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Friday, June 18, 2010

EDITORIAL 18.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month june 18, edition 000542 , 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

THE PIONEER

  1. ISI SETS UP SECOND FRONT
  2. TWO MONTHS TOO LATE
  3. ASTOUNDING CRIMINALITY - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. SOME QUESTIONS ON BHOPAL - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
  5. PARADISE LOST - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. BP NAILED, ANDERSON STILL FREE - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. EDUCATION AS TOOL FOR GLOBAL DIPLOMACY - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

MAIL TODAY

  1. PROSECUTE RAJU A BIT MORE PURPOSEFULLY
  2. THE DEAD DESERVE DIGNITY
  3. IF YOU CAN'T RIDE TWO HORSES AT ONCE GET OUT OF THE CIRCUS - BY MANOJ JOSHI
  4. THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
  5. DEFENCE MINISTRY PROBES SOLDIER'S MYSTERIOUS DEATH - BY ASHISH SINHA IN NEW DELHI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BALANCING ACT
  2. OFF TARGET
  3. 'THERE IS NO ROOM FOR INCOMPLETE SEARCH HERE' - SHERRY M JACOB-PHILLIPS
  4. QUEEN'S GAMBIT - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. MEET THE TRAILBLAZER
  2. A PRISONER OF BIRTH
  3. A JUDICIOUS OVERHAUL - HK DUA
  4. THERE'S NO HONOUR IN THIS - PREETI SINGH
  5. THE ART OF THE MATTER - NAYANJOT LAHIRI

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. POLITICS AS UNUSUAL
  2. SLICE BY SLICE
  3. MIXED MESSAGES
  4. BUCK STOPS WITH AN EGOM - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. THE PARTY POLICE - SARITHA RAI
  6. DIVORCE, AMERICAN STYLE
  7. STORY AND HISTORY - JAITHIRTH RAO
  8. THE PARTY POLICE -  SARITHA RAI
  9. THE BORING SPEECH POLICY

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. PROFIT AND SPEND
  2. WHEN MLAS BREAK THE LAW
  3. GOVERNMENT GIVES IN ON DTC - MK VENU
  4. WHAT DOES QINGHAI SAY ABOUT CHINA? - P RAGHAVAN
  5. MANGOES SET AN EXAMPLE - SANDIP DAS

THE HINDU

  1. HOPE IN MANIPUR
  2. THE POWER OF CASH INCENTIVES
  3. TO GO FROM MEDIOCRITY TO EXCELLENCE - N.R. MADHAVA MENON
  4. THE PAST IS NOT PROLOGUE - PRANAY GUPTE
  5. PUTTING VICTIMS AT THE CENTRE OF LIABILITY LAW - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  6. REVIEW PANEL JUDGES SEE A CULTURE OF U.N. SECRECY - NEIL MACFARQUHAR
  7. OIL SPILL: COSTNER'S CLEANING MACHINES - LEO HICKMAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. HYPOCRISY OF PAK, US GETS EXPOSED
  2. MODI VS MODI - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. TAKING SCIENCE SERIOUSLY - SHIV VISVANATHAN

DNA

  1. THE GIVING PLEDGE
  2. CHINA'S NUKE TRADE
  3. PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
  4. SONAL MAKHIJA, SWAGATA RAHA / DNA
  5. IT DON'T MATTER IF YOU'RE BLACK, WHITE OR BROWN - MADHU JAIN

THE TRIBUNE

  1. SHOCKS FROM POWER
  2. CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
  3. BAIL FOR A TERROR SUSPECT
  4. CHANGING BALANCE OF POWER - BY HARSH V. PANT
  5. PRICE OF NOSTALGIA - BY PARBINA RASHID
  6. "WE WANT HIGH-END TOURISM BUT FACE MAJOR CONSTRAINTS"
  7. PREM KUMAR DHUMAL - BY RAJ CHENGAPPA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. SPARE THE ROD, SAVE THE CHILD

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PULLED BY DEMAND
  2. RATIONAL USE OF GROUNDWATER
  3. RAJAPAKSA'S VISIT - A LOST OPPORTUNITY - NISHA TANEJA
  4. SUNITA NARAIN: THE BHOPAL LEGACY - SUNITA NARAIN
  5. BHUPESH BHANDARI: HEALING IN A LOW-COST ERA - BHUPESH BHANDAR

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. WRAP UP PPF
  2. SINGLE FINANCIAL SECTOR REGULATOR
  3. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK & OPPORTUNITY
  4. BP BEGINS TO ANTE UP
  5. IT'S SCARY. GENERAL PRICE RISE HAS BEGUN: PRONAB - V YOGASRI POORNA & SURABH
  6. HR DOESN'T TAKE A HUGE INVESTMENT TO START: TOMMY WEIR - ANIRVAN GHOSH
  7. 90% of our products are sourced locally: President, Wal-Mart India - Nidhi Nath Srinivas

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. HYPOCRISY OF PAK, US GETS EXPOSED
  2. MODI VS MODI  - BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. WILL JUDGE DO US PART, IN NO-FAULT STYLE? - BY STEPHANIE COONTZ
  4. TAKING SCIENCE SERIOUSLY - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
  5. YOU ARE A PRIEST, FOREVER - BY FRANCIS GONSALVES
  6. NEW GIFT IDEAS FOR FATHER'S DAY - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

THE STATESMAN

  1. STRATEGY RE-CAST
  2. HIGHWAY PATROLS
  3. BSP IN BIHAR
  4. ARMY AGAINST MAOISTS - MG DEVASAHAYAM
  5. A NEW MAYOR WITH FRESH IDEAS
  6. THAT PERSISTING TRUST DEFICIT IN INDO-PAK RELATIONS
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ENEMY LINES
  2. KILLING SPREE
  3. COME OUT CLEAN - MALVIKA SINGH
  4. HARD TIMES - ASHOK MITRA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. STRENGTHEN VIGIL
  2. MAN OF VERSATILITY
  3. CONGRESS, NO. 1 CULPRIT - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  4. RACIAL DIVIDE IN INDIA'S NORTHEAST - BY BHASKAR DUTTA-BARUAH
  5. THE ALL-TIME HERO - BY DOROTHY VICTOR

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE LOST JEWS

HAARETZ

  1. GOOD MORNING, EHUD - BY YOEL MARCUS
  2. WHERE IS THE SILVER PLATTER?  - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  3. WHICH IS WORSE, A POEM OR A FLOTILLA?  - BY YOSSI SARID
  4. PR FOR INTERNAL CONSUMPTION - BY DORON ROSENBLUM
  5. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
  6. THE HIGH COURT ISN'T RACIST - BY YAIR SHELEG
  7. A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS - BY YEDIDIA STERN
  8. NO TO RACIST EDUCATION  - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
  9. ANALYSIS / EASING OF GAZA BLOCKADE MARKS VICTORY FOR FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS - BY AMOS HAREL AND AVI ISSACHAROFF TAGS: ISRAEL NEWS GAZA
  10. ISRAELI APATHY IS TO BLAME FOR ULTRA-ORTHODOX ARROGANCE - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER TAGS: ISRAEL NEWS

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. COMMON SENSE AND PRIVATE PROPERTY
  2. FINISH THE JOB, ALBANY
  3. A BAD DAY FOR BP AND MR. BARTON
  4. THAT CHEATS THE KIDS
  5. HIJACKING THEIR WAY OUT OF TYRANNY - BY GAL BECKERMAN
  6. THAT '30S FEELING - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. TRIM THE 'EXPERTS,' TRUST THE LOCALS - BY DAVID BROOKS

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON GULF DISASTER: BIG OIL'S SHODDY SPILL PLANS REFLECT INDUSTRY'S ARROGANCE
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON GULF DISASTER: WE WILL MAKE CHANGES -BY JACK N. GERARD
  3. FATHER'S DAY TREAT: THE BRADLEES BOOK
  4. PLAIN TALK BY AL NEUHARTH, USA TODAY FOUNDER
  5. IN DEATH, ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT DAD MELT AWAY
  6. OPINIONLINE
  7. 'TEA PARTY' TOOK ROOT BEFORE OBAMA - BY CHUCK RAASCH

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. DIETARY HABITS IN NEED OF CHANGE
  2. GOOD LOCAL JOB NEWS IN BAD TIMES
  3. BILLIONS MORE $$ FOR GOVERNMENT?
  4. THE EPA AND 'MILK POLLUTION'

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ASSERTIVE TALK NO GOOD FOR FINE DIPLOMACY
  2. BEING 'ORIENTALIST' OR BECOMING 'MIDDLE EASTERN' - NURAY MERT
  3. SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE WORLD - FATMANUR ERDOĞAN
  4. DIRE REMARKS ON EUROPE FROM MEN AT THE HELM - SEMIH IDIZ
  5. WITH LOVE FROM HAMAS - BURAK BEKDİL
  6. INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY - YUSUF KANLI
  7. A DIFFERENT JURIST: OSMAN CAN - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  8. THE GREEK TEAM: TIRED AND DEMORALIZED - ARIANA FERENTINOU

I.THE NEWS

  1. RESIGNATIONS IN HAND
  2. BEWILDERING FIGURES
  3. SAFETY NET
  4. LOVE AMONG THE RUINS - AYAZ AMIR
  5. STRUGGLES ARE NOT LOST - NAUMAN ASGHAR
  6. THE BELIEF IN CHANGE - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
  7. DESCENT INTO ANARCHYSHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  8. THE CULTURE OF PATRONAGE - AYAZ AHMED
  9. SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MPS THOUGHT-PROVOKING BUDGETARY PROPOSALS
  2. MNS DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM FAKE DEGREE HOLDERS
  3. GADDANI SHIP-BREAKING INDUSTRY IS BREAKING
  4. COST OF AN INDIAN LIFE $500 - M D NALAPAT
  5. THE RISE OF MULTIPOLAR WORLD - SHANZEH IQBAL
  6. PIT OF FIRE - AHMAD HASAN SHEIKH
  7. ISRAEL IS FUELLING ANTI-AMERICANISM - NICOLA NASSER
  8. REIMAGINING LIFE, WAR IN MIDDLE EAST - JULIA KELLER

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. DECODING JUTE GENOME
  2. MEXICO GULF OIL SPILL
  3. THE PAINTER'S LOVE AFFAIR..!
  4. WHY BOYCOTT THE BUDGET SESSION? - PRANAB KUMAR PANDAY
  5. CLIMATE BLUEPRINT COULD HIT POOR NATIONS - JOHN VIDAL
  6. US POLICY: DISARM MUSLIMS, ARM ISRAELIS - YAMIN ZAKARIA

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. WHY SPOIL A GOOD WINE BOTTLE?
  2. POLITICAL POTS ATTACKING MEDIA KETTLES
  3. NOT ABOUT POLICE PURITY, IT'S ABOUT FACTS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. BANALITY RULES AT BARANGAROO
  2. LIABILITY HAS ITS LIMITS
  3. MAKING GOOD ON THE PROMISE OF MORE KINDER
  4. KOREAN BRINKMANSHIP RISKS DISASTER

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … NAN GOLDIN
  2. FAMILY POLICY: THE STATE SECTOR
  3. CAMERON'S FIRST EU SUMMIT: DAVE MEETS THE NEIGHBOURS

THE GAZETTE

  1. TIME TO GET A GRIP ON SECURITY AGENCIES
  2. ALL ABOARD -AGAIN

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. A GUIDE FOR PARKING, SWEARING AND WEEING - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
  2. MODERNIZE OR MARGINALIZE - BY ANDERS ASLUND AND ANDREW KUCHINS

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. MEDICAL REFORM
  2. POLICE TORTURE
  3. SANCTIONS AGAINST NORTH KOREA - BY ANDREI LANKOV
  4. NO JOBS, NO HOPE — NOW NO SOCCER - BY DALE MCFEATTERS
  5. OBAMA DISAPPOINTS ENVIRONMENTALISTS - BY BONNIE ERBE

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. TAX HOLIDAY NOT THE CORE ISSUE
  2. LACK OF VISION FOR SMALL FARMERS - TEJO PRAMONO
  3. IDEOLOGICAL INTEREST IN INTERPRETING THE KORAN - AHMAD NAJIB BURHAN
  4. OUR COAL: ITS DEVELOPMENT AND CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES - HANAN NUGROHO

CHINA DAILY

  1. TRANSPARENT BUDGETS
  2. SHARE INFORMATION
  3. LEGISLATIVE MYOPIA
  4. TAKE MULTIPRONGED APPROACH - BY LIU JUNHONG (CHINA DAILY)
  5. SOUTH AFRICA EXTENDS ITS FRONTIER TO SPACE - BY G. PASCAL ZACHARY (CHINA DAILY)
  6. LABOR UNREST AND ROLE OF UNIONS - BY ANITA CHAN (CHINA DAILY)
  7. SAVE THE GREAT WALL FROM PHILISTINES - BY DAVID CHARD (CHINA DAILY)

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. FOREST LOVE
  2. NOW SCARCE
  3. AUSSIE TEENAGER IN DOCK OVER INDIAN STUDENT'S MURDER
  4. TIME TO STOP GAMES:IS DEMOCRACY ON SICKBED OR IN REVERSE GEAR? - GANGA THAPA
  5. TOPIC: SURF, BUT SAVE CHILDREN - BUDDHI GAUTAM
  6. BLOG SURF: STRIKES
  7. THUNDERLIGTS.COM

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY AND REALPOLITIK
  2. US OIL SPILL: BEND IN THE ROAD OF OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING
  3. PRESIDENT HAS HIS FEET ON THE GROUND BUT LACKS VISION - BY DIANNE SILVA
  4. AFGHAN WAR: THE SINISTER PLAN BEHIND THE POPPYCOCK  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

ISI SETS UP SECOND FRONT

LET EXPANDS NETWORK IN AFGHANISTAN

 

Even as the Obama Administration, ignoring the ground reality, continues to pamper and mollycoddle the criminal Army-ISI-Jihad enterprise in Pakistan, the evil forces of Islamism continue their inexorable march to capture Kabul after US-led foreign troops begin to depart from Afghanistan in July next year. Latest revelations, ironically emanating from Washington, DC, provide ample evidence of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, which is a 'strategic asset' of the ISI and is used for furthering Pakistan's interests through bloodshed and worse, as was witnessed in Mumbai during the 26/11 attacks on multiple high profile targets, has been silently expanding its network in Afghanistan. The ISI is clearly working on two fronts. First, it has been bolstering the Taliban and providing it with all necessary resources, including funds (redirected from billions of dollars in unaccounted for US aid) and weapons (also of American origin) to grab control over vast stretches of Afghanistan. Had it not been for the ISI's support, the Taliban could not have put up such a stiff resistance to either American troops or Nato forces in the Provinces; nor could Taliban fighters have staged spectacular attacks on Kabul. While the ISI never stopped providing logistical and military support to the Taliban even after one-eyed Mullah Omar and his thugs were chased out of Afghanistan post-9/11, it has escalated its assistance to the goons ever since Mr Barack Obama took over as President from Mr George W Bush. The Democrats' victory in the presidential election, as is now acknowledged even by the Americans, came as a respite for the Taliban and a boon for its sponsors in Pakistan. American policy under Mr Obama's tutelage over the last two years has shown that neither the Taliban nor the ISI was wrong in assuming that both would have a free run in Afghanistan. That the situation in the strife-torn nation has worsened or that disorder has given way to chaos is of no consequence to either the US President or his advisers: What matters most for them is to keep Pakistan in good humour, no matter how high the price that has to be paid for achieving this questionable — some would say deplorable — goal. Wimp-like responses of the effete UPA Government on issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan and the desperation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appease the Americans by compromising India's national interests have only emboldened the Pakistani Army, the ISI and the terrorist organisations they sponsor.


Having had its way with promoting the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ISI is now looking at other options of expanding the Pakistani Army's influence in that country. This is where the second front of the ISI's operations in Afghanistan comes in. By helping the LeT to rapidly increase its network and terror organisation in Afghanistan, the Rawalpindi establishment is really putting in place its own men disguised as Lashkar jihadis. In case the Taliban were to turn against Pakistan or, like other ISI-sponsored terrorist groups, decide to bite the hand that lovingly fed them all these years, the LeT network would be operationalised as a counter-strike. And, if the Taliban were to remain loyal to the ISI, Pakistan would have a force multiplier in Afghanistan in the form of the LeT. In other words, it's a win-win situation for the US's staunchest ally.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TWO MONTHS TOO LATE

MANIPUR BLOCKADE SHOWS CENTRE'S INDIFFERENCE


In a first of its kind experience, Manipur has had to put up with an economic blockade imposed by several Naga organisations since April 12. The blockade was enforced by disallowing traffic into the State via arterial highways which are Manipur's lifelines as far as the supply of essential commodities is concerned. National Highways 39 and 53 connect Imphal and Dimapur and Imphal and Silchar, respectively. It's not surprising that the blockade should have caused a full-blown humanitarian crisis in this North-Eastern State. People were forced to pay exorbitantly high prices for essential commodities. The blockade was called by the All-Naga Students Association of Manipur and United Naga Council in protest against elections to the Autonomous District Councils under the 3rd Amendment of Autonomous District Councils Act, 2008. One of the groups, ANSAM, is still continuing with the blockade inspite of it being called off by the Naga Students Federation on Tuesday evening. The blockade was also in response to Manipur's refusal to allow NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his ancestral village, Somdal, in Ukhrul district of the State, fearing large scale violence.


It took two months for the Union Government to realise that the situation in Manipur was fast moving towards an unmitigated catastrophe. It was only then that the Centre decided to act tough by summoning the officials of Manipur and Nagaland and asking them to find a quick solution to the problem. It was Union Home Secretary GK Pillai who decided to send a convoy of trucks carrying essential commodities to Manipur under heavy security. He is understood to have directed the Nagaland Government to persuade ANSAM to lift the blockade so that the trucks could safely reach their destination. Even Manipur sent a stern warning and declared a reward of Rs 1 lakh to any person who would furnish information regarding the acting presidents of ANSAM and UNC. All this has fetched temporary relief, but not helped solve a long-festering problem. What has made the situation worse is the Union Government's neglect and indifferent attitude. Shockingly, the rest of India remained silent, too. It's tempting to pose the question: Would the Government and the people of this country have remained silent had Uttar Pradesh or Punjab, or, for that matter, Rajasthan or Tamil Nadu, been blockaded for more than two months? This reflects our attitude towards the north-eastern States and how little we, as a nation, care for them.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

ASTOUNDING CRIMINALITY

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


While the United States turns the screws on British Petroleum, Indians must contend with the mockery of the June 7 verdict sentencing seven Union Carbide employees to two years imprisonment and fines of Rs 1 lakh each. The contrast again highlights the need for some semblance of balance in India's relations with the US.

It is not for laymen to comment on the technicalities of the disaster that engulfed Bhopal in 1984 or the tortuous legal processes that followed. But the outraged British response to US President Barack Obama's pressure on BP and the fears expressed for the future of the 'special relationship' confirm that such episodes cannot be plucked out of the diplomaric context. The old identification of General Motors with the US remains valid. Whatever the cause of the Bhopal tragedy, its subsequent handling exposed the danger of dependency.

That is why I called my book on India-US relations Waiting for America. It emphatically asserted that India needs the US. But it also stressed that the connection must be consonant with India's self-respect. Indians are waiting for the US to realise that their country cannot be the new Pakistan, to cite Mr Sitaram Yechury, and that relations cannot resemble those between the US and the Shah's Iran or erstwhile South Vietnam. My case was that India's size, population, resources, strategic potential and civilisational heritage demand a more equal partnership.

I was living in Singapore when the book appeared and received thunderingly good reviews in some of our most respected journals. Then I learnt to my surprise that the publisher had asked the American Ambassador to release it and that His Excellency had asked for a copy to read and turned down the request. The last was no surprise: Anyone who was aware of the book's contents and knew anything of how American politicos think would have expected nothing else. This Ambassador, moreover, was a close friend of the President whose "if you are not with us you are against us" declaration justifying Operation Enduring Freedom articulated a basic premise of American statecraft.


There was no launch and no publicity after the ambassadorial frown. The book disappeared from shop shelves. It was not visible at the Calcutta Book Fair. Shops told me they presumed it was out of print since requests for fresh stock were ignored. Direct approaches to the publisher were rebuffed. Eventually, the publisher e-mailed me to say the book had "not sold well" and would be pulped. A minor incident but revealing, perhaps, of attitudes.

Immediately after the Bhopal tragedy, when the paper I edited published a hard-hitting editorial demanding firm action by the Government, a senior New Delhi bureaucrat tried to persuade me to change our line. His case was that American law would not allow Union Carbide to concede what my paper demanded. I recalled his advocacy later when other Indians argued that companies like Enron could not have bribed anyone in this country because bribery is a federal offence in the US.


This readiness to adopt the American position might partly be explained by Mr Natwar Singh's claim that eight out of 10 diplomats hanker for a Green Card for their children. Similarly, I describe in Waiting for America that Joseph Korbel, Ms Madeleine Albright's father, was waiting for his American naturalisation papers while he was the United Nations adjudicator on Jammu & Kashmir. But the subservience of Indians in high position goes beyond calculations of self-interest. The excitement when Mr Obama attended a reception for Mr SM Krishna or an ethnic Indian won the Spelling Bee competition has no logic beyond the inferiority complex of a colonised people.

The flurry of excitement in a Dhaka hotel — flower pots brought in, carpets unrolled — once prompted me to ask the cause. "Ambassador!" a Bangladeshi breathed. Which Ambassador? But "Ambassador" needed no elaboration. Eventually I discovered it was the Saudi Ambassador. America's Ambassador may not occasion quite the same furore in New Delhi but the senior diplomat I had just sat down to interview in his South Block office (after two abortive appointments) when I was researching Waiting for America jumped up with alacrity when a burly White man pushed the door open and strode in.


He was the acting US Ambassador. "Hope I'm not disturbing anything" he said breezily. "I'd come to see so-and-so and thought I'd drop in." Honoured by the intrusion, my IFS host drove me away, my questions unasked. He is now one of India's senior Ambassadors. Given his grovelling, why blame a Lok Sabha member from Bihar for vowing not to wash for three months the hand that Mr Bill Clinton had shaken?


We now learn that corners were cut to get Union Carbide's licence to manufacture pesticide, early warnings about the factory were ignored, and India's official team of scientists not allowed into the company's plant in Virginia. In his paper, "Unsettling Truths, Untold Tales: The Bhopal Gas Disaster Victim's 'Twenty Years' of Courtroom Struggles for Justice", Delhi High Court's Justice S Muralidhar called the settlement the Supreme Court approved in February 1989 "severely flawed". We also learn that Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr Abhishek Singhvi both advised Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, that it had no liability for the tragedy.

Commonsense suggests that liabilities go with assets. Commonsense also suggests that the top man — Warren Anderson — must be accountable for everything that happens in his company. I was only following established practice when as editor I appeared before the West Bengal Assembly's privileges committee and took the rap for a junior colleague's indiscretion. Mr Anderson's evasiveness indicates a conscience as dead as that of the Exxon chief who retired recently with a $400 million handshake from a company that paid a similar sum (after fighting tooth and nail against the initial $ 5 billion award) for 40,000 victims of the 1989 Valdez oil spill.


The criminality of those who allowed Anderson to escape is even more astounding. They soft-pedalled charges against Union Carbide, ensured that the case was not heard in the US where damages would have been much higher and did nothing to scotch American whispers blaming the tragedy on a disgruntled workman's sabotage.

The nation expects the Group of Ministers to impress upon the US that there can be no strategic alliance based on injustice. India is still waiting for America.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

SOME QUESTIONS ON BHOPAL

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


Upon the wrecked Pompeii of UCIL's compound in Bhopal, cobwebs of confusion dart in the air. All the former Prime Minister's men and all the ex-Chief Minister's men are trying hard to put together again the Humpty Dumpty shattered by the June 7 court judgement. Is there any credible evidence, apart from Mr Arjun Singh's trumped horse-sense that law and order deteriorated in Bhopal on December 7-8, 1984? What else did Mr Singh do to control it apart from aiding Mr Warren Anderson to flee? How was bail granted to him by the investigating officer without his ever being produced in court? How did Mr Anderson pole-vault out of a two-tier security, provincial and national, to escape unscathed to the US?


Why was Mr Anderson never quizzed — extradition was half a world away — by intelligence agencies as was David Headley? There seem to be a pile of questions never satisfactorily asked. A tragedy caused by "the synergy of the very worst of American and Indian cultures" was how the Chief Judicial Magistrate described the Bhopal disaster in his 95-page judgment.


The confusion was compounded as no judicial inquiry or commission was set up to go into the antecedents and aftermath of the gas tragedy. The reason for this is not known. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 was enforced with effect from February 20, 1985. The Act conferred upon the Central Government the power to secure claims connected with the Bhopal gas leakage. But sadly, no inquiry commission, headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court, was ordered though there were reportedly 17 ministerial committees and now another GoM (Group of Ministers) to look into the issue.


In the meantime, international organisations like Amnesty International, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Massachusetts and the Pesticide Action Network have conducted case studies and research on Bhopal nailing Union Carbide India Limited. Sanjoy Hazarika came to limelight with Bhopal: The Lessons of a Tragedy (1987) and Dominique Lapierre with Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal (2002). But it is a riddle why there's no official report on the Bhopal catastrophe.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IT'S POLITICS AS USUAL

THE UNION GOVERNMENT HAS ABYSMALLY FAILED TO ACT IN TIME AGAINST THE UNCALLED FOR BLOCKADE OF MANIPUR WHICH LASTED FOR MORE THAN TWO MONTHS. THIS REFLECTS AN INDIFFERENT ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE NORTH-EAST AND ITS FESTERING PROBLEMS

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


The people of Manipur will hopefully be getting some kind of relief from the ordeal that started on April 11. It was on that day that the All-Naga Students Association began its blockade of National Highway 39 (the lifeline of Manipur) in retaliation to the Manipur Government's decision to not permit National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) leader Mr Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his native village in the State.


The Manipur Government took this stance as it feared Mr Muiviah's visit might again instigate unrest in the region. In fact, it even turned down the Union Government's request to provide adequate security to Mr Muivah during his visit, forcing him to camp at the border of Manipur. The situation further flared up when a couple of NSCN(I-M) supporters were killed in police firing.


What followed after that was an indefinite blockade by NSCN(I-M) supporters, which almost drove Manipur into a state of complete collapse. With rice selling at Rs 100 a kg, petrol at Rs 150 a litre, and a gas cylinder at Rs 1,500, prices shot up to such a level that many things went out of reach of most people in Manipur. It was only when the Prime Minister intervened and met the Naga students that they agreed to lift the blockade — albeit 'temporarily'.


Although for the time being there will be momentary respite for Manipur, the problem is complex and it would require the intervention of the Union Government on an immediate basis. There are three key stakeholders in the issue which has led to this problem.


