joint CEOs Girish Paranjpe and Suresh Vaswani talked about how the $6-billion company was adapting to the new environment. Excerpts from the interview:


Is the nature of demand from global customers changing?

They are talking a lot more with us about business transformation projects. Earlier, global customers would look at the likes of IBM and Accenture for the big transformation projects and only look at Indian IT for some offshoring. Today, IBM, Accenture, Wipro, TCS, Infosys are equal options for them. We have to provide everything — consulting, business advisory services, IT and BPO. With one big customer, we had a five-hour discussion, of which only about a half hour was spent with the CIO. They wanted us to look at every aspect of their business to increase efficiencies.



How are you adapting to this environment?

The new environment requires that we have more specialized talent, greater expertise in different domains, and be more efficient. Clients are not saying, give me 10,000 people more; they are saying, what more can you do. They are looking at newer technologies like cloud computing, which requires understanding of these technologies.

Earlier, there was this big focus on one number — how many people will we hire. Revenue growth and headcount growth were completely correlated.


We are breaking that correlation, which we call our non-linear initiative. We started this two years ago. In the year ended March 2010, we think about 8% of our revenue was non-linear. We call it non-linear when the revenue growth is at least 15% higher than the corresponding headcount growth. We think that the 8% can double in the next 12 to 18 months. We are using a lot of training, tools, technology, frameworks, etc to drive non-linearity.

How is this impacting employee profile?

Having lots of people just writing code is not good enough. We need people with different specializations. One initiative we have is to give technical inputs to employees every year, to try and elevate them to a new level each year. Under this initiative, called Unified Competency Framework, every person has to take a test and only if he qualifies is he eligible for a promotion, no matter his years of experience. We started implementing this rigorously over the last one year.


Suresh Vaswani (L) with Girish Paranjpe. "We plan to have more women in the company, more locals overseas, more physically challenged and more underprivileged sections," say Jt CEOs

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EMAMI OFFERS VALUE PRODUCTS: ADITYA V AGARWAL, DIRECTOR, EMAMI GROUP

ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

 

Kolkata-based FMCG major Emami is applying cream to its image to change into a premium brand in India. At the same time, the company is diversifying and had entered the edible oils space in February with its 'Health and Tasty' brand, endorsed by MS Dhoni and Preity Zeinta.


It has also been scouting for palm oil plantation opportunities in Malaysia and Indonesia to plant its feet firmly in this market. The dark continent, Africa, which contributes 33% to the company's international business, is sitting firm on Emami's radar. The company is planning to have at least three manufacturing units here in three years. Aditya V Agarwal, Director, Emami Group, said that the company will keep focussing on value-for-money products in an interview with ET. Excerpts:


Emami is looked upon as a 'fuddy duddy' brand. Is a brand makeover in the offing?

Every brand has its own image and I strongly believe that Emami is not looked upon as a 'fuddy duddy', dull or not a happening brand. I feel India's premium brands do not command the same perception as foreign brands. Emami does not offer a modern and a young brand but 'value-for-money products' catering to a segment which is large in terms of number and also have the purchasing power.


Besides, we have seen that Indian's loyalty towards premium brands is less as compared to 'not-so-premium' brands like ours. A lot of snob value is also attached to use of premium products till they are imported. But demand for the same product dips as soon as the product is made available locally by the manufacturer. Brand makeover is a constant endeavour being taken by companies at large and is getting communicated through packaging, advertisements and several other such communications that we have been doing over the years. Since we are aspiring for a premium brand image, we will not go for major changes.


What are the challenges that you might face in terms of branding?

Business challenges are always there and we are fighting it everyday. The new challenge which Indian market is facing is regionalisation. Even political parties are facing the problem.


We are working around the problem. We need to add more regional flavour to our portfolio apart from the initiatives we have taken in the recent past. For example, we have Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan for Navratna Oil.


But we have roped in Chiranjeevi in Andhra Pradesh to promote the same oil, Surya in Tamil Nadu and Upendra in Karnataka even though we are a national player. The ad promos have also been shot at picturesque sites of these states to get the regional flavour. These initiatives are being taken although we are a national player.

Does the company, still playing in the low-end products, aspire for high-end products?

Emami does not produce low-end brands but value-for-money products. Navratna is the costliest oil in the cool oil category. Sona Chandi Chyawanprash is also one of the most expensive products in its category. Though we have been toying with the idea of launching some high-end products, we don't think India is a market of high-end products. Even if it is, the volume will be small.


Emami is probably the only company to rope in multiple Bollywood stars for endorsing its products. Does it all convert into sales?


We are a commercial organisation and we work out the commercial return of each and every move that we make. Some are tangible and can be calculated directly, and some like excitement in the minds of retailers, sales team or even consumers are intangible and cannot be calculated.


We do believe that endorsement of Bollywood stars does make a huge difference. It is not Emami alone but corporates have over the years relied on celebrities to increase the visibility of their brand and in turn, increase sales. All our top brands like Boroplus, Navratna and Fair & Handsome have gained popularity due to celebrity association.

Does Emami has the management bandwidth to take on MNCs?

We compete with HUL in the cream segment with our Fair & Handsome brand; in the chyawanprash category, our Sona Chandi Chyawanprash takes on Dabur; Zandu balm is there in the pain relief balm category to compete with Amrutanjan.


Every FMCG company has tried to enter the cool oil category but could not make a dent and had to withdraw their brands. Incidentally, we have four brands which are category leaders and not many company can boast of this. All our brands occupy the No.2 or No.3 slots in their respective categories and this, I feel, proves that we are successful.

 

 

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

 

 

 


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

                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WRONG THING IN THE WRONG PLACE...

 

It is a pity about minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh. He is among a small set of ministers who are intellectually well-equipped and steeped into the modernist tradition. More of this kind are needed as India seeks to forge ahead. A minister needs to understand this country's complex realities and show a subtle grasp of its interplay with other nations. At the same time, it is clear that political adeptness and a sense of proportion are necessary qualifications for senior government functionaries if they seek to court success in framing appropriate policy and in its successful dissemination and implementation. It is in these realms that many who run the race come up short, as the case of Mr Ramesh demonstrates so well. Everything which he had to say in Beijing about India's security establishment and the home ministry being "paranoid", "alarmist" and "defensive" in assessing Chinese investments in India amounts to caricaturing this country's overall equation with a powerful neighbour with which relations have been more down than up. Even so, Mr Ramesh's assertions on these counts constitute the lesser of his follies. Far more serious is the minister taking up cudgels for Chinese multinational Huawei, a company that attracted adverse notice from the beginning of its innings in India. The point here, however, is that Mr Ramesh's observations in respect of Huawei expose him and his government to the charge of lobbying for particular international business entities. For a political party or a minister, it would be a sin even to speak up for an Indian business venture in the way that Mr Ramesh has done for the Chinese firm. The BJP has already accused Mr Ramesh of lobbying for Chinese commercial establishments. It is decent of the party not to demand his ouster from the government. Or maybe it just plans to carry out a campaign against UPA-2 on the issue of foreign multinationals and their flag-bearers within the council of ministers. Such a campaign can get off the ground only if a minister charged with a misdemeanour is permitted to remain in office. Not long ago Shashi Tharoor had to go when the first whiff of his possible financial involvement with a prospective IPL franchisee surfaced. Had he been allowed to stay on, Mr Ramesh's controversial statements in support of a Chinese company would have been an additionality of an unsavoury kind. And now if Mr Ramesh stays put, the breaking of another scandal — and no modern governments are immune to the possibility — can affect the composure of the Union council of ministers. Even if Mr Ramesh had not batted for Huawei, what he has had to say about the functioning of the Union home ministry on the issue of Chinese investments in India is enough grist to the Opposition mill. The Manmohan Singh government should count itself lucky that the controversy did not break during a session of Parliament

 

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PERKY CRAVINGS

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

ALTHOUGH some of the unavoidable legislative work, such as passage of the Finance Bill and even the introduction of the controversial Nuclear Liability Bill, was somehow gone through, the almost daily disruption of both Houses remained the hallmark of the parliamentary session that was adjourned sine die last week. However, despite all the raucous noise and heated exchanges that, at least once, stopped just short of fisticuffs, Parliament managed to deliver one unanimous message loud and clear: It called for an immediate hike in the pay and perks of its members. In precise terms the demand was that the salary of members of Parliament (MPs) should be at least a rupee more than that of the top civil servants. This is on par with what prevails in France, and is perfectly legitimate, and merits support.

 

In fact, ever since a similar, though not identical, demand was first raised in the second Lok Sabha (1957-62) I have been arguing that India's lawmakers should be paid as well as its civil servants and other professionals serving in the public sector. If that were done, the MPs' allowances would also be taxed, along with their salaries. But unfortunately, right since the dawn of Independence, politicians ruling this country, including ministers, of course, have devised a salary structure for themselves that neatly covers up greed with hypocrisy.

 

Invoking the name of the Mahatma, they usually pretend that they want a modest pay. No wonder even today an MP's monthly salary is Rs 16,000 which, making allowance for the phenomenal inflation over six decades, is as much of a pittance as it used to be when it was only a few hundred rupees. But the bulk of the politicians' earnings have always consisted of non-taxable daily allowance for attending Parliament or its countless committees that continue to meet even while Parliament is in recess. There are several other untaxed perks, driving one sociologist to remark that whatever R.H. Tawney might have said, Indian society was both "acquisitive and perquisite".

 

To be sure, there are some perks that MPs who have to contest an election every five years, if not oftener, must get. For instance, each member of the Lok Sabha has to maintain two houses, one in his/her constituency and another in New Delhi. Normally, a pied-à-terre in the capital would do. But the reality is that a large number of members occupy sprawling bungalows in Lutyen's Delhi. Remarkably, many of them are members of the Rajya Sabha who have no popular election to fight and no constituency to nurse. To make matters a lot worse, even after ceasing to be MP and/or minister, a surprisingly large number of them refuse to vacate the lavish houses. The government's directorate of estates bangs its head against their walls but to no avail. The facility of free travel within the country and abroad available to the chosen ones is also enviable.

 

And then there are such windfalls as Members of Parliament's local area development scheme (MPLADS). Under it every MP has at his/her disposal Rs 2 crores a year for local area development projects in his/her constituency. Although the MP decides what has to be done, it is the collector of the district who is supposed to get the project executed. Yet, over the years, there has been no end to allegations of people's representatives siphoning off a lot of cash. One MP had seen nothing wrong in spending MPLADS funds on building a tennis court in a posh club. And now that the Supreme Court has rejected a PIL praying for the abolition of MPLADS nobody is going to be able to interfere with this largesse.

 

Important though these matters are, they are really sideshows. The key issue is whether in their anxiety to be a cut above the highest civil servants our MPs are prepared to abide by the discipline, constraints and rules applicable to the bureaucracy here as well as in the French Republic. No one can be appointed even a lower division clerk, leave alone to all-India services such as the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service etc, if there is an adverse report against him/her. Civil servants found to be making money on the side are suspended and prosecuted. The gargantuan 2G spectrum scam underscores that politicians are immune from such risks!

 

No one suggests that there should be a police verification of those offering themselves as candidates in elections. But surely the current situation in which criminals get merrily elected to Parliament and even adorn ministerial chairs has to end before the deserved pay hike for MPs can take effect. It is no good anyone arguing that delay in the conviction of the politicians charged with the most heinous crimes is the fault of the judiciary, not of anyone else. The grave problem can and must be resolved if all political parties unite to amend the Election Law, and if need be the Constitution, to keep criminals out of the electoral process.

 

During the last days of the Budget session, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had shouted itself hoarse against the Congress-led government's "misuse and abuse" of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). A BJP delegation even met the President to press the demand that the premier investigative agency be freed from the government's control. Why didn't the saffron party bring about this much-needed reform when it was in power for six years? And what prevents it today from offering its full cooperation in unbinding the CBI and keeping criminals out of politics?

 

The matter does not end there. There is also the question whether after a manifold increase in their pay and perks our MPs would work and let the nation's apex legislature function.

 

The members of the US Senate and House may be paid much more than lawmakers elsewhere, $174,000 a year, but they work most diligently. They initiate the laws, not the government. Congressional hearings keep the administration on its toes. Here we have daily barracking, rushing to the well of the House, rude exchanges and so on. This cannot be allowed to go on forever. The wholesome principle "No Work, No Pay" must apply to Parliament, too.

 

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

 


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

EU IS SINKING. CHEER UP, IT COULD BE WORSE

BY ROGER COHEN

 

These are interesting times in Europe, both in Greece, where the sunlit European idea began, and in Britain, where it fizzles in the drizzle.

 

Greece, facing the tab for a long free lunch, is now the most hated member of the euro club. Germans are cancelling their Greek holidays (and reckon Greece should be selling its islands rather than taking their hard-earned money), North Europeans don't think they should be paying for Greek retirement at 53.

 

Britain, having shunned the now parlous single-currency club, has been hit with a European curse, in the form of coalition politics. David Cameron and his Europe-bashing Tories look like they may be getting into bed with Nick Clegg and his Europe-hugging Liberal Democrats: That would make even Israel's Labour-to-religious-right coalition look ideologically harmonious.

 

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. There is something irresistibly comical about post-Lisbon Europe with all its talk about punching its weight on the world stage — and the euro was supposed to be a political tool — reduced to a brawl over freeloading Greece, while Clegg tries to persuade himself that Cameron's rightist Latvian loony allies in the European Parliament don't really matter after all.

 

The minuet over Greece between dilatory, Bordeaux-sipping Angela Merkel of Germany and fidgety, mineral-water chugging Nicolas Sarkozy of France is also so agonising — the fury just beneath the forced friendship — as to be guffaw-worthy.

 

But of course people are dying in Greece, which is serious; and Americans are seeing their 401(k)'s wiped out by Greek contagion, which they believe to be serious; and the most important political experiment of the second half of the 20th century — the European Union — is in real trouble, which is more serious than it might appear. There's a case for holding the mirth.

 

Let's play the blame game, so dear to European leaders, for a moment. I'm sick of all this rubbish about

speculators ("wolf-pack behaviour" and the rest). So desperate are Europe's ministers to pass the buck that they're even blaming ratings agencies for taking note of the fact that Greece is broke — that's their job! — when said ministers have just finished blaming the agencies for ignoring risk — that's not their job! — in the run-up to the 2008 meltdown.

 

No, the blame for the Greek mess lies much deeper: in allowing Greece into the euro in the euphoria of 2000 and then watering down the stability pact (deficits not to exceed three per cent of national output) for France and Germany; in the current post-European German condition; and in the demise of any cohesive EU ambition as the British view of a loose trade pact rather than political union prevails.

 

Greece used to inflate away its inefficiency. It's OK not to pay taxes if you can impose taxation in the form of devaluations. That became impossible with the euro, but the practices — of tax evasion and rampant corruption and 14 months' salary — remained until the world woke up to the fact that Athens has a 13 per cent deficit as well as a new EU-funded airport.

 

Europe now faces the choice Timothy Geithner faced in the United States over a year ago: costly containment or collapse. I don't see a serious alternative to the $140 billion EU and International Monetary Fund Greek rescue; and an even bigger EU emergency funding facility should help shore up confidence. But the core problem — that the euro has bound vastly disparate nations in a halfway house where monetary and fiscal policy are not under unified direction — will fester.

 

It will fester in part because Germany has turned away from Europe. Merkel's delaying tactics have been shameful, costly — and revealing. Solidarity of the European kind is now a dirty word in Germany ("The Greeks are stealing our money!" screams the Bild tabloid) when European solidarity was once Germany's route out of post-war shame. There's something a little obscene about Germans wagging a finger at all these Greeks who have crossed the road on a red light.

 

If solidarity goes, Europe goes. As Ivan Krastev, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, put it to me, "Without solidarity, how do you convince Poles that Germans are prepared to die for them?"

 

But cohesion is at low ebb. I said the euro was a political project; it was. For the French, it had much to do with European unity, with "deepening" the European idea, and with a strong political Europe. With the Cold War's end, that's gone. "Broadening" has replaced deepening, to Britain's satisfaction and the single currency's cost.

 

A Cameron Cabinet is not going to rectify that, with or without England's prettiest polyglot, Clegg. It remains to be seen whether sterling will be sunk by Britain's own deficit woes or will benefit from standing clear of the euro mess. Certainly Britain doesn't have the money to buy the Greek islands and if Germany did, everyone would get nervous.

 

The party's over but, hey, let's all raise a glass (of ouzo) on the sinking European ship. It could be worse.

 

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

 


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INDIA SHINING OR INDIA STARVING?

BY VANDANA SHIVA

 

India became independent soon after the Great Bengal Famine that claimed two million lives. An independent and free India reclaimed her food sovereignty and food security.

 

The Harijan, a newspaper published by Mahatma Gandhi and banned from 1942 to 1946, was full of articles written by Gandhi during 1946-1947 on how to deal with food scarcity politically, and by Mira Behn, Kumarappa and Pyarelal on how to grow more food using internal resources. On June 10, 1947, referring to the food problem at a prayer meeting, Gandhi said: "The first lesson we must learn is of self-help and self-reliance. If we assimilate this lesson, we shall at once free ourselves from disastrous dependence upon foreign countries and ultimate bankruptcy. This is not said in arrogance but as a matter of fact. We are not a small place... We are a subcontinent, a nation of nearly 400 millions. We are a country of mighty rivers and a rich variety of agricultural land with inexhaustible cattle-wealth. That our cattle give much less milk than we need is entirely our own fault. Our cattle-wealth is any day capable of giving us all the milk we need. Our country, if it had not been neglected during the past few centuries, should not today only be providing herself with sufficient food, but also be playing a useful role in supplying the outside world with much-needed foodstuffs of which the late war has unfortunately left practically the whole world in want. This does not exclude India".

 

Recognising that the crisis in agriculture was related to a breakdown of nature's processes, India's first agriculture minister, K.M. Munshi, worked out a detailed strategy on rebuilding and regenerating the ecological base of productivity in agriculture, with the recognition that the diversity of India's soils, crops and climates had to be taken into account. The need to plan from the bottom, to consider every individual village and sometimes every individual field was considered essential for the programme called "land transformation". At a seminar on September 27, 1951, Munshi told the state directors of agricultural extension: "Study the life's cycle in the village under your charge in both its aspects — hydrological and nutritional. Find out where the cycle has been disturbed and estimate the steps necessary for restoring it. Work out the village in four of its aspects: existing conditions; steps necessary for completing the hydrological cycle; steps necessary to complete the nutritional cycle, and a complete picture of the village when the cycle is restored; and have faith in yourself and the programme. Nothing is too mean and nothing too difficult for the man who believes that the restoration of the life's cycle is not only essential for freedom and happiness of India but is essential for her very existence".

 

THE FOOD system is broken once again. Per capita consumption has dropped from 177 cal/day to 150 cal/day. And it has been broken deliberately through the Structural Adjustment Policies of the World Bank, part of the trade liberalisation rules of the World Trade Organisation. It is also being continuously broken by the obsession of the government to turn seed, food and land into marketable commodities so that corporate profits grow, even though farmers commit suicide and children starve. Two lakh farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. Farmers' suicides are triggered by debt, and the debt trap is created by a corporate-driven agriculture that maximises corporate profits by pushing non-renewable seeds and agri-chemicals on impoverished and innocent farmers. Every fourth Indian is hungry today, according to United Nations data. India has beaten Sub-Saharan Africa as the capital of hunger: One million children die every year as a result of under-nutrition and hunger; 61 million children are stunted; 25 million are wasted; 42 per cent of the world's underweight children are now in India.

 

Tinkering with fragments of the broken chain will not fix it. The food chain begins with the natural capital of soil, water and seed. The second link is the work of hardworking small, marginal farmers and landless peasants, most of whom are women. The final link is eating.

 

The first link has been broken by ecological degradation and corporate hijack of seed, land and water. When peasants lose access to land, seed and water, they lose access to food. Increase in hunger is a direct consequence.

 

The second link that has been broken is the capacity of the farmer, the food producer, to produce food. Rising costs of production, falling farm prices, and the destruction of food procurement by dismantling the public distribution system (PDS) creates debt. Since farmers are the backbone of India's food security and food sovereignty, breaking the farmers' back is breaking the nation's food security. There can be no food security in a deepening agrarian crisis.

 

The third link in the food chain is people's entitlement and right to food. The combination of rising food prices, decreasing production of pulses and nutritious millets has reduced the access of the poor to adequate food and nutrition. Hunger and malnutrition are its inevitable consequences.

 

And while millions of our fellow citizens starve, the government fiddles with poverty figures — 37 per cent in the Tendulkar Committee Report, 50 per cent in the Saxena Report, 77 per cent in the Unorganised Sector Report. This is a deliberate attempt to avoid addressing the rootcause of hunger and poverty. Poverty is a consequence, not a cause. But instead of addressing the food crisis, the government is addressing a fragment of the consequences of the crisis.

 

In the context of the food and nutrition crisis, the proposed National Food Security Act (NFSA) is a mere fig leaf. It is inadequate because it ignores the first two links in the food chain, and reduces the scope of existing schemes for the poor and vulnerable. For example, the NFSA offers only 25 kgs of grain, instead of the 35 kgs per family per month fixed by the Supreme Court. The Indian Council of Medical Research fixes the caloric norms at 2,400 Kcal in rural areas and 2,100 Kcal in urban areas. The Tendulkar Committee, which is now the Planning Commission's official basis, fixes average calorie consumption at 1,776 Kcal in urban areas and 1,999 Kcal for rural areas. Through juggling figures the hungry become well fed, the poor become non-poor.

 

Food security demands a universal PDS that serves both the poor farmers and the poor eaters by ensuring fair prices throughout the food chain. Instead the government is committed to ever-narrowing "targeting" because it is committed to handing over agriculture to global agri-business, and handling over so-called food security schemes to companies like Sodexo who will collect our tax money to distribute food coupons to the poor, who will in turn use the food coupons to increase the profits of MNCs.

 

As small farmers are displaced by agri-businesses, the destruction of natural capital will increase, further weakening the first link in the food chain. The agrarian crisis facing two-thirds of rural India will deepen. For a country as large, as poor, as hungry as India, food sovereignty and self-reliance in food production is not a luxury, it is a food security imperative.

 

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

 

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

REASONS OF THE HEART

BY S.M. SHAHID

 

 "For three weeks you have been after the poor fellow, even though Zia ul-Haq se aage jahan aur bhi hain", said Babboo.

 

"He was after you and me for 11 years", I replied.