First, the NSCN(I-M) which since decades has been demanding a larger and extended territory for the State of Nagaland, which eats into the territories of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, much to the dislike of all the three States. The second stakeholder is the Manipur which has been at the receiving end and is determined not to allow Mr Muivah to visit his native village for these reasons. And the third stakeholder is the Union Government which has been a mute spectator while the situation turned from bad to worse.


In fact, the Centre's stance is nothing unexpected. Neither is it the first time that Manipur has faced such a situation nor is it the first time that the Union Government has chosen to remain silent for such a prolonged period when a State, any State, has been suffering. Be it Telangana, Bodoland, Vidharba, Purvanchal or Jammu & Kashmir, the Union Government seems to deliberately delay decisions, perchance to seek maximum political mileage from the same.


It has become almost a routine that prior to elections, every political party commits itself to honour the demands of regional entities with respect to formation of separate States clearly to gain political advantage from the announcement and mollycoddling. Once in power, neither do they honour their commitments nor do they provide an alternate workable solution. Territorial problems are ubiquitous to India and lack of political decisiveness has a historical precedence.


Every stakeholder to the current problem in Manipur has its own self-centred political agenda. First, let us understand Mr Muivah's agenda. For that, one would have to understand why Mr Muivah decided to visit his native village in Manipur now after so many years. The reason is quite evident.

The entire existence of NSCN(I-M) and Mr Muivah is based on the creation of a Greater Nagaland. And Mr Muivah has so far been unable to negotiate an extension of the ceasefire (which was last extended in 2001) by the Union Government. In the absence of the ceasefire, Mr Muivah planned his visit to appease the Nagas in Manipur, who incidentally are also the most active cadre of the NSCN.


Similarly, in the absence of the ceasefire agreement, the Manipur Government also turned down the Union Government's directive to provide security to Mr Muivah during his visit, again to appease its own electorate. It could have hardly imagined then that this stance would inflict more suffering on its own people. Not that the Manipur Government wants the Union Government to extend the ceasefire, which would virtually mean giving in to the demands of NSCN(I-M).


And, finally, as far as the Union Government is concerned, not only has it been indecisive about extending the ceasefire agreement but it has also failed in providing any kind of clear directives in order to permanently resolve the crisis. All in all, it is politics as usual, and like always, it is the common man who is at the receiving end..

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PARADISE LOST

CONSTRUCTION BOOM MAY KILL SULTANPUR SANCTUARY

ANURADHA DUTT

 

Growing alarm over Haryana's dwindling water reserves, which are anyway meagre, has conservationists worried. After the drying up of three lakes — Damadama in Gurgaon, and Suraj- kund and Badkhal in Faridabad — the very existence of the renowned Sultanpur bird sanctuary and lake is now threatened. Nature lovers, who have seen the Bharatpur bird sanctuary in adjoining water-starved Rajasthan withering away because of sheer neglect, fear the same fate befalling Sultanpur. Minister of State for Environment and Forests Mr Jairam Ramesh has brought the matter to the attention of Haryana Chief Minister Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, pointing out in his missive that it was at the behest of the late Indira Gandhi that Sultanpur was declared a sanctuary in 1972. Therefore, the sanctuary's "pathetic state", with water drying up, is "doubly unfortunate".


And, indeed, the neglect is unforgivable, given that the place for long was a haven for local and migratory birds, water species, and Neelgai and the like. Haryana, plagued by aridity and scanty rainfall, can ill-afford the loss of another water body. Otherwise, if the decline continues, with nothing being done to conserve water sources and green cover, glitzy National Capital Region towns such as Faridabad and Gurgaon may well go the way of Sultan Mohammed bin Tughlaq's Daulatabad in the early 14th century, and the Mughal Emperor Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri in the late 16th century; both abandoned for want of water. Some archaeologists aver that Indus Valley Civilisation sites such as Mohenjo Daro and Harappa had to be abandoned by their inhabitants because of the drying up of water sources.


The prevailing lack of interest in conserving water sources, earlier synonymous with tourism in this arid state, clearly owes its origin to the shift in focus from tourism to the frenzy of construction/colonisation, currently the staple of Haryana's economy. Consequently, farmlands, grazing pastures, hills and lake environs have all been appropriated for development purposes, with corresponding degradation of the environment. Incessant and relentless digging, construction and mining in NCR towns over the past two decades have assumed such threatening dimensions that conservationists apprehend desertification of the whole area. Denudation of the Aravalli hills, earlier acting as a barrier against the creeping sands of the great Thar desert; depletion of green cover; and the drying up of water bodies and sharp fall in ground water conjure up the fearful spectre of a wasteland swamping the Capital in the near future.


There are ample intimations of this in the battered and ravaged landscape of Faridabad and Gurgaon, and further afield in Uttar Pradesh's Brajbhumi and Rajasthan, where the hills and jungles are being pounded into submission. Not just wildlife, this habitat will not be fit even for humans as water sources, trees and vegetation disappear. NCR has already witnessed the disappearance of the beautiful Damdama lake in Gurgaon, and tranquil Surajkund and Badkhal lakes in Faridabad. Till a few years ago, these were favourite weekend getaways, epitomes of the sylvan idyll. But indiscriminate colonisation of their environs, excessive mining in the hills and use of ground water led to these lakes drying up. And the Hooda Government in Haryana has callously reneged on its pledge to revive at least two of them, the water bodies at Surajkund and Badkhal, before the hosting of the Commonwealth Games this October. Not even the lure of impressing "foreigners", the Congress' Achilles heel, seems to have worked its influence in this matter.


At present, nature lovers such Mr Anand Arya, who campaigned hard to protect the Okhla Bird Sanctuary from encroachment by the covetous Mayawati-headed UP Government, are focusing their energies on saving Sultanpur sanctuary and its wildlife. He ascribes its plight to "poor, unthoughtful and callous management", with no clear reason evident for the lack of water as earlier, the lake had managed to exist and sustain birds, fish and other creatures. He points out the obvious, that water is necessary for survival of wildlife, as of any life. And the time now is crucial for the breeding of heronry — storks, ibises, cormorants, egrets, spoonbills — which, last year, flourished in this season. It is significant that some birds such as the comb ducks have not been spotted this year.


Conservation of water bodies, which have been suffering the onslaught of unsustainable development, must be recognised as a priority. Towards this end, the Wetland Conservation Guide-lines, pending since long, need to be immediately implemented after being divested of flaws. And, above all, policy-makers must ensure that there is a complete ban on the conversion of wetlands, even for supposedly aesthetic purposes.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BP NAILED, ANDERSON STILL FREE

KALYANI SHANKAR


The differences in the way the Gulf of Mexico and Bhopal disasters — both manmade — are being handled exposes the double standards of the West


Is there any difference between the Bhopal gas leak of 1984 and the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? The most glaring difference is the way the two are being handled and the double standard adopted by the Western world.


While the Bhopal gas leak had left nearly 15,000 dead and several lakhs affected, the BP leak is a developing story. It has so far claimed only 11 lives but the flora and fauna and jobs in the region are in grave danger. Following a public outcry, the Obama Administration now holds the BP officials accountable for the spill. It is clear that they will not escape unscathed as did the Union Carbide top brass.


Facing media and public criticism, US President Mr Barack Obama now speaks a tough language. In an NBC show recently, he asked "whose ass he has to kick" over the oil spill, adding that the BP CEO should be sacked. Looking for a permanent solution to check such disasters, he has assured the people: "I am with you and my administration is with you for the long haul."


In comparison, the Indian authorities did not act firmly nor did they fear media or public criticism for over a quarter of a century. Successive Governments since 1984 ruling the States and the Centre did not do justice to those affected (according to official figures, they number 8,94,000). On the contrary, they helped Mr Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the leak, leave the country.


Look at how India and the US reacted regarding compensation. British Petroleum has already paid its first installment of $ 69 million for the damages caused. Mr Obama has pushed BP to pay for the environmental disaster, and the company is liable to pay a fine of up to $ 4,300 per barrel. With the BP's liability still undecided, the amount is expected to go higher.


In contrast, Union Carbide got away by just paying $ 470 million. According to official figures, about 30,000 people are still admitted to various hospitals as outpatients and are receiving treatment. The State Government figures say that a total of Rs 512 crore has been spent in medical, economic and social and environmental rehabilitation as of 2009.


There are some similarities between the two gas leaks. They are both man-made disasters. Safety mechanisms were untested and overlooked in both. But the similarities end here.


The Bhopal gas leak is a classic case to show how justice delayed is justice denied. It has brought to focus the functioning of the judicial system and the need for speedy justice. The court in Bhopal has sentenced the seven surviving defendants to two years in prison and a fine of $2,100. Sadly, the convicted employees managed to get bail immediately. Union Carbide India Limited, which no longer exists, was fined less than $11,000. Ironically, while the accused were initially charged with culpable homicide Supreme Court in 1996 reduced the charges to death by negligence, which carries a maximum two-year setence.


Secondly, it brings to focus the callousness of the political system. Almost all the political parties have been at the Centre as coalition partners in the past two decades. The BJP and the Congress alternatively ruled Madhya Pradesh. Now they are all engaged in a blame game.


Thirdly, the media and the environmentalists also failed the victims. The issue should have been kept in focus until justice was done.


Fourthly, even the public failed in its duty to hold the politicians responsible. The Bhopal gas tragedy was never been an election issue in all these years.


Fifthly, the investigating agencies also failed in their duties. The CBI now admits that its case in the court was weak while the accused had better defence lawyers. The CBI is known for its lack of enthusiasm in prosecuting the accused be it in the Bofors case or any other issue.


Sixthly, the Prime Minister is keen to ensure that the nuclear civil liability Bill is in place before Mr Obama visits India in November. The Bill needs a careful examination.


Seventhly, Indian authorities tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Mr Anderson. He came to India after the disaster, was briefly arrested but released on bail. UCIL claims the company and its officials were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited. Can New Delhi put pressure to extradite Mr Anderson, now 90, living in New York?


US Assistant Secretary of State Mr Robert Blake has ruled out reopening of the case. "I don't expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure, to the victims and their families," Mr Blake said. Does it not expose a double standard being adopted by the US?

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BP NAILED, ANDERSON STILL FREE

THE DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY THE GULF OF MEXICO AND BHOPAL DISASTERS — BOTH MANMADE — ARE BEING HANDLED EXPOSES THE DOUBLE STANDARDS OF THE WEST

KALYANI SHANKAR


Is there any difference between the Bhopal gas leak of 1984 and the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? The most glaring difference is the way the two are being handled and the double standard adopted by the Western world.


While the Bhopal gas leak had left nearly 15,000 dead and several lakhs affected, the BP leak is a developing story. It has so far claimed only 11 lives but the flora and fauna and jobs in the region are in grave danger. Following a public outcry, the Obama Administration now holds the BP officials accountable for the spill. It is clear that they will not escape unscathed as did the Union Carbide top brass.


Facing media and public criticism, US President Mr Barack Obama now speaks a tough language. In an NBC show recently, he asked "whose ass he has to kick" over the oil spill, adding that the BP CEO should be sacked. Looking for a permanent solution to check such disasters, he has assured the people: "I am with you and my administration is with you for the long haul."


In comparison, the Indian authorities did not act firmly nor did they fear media or public criticism for over a quarter of a century. Successive Governments since 1984 ruling the States and the Centre did not do justice to those affected (according to official figures, they number 8,94,000). On the contrary, they helped Mr Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the leak, leave the country.


Look at how India and the US reacted regarding compensation. British Petroleum has already paid its first installment of $ 69 million for the damages caused. Mr Obama has pushed BP to pay for the environmental disaster, and the company is liable to pay a fine of up to $ 4,300 per barrel. With the BP's liability still undecided, the amount is expected to go higher.


In contrast, Union Carbide got away by just paying $ 470 million. According to official figures, about 30,000 people are still admitted to various hospitals as outpatients and are receiving treatment. The State Government figures say that a total of Rs 512 crore has been spent in medical, economic and social and environmental rehabilitation as of 2009.


There are some similarities between the two gas leaks. They are both man-made disasters. Safety mechanisms were untested and overlooked in both. But the similarities end here.


The Bhopal gas leak is a classic case to show how justice delayed is justice denied. It has brought to focus the functioning of the judicial system and the need for speedy justice. The court in Bhopal has sentenced the seven surviving defendants to two years in prison and a fine of $2,100. Sadly, the convicted employees managed to get bail immediately. Union Carbide India Limited, which no longer exists, was fined less than $11,000. Ironically, while the accused were initially charged with culpable homicide Supreme Court in 1996 reduced the charges to death by negligence, which carries a maximum two-year setence.


Secondly, it brings to focus the callousness of the political system. Almost all the political parties have been at the Centre as coalition partners in the past two decades. The BJP and the Congress alternatively ruled Madhya Pradesh. Now they are all engaged in a blame game.

Thirdly, the media and the environmentalists also failed the victims. The issue should have been kept in focus until justice was done.


Fourthly, even the public failed in its duty to hold the politicians responsible. The Bhopal gas tragedy was never been an election issue in all these years.


Fifthly, the investigating agencies also failed in their duties. The CBI now admits that its case in the court was weak while the accused had better defence lawyers. The CBI is known for its lack of enthusiasm in prosecuting the accused be it in the Bofors case or any other issue.


Sixthly, the Prime Minister is keen to ensure that the nuclear civil liability Bill is in place before Mr Obama visits India in November. The Bill needs a careful examination.


Seventhly, Indian authorities tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Mr Anderson. He came to India after the disaster, was briefly arrested but released on bail. UCIL claims the company and its officials were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited. Can New Delhi put pressure to extradite Mr Anderson, now 90, living in New York?


US Assistant Secretary of State Mr Robert Blake has ruled out reopening of the case. "I don't expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure, to the victims and their families," Mr Blake said. Does it not expose a double standard being adopted by the US?

 

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


THE PIONEER

OPED

EDUCATION AS TOOL FOR GLOBAL DIPLOMACY

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


Institutions such as AIIMS, IIMs and IITs have given India a sharp brand image


The nature of international diplomacy has changed. The nature of education has changed. What is taking time is our ability to recognise both or either in sufficient measure to gear up to the new challenges. We now have a Minister for Human Resources Development who not only has an appreciation of what is happening but is leading from up front. He instinctively realises that in the present day and age one of the core struggles is for control over the minds of the people.


It is a well-accepted fact that education conditions people's world view and also gives them a framework of reference. It provides the moorings to which one often returns to make sense of the external world.


The education systems in countries such as the US, the UK, Canada and Australia have earned generously and gained much mileage for national policies by letting their educational institutions take their campuses abroad, letting foreign students have appropriate facilities for working and studying on their own campuses and encouraging distance education by using technology for creating the educational link. The effects of such an interaction last for generations and lifetimes.


Given the usefulness and the prestige attached to such an education, those educated here often emerge as leaders in their chosen professions and indeed in public life. The synergy of their ideas with the decision-making paradigm of their alma mater in matters of values, ethics and worldview creates a good base for these persons to serve as ambassadors of the place where they were educated. This could manifest itself in the manner of handling special trade relations, unique security arrangements and definitive combinations in various international fora. India should gear itself in a focused manner to project the Indian perspective proactively.

An assessment needs to be made for using education as a tool of diplomacy. India has a well-developed brand image, having created institutions such as the IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and Indian School of Mines not to mention certain prestigious universities with specialisation in classical languages, science subjects and literature studies. In several of these cases, statutory provisions prevent them from opening campuses abroad. These need to be loosened up in a structured manner and with due preparation. Institutions such as National University of Education Planning and Administration could pilot this transformation.


The promotion of Indian education abroad has been attempted through education fairs. To do what is required to take this matter forward, careful synergised thought is needed. The support provided by the British Embassy in this regard is an outstanding example of what can be achieved if there is synergy of thinking and action to use education as a tool of diplomacy. The Indian Embassy will have to be provided with the wherewithal to gear up for the situation.


Support system for foreign students in educational institutions needs to be strengthened. The way forward would be to identify select institutions where such facilities could be created. The International Students House of Delhi University provides an useful precedent. Area studies programmes must be started in more educational institutions. The Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of External Affairs would need to enmesh their domains and range of competencies. Programmes to respond to the contextual requirement of the locations from where the students come would be required.

As a short-term plan it is suggested that a shortlist be made of the institutions, universities and deemed universities not fettered by legal and other constraints. There are some who are already having campuses abroad in a limited way.


Simultaneously, a study for developing a medium and long term action plan must be commissioned to look into the issue of making available courses in select areas of humanities and social sciences, science, engineering, management and medical studies including the Indian system of medicine where Indian education can fulfil a felt need.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

PROSECUTE RAJU A BIT MORE PURPOSEFULLY

 

IT has been the biggest fraud in Indian corporate history, worth an estimated Rs 7100 crore, which caused nearly 40,000 people to lose their jobs, and yet the trial is leading nowhere. The reason is that the prime accused, Satyam's founder Ramalinga Raju, is allegedly seriously ill and undergoing treatment at the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences ( NIMS) in Hyderabad.

 

While it may seem unfair to doubt the seriousness of Raju's illness, serious questions arise about the manner in which his treatment is taking place. In a report carried by M AIL T ODAY in May, it was pointed out that he had received hundreds of visitors, including friends and lawyers, in a period of six months. The reports from the hospital have been extremely vague from a medical perspective and don't mention whether his Hepatitis C ailment is of the kind that will allow him to go back to jail and live on weekly injections, or that he cannot be discharged from hospital. Or, for that matter, whether he has irreversible liver damage requiring a liver transplant. And this, mind you, is from a government- run hospital.

 

The case of Raju is unique, not because of his illness but because of his status. The system of justice and law- enforcement seems to operate very differently for rich and powerful people like him. The Central Bureau of Investigation has been lax on this score. It has neither challenged the NIMS reports, nor insisted on a second medical opinion. Indeed while it has completed its other investigations, it has not yet managed to even interview Raju.

 

With the hospital recommending that Raju be excused from the trial for another 28 weeks, we can expect justice to be delayed yet again.

 

One big problem is that there is a tendency to treat white- collar crime as being different from acts that involve violence or threats. But, the sheer magnitude of Raju's actions, and the unhappy consequences that have visited thousands of young people who lost their jobs or investors who lost their money should be a matter of concern to everyone. Given the history of leniency to white collar crime in India, the CBI should have used the opportunity to make the Satyam scam an example of stern action and zero tolerance against such crime.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

THE DEAD DESERVE DIGNITY

 

THE images of dead Maoists— three of them women — slung on poles like animals by Central Reserve Police Force personnel has left a bad taste in the mouth. The CRPF ought to be congratulated for the successful operation in West Midnapur district of West Bengal that led to the killing of eight Maoists, but what was the need to have released such pictures into the public domain? Perhaps the aim was to send a psychological message to the adversary, or, maybe they were trying to overcome the ignominy of having 75 of their personnel killed in April in neighbouring Dantewada.

 

In 2001, 15 personnel of the Border Security Force were killed by the Bangladesh Rifles after they ventured

into the neighbouring country's territory. India had been rightly outraged at pictures showing the dead constables being carried in the same manner by the Bangladeshi personnel. At the time the Bangladeshi officials had claimed that the place where the encounter took place was a vast paddy field and it had been difficult to take out the bodies in any other way. No doubt the CRPF will also claim that the exigencies of the terrain compelled them to take recourse to that method of carrying the dead.

 

But it is the custom in almost every society to cover the faces of the dead. The issue then, as now, is the manner in which the dead, even adversaries and terrorists, ought to be treated, or even depicted.

 

What this episode reveals is the primitive conditions in which the CRPF and other forces are being tasked to take on the Maoists. Is it too much to ask that helicopters be used for tasks like medical evacuation or to recover the remains of the dead? We know that the operations of the paramilitary forces against the Maoists are often bloody but this can be no justification for putting aside norms of civilised behaviour.

 

One of the things that differentiate modern combat from medieval warfare is that even enemy combatants have rights. To treat prisoners of war in a proper way and grant the dead their due dignity is an integral part of this code.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

IF YOU CAN'T RIDE TWO HORSES AT ONCE GET OUT OF THE CIRCUS

BY MANOJ JOSHI

 

THERE IS a distinct feeling among the players and observers of the Afghanistan scene that we are now approaching crunch time. It is not just that the US is now finally ready to sharply escalate the battle, even though it has set itself an impossibly short period of one year in which to regain the momentum and thereafter commence withdrawal.

 

The stakes are high for many of the players in the new Great Game. That is the reason why, according to Wednesday's The New York Times report, Pakistan has upped the ante by unleashing its private army, the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba, against Indian interests in Afghanistan.

 

But many observers believe that after the London Conference that decided to accommodate the Taliban into a new Afghan structure, New Delhi is effectively hors de combat.

 

The news coming out of Afghanistan is confusing. It is not just the fog of war, though there is a great deal of that there as well. It is also the inevitable consequence of a complex struggle that pits the United States- led coalition against the Taliban- al Qaeda alliance, along with side battles between alliance partners Pakistan and the US, and the strategic struggle between Pakistan and India, the US versus Iran and, finally, Pakistan against the Tehreeke- Taliban Pakistan. With so many variables at play, is it any surprise that things are as perplexing as they appear? To understand what is happening in Afghanistan we need to understand the aphorism of the Greek philosopher Heracalitus that " you cannot step into the same river twice". Of course the original fragment attributed to him has a more complex interpretation, but its simpler version means that the Afghanistan of today is not the Afghanistan of 2001.

 

US

 

It has witnessed a great deal of flux.

 

Neither, of course, is the US the same country that went to war then riding a crest of global support in the wake of Nine- Eleven. It has undergone the disaster in Iraq, the sub- prime led economic crisis all of which have eroded its political will to stay the course in Afghanistan, leave alone the money to fund the enterprise.

 

As late as October 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates declared that the US was in Afghanistan for the long haul.

 

Yet six months later when President Obama delineated his Afghan strategy, he set the July 2011 deadline to begin bringing the troops back home.

 

Obama's statement laying out the date in which the US withdrawal will begin, set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. It gave hope to the beleaguered Pakistan

 

Army that if they could maneuver a little longer between the US and the Taliban, they would soon be dictating terms in Kabul. The needless controversy over Karzai's election has alienated the one major Pakhtun leader who was with the western alliance. It has shaken the alliance itself with many of its European allies wanting out, or refusing to commit themselves to the required escalation.

 

In the coming months we will see how the endgame planned by Generals Petraeus and McChrystal works out. One of the world's great strategic thinkers Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once observed, " No plan survives contact with the enemy". That is what seems to be already happening to the ambitious US plan to carry out a quick surge in its capabilities in Afghanistan, followed by an intense offensive involving military power and political reconstruction to break the Taliban's hold in the key provinces of Helmand and Kandahar,followed by a triumphant withdrawal, beginning July 2011.

 

The two- month old operation in Marja in the Helmand province led by the crack US marines has failed to provide a decisive outcome. So, the US has postponed or altered the plans of its longawaited offensive in the neighbouring Kandahar province.

 

India

 

This is, of course, good. Persisting on a time- line which is not working would be folly. Speaking in Brussels last week, the US commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen Stanley McChrystal conceded that the Kandahar operation was not going as planned and that the operation which was to have begun in June and ended by August will now go on till October.

 

McChrystal did not point out that the problem in Kandahar was more basic. The US and its allies were finding that the locals did not see them as liberators, but rather as foreigners, and that the intolerant Taliban had probably successfully transformed themselves into the vanguard of Afghan nationalism, which has historically historically been strongly xenophobic anyway.

 

The Afghan component led by Ahmed Wali Karzai, the controversial brother of President Hamid Karzai has not

been able to deliver the political part of the operation— the support of some key tribal leaders who are clearly hedging their bets. But the more alarming news for the US is that even President Karzai may be doing so.

 

India is therefore stuck between a rock and a hard place. It has left New Delhi holding the proverbial can. It is the only actor, along with, perhaps, Iran, which does not see the return of the Taliban, in whatever form, in a sanguinary light. It has developed enormous stakes in the establishment of a non- Taliban government in the country. It is the fifth largest donor to Afghanistan and besides infrastructure projects, it has sought to build a stake by training Afghan bureaucrats and professionals. In this it has had the support and backing of the United States and the European Union. But, unlike the Nato- led alliance, it has little leverage beyond what little goodwill it can gather from the Karzai government. But it has only itself to blame for its predicament.

 

Its policy has been half- baked and devoid of strategic content. The only way in which it could have retained some autonomous leverage outside American whims and Pakistani ill- will would have been in cooperation with Iran. Because the key to autonomy is physical access to Afghanistan. In clear terms, New Delhi needed to see Iran and Afghanistan along with Pakistan in one regional continuum rather than as two discrete entities.

 

Iran

 

In September 2005, some months after the announcement of the Indo- US nuclear deal, India voted with the US and other western countries to send the Iranian case to the United Nations Security Council at the IAEA governing board meeting. Since then Indo- Iranian relations have been in a tailspin.

 

It is true that it is in India's interest that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

 

But that is a longer term prospect than the possible return of a pro- Pakistan regime in Kabul. Unfortunately, New Delhi decided that the Indo- US nuclear deal trumped all other considerations.

 

India needed to finesse its US and Iran policy in such a manner that it did not lead to a breakdown with one or the other.

 

Actually maybe even that may not have mattered because India has simply hitched its wagon to the US star and ignored the imperatives of an autonomous regional policy. Since the late 1990s, the Iranians have offered India possible access to Afghanistan and Iran via the port of Chah Bahar. The proposal was that India build a modern container terminal there, build a railway line from the port to Bam via Faraj and to Zahedan on the Iran- Afghan border. However, New Delhi has willfully ignored this option, choosing to put all its eggs in the American basket.

 

What our Afghan policy demanded was to work constructively with the Americans, even while keeping the Iranian option open. If you can't ride two horses at once, as the song goes, you should get out of the circus— or the Great Game.

 

manoj.joshi@mailtoday.in

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

THE LAHORE LOG

THE KEYIS CHECKS AND BALANCES

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

T RANSPARENCY International's yearly reports on corruption are an anathema for governments of countries which score badly on the corruption scale because these are seen as an indictment of the government in office rather than of the state, civil society or political system. Thus when a TI country- report is published, the domestic focus is not so much on the country's standing in the global corruption index but on how the government of the day fares in comparison with its predecessor or its proposed successor- in- waiting.

 

In Pakistan, however, a rather different sort of comparison is also made, albeit implicitly: whether there is more or less corruption in a quasi- legitimate militarydominated government compared to an elected civilian government. From this follow prescriptions for a change in government and, sometimes, even in the political system. Is this fair? Corruption first became a major political issue in Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto became prime minister in 1988. Indeed, it was the main plank used by the conspiratorial remnants of the Zia regime to oust her from office barely two years later. Much the same reason was given when three democratically elected regimes— one led by Ms Bhutto again and two by Nawaz Sharif— were prematurely ousted by the ubiquitous military- bureaucratic " establishment". It was significant, too, that whenever an elected civilian regime was ousted, " democracy" and " parliament" were conspicuously discredited, finally paving the way for the military takeover in 1999 when no public tears were shed for the demise of " another corrupt democracy". OMINOUSLY, the latest TI report on Pakistan arrives at a time when, once again, an elected civilian regime is besieged by corruption charges, and angry voices in the media, civil society and opposition are demanding its ouster.

 

Here is a checklist of its findings. ( 1) 70% of Pakistanis say that the present federal and provincial governments, excluding Punjab, are more corrupt than the previous governments.

 

( 2) The police force retains its unenviable record as being the most corrupt institution in the country. Surprisingly, though, certain other findings are more significant. ( 1) The Federal Board of Revenue's Customs and Taxation Departments and the Tendering and Contracting Departments of public sector corporations and local administrations are ranked as the least corrupt sectors of the economy.

 

( 2) In USA and UK, among other democracies, parliament and political parties are perceived by Americans to be the single

 

most corrupt sector of society while in Pakistan that dubious honour goes to civil servants and unelected officials. This means that the institutions of the state like the unaccountable bureaucracy, army and judiciary are relatively more corrupt in Pakistan than in robust democracies where there is institutional accountability.

 

Therefore the solution to the problem of corruption in Pakistan doesn't lie in periodically kicking out parliaments and governments and thereby discrediting electoral democracy but in firmly establishing a political system of checks and balances and accountability of state institutions so that unelected officials of the state are selected on merit, paid well and legally protected against the discretionary ravages of bad and corrupt politicians. Under the circumstances, a vibrant media armed with a strong freedom of information act and an independent judiciary at its back is a necessary condition for accountability.

 

Unfortunately, however, the free media and higher judiciary are not playing this role properly in Pakistan. When the media seeks to play a partisan power role in the making or unmaking of governments, it loses credibility and becomes an instrument in the hands of anti- democratic forces. Similarly, when the higher judiciary focuses its energies on abstract constitutional matters or partisan power politics rather than on improving the system of justice and administration at the lower level, then it too helps to sustain the procorruption status quo of state institutions.

 

No wonder the latest TI report claims that corruption in the judiciary, education sector and local government has also balancesincreased in Pakistan in the last year or so.

 

The link between corruption, dictatorship and democracy should not be misplaced.

 

TI's global corruption index shows that robust democracies are relatively less corrupt than full or quasi dictatorships. Democratic India, for example, which is made of the same post- colonial politico- cultural mould as Pakistan, has climbed the ladder from being the 9th most corrupt country in the world in 1996 to the 95th most corrupt in 2009. In the same period, Pakistan's chequered history of alternating between dictatorship and democracy places it at 42nd position today compared to 2nd in 1996.

 

A reason why India's democracy took so long to make progress against corruption has to do with the weight of the corrupt and inefficient " bureaucratic" public sector model adopted by its founding fathers ( which is now being dismantled slowly) just as Pakistan's dismal situation today is attributed to the unaccountability of the same state institutions and civil- military bureaucracy that dominate its politicoeconomic landscape.

 

The Auditor General's latest report claims that over Rs 300 billion were lost to malpractices and unaccountable discretionary rules and procedures in the civil institutions of the federal government.

 

There is no figure or even guesstimate for leakages in the budgets of the armed forces which account for nearly one- third of the entire tax revenue.

 

TI Pakistan estimates corruption to cost over Rs 1000 billion a year. That is about one- third of the federal budget and over half the total tax revenue. If this percentage could be even halved by appropriate and responsible interventions by the free media and newly independent judiciary and channeled into education and health every year, the impoverishment of the masses would stop and the lingering threat to democracy would dissipate.

 

The writer is Editor of The Friday Times

 

MONI MOHSIN

GUESS what? I'm in London. Ji haan, I'm here. In a flat in Anusmore Gardens on the back side of Knightsbridge.

 

A grenade's throw from Harrods. Two bed, two bath. Sitting dining are one, but. We're here because Janoo's old friend from Oxford, John Porter or Potter or Porker, I don't know what ( these goras have such strange names vaisay) is getting married.

 

He's Janoo's age and he's getting married now only.

 

Imagine! Anyways it's to be big party in his country state in Norfuck.

 

We are supposed to go, in fact that's why we're here but I think so at last minute I'll make excuse and say I have measles or mums or meaningitis or something because who can be bothered to spend whole day talking to goras? So bore, no? After all, it's a full year since I've come to London and then for Janoo to expect me to meet goras while I'm here, it's just not fair.

 

Haan so what I have been up to for the last week that I've been here? Aik tau I went to Harrod's pre view sale. Bought one bag by Mullbury. The Alexa.

 

One pair of shoes by Moo Moo. Didn't get Prada because Pakistan mein slum jo aya hua hai na and least I can do is be a bit kifayat shaar and buy Moocha, Prada's cheaper line, no? After all, baba, I'm a patriot.

 

Talking of patriots, Janoo's friend, an Indian called Ajit who was also from his college and now lives in Bombay ( I think so he's something big in sewage) took us to this place called Mark's Club which I think so used to belong to Mark Bully who was married to Jemima's mother, Anna Bell. And guess who was sitting there smoking a cigar as long as my arm? Musharraf. Ji haan. Stuffed into a suit. Calm as a cucumber with white white side burns and rest of head as jet black as Aunty Pussy's. Not looking least bit ashamed. I wanted to go up and tell him, while you are sitting here smoking cigars and dying your hair and being looked after by MiFix, we are sarrhoing in 120 degrees heat and that also without electricity, without water with bombs bursting around us. Janoo karaowed him a dirty look, but not even this much effect it had on him. So besharam.

 

Honestly! Because I'm fair minded I went to Selfridges sale also and bumped into whole of Chiniot there in the ground floor only. Also went to SOS play organised by Dr Anwar's daughter Sammy – voh yahan hoti hai na in Kingstone – and met rest of Pakistan there too.

 

Lubna Majeed was there, bhai Izzat's wife, and Dr Ghazala Hameed and Anwar and Nazli Majeed and Meliha Zaman and so on and so fourth. You know, this is what I love most about London. It's Pakistan with shops and electricity.

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

DEFENCE MINISTRY PROBES SOLDIER'S MYSTERIOUS DEATH

BY ASHISH SINHA IN NEW DELHI

 

THE defence ministry has ordered a probe into the mysterious death of a soldier. While his family alleges that he was murdered, the army says he killed himself.

 

M AIL T ODAY had reported the matter on April 2 this year, citing details of a magisterial probe that had found loopholes in the army's suicide theory.

 

Eight days before 27- yearold Rajeev Kumar Singh — of 7 Guards infantry battalion who was on attachment to 11 Guards in Dibrugarh ( Assam) — was to proceed on leave, he was found dead inside a sentry post at Chabua camp on the night of May 8 last year.

 

His mother, Indu Devi, had sought justice not only from the army but even the President and Prime Minister.

 

The family, based at Bokaro in Jharkhand, finally approached Dhanbad MP P. N. Singh, who wrote to defence minister A. K. Antony seeking a fresh probe into the case.

 

In a letter to the MP on May 24, Antony wrote that he had ordered an investigation. " I am getting the matter investigated," he said.

 

The jawan's brother, Raju, said: " After almost a year, it looks like the real cause of Rajeev's death will be known.

 

There was no way he could have committed suicide. The circumstantial evidence and the magisterial probe findings point to loose ends in the army's account." Rajeev's body bore two bullet marks — one on his chin from ' contact range' and the other on his right cheek from ' close range' — bringing the army's suicide theory under doubt.

 

The jawan's superiors in the 11 Guards testified before an army court of inquiry that such bullet entries were possible from the ' burst fire' of an AK rifle. But it looked improbable because a bullet couldn't have " entered" the right cheek unless it moved like a projectile.

 

The statements of Rajeev's superiors — in the initial police report, before the magisterial inquiry constituted by Dibrugarh deputy commissioner G. D. Tripathi and then at the court of inquiry conducted by 181 Mountain Brigade — had revealed not only gaps, but also serious procedural lapses into the circumstances leading to his death.

 

Rajeev's body was found without a proper uniform, let alone a bulletproof jacket which is mandatory for all those on sentry duty. His trousers were unzipped and there was no belt, headgear, anklet or nametag on his person.

 

The AK- 47 rifle that he was supposed to be carrying on the fateful night had been issued in the name of some other soldier.

 

The army described this as a usual practice, saying reissuing weapons for successive duties isn't exactly adhered to.

 

In his initial statement to the police, Major Gagandeep Singh, commander of Charlie company where Rajeev was deployed, said he was at a party on the night of the incident. It was hosted by a surrendered ULFA activist, Babli Konwar, at his house near the camp and other officers were also present.

 

He said he came to know of the death from someone at the party.

 

But the major's testimony changed when he deposed before the army court about 15 days later. " On May 8, 2009, at about 0040h ( 12.40 am), I was sleeping in my room at Chabua army camp when I awoke to the sound of commotion outside my room. I came out towards sentry post No. 4 and saw Capt.

 

Gurpreet ( medical officer) attending to late Guardsman Rajeev Kumar Singh, who was lying on the ground with his weapon beside him," he said.

 

The magisterial inquiry conducted on the direction of the Dibrugarh deputy commissioner found contradictions in the statements of the army officers and documents such as the postmortem report.

 

The inquiry report recommended that the case should be probed by a senior police officer or by Assam's Criminal Investigation Department as it could not be definitely concluded that death was " suicidal, accidental or homicidal". On March 8, Rajeev's mother also wrote to army chief General V. K. Singh, who was then heading the Eastern Command.

 

NDPL cites new credit rating to seek tariff hike

Mail Today

 

NORTH Delhi's power supplier has come up with a fresh credit rating report to push its demand for a tariff hike.

 

The move comes more than a fortnight after the power regulator, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, cited an earlier rating that showed the company had healthy financials.

 

The North Delhi Power Limited ( NDPL) has claimed the report prepared on Wednesday suggests tariff must be raised by up to a tenth if the company were to realise its accrued profits in cash over the next two years.

 

" The hike required could even be higher if the current tariff is not commensurate in relation to the power procurement cost for the financial year 2010- 11," the report states.

 

In its letter to the DERC on Thursday, the company claimed: " Despite our superlative commercial and operational performance vis- a- vis the regulatory targets set for us to achieve, paradoxically the financial health of the NDPL has deteriorated due to tariff determination issues as also highlighted by the ICRA ( credit rating agency)." The company has asked the power regulator to consider the ICRA's latest report while determining this fiscal's tariff. But a DERC officer said the purpose of credit ratings was more about establishing a company's creditworthiness than its liquidity position.

 

The DERC had written to the NDPL last month, saying the company's claims of funds crunch were untenable. It cited an earlier ICRA report stating: " The ICRA has drawn comfort from the strong liquidity position of the NDPL, as measured by unutilised bank limits."

 

RAISINA
Tattle

Birthday plans

RAHUL Gandhi will turn 40 on June 19. The AICC general secretary, however, is a tad wary of partymen making special efforts to celebrate his birthday with pomp and splendour.

So in all likelihood, the Congress icon would not make a public appearance among Youth Congress and party workers on his birthday.

 

The old guard in the party is more interested in keeping an eye on Rahul's post- birthday reflection, wondering whether party chief Sonia Gandhi would reward him with a more meaningful role.

 

A secular note

 

AMITABH Bachchan may not be shy of sharing the dais with Narendra Modi, but he loves to flaunt his secular credentials. So when recently his daily habit of writing a blog touched the number 786, Big B could not resist striking an emotional chord with his readers.

 

Bachchan made an entry recalling, " DAY 786! 786 being the most sacred number in Islam and among Muslims. Bahut hi paak mana jata hai! Before beginning anything new, 786 has always been imprinted on the top. And of course closer home, I can never forget the 786 badge of Deewar and the Coolie Number in Coolie ."

 

Tussle on cards

 

UMA Bharti is once again knocking on the BJP door, but Suresh Soni, a powerful party general secretary, is said to be against the sadhvi's homecoming.

 

Soni also has the backing of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state party chief Prabhat Jha. But BJP patriarch L. K. Advani and former party chief Rajnath Singh have taken upon themselves to push for Uma's return to the part fold.

 

A keen tussle is on the cards.

 

Where's Alagiri?

 

NGOS working with the Bhopal tragedy victims have a problem on hand. On the eve of the crucial meeting of the Centre's group of ministers ( GoM), the activists have failed to establish any link with Union chemical and fertilisers minister M. Alagiri, whose ministry has a crucial say in matters related to gas.

 

In fact, when Ram Vilas Paswan was the chemical and fertilisers minister during the UPA- I government, he had resisted efforts of some of his cabinet colleagues to give a clean chit to Dow Chemical, which has bought Union Carbide.

 

Alagiri's lack of familiarity with Hindi or English has reportedly come in the way of the NGOs' meeting with the minister.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BALANCING ACT

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it the gravest internal security challenge facing the country. Yet there appears to be confusion regarding the security response against the Maoists. On the one hand, the government has stated that the army will not be serving in any combat role in counter-insurgency operations, while on the other, the army is reportedly drawing up plans to raise five divisions, or 50,000 soldiers, of crack anti-Naxalite commandos. Given the seriousness of the Maoist problem, such dichotomy is best avoided. For, in order to mitigate the insurgency there needs to be an ironclad consensus at the leadership level. We cannot have multiple strategies being followed by different states. Coordination is the key to success.


That said, the only role that the army should be playing in the fight against the Maoists is that of support and training. There are several good reasons for this. First, the Maoist insurgency is a low-intensity, guerrilla warfare. Hence, the appropriate security response also has to be low-intensity and local. The army, which is responsible for defending our country's borders and adept at conventional warfare, does not fit the bill here. It is the Central Reserve Police Force along with the local state police forces that must continue to lead the counter-insurgency operations. Second, deployment of the army could very well exacerbate the insurgency.


If our experiences in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east - two regions where the army has undertaken counter-insurgency operations - are anything to go by, they suggest that the presence of the army in these areas has played into the hands of the militants. It helped them perpetuate the 'us versus the Indian state' propaganda and feed on the people's grievances. This must be avoided at all costs.


The Maoist problem is also a failure of governance in tribal areas. The solution lies in following a three-pronged strategy that includes security, development and good governance. Even though Maoist-dominated areas need to be won back inch by inch, care must be taken to avoid creating any perception of the Indian state at war with its own people. The successful model for this is the one that was developed by Andhra Pradesh. The state not only raised a highly trained local anti-Naxalite commando force in the Greyhounds to tackle the Maoists, but also followed it up with development and an attractive surrender and rehabilitation scheme to wean away the middle-level Naxalite cadre. This needs to be replicated in all Maoist-affected areas. It is only when we are able to work out the right balance between force, development and negotiation that the Maoist problem will begin to recede.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

OFF TARGET

 

It's early days yet for the 2010 World Cup. But now that it's been a week since the kick-off and each team has played at least one game, a few initial trends are apparent. Despite FIFA's constant efforts to increase the number of goals being scored, there have been too few till now. The average number of goals per match is only 1.56, which is lower than earlier editions. One explanation for the fewer goals could be the narrowing of the gap in the quality of teams. Hence, a lowly North Korea lost to mighty Brazil by a scoreline of 1-2. There is also the safety-first approach with no team wanting to lose their first match, which has led to dour contests. The African teams, from whom much was expected, have by and large disappointed. There have, however, been a few sparks of brilliance such as the magical goal by Brazil's Maicon and a great display of skills by Argentine star Lionel Messi. And we saw a real upset when Switzerland beat Spain 1-0.


Off the field, the South African organisers have belied expectations by putting up excellent stadiums. But there have been glitches too. Security stewards in several venues struck work earlier this week over low wages, forcing the South African police to deploy extra personnel. Worryingly, there were empty seats in the stadium even during the crucial South Africa-Uruguay game which the hosts lost. For the South Africans it was a great start when they drew their first game with Mexico. But now they face the prospect of an early exit. That could definitely dampen the World Cup fervour - and the sound of the vuvuzelas - in the host country.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

'THERE IS NO ROOM FOR INCOMPLETE SEARCH HERE'

SHERRY M JACOB-PHILLIPS

 

Daniel M Russell , uber tech lead, Google Search Quality, is an expert on search quality and takes the lead in evangelising search education. Busy holding a series of search education classes for Googlers in India during a brief visit, Russell talks to Sherry M Jacob-Phillips how the most powerful tool - the Web - has much more to offer than just 'search' :


Google is synonymous with search? Did you foresee its success?

This is one that i will claim a big 'yes'! In the mid-1990s, i was working at Xerox PARC on a large-information search service analogous to Google Search in its scope and breadth. (This predated the Web, so it was primarily scholarly literature search service.) I had several mind-opening experiences then, moments that made one realise that everything will change once such search capability became widespread. So, yes, this has driven my research agenda for many years. I believe even Google founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) did foresee this kind of uptake.


How did Google consciously decide to focus on search?

Ever since Google was launched in 1998, the focus was all about growth. Initially, it was about Web pages, then images and now, it's also about news. We wanted to give our users something more. We wanted to introduce 'universal search' in terms of content. The way people think about 'search' has changed. Today, the internet can do anything. There are words you wouldn't find in the dictionary, you can find them on the Web. We even have a feature on Google Earth where the user can search for places under water...they can spot water canyons and sea creatures. It doesn't end there. The evolution has just begun.


How important is real-time search in today's scenario?

It's incredibly valuable because the time cycle of information transmission is growing ever shorter. This is pretty much true across the board, and the nearly instantaneous availability of information (once it's posted) is a game-changing development. Although we currently see many real-time feeds (such as Twitter, Facebook), we're also seeing an ever-decreasing amount of time between when something is posted on the Web, and when it's available in the search results.


So real-time search is important because the searcher's expectations about information availability are changing.


Instead of Google, netizens choose networking sites to get answers to their queries. Is that a threat?

What's new? People do that for a personalised answer. That's the way networking sites work. When in office if you want to know which is the best place to savour mutton biryani, you just stand up and ask your colleagues. Today, people ask such questions online. Google acquired a social networking Q&A site called Aardvark recently. After you post a question on it, that's sent to thousands of people connected on the site at that time.


Have you ever faced failure?

Failure is inevitable. It's easy to come up with ideas, but it's tough to chalk out ways on how to shift the product from where it is at present to where it should be 10 years from now. There have been instances where netizens search for words that cannot be found anywhere. That's the challenge. We need to advance search tips and tools. One thing's for sure - there's no room for incomplete search here.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

QUEEN'S GAMBIT

JUG SURAIYA

 

Queen Elizabeth has decided not to attend the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Instead, she is planning to send Charles as her badli. A CCTV picked up the following scene in Buckingham Palace:

 

Queen: We have decided that We are not going to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Charles: We? I didn't know i was meant to go with you.

 

Queen: Try not to be a proper Charlie, Charlie. When i say We, i don't mean you and me. I mean just Me, or rather, just We, to use the royal prerogative. All Us monarchs refer to Ourselves in the plural: Me, i mean, We; the King of Tonga; Soniaji. So, as We were saying, We are not going to Delhi. You're going in Our stead.
Charles: But why aren't you - i mean, We - going?

 

Queen: Because We went and checked the Royal Coffers.

Charles: Empty?

 

Queen: Not quite. There was a spider in them. Spinning a cobweb. A very large cobweb.
Charles: Which means that We are broke?

 

Queen: You bet your sweet batootie, We're broke. We're broker than Greece and Italy and Spain and Ireland put together. In fact, We're so broke, We're positively fractured. Which means that We can't afford the air fare to Delhi. You, however, don't need a ticket. You can go as cabin crew, as the regular British Airways cabin crew is on strike, as always. Just remember to practise saying 'Coffee, tea or me?' to passengers.
Charles: I've heard that some other Commonwealth countries, like Australia, might not be going to the Delhi Games because of the terrorist threat.

 

Queen: Terrorist-sherrorist. They're not going to Delhi because they're broke too. In fact, almost everyone in the Commonwealth is broke. We don't know why they keep calling it the Commonwealth; they should rename it the Commonpoor.

Charles: But dash it all, India's not broke. India's the second fastest growing economy in the world after China.

 

Queen: India's already spent Rs 30,000 crore on the Games. By the time the Games are over it'll have spent another Rs 30,000 crore. Don't worry. The Games will ensure that India becomes a bona fide member of the Commonpoor. But till that happens, We want you to explore export opportunities to India.
Charles: But Britain's got nothing it can export to India, not even the Jaguar, which now belongs to Ratan Tata. The only thing i can think of to export to India is that gold thingummy We're wearing on Our head.

 

Queen: You mean this old crown of Ours? It's not gold; We flogged that to Lakshmi Mittal a long time ago. The one We wear now is a nakli one, made of brass. Which reminds Us. We owe Mr Patel from the corner shop for a month's supply of Brasso to keep the damned thing polished.

Charles: So what can We export to India?

 

Queen: Something India's long wanted. The Kohinoor.
Charles: But hang it all, India's going to be so broke after the Games it won't be able to afford to buy the Kohinoor!

 

Queen: You're quite right. India won't be able to buy the Kohinoor. But there's one person in India who'll always be able to afford not one but 10 Kohinoors. She knows that diamonds are a Behenji's best friends.
Charles: Okey-dokey. I'll push off and have the Kohinoor gift-wrapped for Behenji.

 

Queen: You do that. (Thinks) The real reason We're sending him to India is that We're hoping he gets a job in a BPO and doesn't come back here wanting Our job which he's been doing for yonks....

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MEET THE TRAILBLAZER

 

What could be a fugitive terrorist's worst nightmare? Your doppelganger on your trail. So we can only sympathise with Osama bin Laden on learning that Gary Faulkner, from Colorado, armed with a samurai sword and pistol has been nabbed from Chitral, where many intelligence analysts say bin Laden is holed up. The hunter and the huntee are two peas in a pod — both are religious loonies, both are in the construction business, both have beards and both have bad kidneys. The point to be noted for US super sleuths is that this crazy coot from Colorado has washed up in the same area at a fraction of the cost as them.

 

If Faulkner had been allowed to go unhindered, the Osama hunt could have been over. Imagine the uber terrorist's discomfiture when Faulkner turns up at his cave quoting the Scriptures to him. The hunter believes that God told him to go on this mission, Osama is a regular interlocutor for the Almighty who seems keen on video-conferencing. Faulkner may be in the net, but who knows how many more, overcome by the desire to meet bin Laden face to face, are out there roaming the Hindu Kush passes. Sooner or later, they will all congregate in the same place and then bin Laden and his lads will have a task on their hands beating them back. The Pentagon's had a tough time getting to chez bin Laden, so leave it to the teeth-gnashing nutters to look for each other.

 

We must commend Faulkner once more for his sense

 

of direction. For the Americans, especially the armed forces, are well known for being locationally challenged, often turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. A trait made famous in a Monty Python movie in which the Marines land in the backyard of a Birmingham home, frightening the daylights

 

out of the old couple there by asking them if this was Eyerack. So to all those in search of bin Laden, we say carry on from the Khyber.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A PRISONER OF BIRTH

 

Kyrgyzstan is a nation divided, burning and hard to find on a map. Its southern half has rejected the rule of its government, centred in the northern capital of Bishkek. Weakened central authority has allowed long-standing ethnic differences between the Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks to flare into violence. It could be a long time before stability is re-established. Neither the rebels nor the government are strong enough to defeat the other. Consensus is difficult in a polity based on local clans, many of whom seek support from outside groups. Which is why the world is looking to Moscow, and to a lesser extent Tashkent, when it comes to intervention.

 

Like most ex-Soviet Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is an artificial nation deliberately crafted by Joseph Stalin, and thus doomed to be unstable and ethnically volatile. Being the smallest, most isolated and poorest Central Asian nation, Kyrgyzstan has been less of a front page political story than its neighbours. With the present ethnic unrest, this mountainous nation has, at last, fallen afoul of the same problems that beset all of Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan's fragmented polity makes it similar to Tajikistan. The larger Central Asian countries have tackled their patchwork nationhood through one-family dictatorships. They run a spectrum from a relatively benign Kazakhstan to a fiercely repressive Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz troubles will not give an immediate fillip to Islamic extremism — a constant concern in this area. However, they do raise concerns about the long-standing tension between Russia and the most powerful Central Asian nation, Uzbekistan. Recent Kyrgyz politics can crudely be described as pro- and anti-Russian governments taking turns at toppling each other. In this zero-sum game, a Russian gain is often seen as an Uzbek loss. The fear of alarming Uzbekistan is probably one reason Moscow is still weighing military intervention.

 

A long-term view of the region cannot ignore Islamic extremism. Uzbekistan aside, the Fergana Valley has not been a fertile ground for militancy. However, Islamicism's fortunes have tended to be in inverse proportion to those of representative government. A key criticism of the last Kyrgyz regime was its anti-Islamic bent — in a country that is nearly 80 per cent Muslim. Unfortunately, untangling a cynical Soviet legacy and surviving a regional balance of power game so consume Central Asian leaders that few can even contemplate a reformist vision.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A JUDICIOUS OVERHAUL

HK DUA

 

Over the years, the vital wings of the State — Parliament, the judiciary and the executive — have not taken steps to retain the respect of the people. People are disappointed especially with the judiciary because the court is their last resort when the other two fail.

 

There are indications that the government intends to push judicial reforms in the next few months. Time was when any attempt made by Parliament or the executive to set things right in the judiciary was suspect in the eyes of the Bar and the Bench. Way back in 1970s, protests greeted any discussion on the judiciary's commitment or when pliable judges were appointed.

 

It was in this context that the Supreme Court snatched from the executive the power to appoint judges to the high courts and the apex court. In 1993, the Supreme Court came out with a judgement that enabled it to appoint judges by consultations in a collegium, thus depriving the government any opportunity to pack the courts with their own men. This system of appointment is now under threat. The way the collegium has functioned over the last 17 years, it's placed the judiciary on the backfoot.

 

Not all the appointments made by the collegium are questionable, but some of them have been the subject of cynical comments. It is extremely difficult to get rid of a corrupt judge, as was evident in the case of Justice V. Ramaswamy, since the impeachment process is rigorous. He survived the House's attempt in the 90s because MPs from Tamil Nadu joined hands and protested to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on a peculiar plea that a judge from the state was being hounded out. Interestingly, this move failed in Parliament just about the time the apex court came out with a verdict taking away from the executive's domain the powers to appoint judges. That power has been exercised by the collegium of judges for nearly 17 years. But the quality of selections has not improved.

 

That the balance of power in the constitutional scheme of things is slowly shifting away from the apex court will be evident when Parliament chooses to debate the cases of Justice Soumitra Sen of Kolkata and Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Karnataka High Court.

 

The judiciary as an institution itself will be the subject of critical examination by the MPs during the discussion, further weakening its support base. Whatever be the outcome of the debates in Parliament on the two judges, the collegium's utility is bound to come under serious questioning.