 

"There are other topics to write on, topics that the masses love to talk about, hear about and watch with relish. For instance, you totally forgot the hottest of them all: Sania Mirza and Shoaib Sialkoti", said Babboo.

 

"He is Shoaib Malik, not Shoaib Sialkoti. Not even Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmad Faiz affixed with their name the word 'Sialkoti'. But, never mind, they didn't play cricket either."

 

"What's your point?"

 

"I am wondering why a cricket star from Sialkot landed in a former enemy country to marry a girl who didn't even play cricket", I said.

 

"She is a tennis star, you fool."

 

"I know, but why?"

 

"They met in Hobart", informed Babboo.

 

"Hobart?"

 

"It's in Australia. That's where both lost their matches and, perhaps in order to get over the dejection, they decided to fall in love. It is generally seen that in moments of common grief two perfectly normal and sensible people can become sentimental, fall in love, and even marry. On the other hand, when you are riding the crest, you have no time for such frivolous things", Babboo said.

 

"But even if they were in love, had they known what kind of media invasion they would face, I am sure they would have avoided tying the knot publicly. No two love birds in their right mind would stand helplessly, surrounded by a pack of wolves ready to tear them to bits?"

 

"You are right, Babboo. Not only the media, even the government and the people went berserk. A lady federal minister got so carried away that she crossed all limits and presented the tennis queen with a 25-tola gold crown. It was mass psychosis, and it was frightening, if you ask me", for once Babboo and I were in agreement.

 

"The TV announcers were so seized with mental turbulence that they started asking Sania Mirza extremely silly questions: 'Do you think you are going to be a good omen for Shoaib Malik?' Very embarrassing, you know."

 

"Yes, and one of the channels kept running a strip: 'Sania smiled today!'"

 

"And what about those cheap Pakistani love songs? Anyone having a refined taste for music, apne baal noch le ga. Even Shoaib and Sania would not like to hear such trashy songs, no matter what the occasion."

 

By now, both Babboo and I realised that there was no element of debate in our conversation. He at once changed track: "As you know, both Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmad Faiz too came from Sialkot and I am not sure what kind of music they played at their wedding, but they were at least sensible enough not to have crossed borders in order to fall in love and get married".

 

"There were no borders in those days, you fool", I corrected Babboo.

 

"They could have crossed into USSR or China", he argued.

 

"Shut up, yaar!"

 

"No, honestly, I feel Shoaib Malik should have taken into consideration — while going all the way to marry an Indian girl — the hassles inherent in such a venture, hassles like visas, culture shocks and communal backlash!"

 

"Hai apna dil to awara, na janey kis pe aye ga", I said.

 

"It is a silly song sung by a great singer", said Babboo, and added: "In the selection of British counties these cricketers would be shrewd enough to know what the package was, but in matters of the heart, phissal jate hain. Also, I tell you, Shoaib has not set a good example for young immature Pakistani cricketers who might be tempted to follow in his footsteps and start exploring for conjugal sign-ups in Zimbabwe, South Africa or the West Indies".

 

"Aren't you talking like TV anchors?" I said.

 

"Maybe, if you mean stretching a simple fact of life to ridiculous limits, getting excited on the slightest pretext, behaving most of the time in a juvenile manner — all because my employers have told me that I am there as long as I keep 'Breaking News'! Aaj Sania muskura deen, aaj Shoaib ne ek purani haray rung ki T-shirt pahan kar swalon ke jawab diye…"

 

"Have you realised that now all is quiet on the Western Front?" I pointed out.

 

"Eastern Front!" Babboo corrected me.

 

"Why?"

 

"Everything has a limit. They are tired and exhausted. Media ko ab saanp soongh gaya hai!"

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HATRED IS LIKE TAKING POISON

BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

 

A young man once asked his grandfather about an injustice that had left him enraged. The grandfather admitted that he, too, had felt such rage. "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart", he told him. "One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one".

 

The grandfather continued, "I, too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much from my life with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die". When he finished talking, the grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" "The one I feed", replied the grandfather.

 

Perhaps it was due to two wolves fighting in the heart of Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, that he asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Math 18:21-22).

 

One of the major struggles we often face in our lives is to do with people who need our forgiveness or those from whom we seek forgiveness. Sometimes we find it as difficult to forgive someone as others might find to forgive us for our wrongdoing. Nurturing a grudge against someone, we feel, gives us psychological satisfaction.

 

A few years ago when Gladys Staines, whose husband Graham and two young sons were burnt to death, appeared before the cameras after the incident and declared that she forgave the murderers, it left everyone stunned. Almost five years later when she decided to go back to her country, one of the leading newspapers carried an Internet survey which asked its readers, "Is the example that Gladys Staines set in India worth emulating?" A substantial 59.23 per cent of readers responded with a firm "No".

 

The readers' answers were born out of their (and our) own human, often extremely painful, experiences, where forgiving someone for such monstrous acts rarely surfaces as an option. Thus one is not surprised when one hears from the family members of the victims of violence that they want the culprit to be punished. As far as law is concerned that is what should, of course, be done.

 

But whether the law punishes the culprit or not, what happens to the one who suffers the loss and starts building hatred towards the other in one's heart. And what about those times when issues are more personal than legal? For instance, when we are betrayed by a friend or when a trusted person stabs us in the back or someone whom we have never harmed goes and does terrible things against us. Such incidents, besides leaving us wounded, make us angry, hurt and bitter. We may keep looking for an occasion to pay back the person in the same coin — and this, if we do not take care, can eat us up from within.

 

King Yudhishthira was asked by Draupadi, referring to the answer of Prahlad to his grandson Vali, "If forgiveness or might was meritorious?" In a rather long response Yudhishthira answered, "O beautiful one, one should forgive under every injury. It has been said that the continuation of species is due to man being forgiving. He, indeed, is a wise and excellent person who has conquered his wrath and shows forgiveness even when insulted, oppressed and angered by a strong person… forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind".

 

No wonder then that when his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus made it a point to make the prayer powerful but also added something to the prayer that would bring great healing: "…And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…" and hastened to add, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Math 6: 12 & 14-15).

 

Jesus is doing his best to show the importance and, indeed, the usefulness of forgiving others, like the grandfather telling his grandson that "hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die". Would we really not be creators of an incredible society when we would be able to forgive one another from our heart? And would that not be an ideal recipe worth adopting in the daily menu of life?

 

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.

 

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


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

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN EXPOSED

A TERSE MESSAGE FROM THE USA 

 

Hillary Clinton's warning to the Pakistan government in the wake of the abortive bomb blast in New York's Times Square has served to dissipate the recent simulated bonhomie between the visiting civil/GHQ delegation and the State Department. America has now put Pakistan on notice. Relations have soured further with Sunday's assertion by the Obama administration that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the plot. And this has been couched in the blunt message that Islamabad must move against the Islamist militants in the tribal belt. America has moved swiftly from courteous diplomacy to strong pressure, and this itself signals a definite change in stance. "If there is a successful attack, we will have to act," is the Administration's blunt message. The warning is reminiscent of Condoleezza Rice's threat to Islamabad ~ "act or we will" ~ in the immediate aftermath of 26/11. For all that, the reality remains that Pakistan has done little or nothing to rein in the Taliban, a challenge at once domestic and offshore. It has scarcely been forthright about its intentions. Its action against the militants have been half-baked at best and reluctant at worst. Meanwhile, the NY plot that misfired thickens. Washington's misgivings are confirmed with the Pakistani American, Faizal Shahzad, admitting to the bomb plot.  


The timing of the US warning is significant not merely because of its promptness; it coincides with a possible shift in strategy.  Notably, the debate over whether America should extend its presence beyond the Af-Pak frontier to Pakistani soil. Aside from the increasing drone attacks, Pakistan is sceptical about the possible involvement of American ground troops in due course of time.  Significant, therefore, is last Friday's meeting between General McChrystal and General Kayani. Quite obviously it was held in the backdrop of the Taliban's Times Square misadventure. The US commander in Afghanistan didn't mince his words in his interaction with Pakistan's army chief. "You can't pretend any longer that this is not going on. We are saying you have to go to North Waziristan." Which place incidentally was Faizal Shahzad's training turf in the bastion of Pakistan's Taliban and the Al Qaida. The American Ambassador, Anne Patterson's meeting with President Zardari illustrates that the USA has upped the ante, both diplomatically and militarily. But does the ISI have the will to counter the jihadists? This is the question the world must seek an answer to. In the interim, Pakistan stands exposed in the comity of nations. Not that it terribly matters to a fractious country.

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TRIAD' DOCTRINE

WILL IT BE ACCEPTED, IMPLEMENTED? 

 

FULL marks to the Chief of the Army Staff for talking of a "triad" of user, developer and producer in boosting the floundering indigenous defence manufacture effort. General VK Singh may have been speaking in the limited context of artillery firepower, but his observation is valid across the entire production scenario which is marked by the dismal reality that 70 per cent of military hardware continues to be imported. However, what is articulated in the seminar room seldom percolates beyond it so the General must set about reversing a mindset that has contributed in no small way to the army and air force ~ not the navy, for skewed reasons perhaps ~ distancing themselves from domestic development and production. Sure the "brass" will refute that, but the buyer-seller equation persists. Who can deny that had the in-house expertise and experience of the Army and Air Force been sincerely dovetailed into the MBT and LCA programmes they might not have attracted the "flagship failure" tag now attached to the DRDO's key projects. Those are two prominent examples, but the price of non-involvement has been paid ~ very often in foreign exchange ~ almost all down the line. That the "threat" from across land and air frontiers can be so easily sold to the sarkar has made resources available for liberally exercising the import option, placing indigenous alternatives on the priority backburner. The fact that the navy traditionally received the crumbs of the defence budgetary allocations fuelled a drive that has spanned Nilgiri through Delhi to Shivalik with an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine in the offing. Much of those successful programmes, undoubtedly they have shortcomings too, have been Navy-propelled.


Should the Army chief seek to "force" his triad doctrine to its logical conclusion he must identify the competence available in his service that can be seconded to the DRDO and production agencies. In fact that should be expanded into an all-service exercise, and  the ministry must carry the process forward by ending the isolated functioning of developer and producer by bringing them under a single, accountable head. It has been convenient for the Army and Air Force to stay aloof, not get their hands dirty, lest they then be saddled with "donkeys". But for how long can the exchequer be bled to sustain a less-than-responsible attitude? 

 

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

 


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ON THIN ICE

RIGIDITY PROVING NEPAL'S BANE 

 

POLITICIANS in Nepal are yet to show flexibility on what constitutes a consensus on the formation of a national government to help the constituent assembly meet the 30 May deadline for submission of a new constitution. At a trying time such as this, political parties should have displayed the same exemplary spirit they did in narrowing down differences while preparing the historic November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Ever since Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda stepped down in May last year in protest against the President's action in reinstating the army chief whom he had dismissed, the country has gone from bad to worse. The Maoists laid siege to parliament for nearly seven months demanding a debate on the presidential action and during this period nothing moved. Now they want the Nepal Communist Party (Unified Marxist-Leninist)-led coalition government of Madhav Kumar Nepal to step down to make room for a consensus government and "civilian supremacy". The Nepali Congress is firm on its preconditions that the Maoists must disband the Young Communist League, agree to terms on rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and return to the original owners all property seized during the rebellion days. In such a situation, there does not appear to be any hope of a breakthrough.


Last December's five-day Maoist strike failed to move the Prime Minister. If last week's six-day indefinite strike had continued there would have been large-scale public resentment and violence. Mercifully, it was suspended but only until the end of this week during which the Maoists say they will "wait and see" whether the Prime Minister vacates the seat. The possibility of the President taking over the country after 30 May is becoming a reality. Perhaps Madhav Kumar Nepal will restore some semblance of political peace if he resigns. After all, dissidents and even several party central committee members are reportedly against his continuance.

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

GOVERNMENT GOOFS UP, THE OPPOSITION ALLOWS IT TO

BY MR VENKATESH

 

L'affaire Hassan Ali is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle, packed in a conundrum and delivered through a riddle. What adds credence to the allegation that virtually the entire political establishment is enmeshed in this imbroglio is its complete silence in the recently concluded Budget session of Parliament. To understand this conspiracy ~ yes conspiracy ~ of our political class some chilling facts relating to Hassan Ali would at the

outset have to be narrated.


It may be recalled that the Union government, in an affidavit filed before the  Supreme Court stated that the tax demand pending against Hassan Ali was Rs 71,849.59 crore. (In contrast, the Income-tax levy on all individuals for the financial year 2009-10 is a mere Rs 113,000 crore only.) That was in May 2009. Subsequently, disclosing the list of defaulters in Parliament, the government informed that Hassan Ali topped the list of tax defaulters with outstanding arrears of more than Rs 50,000 crore. That was in August 2009.


Budget papers

IT may be noted that the Budget papers contain details of all tax dues (Income-Tax, Excise, Customs and Service Tax) to the Government (Annexure 10 to the Revenue Budget). This also details cases where the assessee has either disputed the same through an appeal as well as those where the assessee has not preferred an appeal. Believe it or not ~ Hassan Ali ~ the single largest tax defaulter was missed out by the Budget papers. That was in February 2010.


But the issue does not end here. Interestingly, the Finance Minister had in a post-Budget interview to The Week suggested that this tax from Hassan Ali was realized to the last penny. Perhaps it was an unintended slip-up by the FM. Subsequently, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) clarified that this money was not collected at all from Hassan Ali, barring a few million rupees. A classical case of the left arm of the government not knowing what the right one was up to! Simultaneously, the CBDT claims that serious efforts are on to recover this gargantuan amount of tax from Hassan Ali.


While one does not doubt these efforts of the  CBDT, what adds to our consternation is the amendment to the Income-Tax Act by Budget 2010 that allows tax evaders (including Hassan Ali) to approach the Settlement Commission and settle their tax disputes amicably. This is where tax experts are split down the middle. Some experts argue that this amendment to the IT Act would directly benefit Hassan Ali while others are of the opinion that it would not. It may be of interest to note that Hassan Ali had previously attempted to seek an amicable settlement to his tax issues in 2007, albeit unsuccessfully, through the Settlement Commission route. Needless to emphasize, the next move of Hassan Ali shall be watched with great interest.


Naturally, the debate is not about the efforts of the CBDT or the Government in attempting to recover the tax dues from Hassan Ali. Nor does the slip-up by the Finance Minister (or The Week) matter. Given the track record of the Government in tackling such convoluted issues in the past, all this posturing is akin to the proverbial rain dance of the African tribal chief. After all, the lessons of several past scams, notably Bofors, are too fresh in our minds to even take the explanations (Letters Rogatory, attaching immovable properties et al) of these institutions seriously.


Obviously, from here on only two explanations are possible. Someone in the Finance Ministry was incompetent or was programmed to be incompetent, probably the latter. And that is the crux of the issue.
If the amount of tax raised in excess of Rs 50,000 crore is any indication, it is obvious that under the prevailing tax rates, the income of Hassan Ali should be in excess of Rs 150,000 crore. And that is a conservative estimate even assuming that it was spread over a few years. Given the fact that Hassan Ali has a few properties across the country and a stud farm, the extent of his wealth, especially as deposits in foreign banks is mind-boggling.

 

Source of income

More importantly, what was his source of income that led to this huge tax bill in the first place? Surely, his stud farm cannot be the source of this gargantuan wealth. Has he laundered the entire earnings and parked it abroad? In the alternative has he parked some money in India too? Where is the balance? Has he routed some of this wealth into the stock exchanges in India through the opaque Participatory Note route? Was he laundering wealth of several prominent Indians and possibly some terrorists? Several questions that remain unanswered to this date.


Obviously, the "wealth" of Hassan Ali is not his wealth. Rather, it is quite possible that he is a conduit for several persons across the political spectrum, celebrities, industrial houses and of course criminals. That explains the thundering silence of our elite on this issue.


The IPL and even the Spectrum scam by comparison were relatively minor issues. Yet they rocked Parliament for several days in the recently concluded Budget session. In contrast, the entire Opposition (including the BJP and the Left) remained silent on the Hassan Ali issue. In the process, by refusing to raise this issue and nail the government on this affair, the Opposition actually bailed out the government.


The reason for the generosity of the Opposition is inexplicable unless of course one concedes that there is a tacit understanding and a convergence of interest between the Government and the Opposition in hushing up the Hassan Ali case.


The writer is a Chennai-based Chartered Accountant. He can be reached at mrv@mrv.net.in This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UK BIDS FAREWELL TO US-STYLE POLITICS

 

10 May 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of the formation of Winston Churchill's coalition government during World War II. By 8 May 1940, it had become clear that then Prime Minister and Conservative candidate Neville Chamberlain was incapable of leading Britain against a belligerent Germany. Consequently, he stepped down and made way for Churchill, who embarked on his historic prime ministerial term, one that ended with Britain's victory. He led a coalition government from 1940 to 1945 and brought in the Liberals and Labour as well.
Seventy years later, a lot has changed but some calculations still remain the same. What aided Churchill in leading his coalition was probably fear of German advance in Europe, an external threat that unified all three parties. Today, the United Kingdom faces the maximum threat from within the country, and it is not just from home-grown terrorists. The debts and the budget deficits are the UK's biggest worries. Yet, just like 1940, the British parliamentary arithmetic refuses to let the Conservatives govern the UK, despite the fact that the party won the maximum votes. For  David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, the jubilation of gaining 100 seats in this year's election is lost in having to strike a deal with  Nick Clegg's Liberal Democratic party and making them a "comprehensive offer".


April 2010 was the most fascinating pre-election period that the UK saw in decades. It heralded a series of firsts in the election history of this country. The Americanisation of British elections was hard to miss. A little bit of telly, over three Thursday evenings transformed a relatively open election in unprecedented ways. There is no denying that the US-style televised debates were historic. American and other debate experts were brought in to anticipate all possibilities. For the first time, party leaders faced each other in front of the entire nation and talked directly about facts and figures. Also, for the first time, Nick Clegg enjoyed the luxury of putting his face before the nation, a privilege that has never been granted to any Lib Dem leader before him.


It was not only the broadcasters who found a new toy to play with, courtesy America; the bloggers and tweeters found a wealth of new trivia to engage with. Just like presidential candidates in the USA, the prime ministerial candidates in the UK answered questions posed to them through Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. No stone was left unturned to engage the electorate. If all that was not enough, speculation on Nick Clegg as the "British Obama" brought parliamentary elections in the UK closer to the US presidential elections.


But on 6 May, as results started pouring in, it was clear that the UK had bid farewell to US-style politics. The stark reality of parliamentary elections and arithmetic was brought home by the hung parliament. Whereas the US voted Obama to victory, Clegg admitted to the BBC that in the UK, voters "decided to stick with what they knew best". Despite Clegg's pre-election surge in the polls after the leaders' TV debates, the Lib Dems won only 57 seats, which is down five on their result in 2005. For the past few days, what has been going on are negotiations between parties, primarily between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. After  Cameron made his offer of coalition to the Lib Dems on 7 May, keeping the "national interest" in mind, it is now Clegg's turn to respond.


A face-to-face meeting between Labour leader Gordon Brown and Clegg took place after it was reported that other top leaders of both parties met secretly over the weekend. In fact, some top Lib Dem leaders told the BBC that if Brown decided to step down as Prime Minister, a Lib-Lab coalition might be possible, though "illegitimate". Anything seems possible. It is also important to bear in mind that though the negotiating teams from the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are engaged in working out a coalition that all think are going in a "positive" direction, the ultimate decision will not be for them to make. Whatever decision is taken by the parties has to be aproved by 75 per cent of their MPs and 75 per cent of the parties' parliamentary bodies. So, for all the changes that Americanised politics induced in the UK, the stress levels related to a coalition government remains.
Clegg may not have proved to be Britain's Obama but it would be interesting to see if Cameron, if he is Prime Minister, has in him Churchill's skills to take one party, that is, the Lib Dems on board with him. Churchill took on two, 70 years ago, and, as many in the UK would agree now, he did just fine.

 

The writer is the London-based correspondentof The Statesman

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

NEWS ITEMS

 

TAXI-CABS FOR CALCUTTA

The first shipment of motor Taxi-cabs for Calcutta has now arrived by the S.S. Kincraig. The following are the various stands chosen:-


1. Loudon Street, corner of Theatre Road; 2. Opposite Bengal Club; 3. Opposite Great Eastern Hotel; 4. Fairlie Place, corner of Clive Street; 5. Store Road, Ballygunge; 6. Judges Court Road, Alipore; 7. Opposite Grand Hotel; 8. Inside Howrah Station; 9. Inside Sealdah Station; 10. Inside Fort William.


Other stands will be settled as necessity arises and the Company will always gladly consider any suggestions made about any required stands.


We are informed that the Company has acquired 40,000 sqr feet of land situated at Elgin Road, where the construction of a garage and repair works will be started almost immediately.


The Manager of the Indian Motor Taxi-Cab Company writes:- We find in your paper of Sunday the 8th instand a reference to our Company in the shape of an inquiry as to when a Taxi-Cab service is to be started in Calcutta. We have pleasure in informing you that we began service today (Monday) in Calcutta with some of the cars which have been received last week and which will be all placed in service during the next few days. We trust this service will give satisfaction to the public and shall be very happy to receive any suggestions which may tend to improve the said service.

 

The Allahabad Anglo-Indian Association, as a result of a recent conference, have appointed a sub-committee consisting of Messrs. Chiene Milsted and Robbie, to consider means of forming an employment bureau for the benefit of the unemployed of the community in these provinces.

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

GREECE WRESTLES WITH ITS CONSCIENCE

 

Number 23 Stadiou Street was once an elegant, cream-painted 19th-century villa close to the centre of Athens. It now stands, shabbily, on one of the many fault lines in the Greek capital. If you walk south towards Syntagma (Constitution) Square and the Acropolis, you find broad pavements and the expensive shops of any big Western city. If you walk to the north, the pavements splinter crazily, as if there had recently been an earthquake. You enter the Athenian, anarchist heartland.


Number 23 Stadiou Street is now a branch of the Marfin Egnatia Bank. Last week, persons believed to belong to an anarchist group (this being Greece, a thousand conspiracy theories thrive) threw a burning bottle of petrol through a downstairs window. The fire brigade was slow to arrive through crowds of mostly peaceful demonstrators. The bank security doors locked automatically. Some bank officials, working through a supposedly general strike, escaped. Three junior employees, a man and two women, died.


The pavement outside the bank has since become a shrine. Stadiou Street is now the place where Greece wrestles with its own conscience and its new-found status as a kind of sovereign Lehman Brothers: an overloaded, political and financial basket case which might tip the European, and world, economy back into recession.