 

The apex court took away the power to appoint judges from the executive with the promise that it will select only the best. To ward off the executive's interference, it also promised that it would deal with corruption and misuse of power in-house. On both counts, the judiciary has left much to be desired.

 

It also remains to be seen how Parliament and the government will set up a system that will help select the best of the judges without undermining its independence. Involved is the question of whether the system of institutional checks and balances will willy-nilly get disturbed in the judicial reforms that are in the works.

 

HK Dua is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THERE'S NO HONOUR IN THIS

PREETI SINGH

On Tuesday, readers awoke to the Capital's night of horror. A young girl, Asha, and her lover, Yogesh, were tortured to death by her family members inside her home, even as neighbours chose to shut out the victims' screams. Those who tried to intervene were brushed off by family members claiming it was a 'private matter'.

This gruesome crime, committed in the name of 'family honour', raises three important questions. First, how can there be any honour in punishing your children, with death no less, for the life choices they make? Second, how can the quantum of any such 'punishment' — one that is meted out with shocking regularity not only across our country, but in societies around the world — be left to the discretion of a bunch of patriarchs for whom 'honour' is synonymous with preserving outdated social diktats? Third, how can such a crime be a 'private' matter and why are we, as a nation, not outraged?

The idea that honour killings are restricted to Taliban territory or feudal groups in nondescript villages is like saying that domestic violence or marital rape occur only in those wretched slums. Be it books, Bollywood or saas-bahu capers, popular culture around us is full of references to the fate of those who choose to defy parental choice. From the native tales of Heer-Ranjha and Sohni-Mahiwal, to Laila-Majnu and Shakespeare's famous star-crossed lovers or even Aamir Khan's debut hit Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, most (forbidden) love stories it seems don't end well for defiant lovers. A look at any matrimonial ad will tell you how prospective life partners are slotted into neat little squares of desirable conformity.

Indian society, especially, continues to weigh in on the side of tradition. From parents forcing their children into loveless marriages to refusing to let them leave abusive ones, honour raises its ugly head in the most dishonourable of ways. What's more, there is no bar on the sort of offences that can turn the wrath of a family upon its own. From marrying outside the caste to marrying within the gotra, from being the victim of rape to being in a same-sex relationship, a misguided sense of wounded family pride is all the justification it takes to claim a life.

Here we are not alone. Ghettoes of intolerance exist wherever there are men (or women) who cling to the absurd notion that their children are their property or asset. In 2008, faced with numerous complaints from immigrant communities, and a spate of murders in the name of honour, the British government passed a law under which anyone can ask a court to implement a Forced Marriage Protection Order, which can stop a person being married against their will, prevent them from being taken abroad, and ask those involved to hand over passports or face imprisonment for up to two years.

Similarly, giving more power to the community without criminalising forced marriages back home might help harassed youngsters take on their families to avert a tragedy, but creating awareness must be the first step.

The very idea that a parent can kill his/her own child places honour crimes in a macabre league of their own, so the lack of remorse shown by those accused of killing Yogesh and Asha should come as no surprise. What's more distressing is the fact that — even as we are quick to call the police over minor matters like loud music or parking rights — the neighbours of the ill-fated couple did nothing to stop the gruesome crime.

There has been a debate in recent months about the need for a separate law to deal with honour killings. Suggestions vary from enacting an abolition-of-Sati type of provision, to changes in the Indian Penal Code, which can add urgency to prosecuting such crimes. Perhaps there is some merit in that, but more important is the need for an immediate withdrawal of the carte blanche that seems to have been given to a bunch of elders in village/caste panchayats, enabling them to order the annulment of legal marriages, demand public apologies and ostracise entire families — leading to an unfortunate trickle-down effect.

Heaven and hell, they say, are ours to choose. By that logic alone, no one should be allowed to determine who we decide to spend the rest of our lives with, much less punish us for the choices we make.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE ART OF THE MATTER

NAYANJOT LAHIRI

The news that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will negotiate the return of antiquities taken away from India through a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)-supported international network, has been greeted with ridicule by the print media. This is not surprising. India's track record in maintaining its museums and conserving its own protected monuments, to put it most charitably, is an indifferent one. For this reason The Times of India has asked the ASI to focus on "preserving and displaying well the artefacts it presently has instead of pressing patriotic buttons," while a column in The Telegraph (Kolkata) has condemned the flawed "nationalism" of this demand "based on wanting that which is bring protected elsewhere and not respecting, protecting, or conserving that which lies with us".

Apart from ignoring the fact that the artefacts India 'wants' are Indian and were largely removed in situations of conquest or under duress, such a myopic focus on the compromised character of preservation in India, trivialises what is involved in the return to their homelands of cultural treasures. Museum curators, activists, archaeologists and lawyers all over the world have debated extensively on the question of the ownership of archaeological finds and antiquities. Some of the legal and ethical issues involved in that debate need to be restated.

To begin with, objects of Indian origin in England have been returned to India from early-20th century onwards. It was at the initiative of none other than Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India, that the pietra dura panels — which today form the backdrop to Shah Jahan's throne in the Diwan-i-Aam of the Red Fort in Delhi — were brought back. The panels had been taken away by Captain John Jones in 1857 and were bought by the British government for £500 when Jones returned to England, after which they became part of the collection of Indian artefacts in the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1902, Curzon requested for the return of the panels which were then successfully restored. As Curzon underlined, by restoring them to their original place, the panels would serve as a symbol of the 'generous enlightenment' of a more cultured British India.

Another instance of the return of antiquities is that of the Buddhist relics, believed to be from Sanchi, that had been taken away to England in the 19th century. This included the corporeal relics (in this case, tiny bone fragments) of Sariputa and Mahamogalana, Buddha's direct disciples, and the reliquaries in which they had been placed. In this case, it was Ali Haider Abbasi of the Bhopal Darbar who was instrumental in bringing back the relics to Sanchi. These were returned by the Victoria & Albert Museum in the 1940s. While the Museum had wanted to hand them over to the Mahabodhi Society for their enshrinement in the Buddhist temple in New Delhi, the Bhopal Darbar highlighted that the relics should be rightfully kept near the place where they were discovered. Eventually, it was the same Darbar that donated land at Sanchi and contributed to the construction of a vihara to house them.

In more recent times, the Sivapuram Nataraja, a 12th century bronze image, was illicitly removed from Tamil Nadu and eventually, through a chain of buyers, was purchased for the chairman of the Canadian Bumper Oil Co. In a court case that continued for several years in London, even though it was demonstrated that the statue had been purchased in good faith, the high court judgement upheld the rights of the temple. It held that the pious intention of the 12th century noble who gave the land and built the Pathur temple in Tamil Nadu remained in being and were personified by the temple itself. The temple as a juristic entity, therefore, could rightly claim title to the Nataraja, one which was superior to that of the representative of the oil company.

So instead of hammering away at the indifferent state of conservation in India, an understanding of the principles that should be taken into account when demanding return of cultural treasures is likely to be more meaningful. Has the material been illegally removed as it was in the case of the Sivapuram Nataraja? If so, such antiquities should be sought. Also, for whom do the objects have special significance? In the case of the Buddhist relics, certainly, the bones and reliquaries of Buddhist sages are objects of worship and have a far greater significance at Sanchi, an important site of Buddhist pilgrimage, than in a museum in England. Finally, has the removal of objects affected the integrity of the monument? This seems to be the case with regard to the Amravati relics that are on display in the British Museum and in the Government Museum in Chennai. Their value would be greatly enhanced if the separated slabs are reunited at the stupa site itself at Amravati in the Krishna valley of Andhra.

In this, perhaps, the two museums can take heed from the experience of the two pieces of a bronze sculpture of Bartolomeo Bellano, one of which was in the National Gallery of Washington while the other was at the Louvre in Paris. When the two pieces were revealed to be parts of a single sculpture  — St Christopher Carrying the Christ Child with the Globe of the World — the National Gallery gave its sculpture on permanent loan to the Louvre. The principle was that the aesthetic value of the reunited sculpture is greater than the value of dismembered parts.

Surely, in a globalised world, cooperation of this kind can be explored so that the integrity of some of our important monuments and objects is restored.

Nayanjot Lahiri teaches at the Department of History, University of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POLITICS AS UNUSUAL

 

You wouldn't steal a car. You wouldn't steal a handbag. You wouldn't steal a mobile phone. You wouldn't steal a DVD. Downloading pirated films is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Piracy: it's a crime." So went the step-by-step logic of the Motion Pictures Association of America, as it tried to staunch the free flow of bootlegged copies. And now, the BJP might have to walk the plank for its act of criminality. The party, which had practically abducted and holed up its Rajasthan MLAs in a resort near Jaipur to prevent last-minute temptation before the Rajya Sabha vote, found itself foiled by a different kind of Raajneeti.

 

To divert the restless MPs, the party had thoughtfully provided up-to-the-minute entertainment, allegedly treating them to the latest Bollywood flick on the amoral world of Indian politics. Unfortunately, the film is still running in theatres, and so the DVD would have to be a pirated one. Its director Prakash Jha has threatened legal action against the BJP and declared himself appalled the very guardians of the law were flouting it. (Of course, Jha wouldn't blink at S&M, murder, rape, abandonment of babies, rampant corruption, extortion etc, which features as a fact of political life in his films — but a DVD rip-off shakes him to the core.) BJP MLAs, though, seem unrepentant about the IPR iniquity, saying Jha was "making a mountain out of a molehill".

 

As for Jha's question about how lawmakers can be lawbreakers, perhaps because intuitively many in India do not equate piracy with straightforward theft, any more than they view photocopying as one. The general attitude is much like Jha's own vision of Indian politics — ethically indifferent, caught up with immediate gain, and accompanied by a rather dim sense of consequences.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

SLICE BY SLICE

 

Narrowing of the gender gap in education is a key measure of a nation's progress on the development arc. And India's made some progress. According to data from the Central Statistical Organisation, in 1950-51 there were just 15.4 women for every 100 men in the arts discipline in universities. In the commerce stream, there were just about 0.5 women for every 100 men, and in engineering, 0.3. Change began to be consolidated in the 1990s and later. By 2004-05, there were 87.3 women for every 100 men in the arts, and just about as many in the sciences. The corresponding figures for commerce and engineering were 51.6 and 31.1. That's progress, but it is not near enough.

 

The first question that arises therefore is, will the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to enforce reservations for women in state universities and affiliated colleges make a difference? The Mayawati government issued an order on June 11 stipulating a 20 per cent quota for women in all categories to be implemented horizontally. That is, there shall be a 20 per cent sub-quota for women within existing quotas — for instance, for SCs, STs and OBCs. Should there be an insufficient number of women eligible for a certain course and category, the seats would be filled by other candidates. As enrolment figures indicate, women tend to be present in relatively abundant numbers in arts, sciences and commerce courses. Therefore, the impact of the quotas will likely be felt in engineering and perhaps, medical courses. The measure is also clearly targeted at rural areas, and at increasing enrolment within socio-economic subsets.

 

But given that the UP government has dovetailed inexplicable quotas for assorted categories (dependents of ex-army personnel and freedom fighters, for instance), admissions departments will be pulling out their calculators for a perfect fit. Indeed, to optimise benefits of affirmative action, India needs to move away from indelibly laying down exactly how many of a particular category of aspirants must be included in each course. Nonetheless, by adding different criteria like gender and physical disability and overlapping them with existing ones for reservation, Mayawati has recast the debate on how to measure and extinguish disadvantage.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MIXED MESSAGES

 

Corporate social responsibility", a mantra dear to the hearts of many in this country and across the world, isn't an easy thing to understand. A persuasive argument can be made that the only "social responsibility" that corporates have is to their shareholders and to the law of the land and the regulations that govern their industry. Using money that could be sent back to minority shareholders to fund projects, even if charitable, dear to the heart of the companies' promoters or its directors can become exploitative. Hence, few will be pleased with the news that the government is planning to get public sector companies that make a profit to treat the UPA's social sector schemes as CSR vehicles — as The Financial Express reported on Thursday, quoting Minister of State for Heavy Industries Arun Yadav.

 

It also raises larger questions about the UPA's orientation about public sector industries. Certainly, there have been useful moves towards disinvestment in public sector units. But there are worrying trends that demonstrate a push in the other direction as well. There's the admiration for "success" stories elsewhere in state-led development in sectors such as petrochemicals, mining and utilities — such as the giant Chinese and Russian utilities. An acceptance of the principle that such sectors need to be subordinate to state dictates has very real repercussions: consider, for example, the recent letter from Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh to the mines ministry. The mines ministry is in the process of carrying out much-needed reform to increase transparency and reduce rent-seeking in the mining sector. But the steel ministry insists that "specified quantities of mineral resources" be reserved for PSUs, tilting the playing field in their favour, as "they needed continued support in the larger national interest". Such thinking is dangerous, misguided, and backward-looking, and mustn't be allowed to catch on.

 

So it is important to remember that this will not increase the revenue for the government from those PSUs except to the extent that it reduces the amount paid out in dividends to other shareholders. That's problematic. It also matters in another, more conceptual way. Were the government to start making a practice of directly linking public sector profits to its prized social sector schemes, it inhibits the scaling down of government participation in the economy. Seen from that point of view, this is storing up trouble for the future. Both out of fairness to its minority shareholders, and from a desire to keep the momentum on reformist economics going, this is a proposal that should not be accepted.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BUCK STOPS WITH AN EGOM

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

There is a harsh, if not entirely off the mark, joke going around. A teacher asks, who is the prime minister of India? A student replies with some excitement, "Ma'am, EGOM." The joke is harsh in so far as it entirely rubbishes the authority of the PM. Recently, the Naga students blockading Manipur had the courtesy to acknowledge the PM's credibility when he chose to directly intercede. But this episode cannot disguise the fact that the conduct of government leaves it unclear exactly who is in charge, and where the buck stops. The EGOM (empowered group of ministers) is a useful mechanism for policy coordination and consensus building. Instead it seems to now exemplify the pathologies of governance; it has become a knee-jerk response to crises and often appears more like an elaborate mechanism to evade responsibility than to produce results.

 

The way in which the government uses the EGOM is unsettling. There is something seriously amiss in the way in which the Congress is handling the relationship between political and government decisions. The division of labour between the Congress president and the prime minister was always something of a convenient myth. But recent decisions have shown that you cannot govern if the party hierarchy and government work at cross-purposes, with no clear sense of direction or strategy. Most crises have their origins in this chaos. The crisis in Manipur was a dual failure of party and state. Just a little coordination between the Congress in Delhi and the Congress in Manipur could have pre-empted the crisis, and to exacerbate matters, the government literally paralysed itself on the issue. Again, the party's mishandling of its own constituents in Andhra Pradesh exacerbated the Telangana crisis. The government's confused announcements left it unclear whether it was doing the party's bidding or thinking like government.

 

Then there is a curious phenomenon. The normally reticent and restrained Sonia Gandhi decided to intervene on two issues whose logic from the point of view of governance is half-baked: the women's reservation bill and the caste census. Both these issues, in different ways, increased governance challenges. But while no one doubts that she is the ultimate power, it only adds to confusion when no one is clear why she chooses to assert herself on some issues and not on others. The failure of anyone in this supposedly pro-poor government to try and convince us that they take inflation seriously, is just one example where we are left wondering why our leaders get agitated about some issues and not others. The same confusion applies to the prime minister. Hence the sense of disarray.

 

In this context, the EGOM has become a peculiar institution. It is a backhanded acknowledgment of several things. First, that government gets into action only in a crisis which has in part been created by its own ministers. Why would you need EGOMs if the normal functions of ministries and cabinet were being carried out? EGOMs are undermining confidence that normal processes of government can work.

 

Second, the EGOMs signal a vacuum. Both the prime minister and Congress president seem to be unmindful of one important function of government. In times of crisis, or national anger or shame, leaders perform two functions. They provide a reassurance that someone is clearly in charge and takes responsibility, that someone has the capacity to reconcile differences and be decisive. The second — and this is particularly the function of a prime minister — they have the ability to send a signal that they truly care and are listening. Instead, what we seem to get is a parcelling of responsibility off to this collective group. Leaders give genuine reassurance, restore confidence and give consolation. Does anyone imagine that an EGOM on Bhopal might perform that function?

 

Third, the EGOMs may directly be contributing to skewed governmental priorities. Being a finance minister or a home minister of a country like India is, even under the best of circumstances, a difficult job. But you can't help but think that if two or three key figures in the cabinet are acting as a sort of firefighting mechanism on every issue, they are probably ignoring simmering fires in their own domain. The home ministry was outright caught napping on as vital an internal security issue as Manipur, and it can't be because the home minister doesn't work hard.

 

Fourth, let us also look at EGOMs in the context of Congress culture. On some issues, there is bound to be genuine disagreement within any political party, and some of these disagreements are intellectually productive. But often in the Congress you get the feeling that Congressmen are criticising their colleagues simply in order to pull them down. The timing of these criticisms often casts doubts on their sincerity. And one plausible explanation is that Congressmen are often more intent on ensuring that their other colleagues do not acquire an unchallenged credibility or authority. This is even more likely to be exacerbated in a context where almost no political leader has the confidence of a political base outside their own constituency. In this context, constantly referring to EGOMs is a signal that routine political coordination within the cabinet and party has broken down. An EGOM is more like a huddle in a crisis to broker deals than it is an instrument to promote public reason.

 

You can add to this mix the curious phenomenon of Rahul Gandhi. His attention to the party and building a democratic youth cadre is important. But those experiments will generate more skepticism if they do not have any tangible results for transparency in the relationship between party and government. If the Congress cannot solve its internal coordination problems, what confidence will it inspire that it can negotiate the thicket of new social conflicts about to arise? It is very hard to make the case that there has been a visible improvement in the functioning of the Congress party on any issue, whether it is the distribution of Rajya Sabha tickets, or its ability to come clean on its own past.

 

The Congress will need to ask sooner or later: how long can this supposed division of political responsibility and responsibility for government continue? At the moment it is producing a situation where both head of party and head of government emerge only very episodically to perform any leadership function. And if at the very top there is so little decisiveness, you can only imagine what signal this sends to the rest of the system: that individual responsibility can be evaded by lobbing the ball in the court of an EGOM.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE PARTY POLICE

SARITHA RAI

 

Lately, Bangalore's citizens have been made to feel like rebellious teenagers begging their unfeeling parents' permission for a late night out. After much pleading and many tantrums later, the decision is just out — they cannot party beyond the existing 11.30 pm deadline.

 

And so it goes that the widespread demand for extending the deadline for night-life in Bangalore to 2 am has been turned down yet again by the government. To thousands of hopeful revellers, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa came off sounding like a hardhearted parent as he declared, "We will not extend the 11.30 pm deadline at any cost".

 

Bangalore is hailed as India's next-gen city. Here, thousands of 20 and 30-somethings work hard at making the city globally competitive. After work hours, they look to party just as hard. But a combination of moral policing, an archaic excise law and domineering politicians has stymied that prospect.

 

Bangalore was India's original pub city, and this is where it all started. As far back as the 1980s, when the first

pub was yet to make its appearance in the New Delhi, theme pubs, DJs, ladies' nights and bouncers raised the "cool" quotient of this city.

 

Women could enjoy a night out without worrying about unwanted male attention or fearing their own safety. Bangalore led other cities in ushering in attitudinal and cultural change towards drinking, pubs or women drinkers.

 

Today, the fast-growing city has its share of swanky lounge bars, pubs and night spots which offer an excellent diversion to its overworked residents. Many of these spots are as famous for their music and ambience as for the quality of their cocktails and food.But everything closes well before the Cinderella Hour, putting Bangalore's cosmopolitan tag at stake.

 

While Mumbai and New Delhi party until 2 am and beyond, tourists and an ever-growing number of expatriate workers are greeted with the shocking news that all pubs, bars and restaurants in the city close at 11.30 pm. Along with the unending traffic jams, the early night deadline is another thing Bangaloreans are embarrassed about.

 

Workers in Bangalore's technology industry are sore that the government's decision means "lights out" for extended merrymaking. Many say that the industry's late working hours and the city's early closing time closes the leisure options. Gulping down their drinks or being hounded out of pubs are common features of any night out in town.

 

The question that many Bangaloreans ask is, does a grown-up city deserve to be policed this way? After all, nightlife is not only about pokey dance bars and smoke-filled gambling dens. In a young city, an evening's energy could be expended on a host of nightly activities such as shopping, dining, and even browsing in a bookstore besides drinking at a pub.

 

The greatest cities in the world have a thriving nightlife, whether London or New York. Closer home, even the highly regulated Dubai or the discipline-obsessed Singapore have a vibrant variety of late-evening entertainment options.

 

A dose of conservatism has crept into a once-lively city, making Bangalore regress. It is surprising that, despite such setbacks, the city remains at the top of a list of India's best city for expatriates in terms of quality of living as ranked by Mercer study this year. The quality of night-life does not just make a city attractive to foreigners and tourists, it also keeps the economy chugging. But it seems that the extension of nightlife deadline has become one more issue for the politicians to weigh in on.

 

Members of the Youth Congress opposed the extended deadline and petitioned the city's police comissioner, saying that any extension would only benefit outsiders and not the people of Bangalore. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is doing its own bit in appeasing its conservative vote-bank. Home Minister V.S. Acharya says people from the lower middle-class and lower classes are vehemently opposed to the extension. Only a few amongst the upper classes favour a new deadline, he says. "This is a decision based on what the majority wants, so there is no need to extend the deadline," says Acharya.

 

So, Bangalore isn't getting its mojo back anytime soon.

 

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIVORCE, AMERICAN STYLE

 

Forty years after the first true no-fault divorce law went into effect in California, New York appears to be on the verge of finally joining the other 49 states in allowing people to end a marriage without having to establish that their spouse was at fault. Supporters argue that no-fault will reduce litigation and conflict between couples. Opponents claim it will raise New York's divorce rate and hurt women financially.

So who's right? The history of no-fault divorce may provide some answers. Before no-fault, most states required one spouse to provide evidence of the other spouse's wrongdoing (like adultery or cruelty), even if both partners wanted out. Legal precedent held that the party seeking divorce had to be free from any "suspicion that he has contributed to the injury of which he complains" — a high bar for any marital dispute.

 

In 1935, for example, reviewing the divorce suit of Louise and Louis Maurer, the Oregon State Supreme Court acknowledged that the husband was so domineering that his wife and children lived in fear. But, the court noted, the wife had also engaged in bad behaviour (she was described as quarrelsome). Therefore, because neither party came to the court "with clean hands," neither deserved to be released from the marriage.

 

As the Maurer case suggests, such stringent standards of fault often made it easier for couples who got along relatively well to divorce than for people in mutually destructive relationships. Cooperating couples would routinely fabricate grounds for their divorce, picking one party as the wrongdoer.

 

This strategy was so common in the 1950s that divorce cases seemingly gave the lie to Tolstoy's famous observation that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. "Victim" after "victim" testified that the offending spouse had slapped him or her with exactly the same force and in exactly the same places that the wording of the law required. A primary motivation for introducing no-fault divorce was, in fact, to reduce perjury in the legal system.

 

Initially, some states limited no-fault divorce to cases in which both partners wanted to dissolve the marriage. In theory, limiting no-fault to mutual consent seemed fairer to spouses who wanted to save their marriages, but in practice it perpetuated the abuses of fault-based divorce, allowing one partner to stonewall or demand financial concessions in return for agreement, and encouraging the other to hire private investigators to uncover grounds for the court. Expensive litigation strained court resources, while the couple remained vulnerable to subjective rulings about what a spouse should put up with in a marriage.

 

Eventually every state except New York moved to what is in effect unilateral no-fault, wherein if one party insisted that his or her commitment to the marriage had irretrievably ended, that person could end the union (albeit with different waiting periods). New York has been the holdout in insisting that a couple could get a no-fault divorce only if both partners agreed to secure a separation decree and then lived apart for one year. Otherwise, the party who wanted the divorce had to prove that the other was legally at fault.

 

In every state that adopted no-fault divorce, whether unilateral or by mutual consent, divorce rates increased for the next five years or so. But once the pent-up demand for divorces was met, divorce rates stabilised. Indeed, in the years since no-fault divorce became well-nigh universal, the national divorce rate has fallen, from about 23 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1979 to under 17 per 1,000 in 2005.

 

Even during the initial period when divorce rates were increasing, several positive trends accompanied the transition to no-fault. The economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania report that states that adopted no-fault divorce experienced a decrease of 8 to 16 per cent in wives' suicide rates and a 30 per cent decline in domestic violence.

 

Social changes always involve trade-offs. Unilateral divorce increases the risk that a partner who invests in her (or more rarely, his) marriage rather than in her own earning power, and does not engage in "bad behaviour," may suffer financially as well as emotionally if the other partner unilaterally ends the marriage.

 

Fairer division of marital assets can reduce the severity of this problem. And fault can certainly be taken into account in determining spousal support if domestic violence or other serious marital misbehaviour has reduced the other party's earning power.

 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is more often the wife than the husband who is ready to leave. Approximately two-thirds of divorces are initiated by wives. This jibes with research showing that women are physiologically and emotionally more sensitive to unsatisfactory relationships.

 

It's true that unilateral divorce leaves the spouse who thinks the other's desire to divorce is premature with little leverage to slow down the process or to pressure the other partner into accepting counselling. It allows some individuals to rupture relationships for reasons many would consider shallow and short-sighted.

 

But once you permit the courts to determine when a person's desire to leave is legitimate, you open the way to arbitrary decisions about what is or should be tolerable in a relationship, made by people who have no stake in the actual lives being lived.

 

A far better tack is to encourage couples to mediate their parting rather than litigate it, especially if children are involved. To my mind it is better to have regrets about the good aspects of your former marriage because you were able to work past some of your accumulated resentments than to have no regrets because you had to ratchet up the hostility to get out in the first place.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STORY AND HISTORY

JAITHIRTH RAO

 

Manohar Malgonkar was a man of many distinct, impressive and splendid parts. He wrote interesting history, presenting a worms-eye view of episodes, people and events from a perspective that academics often ignore. He wrote several fine novels that captured the spirit of the times that they were set in. Historical accuracy, rather than history as a metaphor, is his forte. In this, he comes more in the tradition of a Meadows Taylor rather than that of a Kipling or a Rushdie.

 

He wrote essays that were characterised by a stately prose style. He dabbled in politics of the correct kind — he stood for elections on a Swatantra party ticket — and lost. Defeat does not make a good cause less worthwhile, after all. He was a shikari who transformed himself into a conservationist. Like the princely order to which he distantly belonged, he faded away with a quiet grace and aplomb in a manner completely different from the noisy vulgarity of our socialist lounge lizards.