Some mourners stare in blank disbelief at the charred windows. Others kiss the stones of the building, as if it were a place of Orthodox religious pilgrimage. There are heaps of roses, lilies and chrysanthemums.
Theresa Theologou, 41, a supermarket checkout worker, placed a bundle of red geraniums on the pile. "I didn't know these people but they could have been me. I have a daughter, and the dead child could have been my child," she said in excellent English. "I also work in the private sector. I also was ordered by my bosses to work through the general strike. They didn't deserve to die for that. The crisis in Greece is not their fault. It is not Europe's fault. It's not the markets' fault. I will tell you whose fault it is. Our politicians are thieves."
Pyromaniacs are people who like to play with fire. Pyromaniac is a Greek word, just like crisis, tragedy, Europe, catastrophe and paranoia are Greek words. Was it the young, masked, pyromanic prigs who threw the Molotov cocktail which set light to the building? Was it the pyromanic markets goading Greece closer and closer to the flames of financial calamity in recent weeks? Was it the European Union, which has, pyromanically, promised to send in the firefighters on half-a-dozen occasions but failed to supply water for their hoses? Greeks have learned, in recent weeks, to beware of northern Europeans, especially Germans, bearing gifts.


First and foremost, the fire was the fault of a small (very small) group of young, masked anarchists who bombarded riot police, overturned cars and hurled Molotov cocktails after a mostly peaceful, 70,000-strong demonstration broke up. They were drunk on self-righteous hatred of "the system", the Socialist-led Greek government, the European Union, the euro and, above all, "The Banks", as an emblem of capitalism and speculation.


The burning of the Marfin Egnatia Bank was, to the vast majority of Greeks, an aberration. Whatever the profound anger at the many-layered crisis enfolding the country, it is wrong to assume that further, serious violence is hanging in the dusty, Athenian air this spring.


The skirmishes between demonstrators and police after parliament passed a 30bn Euro austerity package were reported by some foreign, financial commentators as "riots". Hardly. They were more like a foolish, ritual dance in which the police (quite unnecessarily) swept demonstrators from Constitution Square and the demonstrators burned a few dustbins and threw a few stones as they departed.


The mood was summed up by Sissi Alonistiotou, editor of three weekly supplements of the respected, independent newspaper, Eleftherotypia (freedom of the press). Sissi said that she had come to the demonstration partly as a journalist, but mostly as a member of the public.


The bank deaths have stunned a country, which was already close to a nervous breakdown. Many Greeks interviewed in the last couple of days suggested that the fatal fire might actually calm the situation, acting as a kind of catharsis, just like the deaths at the end of a classical Greek tragedy. It would have been worse, they said, far more inflammatory, if one of the anarchist demonstrators had been killed. That might have touched off the kind of revengeful, rolling riots seen in Athens in December 2008.


Other Greeks fear that that the nation's anger, and sense of helplessness, is now so great that further violence is inevitable.


The massed ranks of the Communists marched past the burned bank. They chanted, "Communism is the voice of the people. No to the profits of capitalism." At every intersection, young Communists formed into a disciplined phalanx to prevent the march from being disturbed. They carried small flags, attached to short staves as thick as baseball bats.


George Kasimatis, president of the Greek chambers of commerce, supports the austerity package but bemoans the fact that the EU did not act earlier. "Two months ago the pain might have been less for Greece and for the whole world," he said. "Now we expect to lose 100,000 small businesses by the end of the year. I am not a politician. I do not wish to talk about the prospects for political violence but it cannot be excluded. And what we need most of all – especially for our biggest industry, tourism, is calm."


Two months ago, the mood in Greece was one of a dull, but resigned, acceptance that the game was up. Most people were ready to accept sacrifices, so long as the pain was spread evenly. Whether pain can ever be spread evenly in a system so endemically corrupt and perverse as the Levantine political and economic system of Greece is open to question. How can anyone trust a system in which large sections of the wealthiest members of society – from ship-owners to lawyers and doctors – have traditionally, and quite legally, evaded almost all direct taxes?


One of the subsidiary tragedies of the last few weeks has been the humiliation – by the markets and by Greece's eurozone partners – of a decent and competent Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, and Finance minister, George Papaconstantinou. A couple of months ago, many Greeks on both the Right and Left were prepared to accept that Papandreou was an honest man and Greece's last, best hope. He had started, albeit clumsily and slowly, to clear up the injustices and anomalies built into the Greek system. In return, most people were ready, despite union protests, to accept some immediate pain.


Now there is a sense of bewilderment and resentment that the self-fulfilling pressure of the markets has forced Greece into an even deeper hole than the one that it made for itself. And there is anger that other Euroland countries, and the Germans in particular, promised debt relief which never came or was too vaguely formulated to scare off the financial-market speculators. Papandreou is now dismissed by many Greeks – not all – as just another bumbling, self-interested chieftain of a corrupt ruling class.

The Independent

 

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


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

THE TELEGRAPH

OUTDATED IDEA

 

Nobody is quite sure exactly what it is a governor does in India. Positioned somewhat like the president who stands at the head of the nation's government, he or she is in a ceremonial post. But unlike the president, who is elected by a special method, the governor is nominated by the Union home ministry, and has no executive powers. Only when there is a total breakdown of governance within the state, which is rare, does the governor have a role in first, reporting it to the Centre and then, if need be, carrying out the dictates of Central rule. The idea may have been to replicate the president's apolitical position in the governor's, but it does not work that way. The governor is seen, in polite terms, as a "bridge" between the Centre and the states, and the convention of changing governors every time a different party comes to power at the Centre is almost as old as the ideal itself.

 

But the Supreme Court has ruled that governors cannot be removed on grounds of "lack of confidence" or "conflict of political and ideological opinions" by the party in power at the Centre. The ruling was made in response to a petition challenging the removal of the governors of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance government when it came to power in its first stint by defeating the National Democratic Alliance. The ruling exposes the machinery behind the appointment and removal of governors, which has been called arbitrary. Yet it is a pity that such a matter should be brought to court at all. Not only has the convention governing these appointments always been premised on reigning political dynamics, but governors are also appointees of the home ministry. As such, it is up to the home ministry, which is inevitably guided by whichever government is in power, to decide whether a governor should go or stay. In a polity that is built of competing political parties, the logic cannot be anything but political. And any post that is not an elected one would be subject to these ups and downs. Petitioning the court in such a matter is an attempt to impose one category of values on a completely different system of logic.

 

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

 

THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CLIFF'S EDGE

 

By the end of this month, Nepal may turn into a country without a government, a parliament and even a constitution. The Maoists there are working to ensure that the Himalayan State withers away in such a fashion. Before they can achieve that, they want to hold the government — and the people — to ransom. Their indefinite strike from May 2, which they had to call off in the face of public anger, was aimed at forcing a constitutional void. Nepal is currently run by a transitional government and a constituent assembly elected on the basis of an interim constitution. The assembly had a mandate to prepare a draft constitution during its term, which ends on May 28. It is obvious now that the assembly cannot do that. Worse, an extension of the assembly's term has become uncertain because the Maoists will not support any such move by the present government. And the government cannot muster the necessary majority in the assembly without the support of the Maoists, who have the largest number of seats. If such a constitutional crisis happens, it will be grist to the Maoists' mill. They have been working toward this ever since they left the interim government over the issue of the integration of their armed cadre with the Nepal Army.

 

However, a large part of the blame for the mess lies with the prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal. Right from the time he took over the reins of his 22-party coalition government, his primary aim has been to keep the Maoists at bay. This is not only confrontational politics at its worst but also a betrayal of the popular mandate. For all their bullying tactics, the Maoists form the largest political group in Nepal. Any government that denies this reality will lack both credibility and popular support. Mr Nepal's anxiety to settle scores with the Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has clearly distracted the former from more important business. His government failed to do enough in order to keep its commitment to prepare the draft constitution on time. More worrying is the fear that Mr Nepal's incompetence might endanger the peace process that ended the 10-year-long Maoist insurgency in the country. The United Nations' Mission in Nepal and several foreign powers want the prime minister to mend fences with the Maoists. Many parties and social groups now favour a national unity government to take charge and reach a political consensus. The future of the peace process is far more important for Nepal than its leaders' personal ambitions.

 

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


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FEAR AND FOREBODING

THE UNION HOME MINISTRY SHOULD STICK TO ITS OWN TURF

K.P. NAYAR

 

Pulling up Jairam Ramesh, the minister of state with independent charge of environment and forests, for his comments on the Union home ministry's paranoia over China will not solve any problem. It will only push a legitimate issue under the carpet and only for the time being.

 

The 'problem' of the home ministry in its present incarnation is far more complex than anything that can be addressed in a mere phone call from the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to his minister for environment. Ramesh has merely scratched the surface of a larger issue that has the potential to eventually eat into the fundamental structure of the Indian government and destroy the country's integrity as a State, which respects the rights of its citizens and residents.

 

The environment minister has obvious worries about the home ministry's "alarmist" approach to China, but what ought to be more alarming is that the Union home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, has so egregiously eroded the functional independence of the ministry of external affairs that there is now a logical case to merge the foreign and home ministries into one entity.

 

For that matter, tangentially, the home ministry has in recent months been steadily encroaching on what ought to be the domain of the commerce ministry, the flow of foreign investments into India and the work of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Deliberately or otherwise, the prime minister's office and the cabinet secretariat have also ceded considerable space to Chidambaram since he took over as home minister.

 

Take, for instance, S.M. Krishna's dogged effort since assuming office as external affairs minister to simplify and expedite the issue of passports. Consular services represent the public face of the MEA, and Krishna has pursued his mission as part of a belief that travel should be a basic right of every citizen of modern India without having to grease the palms of flat-footed policemen for a dubious 'clearance' before the issue of a travel document.

 

Krishna went about implementing his vision of 21st-century passport offices, emboldened by the success of his effort as Karnataka chief minister in transforming Bangalore into an Asian version of America's Silicon Valley. But Chidambaram's ministry has stopped Krishna in his tracks by refusing to dilute the power of policemen to ultimately control the right of ordinary Indians to a passport.

 

India's consular and citizenship rules are at their best archaic. Among the web of rules is one in fine print which says that if a passport expired more than a year ago and its holder is applying for a new passport, the application automatically becomes what is known as a "citizenship case". What it means is that a new passport cannot be issued until the officer handling the case is satisfied that the hapless applicant has not acquired another country's citizenship during the period when his passport was not valid.

 

It was a rule that nobody bothered to invoke until recently. But it is a reflection of the fear that the Union home ministry has now managed to spread — even in ministries and offices outside North Block — that those in government who take decisions which affect the lives of Indians are increasingly implementing the letter of the law. The result is a situation across the board in which man is made for the law and not the other way round, as it ought to be in any democracy.

 

That feeling of fear is perhaps only to be expected when a home ministry resorts to Orwellian behaviour and not only tries to seize control of the visas and passports process from the MEA, but even of the right to think itself from the ICCR, the ministry of human resource development and other similar agencies which ought to have nothing to do with Chidambaram's turf.

 

In February, the Union home ministry issued an order that scholars from Iran who wish to attend any conference of an academic nature must get prior clearance from the home ministry before they can be granted a visa by the Indian embassy in Tehran. The external affairs minister announced last month that he would travel to Iran in May. He is on a mission, which has the signature of the prime minister. The visit also has the explicit approval of Sonia Gandhi. Krishna's trip is an effort to improve bilateral relations, primarily on account of the worsening situation in Afghanistan, which urgently demands greater regional coordination.

 

If Krishna had not been an inherently decent man and did not have the experience of a chief minister and a governor in handling affairs of State, he too would have told the media before his trip or in Tehran that the home ministry is "alarmist" and "paranoid" about Iran, a country which has proved in the past to be India's friend in need.

 

India's high commissioner in Colombo recently told South Block that the Sri Lankans are extremely upset about a similar rule which requires Sri Lankan scholars to apply for a visa six weeks ahead if they plan to visit India for any seminar or workshop, so that the home ministry can suitably vet the visitor and flag a green light to the high commission. Because a McCarthy-type atmosphere reminiscent of the United States of America in the 1950s is now incipient in India on account of the actions of the home ministry, this high commissioner did not want to put any of this in writing. He is related to a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and whispers in South Block speak of fears that the modern day McCarthys of North Block may well have used that connection to have their way on this issue over the envoy's objections.

 

If the ICCR or the ministry of human resource development or the MEA's division dealing with public diplomacy were to organize an event on the Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, those coming from Bangladesh too would have to be pre-cleared by the home ministry before an invitation can be extended to them. The choice of words by Ramesh — "alarmist, paranoid" — are understatements when the home secretary, G.K. Pillai, pompously claims, as he did on Monday, that "our interests, our policy is to ensure that national security is protected" considering what such mindless vetting of some Bangladeshi scholar may reveal about Nazrul Islam's poetry.

 

Incidentally, Ramesh may not have been aware, when he spoke to Indian journalists in Beijing, that Chinese scholars too are covered by this February fatwa by the home ministry. He was certainly not aware, nor was the prime minister, that the very first Chinese scholar who was recently approved to visit Sikkim since it became a part of India in 1973 and was duly given a visa was unceremoniously stopped by minions of the home ministry as she crossed into Sikkim on her way from Bagdogra airport. It required a very high-level intervention from Indian diplomats in China before she was allowed to proceed to Gangtok. Does one need any bigger proof of the home ministry's paranoia about China when it chooses to selectively recognize visas issued by Indian missions and posts in China?

 

Commercial officers at Indian consulates in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom are frustrated that business ties between India and these countries are being jeopardized by the home ministry's ham-handed visa policies since Chidambaram took charge of the ministry. But they too dare not commit these problems in writing. And mostly, their bosses are unwilling to challenge the home ministry in the current atmosphere of fear of retribution for speaking their minds.

 

An Indonesian conglomerate, which has invested in India and wanted to expand its operations, has its plans put on hold after the home ministry expressed reservations about the company's plans to bring in some employees from Taiwan. What Ramesh did not know, it appears, was that the home ministry is paranoid not only about China but about anyone with Chinese features. Elsewhere in the world, this would be called racial profiling, but in the home secretary's dictionary, it is known as protecting national security.

 

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

 


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

REAL DEBATE

WORDCAGE -STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

 

'Mr Gladstone' —W.E. Gladstone, Queen Victoria's least favourite and most famous prime minister — could hold a crowd for two hours and more with a speech. These days, we're told, all that persuades in politics is sound bites, tweeting and opinion polls. I wonder. For all its tsunami of evasions, hypocrisies and plain lies, of tireless pontification by on-screen pundits, Britain's election campaign showed that the seriously-spoken, thought-out word still has remarkable power, even when it's claptrap.

 

Gladstone's verbosity was nothing unusual among the politicians of his day. The 19th-century speech now most famous is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Yet the keynote speaker that day was not he but Edward Everett, a defeated runner for the vice-presidency at the election that brought Lincoln to power. Everett spoke, and spoke well, for two hours, using over 13,000 words. Lincoln used 271 in less than three minutes. No contest, by today's standards. But not everyone thought so then.

 

Lincoln's address, said the Chicago Tribune, "will live among the annals of man". The Chicago Times called it "silly, flat, and dishwatery". That view was shaped by political animus, it's true. But our forebears did indeed like weighty words and plenty of them. If Gladstone was as ponderous with his queen as with other audiences, little wonder Victoria was said to have complained once that he addressed her "as if I was a public meeting".

 

Nor did this sort of oratory die fast, or everywhere. I once listened to a three-hour speech from a 1960s Italian politician — and filled barely one page of a small notebook with anything worth reporting. In 1961, I heard Nehru on Mumbai's Chowpatty sands. His audience was not quite as huge as the press had it. In those days, convention held that at that venue he drew a million listeners. I paced out the crowd, and, even if all were skinny and narrow-shouldered, there weren't above 250,000. Still, that's a lot — and not many had left by the late time I did.

 

Britain's election brought nothing like this. But it produced a novelty that improbably recalled the past: three 90-minute televised debates among the three main parties' leaders. True, the three were told to keep their remarks short and sharp. But I had never imagined that Britain's televiewers would stand for 90 unbroken minutes of serious political argument. Yet so it was, and — for a couple of weeks — British politics was turned upside down: after 80 years of near-irrelevance, Gladstone's Liberal Party, today's Liberal Democrats, was back in business.

 

Thanks to the command of language (and, I grant, the youthful good looks) of the Lib-Dems' leader. One can overvalue persuasion, as against fact. There are indeed Britons — as in several countries, India not least — who'd like electoral law to do so: one ninny wrote to a London paper urging a ban on the publication of opinion-poll results during the campaigns, so voters could hear more about party policies.

 

The politicians' usual argument for this is so that we shan't be influenced by dubious pollsters; as against, presumably, their ever-truthful selves. This is rubbish. Pollsters aim at fact, politicians seldom do so, and if either group is to be censored, it should be they. Happily, most of us think neither should be. Sure, free speech will include free lying. But so be it; and as an addict of language, I rejoice to see politicians, honest or less so, rediscover its use for solid argument in real debate.

 

Well, fairly solid, fairly real. The three men were held to their promises of brevity and, as the election results showed, the effects too were short-lived. Triviality will probably triumph in the end: the sound bite, the Twitterbug, the political blogger's semi-literate ranting and abuse, the 30-second YouTube clip. But maybe that dismal day can be postponed at least till I'm no longer around to lament it.

 

thewordcage@yahoo.co.uk

 

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


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

EDITORIAL

CASTE ASIDE

''PARTIES ARE PLAYING POLITICS WITH CENSUS.''

 

The government seems to have been persuaded by political parties to accept the demand for collection of caste data about citizens as part of the 2011 census operations. Most parties, especially those identified with the backward castes, had made a strong demand for inclusion of caste as a category in the census during the last session of parliament. The Union cabinet discussed the matter and was reported to have been divided on it. The decision to finally go in for a caste census lacks logic and rationale. The last caste census was done in the country in 1931. It was stopped  because  eliciting information about the caste status of  citizens amounts indirectly to accepting castes. Caste is reality of Indian life even now but it is wrong and unnecessary to  put an official stamp on it.


The argument that caste data will help to find out the relationship between caste and economic status cannot be accepted. Census is not social and economic survey. The details gained from it cannot be reliably used for formulation of policies that address social or economic backwardness. The census enumerators are not qualified and trained to undertake a scientific and rigorous survey. There are many practical difficulties inherent in a caste survey. The government has listed about 6,000 castes and sub-castes. The states have their own lists. There are other surveys that add thousands more to these lists. Enumeration and categorisation of such large and confusing data is beyond the scope the census. The top census authorities and the home ministry have opposed the idea as it was felt that it would compromise the integrity of the census and make the exercise far more complex and difficult.


The demand for caste-wise information has mainly arisen from the feeling that the number of people belonging to backward castes may be more than what is estimated now. Parties are also looking at the political potential of demanding changes in reservation percentages on the basis of the new data. But moves to make such changes in the reservation system can be socially disruptive and can lead to political turmoil. Neither an increase in the overall reservation limit nor any change in the relative shares of castes in the reservation pie will be advisable or desirable. Parties are playing politics with census for their own narrow gains. Instead of trying to reduce the role and relevance of caste in society and politics, they are promoting it.

 

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CHINESE FANTASY

''IT IS SHOW-CASING CHINA AS THE WORLD'S FACTORY.''

 

With the opening of the Shanghai World Expo on May 1, China has sought to create another symbol of its rising power and project its premier city as the world's metropolis of the future. There is nothing understated about the expo and in typical Chinese idiom, everything about it is done to mega scale and in the superlative. At a cost of $45 billion, more than what China spent on the 2004 Olympics, it is called China's economic Olympics.


Billions more are spent on improving the city's infrastructure. The expo will be on for six
months and is expected to attract 70 million visitors, ie one out of every 100 people on earth, and will easily surpass any other expo held anywhere in the past.


The idea is to showcase China as the world's factory and impress the globe with the strides it has taken. The achievement does not need iteration but China wants to say it with pomp and spectacle. There are doubts about the economic returns from the expo as the investment may not be recouped during its duration. It is not a trade fair and so there won't be any business deals. But China does not seem to mind, as the aim is more brand-building than business. It is an attempt to create a fantasy of shapes and colour as a metaphor for the new China. China has recently been keen on projecting its soft power, in support of the increasing economic and political power it is wielding in the world. The Shanghai extravaganza is also meant to convey the message of power and aspiration with aplomb. There is criticism that thousands of people were displaced from the land where the huge pavilions have come up and from the nearby area where another big project, a Disneyland, is taking shape. But China has lived with the criticism for long.


The grand project also serves a domestic purpose. It panders to rising Chinese nationalism and pride and appeals to the people as another symbol of excellence admired by the world. Chinese authorities are keen to fuel the patriotic sentiment among the people to keep in check the various conflicts arising from development. There may also be subtle a political dimension. The expo may signify the return of the assertive and nationalist Shanghai faction in the communist party to the centrestage. Whatever be the meanings, the expo is made to stun and vow the world.

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SOREN'S GOMANGO ACT

BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN


There is an urgent need to debar chief ministers from voting in parliament by consensus or by law.

 

Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren became the second chief minster to participate in the voting in Lok Sabha on April 27. Over 11 years ago, then Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gomango created a history of sorts when he cast his vote in the Lok Sabha on April 17, 1999, in favour of the no-confidence motion against the NDA government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. His vote proved crucial as the government fell on the floor of the House by just one vote. Then BJP had taken strong exception to Gomango's participation in the vote. Ultimately, then Speaker GMC Balayogi left it to Gomango's conscience as he could not have asked him (Gomango) not to vote when he was still a member of Lok Sabha. Gomango participated in the vote and later justified his stand that he was bound by the party whip. While Gomango pulled down the NDA government, Shibu Soren destabilised his own government as an incensed BJP withdrew support to Soren's government within one day.


The BJP, which traduced the Congress in 1999 for directing Gomango to participate in the no confidence vote, had no compunction in calling Shibu Soren to vote for the cut motion.


The BJP distanced itself from Soren after he sprang a surprise by voting in favour of the government betraying his alliance partner, but again lapped him up once the carrot of chief ministerial chair was dangled before it. Apart from being immoral, the BJP acted unwisely by calling Soren to Delhi. Cut motions have never been passed in Lok Sabha and this time too it never appeared that the scale was so evenly balanced that even one vote could tilt it.


It is a question of propriety, not of technicality. The Indian parliament is not supreme or sovereign like the British parliament. Barring some exceptions, state legislatures are autonomous and sovereign like parliament. Soren is a member of one sovereign body (Lok Sabha) while he heads a state government which is responsible to another sovereign body, the state legislative assembly. By virtue of being the chief minister he has been participating in the proceedings of the Vidhan Sabha even without being its member. So, he participated in the proceedings of two sovereign bodies simultaneously.