 

I first read A Bend in the Ganges when I was in college. I remember it as a book of implausible and oddly enough, therefore very real characters set in a time in history — the last days of the Raj, Independence and Partition which were described with uncanny plausibility. The unusual focus on the sexual desires of an older couple, the confused protagonist who betrays himself and his self-professed ideals at every turn, the wisp of a girl who makes sure that she avenges herself by treating a pathetic husband and an even more pathetic would-be lover in a detached manner which is simultaneously sour and dulcet, the layer on layer of cruelty (to use a Naipaulian expression) that Indians inflict on each other while loudly, hysterically complaining about the British — all of these have stayed in my memory at an astonishing level of detail. I cannot think of many so-called classics where I can remember the plot, the situations and the characters at such a granular level.

 

After that, I made sure that I read pretty much all his novels. And he almost never let me down. The Devil's Wind, a fictional autobiography of Nana Sahib has to be one of the best books about the Indo-British encounter. It is also a fine study of the problems one faces in remaining a balanced, sensitive and clear-headed individual when you live in times of turmoil where events can overwhelm you with their confusion. British correspondents thought of Nana as a wicked monster who loved to massacre women and children. Revisionist Indian historians now consider him a glorious freedom-fighter. Malgonkar's Nana is a likeable, pleasure-loving, sensible person and one who tries to remain that way vis-à-vis his memoirs despite the extremes that he could have pandered to. Nana's virgin wife who seeks forbidden pleasures in fractious Nepal may be just a minor character, but like Charmian in Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra', she is quite unforgettable.

 

Malgonkar's different books involved painting pictures of the place and times they were set in with an apparent ease until one notices the meticulous way in which he went about his task. Distant Drum is about the British Indian Army in the days when it started admitting Indian officers (reluctantly, slowly and clumsily); Princes is about the maharajas of India, puppets in the hands of their British masters who encouraged them to play at being kings in a toy kingdom of sorts and the fate of these rulers as the rules of the parlour games change abruptly; Combat of Shadows is set in the world where tea-planters were white and their assistants fractionally white Anglo-Indians (or Eurasians as they were called), categories which have become meaningless today; Bandicoot Run is about the old Indian army which was more cruel to eccentric Englishmen than to Indians. The reasons all of them are delightful are that while describing the settings so well, as you read them you get a sense of the sameness of the human condition — the inanity, the mock-heroism, passions — exaggerated, understated and unstated often all at the same time. It is a bit like reading Somerset Maugham to learn that people behave pretty much the same in Lambeth, the French Riviera or the Malay States.

 

Malgonkar wrote some fine well-researched history. Sea-Hawk is about the life and times of Kanhoji Angrey, the intrepid Maratha admiral. It is a balanced book written in a direct and utterly non-pedantic style that reminds you of George Orwell or Antony Beevor writing about Spain. The current ruling class in Maharashtra despite indulging in parochial hysteria has little genuine interest in its history. If we really wanted students to enjoy reading the history of this region, I would prescribe Sea-Hawk along with Denis Kincaid's Grand Rebel and Gangadhar Gadgils's Prarambh. But then, who is listening? The Men Who Killed Gandhi is a riveting book which describes a dark chapter in our recent history making a case for the everyday "banality of evil". Given the ubiquity of terrorism today, we all understand that a person you meet at a party could very well turn out to be a bomb-throwing maniac. In the same way, in 1948, your neighbour could have been an assassin, and not a very competent one at that.

 

Malgonkar's best writing though was reserved for his first love — shikar — and later, the bonding with the jungle and its inhabitants. You find this interspersed in virtually all his books and some of his fine essays. One can argue that if you do not have a love for ruined temples and semi-tropical jungles then you cannot and do not love India. In the "shining" future that we are heading towards, the forests will almost certainly not be there. So India-lovers of Malgonkar's ilk will have no place. It is therefore just as well that our prince and gentleman officer of the Maratha Light Infantry has passed on. His India will live in his words and his readers will always be grateful for the palimpsest he has left behind.

 

The writer divides his time between Mumbai and Bangalore

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE PARTY POLICE

SARITHA RAI

 

Lately, Bangalore's citizens have been made to feel like rebellious teenagers begging their unfeeling parents' permission for a late night out. After much pleading and many tantrums later, the decision is just out — they cannot party beyond the existing 11.30 pm deadline.

 

And so it goes that the widespread demand for extending the deadline for night-life in Bangalore to 2 am has been turned down yet again by the government. To thousands of hopeful revellers, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa came off sounding like a hardhearted parent as he declared, "We will not extend the 11.30 pm deadline at any cost".

 

Bangalore is hailed as India's next-gen city. Here, thousands of 20 and 30-somethings work hard at making the city globally competitive. After work hours, they look to party just as hard. But a combination of moral policing, an archaic excise law and domineering politicians has stymied that prospect.

 

Bangalore was India's original pub city, and this is where it all started. As far back as the 1980s, when the first pub was yet to make its appearance in the New Delhi, theme pubs, DJs, ladies' nights and bouncers raised the "cool" quotient of this city.

 

Women could enjoy a night out without worrying about unwanted male attention or fearing their own safety. Bangalore led other cities in ushering in attitudinal and cultural change towards drinking, pubs or women drinkers.

 

Today, the fast-growing city has its share of swanky lounge bars, pubs and night spots which offer an excellent diversion to its overworked residents. Many of these spots are as famous for their music and ambience as for the quality of their cocktails and food.But everything closes well before the Cinderella Hour, putting Bangalore's cosmopolitan tag at stake.

 

While Mumbai and New Delhi party until 2 am and beyond, tourists and an ever-growing number of expatriate workers are greeted with the shocking news that all pubs, bars and restaurants in the city close at 11.30 pm. Along with the unending traffic jams, the early night deadline is another thing Bangaloreans are embarrassed about.

 

Workers in Bangalore's technology industry are sore that the government's decision means "lights out" for extended merrymaking. Many say that the industry's late working hours and the city's early closing time closes the leisure options. Gulping down their drinks or being hounded out of pubs are common features of any night out in town.

 

The question that many Bangaloreans ask is, does a grown-up city deserve to be policed this way? After all, nightlife is not only about pokey dance bars and smoke-filled gambling dens. In a young city, an evening's energy could be expended on a host of nightly activities such as shopping, dining, and even browsing in a bookstore besides drinking at a pub.

 

The greatest cities in the world have a thriving nightlife, whether London or New York. Closer home, even the highly regulated Dubai or the discipline-obsessed Singapore have a vibrant variety of late-evening entertainment options.

 

A dose of conservatism has crept into a once-lively city, making Bangalore regress. It is surprising that, despite such setbacks, the city remains at the top of a list of India's best city for expatriates in terms of quality of living as ranked by Mercer study this year. The quality of night-life does not just make a city attractive to foreigners and tourists, it also keeps the economy chugging. But it seems that the extension of nightlife deadline has become one more issue for the politicians to weigh in on.

 

Members of the Youth Congress opposed the extended deadline and petitioned the city's police comissioner, saying that any extension would only benefit outsiders and not the people of Bangalore. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is doing its own bit in appeasing its conservative vote-bank. Home Minister V.S. Acharya says people from the lower middle-class and lower classes are vehemently opposed to the extension. Only a few amongst the upper classes favour a new deadline, he says. "This is a decision based on what the majority wants, so there is no need to extend the deadline," says Acharya.

 

So, Bangalore isn't getting its mojo back anytime soon.

 

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE BORING SPEECH POLICY

 

On Monday night in Ohio, a 62-foot-tall statue of Jesus got hit by lightning and burned to the ground. (The adult bookstore across the street was unscathed.) Less than 12 hours later, Gen. David Petraeus — who is not God, although certain members of Congress have been known to worship at his altar — semi-fainted at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Then Bravo announced that the White House gate-crashers were getting a TV show. Al and Tipper remained in Splitsville. And the oil kept on spilling.

 

So you sort of knew from the portents that President Obama's big Oval Office speech was not going to be a terrific game-changer. The way things had been going, the president was lucky that a man-eating pterodactyl didn't come crashing through the window during his remarks.

 

Still, it was a disappointment. I was hoping for a call to arms, a national mission as great as the environmental disaster that inspired it. After the terrorist attack, George W. Bush could have called the country to a grandnew undertaking in which everyone sacrificed personal or regional advantage for the common good. The fact that he only told us to go shopping was the one unforgivable sin of his administration. OK, also attacking the wrong country. And creating the deficit. But I digress.

 

All we got from President Obama was a vague call for some sort of new energy policy. Plus a Gulf Coast Restoration Plan, an oil spill study commission, a reminder that the secretary of energy won a Nobel Prize in physics and 17 references to God, prayer, blessings or faith.

 

We wanted him to declare war on the oil companies! At the ritual Congressional lashing of CEOs this week, we learned that none of the major oil companies have any idea how to control a spill like this, and that their faux plans for handling one in the gulf were made up of boilerplate so undigested that several had sections on protecting walruses — mammals that have not been seen in the area since the Ice Age.

 

Obama held back on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, he and the BP chairman announced that the company — which is, in theory, only liable for $75 million in economic damage payments — was forgoing its dividend and setting up a $20 billion fund to compensate the workers and businesses who have been harmed by the spill.

 

In the negotiations, Obama said, he had stressed that for many of the small business owners, families and fishing crews "this is not a matter of dollars and cents, that a lot of these folks don't have a cushion." His brief remarks were more effective than his 18-minute effort the night before, particularly when coupled with all that cash. "He is frustrated because he cares about the small people," said the chairman of BP, who is Swedish. The word choice made the president sound as if he was working on an environmental disaster in Munchkinland.

 

We are frustrated, too, and it's possible that Obama may never be able to give the speech that will make us feel better. He may never really lace into the oil companies or issue the kind of call to arms on energy that the environmentalists are yearning for. That's because it won't get him anywhere. Unlike Bush, he has no national consensus to build upon. As a political leader, Barack Obama seems to know what he's doing. His unsatisfying call for a new energy policy sounded very much like the rhetoric on health care reform that used to drive Democrats nuts: open to all ideas, can't afford inaction, if we can put a man on the moon...

 

But at the end of that health care slog, he wound up with the groundbreaking law that had eluded his predecessors for decades. The process of wringing it out of Congress was so slow and oblique that even when it was over it was hard to appreciate what he'd won. But win he did.

 

Ironic. The man we elected because we hoped his feel-good campaign speeches might translate into achievement is actually a guy who is going to achieve, even if his presidential speeches leave us feeling blah.

 

The New York Times

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PROFIT AND SPEND

 

The UPA government has, on more than one occasion, indicated its commitment to continue spending on welfare programmes. The real constraint, however, is on the fiscal account—the government simply cannot afford to let the deficit expand any more. The department of heavy industries and public enterprises has now floated a proposal, as reported in FE on Thursday, to use the profits of public sector enterprises to finance the government's spending programmes. Needless to say, this is a completely ill-advised strategy. Under the proposal, PSUs with a profit of below Rs 100 crore will have to allocate 3-5% of their profits under a head marked corporate social responsibility, those with profits between Rs 100 crore and Rs 500 crore will have to allocate 2-3%, and those with profits over Rs 500 crore will have to allocate between 0.5% and 2% of those profits for 'corporate social responsibility'. It is reasonable enough to question the distribution of this levy, which is the highest on firms with comparatively lower profits. But that's not the main point. The real question must be asked of the basis on which such a plan is believed to be workable.

 

All profit-making PSUs pay dividends to the finance ministry, which can then in any case be used by the government in a way that it chooses. By forcibly allocating a share of their profits for government programmes, the dividend paid out to the finance ministry will go down. How this will help solve the government's expenditure and revenue equations satisfactorily isn't clear. In any case, apart from dividends to the owners, PSUs should be allowed to reinvest profits to upgrade their own competitiveness. Also, many of the more profitable PSUs are listed companies with minority shareholders. It doesn't seem in the interest of minority shareholders to have a part of a company's profit arbitrarily hived off for government spending. If the government does so, it will be making a mockery of corporate governance norms. Details aside, the government's latest plan only proves that PSUs are viewed as cash cows to fulfil populist objectives, and not as firms that should be allowed to compete in the market place. This sort of arbitrary decision making by the government is at the centre of the problems that PSUs face in functioning as regular corporate entities. That the entire sum raised through this proposal will only amount to just over 1.5% of the government's total spending plan makes it hardly worthwhile, especially if it destroys the profitability and reputation of the few decent PSUs that remain. It would be only sensible for the government, therefore, to turn down this proposal of the department of heavy industries and public enterprises.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHEN MLAS BREAK THE LAW

 

This is surely a real life scene worthy of making it to the screen. A bunch of BJP MLAs who were reportedly being restrained within a Rajasthan stronghold to ensure that there would be no cross-voting during the Rajya Sabha elections, were discovered watching a pirated version of Prakash Jha's newly released Raajneeti. These BJP folk apparently decided that the Election Commission documentary on Rajya Sabha polls, which was on the official schedule and which would have also been completely legit, was not worth their while. A Jaipur court has ordered that an FIR be lodged against both the Rajasthan BJP chief whip and the owner of the hotel in which the MLAs were lodged. An infuriated director is also considering legal action. "How can lawmakers break the law like that? They should be the ones to put a stop to such illegal things and create examples but they are blatantly breaking the law," Jha lamented. We agree. From Bollywood to the regional industries, copyright infringement has grown into a serious threat over the years, given that its revenue toll is exacerbated by its ties to a dangerous, cross-border, underground network that actually has linkages with insurgents in the worst instances. The RAND report on film piracy had demonstrated that film piracy funds terrorist activity. When lawmakers who are supposed to come down hard on copyright theft are instead caught participating in the crime, and en masse at that, it is more than shameful. And they must be subjected to demonstrable penalties. Or else, the message that would go out is that piracy is innocuous and doesn't merit punishment. What will be the point in making everything from theatres and the Internet more secure if the the lawmakers themselves watch pirated DVDs with impunity?

 

This incident has come to light even as the intellectual property produced in India is growing in brand and dollar terms. On their part, both implementation agencies and the industry have been investing in technologies and international cooperation to defend such property. At the Ficci Frames conference this year, for example, the MPAA chief announced a historic alliance between the Hindi and Hollywood studios. This alliance has come into being because co-productions, joint TV ventures, shared distribution rights, joint ownership of technology companies et al mean that domestic and international companies are going to rise or sink alike, in the face of the piracy threat. So it's not just domestic players who will be looking closely at how the Raajneeti crime is tackled.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GOVERNMENT GIVES IN ON DTC

MK VENU

 

The changes announced by the finance ministry in the direct taxes code has diluted the spirit of the original draft, which had essentially sought to codify a modern tax law for a rising economic power that the world sees in India. The basic spirit of the proposed law was to have one of the simplest and lowest direct tax regimes in the world, which would incentivise tens of millions, who currently avoid paying taxes, to come into the tax net voluntarily. The necessary condition to achieve this objective was to remove the plethora of exemptions enjoyed by powerful sectional interests—whether companies or individuals—on one pretext or the other. The changes in the draft code suggest some of these sectional interests have won on account of political populism.

 

The special interest groups, always a vocal minority, actually managed to win the perception battle because the government could not convince them that, in reality, they would not have lost out if the original draft code had been adhered to. In my view, the two seminal proposals in the original draft were a) bringing the income tax rate down to 10% for nearly 97% of the current tax paying population. The draft code proposed that all taxable incomes up to Rs 10 lakh a year will fall in the 10% tax bracket. Currently, annual taxable income of Rs 10 lakh attracts a 30% tax rate.

 

Thus, the draft tax code would have ensured that almost the entire individual tax paying population remained in the 10% tax bracket. In which other country will you find such low tax rates for individuals? This would actually have won UPA-2 a permanent place in the hearts of the burgeoning middle class population of India. However, with the government deciding to continue with certain tax exemptions in the modified draft, there might be a need to increase the tax rate from 10% suggested in the original draft.

 

Similarly, b) the original draft plumped for a corporate tax rate of 25% provided the plethora of exemptions enjoyed by capital intensive big businesses in India were withdrawn. This also got stymied because capital intensive businesses raised a howl of protest against the proposed 2% tax on gross assets of a company in lieu of the current regime of minimum alternate tax (MAT) levied on book profit. This was proposed by the draft code to make companies flog their assets more efficiently. There is evidence to show that nearly 50% of all registered Indian companies have been showing losses for years on end but continue to carry large assets in their books. This is a bit of a paradox. If you lose money for decades on end, what do you do? Simply shut down the business and not carry more assets in the books, don't you? The tax on gross assets was aimed at curbing this unusual practice of carrying assets even while making 'losses' year after year.

 

However, the big business lobby succeeded in ensuring that the modified draft went back to status quo—MAT on book profit. There would be a big revenue loss on this count. This will certainly ensure that the corporate tax rate of 25% proposed in the original draft will have to be raised back to 30%.

 

A tax rate of 25% would have been hugely beneficial to the vast majority of the small and medium business enterprises in India who are essentially more labour intensive. In fact, the original draft was weighted in favour of small businesses. The changes in the code shifts the advantage again to capital intensive big business lobby, which is happy paying 18% MAT on book profit. There is some murmur that the finance ministry may later align MAT closer to the corporate tax rate of 30% to neutralise the advantage gained by the bigger business lobbies.

 

The government must realise that the next big wave of tax collections will come from small businesses for whom a moderate and transparent tax regime is a must. It is important to attract smaller businesses with a lower corporate tax rate because once they voluntarily come into the tax net, India's black economy will progressively become white and that itself will give GDP growth a big boost.

 

The debate over retirees paying a tax at the time of withdrawing their provident fund savings also got a bit skewed. The principle behind imposing a tax at the time of withdrawal was to encourage savings rather than consumption. At a macro level, you do need higher savings to sustain long-term growth. Today, some of the Asian economies are not affected so much by the global economic headwinds because of the right balance struck between consumption and savings.

 

In any case, withdrawal up to Rs 10 lakh a year from the provident fund would have attracted only 10% tax. A better solution would have been for the government to retain the idea of taxing at the time of withdrawal of PF, while giving the individual the option of tax exemption if he or she puts the same money in another designated saving instrument, like a 5-year fixed deposit. This would prevent wanton consumption among retirees. It appears the government lost sight of the big picture while making some sections of taxpayers happy.

 

mk.venu@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHAT DOES QINGHAI SAY ABOUT CHINA?

P RAGHAVAN

 

China has tolerated unequal growth and the growing divide between the rich coastal regions and the western hinterland in the last few decades, following the dictum of its iconic leader Deng Xiaoping who famously declared: "Let part of us be richer first." But there has been a growing realisation that smoother development requires pulling up laggard regions and helping them keep pace with the faster growing ones. Innovative steps to reduce regional inequalities received a big boost when China first launched the western development programme in 2000 and then the flourishing borders and prosperous people programme in 2005. Consequently, more money and aid has flowed into the western region.

 

A good example of the gains being made is the Qinghai province located in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau region. What makes the place different is its wide mix of topography and people. Deserts and glaciers, mountains and lakes, grasslands and cities, all coexist in this large province. And even more diverse are the ethnic groups and minorities that account for a sizable 44% of the population in the province.

 

The new programmes to reduce regional inequalities have been a boon to the provincial governments, especially in Qinghai, which has been reinventing itself to attract new industries. Trade fairs are being held regularly for almost a decade now. The most recent one, held last week, attracted a flurry of new investors from distant places, including the Middle East.

 

The results, so far, show that the impact of the efforts to boost investments has been largely restricted to agro-processing industries. The focus has been on using local expertise in traditional products like Tibetan medicines and health foods. Processing of meat products has also got a fillip, with the use of new technologies and better marketing. But the expansion is limited for two reasons. One, the harsh climate—with very low temperatures for at least six months and limited rainfall—makes the expansion of agriculture a formidable task. So less than a million hectares of land is cultivated. A major part of agriculture is limited to the rearing of animals like sheep, yak, horse, camel and goat in the vast grasslands, spread over four million hectares. A lucrative niche area is the production of vegetables, where efforts have focused on increasing year-round availability by using green houses.

 

An important natural resource is Qinghai's abundant energy capital. The source of two of the most important rivers in China—Yangtze and Yellow—the province is an important supplier of hydro power, with as many as 158 generating stations. The Qaidam Basin is also rich in oil & natural gas and is yet to be fully exploited. The potential to exploit the energy reserves is immense, given that the province is also rich in minerals. It ranks on top of the list of locations with the largest reserves of 50 important minerals, including potassium chloride and manganese. In addition, Qinghai has more than 30 salt lakes with proven reserves of 70 billion tonnes.

 

However, long distances from the industrial heartland and harsh climate remain the major barriers to tapping the full potential of minerals. So, despite being one of the provinces richest in minerals, it remains one of the poorest, with large disparities urban and rural income.

 

Despite these glaring limitations, Qinghai and three other provinces with a sizable Tibetan population have gained from the large infusion of funds that focus on infrastructure development. A major outcome of the efforts to boost the western region is the Qinghai-Tibet railway project. It is the world's highest railway line with oxygen supplies for each passenger and became operational in 2006. A technological marvel that can withstand the extreme climate, the new rail link has raised hopes of accelerating development by enabling unhindered access to far-flung locations in the region.

 

The improved infrastructure has also boosted tourism. The scenic beauty and innumerable historical Buddhist and Tibetan monuments have drawn a large numbers of domestic tourists to the region. But language barrier, inadequate marketing and the political sensitivity of the region have ensured that not too many foreign tourists flock in.

 

Another great challenge is the full incorporation of ethnic minorities into the development programmes. Though some success has been achieved in this regard in the urban areas, where extensive housing programmes have attracted a large number of people, the hurdles are far greater in the oxygen-thin high-altitude grasslands, where people still live in tents with their cattle as they have been living for hundreds of years.

 

p.raghavan@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MANGOES SET AN EXAMPLE

SANDIP DAS

 

Quality Indian mangoes have been satiating the appetite of discerning US consumers for the last couple of years. This is thanks to the sea-route trade and a new irradiation facility that checks weevils and fruits flies in mangoes, assuaging the food safety concerns of the US health authorities. But the big change in the last couple of years, apart from increasing quantity, is the high premium that Indian mangoes are commanding, purely because of their quality and efficient branding.

 

According to the Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority, in 2009, Indian mangoes fetched $20 per 3.5 kg pack, which has already gone up to $28, while mangoes from other countries cost only $5-6 for the same quantity. Indian mangoes, earlier exported to Middle East and neighbouring countries for a fraction of this price, have started commanding huge premiums in high-value markets like the US and the UK. A crucial game-changer, this should act as an example for all of India's farm exports. The focus should be more on value than volume. It is always advisable to sell low quantities at high prices rather than high quantities at low prices.

 

Ironically, until recently, India, the world's biggest producer of mangoes with output estimated at around 12.5 million tonnes, exported only around 80,000-90,000 tonnes. In the US, officials said the import potential is almost 500 tonnes of mangoes annually, of which only half has been realised in the past two years. Opening up of the sea route is also a lesson on how exploring new avenues for exports could reap rich dividends, not only for growers but also for exporters. Because this mode is cheaper, large consignments of 15-20 tonnes can be moved, against 1-1.5 tonne consignments by air. India had been pushing to resume mango exports to the US ever since they were banned in 1989 because of the pest problem.

 

The issue was resolved during George Bush's visit in 2006, following which the country set up an irradiation facility at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Lasalgaon, Nasik, that can handle 500 tonnes of mangoes annually. The takeaway from this case is how different agencies can work together to boost farm exports.

sandip.das@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HOPE IN MANIPUR

 

It is good that the United Progressive Alliance government has finally woken up to the suffering of the people of Manipur brought on by the 65-day economic blockade of the State by Naga political groups. The decision to send a convoy under armed escort to Manipur came after Naga student groups in Manipur refused to withdraw the blockade of National Highway 39 even after Nagaland-based groups lifted their siege on the State's crucial road link to the rest of the country. The latter were protesting Imphal's refusal to allow Thuingaleng Muivah, the leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M), to travel to his ancestral village in Manipur. The Manipur-based Naga groups, on the other hand, are protesting the Ibobi government's decision to hold elections to the Autonomous District Councils, which they fear will erode autonomy for Naga tribes living in the hill districts of the State. The two sets of protests were provoked by different events but both are linked to the demand for Nagalim, a "greater Naga land" that will include territory from adjoining States, including Manipur. With each passing day, it became clearer that the central government's failure to end the blockade, and the attendant shortages and rise in the prices of essential commodities, including medicines, was a dereliction of constitutional and humanitarian duty. The first hopeful sign came when Nagaland student leaders met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. The government is still trying to persuade the Manipur-based Naga groups to withdraw their siege, failing which trucks escorted by paramilitary personnel will take supplies to Manipur. That the Centre had to cite in support of its decision a recent Guwahati High Court order asking it and the Manipur and Nagaland governments to clear the highway speaks volumes about the complexity of the situation.

 

The Meities of Manipur and the Nagas have adopted inflexible positions that make compromise seem difficult. While the Nagalim demand is totally unacceptable, Manipur's decision to hold the ADC elections, after a controversial amendment to the relevant law affecting the authority of the elected councils, exposed an exclusivist ethnic approach to politics and governance. Deplorable as the Naga blockade is, the Manipur government's decision to bar Mr. Muivah from visiting his village in the State has caused problems for the central government, which has been in peace talks with the separatist leader for more than a decade. While there are no easy answers, what the situation cries out for is a responsible and coherent policy approach that places the interests of ordinary people at the centre of decision-making.

 

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THE HINDU

THE POWER OF CASH INCENTIVES

 

The Janani Suraksha Yojana, a path-breaking conditional cash transfer initiative launched in 2005 to encourage deliveries at government health care facilities, has achieved some of its goals. It was launched at a time when India accounted for 20 per cent of maternal and 31 per cent of neonatal deaths in the world. Benefits started accruing a year after the scheme came into operation — the number of deliveries in government health facilities shot up by 36 per cent in Rajasthan and 53 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. A study based on survey data put out by the government for the period between late 2007 and early 2009 has been published recently in The Lancet ("India's Janani Suraksha Yojana, a conditional cash transfer programme to increase births in health facilities: an impact evaluation," by Stephen S. Lim et al.). The study revealed that cash payment led to a reduction of about four perinatal deaths per 1,000 pregnancies, and two neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births. The analysis found no reduction in maternal mortality based on the district level data. The uptake of JSY did not vary much between rural and urban areas, despite rates being higher in rural areas. But other parameters, including wealth, age, and education of women, had a bearing across both high-focus and non-high-focus States. For instance, at the national level, the uptake was highest among those who had 1-5 and 6-11 years of education. Women availing of the cash incentive showed a typical pyramid profile, with those who were neither poor nor rich accessing it the most.