It was a repeat of what Gomango did earlier. Now imagine a situation that the Union government dismisses the Jharkhand government and imposes President's rule. Now will Soren come and cast his vote on the motion in parliament which has to ratify the dismissal? If yes, then will not militate against the basic principle of natural justice that nobody can be a judge in his own cause?


The Constitution provides that any one can be appointed minister, chief minister or even prime minister for a period of six months but s/he has to get elected to the respective House within that period in order to continue in that post. This was done to obviate the technical requirement which could prevent competent people from getting these posts even though it is in public interest. In Nepal, this provision of six months applies only to ministers and not the prime minister. That is why, in 1991, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai could not become prime minister again after losing the election despite his immaculate career and support from different cross sections.

Dual membership

In India, there is no provision of dual membership of the legislature. If a member of one House is elected for another House, then s/he has to relinquish the membership of either House within 14 days. Only once dual membership was allowed when members of provincial legislatures were made eligible for becoming members of the Constituent Assembly also. When the Central Assembly was converted into the Constituent Assembly for framing the constitution, it was decided to have as many representatives from states as were in the Central Assembly. This number was divided among all provinces in proportion of their population. Under the provision of dual membership, MLAs were elected members of the Constituent Assembly also, and all chief ministers, several ministers and even speakers. This was done to give a voice to states in the shaping of the Constitution. They were not supposed to make or unmake the government as it was a national government in which representatives of all parties including the Muslim League and the Justice Party were accommodated in the cabinet. As soon as the Constitution was adopted on Nov 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly was converted into the Provisional Parliament and representatives with dual membership vacated their seats.


Elections were held for those vacant seats and dual membership was barred. However, MPs who become chief ministers seem to be enjoying dual membership. Some provisions spring up from the rich soil of necessity but the technicality should not be enlarged to the extent that its very spirit is subverted.


The Speakers' conference should take up this issue and if a resolution is passed that a chief minister or minister in a state will not be allowed to vote in parliament, then such a member will be debarred from voting by the presiding officer, and the whip will not apply to him. In fact, whip is not a fully democratic method to discipline members. In western democracies, representatives exercise a 'free mandate', where as in Communist-dominated countries, the rule is that of the 'imperative mandate' which subordinates the representative totally to the party hierarchy. In both Germany and France, this principle of 'free mandate' has been incorporated in the Constitution. Article 27 of the French Constitution is categorical that any imperative mandate to a member of parliament is null and void. President De Gaulle took recourse to this article for justifying his refusal to call a special session of parliament in 1960. However, in the Indian context, whip is essential to some extent otherwise horse trading will finish democracy.

 

There is a need to debar chief ministers from voting in parliament by consensus or by law. Earlier, the situation did not arise as states had strong leaders and MPs or ministers from the Centre did not go back to the state as chief minister. The first instance of an MP becoming chief minister is that of Prakash Chandra Sethi who went to Madhya Pradesh in January 1972 when he was an MP. Now it often happens.

 

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

 


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AGE OF CATASTROPHE

BY MARIO SOARES, IPS


Weapons sales should be reduced and a culture of peace should be establish-ed and nourished.

 

Even Pangloss from Voltaire's Candide, with his incurable optimism, would find today's world hard going. Nature and humanity have let loose their respective demons and no one can rein them in. In many areas, the earth has battered us repeatedly with cyclones, tidal waves, earthquakes, floods, and most recently the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that shut down airports across northern and central Europe. It is a sad and unprecedented spectacle.

Some — the rash and least discerning — will say that these are simply normal, natural occurrences. But for those who are 80 or older, as I am, and never saw or even heard of anything like this series of catastrophes, it is prudent to ask whether it is possible that man is to a certain extent responsible, having threatened the natural equilibrium of the planet, abusing and degrading it with his blind, unconscious actions.


Vested interests

The Climate Change Summit held in Copenhagen last December was supposed to condemn and address global warming but ended in total failure in the form of a suspicious agreement worked out at the last minute between China and the US. By coincidence — perhaps — these two great powers happen to be the largest polluters on the planet. They managed to stymie the European contingent, which they dismissed as of marginal importance, and various delegations from other continents who were expecting positive results from the meeting.


What is more worrying is that certain scientists have taken positions openly contrary to the overwhelming majority of ecologists and are asserting that global warming is not caused by human activity or the excessive use of hydrocarbons but is rather a natural phenomenon. This suggests to me that there are some people willing to pursue financial gain at any cost and place their immediate interests above any other consideration without a peep from their consciences — if they have one.


However, I am convinced that at the next World Climate Change Conference scientific truth will prevail and the major powers will be obliged to respect rules intended to radically contain global warming.


But the risks the planet now contends with are not just those considered natural catastrophes, which occur with clear and worrying frequency. Global terrorism continues to wreak havoc, since 2001. Too many nations have nuclear weapons. These must be limited. In this context, a remarkable development with very positive political and geostrategic ramifications is the agreement that Barack Obama succeeded in working out with Russia and China to reduce the three countries' nuclear weapon arsenals and keep non-nuclear nations from obtaining them.

In a world as dangerous as ours — consider only the number of unresolved armed conflicts underway — it is essential that weapon sales be reduced and that a culture of peace, now tirelessly promoted by former UNESCO director-general Federico Mayor Zaragoza, be established and nourished. At the same time we must avoid and control to the greatest extent possible every form of incitement to violence that is constantly propagated via the media and especially television (consciously or not), now in a clear process of escalation.


All governments of the world that see themselves as upholding the rule of law and that must therefore respect and protect human rights have an obligation to adopt policies and  measures to create a culture of peace and repudiate systematically, with teaching, all of the forms of violence that enter our homes daily. We must do this for the health and survival of our descendants and the future of humanity.


The threats we face today come from various directions: uncertain and directionless political leadership, an unregulated economy waiting for the current crisis to pass, and the string of calamities. It is time for the people of the world to open their eyes, react, and demand solutions.

 

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DUBIOUS DUBAI

BY VINITA KRSIHNAMURTHY


Life should have been smooth sailing, but for a 'Modi'fied problem.

 

 

Poor Dubai seems to be having a bad year. The otherwise booming real estate collapsed into a debt trap as if the tall spire of Burj Khalifa had pricked the bubble. And no one expected that creating an International City would invite all kinds of international problems.


First, Israeli gunmen chose to murder a senior Hamas leader in a Dubai hotel. Then as if to fill in the gap for M F Hussein who moved to neighbouring Qatar, the city now awaits Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza to make their home there. Of course Malik had earlier bowled another Hyderabadi maiden over and many shouted that it wasn't quite cricket. Thanks to Dubai that played third umpire, the match was set.


While the Shoaib-Sania story was their internal affair, the great Dubai story is about the Indian Premier League's external affair. One fine morning, the 'who's who of Dubai' were curiously asking "Who's She?" about the glamourous owner of an IPL team. Even the 'karmayogis' from 'Karama' wanted to know the 'satya' from 'Satwa'. Apparently most of the P3Ps were content to mingle with the stars, but one of them asked for the moon and actually found one mooning over her. The benevolent radiance also purportedly arranged a rendezvous with a sports club and 70 crores in equity — no sweat!


Life should have been smooth sailing, but for a 'Modi'fied problem. The IPL commissioner wasn't happy with the successful Team Kochi bid. So while the moon tweeted, he decided to blow the whistle. The former used technology to wax eloquent about his views and latest muse while the latter recorded transactions. Anyway, damning evidence or a convenient excuse for higher authorities to get rid of a liability saw the moon completely eclipsed.

In India, no other game can match cricket when it comes to ugly scandals. Dubai should have known this before opening its cricket stadium exactly a year ago. Now all it can do is sigh and ready a villa on the stationary fronds of Palm Jumeirah for the latest migrants from the Indian subcontinent — Mr and Mrs Tharoor.

 

. ***************************************


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

THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

REJOICE ON JERUSALEM DAY

BY ISI LEIBLER

 

Jerusalem, referred to over 600 times in the Bible, has represented the cornerstone of our Jewish identity for more than three millennia since it became the capital of King David's Israelite monarchy. It remained at the core of our spiritual longings following the second dispersion when for 2,000 years our forefathers faced Jerusalem in their daily prayers, yearning for a return to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, even throughout their exile, Jews retained a significant presence in their Holy City and since the 1840s have constituted the largest group inhabiting the city.


Jerusalem also has major religious significance for Christians and Muslims, both of whom denied freedom of worship to other religions when they ruled over the city. During the Jordanian control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967, in flagrant breach of armistice agreements, Jews were refused all access to holy sites, and synagogues and graveyards were desecrated and destroyed. And the world remained silent.


Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the government of Israel – for the first time – ensured that all faiths could freely worship and maintain their religious institutions. If anything, the Israeli authorities discriminated against Jews, denying them the right to worship on the Temple Mount lest Muslims took offense.

Yet to this day many Palestinians deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in the city and make preposterous allegations that the Jewish holy sites, including the Temple, were Zionist fabrications concocted to justify "the Jewish colonialist enterprise."


To this end they have been systematically destroying archeological evidence on the Temple Mount.


In addition, we are now faced with a determined campaign in which most of the world, including the Obama administration, is pressuring us to once again divide Jerusalem. Even prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, on the eve of his assassination warned the Knesset that Jerusalem must remain united. And indeed in this day and age the concept of dividing cities is considered retrograde.


We are also painfully aware of the appalling track records of many Islamic states which deny freedom of worship to non-Muslims. The record of the Palestinians in this context is particularly vile, and we should be

under no illusions how they would behave if they gained control of the holy sites.


But beyond this there is also the question of security. Every Israeli withdrawal in recent years has led to emboldening the jihadists and intensified aggression and terror. A division of Jerusalem would virtually guarantee that a corrupt or impotent Palestinian Authority or a rabid Hamas would be tempted to launch terror actions against neighboring Jewish areas.


JERUSALEM DAY should therefore not merely be a day of celebration. It should also be a day in which we pledge that, irrespective of the creative solutions devised to provide greater autonomy for Arabs in Jerusalem, the city must never be divided and Israel must remain the custodian to guarantee freedom of worship to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Alas, today, many of us tend to overdramatize the challenges confronting us and display a penchant for self criticism which approaches masochism. Jerusalem Day should be a day when we give thanks to the Almighty for His intervention and pay tribute to those who fought against overwhelming odds to reunite the city and establish our national homeland.


Despite successive wars, facing ongoing terror and still being surrounded by enemies pledged to destroy us, Israel is here to stay. Seven and half million Israeli citizens, three quarters of whom are Jews, have achieved a demographic critical mass and notwithstanding the many doomsday predictions, the Jewish state can never be undone.

And despite an absence of natural resources, we have transformed our country into a veritable economic powerhouse which has achieved miraculous progress in science, technology, industry and agriculture. Tiny Israel has more hi-tech start-ups and companies listed on NASDAQ than any country other than the US. Our arts and cultural development is expanding and we continue producing Nobel Prize winners.


We have undergone a religious revival and today there are more Jews in Israel learning

Torah than in any age in Jewish history.


We have successfully absorbed millions of Jews, the majority being Holocaust survivors and refugees finding haven from oppression. They originate from all four corners of the globe ranging from Western olim to Ethiopians. And while the integration process has still a long way to go, no society in the world has succeeded in absorbing such a mass of immigrants and molding them into a nation.


WE SEE the shocking global resurgence of anti-Semitism, mankind's oldest and perennial hatred, throughout the Western world. Many Diaspora Jews, especially in Europe, have reached the obvious conclusion that there is no future for their children in societies that treat them as pariahs. In contrast, our children live without ever experiencing the pain and humiliation of discrimination or being treated as inferior. For them Jewish identity is natural and requires no justification. The world applies double standards against us. With millions of innocent human beings murdered or denied human rights, we Jews remain the people who dwell alone.


The bitter lesson of our history has been that while we are obliged to forge alliances, ultimately we must rely on our own resources, rather than the goodwill of others. That is why we should continuously celebrate the fact that after 2,000 years of persecution, degradation and exile, the creation of a Jewish state has now empowered us. We must realize that so long as the majority of our people remain determined, our future rests in our own hands Those who wail about our shortcomings and the corruption within our ranks should realize that it is a mark of a a healthy society when it transparently discloses its weaknesses and exacts harsh punishment on leaders who transgress.

We failed to achieve peace with our neighbors because we lack a peace partner. For years we deluded ourselves into believing that providing Arabs with land would achieve peace, only to belatedly realize that the Palestinian goal was neither peace, nor an independent state for themselves. Their primary objective was to deny legitimacy to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

 

When in years to come, our neighbors ultimately come to the realization that they can never vanquish us, they will follow the example of Egypt and Jordan – and appoint leaders who will peacefully coexist and enjoy prosperity with us.

I often contemplate what our grandparents would have thought during the dark years of the Holocaust had someone predicted to them that the Jewish people would rise like a phoenix from the ashes to resurrect a Jewish homeland which would become the greatest success story of our century. That is the theme that should run through our minds as we celebrate Jerusalem Day. And it should make us smile.

 

leibler@netvision.net.il

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

TERRA INCOGNITA: THE DANGERS TO INFORMATION IN TODAY'S AGE

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN

 

In the early 1980s, Peter Armstrong, a BBC television producer, had a brilliant idea; he would produce a modern Domesday book fit for the information age. The original Domesday book had been compiled between 1085 and 1086, following William the Conqueror's conquest of England. It was intended as a survey of all the land holdings and places in England, with the very typical government interest in finding out who could be taxed and for how much. Armstrong hoped to harness new computing technology to create a massive database, complete with pictures, maps and interactive video. He hoped to have the project completed by 1986 for the 900th anniversary of the original.

The project, with funding from the BBC and the European Commission, was completed on time and included a wealth of information and data. The public, it seems, lost interest and while the original intention was to have the information available in libraries and educational facilities, the exorbitant cost of the disks  produced ($7,000) and ignorance of their existence meant they passed into irrelevance.

In 2002, Lloyd Grossman, a UK broadcaster, noted that as technology outpaced itself, it was endangering older formats that were becoming not only obsolete but would lead to irretrievable losses in data. Grossman was right. It turned out that in 2002 the number of computers that could access the 1986 Domesday data was dwindling. Emergency meetings and a campaign by the BBC resulted in a team from the University of Leeds and University of Michigan developing a way to "migrate" the old data to new formats that could be read by computers of 2010.


The story of the new Domesday book is but one example of the way new technologies may ultimately frustrate researchers and archivists who believe they are preserving data. The irony will be that in 100 years it may be hard to access information about the 1990s, while information from the 1890s remains. But there are other problems with the way information is being a protected: Modern technologies are being used by archives to "preserve" information only to result in the disappearance of the resources themselves.


CONSIDER A few examples from Israel. There was once an aerial photo archive at the Hebrew University's Geography Department. The archive contained images from the British 1944-1945 aerial survey of Mandatory Palestine. The British had embarked on something unique at the time – an aerial survey of every meter of the country using low-flying planes with cameras. Copies of the images ended up in a few places in Israel: the Survey of Israel offices in Tel Aviv, Hebrew University, and some found their way to Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi (a Jerusalem archive established in memory of the country's second president).


At one point someone decided to scan the aerial photos that the university had at its Mount Scopus campus. The idea was simple: Scanning the images would allow everyone in the world to see them. They were briefly put on-line and then vanished. Two years ago, it was still possible to get access to the archive by special appointment. But by then the scanned images cost around $20 each, supposedly offsetting an archive that was barely open. Eventually the last archivist at the "archive" was let go and the doors closed for good.


The Central Zionist Archives committed a similar act, although with different results. It has an indescribably extraordinary collection of maps from the pre-state period. These are both British survey maps and maps prepared by various Zionist organizations then purchasing and developing the land. The archive decided to scan the maps with the intention of preserving them and making them more accessible to the public. The result was that the public, or even researchers, may no longer access the original maps but must make do with a zoomable image on a computer that can be downloaded by the archive for a fee of $15 for the first map and $9 for each additional one.


As anyone who has read a book on a computer or Amazon's Kindle will reveal, the experience of seeing a scanned image on a computer is not the same as holding it in one's hand.


Compare this to the Israel State Archives, which continues to have an "archaic" policy of allowing people to view the actual files and photograph them free of charge. Compare it to the map libraries at Hebrew University, both of which contain invaluable maps, that also allow researchers to photograph them for free. In the interest of making the maps available to all, the Central Zionist Archives actually made the originals inaccessible and made it cost-prohibitive to work with them.

 

ARCHIVES ARE undergoing a slow but apparently inevitable process of digitalization. One by one, collections are scanned and then hidden in vaults. The scanned images sometimes are then made available for a fee. For the archive, this saves personnel hours of schlepping files back and forth. It also apparently preserves the files for eternity. Or does it? The Domesday scandal reveals that the appearance of the miracle of modern methods of preservation can also be like the Sirens were to Ulysses – a dangerous temptation that may destroy the entire edifice.

The writer is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ACCEPTING ISRAEL AS THE JEWISH STATE

BY DANIEL PIPES

 

When a major Arab state finally signed a peace treaty with Israel, it was long assumed, the Arab-Israeli conflict would end. The Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, however, buried that expectation; it had the perverse effect of making other states – and also the Egyptian populace – even more anti-Zionist.


The 1980s gave birth to a hope that, instead, Palestinian recognition of Israel would close the conflict. The total failure of the 1993 Declaration of Principles (also known as the Oslo Accords) then buried that expectation.


What now? Starting about 2007, a new focus has emerged, of winning acceptance of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert set the terms: "I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state. This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state."

 

Olmert was Israel's worst prime minister, but he got this one right. Arab-Israeli diplomacy has dealt with a myriad of subsidiary issues while tiptoeing around the conflict's central issue: "Should there be a Jewish state?" Disagreement over this answer – rather than over Israel's boundaries, its exercise of self-defense, its control of the Temple Mount, its water consumption, its housing construction in West Bank towns, diplomatic relations with Egypt, or the existence of a Palestinian state – is the key issue.

 

Palestinian leaders responded with howls of outrage, declaring they "absolutely refused" to accept Israel as a Jewish state. They even pretended to be shocked at the notion of a state defined by religion, although their own "Constitution of the State of Palestine," third draft, states that "Arabic and Islam are the official Palestinian language and religion."


Olmert's efforts went nowhere.

ON TAKING over the premiership in early 2009, Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Olmert's point in his diplomacy. Regrettably, the Obama administration endorsed the Palestinian position, again sidelining the Israeli demand. (Instead, it focuses on housing for Jews in Jerusalem. Talk about the heart of the issue.) If Palestinian politicians reject Israel's Jewish nature, what about the Palestinian and the broader Arab and Muslim publics? Polls and other evidence suggest a long-term average of 20 percent acceptance of Israel, whether in the Mandatory period or now, whether by Muslims in Canada or by Palestinians in Lebanon.


To learn more about current Arab opinion, the Middle East Forum commissioned Pechter Middle East Polls to ask a simple question of 1,000 adults in each of four countries: "Islam defines [your state]; under the right circumstances, would you accept a Jewish state of Israel?" (In Lebanon, the question differed slightly: "Islam defines most states in the Middle East; under the right circumstances, would you accept a Jewish state of Israel?") The results: 26 percent of Egyptians and 9% of urban Saudi subjects answered (in November 2009) in the affirmative, as did 9% of Jordanians and 5% of Lebanese (in April 2010).


The polls reveal broad consensus across such differences as occupation, socioeconomic standing and age. For no discernable reason, more Egyptian women and Saudi and Jordanian men accept a Jewish Israel than their gender counterparts, whereas among the Lebanese both sexes rank similarly. Some significant variations exist, however: as one would expect in Lebanon, 16% of (largely Christian) north Lebanon accepts a Jewish Israel in contrast to just 1% in the (mostly Shi'ite) Bekaa Valley.


More significantly, weighting these responses by the size of their populations (respectively, 79, 29, 6 and 4 million) translates into an overall average of 20% acceptance of Israel's Jewishness – neatly confirming the existing percentage.


Although 20% constitutes a small minority, its consistency over time and place offers encouragement. That one-fifth of Muslims, Arabs and even Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state suggests that, despite a near-century of indoctrination and intimidation, a base for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict does exist.


Would-be peacemakers must direct their attention to increasing the size of this moderate cohort.


Getting from 20% to, say, 60% would fundamentally shift the politics of the Middle East, displacing Israel from its exaggerated role and releasing the peoples of this blighted region to address their real challenges. Not Zionism but such, oh, minor problems as autocracy, brutality, cruelty, conspiracism, religious intolerance, apocalypticism, political extremism, misogyny, slavery, economic backwardness, brain drain, capital flight, corruption and drought.


The writer (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

GRAPEVINE: A 'BIBLICAL WEATHER EVENT' AT THE ISRAEL MUSEUM

BY GREER FAY CASHMAN

 

THE LAST thing that Israel Museum director James Snyder anticipated – at the ceremony naming David Jesselson of Switzerland and Israel, Patricia Lazar Landau of France, Ninah and Michael Lynne of the US, Isaac Molcho and Amos Oz of Israel and Jonathan Rosen of the US as honorary fellows of the museum – was a dust storm. The ceremony was held outdoors and more than 500 people from 15 countries shivered as the wind disheveled their appearance, howled through the microphone and blew dust into their faces.


Making the best of the situation Snyder in observing that many challenges still have to be faced in Jerusalem, said: "We're having a biblical weather event." To gales of laughter he added: "Don't worry about how your hair looks, because I don't worry about how my hair looks." Snyder's white mane is usually immaculately coiffed.

He was actually unperturbed about the inclement weather, because he was so thrilled that this was the largest gathering on record of the International Council, with 520 people from 15 countries despite the global economic slump. Many of the attendees raved about Snyder's sophisticated fund-raising talents, and the Israeli expatriates present said that in light of what he has done to win friends of affluence and influence for the museum, he was deserving of the Israel Prize. Snyder protested that he could never receive it because he doesn't have Israeli citizenship. But it was noted that Israel Prize laureate Zubin Mehta is likewise not a citizen.


AMERICAN MEMBERS of the Israel Museum's International Council were very excited about the appointment of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court. "Not only another woman, but another Jewish woman," one exclaimed in a mix of joy and wonder.


GENERALLY SPEAKING, when heads of foreign missions hold receptions in their residences, the food is not kosher, though occasionally there may be a small kosher table for guests who are religiously observant. However at the Europe Day reception hosted by the head of the delegation of the European Union, Ambassador Andrew Standley and his wife Judith, the whole affair was kosher, and many people commented favorably about the standard of catering and the fact that there were food islands all over the spacious garden of the residence, ensuring that people would not have to stand in long lines.


This was the couple's first Europe Day celebration since their arrival last year, and it was a milestone Europe Day in that it marked the 60th anniversary of the vision and declaration of then French foreign minister Robert Schuman that marked the beginning of the integration of Europe and the laying of the foundations of the EU. Schuman envisaged a supranational community which would prevent war on European soil and would encourage world peace.


Standley noted that 27 member countries were simultaneously celebrating Europe Day. He also emphasized the EU's commitment to Israel's right to exist in peace and security and said that the EU supports Israel's dream to live in peace with its neighbors. As a result of the Treaty of Lisbon that went into force in December 2009, said Standley, EU delegations around the world will be called to play greater roles in the EU's foreign policy. In this context, he looked forward to closer relations with Israel.


Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who represented the government, saluted the achievements of the EU and referred to Europe's relationship with the Jewish people that spanned a period of more than two millennia. This relationship had at times been dramatic and painful, he said, and other times creative and progressive.

At the conclusion of the official ceremony Standley, Neeman and Gad Propper, the honorary consul for New Zealand, went into a huddle. But they weren't discussing politics. They were talking about skiing. Neeman is known to be a great ski enthusiast.


AMONG THE guests at the EU reception was Ibrahim al-Waqili, who represents 45 Beduin communities which are not recognized by the government even though their rights to the land on which they live were recognized by the Ottoman authorities before the British Mandate. The 80,000 people living in these communities receive support from the EU, said Waqili, but not from the State of Israel. He spent much of the evening in one-on-one discussions with various ambassadors to explain that contrary to Israeli arguments that they could not possibly own the land they claim because they are nomads, the Beduin have been where they are for centuries and are only semi-nomadic.

ACTING ON behalf of the queen of England, British Ambassador Tom Phillips last week presented an honorary MBE (member of the Order of the British Empire) to Natie Shevel, regional director for Israel of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, in recognition of his services toward strengthening links between the UK and Israel. The investiture ceremony was attended by Shevel's family, friends and UJIA colleagues.


Phillips paid tribute to Shevel's central role in overseeing the delivery of some £8 million annually from funds raised in the UK to charitable programs here, noting his part "in an organization at the heart of the people-to-people links between Israel and the UK which make such an important contribution to the bilateral relationship between our two countries, and of course to Israel's development."


THE WHO'S who of the early heroes of the Zionist movement were frequent guests at the home of her parents in London, and Esther Lucas, 92, likewise played her role in history. She related some of the details recently to youngsters in Herzliya within the framework of an United Nations Special Committee on Palestine project they were doing in conjunction with the city's celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Theodor Herzl's birth. Lucas told them about an UNSCOP delegation that convened in Jerusalem in the summer of 1947 from June 15 to July 20.

It wasn't secondhand information that she was conveying. In 1946, she was seconded from the British Foreign Office to the UN Preparatory Commission in London, where she became a documents officer. She attended the UN's first Security Council and General Assembly. This prompted Jewish Agency executive Walter Eytan, whose lectures she had attended as a student at Oxford University, to ask her if she would like to liaise with the UNSCOP delegates.


At the time, Lucas was living in Kibbutz Kfar Blum and could only get a release from there via a letter signed by Golda Meir. Lucas was already familiar with Moshe Sharett whom she'd known through Habonim, and who had come to see her off in London, giving her a shopping bag to pass on to his sister who was married to the head of the Hagana. It was only much later that Lucas realized that there must have been an important message sewn into the lining of the bag. She also knew Abba Eban, whom she had met through the Jewish Students'

Organization when she was at Oxford.


In talking to the students Lucas recalled UNSCOP delegates Emil Sandstrom, a pro-Zionist from Sweden, a country that had been neutral during the war and was not one of the original allies. He shared the sentiments of Enrique Fabregat of Uruguay, who was very interested in there being a Jewish state and voted for partition. In the final vote, seven delegates voted for the motion, four pro-Arab delegates voted against and one abstained. The delegates not only visited Jewish, Arab and other communities, they also went to surrounding countries and to the DP camps in Europe. Lucas accompanied them only in Palestine and was invited to their receptions. "All through the proceedings in 1947 we were wondering what the results would be," she says. "I'm glad to have experienced what followed and to be able to look back and say: I was there."


MAY 3 is known as Constitution Day in Poland, commemorating the constitution of May 3, 1791, which is regarded as Europe's first and the world's second modern national constitution (following the 1788 ratification of the US Constitution). It took on an additional dimension this year, because it came soon after the tragic death in an air crash of Polish president Lech Kaczynski. Thus Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska dedicated this year's Constitution Day to a memorial concert by the Ra'anana Symphonette Orchestra for Kaczynski, his wife Maria and all 96 victims of the tragedy.


In an emotion-filled address, she voiced appreciation to all the friends of Poland who had expressed their condolences to her personally and who had signed the condolence book at the Polish Embassy and in Jerusalem. Among those present were Ra'anana Mayor Nahum Hofree and Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny. Magdziak-Miszewska also used the occasion to honor three Israelis of Polish background – Zvi Bergman, Aleksander Klugman and Yossi Levy – for their exceptional contributions in enhancing ties with Poland. They were conferred with the high Polish orders, which were officially approved by Kaczynski before the tragedy.

GREEK PATRIARCH Theophilos III is blessed with a radiant smile and a perpetual expression of serenity tinged with humor. The smile is so magnetic that most of the guests attending a cocktail reception at Jerusalem's King David Hotel hosted by Tasos Tzionis, the ambassador of Cyprus, in honor of Marios Garoyian, president of its House of Representatives, were instantly drawn in his direction. In response to a comment on the smile, Theophilos said that he had realized as a very young man that he had been blessed with a lifelong gift. "People can take anything away from me except my smile," he said.


Most ambassadors who send out invitations include their names. Tzionis didn't – perhaps out of force of habit. For instance, he refused to reveal anything that had taken place during Garoyian's meeting with President Shimon Peres, even to the extent of making the motion that indicated that his lips were sealed. "Anyone would think you belonged to Mossad," said the reporter who was trying to pry information out of him. "As a matter of fact," he confessed, "I was in charge of the Cypriot Security Agency for five years before I came to Israel."

Aside from a large representation of Greek Orthodox clergy, guests included former ambassadors to Cyprus Mordechai Paltzur and Aharon Lopez and former Foreign Ministry director-general Shlomo Avineri, who arrived late because he had attended a dinner hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in honor of Araz Azimov, the deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan.


Among the other guests were members of the Israel Cyprus Friendship Association, including Shimshon Bober, chairman of its sports committee who had been to Cyprus 30 times with Israeli teams and who unfortunately died a few days after the reception. Other association members included Prof. Emanuel Gutman, who as an envoy of the Yishuv, had worked in the British detention camps in Cyprus, teaching Hebrew to future immigrants. Some of members of the association were born in Cyprus to Holocaust survivors in the camps, and others came to Cyprus as child Holocaust survivors.


Among those born in the camps was Zahavit Blumenfeld who, until some 12 years ago, hadn't given much thought to her place of birth until she happened to have been a cancer patient at Tel Hashomer. One day she saw a couple wandering around in the corridors, not sure of where to go. She asked if she could help, and it transpired that the man and his wife were from Cyprus and had come here for the wife to be treated for cancer. Blumenfeld told them that she was also born in Cyprus but didn't remember much. A friendship developed. She took them around the country. They invited her to Cyprus and she subsequently discovered that many Cypriots come here for cancer treatment. She became active in the association and chairs its health committee.

AMONG THE recipients of honorary doctorates conferred by Bar-Ilan University this week was Rabbi Chananya Chollack, 55, the founding director of Ezer Mizion. A graduate of Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Chollak, as a young newlywed, became personally aware of the needs of hospital patients and their families when his father-in-law was hospitalized. Chollak spent a lot of time visiting his father-in-law and noticed that no provisions were made for families that spent long days and nights at the bedsides of seriously ill relatives.

In 1979 he founded Ezer Mizion as a modest initiative. Initially, the organization provided hot meals cooked by his wife, Leah, to the families of hospital patients. He expanded the distribution and organized for neighbors to put extra vegetables and water in the soup, and a little more meat in the pot, so that more food could be made available. Word got out and requests came pouring in. Chollak didn't know how to refuse, and his initially modest venture grew into an empire of volunteers.


Under his capable leadership Ezer Mizion grew to become the country's largest nonprofit organization, which today does a lot more than distribute food. It lends medical equipment, offers medical advice, helps the elderly, maintains community welfare services, supports children with special needs and establishes sheltered housing for people with mental disorders. Although he has 16 children, four of whom he adopted when their parents succumbed to fatal diseases, Chollak continues to direct Ezer Mizion and remains accessible around the clock, providing a personal role model for the professional staff and volunteers.

 

Ezer Mizion and Chollak have received numerous awards including the Israel Prize.

 

The organization's flagship project revolves around the work that it does with cancer patients, especially juveniles. In 1996, Ezer Mizion, along with Dr. Bracha Zisser, established Oranit for children from outlying parts of the country, so that they could have a place to stay and to study while undergoing treatment. Another vital project spearheaded with Dr. Zisser was the establishment of a national bone-marrow registry, which has facilitated hundreds of life-saving transplants.


THE EVER gracious and vivacious Lady J, formally known as Lady Amelie Jakobovits, left an enormous vacuum when she died last week. Lady J used to raise a laugh when she told the story about knowing that the food was kosher when she and Lord Jakobovits were invited to dine at Buckingham Palace. The kosher caterer who supplied the food for the then chief rabbi and his wife was given the menu that would be served to the other guests. The food was served on new royal crested dishes, but there was nonetheless an obvious difference. The kosher portions were much larger.


EVERYONE WILL be metaphorically on the ball tonight at the residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who is a hosting a welcome reception for Luis Fernandez, the new coach of the national soccer team. Though born in Spain, Fernandez played on France's national team for 10 years as well as for teams in Paris and Cannes. He also managed several French teams following his retirement as a player, and from 2005-2006, he was the coach of Betar Jerusalem.


IN RECENT years, Yad Vashem, in conjunction with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and other organizations and institutions, has placed the main focus of its VE Day commemorations on veterans of the Red Army. Busloads of beribboned and bemedalled elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union come to Yad Vashem for a ceremony which is conducted in both Russian and Hebrew.


This year, the Jerusalem Municipality, World War II Veterans Association, Organization of Disabled Soldiers and Partisans together with the ministry also organized a festive march through downtown Jerusalem to the Harmony Culture Center which is largely a cultural outlet for Russian-speaking immigrants.

MOST EVENTS at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center are fairly well attended, but it was quite a surprise to see how many IZL veterans filled the auditorium, lined the stairs and enthusiastically belted out the song of Betar for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the birth of David Raziel, who was appointed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky to be the Irgun's commander in chief. Raziel had joined the Hagana in Jerusalem in reaction to the Hebron massacres of 1929, but broke away and became one of the founding members of the Irgun.

 

Although the Irgun was dedicated to fighting the British, Raziel decided in 1939 that it was more important to fight the Nazis. In 1941, he was sent to Iraq where he was killed in action. The Iraqis refused for years to return his body. Eventually, the British transferred it to Cyprus for temporary burial, but it was not until 20 years after his death that his remains were brought here and reinterred on Mount Herzl. His wife Shoshana died only a few weeks ago. She had been pregnant when he left for Iraq and gave birth to a boy after he was killed. She had intended to call the child David, but the infant died when he was only a few days old. She never remarried, and devoted her life to preserving her husband's memory.


Among the speakers at the 100th anniversary commemoration was Mordechai Sarig of the Jabotinsky Institute, who declared that of the eight commanders-in-chief of the Irgun, only two had left a permanent impact – Raziel and Menachem Begin. Among the other speakers was Begin's son, Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin.

greerfc@gmail.com

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

CLARITY ON JERUSALEM DAY

On May 12, 1968, the government announced that the 28th of the Jewish month of Iyar, the day in 1967 that the Western Wall was liberated, would henceforth be known as Jerusalem Day. On March 23, 1998, it became law.

Today, the nation celebrates the 43rd anniversary of that Six-Day War victory in Jerusalem and the near-miraculous trouncing of the combined armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt, all supported in their endeavor to destroy the Jewish state by the Soviet Union. But today, Jerusalem has become the epicenter of a major diplomatic storm precipitating a crisis with Israel's most important ally.


Under the Bush and Clinton administrations, the US essentially ignored building in the large, established, national-consensus Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem where about 200,000 Jews live. The Obama administration changed tack.


Last July, the White House failed to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze construction for Jews in east Jerusalem. In November there was further tension over building in Gilo. And relations plummeted to a new low in March over the Ramat Shlomo imbroglio.


Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, taking advantage of the new US emphases, has ratcheted up the pressure. Israel's actions and plans in Jerusalem were one of the central themes of March's summit of the Arab League. "Jerusalem and its environs are a trust of Allah," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the gathering. "Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us." Abbas is also refusing to enter into direct talks with Israel unless Netanyahu accepts a construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem – a "red line" the prime minister has said he will not cross.


The PA's newly adamant position on Jerusalem contrasts sharply with reports, including in this newspaper, that Abbas, in his negotiations with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, had signalled a readiness to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty in certain Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods over the pre-1967 line, including Ramat Shlomo and Gilo. Now, of course, having stayed away from the negotiating table while the Obama administration applied pressure on his behalf, and having only reluctantly consented even to the new US-mediated "proximity" talks, Abbas has no imperative to contemplate even any such small compromise.


FROM THE Israeli side, meanwhile, the messages on Jerusalem have been confused. Last July, Netanyahu was adamant that he would "not accept any limitations on our sovereignty in Jerusalem. I told him [Obama] Jerusalem is not a settlement, and it has nothing to do with discussions on a freeze."


In contrast, in a recent interview with Channel 2 news, Netanyahu drew a distinction between the city's post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods and its Arab neighborhoods, and he specified that the permanent fate of the Arab neighborhoods was indeed a subject for final-status discussion – a position frequently espoused by Kadima and Labor, but not normally by the Likud.

 

At the beginning of this week, it was suggested that Netanyahu had led US envoy George Mitchell to understand that there would be a two-year freeze on building in Ramat Shlomo. Subsequently, the prime minister clarified that refraining from building there was due merely to technical and bureaucratic issues.

Of Netanyahu's coalition partners, Labor would back a temporary Jerusalem freeze in the cause of substantive negotiations, United Torah Judaism might go along; so too, might Shas. Some in the Likud emphatically would not; the same could probably be said of Israel Beiteinu. Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat, for his part, declared on Monday that municipal construction would in fact continue in all sections of Jerusalem, for both Jews and Arabs.

PLAINLY, THE Israeli cacophony is damaging. It has produced a lack of clarity where the US is concerned and is being exploited by the Palestinians.


Netanyahu made a lot of sense in his late April TV interview, asking indignantly "Why do I have to give in on Jerusalem?" when referring to Jewish neighborhoods built over the Green Line such as French Hill, but noting, where Arab neighborhoods like Abu Dis and Shuafat were concerned, "That's a different question." No one, he elaborated, "wants to add a greater Arab populace to Jerusalem," but there was a "legitimate concern" that "if you get out of there," Iran would fill the vacuum in one guise or another, as it had done in Lebanon and Gaza.


As it examines and resolves such dilemmas, Netanyahu's government needs to formulate a clear policy on east Jerusalem and make sure that his coalition members, Jerusalem's mayor and other official talking heads understand and follow it.


Because as things stand on Jerusalem, 43 years later, we continue to negotiate with ourselves.

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

JUST PLAIN LUCKY

BY YOSSI ALPHER

 

The Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks which began this week will almost certainly end in failure. There is little room for optimism regarding these talks or any other form of peace process that brings together the political camps of PM Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.


The gap between the core beliefs of Netanyahu and Abbas is simply too wide. The former wants to hold on to "united Jerusalem" and the Jordan Valley and is bound by his right-wing coalition to an even more demanding territorial concept, if not to effective neutralization of the two-state concept. His settler allies are sure to look for opportunities to sabotage the talks. Netanyahu himself is building up an "incitement" file with which to batter the Palestinians, even as Israel's own problem of incitement against Palestinians grows under a reactionary government.

For his part, Abbas insists on the right of return and exclusive Arab control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – both inevitably deal-breakers. And between his own Fatah hawks and Hamas, Abbas is constrained even further.


To his credit, Netanyahu prefers direct negotiations. It is Abbas who appears to fear face-to-face meetings that might, when they fail, compromise his standing in the eyes of his extremists, and who has linked even his agreement to a mere four months of proximity talks to Arab League approval. Here we have not one but three steps backward for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: indirect rather than direct talks, an Arab veto and a short time limit.


Netanyahu needs these negotiations more than Abbas, and he needs them to last as long as possible. Israel now confronts an active school of thought within the US military that blames the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate for American difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan and for Iranian and Hizballah propaganda successes in the Arab world. To the extent that Israel is held to blame for the stalemate – Abbas, who should be sharing the blame, seemingly gets a pass from his fellow Muslims – it is sustaining serious damage to its image in the halls of power in Washington.


The new peace process, however problematic and partial, helps mitigate that damage by enabling US generals in the field to point to at least temporary US success in cultivating Arab-Israel peace.


In the Netanyahu government, only Defense Minister Ehud Barak appears to understand the gravity of this new linkage equation. Netanyahu thinks everything is fine with America because American Jews still support Israel. Hence, he is just plain lucky to have these proximity talks. Under these circumstances, he is not likely to recognize the urgent need to reorganize his coalition and replace right-wingers with centrists.


The advent of proximity talks follows some 15 months of mediation mistakes by the US. Yet the only mitigating factors in this otherwise bleak picture appear to be President Barack Obama's commitment and the determination of his peace emissary, George Mitchell.


If Obama is indeed readying his own final status proposal and/or an international peace conference for the day the failure of these talks can no longer be denied, he should direct his attention away from the looming Netanyahu-Abbas failure – a wise mediator would not step into that huge gap with "bridging" proposals – and toward the only success story in town: the Palestinian Authority's bottom-up state-building program in the West Bank.

American efforts should focus not only on the hapless task of squeezing success out of doomed proximity talks, but on the inevitable political endgame suggested by the Palestinians' successful state-building effort: international recognition of their state followed by a concerted effort to focus Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the issues of inter-state borders and security, including Jerusalem.


The writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. This piece was first published by www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.

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


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

HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE MEA SHE'ARIM MOB

BY SHAHAR ILAN

 

Soldiers patrolling through the streets of Mea She'arim during Passover week found themselves in a situation they generally encounter only on the Palestinian side of the border. Local residents, the hard core of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, began hurling stones at them. The soldiers were at a loss. The police were called in and were greeted by similar violence. The assailants explained to the ultra-Orthodox media that the army was using the neighborhood to simulate operations in an inner-city environment, and the Haredim didn't want to let the authorities ruin the holiday atmosphere.

 

Hardly a week goes by in Mea She'arim without a stone-throwing incident, the torching of garbage containers or the blocking of streets. The public has gotten so used to the violence there that it's hard to notice that a new phenomenon has sprung up. In the past, the violence took place in the neighborhood mainly because of religious struggles. Now the very entrance of a government agency or service provider is a pretext for protest. Mea She'arim has become a dangerous place to visit.

 

In March, for example, police officers were attacked when they answered a call to break up a fight between a landlord and his tenants. In December, someone there painted "An end to filthy pictures" on the motorbike of a cable-company technician. Attacks on buses, window smashing and tire puncturing have become routine in Mea She'arim. On April 1, the ultra-Orthodox Web site Kikar Hashabbat reported: "Passersby tell us that dozens of yeshiva students threw stones at a bus while some of their friends tried to block it with garbage cans. The rioters were trying to get on the bus to separate the male and female passengers."

 

The neighborhood has become a lawless no-man's-land. It's part of the ultra-Orthodox community's process of radicalization. But there's no reason for radicalization to lead to unrestrained violence. These are not isolated excesses - large crowds take part in the incidents. Mea She'arim is ruled by the rabbinical court of the Eda Haredit, the extreme ultra-Orthodox group that could stop the riotous behavior if it wanted to. But it doesn't want to.

 

The violence is encouraged by the police's kid-glove policy and fear of a full-scale confrontation with the ultra-Orthodox. Quite often, instead of facing off with the rioters, the police simply close off the neighborhood. There are daily attacks on soldiers, police, technicians and bus passengers without a clear response. The locals realize that Israeli law does not apply to them. They are immune to punishment.

 

It's not hard to understand the police. They know that arresting ultra-Orthodox offenders and using reasonable force in Mea She'arim will generate heavy political pressure and draw sharp criticism from the United Torah Judaism party. Still, they must go back to enforcing the law of the land in the neighborhood. To do so, they must act firmly against rioters, use riot-dispersal measures and make arrests that lead to prosecutions. The internal security minister must give the police whatever backing is necessary.

 

Similarly, the authorities and service providers should function in Mea She'arim as they do in all other dangerous environments and cease operating until security is restored. This would not be collective punishment, but self-preservation. The same applies to the Egged bus company, which repeatedly endangers its passengers by entering Mea She'arim. It should stop doing so until the mob attacks on buses cease.

 

The writer is deputy director for research and public relations at Hiddush, a group that promotes religious freedom and equality.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM CHINA

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

Yuval Steinitz has a refined sense of humor. Otherwise, he would not find time to tell us from faraway China - where he has been for nine days already - that "in a year or two, economists will beat their breasts over the poor advice they gave the governments of the United States and Europe, advice that led them into major budget deficits."

 

Is that so, Mr. Finance Minister? Is it really the "economists" who were at fault, not the politicians who set economic policy? And why cast your gaze as far as the United States and Europe? Better to examine what's happening right here in our own house.

 

The finance minister recently submitted the 2011 budget, which contains a deficit of 3 percent of gross domestic product and a 2.6 percent rise in spending, compared with the previous standard rate of 1.7 percent. And if that were not enough, Steinitz also said that "the swollen public sector is no longer quite so bloated."

 

In other words, we have reached the end of our travails and can now stop scrimping and saving. We can now gorge ourselves well past satiety, because we are, after all, nice and trim.

 

Yet is the public sector really so fit? Maybe the minister ought to look around and see the bloated delegation he brought with him to China. But that, of course, is only small change.