 

With a budget of Rs.1,540 crore and 9.5 million beneficiaries, JSY is the world's largest conditional cash transfer scheme. It has demonstrated that providing an incentive of Rs.600 and Rs.700 to women in urban and rural areas in non-high-focus States, and Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,400 in the case of high-focus States can bring about an overall reduction in the perinatal and neonatal deaths. However, effective measures are required to ensure that the benefits reach the poorest and the least educated women, who are in most need of skilled birth attendance. Although women availing of the cash incentive are required to attend three antenatal care visits, adherence was not good. Earlier studies have shown that quality of care is compromised for various reasons. For instance, early discharge after delivery, as soon as the women availed of the incentives, was reported. A modified system of staggered payments may be one way of ensuring better care. Though it may strain the system further, it can help reduce the number of maternal and neonatal deaths.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TO GO FROM MEDIOCRITY TO EXCELLENCE

THE CHALLENGES BEFORE LEGAL EDUCATION REFORM IN INDIA ARE MANY.

N.R. MADHAVA MENON

 

At a National Consultation organised by the Law Ministry during May 1-2, 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described legal education in India as a "sea of institutionalised mediocrity with a few islands of excellence," and stressed the need for dramatic reform in terms of its scope and quality. He wanted the legal education system to be sensitive to the needs of the marginalised sections of society, particularly in the context of globalisation and the retreat of the state from some of its traditional roles. He felt that in future, domestic legal mechanisms will increasingly interact with both international and foreign legal systems and that the law schools should prepare themselves to face consequent challenges. The reforms he suggested included multi-disciplinarity in legal studies, flexible curricula, improved service conditions for law teachers, continuing education programmes for legal professionals and placement-internship programmes for all students.

 

This subject has indeed received the attention of several expert committees recently, including the National Knowledge Commission and the Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education (the Yash Pal Committee). These commissions and committees found three fundamental drawbacks in the objects, structure and content of legal education as it is being imparted in nearly a thousand law colleges in India, most of them functioning in the private sector.

 

First of all, the objects of legal education in the changing socio-economic context are neither clear nor prioritised. The Advocates Act and the Bar Councils seem to think that the only object of legal education is to produce lawyers to practise in courts. Today, people seek legal education for a variety of purposes: to meet the demands of trade, commerce, industry, governance and international relations. The practising profession itself is getting increasingly internationalised, warranting the study of other legal systems and practices. These multiple goals raise questions of content, structure and regulation.

 

Currently, the content of legal education is considered to be a function of the regulatory bodies (read Bar Council of India) and the universities are obliged to follow it. This has adversely affected curriculum development in terms of serving the multiple objects of legal education and inhibited innovation and experimentation that are essential for academic and professional excellence. In a sense, it has alienated law schools from its essential function of legal research and development.

 

Law grows when it engages with society and interacts with other branches of knowledge. Engagement with social problems and movements make legal education relevant and contextual. For this to happen, a liberal, holistic and decentralised approach to curriculum planning and development is necessary, for which each university teaching law should have the primary responsibility. This was the essence of the National Knowledge Commission's and the Yash Pal Committee's recommendations. In other words, according to the expert committees the future of legal education will depend on how the role of universities (law schools) is conceived on the one hand, and on what the goals and objects of legal education are determined to be, on the other. Whichever way one looks at the situation, one thing is clear: the existing regulatory mechanism under the Advocates Act, 1961 is far too weak and inadequate to chart the future course of legal education.

 

Access and equity are important considerations in higher education, and this is particularly so in law education. The Bar Council's efforts over the last 50 years did succeed in making the so-called legal education accessible to all sections and keeping the costs low for students. But in the process, quality was neglected or allowed to be diluted. Many universities practically avoided their responsibilities, and put the entire blame on the Bar Council. An attempt was made at the instance of the Bar Council to improve quality by introducing the five-year integrated LL.B. programme, and by establishing a series of autonomous National Law Schools. But they have remained islands "in a sea of mediocrity" — as the Prime Minister described it.

 

The challenge before legal educators and the regulators of higher education today is two-fold.

 

First, how to promote competitive excellence in a global context in the few National Law Schools and others of its kind that are maintaining some degree of quality in education. Secondly, how to take the mediocre institutions — which are too many in number — to improve their performance towards achieving some degree of professionalism and academic excellence in the shortest possible time.

 

The major problems cited in this regard are inadequacy of resources including lack of competent teachers in adequate numbers. Given that most of these institutions are privately managed and have very little investment and faculty resources, it is not possible to transform them unless the managements themselves mobilise the finances. Others that are in the government sector, including university departments, can prepare plans for development and seek funds from governments, Central and State. There exists a case to increase tuition fees and development charges while making the institutions provide better teaching and learning facilities to consumers of education.

 

Finally, if quality is to be improved the key institutions for regulating legal education should be the universities themselves. Let there be competition among universities to deliver quality educational services. The external regulator's function should be limited to setting goals, setting minimum standards, and facilitating the exercise of academic autonomy by individual institutions. In this regard, the proposal of the Knowledge Commission for a multi-member single regulator involving all stakeholders is an excellent idea that deserves attention. The shortage of teachers can be addressed partly through a flexible approach in faculty composition: this may include more visiting and adjunct teachers, partnership arrangements, contractual engagement of professionals and so on. There could also be an organised plan to prepare teachers by selected institutions with special support from government.

 

It will take a decade or more to create a research environment in the existing law schools, particularly for cutting-edge research that contribute to law reform and development. Meanwhile, the recommendation of the Knowledge Commission to set up a few advanced research centres that can attract available talent to plan and develop legal research is worthy of immediate attention. This is where the Central government should invest, as it did in the field of scientific and industrial research in the early 1960s and 1970s. They can be networked with the law schools of the region: this will be of mutual advantage.

 

The initiative on Second Generation Reforms developed by the Union Law Ministry (2010) and the Task Force on Legal Education constituted by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development should work together to develop a plan of action to push forward the agenda of legal education reforms. This should serve not only the needs of the practising profession but also the emerging demands of society and government for law trained persons. The Judicial Academies training judges should tie up with selected law schools of the region to enrich the content and process of judicial education and training, while providing opportunities to law schools to understand and inform themselves of the problems and challenges of the administration of justice. Bar Councils should set up a chain of continuing legal education centres, similarly tying up with law schools for mutual benefit. What the nation needs now is an organised movement involving legal educators, lawyers and judges, not only to learn the practice of law but to transform law and legal institutions to maximise justice in society and to put legal education at the centre for better governance under democracy and rule of law.

 

(Professor N.R. Madhava Menon is founder-director of the National Law School of India in Bangalore, the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata and the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal.)

 

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THE HINDU

THE PAST IS NOT PROLOGUE

WHEN THE PAST IS GONE, IT IS GONE; NO AMOUNT OF IMAGERY CAN TRULY RECONSTRUCT IT.

PRANAY GUPTE

 

I travelled to Boston a few days ago to attend the 40th reunion of my college class, my first such get-together with former classmates since I graduated from Brandeis University in 1970. I went because I hadn't stayed much in touch with them, I went because I was curious how their lives had played out over these long years, and I went, perhaps most of all, to revisit the past that had shaped me, a past that I had always thought served as a prologue to everything that subsequently happened in my life.

 

But that past had disappeared from view. I found myself a stranger among classmates whom I hadn't even known during my college days. The campus had changed — it's still pretty, of course, but it has suffered from the "edifice complex," that peculiar American condition where wealthy donors raise buildings as much to promote education as to set their names in stone, or marble. What once was a bucolic area was now filled with malls and a bewildering maze of highways. There was a superficiality to the reunion parties, the food wasn't very good — it never is on American campuses — and it became quickly clear that the courteous young students who served as guides for the occasion had little cognisance with the past I'd experienced, and even less curiosity about it. They seemed eager to talk about themselves, and so I did what I like to do best — ask questions.

 

I went to the United States in 1967 at a time of great cultural upheaval over its involvement in the Vietnam War, which cost nearly 60,000 American lives — and those of a million Vietnamese — and maimed tens of thousands of young soldiers on both sides, and altered forever the lives and destinies of untold numbers of men, women and children in Indochina. In the end, it was all for nothing — America lost that war, its only such defeat, and, Vietnam still figures as a metaphor for how the best and brightest policymakers of a wealthy nations can misread developing societies many thousands of miles away.

 

Coming from the relative placidity of my native Mumbai — then known as Bombay — I wasn't prepared for the tumult and turbulence that I would encounter in a country that I'd never before visited. America was alluring, to be sure, but it was also completely alien. What I'd seen in the movies produced by Hollywood wasn't quite the reality I'd encounter. The weather was unpredictable, I had no friends, and, as an only child, I missed my parents terribly. I missed the colour and clangor of Mumbai. I missed the ethos of India.

 

It wasn't easy to acclimatise myself to a new country that would eventually be my permanent home – although I would have had no way of knowing it at the time — and it wasn't easy being at Brandeis University near Boston, a campus of ambitious, politically hyperactive, and sexually libertarian students and faculty. Much of my time was spent covering the huge war protests in and around Boston for the campus newspaper, The Justice — named after the man in whose honour my nonsectarian university had been established in 1948, Louis D. Brandeis, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, a great legal scholar. Little wonder that my newspaper articles sparkled more than my grades.

 

But that was where my professional life as a journalist began. I went on to be a foreign correspondent at The New York Times, then at Newsweek International and Forbes, and later as a producer of documentaries for public television, an author of 14 books, and as the founder and editor of The Earth Times, a newspaper on the environment and sustainable development. I don't mean to seem facetious, but I am what I am because I skipped those stimulating classes at Brandeis and opted to attend antiwar rallies and write about them for The Justice. This also offered ample opportunities to meet women whose personal and political passions nicely intertwined.

 

I looked for some of those women at my class reunion, but none was there. There were those with whom I hadn't enjoyed liaisons, but I could scarcely recognise. The years hadn't been biologically kind to most of those who attended. Many of my classmates — both women and men — had gone on to great distinction in fields as varied as the law, the sciences, medicine, the theatre, and academe, of course. We took a lot of pictures, some with cameras, most with our eyes. It will be the last such album that I will preserve.

 

That's because when the past is gone, it is gone; no amount of imagery can truly reconstruct it. Before I made the journey of 10,000 kilometres from my current home in Dubai to Boston for the class reunion, I knew full well that one could never recapture the past. I did not realise that one couldn't really relive the past either. Forty years is a very long time — two full generations have been born and graduated since my college days. None of the professors who taught me is still around at Brandeis. My parents aren't around either; they aren't there to write home to about my travails in what was then an alien experience. Two larger-than-life figures in Massachusetts who welcomed me into their homes and hearts — Selma Feinstein and Charles Noble — are long dead, and I didn't even know about their demise; my failure to keep in touch with them may have been one of omission and not commission, but it certainly showed that I didn't bother to nurture my past.

 

There is no way that I can translate my regret into something more meaningful. My past was lived in a different time, and although it will linger on in my mind I don't think that I will revisit it through another punishing physical journey. With every word I write, that past recedes, it moves away beyond my grasp. Perhaps just as well.

 

( Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and author. His next book, on India and the Middle East, will be published at the end of 2010.)              

 

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THE HINDU

PUTTING VICTIMS AT THE CENTRE OF LIABILITY LAW

THE NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL NEEDS TO BE AMENDED TO ENSURE ADEQUATE COMPENSATION IN THE EVENT OF AN ACCIDENT.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

  1. The bill must be amended to allow for a proper level of compensation, well beyond the Rs. 2,050 crore "maximum amount of liability"
  2. It extinguishes claims for compensation for damage made more than 10 years after an incident. An unconscionable limit

 

The nuclear liability bill is currently being reviewed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests. There are several clauses and concepts that need to be amended to ensure the legislation meets its intended purpose.

 

1. The "maximum amount of liability in respect of each nuclear incident" is fixed at 300 million Special Drawing Rights, approximately Rs 2,050 crore. This figure is too low and can't possibly cover the kind of nuclear damage a major incident would cause to human life, property and the environment. Since the government wants to accede to the IAEA's Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), 300 million SDRs has been chosen as national cap so as to receive compensation from countries that are parties to the CSC beyond that. One assumes the government will have to provide compensation above whatever limited sums come from the CSC. Some explicit commitment to this effect, therefore, is essential.

 

It is worth noting that the CSC will only enter into force if a country with a major nuclear programme like Japan accedes. That is unlikely to happen soon. If every country in the world joins the CSC, a maximum of 300 million SDRs would be available. But since the CSC will never attract universal adherence, the best a member state can hope to receive is around 50 million SDR. Either way, these are not substantial sums. Thus, the Bill must be amended to allow for a proper level of compensation, well beyond the Rs. 2,050 crore "maximum amount of liability". Since the CSC says the compensation amount a signatory specifies prohibits discrimination between national and cross-border victims of a nuclear accident, some national cap may be necessary. But legal language is needed to assure the people that the government will compensate them fully in the event of an accident.

 

2. Like the national cap, the liability of nuclear operators is also capped too low at Rs. 500 crore for each incident. The bill says the government shall be liable for nuclear damage exceeding that amount. Two amendments are needed to protect public interest. First, the law must clarify that the cap applies only to public sector operators. Second, the Rs. 500 crore cap is low even for a public sector operator. It creates a double social cost. The fact that the operator is not forced to internalise the cost of damages he may cause will lead to the under-provisioning of safety. And, to the extent to which the operator cap is a subsidy towards the true cost of nuclear power, this would lead to the over-optimal share of nuclear power in India's energy mix. Depending on the extent to which society wishes to subsidise nuclear energy, the operator cap should be set at some point between Rs. 500 crore and Rs. 2,050 crore. The higher figure would be more in keeping with enlightened liability regimes in other countries.

 

Some argue that raising the operator limit will increase insurance costs. But nuclear plants around the world take out property insurance for sums several times higher than their accident liability and this does not affect the viability of nuclear power. Insurance premia, in any case, represent a very small fraction of the total cost of a nuclear plant worldwide.

 

3. The operator's right of recourse against suppliers under 17(b) should be preserved and perhaps strengthened to include defective equipment and design flaws. India should leverage its mammoth imports to get the supplier to accept a measure of liability in the commercial contract itself. Moreover, the right of recourse must be for the total damage caused by the supplier's negligence and not be limited to the operator's liability cap.

 

Since 17(b) deviates from the right of recourse envisaged by the CSC, India may have to enter a reservation if it accedes to the convention. Alternatively, it can adopt the liability bill but stay outside the convention like South Korea, which faces no impediment in doing business with U.S. suppliers. Not signing the CSC will also preserve the right of Indian victims to approach the courts of the country to which a nuclear supplier belongs in the event of an accident involving their negligence.

 

4. The bill extinguishes claims for compensation for nuclear damage made more than ten years after an incident. This limit is unconscionable. There is no reason why Indian law should impose such a limit for injuries to humans, especially when the Vienna and Paris conventions on nuclear liability allow a 30 year claim period. In Bhopal, many illnesses are manifesting themselves years after the original incident, and affecting subsequent generations. Physical damage may also require more time to assess. Twenty-five years after the Bhopal disaster, there is still uncertainty about liability for plant remediation. Certainly no claim was brought against Carbide on the question of site clean up within 10 years.

 

5. It is unsettling that the bill leaves the assessment of damages and claims for a nuclear accident to an executive rather than judicial body. While there is no reason to assume judges will be more sympathetic to nuclear victims than bureaucrats, the prohibition of judicial oversight embodied in clauses 16 and 35 cannot be justified. These will have to be amended or deleted, especially in order to end the ambiguity about the victim's right to file tort claims.

 

6. Ironically, nearly half the bill's clauses deal with the service rules etc of the officers who will process compensation claims rather than victim rights. As far as the composition of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission, it is shocking that more attention is paid to the bureaucratic qualifications of commissioners rather than their knowledge or competence to assess damage claims. In line with the complete exclusion of the health ministry and health professionals from the drafting process, the bill envisages no role for health and environment experts. Amendments are needed to remedy this.

 

7. Clause 46 says the Act's provisions "shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, any other law for the time being in force" and that the operator will not be exempted "from any proceedings which might, apart from this act, be instituted against [him]". According to officials, the stated intent of this clause is to preserve the victims' right to file tort claims. It also raises the possibility of criminal liability in the event of negligence on the part of the operator or, presumably, the supplier. But Indian tort law is poorly developed. As for criminal prosecutions, nothing more needs to be said in the light of Bhopal. Thus, for this clause to have any meaning, it must be accompanied by clauses that would facilitate tort claims.

 

The law ministry should also be asked to clarify what the intent behind mentioning only the "operator" in this clause is. Is it to simplify the filing of victim claims by channelling fault-liability on to the operator leaving him to recover damages from suppliers via his right of recourse? If so, does this mean tort claims cannot be filed against anyone other than the operator? Given the unhappiness over the Bhopal settlement of $470 million – the Centre, in a sense, channelled the claims of victims through itself but sold them cheap — the Standing Committee must ensure the nuclear bill does not dilute the victims' right to file tort claims against any party in the event of an accident.

 

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THE HINDU


REVIEW PANEL JUDGES SEE A CULTURE OF U.N. SECRECY

CRITICS SUGGEST THE SECRETARY-GENERAL IS VIOLATING AT LEAST THE SPIRIT AND POSSIBLY THE LETTER OF THE RULES APPROVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

NEIL MACFARQUHAR

 

Independent judges appointed to revamp the way the United Nations reviews decisions on matters like hiring, firing, promotions and raises are accusing Secretary-General Ban Ki—moon of shielding an unhealthy culture of secrecy and trying to undermine the new system.

 

The U.N. Dispute Tribunal, inaugurated last July to replace a process so deteriorated that employees challenging employment decisions sometimes waited years for answers, has succeeded in shrinking a backlog of about 300 cases.

 

But some of the decisions issued by the tribunal contend that Mr. Ban and the highest levels of management are determined to preserve a system in which their personnel decisions remain absolute. One judge even characterised their lack of cooperation as "an attack on the rule of law."

 

Diplomats, lawyers and others tracking the cases describe the U.N.'s stance on the tribunal as contradictory, if not hypocritical, given the organisation's role in promoting the rule of law globally. "The organisation has to decide from the S.G. on down whether this is an organisation that respects the rule of law or not," said George Irving, a former president of the staff union and a lawyer who has worked on administrative cases at the U.N. for more than 30 years. "What you are witnessing essentially is a power struggle. It is all about control, who is going to control the system."

 

In several instances, the U.N. has ignored a judge's orders to produce documents or have officials testify about how decisions were reached. In one case, the judge ordered the organisation to pay $20,000 in compensation for the mistreatment of a translator who questioning why he was not promoted.

 

"Sometimes there may be some cases of decisions which are not totally in line with what the Secretariat has been doing," Mr. Ban said at a news conference last month. "But we will try to respect all the decisions."

 

Mr. Ban and his advisers believe they have the prerogative to make decisions in some administrative matters, which has become an issue with the court, he acknowledged. He declined to discuss specific cases.

 

Critics suggest the Secretary-General is violating at least the spirit and possibly the letter of the rules approved by the General Assembly.

 

The old system was completely internal. There were no hearings, and the Secretary-General essentially served as his own judge and jury. It was deemed too slow and too haphazard to cover the needs of about 60,000 U.N. employees globally.

 

The new system, which the internal literature describes as "independent, professionalised, expedient, transparent and decentralised," is run by independent judges whose decisions are binding. U.N. employees cannot sue the organisation in national courts, so the tribunal is their sole route to address grievances. New York, Geneva and Nairobi, Kenya, each have a judge, with some extras appointed to deal with the case backlog. A three-judge appeal panel will begin hearing appeals in New York on Monday.

 

Without the power to declare someone in contempt of court, the tribunal judges rely on the Secretariat to engage with them in good faith. But some judges believe accountability goes only so high. Part of the problem stems from the rigid hierarchy of the U.N., lawyers and other experts say. The judges were assigned an administrative rank that puts them below an assistant Secretary-General, so those who rank higher often feel that answering the tribunal is beneath them, they said.

 

Noting that an employee was fired despite a pending tribunal hearing, a May order from the Nairobi tribunal said that the decision ``is significant for the contempt it shows of these proceedings.'' It said that the U.N. response ``does not bode well'' for a system supposedly based on international law and due process.

 

"You have to look at the culture here," Judge Michael F. Adams, an Australian judge, said at the end of his stint on the dispute panel in New York. "Someone in the position of Undersecretary-General is never confronted with the requirement that particular questions be answered."

 

Adams has been notably scathing in his written decisions about the lack of due process in the tribunals. "The United Nations legal system may be an island, but it does not inhabit its own planet," he wrote in one.

 

The outcomes of three appeals of Adams' rulings are being watched with particular interest to see what power the higher panel grants the tribunal.

 

In one case of an employee passed over for a promotion, Susan Maddox, the lawyer representing the Secretary-General, refused to produce any of the crucial documents requested or even identify the person who made the decision to refuse to cooperate. The Secretary-General, like a head of state, had to be allowed to make some decisions in private, the U.N. maintained.

 

Adams dismissed the idea that the Secretary-General is akin to a head of state, calling him the chief administrative officer. The tribunal is not examining whether the decision was right, he said, but whether it was arrived at in the right way.

 

In another case, James Wasserstrom, who now serves as the anti-corruption officer at the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is seeking $1 million in lost wages, compensation for defamation and mental distress, plus legal expenses. He contends that he was fired from his job with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Kosovo after reporting his suspicions of corruption. He said his mistreatment included being arrested at the border, having his house searched and having posters bearing his picture hung around the headquarters to bar his admittance.

 

Because he had been identified by internal investigators as a whistle-blower, he should have been protected from losing his job, he contends. But an Ethics Office investigation found no link between his allegations of corruption and his dismissal. Adams ruled that the U.N. turn over that report and the evidence behind it, but Maddox refused.

 

In a third case, Samer Abboud, a senior translator, said he was passed over for promotion, the victim of discrimination by Egyptian officials who dole out plum jobs to their inner circle.

 

Shaaban M. Shaaban, an Undersecretary-General and the most senior Egyptian official at the U.N., initially testified to the tribunal, but then refused any further dealings pending the appeal. Adams found that Shaaban's testimony lacked credibility, calling him "an unreliable witness in respect of every important issue of fact." The judge also found that Abboud was "subjected to insult, patronising comments and retaliatory threats," and ordered the U.N. to pay him $20,000 in compensation. The decision is under appeal.

 

— New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

OIL SPILL: COSTNER'S CLEANING MACHINES

WE COULD BE WAITING MILLIONS OF YEARS BEFORE THE HOLLYWOOD STAR'S 'CLEAN MACHINES' WASH BP'S OIL FROM THE GULF OF MEXICO.

LEO HICKMAN

 

A Hollywood superstar riding in to save the day? Who could resist a storyline like that? So it has come to pass with the news that the Oscar-winning actor Kevin Costner has just signed a deal to help beleaguered BP clean up its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

The oil giant has signed a letter of intent to purchase some of Costner's oil-cleaning machines, which he introduced with much fanfare to the world's media last month.

 

After investing $20m of his own money in an effort to develop the technology, Costner says the machines will now be dragged out into the Gulf of Mexico on barges and set to work on the oil slick as soon as possible. Here's what the machines, which are built by Ocean Therapy Solutions, are said to be able to do: The machines are taken out into the spill area via barges, where they can separate the oil and water. The machines come in different sizes, the largest of which, the V20, can clean water at a rate of 200 gallons per minute. Depending on the oil to water ratio, the machine has the ability to extract 2,000 barrels of oil a day from the Gulf. Once separation has occurred, the oil is stored in tanks. The water is then more than 99 per cent clean of crude.

 

Hats off to Costner and his colleagues at Ocean Therapy Solutions for investing so much money and effort in developing these machine, but before we all get too carried away by the good news let's also invest in a much-needed reality check.

 

The machine can clean 200 gallons of water a minute, says the manufacturer. That sounds impressive, but just how much water is there in the Gulf of Mexico? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the volume of water in the gulf — the ninth largest body of water in the world — is 643 quadrillion gallons. We don't get to deal with quadrillions too often in our everyday lives, so let's put it another way. We're talking about 643,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water.

 

So let's do the maths. Just how long would it take Costner's machine to rid the Gulf of Mexico of its oil? Well, if we accept that there are 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year, then we arrive at the conclusion that it will take the V20 — give or take — 6.1 BILLION years to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Just in guess you are seeking some context: the age of the Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years.

 

Ok, I accept that's being a little unfair. Not all the Gulf of Mexico has (yet) been affected by the oil spill. Let's be generous and say that only one hundredth of the volume of water in the gulf has somehow been tarnished with oil. But that's still a clean-up time of 60 million years. (Remember that the current legal limit for oily discharge from a ship is 15 parts of oil to one million parts of water — or 15 parts per million — so let's assume any concentration of oil to water worse than this is unacceptable and requires some form of cleaning.) Costner says that he will be supplying not one but 32 of his machines to BP. Again, every little helps, but we're talking about a leak that some experts now say has a flow rate as high as 2.5 million gallons of oil a day. Costner says his machine can get water 99 per cent free of crude oil. That's the equivalent of 10,000 parts per million.

 

No matter how you look at it, the sums just don't seem to add up. These machines appear to be a token effort at best, a distraction at worst. They might have their uses in, say, lagoons where the water is contained to some extent, but I fail to see how they can have a meaningful impact in the open sea, unless dispatched in their tens of thousands.

 

And that then leads to another interesting question: how much oil would you need to power them all?

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HYPOCRISY OF PAK, US GETS EXPOSED

 

There is predictable unease in Pakistan — in official circles as well as analytical comments — with the key finding of a Harvard scholar's report prepared for the London School of Economics that the relationship of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence with the Taliban and the Haqqani group is anchored in official policy — that it "goes beyond contact and coexistence". This would be a seriously damaging appraisal if it were new. The truth is that scholars and observers of the Afghan-Pakistan scene have attempted to say exactly this for years, although with varying degrees of definitiveness. As for the historical record, there has never been any ambiguity that Pakistan created the Taliban to bolster its regional ambitions. However, Pakistan has sought to deflect attention by suggesting that only rogue elements, or some retired personnel of its security apparatus, were mixed up with the jihadist insurgents. Publicly, the West, and the US more specifically, bought this line for reasons of expediency as America believed it simply could not afford to show up Pakistan's falsity as it needed the assistance of the Pakistan Army to pursue its objectives in the Afghan theatre. The LSE report blows the lid off this obfuscation, and shows up the ISI's double-dealing — pretending to back America's war against terrorism while being actively engaged on the side of the same terrorists. Herein lies the intrinsic value of the study, which is based on interviews done between February and May this year with Taliban commanders and their associates. It is unlikely, however, that the recent findings will have serious policy implications. The United States is not expected even now to point up the failures of the Pakistani establishment for fear of losing an ally of long standing.


Nevertheless, there is another aspect of the study that is of greater interest now. The interviews with the Taliban camp — conducted after this January's London Conference, which sanctioned the tactic of getting insurgents to negotiate with the Karzai government — show that many in the Taliban harbour great bitterness towards the ISI. They believe that Pakistan and the ISI are working for destabilisation of Afghanistan — their "nation and country" — and that the Pakistanis are opposed to negotiation with the government in Kabul as peace in Afghanistan does not suit Islamabad's long-term designs. From Islamabad's perspective, it is this which is really unpalatable. At one stroke the emergence of this sentiment in the public domain punctures a hole into Pakistan's boast that without its assistance the West and the Kabul government cannot get the Taliban to the negotiating table. This particular finding clearly suggests that the Taliban are not the monolith they were meant to be. It also indicates that if the tactics are right a section of the Taliban can switch sides. It has indeed been known for some time that Kabul has been working on deepening the fissures within the Taliban, although the fear of the ISI in the Taliban leadership is considerable, for the ISI controls its own fraction within the grouping, says the report — a hardcore party of mercenaries within a party — and that this pampered sub-set is the most violent element in the Taliban ready to do the ISI's bidding.


These are matters of detail, however, and ways could be found to get around this problem if the West is able to muster sufficient political will to stymie Pakistan's ambitions in Afghanistan. Unrelated to its main conclusions, the LSE report gratuitously suggests that if Pakistan's problems with India can be sorted out, its interests in Afghanistan will matter less and that Afghanistan's problems stem from the so-called India-Pakistan rivalry. Historically speaking, such a hypothesis has no leg to stand on. Of late, Washington too has said as much.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MODI VS MODI

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

Having been shaken by the controversy over an advertisement, the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now taken to describing the spat that defocused its National Executive meeting in Patna as a proverbial storm in a teacup. It is clear that despite all the talk about maintaining its "self-respect" and not yielding to every tantrum, the BJP has no desire to walk out of the alliance in Bihar and weaken the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) further. Likewise, it is also clear that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is not yet ready to do a Naveen Patnaik on the BJP, yet.


The fragile truce that was negotiated after Mr Kumar took umbrage to an advertisement featuring a year-old photograph of him with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at the NDA rally in Ludhiana last year, may well withstand the forthcoming Bihar Assembly poll. There is no indication as yet that the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has the necessary support base to go it alone. And more to the point, the idea of teaming up with the Congress is still not very appetising to a party that swears by Ram Manohar Lohia.


Yet, last week's kerfuffle in Patna didn't need a provocation. It had an air of inevitability, advertisement or no advertisement. Aware that every vote counts in the forthcoming Assembly polls, Mr Kumar was concerned that the larger-than-life presence of Mr Modi in Bihar would be used by his opponents to prey on Muslim fears. He needed to do something symbolic to signal that he was in alliance with Sushil Modi, not Narendra Modi.
In politics, it is difficult to be nuanced. There may be a world of difference between the BJP as envisaged by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that imagined by, say, Murli Manohar Joshi. At a popular level, the BJP is the party of Mr Vajpayee and L.K. Advani but it is also the party of the Gujarati Modi. Indeed, after Mr Vajpayee, Mr Modi is the tallest leader of the BJP. Among the committed BJP voters, Mr Modi's status is iconic. It was hardly realistic to even imagine that an executive meeting of a national party could be held by excluding its longest-serving chief minister.


To signal to a section of voters that he is all right with the BJP but not Mr Narendra Modi is a difficult exercise in hair-splitting. In a stark world, Mr Kumar had a choice of breaking with the BJP in its entirety or allowing the National Executive meet to pass without controversy. He needn't have shared a platform with Mr Modi in Patna but he needn't have rescinded a dinner invitation and then let Sharad Yadav pretend all was well. If placating Muslim sentiment was what Mr Kumar was after, his mission was unsuccessful because it led to nothing tangible and, in fact, allowed Mr Modi to grab the national stage momentarily. In the coming months, especially if the JD(U) are in alliance, Mr Kumar will be taunted by ultra-secularists for being a paper tiger.
Not that the inability to drive home his displeasure with what Mr Modi allegedly represents will necessarily be damaging to Mr Kumar. The Bihar Assembly election will be fought on local issues. The Gujarat chief minister will, in all probability, not even be a campaigner in Bihar. The verdict of the electorate will not be shaped by what happened in Godhra and its aftermath eight years ago. There is invariably a mismatch between what activists imagine is important and what voters believe are the main issues. In any case, while Muslims vote enthusiastically, they are not the only people who vote.


All the same, last week's almost-crisis in Bihar is a pointer to the persistence of political posturing. Since the tragic riots in Gujarat in 2002, Mr Modi has won two Assembly elections and helped the BJP win a majority of Lok Sabha seats from the state on two separate occasions. Whatever carping noises may be made about his political orientation or even the administration's culpability in the riots, there is no question that Mr Modi enjoys popular legitimacy in Gujarat. To make his presence in a state a subject of controversy is not merely distasteful but undemocratic. If Mr Modi is anointed the next prime ministerial candidate by the BJP, his credentials will be examined afresh and may become a subject of passionate politics. In the meantime, he is the popularly-elected chief minister of Gujarat and disrespecting him in Patna runs counter to all norms of federalism.


There has been a tendency on the part of some Muslims to use mr Modi as their favourite whipping boy, particularly when invoking the bogey of "Hindu fascism". Muslim activists have an inalienable right to oppose Mr Modi and even hate him. But it is excessive when all other issues are sought to be buried in the quest for an anti-Modi communal mobilisation.


Since his victory in Gujarat in 2002, Mr Modi has been attempting to put the riots behind him and re-invent himself as the most efficient agent of modernisation and development. Gujarat has been one of India's most astonishing success stories. Unfortunately, the recognition of that success has been patchy, not least because of an inclination to view the state solely through the prism of one unfortunate development. As a parallel, it would be a travesty if Rajiv Gandhi's entire political career was seen through the prism of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
By reducing Mr Modi to a caricature, some self-serving politicians may have succeeded in keeping alive a ghetto grounded in fear and insecurity. But using the block vote to intimidate politicians is a dangerous game. It can yield handsome returns when communal polarisation is confined to the margins. However, it would be a sad and dangerous day for India if one religion-based mobilisation produced a countervailing force.
This hasn't happened so far and hopefully it never will. But playing with fire is potentially hazardous.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

TAKING SCIENCE SERIOUSLY

SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

One of the great stalemates in recent times was the moratorium on Bt brinjal. The India debate on genetically-modified (GM) food froze to a still life, with activists confused as to the next step. Meanwhile, environment minister Jairam Ramesh seems content with his decision, without realising that moratorium beyond a point is a non-decision. I was wondering whether there was a way of unravelling such debates. Sitting at one of Netherland's most prestigious academic centres, I decided to ask how the Dutch thought through science and technology. My meeting was with Wiebe Bijker, Director of Science Studies at Maastricht University.
Professor Bijker smiled. He warned me that the European reaction to GM foods was absolutely virulent. There was the failure of social trust around the technology. There was a split between citizens and scientist, with the government playing the bumbler. But the Dutch learnt quickly when it came to nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology deals with particles which are less than one-billionth of a metre. When the Health Council invited him to chair a committee on it, Mr Bijker admitted that he initially thought the technology was hype and one could wait it out. The committee's invitation was however flattering. The challenge before him was how one creates methodologies of trust. Social movements are intellectually and emotionally intensive. What we need are methods, a sense of norm, an ability to build institutions which operate on trust and openness. There was one advantage. Dutch society is unique in one aspect. It sees science studies as a form of expertise different from science and takes it seriously. It holds that science is too precious to be left to scientists. More crucially, the scientist as expert and citizen is involved in the process. But the process is democratic, open and institutionalised.


Initially, scientists on the committee for nanotechnology and health were wary. They had their fingers burnt over the GM debate. Many were just not used to seeing the public as a part of any serious debate. The learning process was both on the citizen's and the scientist's side. Initial citizen's reaction would be a shrug and a question, "What is it?" The challenge was how to take them past indifference and fear to an open-ended idea of technology.
Mr Bijker made a subtle distinction. He said confidence in a society can be brittle. Faith can be almost magical and when the cards collapse you overact in terms of rage and disappointment. What one needs to build is trust — trust about knowledge, trust about the processes by which knowledge is discussed, generated and applied. There is an everyday ethics to it which is crucial. Social trust is what anchors science policy and democracies. In that sense, science studies can help the democratisation of democracies through an understanding of knowledge as a process.


Societal debates are, however, not easy. In this case, the scientists being twice bitten were thrice shy. There was also a tremendous hype about nanotechnology. It promised breakthroughs in longevity, cosmetics, health and, most of all, sustainability. But the technology was more in the form of a promissory note. Society could move from hype to fear in a few minutes.


One of the interesting things about Europe and the US is the role of think tanks. They are usually small outfits with an unusual cast of scholars. One can think of Rand, the Stanford Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Adam Smith Institute. These institutes try to highlight issues, play the role of middleman, brokering key issues for a society. It is true that some are pressure groups but others play a more public function attempting to retain knowledge as a public good. For nanotechnology, this role was performed by the Walter Rathenau Institute which created a small forum on nanotechnology that went beyond civil servants to create a wider sense of expertise and stakeholder representation. It set the right context for societal debate.


The government set up the committee soon after. The Health Council provided a secretariat of scientists and lawyers. They did the basic research which the committee then sifted through. Process was crucial and the continuous conversation between the team of researchers and the chairman was vital. It allowed for experts to evaluate and respect each other. Expertise, instead of being valorised or overrated, becomes a functional, professional term.


Trust, responsibility needs a culture of debates and controversies. Dutch society tends to see creativity and fairness in balance. Balance is not mere compromise or adjustment; it is a synergy of representations. It is a search for middle ground, the middle path. Every policy process is a thought experiment; it demands skill in problem solving, where trust and intelligence work towards solutions. The drama is not in the process of decision-making. Policy-making, like institution building, is an art form that the Dutch enjoy and take pride in.
The key to the solution was a classificatory act. Classifications need not be bureaucratic. One has to develop a model for handling problems. The committee came up with a four-fold classification. The first dealt with "simple" issues. These were strictly technical and there was clear cut knowledge about it. An example of this would be asbestos poisoning.


Then there were more complex issues. These could not be textbook assignments. They involved multiple worlds where details were clear but relationships were not. Here one addressed the implication of nanotechnology for Third World agriculture.


In the third category one moves to precaution. Scientific knowledge itself is not clear. One needs other forms of expertise — like the citizen, the lawyer, the ethics professor. Decision involves a variety of stakeholders. Balancing is tougher. One faces up to fears and fantasies.


Then there are ambiguous problems which society does not know how to handle. Consider the issue of human enhancement. Many religious groups would object to the idea.


Each category demands more and more of the democratic process. A working model created a framework of trust. Politics and policy making is like carpentry. Small pieces count.


Bijker hinted policy is like craftsmanship. We need to steer between technology and populism or even a romantic direct democracy. But when scientists behave like citizens and reciprocal citizens take science seriously, an imagination is born. One wishes India could conduct a similar experiment. Our minister has the intelligence to create such a process. The question is does he have the will. One has to wait and watch.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE GIVING PLEDGE

 

Good friends Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have embarked on a very intriguing enterprise: to persuade their super-rich friends to donate at least half of their money to charity. Microsoft founder Gates is perhaps one of the biggest donors in the world as his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds humanitarian efforts just about everywhere. A few years ago billionaire investor Buffett followed his example and gave 99% of his massive wealth — about $46 billion — to charity.


The Giving Pledge, as this campaign is called, has received a positive response from the few people who have been contacted so far. The minimum goal is about $600 billion.


Much is made of the number of rich people in the world, how their earnings go up and down and where they feature on various lists featured year after year. Certainly, attainment of wealth is one of the major aspirations across the world and the wealthy are seen as not just powerful but also, hopefully, happy.
On the other side, stand philosophers and theologians who point out that the pursuit of money does not necessarily lead to salvation. After all, it is not the Communist Manifesto but the Bible which states that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The motivations of Gates and Buffett are known only to them. But what is known is that the western world has a long history of philanthropy and this is particularly evident in the United States with its puritanical origins and its underlying Protestant work ethic. Industrialists and businessmen have patronised the arts, education and given to the less fortunate — a role fulfilled by royalty and the aristocracy in older societies like Europe and even ours. This giving does not spring from self-righteousness alone — many donors are ruthless in their business practices. But atonement, awareness and generosity all come in many forms.


By making giving a part of their culture, people like Gates and Buffett have not only upheld an American tradition but have also held themselves up as examples to the rest of the world. In India, we are proud of our wealth-makers and follow their progress up and down the rich lists. Our wealth creators might want to introspect on why the Gates Foundation funds so many humanitarian efforts in India when we appear to be bursting with billionaires. Perhaps now the time has come for them to also make the "giving pledge".

 

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DNA

CHINA'S NUKE TRADE

 

It is understandable that India should worry about the implications of the China-Pakistan civil nuclear deal, in which Beijing has agreed to supply reactors to Islamabad. The concern arises from Pakistan's near-certain nuclear proliferation with AQ Khan at the head of the nuclear establishment. There is enough evidence to infer that Khan has supplied centrifuges to aid Iran's nuclear programme, and there has been a secret transaction with North Korea as well.

 

On the face of it, China's sale of reactors to Pakistan is unexceptionable because they are meant for generating electricity. Apprehensions arise because Pakistan's political, military and scientific establishments have always acted in a manner that is contrary to the spirit of nuclear non-proliferation. They have indulged in acts that endanger regional and global security.

 

Pakistan as a nursery for global jihad only proves the point that it cannot be relied upon to conform to the security imperatives.
Americans are quite worried over the deal because of the volatile security climate in Pakistan. The main concern of Washington is that nuclear facilities should not ever fall into the hands of Islamic militants. Islamabad has been giving assurances that there is no likelihood of such a dangerous outcome. And Pakistan's political and military leaders did not hesitate to use this as a bargaining counter for economic and military aid. The demand has always been that to avert a disaster, the rest of the world must guarantee the viability of the state of Pakistan. This included assurances that India will not pose a challenge to Pakistan. Islamabad did not ever hesitate to use blackmail as a foreign policy tactic. It is this tendency that makes it the bad boy in the international community.

 

It would be unfair for India or others to argue that Pakistan should be denied nuclear technology for civilian purposes. But there is certainly need for sufficient assurances and safeguards to see to it that Pakistan does not misuse its access to strategic technology for military purposes. China as a supplier would indirectly and inevitably become a guarantor for the good behaviour of Pakistan. With China emerging as the leading economic power in the world, it cannot shrug off its global obligations. That is why, it could not avoid a tough stand on Iran's nuclear programme. A similar stance will be necessary on the part of China in the case of Pakistan as well.

 

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DNA

PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE

SONAL MAKHIJA, SWAGATA RAHA / DNA

 

The ministry of social justice and empowerment has proposed to draft a new legislation to replace the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. The ministry recently constituted a committee to draft the law. The draft legislation, to be submitted by August, will be in consonance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

 

The need for a new legislation that respects and protects the rights of persons with disabilities is undisputed.

However, the rights of and safeguards for persons with disabilities have to be integrated in all existing laws for India to meet its obligations under the UNCRPD. It requires states to recognise that people with disabilities "enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.

 

Here, we illustrate the need to review existing legislations by drawing attention to laws pertaining to domestic violence, rape and marriage.

 

Discussions on the need to amend the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) have been on the agenda of women's networks. The Act, that came into effect on October 26, 2006, protects women from violence in intimate relationships within the home. Although, it is being used extensively by women to obtain civil reliefs — such as protection, maintenance and residence orders — some key provisions need to be revised for its effective functioning. The PWDVA needs to integrate the concerns of women with disabilities, which it has failed to do so far.

 

The UK-based organisation Women's Aid in 2007 reported that disabled women were twice as likely to suffer from domestic violence. It pointed out though the violence suffered by disabled women may not be any different, they may find themselves in vulnerable situations with less access to help. For instance, in case of disabled women the violence may be faced at the hands of a care-giver. This care-giver may be someone the woman is living with.

 

That disability may be the cause for domestic violence should be taken into consideration. The explanation to the definition of domestic violence which presently includes physical, mental, verbal and emotional, sexual and economic abuse, should expressly incorporate acts such as taunting/insults directed towards the woman's disability.

 

Under the PWDVA, acts of omission also constitute domestic violence. In case of disabled women, acts of omission would lead to greater hardship, especially, when such acts by her care-giver/partner socially isolate her, deny her health services or impede her social interaction and mobility.

 

Likewise, Protection and Residence Orders under the PWDVA have to consider circumstances where a woman suffering from physical, visual or sensory impairment may need assistance/care of her partner and at the same time need a protection order restraining him from perpetrating violence.

 

The need for sign language to courts and other service providers is essential for making the PWDVA and other laws available to the disabled.

 

Incidents of rape of women/girls with disabilities have been rising. The provisions on rape in the Indian Penal Code need to be revised to recognise rape against a woman with disabilities as an aggravated offence warranting a higher penalty. Presently, if the victim of rape is disabled but not a minor, the offence is punishable with a maximum of seven years imprisonment.

The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2010, does prescribe a minimum of 10 years imprisonment or life imprisonment and fine for "sexual assault on a woman suffering from "mental and physical disability". The use of "and" suggests that the victim must be living with both a mental and physical disability for the provision to apply. Although, the courts have often interpreted 'and' to imply 'or', it is recommended that the Bill is revised at this stage to avoid confusion.

 

Under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, a marriage entered into by a person "incapable of giving a valid consent" due to "unsoundness of mind" or "capable of giving a valid consent" but "suffering from mental disorder" that would make him unfit for marriage and procreation is voidable under the Act. The Special Marriage Act, 1954, contains similar provisions. The presumption of legal incapacity of all persons with mental disabilities deprives them of their right to marry.

 

Thus, drafting of the new law should be accompanied by amendments to the existing laws in order to ensure protection of rights and recognition of legal capacity of persons with disabilities. Legislation for the disabled needs to be integrated with existing laws

 

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DNA

IT DON'T MATTER IF YOU'RE BLACK, WHITE OR BROWN

MADHU JAIN

 

Well, they may not quite be Bunty aur Babli. Actually, they are not even a pair. But Bobby and Nikki are youngish desi-Americans from small towns in southern United States living — and actualising — big dreams. We all know about Bobby Jindal, the present governor of the state of Louisiana, currently in the news because of the catastrophic BP oil spill lapping the shores of his state. In fact, in some circles it is even being whispered that he may be the Republican vice-presidential candidate for the next general elections.


And now comes Nikki Haley, formerly Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, putting in her bid for Governor of South Carolina. This Haley is streaking across the American political firmament like the comet with which she shares a name, give or take an l. She recently won 49% of the vote in her state's Republican primary for governor.
It's quite a leap for a 38 year old attractive sardarni married to a gora American to get this far in this deeply conservative state known for its ol'boy network, where racial discrimination was prevalent in the not-too-distant past, and can still raise its ugly head. If she succeeds, she will not only be the first non-white governor of South Carolina, but the first woman to occupy the gubernatorial chair.


Her recent political rise has not been without hiccups. Along with it have come allegations about her marital infidelity: a political blogger and a lobbyist for the rival for the gubernatorial post have claimed to have had affairs with her. Nasty digs about her ethnicity and religion are also surfacing. South Carolina State Senator Jake Knotts referred to her as a "raghead", offensive slang used derogatively for Muslims and those who wear turbans. (Towelhead is more commonly used for the turbaned.)


Ms Haley (interestingly both her family and Jindal's are originally from Punjabi — his hails from Maler Kotla) deftly fielded questions about her religion and ethnicity and has navigated through the slurs with dignity. In fact, the parochial onslaught seems to have increased her popularity. Among her staunch supporters is Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate during the last general elections. Palin, known for her sassy and silly remarks as well as her peep-toe shoes, has made robocalls in support of Haley's candidature.


Haley's ascent could easily be made into a Hollywood film. Going public started early for her. When she was five, her mother entered Nikki and her sister in the Little Miss Bamberg pageant. Recounting this in an insightful article in The Washington Post, Shaila Dewan and Robbie Brown write that the Randhawa sisters were disqualified by the judges of the contest since they were neither black nor white. Brown didn't exist in this then-working class town: the Randhawas were the first Indian immigrants here. Her father was a biology professor.


But little Miss Randhawa did not give up without a fight. She sang This Land Is Your Land. The spritely child might as well have sung This Land Is My Land. For, she looks like an all-American desi, with that perfect smile with her beauty pageant winner teeth (often the result of American dental wizardry). Dressed immaculately in sharply cut suits and shoulder length hair she almost looks like a desi version of Sarah Palin — without the folksy touch though.


Like Jindal, Haley has assimilated perfectly into the landscape — both social and political. She was also luckier with her name. While Jindal dropped Piyush for Bobby and converted to Christianity early on in his life, Haley simply used her middle name — Nikki is also an affectionate Punjabi word for the little one.
Nor did Haley drop her religion. She simply embraced both — born a Sikh, she married a Methodist. According to the Post article the Haleys had two wedding ceremonies: Sikh and Christian. It's the best of both possible worlds.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SHOCKS FROM POWER

IT IS A COLLECTIVE FAILURE

 

Though industrialists are known for squeezing benefits out of governments by raising a hue and cry over their problems and blowing up ordinary issues as matters of life and death, some concerns, nevertheless, are genuine and expensive power is one of them. Power shortage in Punjab used to be their usual grouse around this time of the year when the supply to industry was curtailed to help farmers grow paddy. This season Ludhiana's induction furnace and steel mill owners have taken time off their busy schedule to highlight how expensive power has become. For once, no one is cribbing about power shortage. This is because the new power utilities, created by splitting the state electricity board, have an easier access to credit due to the revaluation of their assets and they seem to have done sufficient power shopping well in time.

 

The successive governments in Punjab have messed up the power sector by giving free electricity to farmers and not paying for the subsidy in time. Since the farm sector supply is not metered, board officials conveniently dumped their huge theft and transmission losses in the farmers' quota. The board, driven to the edge, was starved of investible funds to enhance power generation. Though fed up with power cuts, the domestic consumer was partly protected on political considerations. It was industry, therefore, that had largely to pay for the competitive populism the ruling political parties have indulged in over the years. Industry, too, is not blameless. Power pilferage is rampant. How many corporate as well as domestic consumers pay their bills honestly?

 

So it is a collective failure on the power front. Power reforms have raised hopes in some states, but not in Punjab. The government has unbundled the board to form two separate government departments with the same work culture and the same freebies. There is no competition or pressure to perform. Inefficiency and corruption will raise the costs for everyone. Lack of quality power at a reasonable rate is majorly responsible for slowing Punjab's industrial and agricultural growth. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

NEED FOR A STRONG DETERRENT AGAINST IT

 

A spate of cases of children driven to death by corporal punishment have come to light in recent months which have shocked the conscience of the nation. The case of Kolkata schoolboy Rouvanjit Rawla, who committed suicide after allegedly being "humiliated and caned" at his school La Martiniere for Boys, has understandably stirred a debate on the whole issue of such punishment, which is known to lead to an increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and even suicide.

 

That Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has announced in an interview to The Tribune that guidelines will be framed soon to hold schools responsible if a child faces disability or death due to harassment by teachers is a measure of the outrage that has been caused by Rouvanjit's untimely death. Mr Sibal's promise to withdraw the protection of IPC Sections 88 and 89 which the school authorities cite when their acts of violence against children lead to serious consequences is as it should be. The sections deal with "good faith" and "child's benefit" as mitigating factors.

 

Ever so often, however, the intent is sound but its translation into reality is aborted. Corporal punishment had been banned under the Right to Education Act, but it still continues in actual practice. It is, therefore, vital that Kapil Sibal and the government in general be kept under relentless pressure by well-meaning organizations and individuals to act on the issue. It has been found time and again that mere guidelines do not fulfil the intended purpose and reports of committees (Sibal has promised to set up one) gather dust unless there is sustained move towards implementation.

 

Indeed, India needs to take a leaf out of the book of most of Europe, Canada, Japan and South Africa, among other countries, where corporal punishment has not only been outlawed but it is also deterred by stringent punishment. If the present law is inadequate in its scope on the issue, new legislation must be brought forth so that proper deterrent is devised.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BAIL FOR A TERROR SUSPECT

RELEASE OF BHATKAL IS A BLOW TO THE POLICE

 

THE unexpected release on bail of the prime accused in the German Bakery blast case at Pune not only raises embarrassing questions about the credibility of our investigating agencies and the quality of investigation, but will also continue to cloud other terror trials in the country. After all, the Union Home Minister himself had congratulated the Maharashtra Police last month for arresting the 'mastermind' behind the Pune blast in which 17 people, including five foreigners, were killed in February this year. Earlier, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil announced in the Legislative Council that the police had identified the terrorists and that suspects would be arrested soon. The Anti-Terror Squad ( ATS) of the Maharashtra Police then travelled all the way to Mangalore to pick up Yasin Bhatkal alias Abdul Samad Bhatkal at Bajpe airport when he arrived in a commercial flight from Dubai. He was arrested for allegedly supplying illegal firearms to three persons detained by the Mumbai police in August last year. Yasin Bhatkal, the police also claimed, was a cousin of absconding Indian Mujahideen founder Riyaz Bhatkal, was close to gangster Chhota Shakeel and had plotted the terror strike at the bakery.

 

And yet, when he was produced before the court, it was found that the police had goofed up and had no evidence against him. Contrary to the claims made earlier to the media, he wasn't even an accused in the illegal arms-supply case. The court also observed that the three people arrested by the police in that case had already been enlarged on bail. Also, the over-confident police had named Yasin Bhatkal as the prime suspect a month before in April and, therefore, his decision to return in May, only to be lapped up by waiting policemen at the airport, appears inexplicable.

 

It is not often though that the police admits to mistakes, either here or anywhere for that matter. Nor is it very common for the subordinate judiciary to let off a proclaimed terrorist on bail for want of evidence. Despite the obvious goof up therefore, the candid admission of the Maharashtra DGP, D. Sivanandan, that the investigation was wrong and that the arrest was a mistake needs to be commended. The business-like disposal of the case by the court is also a silver lining and would go a long way to restore people's faith in the fairness of the judicial process.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CHANGING BALANCE OF POWER

ENCOURAGING SIGNALS FROM US

BY HARSH V. PANT

 

THE US-India Strategic Dialogue ended with a new momentum having being imparted to the flagging US-India ties. The Obama Administration has now made it clear that it will indeed be following the Bush Administration's approach vis-à-vis India by underlining that the US wants to help India's rise to great power status. After a year and a half of neglect and daydreaming, the Obama Administration has come to realise that India's rise after all is good for the US and the world.

 

Just a few days before the dialogue, the Obama Administration released its National Security Strategy (NSS), and the central part of the new strategy is expanding US engagement with "other key centres of influence - including China, India and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia." The new NSS describes a world in which emerging powers are beginning to erode some elements of American influence around the globe. It describes an America "hardened by war" and "disciplined by a devastating economic crisis." It insists that the US "will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades."