 

He could also visit one of the superfluous government ministries, or the Defense Ministry, to figure out why streamlining plans have failed to progress. Maybe he could look at the number of unnecessary layers of management at the Education Ministry, or how many pointless local authorities still exist. And what about the bureaucratic encumbrances and excessive salaries at the Israel Airports Authority, Israel Electric Corporation and Port Authority? The list is long.

 

Steinitz's remarks are dangerous because they give the green light to interest groups, unions and lawmakers to pressure him for handouts. But no less grave is the fact that the head of the Finance Ministry's budget division, Udi Nissan, has thrown his weight behind increasing the budget as well. His misguided, dangerous position violates the budget division's long-standing tradition of fighting for a smaller, sleeker government, so that greater resources will remain for private-sector investment and development - the only real way to achieve sustained economic growth.

 

No budget director before him ever suggested increasing spending, and rightly so: That is the diametric opposite of his role. Lawmakers and ministers are supposed to demand ever more funds, but the budget director has to play the bad guy, the wicked lender who watches the till and ensures a deficit of 0 percent, not 3 percent. That would rapidly reduce the national debt to at most 50 percent of GDP, from its current, dangerous level of 80 percent. It would save the Israeli economy from the next global or regional crisis.

 

It seems we are suffering from the Greek disease: We are unwilling to invest today so that tomorrow will be better. Instead of doing what must be done, our government merely panders to the public. Echoing Greece's leaders, our prime minister parrots the line that he needs more money "to improve social services."

 

And the problem lies not just with our government. The Histadrut labor federation is now demanding higher

wages for public-sector workers, as is the norm in Greece. Lawmakers enact populist legislation that increases spending and undermines efforts to shift people from welfare to work, such as by terminating the Wisconsin program.

 

Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are doing nothing to change a situation in which 65 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work - a loss to GDP of NIS 12 billion a year. Nor are they addressing the question of what will happen in 30 years, when 78 percent of elementary school students will be ultra-Orthodox or Arab. Who will work then? What kind of minority will prop up the majority?

 

We are marching wide-eyed into a crisis that has already been written on the wall. Just lift your eyes and look. But of course it is much easier to present the public with a rose-tinted picture of where we are headed, congratulate ourselves on joining the OECD and continue our lovely visit to China.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAELIS' STATE OF DENIAL OVER TREATMENT OF PALESTINIANS

BY YITZHAK LAOR

 

Israelis love military secrets. Books by retired security officers, former spies and former members of the Shin Bet security service and Mossad sell well. An entire culture is built around "what it is forbidden to talk about but nevertheless we like to know." Not merely stories from the past - for example, how the "Red Prince" (Ali Hassan Salameh of Black September ) was assassinated in Beirut in 1979 - but also the Dubai affair, which is an excellent example of the public's lust to know, hear, see and consume news. Even the failure was of interest to the public, and the matter had moral backing. This moral backing goes well with the desire to know: "Even if we did not kill him, he deserved to die," they said on TV.

 

There is one thing the public does not want to know, or perhaps "most of the public" is a more cautious expression, and we are not talking about a military secret. A survey carried out two weeks ago by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, which was published in Haaretz, touched on the issue: The only thing the public does not want to hear about is the repression of the Palestinians. This is not a matter of keeping secrets, but of denial.

 

It is doubtful whether a survey is necessary. It suffices to watch the news on commercial television in order to understand that what is going on in the territories "doesn't sell." But the matter is more grave. What is happening in the territories is becoming taboo. Not only do people not want to know because there is something to know (otherwise people would not refuse to know ), the army is seen as the sole legitimate source of information about events in the territories.

 

But the army lies, to put it mildly. The language it uses to describe firing at non-violent Palestinian demonstrators is always laden with euphemisms, and the need to explain arises only when organizations like B'Tselem publish pictures in which it can be seen, for example, how settlers open fire and the army does not lift a finger. That is an example of the kind of things Israelis do not want to know about.

 

The territories are far away. The Palestinians live far away. This hallucination can be attributed to the walls, the separation roads, the army and the TV news. "Judea and Samaria" are close. The settlers live among us. There are photographs of them, their homes are photographed. They are in the army. They are the army. But the separation between those who are very close, who have the right to vote, weapons, rights and state financial support, and those who live at the same physical distance but must be left far away, on the other side of the walls, the fences, the roadblocks - this separation is made with the aid of the refusal to know. The denial.

 

Human rights organizations are persecuted - simple as that - exactly in the name of the refusal to know. "It is forbidden to know" means that it is forbidden for our consciousness to move freely among the facts, the scenes, the voices, the options. All these were supposed to comprise the awareness of the Israeli who lives five minutes from these unimaginable things - 43 years of military dictatorship over another people.

 

The security claims are dwarfed by the opposite claim - that the security situation is a function of the disinheriting (of the Palestinians ), the control of their natural resources and the never-ending restrictions on their way of life. But the other claim can in no way compete with the Israeli way of thinking: We are here and they are not here. The only freedom is the freedom to be and to blot out whatever casts doubt on the safety of the knowledge that denies this.

 

When the principal of the Ironi Aleph school in Tel Aviv wanted to take his teachers to see the roadblocks, they attacked him angrily and demanded that he be called for a hearing. The few prophesies of Karl Marx that came true included one that he wrote about in a short article in 1870: "The nation that oppresses another nation forges its own chains," he said. There is no better historic moment to demonstrate this prophesy than the moment we are now living.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIA

ACADEMIA AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

BY MOSHE ARENS

 

Much research has been carried out over the years on the causes of economic growth. In recent decades, in the age of the technological revolution, it has been recognized that the availability of scientific and technical skills are the primary motor propelling countries' economies. These skills are acquired in the countries' educational systems. At the top of the pyramid of an educational system stand the universities. The quality of the universities is a good indication of a country's economic growth potential.

 

In certain cases another element can be added to this evaluation, namely the immigration of skilled scientific and technical personnel who add to a country's reservoir of skills. Here, too, high-quality universities play an important role, as they serve as a magnet for talented young people from abroad who come to study at these universities and frequently stay after completing their studies, contributing to the economies of their host countries.

 

The outstanding example of this phenomenon is the United States of America. It is a world leader in science and technology, a country that can pride itself on having some of the world's best universities. Talented and skilled immigrants, many attracted by American universities, continually add to the large pool of home-grown talent and knowledge. One need only look at the publications of some of America's best universities, like Harvard, MIT or Caltech, to see the large number of foreign students attending America's best universities. This has been an important factor in spurring constant economic growth in the United States, outpacing most countries.

 

Israel is another outstanding example of the relation between skills in the sciences and technology among the population and economic growth. For a number of years the country's economic growth has been linked to the development of high-tech, and a good part of foreign investment has gone to this fast-developing sector. A very substantial boost to Israel's innate capabilities has been the large immigration from the former Soviet Union in recent years, some having already obtained much of their education there, others who continued their education in Israel. A significant part of Israeli economic growth in recent years can be credited to them.

 

The conclusion from this analysis is that priority must be given to allocating the country's resources to education, especially to the universities. These budgetary allocations should be seen as investments in the country's human infrastructure, investments that will bring large returns in future years that will benefit Israel's entire population.

However, when looking today at the state of Israel's universities, almost all of them suffering from severe financial problems, it seems that government budgets in recent years did not take account of the relationship between the quality of the universities and the country's economic growth. What's worse, one result of the universities' poor financial situation is that many talented students who go abroad for their graduate studies do not return, and many university lecturers end up teaching and conducting research abroad. Some of Israel's best academic talent is today in America.

 

It is high time that this situation be rectified. Government allocations to universities, and to research at universities, must be increased substantially. The number of universities has to be increas ed.

 

There is no reason for the dogmatic insistence, one that seems to be supported by the existing universities, that no new universities be established, even though Israel's population has increased greatly since the last of the universities received recognition. A special program should be initiated to bring back the many Israeli academics currently abroad because of the lack of opportunities at Israeli universities in recent years. We need an accelerated program to raise the academic level of Israeli universities, providing budgetary incentives for academic achievements. And consideration should be given to degree courses in science and technology in English, tailored to students from abroad.

 

Israel can probably make no better investment at the present time. The return on the investment for the nation's economy is certain, and it will not be long in coming.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

JERUSALEM DAY CELEBRATES AN ILLUSORY UNIFICATION

BY DAPHNA GOLAN

 

A few weeks after we said "Next year in Jerusalem" at the Passover seder, Jerusalem Day has arrived, forcing us to ask whether this is the Jerusalem we meant. Jerusalem is currently enjoying a pleasant spring. The sun is shining. And in the west of the city, traffic circles are blossoming, while thousands of armed policemen and civilians are afraid of the next explosion.

 

Is this the Jerusalem to which Diaspora Jews dreamed of returning? The united Jerusalem that stretches from Shoafat to Beit Sahur? A city where on one side they build a monster like the Holyland apartment complex, and on the other there is no master plan, there are almost no building opportunities, and thousands of people live in fear that their homes, which were built without permits, will be demolished?

 

Did we imagine that when the Jews returned to Jerusalem they would evacuate Palestinians from their homes in order to settle in them? Is it possible to celebrate the "unification of Jerusalem" when Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah are expelled from their homes under the aegis of the court to let Jews live there in their stead?

 

As opposed to the Jewish holidays, which are celebrated at home and bring us close to the Jerusalem that is in our hearts, Jerusalem Day invites us to go outside, to performances, rallies and a parade through the streets of the city. On billboards, Mayor Nir Barkat invites us to "participate in celebrating the 43rd anniversary of the city's unification," as well as in Education Week, whose theme is "Breakthroughs Beyond the Walls." This theme, Barkat said, "conveys our conviction that through competent education, it is possible to break out of dangerous vicious circles, overcome obstacles and look forward into the future."

 

But "Breakthroughs Beyond the Walls" education week includes no mention of Nadia, who cannot get to her school in Jerusalem because of the wall. No thought is given to the thousands of Palestinian children for whom the schools have no room, or to the hundreds of children harmed by pollution from a factory next to the only school dedicated in East Jerusalem this year. In Jerusalem, which is celebrating its holiday with drums and dancing, 74 percent of Palestinian children and 47.7 percent of Jewish children live in poverty.

 

The victory parades on Jerusalem Day celebrate a unification that never took place in a city whose unity was invented. In 1967, Jerusalem tripled in size, swallowing up East Jerusalem as well as 28 Palestinian villages. Today it is the largest city in Israel, and its borders are an insult to the map. Over one-third of the privately-owned land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated, and neighborhoods for Jews only have been built on it.

 

Jerusalem, which celebrates its unification today, is a city divided between Jews, for whom the city is planned, and Palestinians, whom the State of Israel views as foreigners in their own city. Construction for Jews only continues, even though in recent years the negative balance of migration from Jerusalem has only grown, such that when we subtract the thousands of Jews leaving the city from the natural increase, the city's Jewish population is hardly changed.

 

But for Palestinians, whose average fertility rate is higher and who are not leaving the city, not a single neighborhood has been built. There is no master plan and building permits are very scarce. But there are many demolitions of homes built without a permit.

 

Divided Jerusalem is celebrating a unification that never took place. It is celebrating occupation and ongoing discrimination against more than one-third of the city's residents, to whom the municipality allocates less than 14 percent of its budget.

 

The Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem has no need of parades with thousands of armed policemen and civilians. What Jerusalem needs is fresh thinking that learns from the past and offers hope to all the city's residents: Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Next year in a Jerusalem that is rebuilt with equality.

 

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


 

******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDUSTRY DOESN'T STEP UP

 

Who is to blame for last month's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The other guy. At least that's what three oil executives, predictably and cynically, told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

 

The Obama administration and Congress are going to have to press a lot harder to figure out what went wrong and what must be changed — including how the industry needs to be regulated — to ensure this never happens again.

 

There is no question about the scale of the destruction. The blowout on a deep-water drilling rig has already dumped nearly 3.5 million gallons of oil into the gulf, and the companies involved have yet to figure out how to stop it. If left unchecked, the spill will almost certainly inflict terrible damage on Louisiana's coastline and its fishing industry, and possibly other gulf states.

 

The hearings produced almost none of the answers needed. The BP America chairman, Lamar McKay, blamed a malfunctioning blowout preventer installed by Transocean, the operator of the drilling rig. Transocean's boss, Steven Newman, said the problem may have been a mishandling of the cement that is supposed to keep gas from escaping up the well pipe to the surface. Tim Probert, a president of Halliburton, which was responsible for the cement, suggested that his company was only following instructions from BP.

 

Round and round the blame game went — the "liability chase," Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey called it.

 

The only sign of progress for the day — there was not any in the gulf — came from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. He announced that the administration intended to split the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling into two parts — one to award drilling leases and collect fees and royalties (worth $13 billion a year) and the other to inspect oil rigs and write and enforce safety regulations. He argued that the move would eliminate conflicts of interest both "real and perceived."

 

The tales of how the agency, the Minerals Management Service, was corrupted by industry in the Bush years (employees took gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drugs and sex with oil company employees) are legendary. Mr. Salazar has taken steps to change that culture.

 

Only now, after this disastrous spill, are we learning how even when the agency's regulators tried to do their jobs they were repeatedly rolled or rebuffed by industry.

 

There have been widespread reports, for instance, that the Minerals Management Service had asked industry for more backup systems for the blowout preventers but then accepted industry's assurances that the devices were virtually foolproof. There also have been reports that some agency officials wanted to subject the BP project to a complete environmental impact review but, in the end, accepted BP's assurances that a huge oil spill was unlikely.

 

The agency clearly failed to press industry to modernize the equipment it uses to combat spills. The technology on display in the gulf — the booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants — seems largely unchanged from the days of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

 

We will not know what went wrong this time until the Interior Department and Congress finish their investigations. What we do know is that the country deserves a far more transparent, far less self-serving response from BP and its subcontractors.

 

We are also waiting to hear Mr. Salazar's plans for building a robust and impartial regulatory system, one able to ride herd on a large and lucrative industry that cannot be trusted to police itself.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

IS IT SAFE TO GO BACK IN?

 

What could be worse than a 20-minute, 1,000-point drop in the stock market? A 20-minute, 1,000-point drop that defies explanation.

 

At a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, federal regulators and stock-exchange executives said they had no one explanation for the plunge last week that briefly wiped out about $1 trillion in market value.

 

Experts said they had not found hacker or terrorist activity; no "fat finger" error in which an order for millions of shares was entered as billions; no unusually large single-stock trade that triggered the decline. Nor were regulators prepared to conclude that a "confluence of events" caused the nose dive, said Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 

What the experts could agree on is that differing rules among various exchanges about temporarily halting or slowing trading made the drop worse. In that light, regulators took the right steps earlier this week, to immediately revise marketwide circuit breakers that stop trading during a major decline and to draft similar rules for individual stocks.

 

To be thorough, however, an investigation will have to extend beyond the events of last Thursday. Federal officials must develop a coherent regulatory strategy for monitoring developments in the electronic trading of stocks, options, futures and other derivatives. In the past several years, high-speed computerized trades have come to dominate traditional trading but without expanding regulatory tools and techniques to guarantee fairness.

 

Writing in March in Finance & Development, a journal of the International Monetary Fund, Randall Dodd highlighted three trading strategies in which the potential for instability may outweigh any efficiency gains:

 

¶High-frequency trading can match thousands of buyers and sellers a minute, creating bigger and more abrupt price changes than would otherwise be the case.

 

¶Flash trading occurs when buy or sell prices flash on a trader's screen before becoming public, allowing the trader to act before others in the market have the information. The New York Stock Exchange has rightly outlawed flash trading. The S.E.C. has proposed to ban flash trades but has not yet finalized its rule. After last week, the agency should move quickly.

 

¶The S.E.C. also must move quickly to finalize proposed rules to regulate dark pools, electronic trading systems used by big investors to conduct large trades without going through a fully transparent exchange. That allows large transactions to occur without moving the market price, but it does so by selectively sharing market information, rendering publicly available information about prices unreliable.

 

Figuring out what went wrong is important but is only a first step in restoring investor confidence.

 

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

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

A DEAL FOR BETTER SCHOOLS

 

When school officials and unions work together, students have a real chance to come out on top. That was clear this week when the State Education Department and New York's teachers' unions announced agreement on a rigorous teacher evaluation system.

 

The Legislature should quickly approve the deal. It would improve New York's schools and the state's chances in the second round of the federal Race to the Top competition for hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants.

 

The proposal, which resembles one developed through a similar partnership in New Haven, does away with the shoddy evaluation system under which teachers are observed briefly in the classroom and even the most ineffective ones regularly receive glowing ratings.

 

The new system would require more intensive monitoring and would finally take student performance into account. Teachers would eventually be measured on a 100-point scale, with 25 points based on how much students improve on the standardized state exams and 15 percent based on locally selected measures. The remaining part of the evaluation would be locally determined, consistent with state regulations, and could include such things as evaluations by a school principal, peer observations, a teacher's ability to produce lesson plans and so on.

 

Teachers would be categorized as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Those who need help would be given coaching. Those rated ineffective for two consecutive years could be fired through a hearing process that would take no longer than 60 days. Right now that process can drag on for more than a year.

 

The State Education Department deserves particular praise, as do the two union presidents, Richard Iannuzzi of New York State United Teachers and Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers, the city's union. They worked on this deal even though their members are angry about impending layoffs. The Legislature should move swiftly on the bill so that the state can meet the next Race to the Top application deadline. It is due on June 1.

 

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

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OUR INNER NEANDERTHAL

 

If things had gone differently, this editorial might have been written by a Neanderthal contemplating the discovery that a small but significant portion of his or her DNA was derived from ancestral humans, who lost out in the struggle for survival some 30,000 years ago. Things went the other way, and this editorial is being written by a human musing on the recent discovery that 1 percent to 4 percent of our human DNA is derived from Neanderthals.

 

That does not sound like a very large percentage. But it is the clearest evidence so far that some interbreeding occurred between humans and Neanderthals. The research, led by a team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and published last week in Science, is also evidence of how much skill scientists have gained in obtaining and decoding DNA samples from ancient bones.

 

The team compared genome sequences from three Neanderthals — dating from roughly 38,000 to 44,000 years ago — to sequences from five present-day humans from various parts of the world. In addition to the likelihood of interbreeding, the research shows that Neanderthals are closer to humans of European and Asian origin than they are to humans of African origin.

 

Neanderthal fossils have been found only in Europe and western Asia. Yet the similarity to Chinese and Papuan genomic sequences is just as close, even though no Neanderthal fossils have been found there. It suggests that one possible location for the mixing of Neanderthals and ancestral non-African humans is the Middle East, where they may have overlapped for more than 50,000 years. Humans have always told tales of their ancestry. New scientific techniques are giving us a more complex story to tell.

 

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

 

 

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE EVIL OF LESSER EVILISM

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

WASHINGTON

Everybody here lies.

But with the arrival of Hamid Karzai, the mendacity blossomed into absurdity.

 

The question for the Obama White House is not whether it can grow to appreciate the caped capo who runs Afghanistan. (President Obama can't stand him.) The question is whether Karzai will fall for all the guff they're throwing at him.

 

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Gen. Stanley McChrystal were paraded into the White House press room to pretend as though their dispute about the efficacy of the surge, given Karzai's serious flaws as a partner, has been put to rest. (It hasn't.)

 

The administration crooned a reassuring lullaby to the colicky Karzai: that it has a long-term commitment in Afghanistan (it doesn't) and an endgame there (it doesn't) and that it knows that the upcoming Kandahar offensive will work (it doesn't).

 

Asked by a reporter about the change from sticks to carrots, Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan who has had contentious sessions with Karzai, replied: "No, I certainly don't think it's changed." (It has.)

 

For their part, the Afghans promise to work on stemming corruption and stopping the poppy trade. (They won't.)

 

The administration is trying to delay the inconvenient truth that Karzai wants reconciliation with Taliban leaders; this makes the U.S. cringe, thinking of Mullah Omar and other 9/11 killers.

 

Like a lover who has learned from bitter experience that his fickle mistress responds better to sweets than rants, the administration has abruptly switched from nagging the corrupt Afghan president to nuzzling him.

 

On Tuesday evening, Karzai was honored at a starry State Department reception along with his ministers — or at least the ones he could get into the country. He didn't bring his brother, the C.I.A. pal and drug lord, or other especially sleazy government officials.

 

President Obama, who last month was threatening to rescind the invitation to the maddening dandy, will have an Oval Office meeting and Rose Garden press conference with Karzai on Wednesday.

 

The Afghan leader was also due to be feted Wednesday night at a private dinner at the home of Vice President Biden, who once stalked out of a Karzai supper at the palace in Kabul when the Afghan president claimed there was no corruption, and got furious again last month when Karzai said he would join the Taliban if foreign interference continued. (Translation: Stop upbraiding me, Obama, you're stuck with me.)

 

On Thursday, Karzai is slated to get a special treat — a long, intimate walk in a Georgetown garden with Hillary Clinton — the one person in the administration who prides herself on getting along with him. Romantic strolls through gardens, the administration has decided, are the best way to move the corrupt coxcomb to its point of view.

 

Last October, when Karzai was trying to purloin the election with a million illegal votes, John Kerry persuaded him to agree to a runoff by taking a long walk through rosebushes and the presidential mosque on the palace grounds in Kabul.

 

Both Kerry and Hillary bonded with Karzai by confiding how they, too, had felt very wounded by a bruising election experience. "Sometimes there are tough things," Kerry told the Afghan leader. Yeah, like if you had to steal an election twice.

 

The Taliban in Pakistan is training jihadis to attack New York, belying again W.'s chuckleheaded contention that we have to wage war against terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them at home. Our battles meant to diminish enemies replenish them. The inept Times Square bomber was infuriated by U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan.

 

The Pentagon, the public and administration allies are all expressing frustration with Afghanistan. A majority in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll says Afghanistan is not worth the cost.

 

A report by the Center for American Progress run by John Podesta, Bill Clinton's chief of staff who helped lead the Obama transition, faulted the administration, saying it "has not yet outlined a clear plan for transferring control to the Afghan state or sufficiently prioritized the reforms needed to ensure that it can one day stand on its own." A Pentagon report also shows that General McChrystal's boast that he could wheel "a government in a box" into Marja was premature.

 

The Pentagon said there had been "some success in clearing insurgents from their strongholds" but "progress in introducing governance and development to these areas to move toward hold and build operations has been slow.

 

"The insurgents' tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce effective governance."

 

A walk in the garden, it's not.

 

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

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

GREECE'S NEWEST ODYSSEY

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Athens

For a man whose country's wobbly finances have kept the world on edge for months, the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, evinces an Obama-Zen-like calm. He is just back from meeting fellow European Union leaders, who decided to try to stave off a Greek meltdown and an E.U. crackup with a show of overwhelming force — committing nearly $1 trillion to support the economy of any ailing member state. But over a lunch of Greek salad and grilled fish, Papandreou makes clear that he knows that the deal with the E.U. was not your garden-variety bailout-for-budget-cuts. No, if you really look closely at what it will take for Greece to mend its economy, this is actually a bailout-for-a-revolution. Greece's entire economic and political system will have to change for Greeks to deliver their side of this bargain.

 

Papandreou says he is ready and so, too, he insists, is his country: "People are saying to me, 'change this country — go ahead and change it.' People realize that it needs change. You don't want to miss this opportunity."

 

How Greece performs will not only affect Greeks, but the value of the euro and the whole 27-nation European Union. Yes, I know, the E.U. is the world's most opaque and boring organization. But it is actually America's not-so-identical twin and the world's largest economy. It is, in fact, "the United States of Europe," and, in my view, two United States are better than one. If this one over here fractures, it will affect everything from how many exports America has in the next year to how many allies America has in the next war.

 

Sitting in a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Acropolis, I ask Papandreou to put on his safari hat and tell me what it was like to be hunted by the electronic bond herd for six months.

 

"Because of the 2008 crisis, all the market players have become much more risk-averse, so they are on a hair trigger," explains the center-left prime minister, who was voted in by a large majority in October to fix this mess. Today's market players are "like an animal that has been wounded, and so it recoils at the slightest motion. So any rumor about you can become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

 

Comparing bond players to some kind of living beasts may be unfair to beasts, he suggests. These markets "are not even human anymore. Some of these things are computerized, and they just go into automatic mode" when they see a hint of trouble.

 

Because of their profligacy, Greeks have been living under this market scrutiny for so many months, he added, that today "every Greek from age 3 to 93 knows what a 'bond spread' means. 'What's the spread today? Are they widening?' People had never heard about this before," and it created a paralyzing uncertainty. "Should I buy, consume, save, invest, take my money out of the country?"

 

The only way for Greece to end this uncertainty was with an unprecedented commitment by the European Union to backstop Greek debts and with an unprecedented commitment by Greece to put its economy on a strict diet — set by the International Monetary Fund — with quarterly budget targets that Athens has to meet to receive additional support.

 

"Now we will have a respite," said Papandreou — not to relax, but so the Greek government can begin "the deep changes ... the small revolution" in how this country is governed, with particular emphasis on changing the incentive system here from one that focused way too many Greeks on getting a lifetime government job to one focused on stimulating private initiative.

 

The cabinet has already approved increasing the average retirement age for public sector workers from 61 to 65. Average public sector wages have been cut 20 percent, and pensions by 10 percent. The value-added tax was raised from 19 percent to 23 percent, and there's been an excise tax increase of about 30 percent on gas, alcohol and tobacco. The number of municipalities is proposed to shrink from 1,000 to 400 and public-owned companies from 6,000 to 2,000 to save money and red tape. So far, the deficit is down 40 percent from last year.

 

But Papandreou, whose official car is a Prius hybrid, says that to sustain these wrenching reforms requires Greeks to become stakeholders in the process. That will only happen, he argues, if there is a sense of "justice" — Greeks want to see big tax cheaters and corrupt officials prosecuted — and if the people feel their leaders have a vision. "We need to give this country a dream — where we are going," so the sacrifices make sense.

 

"We're going to bring in best practices from Europe and around the world to reform this country," says Papandreou. "It is difficult, and there will be protests, and people will feel bitter, but it will be one of the most creative times Greece has gone through."

 

Can Greece have a civic revolution? The odds are long, but you won't need to consult the I.M.F. to determine the answer. Just watch Greek young people. In six months, if you see them migrating, then short Greece. If you see them sticking it out here, though, it means they think there is something worth staying for, and you might even want to buy a Greek bond or two.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

BRITAIN'S COALITION OF PAIN

BY ALEX MASSIE

 

London

DAVID CAMERON spoke for Britain on Tuesday. Asked by a reporter if there was anything to report from the latest rounds of interparty negotiations over building a government from the rubble of last week's election, Mr. Cameron, the leader of the Conservatives, joked: "I don't know. No one tells me anything any more."

 

Most predictions these past few days were as durable as sunshine in England in spring but, nevertheless, Mr. Cameron is our prime minister, replacing Gordon Brown, and our three-sided parliamentary version of the War of the Roses has come to an end.

 

The best and worst aspects of Mr. Brown's character were revealed in the manner of his departure. His semi-resignation on Monday represented the worst: his plan to remain at 10 Downing Street until autumn if Labour was to be part of the new government had little to do with the national interest. Rather, it was a political suicide bombing, intended only to wreck the prospects of a coalition between the Tories and the third-place party, Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

 

By contrast, Mr. Brown's second resignation, from the office of prime minister on Tuesday, showed him at his dignified best. Even opponents could feel some sympathy as the curtain fell on his career. Soon after, Mr. Cameron arrived at Buckingham Palace to "kiss hands" with Queen Elizabeth II and become, at 43, the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812.

 

Still, looking back, it was touch and go. On Monday evening it seemed as though Mr. Brown's audacious, last-gasp maneuver might work. Although Mr. Clegg had suggested that the Conservatives' plurality in last Thursday's vote gave them the first right to form a government, Mr. Brown revealed on Monday that the Liberal Democrats were courting Labour.

 

Then, a seemingly endless parade of Labour ministers appeared on television insisting that, despite losing 91 seats in the House of Commons and getting two million votes fewer than the Conservatives, they had not actually lost the election. Like Monty Python's Black Knight, they claimed defeat was "only a flesh wound" and nothing serious enough to require a change of government.

 

And so the electorate was asked to contemplate the extraordinary spectacle of a Labour-Liberal Democrat "Losers' Alliance." While constitutionally permissible, such an arrangement can't be squared with any residual British sense of fair play. More pertinent, it wouldn't even have commanded a majority in the House of Commons, and would have had to purchase the support of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parties.

 

Fortunately, sanity prevailed. Talks with Labour broke down and, as one senior Liberal Democrat leader put it, the Tories represented "the only deal in town." This put Mr. Clegg in a bind. He knew that if his party joined the Conservatives, it risked being punished in the next election by voters in Scotland and the north of England; if it supported Labour, it risked a hammering in southern and southwestern England. Heads they lose and tails they lose too.

 

Nevertheless, to govern is to choose, and the arguments in favor of a Tory-Liberal Democrat deal were simply too persuasive. First, the arithmetic: together they will command 363 seats in the Commons, well above the 326 needed for a majority. This augurs stability, meaning the next election can be put off until 2015, as opposed to our voting again in a few months.

 

Second, while the parties inhabit opposite wings of the political spectrum, they have a surprising amount in common. On civil liberties, tax reform, education reform and decentralizing the political system — the keystones of the Tories' "Big Society" package — they share a philosophical commitment that puts the individual before the state and a political belief in the value of Edmund Burke's "little platoons": families, neighborhood associations, charities, churches and the like.

 

This common ground, perhaps, eased the way for deals on the messy particulars, like the number of ministry positions Mr. Clegg's party will get and how far the coalition will go on electoral reform and other Liberal Democratic priorities. Given the economy, none of this seems terribly urgent, anyway.

 

The government's immediate task will be to reassure the markets that Britain is serious about repairing its ruined public finances. This was the election issue the parties all preferred to ignore, fancying, correctly, that the electorate couldn't handle the truth about the forthcoming Era of No Money. But that reckoning can be postponed no longer. Morgan Stanley on Tuesday advised investors to short the pound, a warning shot that should concentrate minds in Westminster.

 

For Mr. Cameron, if not for his backbenchers, a partnership with the Liberal Democrats has some advantages. The government will be unpopular initially as it cuts public spending and raises taxes. Why not share the responsibility — and blame — for those decisions?

 

The government is also likely to be less influential on the international stage than its predecessors. As a Tory-Liberal alliance could be broken by arguments over the European Union, Britain's relationship with Brussels will be placed in cryogenic suspended animation with the label, "Do Not Waken Before 2015." And a Tory-Liberal partnership will need to compromise on Afghanistan. Both want the mission "clarified" and agree that the commitment cannot be indefinite.

 

This, as with much else in Britain this week, is open for negotiation. But one thing will have changed: David Cameron knows that after 13 years in the wilderness, the Conservatives are back.

 

Alex Massie writes on politics for The Spectator.

 

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


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

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON ENERGY: DON'T USE OIL SPILL AS EXCUSE TO DEEP-SIX DOMESTIC DRILLING

 

The easy thing to do after the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be to kill President Obama's shiny new plan to expand offshore drilling. Many formerly pro-drilling coastal politicians, from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, are calling for doing just that.

 

But parochial interests and short-term thinking are the traditional ruin of U.S. energy policy.

 

Decades of refusal to expand domestic drilling, or make gasoline more expensive, have left the nation addicted to foreign oil. As pretty much everyone knows by now, this is an invisible, slow-motion disaster that transfers tens of billions of dollars a year to unfriendly regimes and leaves the nation vulnerable to wars and oil shocks.

 

Meanwhile, decades of refusal to build more nuclear plants, or deal with the waste disposal issue, since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island have left the U.S. overly dependent on electricity from coal that is dangerous to mine and contributes to climate change.

 

So as nice as it would be to halt oil exploration along the coastline or in the Alaskan wilderness, years of feckless energy policy have forfeited that luxury. The question now isn't whether to drill, but how to do so more safely, particularly in deep water, while developing clean-energy replacements such as wind, solar and biofuels.

 

If only that were easy or quick. Alternative energy provides about 6% of transportation fuel. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that 25 years from now, it will provide about 15%. Even if that doubled or tripled, the nation would still need substantial quantities of oil.

 

About one-third of U.S. oil production comes from the Gulf. Curbing or killing the plan to expand offshore drilling would take off the table an estimated 40 billion to 60 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil — about six to eight years of U.S. consumption at current rates. That oil is needed to help reduce imports and bridge to a time when more planes, trains and automobiles can run on alternative fuels. Currently, of the nearly 250 million cars and trucks on American roads, only about 700,000 run on alternative fuels. Phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles is going to be a long, slow process.

 

Being stuck with petroleum for now, however, doesn't mean pursuing a heedless "drill, baby, drill" policy. The Gulf of Mexico disaster exposed the oil industry's failure to anticipate, and develop a robust response to, a deep-sea blowout.

 

True, this is the first serious drilling-related spill in U.S. waters since the one off Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969.But when BP executives say they never could have imagined the sort of accident that occurred nearly three weeks ago in the Gulf, an assertion repeated at Tuesday's finger-pointing congressional hearing into the spill, they are either misinformed or ignorant about their business.

 

An industry study documented more than 100 cases of blowout-preventer failures in just two years in the 1990s— none as serious as this one, but warning signs nonetheless. Worse, a catastrophic failure in foreign waters should have sounded alarm bells. In 1979, a blowout preventer failed to cut the flow of oil at a Mexican offshore well near the Yucatan Peninsula. That one took about 295 days to control and spilled 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. (An estimated 4 million gallons have spilled from the Deepwater Horizon accident.)

 

Before offshore drilling expands, the industry should have to show that it is far better prepared than BP was to deal with accidents, and the government must beef up its oversight. On Tuesday, the administration announced plans to split the Minerals Management Services into one unit to enforce safety rules and a second unit to collect royalties. That would help eliminate the conflict of interest between the agency's dual missions, much as was necessary with federal oversight of the airline industry.

 

Just as one plane crash doesn't mean that the nation should stop building jetliners and airports, one horrific spill can't be allowed to dictate energy policy for decades. The nation needs the oil. But it can learn from the mess in the Gulf to minimize the chances of anything like it happening again.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON ENERGY: HALT OFFSHORE EXPLORATION

BY BILL NELSON

 

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

 

That's what Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman said in 1986. Judging by recent events, it's more true today than ever.

 

The failure of the Deepwater Horizon test well in the Gulf of Mexico is a horrible tragedy. But hopefully, it will be something from which we gain wisdom.

 

We still don't know how bad it will be, but some scientists say the Gulf loop currents could take this oil to the Florida Keys, and then to the southeast part of the state.

 

BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, acknowledged to me that economic damages will exceed the current $75 million cap on liability for drilling accidents. So I've joined with Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey to introduce legislation to raise that cap to $10 billion. I've also joined with Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida in calling for moratoria on offshore oil exploration and drilling in new areas. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar likely will adopt changes I and others have asked for regarding the regulators who inspect oil rigs, investigate oil companies and enforce safety regulations.

 

Meantime, the scope of this crisis in the Gulf should prompt the president and all lawmakers to re-examine Big Oil's safety claims and call for a halt to the industry's push for drilling in new offshore areas.

 

Over the past four decades, I've fought the industry's immensely powerful lobby in Washington to keep oil rigs away from Florida and other coastal states. I've argued that a big spill could not only harm Florida's tourism-driven economy and unique environment, but also usurp the country's last major military training and testing range in the eastern Gulf.

 

Whether offshore drilling ever becomes safer, there just isn't enough oil in the eastern Gulf or along most of the Atlantic seaboard to justify the enormous risks from a blowout, spill or shipping accident, like the Exxon Valdez.

 

On the broader energy issue, America must lessen its reliance on foreign oil. But there's no need to expand drilling into new areas. Oil and gas companies right now have some 31 million acres under lease in parts of the Gulf where they aren't even drilling yet.

 

The ultimate answer to America's energy needs lies not in oil, but in the rapid development of alternative fuels.

 

And I think we can help pay for an accelerated national energy program by ending the billions of dollars in

giveaways to Big Oil, by making sure it pays all its taxes and royalties.

 

Bill Nelson, a Democrat, is the senior U.S. senator from Florida.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

WE'RE NOT YET GREECE, BUT ARE WE STILL AMERICA?

BY DAVID M. WALKER

 

As I have traveled the country recently, promoting the need for fiscal responsibility, many people have asked me: Are we Greece?

 

Greece is beset by economic crisis, driven in large part by dramatic increases in spending, escalating deficits and growing debt burdens. Foreign investors have lost confidence in its ability to repay its debt, and the European Union has had to bail out the beleaguered Greek treasury, just like a too-big-to-fail bank.

 

If the first part of that story sounds familiar, it should. Over the past 40 years, the U.S. government spending has grown by almost 300% net of inflation, and our revenues haven't kept pace. The result is that our current deficits, when adjusted for inflation, are the highest as a percentage of our economy since World War II.

 

In that respect, we sure look a lot like Greece, or at least we will in the near future. As a percentage of our economy, total federal, state and local public debt in the U.S. already exceeds levels in Spain, and are comparable to Ireland and Great Britain. We will reach Portugal's levels within two years and Greece's levels within 10 years on our present course.

 

To be sure, there are some big differences between the U.S. and Greece. We are by far the largest economy in the world. The dollar also represents more than 60% of the world's reserve currency. That means, unlike the situation in Greece, our foreign creditors will give us the benefit of the doubt for a while. They know that our current deficits are designed to deal with the recent recession.

 

But they also see the very grave threat of the escalating deficits we will face in the future based on our current fiscal path. These projected structural deficits are driven largely by rising health care costs, known demographic trends, and the cost of financing what we will need to borrow to pay for increased spending. There is near universal agreement on the seriousness of our longer-term outlook, including President Obama and prominent past economic and political leaders from both major parties.

 

So, are we Greece? Not yet. But if we don't change course and recognize that we are not exempt from the

fundamental laws of prudent finance, we could be in the not too distant future.

 

There's another question worth considering: Are we still America? Our nation and too many of our citizens have become addicted to consumption and debt. But we can change our ways. Every previous generation has taken steps to keep America strong and improve the standard of living for future generations. Thanks to our forbearers, we are the richest and most powerful nation on earth. Then again, back in the day, so was Greece.

What can we do to ensure that the America our children inherit is better in the future? After all, this isn't just about getting our finances in order; it's about the hopes and dreams of the American people. It's about ensuring that our social safety net is solvent and secure, that we have resources to invest in research, education and infrastructure, and that America remains a land of opportunity and tranquility.

 

Ultimately, we will need to take a range of steps to recapture fiscal flexibility and stabilize our debt-to-GDP ratio. This might include re-imposing tough but realistic statutory budget controls, achieving comprehensive Social Security reform, increasing savings rates, addressing health care costs, implementing defense and other spending reprioritization and constraint, and engaging in comprehensive tax reform that raises more revenues.

 

But the first step, of course, is to summon our age-old American spirit to take bold actions to ensure the United States of America never ends up like Greece. The time to start avoiding a crisis and building a better future is now.

 

David M. Walker served as U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008 and currently serves as the president & CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

SENATE'S WAY IS NO WAY TO CONFIRM A JUDICIAL MVP

BY JONATHAN TURLEY

 

President Obama's nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court formally starts one of our most flawed constitutional traditions: the Senate confirmation hearings. It is enough to make the Framers blush, a process once described by Kagan herself as a " vapid and hollow charade." From movies to baseball, other fields select top candidates based on proven and unequalled performance. For court nominees, we often seek not the most valuable player but the most confirmable person.

 

The sad fact is that there is more demonstrated ability and evaluation in American Idol than these Senate hearings. The Constitution is silent on the standard for confirmation, and most senators view their job as confirming individual competence rather than comparative excellence. Under the Ginsburg rule (named after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), nominees are also allowed to refuse to answer many questions on their specific legal views. As a result, what legal discussion that is generated is often little more than platitudes and generalities — like picking a doctor based solely on his stated commitment to "good health" and his strong opposition to premature death.

 

Other professions struggle to find the best person through a process of comparison — as opposed to high court confirmations where a single nominee is judged against herself.

 

•The College of Cardinals. Any unmarried Catholic male can be chosen as pontiff, though since Pope Urban VI in 1378, all popes have been selected from the ranks of cardinals. This means that the process compares more than 100 eligible candidates. When each cardinal casts his secret vote, he gives a Latin oath stating, "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected." In confirmation hearings, the choice is only the president's, with nominees often selected for political rather than intellectual viability.

 

•Baseball's MVP. The most valuable player in Major League Baseball is awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America, the people who observe the performance of players over a lengthy season before selecting the best candidate. Conversely, senators never inquire as to whether a jurist is really the best choice among jurists, professors and lawyers who are widely cited as the intellectual leaders of their generation. We effectively select our judicial MVPs based on how good they look on a baseball card as opposed to their actual stats. If law professors and legal commentators selected nominees as sports writers select MVPs, few if any of the past dozen nominees would have made the final list — let alone the final choice.

 

•The Academy Awards. Of course, one could make selections of nominees based on the quality of their writings. When the Academy Awards are selected, the decision of who is the best actor or director is made by the roughly 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While Academy voters compare the specific body of work of a candidate with other artists, senators avoid such comparisons and seem to prefer nominees with little prior writing (such as law review articles). It is like the Academy voting on the best movies based on trailers.

 

If we really wanted to select a judicial MVP, we would start by making comparisons between candidates, selecting from the clear leaders in the legal field, and demanding to see outstanding contributions to law as a prerequisite for confirmation. We would also discard the Ginsburg rule. If they state (as did nominee Clarence Thomas) that they just haven't thought much about issues such as Roe v. Wade, they should be told to come back once they have. As Kagan once said, "When the Senate ceases to engage nominees in meaningful discussion of legal issues, the confirmation process takes on an air of vacuity and farce."

 

In Kagan's case, she appeared to endorse controversial views from the Bush administration in limiting civil liberties in the war on terror — views diametrically opposed to some of the most important decisions of the man she hopes to replace, Justice John Paul Stevens.

 

We were once able to put the likes of Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Joseph Story on the court. We now have a process that favors hope over experience with the advantage going to those nominees with the least writing and slimmest record.

 

No one is asking for white smoke to appear over the Capitol Dome to show a divinely selected nominee. But there is a serious problem when we take greater care in selecting our movies and MVPs than our justices.

 

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

WILL PHILIPPINES' CYCLE OF CORRUPTION EVER END?

BY LEWIS M. SIMONS

 

Any Americans who hold out the faint hope that our onetime colony the Philippines might yet drag itself out of an unending cycle of poverty, corruption and violence must now bet on the long odds that newly elected President Benigno Aquino III will act against the best interests of his elitist class.

 

The son of the late president Corazon "Cory" Aquino and her murdered husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Jr., the understated "Noynoy," as nickname-obsessed Filipinos know him, is but the latest of the super-rich, land-owning, fair-skinned mestizos to rule the 92 million people of the archipelago since the United States granted them independence in the wake of World War II.

 

These elites exercise their political will and control the Philippines' economy through domination of massive agricultural, industrial and commercial empires. "The mestizo ruling class feels no obligation to the peons down the line," Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of neighboring, middle-class, meritocratic Singapore, told me.

 

The mestizos are the descendants of Spanish friars and soldiers, who colonized the islands from 1564 to 1898, and some of the islands' 100 or so different indigenous peoples. These relationships gave rise to an upper crust, upon whom the Spanish colonists and then the Americans relied and through whom they operated for centuries. Indeed, the U.S. government continues to depend on personal relations with the Filipino elites in order to influence sensitive political and military power in this critical corner of Southeast Asia.

 

Bitter laughter

 

Our reliance on individuals who largely are tainted by scandal, corruption and — certainly for two decades under President Ferdinand E. Marcos— brutality, explains the hostile part of the love-hate relationship many ordinary Filipinos have with Americans. When then-Vice President George H.W. Bush publicly told the reviled Marcos in 1981, "We love you for your adherence to democratic principles and the democratic process," millions laughed bitterly.

 

The elites emerge from luxurious seclusion in their walled-in mansions and vast estates to mix with the masses only at election time, when they make outrageous promises they have neither the intention nor the ability to deliver.

 

In his successful campaign, the new President Aquino vowed to subdivide Hacienda Luisita, his family's vast sugar plantation in Tarlac province, among some 10,000 tenant-farmer families. Each family is entitled to at least 25 acres of the 16,000-acre property under a land-reform program instituted by none other than President Corazon Aquino in 1989.

 

Other members of the family, however, have steadfastly opposed the idea. In 2004, the family summoned armed government militia to the plantation to put down a tenant demonstration. The troops killed seven protesters and hung the body of one, a youth leader, from the gate of the plantation.

 

The congressman representing the farmers of Hacienda Luisita at the time was Noynoy Aquino. Now president, the unmarried 50-year-old says he has asked his relatives, who are co-owners of the plantation, to find ways to distribute the land. "We are concerned with the welfare of the farmers there, and we want to distribute the assets to the farmers," he said during the campaign. "The only problem is how we will transfer the assets without passing the debts that have been incurred."

 

The tenants are skeptical. Still, as they demonstrated in this week's election — most notable, perhaps, for being the first computerized national voting in Southeast Asia — Filipinos are possessed of a strong sentimental streak. Many of those who supported Aquino against a field of eight other candidates acknowledged that they did so because of fond memories of his martyred father — murdered under Marcos' orders — and his sainted mother.

 

Reasons for hope

 

Cory Aquino was swept into office in 1986 on the wings of a "people's power" revolution in the streets of central Manila. Cory Aquino advertised herself as a "plain housewife" who took the audacious step to run for president only to win justice for Ninoy. Her dramatic victory forced the 20-year-Marcos kleptocracy into exile in Hawaii and thrilled people around the world. When the moment of glory faded, though, she proved an ineffectual and uninspiring leader. Her six years in office were marked by ceaseless dissent and nine coup attempts.

 

Cory Aquino died of cancer last August and her long-tarnished halo reappeared, as though miraculously, newly gleaming, over the balding head of her son. Unsettlingly, Noynoy, who told a reporter recently that he "wasn't clamoring to be the person responsible for solving all the problems" of the Philippines, is sweeping into the riverfront Spanish colonial-era Malacanang Palace with much the same romanticized hope that accompanied his late mother.

 

Perhaps this unassuming, pool-shooting, jazz-loving bachelor will justify at least some of that hope. Perhaps he will mean what he said immediately after the election: "I will not only not steal, but I'll have the corrupt arrested."

 

Perhaps his campaign promise to investigate his predecessor, outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on allegations of corruption will not backfire, setting off yet more political strife in a country that cannot afford such distraction. Perhaps his promise to crack down on the nation's blatant tax evaders will not bring these powerful clans and families down on his neck. Perhaps the new president will stand up for those who elected him and against those who spawned him.

 

Perhaps.

 

Lewis M. Simons, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the co-author with Sen. Christopher S. Bond of The Next Front: Southeast Asia and the Road to Global Peace with Islam.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

AFGHAN GLASS IS JUST OVER HALF-FULL

BY ANTHONY CORDESMAN AND MICHAEL O'HANLON

 

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — As Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama meet today in Washington, activity is picking up in the war zone. Soon, U.S. troop totals will exceed those in Iraq for the first time since early 2003. Progress on the battlefield does not yet rival the progress in Iraq during the surge of 2007, but the intensity of effort feels comparable, and some good things are happening.

 

Yet there is a great deal more for both countries to do. Thankfully, the recent spats between some Obama administration officials and Karzai have been recognized as counterproductive by both sides; we have no choice but to work together.

 

First, the good news. Some 20,000 Afghan army recruits are in training at a time, as Afghanistan and NATO move toward meeting the interim goal of 134,000 Afghan soldiers for this fall. Increased military pay, hostile fire pay and other improvements in compensation have brought down the attrition rates.

 

Basic training improvements have also raised the quality of troops. Illiterate enlisted soldiers now have literacy training. NATO has set up specialized courses for training non-commissioned officers — the kind of soldiers who make militaries work at the ground level. The national military academy for training officers has tripled enrollment. Better yet, we have persuaded the Afghan government to adopt better practices on how those officers are selected and then on how they are assigned to duty. Thus, nepotism and favoritism have declined.

 

Best of all, Gen. Stanley McChrystal's concept of intensive partnering between NATO forces and Afghan units means that training continues well after new soldiers leave basic training. In fact, the new approach is to team a NATO unit with an Afghan unit and have them patrol, plan and fight together.

 

There is other good news, too. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry now has 1,000 American civilians under his oversight. More than 100 are in the crucial south of the country, helping Afghans develop health and education services, roads, irrigation systems and basic government structures.

 

U.S. special operations forces and other NATO units have become much more lethal, producing major increases in the attrition rate of insurgent leaders. Although this war is now more about creating safety for Afghan citizens than killing bad guys, doing the latter can help with the former.

 

Corruption still festers

 

Even so, big problems remain. As Afghan, U.S. and Canadian forces gear up their efforts to reassert government control in the key southern city of Kandahar, two key challenges must be addressed.

 

First is the problem of building the Afghan police. They are on average less competent, more corrupt and less accomplished than the army. To make matters worse, the police force's training remains weaker than the army's. Rather than rely on coalition soldiers as trainers (the U.S., like most coalition countries, has no such gendarmerie from which to draw trainers), we rely largely on private contractors. Even counting them, we remain several hundred trainers short. Moreover, McChrystal's partnering concept is more difficult to apply to the police, who work in small units in dispersed locations. This means on-the-job apprenticeship cannot compensate as well for weak initial training.

 

The second big problem is corruption combined with weak governance. Karzai continues to preside over a very corrupt country and has not done enough to send the message that traditional practices must change. On top of that, NATO and the international community have not adequately figured out how to deal with the host of self-seeking officials, rival groups, power brokers and other problems in governance at provincial and local levels. This situation helps feed the insurgency because those not able to get contracts or other benefits often get angry and take up arms in resistance.

 

Neither of these issues can be resolved quickly, but progress is possible.

 

On the corruption issue, in addition to respectfully asking Karzai to do more, we also need to do better. Intelligence-gathering needs to better identify corrupt companies. We also need changes to American procurement law so that we can help Afghan upstart firms, which are often unable to handle the onerous paperwork requirements of the U.S. contracting system (though they're often more honest than established companies). Regarding the Afghan police, perhaps Obama could induce European allies to provide more trainers. This would make a huge difference.

 

In for the long haul

 

Finally, we also need to reassure Afghans, as well as Pakistanis and other key nations, that we support an enduring strategic partnership with Afghanistan, even after U.S. troop numbers decline. We must clarify that the July 2011 date President Obama has set to begin the U.S. troop drawdown does not imply a rapid departure. Many in the region still misunderstand his words.

 

The glass is slightly more than half-full. We have a bit more battlefield momentum in Afghanistan than a year ago, and we still have other strengths as well — a strong international coalition, excellent U.S. forces, a rapidly improving Afghan army, and a resilient Afghan people who dislike the Taliban and who want this mission to succeed.

 

But we could still lose the war, and it is important that Obama and Karzai approach today's meeting with that sobering fact urgently in mind.

 

Anthony Cordesman holds the Arleigh Burke Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Michael O'Hanlon is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of Toughing It Out in Afghanistan.

 

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

 

 


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

TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

MR. NETANYAHU IN A BIND

 

Hopes for peace -- or at least meaningful progress towards that elusive goal -- soared in the Mideast and elsewhere around the globe over the weekend when Palestinian leaders agreed to indirect peace talks with their Israeli counterparts. Prospects seemed bright. U.S. special envoy George Mitchell was to broker the so-called proximity talks and hope that the discussions ultimately would lead to direct talks between the parties bloomed. The optimism, as is often the case in the region, was misplaced.

 

Less than two days after the agreement to restart talks -- they've been on hold for almost 18 months -- was reached, Israel announced that it planned to expand settlements in East Jerusalem. Palestinians have said in the past that such a step could scuttle the talks. They reiterated that stance Monday. At this writing, Mr. Mitchell's mission continues, but Israel's announcement certainly puts them in jeopardy.

 

An Israeli spokesman said Monday that "building is expected to begin soon in several places ... where [construction] bids have been issued." He provided little additional information, thus making it unclear if construction was imminent or if it would commence in the future. Whatever the case, the announcement that Israel intended to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem brought an immediate and negative response from the chief Palestinian negotiator in the talks.

 

"If they begin doing this [the building projects], I think they will take down the proximity talks, Saeb Erekat said. "The whole concept behind proximity talks is to give George Mitchell and U.S. President Barack Obama the chance they deserve. The "chance" referred to by Mr. Erekat is the opportunity for Mr. Mitchell to establish a framework in which meaningful, face-to-face talks about Mideast peace can be held.

 

It's not the first time in recent months that Israeli announcements of continued or impending settlement construction has threatened the fragile détente that allows Israeli and Palestinian leaders to speak, albeit it indirectly. An announcement by a highly placed Israeli official during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel earlier this year rocked the region and tested the long-standing diplomatic ties between the United States and Israel. That testing is likely to continue.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is candid about the settlement issue. He seems to favor a partial if not full freeze in construction. Unfortunately, the coalition that allows him to remain in power takes a different view. Right-wing members of the coalition as well as opposition leaders want Israel to continue settlement building, regardless of the diplomatic cost.

 

That short-sighted view leaves Mr. Netanyahu in a bind. He can pursue peace and risk losing office, or he can support settlement building, probably stay in office and jeopardize any useful talks in the region. Hopefully, the prime minister can find a path that allows him to mollify his political opponents and continue the pursuit of peace.

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

STRENGTHEN FDA'S ROLE

 

A national recall of romaine lettuce that has sickened people with a rare strain of E. coli poisoning is another in a lengthy list of reminders that the nation's food safety controls are inadequate. Improvement is needed.

 

The recall, which covers Tennessee, Georgia, 21 other states and the District of Columbia, is for lettuce primarily sold to food service and wholesale customers by a single distributor. The recall does not involve bagged or mixed lettuce in supermarkets, though it is possible, health officials say, that some of the contaminated product might have been used in salad bars. The recall is worrisome, both because it could cause illness or death and because it is another in a series of problems created by food-borne contaminants.

 

In recent years, reports of widespread illness and even deaths from contaminated foods -- including meat, chicken, peanuts, peppers, cantaloupe, tomatoes and spinach -- have prompted a series of recalls. That history, plus the present concern about romaine lettuce, strongly suggests that Congress should revisit and strengthen the nation's food-safety regulations and enhance the Food and Drug Administration's power to enforce them.

 

Long-delayed legislation to do both is moving through Congress, but it inexplicably has been delayed. Prompt consideration and discussion of the bill followed by approval would help safeguard the nation's food chain and protect the health of Americans.

 

At least 19 people have been made ill in the current E. coli poisoning outbreak, and another 10 probable cases are being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control. The investigation is moving slowly. E. coli O145, the strain linked to the romaine lettuce, is more difficult to identify than the more common E. coli O157 implicated in many other food-borne illnesses. Only a handful of labs in the country, according to a CDC official, can do the test necessary to identify the less common strain.

 

The current outbreak appears to be on the wane and those made ill by the lettuce have recovered or are on the way to recovery without lasting effect. Officials, in fact, believe, but can't be sure, that the worst is over since the "use by" date of the lettuce implicated in the E. coli outbreak has expired. Still, the outbreak should not be ignored; the next food-bone illness might not be so limited or so benign.

 

The recall of the romaine lettuce is both positive and negative evidence of a job well done. On the one hand, the FDA and businesses involved acted promptly to prevent widespread illness once it became evident that a dangerous food had reached the marketplace. In the best of worlds, however, the FDA should have the ability to prevent such foodstuffs from reaching consumers. Nothing can guarantee absolute safety in the nation's food supply, but passage of a meaningful food safety bill would elevate standards and enhance disease prevention.

 

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

HIGH COURT NOMINEE KAGAN

 

What kind of judge -- or justice of the Supreme Court of the United States -- would you want to hear "your" case, if you had one, whatever it might be?

 

Most of us -- unless we were at legal fault -- would readily agree that we would want a judge (or justice) who is "learned in the law," understands and upholds the Constitution of the United States, is brilliant in intellect, wise and perceptive -- and is impartial in devotion to justice, with no preconceived philosophic agenda having any influence.

 

With "good" judges or justices, we might never know, or fear, whether a judge or justice is "liberal" or "conservative," if he or she is totally devoted to upholding the Constitution, the law and justice.

 

But unfortunately, as all of us have seen too often in recent years, that standard is not always upheld by the presidents who nominate justices, or by the senators who confirm justices, or by the justices themselves.

 

Justice John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement from the high court. President Barack Obama has selected his second Supreme Court nominee. She is Elena Kagan, who has been dean of Harvard Law School and U.S. solicitor general, "the government's lawyer."

 

She will be examined by members of the United States Senate. With Democrats in the Senate majority, in all likelihood she will be confirmed.

 

But is she the most qualified choice to become a justice on the Supreme Court?

 

By all reports, she is a fine and highly intelligent lady, who came up "the hard way." She has no previous judicial experience. It is best for Supreme Court nominees to have had previous court experience, which may reveal ability, personal qualifications and possible prejudices, such as an inclination to "legislate" rather than just "judge" impartially.

 

With the nominee having had no judicial experience and little legal writing, some are wondering just what her philosophy may be. One case that may give a clue involved her position in kicking U.S. military recruiters out of Harvard Law School's recruitment office because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that involves recruitment of homosexual members for the armed forces.

 

The nominee surely will be questioned about that -- and other pertinent issues.

 

We hope she can assure us she can become a brilliant and impartial justice -- and then live up to that standard. Will her answers give that assurance in the examination yet to come?

 

Our goal in selecting all Supreme Court justices should be defense of the Constitution and impartial justice under the law for all.

 

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

'GOD BLESS AMERICA'

 

In one of the unique gatherings characteristic of Chattanooga, 1,500 local citizens met at the Convention Center on Monday at daybreak for our community's 32nd annual Leadership Prayer Breakfast. It continued one of our community's finest traditions with real meaning.

 

Such occasions don't "just happen." It takes lots of volunteer community work and cooperation to make such events take place.

 

Charles Monroe was chairman, assisted by Vice Chairmen Judge Clarence Shattuck, Jackson Wingfield, Tom Francescon and Lee Atchley, with Henry Henegar and Jim Ruane also working with the vigorous committee.

 

The featured speaker was Dr. David Barton, who heads a national pro-family organization, WallBuilders. He presented a colorful, fast-paced history of our great nation and its religious freedom.

 

After Chamber of Commerce President Tom Edd Wilson welcomed the big crowd, Donald Jackson presented an Old Testament reading and Dr. Jim Scales followed with a New Testament reading. John Zeiser led prayer for our national and state leaders, and David Parker led prayer for our city and county leaders.

 

Our national colors were placed by "Mike" Battery of the Marines, with invocation by Mrs. Stacie Caraway and a duet by Christine and Darrin Hassevoort.

 

Dr. Barton reminded us of America's unique history of freedom, our Christian heritage, and the amazing fact that just 4 percent of the people of our world live in this nation of freedom but that it possesses 25 percent of the world's material blessings. Dr. Barton called it "American exceptionalism."

 

In noting our unusual good fortune, he offered the challenge for us to remember our Christian heritage -- with gratitude.

 

Chattanooga is a wonderful community of fine people in a land that is blessedly free. The annual prayer breakfast provided a formal opportunity for us to give thanks to God, "from Whom all blessings flow."

 

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

TALIBAN IN TIMES SQUARE?

 

The radical Muslim Taliban gave safe harbor to terrorist Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan prior to and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

 

So it is alarming that the Taliban are believed to have been behind the recent attempted car bombing in New York City's Times Square. The Obama administration said it found new evidence pointing to the Taliban in Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan. That is a reversal from its original statement that the suspect probably acted alone.

 

The suspected would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, is a recently naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin. He has said he trained with radical Muslims in his homeland.

 

Fortunately for the many people who were in Times Square when a vehicle full of potential explosives was left there, ineffective components were used and it did not explode.

 

But think of the devastation it could have wrought -- both physically to the immediate victims and emotionally to our nation -- if it had gone off. And what if terrorists drove car bombs into crowded areas from New York to Los Angeles, and to dozens of crowded cities in between, and simultaneously detonated them? There is very little direct defense against such vicious acts.

 

That makes it absolutely vital that our nation stay on the offensive against terrorists -- both at home and abroad -- to keep them off balance and unable to re-enact the horrible events of 9/11. They have made it clear they seek to harm us. We should reduce as much as possible their opportunities to do so by defeating them wherever they may be.

 

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

TALIBAN IN TIMES SQUARE?

 

The radical Muslim Taliban gave safe harbor to terrorist Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan prior to and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

 

So it is alarming that the Taliban are believed to have been behind the recent attempted car bombing in New York City's Times Square. The Obama administration said it found new evidence pointing to the Taliban in Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan. That is a reversal from its original statement that the suspect probably acted alone.

 

The suspected would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, is a recently naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin. He has said he trained with radical Muslims in his homeland.

 

Fortunately for the many people who were in Times Square when a vehicle full of potential explosives was left there, ineffective components were used and it did not explode.

 

But think of the devastation it could have wrought -- both physically to the immediate victims and emotionally to our nation -- if it had gone off. And what if terrorists drove car bombs into crowded areas from New York to Los Angeles, and to dozens of crowded cities in between, and simultaneously detonated them? There is very little direct defense against such vicious acts.

 

That makes it absolutely vital that our nation stay on the offensive against terrorists -- both at home and abroad -- to keep them off balance and unable to re-enact the horrible events of 9/11. They have made it clear they seek to harm us. We should reduce as much as possible their opportunities to do so by defeating them wherever they may be.

 

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


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

TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PREPARING FOR THE BIG ONE IN TEHRAN

BY M.A. SAKI

 

These days there is much talk about the high probability that a major earthquake is due to strike Tehran.

Some of the areas of the metropolis most likely to incur severe damage in a major earthquake have even been identified.

The Tehran governor's office has also taken some preparatory steps, such as holding earthquake drills in which tent hospitals were set up outside Tehran.


And the president has announced that he believes that about five million citizens must be convinced to move out of Tehran in order to save lives and improve the efficiency of the city's response to a major earthquake.


However, it is unreasonable to expect five million people to leave Tehran.


The city is currently home to about 10 million people and relocating about five million citizens would be neither practical nor economical.


Even now, about a quarter of a million people immigrate to Tehran annually in search of employment.

A number of proposals have been made, such as relocating the capital to another part of Iran less prone to major earthquakes, moving large military garrisons and the headquarters and factories of major companies like Iran Khodro and Saipa to other cities, taking measures to strictly enforce building codes, and formulating a plan to quickly relocate residences and workplaces sitting directly on top of fault lines.


The suggestion to move residences and workplaces from areas most likely to incur severe damage in a major earthquake may seem odd, but if a quake were to strike Tehran, the death toll and the economic losses would far outweigh the cost of relocation.


The 2003 earthquake in Bam in southeastern Iran, which caused about 30,000 deaths and great material damage, should serve as an example.


The Tehran Municipality has started a project to renovate the old and congested neighborhoods of south Tehran, but the pace of the implementation of the plan should be accelerated.


Seismologists have warned that it is very likely that Tehran will be hit by a major earthquake in the future.


And since earthquakes occur in cycles and the last major earthquake in Tehran occurred in 1830, it seems that a big one is due.


Taking all this into consideration, it is clear that Tehran must make serious efforts to prepare for the big one.

 

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


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

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE REAL CULPRIT IN BAYKAL'S FALL

 

Keeping in mind that the Istanbul media alone hosts more than 400 daily newspaper columnists, there is little we can add to the deluge of commentary following the disgrace and resignation of Deniz Baykal, who until Monday was the head of the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP.

 

How grave a sin is his indirectly acknowledged adultery? How damning the subplot of the career trajectory of a secretary promoted to member of Parliament? How depraved the mind that apparently filmed the two with a hidden video camera? How depraved the mind that ushered the clip to the Internet for the entire world to see?

 

The newsprint to explore all these topics will no doubt consume as many trees as a small forest fire. Perhaps even as many as a modest forest fire, given the indications that Baykal views his departure as more of a leave of absence than a resignation. So we will leave this commentary to others more qualified.

 

We do think it worth, however, pondering the culprit about which little has been said. This is neither a person nor a thing. Rather, it is the rules by which Turkish political parties function.

 

For Turkey actually does not have political parties in the sense that they are conceived of in any advanced democracy. Rather, Turkey has patronage networks that operate under the label of political party. Party leaders are despots. They effectively pick delegates to party congresses. They personally draft the party lists and candidate ballot positions in each and every constituency at election time. This guarantees that lawmakers have little connection to the constituencies they allegedly serve. It is in fact not uncommon for a candidate to run from one city in one election and another city in the next and this is seen as a minor detail. Parties benefit from a generous public dole, hence their cavernous headquarter buildings that have no counterpart for say America's Republicans or Germany's Social Democrats.

 

There is no small irony in the fact that the only party in Turkey with any resemblance of internal democracy and inclusiveness toward such groups as women is the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. But that is another story. In short, Turkish political parties are fiefdoms, sort of second cousins to the structures in one-party states. We saw this just last week when a short-lived witch hunt ensued after several members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, strayed from the orders of their captain and commander in a significant vote.

 

It is this closed feature of the Turkish political landscape that incubates and nurtures conspiratorial tactics, plotting and backstabbing and all manner of gamesmanship. We think this had as much to do with the fall of Baykal as did anything else cited in the waves of commentary now breaking over public life in Turkey.

 

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


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S GOING ON IN TURKEY? (II)

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

 

We are witnessing power struggle deepening into the private lives of political party leaders.

I wrote yesterday. The struggle is not only over the constitutional amendment package but to change the public

order that has managed to survive since the establishment of the Republic.

 

Founders of the republic, military-civilian-elite bureaucrats, applied impositions at the beginning, considering all were urgent and necessary.

 

There was no time for their vision to settle in. Therefore, the founding elite targeted "lifestyle" and decided to change the 600-year-old habits over the night.

 

They asked masses to adopt "modern lifestyle" and abandon "conservative lifestyle."

 

But none was aware of the fact the targeted lifestyle required giving up men's own values including apparel, eating habits, mind-body-and-spirit, philosophy and estheticism.

 

Masses, on the other hand, read visions of the republican elite as the denial of existence as the country faced a split between modern and conservative lifestyles.

 

The state instrument remained in the hands of the elite for a long time. Conservatives had to comply with exclusion from economic, political and social life unless they were willing to accept modernism.

 

Conservatives were alienated from professions having strong representative characteristics. In politics, they accepted tasks linked with masses and failed social inclusion.

 

Clearly, they stuck in ghettos and were forced to live in closed circles.

 

Conservatives adopting modern life benefited from advantages of being elite in every area. A new public order was established as part of a closed economic structure. Ankara backed Istanbul through public procurements and credits as Istanbul financed politics in Ankara through ever-growing economic power; even more so, Istanbul shaped up politics in the capital.

 

According to modernists, conservatives have no right to object to such system for they were representing what is old and dead. Besides, the minute they surrendered, all doors were opened to them.

 

People failed to distinguish what was right and wrong. So it was necessary to tame up masses, according to the elite. That's why the state instrument was needed.

 

The modernist truly believed in that what they were doing was definitely right and was not imposition.