 

The document's treatment of China and India is markedly different. Though it welcomes a China "that takes on a responsible leadership role in working with the US and international community," it makes it clear that the US "will monitor China's military modernisation program and prepare accordingly to ensure that US interests and allies regionally and globally are not affected." The treatment of India, meanwhile, is all positive. The NSS says, "the US and India are building a strategic partnership that is underpinned by our shared interests, our shared values as the world's two largest democracies and close connections among our people." It also underlines that "India's responsible advancement serves as a positive example for developing nations."

 

The US-India strategic dialogue, therefore, took place in a context where Washington seems to be putting in a lot of effort to impart a new dynamism to its ties with New Delhi. But most of it is at the level of symbols. It is time now to move to the substance. The focus of the dialogue was on strengthening cooperation on energy, climate change, education, trade and agriculture, and strategic issues. Predictably, the "Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative" was prioritised and food security and health partnership between the two got a boost. A global disease detection centre in India is being planned as one of the flagship science and technology ventures between the US and India.

 

On two crucial issues, terrorism and Afghanistan, the joint statement issued at the end of the dialogue struck all the right notes. The US not only committed itself to bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice but also assured India of its continued support in the ongoing counter-terrorism investigations. India has been given access to David Headley, the Lashkar operative who has confessed to its role in the Mumbai attacks. Welcoming India's vital contribution to "reconstruction, capacity building and development efforts in Afghanistan," Washington has also undertaken to regularly consult Delhi on Afghanistan.

 

The US is coming to terms with its relative decline and limits on its ability to shape the global agenda. The rapidity with which the global balance of power is changing is being reflected in the increasing assertiveness of China, but fantasising about China seems to be over in Washington. The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, has made it clear that the Chinese military is an impediment in the efforts to strengthen Sino-US ties. Gates was about to go to Beijing en route to Singapore in response to an invitation extended by Chinese military leaders who had visited Washington but the invitation was cancelled by China at the last minute. The idea of "Chimerica" was always too good to be true. But the rapidity with which the Sino-US ties have unravelled over the past few months has even surprised those who were cynical about Barack Obama's overtures to China to begin with. The state of Sino-US ties has been so pitiful in recent months that while the Chinese Commerce Minister was openly warning the US that it would suffer more if it decided to levy punitive tariffs on Chinese imports, Chinese military leaders have been contemplating the possibility of an all-out war with the US to gain the status of global super power.

 

The West, meanwhile, is souring on China. Gone is the talk of China as a responsible stakeholder in the international system. Instead, Google's withdrawal from China after a high-profile public spat is being seen as symptomatic of the problems that China's rise continues to generate for global norms set by the West. China's undervalued remnibi is no longer the problem solely for the US, but the Chinese behaviour is questioning the very foundations of the global trade regime. China has failed to play a constructive role in finding a solution to the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues much to the consternation of the West and has, in fact, made it impossible for the international community to resolve these dangerous flashpoints. There is a growing fear that China might soon become the pre-eminent world power without even the patina of democracy with grave consequences for the global order.

 

Meanwhile, America's main ally in the Asia-Pacific, Japan, is unlikely to be of much help in emerging as a balancer as it is finding it difficult to manage its internal problems. The Democratic Party has lost its popularity since its election victory last summer. Yukio Hatoyama had to resign after he gave in to the Obama Administration's demands that the American base, Marine Corps Air Station Futenna, stay on the island, Okinawa. Public opinion turned against Hatoyama for appearing indecisive and causing mistrust with the US, Japan's security guarantor. Japan's new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, will be looking to move beyond the air base issue and has already reaffirmed that his nation's security alliance with the US remains the cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy. But Tokyo cannot afford to ignore China, given the economic relationship between the two.

 

In order to manage this changing balance of power in the Asia-Pacific, the onus is clearly on the Obama Administration to demonstrate its commitment to a partnership with India. So, when Under Secretary of State Bill Burns underlined that the Obama Administration remained committed to supporting India's rise and to building the strongest possible partnership between the US and India, he was not merely assuaging Indian anxieties about China but was also rebalancing US foreign policy that seemed to be tilting towards Beijing to the consternation of American's partners in the region. The signals emanating from Washington in the aftermath of the Strategic Dialogue with India are that it is ready to put its ties with New Delhi back on track. It is now up to India to make its own assessment as to the direction it wants to take this relationship towards and convert the soaring rhetoric of the Clinton-Krishna joint statement into tangible action.

 

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THE  TRIBUNE

COLUMN

PRICE OF NOSTALGIA 

BY PARBINA RASHID

 

As I looked out of the window, the familiar-looking fields, the vast expanses of water, the thick jungles and the hills far below brought a lump in my throat. It never fails to, though I have been doing it year after year without fail.

 

Even though the pilot warned us of a troubled landing as Guwahati was experiencing heavy rain, it was not a dampener for me. As the plane touched the ground, my eyes got moist too. Finally, I was home!

 

The car I was asked to get into was not my father's weather-beaten Omni. The explanation came from him as I raised my eyebrows: "As our area is under water, I could not take it out of the garage. So, I borrowed this from a friend who lives in an upper area." I thought nothing of it after that.

 

The car ride to home was not exactly a joyride but then who cares. Our vehicle was in a serpentine queue that moved at snail's pace. One half of Guwahati had been swallowed up by water from the first monsoon rain. So the traffic had to be diverted to the existing high roads. Who can fight nature's fury, I thought a bit philosophically.

 

As was my wont, I kept marking each noticeable change on the way - a new building here, a new market there and an old tree gone. But the shock came when I saw the river which segregates the commercial area of the city from the residential. It was not the river I remembered from my last visit. It had become much leaner and even the course had been distorted beyond recognition, not by natural means but because of concrete boundary walls.

 

Was our old "Bahini river" strong enough to carry the volume which came surging from the hills that marked the horizon in front of my house? I had a bad feeling about it.

 

It didn't take long to confirm what I had already suspected. My father stopped the car and hailed a rickshaw-puller. The patch of road that led to my home was totally under water. From the people wading through it, I could make out that the level was waist-deep. So close, yet so far!

 

Patience was running low and we hopped on to one of the waiting rickshaws. The owner was only too happy to oblige us but the price he quoted for his service left my mouth agape — Rs 100 for this short trip.

 

"Look, you have travelled all the way to be home but what happens if we refuse to get you there? How will you reach there with all your luggage?" asked the wise guy who had noticed the airline tags on my luggage. I conceded. Who would not? After all, nostalgia comes with a price tag!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

"WE WANT HIGH-END TOURISM BUT FACE MAJOR CONSTRAINTS"

PREM KUMAR DHUMAL

BY RAJ CHENGAPPA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

 

Midway through his second term as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal appears to be still firmly in command. Major problems continue to beset the state, including a shortage of financial resources, growing water scarcity and its inability to adequately cash in on its rich tourism potential. In Shimla, Dhumal spoke at length to Editor-in-Chief Raj Chengappa on a range of issues. Excerpts:

 

Q Himachal has such great attractions for tourism but yet it does not seem to have achieved its full potential. What have you been trying to do to make it boom?

 

With over 1.14 crore domestic and foreign tourists visiting last year the hill state is not doing badly at all but we are aware of the fact that a lot more needs to be done. A majority of the visitors are religious tourists who come to the "land of gods" for pilgrimage. We are trying to attract high-end tourists but there are some inherent constraints like lack of air services and rail connectivity. We have been impressing upon the Centre to expand the rail network not only to boost tourism but also from the defence point of view in the larger national interest. We must connect the borders properly so that the Army can transport men and material with ease. We have tried to improve infrastructure with our limited resources. A lot is being done to improve the conditions of roads with World Bank assistance and funds available under the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojna.

 

Have you tried any other initiatives?

 

The response to the recent home-stay initiative to disperse the tourism industry to the interiors has been encouraging and already 246 units have been registered. These units are charged for electricity and water at the domestic rates and not the commercial rates as an incentive. Ex-servicemen, in particular, are being encouraged to create requisite facilities for tourists under the scheme and the tourism department is providing training to manpower in catering, housekeeping and other disciplines to ensure quality services and help manage the home-stay units in a professional manner. The forest rest houses located in secluded but most picturesque settings have been thrown open to tourists to give a boost to eco-tourism for which the state has a vast potential. The focus is also on adventure tourism and activities like skiing, heli-skiing, river rafting, and mountaineering. The AB Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Adventure Sports at Manali is doing a fine job. The man-made reservoirs of Gobind Sagar and Pong Dam are ideal for promoting water sports. The private sector is being invited to fill the gap in air services and process has been initiated to operate heli-taxis to enable people to visit Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and other distant areas as tourists are averse to undertaking long, time-consuming and rather arduous journeys by road. The state has been declared the best tourist destination for the past two consecutive years by different organisations associated with the tourism industry.

 

Somehow the state is short of cash and you are mostly dependent on central funds. What steps are you taking to raise your own resources?

 

The greatest resource the state has is its vast hydroelectric potential of over 23,000 MW. When I first came to power in 1998 only 2,838 MW was being generated. The government has been trying to harness the potential expeditiously by involving the private sector in a big way, besides getting some major projects executed in the state, central and joint sectors. At present 6,500 MW has been tapped and the figure is likely to touch 12,500 MW by the end of the 10th plan and 15,000 MW by 2017.

 

The second most important source of revenue is, of course, tourism but the most important emerging area, where a silent economic revolution is taking place, is the agriculture sector. Cultivable land is extremely scarce in the hills and, thus, to get higher returns farmers are being encouraged to diversify to off-season vegetables, floriculture and other high value cash crops. Apple is the main cash crop but most of the orchards are aged with productivity declining to a meagre 5 to 7 tonnes per hectare. Advanced countries like Israel are having a yield of 50 tonnes per hectare. The government has decided to implement a Rs 85-crore scheme to rejuvenate 12,500 hectares of old apple orchards to improve yield. Then herbs are also vanishing due to unscientific and excessive exploitation. With 7.32 percent of the country's biodiversity and varied agro-climatic conditions Himachal can play an important role in the preservation of this vanishing treasure. The government is promoting commercial cultivation of herbs and medical plants on a large scale.

 

There is a huge shortage of water across the state and it is going to be a major crisis. What are you doing to conserve it?

 

In my last term a water harvesting scheme was launched on an experimental basis in Hamirpur, one of the most dry districts, under which civic structures like check dams were raised to harness the surface runoff. The results are encouraging as is evident from the fact that while the water table is declining everywhere, it has actually increased by 2 m in Hamirpur and some old water sources have been rejuvenated. Now a Rs 300-crore rainwater harvesting plan is being implemented through panchayats under the rural development department. A water management board has been set up. Himachal is the first state to make a rain-harvesting structure mandatory for every building. A failure to do so could lead to the disconnection of water supply.

 

Himachal is one of the most environmentally fragile states with issues like melting of glaciers to address. You had convened a meeting of the chief ministers of the Himalayan states for the purpose. What are you trying to do on the ecological front?

 

We imposed a complete moratorium on green felling as early as 1986, much before the Supreme Court stepped in. Still illicit felling takes place at times. It could be stopped only if the community feels that forests are for its benefit and belong to it. The focus is to create awareness among the people for which we introduced a number of schemes. Under one initiative the plantation of deodar was undertaken in a big way in the state capital keeping in view the fact that the existing stock has almost completed its life span of around 150 years. The entire city was divided into 11 zones and the protection of the saplings has been assigned to many non-government organisations. The catchment area treatment plans are being implemented on a large scale and one eco-battalion consisting of ex-servicemen has done a very good job in the Sutlej basin. A nine-point environment code has been introduced in schools as part of the morning prayers to inculcate green habits among the young ones.

 

How cooperative is the Centre, given the fact that you come from the opposition party? Do you have any problems?

 

Personally I have a good equation with the Prime Minister who is very kind and considerate. But we do feel at times that we are not getting our due. For instance, under the Punjab State Reorganisation Act the assets and liabilities were to be transferred to the successor states on the basis of population, and accordingly, Himachal was entitled to 7.19 percent share in the assets. However, we did not get it in the Bhakra Beas Management Board projects till this day. The real shock came when the Government of India recently filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that the issue had been decided finally. We expected protection as it was the responsibility of the Centre to implement the Act.

 

Shimla used to be one of the best hill stations but you can see so much of construction taking place and it is developing in an unplanned manner. What are you doing to stop this?

 

Shimla should not become a concrete jungle. We are trying to check haphazard construction to the extent possible under the rules but at times people approach courts and get relief. The hands of the government are bound. The hill station was built for a population 25,000 but today over 1.25 lakh people are living in the city and a large number of tourists add to the burden on the basic amenities. It is the state capital and if it is to be a tourist destination, construction has to be restricted and some offices must be shifted out. We all have to cooperate to preserve the city located on a hillock which could come down any time.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

SPARE THE ROD, SAVE THE CHILD

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT REINFORCES THE USE OF VIOLENCE TO ASSERT DOMINANCE, VALIDATES CRUELTY AND DISCOURAGES INDEPENDENCE OF THOUGHT

 

If the tragic death of Rouvanjit Rawla, a 13-year-old student of Kolkata's La Martiniere for Boys, shows us anything it is this: that for all our gleaming buildings and sixlane expressways, we are still stuck in a time warp. It seems unbelievable that anyone, least of all the head of a school, should still believe that corporal punishment of students has value. This belief is rooted in our impression of the English public school system and largely influenced by books like Tom Brown's Schooldays.


Set in England's Rugby school in the 1830's, Thomas Hughes' 1857 novel extols the virtues of the English public school system and the values it supposedly instilled: defending the weak, standing up to bullies, nightly prayer, and not cheating on your exams. Some things were taken for granted: among them, corporal punishment by caning.


England's Parliament banned corporal punishment in state schools in 1986-87, as it happens, by a margin of one vote, 231 to 230 (Margaret Thatcher, the PM, was at dinner with Nancy Reagan and did not vote; and other Conservative MPs who favoured caning were caught in a traffic gridlock caused by preparations for a royal wedding and missed the vote altogether). Three years later, corporal punishment was banned in private schools too. Over 30 states in America have banned it, as has almost all of Europe.


So, too, has our own Supreme Court in 2000, and Section 17 of the newly minted 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act specifically prohibits it.


Mr Sunirmal Chakraborty, the principal of La Martiniere, is supposed to have said that he knew the law banning corporal punishment but yet made "judicious use" of his cane. How does anyone make any use, judicious or otherwise, of something that is illegal? You cannot instill discipline by committing an illegality. There is no greater indiscipline than the commission of that illegality.


 Pro-caning arguments are so weak that they are their own rejoinder: that the alternatives, suspension and detention, give the student a time off from class; they remove the student from the classroom; they strain the time and resources of parents and teaching staff.


Chakraborty and others, including the head of an umbrella organisation of several hundred missionary schools in Kolkata, continue to defend corporal punishment. It teaches students discipline, and something called "the right way of life", they say.


It does nothing of the kind. It only reinforces the use of violence to assert dominance, validates cruelty, discourages independence of thought, and equates questions with insubordination. This is exactly what a school should not do.


The case against corporal punishment is overwhelming: an increase in aggression and disruptive behaviour, deliberate vandalism, more bullying (including a direct correlation to "ragging" and "hazing"), a drop in academic achievement and attendance, lowered self-esteem and an extreme fear of school and learning. There is also a vast body of evidence linking corporal punishment to psychological conditions including clinical depression and suicide.


Chakraborty's deliberate refusal to follow the law says only this: I am above the law. Implicit in this, and in the helplessness of the student driven to take his life, is a damning indictment of our society's failure to protect those who most need it. It also mirrors our attitude to almost everything. We have become a nation of VIPs. Jumping queues, spitting, honking, entering a tiger reserve after closing hours, bribing someone – it's all ok because the law always applies to others, not to us. We are quick to accuse courts of passing unenforceable orders. But what order or law can ever be enforced if we continue to defy it? And so corporal punishment still has vociferous proponents who believe that it is all right to continue acting illegally.

 

It is not all right. Our very existence as a civil society demands that we follow certain rules. It is also a lesson that no amount of caning can teach.

 

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

EDITORIAL

PULLED BY DEMAND

A TEXTBOOK INFLATION NEEDS TEXTBOOK SOLUTIONS

 

Batten down the hatches? Pull out all the stops? It might be difficult to find the cliché that adequately emphasises the urgency with which the government needs to tackle inflation. The worry is not just that May inflation was in double digits (10.16 per cent). It is also a fact that prices of commodities other than food are now beginning to gallop. Inflation in non-food manufactured products (often referred to as core inflation) was 6.7 per cent in May, up from 6 per cent in March and 3.6 per cent in January. Non-core inflation actually declined in this period. Thus, inflation now seems to be in textbook territory where rising demand on the back of strong growth pulls up prices. It is no longer principally a supply-side problem driven by shortfall in food production. "Demand-pull" inflation has the nasty habit of embedding itself and feeding off growth. Its stubbornness makes it a much more difficult malaise to cure than supply-driven inflation. The data on the index of industrial production (IIP) for April, released just a couple of days before that on inflation, should dispel any doubts about the robustness of growth. Industrial growth for that month clocked a spectacular 17.6 per cent, a good two percentage points higher than even the most aggressive forecast. Thus, to cut a long story short, the government should lose some sleep over prices.

 

Textbook problems tend to have textbook solutions. If indeed excess demand is pushing up the price line, the remedy would be to try to put a lid on it. That is primarily the remit of monetary policy and the ball is now squarely in RBI's court. The central bank needs to hike the so-called policy interest rates — the repo and reverse repo rates that set the level of overnight borrowing rates of banks and ultimately determine all other lending and borrowing rates in the economy. The question of whether this is likely to do the trick immediately is somewhat irrelevant. A majority of economists seem to think that the central bank is behind the curve in responding to rising prices and has been too distracted in chasing other goals like keeping the government's borrowing costs low. Thus, the central bank must reaffirm its commitment to holding the price line and its willingness to jettison other targets that conflict with this objective. The signal that the monetary authority is in charge of the situation is itself likely to dampen inflation expectation and work at the margin to ease inflation. In the longer term, a calibrated increase in interest rates will help in moderating demand pressure. Could the rise in interest rates arrest the economic recovery? Industrial growth statistics for the January-April period (average IIP growth in this period was 15.8 per cent) suggest that the turn in the industrial cycle is well entrenched. They also show that the recovery is fairly broad-based and not riding on the backs of a handful of sectors. Investment activity seems to be picking up at a rapid pace (the capital goods component of the IIP increased by 73 per cent in April). A modest increase in interest rates is unlikely to take the fizz out of this entirely. What it will certainly thwart is the danger of an overheated economy that implodes later.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

RATIONAL USE OF GROUNDWATER

PRICING AND REGULATION OF ALL FORMS OF WATER USE NEEDED

 

The Planning Commission's advice to the Haryana government to levy a cess on agricultural power to raise funds for replenishing dwindling groundwater is wise counsel that is likely to fall on deaf ears. There is no denying that the continuous decline in groundwater levels across the subcontinent and weak attempts at replenishment constitute a grave threat to human security in this part of the world. Haryana is not a lonely sinner. Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in its vicinity are equally guilty of extracting more groundwater than is naturally replenished, causing the water table to decline sharply. Though the gains from tapping groundwater for crop production have, in the past, been spectacular, it has now reached a stage where it is jeopardising the future of agriculture in this key bread basket of the country. What is worse, in peninsular India, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, groundwater use has reached an unsustainable level. India is the world's largest user of groundwater because of the seasonal nature of the monsoons and the need to draw on a few weeks supply of rainwater over an entire year. What is, therefore, worrying is that India is also the world's most wasteful user of groundwater. A recent World Bank report says that of India's 5,723 groundwater blocks, as many as 1,615, or 29 per cent, are now classified as over-exploited, critical or semi-critical, depending on the extent of depletion of aquifers. If the trend endures unabated, 60 per cent of all groundwater aquifers would be in a critical state in 20 years.

 

Therefore, curbs on unsustainable use of groundwater are indispensable. The suggestion of the planning commission seems implementable only in those states where agricultural power is metered and priced. But in states where governments are supplying power for agricultural purposes free or at highly subsidised rates, imposition of a cess will be politically difficult. Any regulation of groundwater use through executive orders would also be difficult as it involves too many small users — there being over 21 million tubewells in operation today. The Central Ground Water Authority has issued regulatory directives for over 100 critical water blocks, but neither the Authority nor the state agencies have the manpower or resources to enforce these regulations. However, there are other ways to check excessive withdrawal of groundwater. Punjab has passed a legislation prohibiting early planting of paddy (in the hot and dry months of May) to cut down on water absorption by this water-guzzling crop. Haryana has followed suit. But more needs to be done. A community management approach — making the local community responsible for sustainable groundwater management — is said to have worked well in the drought-prone areas of Andhra Pradesh. Gujarat has shown that restricted, but assured, power supply according to an announced schedule can also be helpful. However, such measures need also to be supplemented with actions aimed specifically at promoting percolation of rainwater down to subsurface aquifers to refill them. Watershed development technology is available for such rainwater harvesting. However, since watersheds cut across political and administrative boundaries of blocks, districts and even states, appropriate institutional devices will have to be created to ensure cooperative management of water use.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

RAJAPAKSA'S VISIT - A LOST OPPORTUNITY

INDIA COULD HAVE USED THE LANKAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT FOR ENHANCING INDO-SRI LANKA TRADE TIES

NISHA TANEJA

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recent visit to India during June 8-11, 2010 culminated in a joint declaration between the two countries. The declaration aimed at building peace and reconciliation in war-afflicted northern Sri Lanka. India agreed to give a grant for rehabilitation and resettlement of internally displaced persons. India also offered to support a major initiative to undertake reconstruction of various infrastructure projects, including the Madu-Talaimannar railway line, the Palay Airport and Kankesanthurai Harbour. The two countries also agreed to resume the ferry services between Colombo and Tuticorin and between Talaimannar and Rameswaram. To foster closer economic ties, the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in agriculture and livestock development, energy, education and telecommunications.

Perhaps what has gone unnoticed is that President Rajapaksa's visit marked a special occasion — the completion of 10 years of the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The two countries are currently carrying the burden of an unsigned Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that has gone through several rounds of consultations since 2003 but has failed to break ground as there is a fear amongst various stakeholders that the CEPA could undermine the interests of parts of the economy. The joint declaration recognised the need for a more comprehensive framework of economic cooperation but simply directed the officials of the two countries concerned to hold further consultations.

 Rajapaksa's visit was an excellent opportunity for India to address some of the outstanding issues under the Indo-Sri Lanka FTA. A Joint Study Group set up by the two countries has identified several key issues that needed to be addressed. First, the tariff rate quota on tea and garments, and the restriction on ports of entry for these products were unduly restrictive for Sri Lankan exports into India. Second, undue delays caused due to doubts raised by the Indian customs regarding the authenticity of certificate of origin issued by Sri Lankan authorities. Third, discriminatory sales taxes charged by some Indian states adversely affected some preferential exports from Sri Lanka. Fourth, insufficient preferential tariffs on items of export interest to Sri Lanka, e.g. textiles and fifth, large sensitive lists which effectively blocked out preferential trade in items of export interests of both countries.

Even though India has taken some corrective measures, the delayed action seems to have caused irreparable damage. India removed port restrictions on tea in June 2007 and on garments in April 2008. India also allowed duty-free import of garments without any restriction on sourcing of fabric from India up to a limit of three million pieces. Discriminatory taxes being imposed on Sri Lankan products by some state governments were also abandoned. These amendments came much too late — as there was a deep resentment against the fact that India failed to take into account the export interests of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan President's visit was an ideal opportunity for India to declare measures that could have signalled its interest in enhancing the pace and scope of economic cooperation between the two countries. A further pruning of the sensitive lists, devising procedures for acceptance of rules of origin certification without delays and signing mutual recognition agreements are some measures that India could have announced.

The bumpy path that the two countries have followed under goods liberalisation has had an adverse impact on the conclusion of the CEPA. There are fears in several quarters that Sri Lanka may get an unfair deal under the new agreement. India needs to reiterate that an agreement in services would provide both the countries a great deal of flexibility in making commitments for liberalisation. Thus, Sri Lanka can lay down the extent of market access in various modes and sectors in which it would like to offer market access to India. This is unlike the goods agreement where all products are liberalised except those specified in the negative list. By taking corrective action on some of the pending issues under the goods agreement, India could have paved the way for the signing of the CEPA.

The author is a professor at ICRIER. The views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SUNITA NARAIN: THE BHOPAL LEGACY

THIS IS THE RIGHT TIME TO ASK THE GOVT TO RETHINK THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE BILL

SUNITA NARAIN

Days after President Barack Obama lashed out at British Petroleum (BP) saying he would not let it "nickel-and-dime" his people in the oil spill case, the sessions court in Bhopal did precisely that with the victims in one of the world's worst industrial disasters. There is no doubt this is one case where the victims have been let down completely by the Indian state — the government and the judiciary.

 It is well accepted the Supreme Court erred badly first in 1989 by settling all civil and criminal liability at a piddling sum of $470 million (in 1991, it reopened the criminal case). Later, in 1996, the apex court reduced criminal charges from section 304 — culpable homicide with a maximum punishment of 10 years — to a milder section 304a, used in traffic accidents for deaths caused by rash or negligent acts, which limits the term of imprisonment and provides for lighter fines. In all this, the court has been strangely silent about the management of relief and the lack of medical research and treatment for the victims.

The apex court, known to side with environmental victims, has also been vacillating on the matter of what should be done with the abandoned factory site, which is full of toxic contaminants that the company left behind.

Bhopal is about shame. Bhopal is also about what the country, indeed all countries, must do about corporate liability for the unknown. In 1984, when the pesticide factory's poison gas hit Bhopal, killing and maiming thousands, nobody had seen or imagined a disaster of this kind. The question of liability was hushed up, largely because it involved a US company. Nobody wanted to mess around with this corporate powerhouse, even in those times of relative innocence. The liability was established in ignorance, combined with powerlessness.

As a result, the amount settled for the disaster — still unfolding because lives continue to be lost and ailments do not go away — was less than what was agreed in the Exxon Valdez case that occurred a few years later in 1989. In this oil disaster, which hit the coast of Alaska in the US, the toll on the natural environment — the flora and fauna — was priced at double (some $1 billion settled for punitive and economic damages) of what was paid for the thousands of human lives lost and maimed in Bhopal.

But, oil interests in the US are not small fry. In 1990, post-Exxon Valdez, the Oil Pollution Act was passed. The Act capped the liability of economic damages from such an oil disaster at a mere $75 million. Today, even as the US is learning how it never anticipated a disaster such as the BP spill — a leak in an oil well so deep in the ocean that human intervention is not possible — this cap has become a point of friction in the country. Today, the Senate wants the cap removed. Otherwise it will have to prove that BP's oil spill was the result of deliberate and gross negligence and/or regulatory non-compliance. The Senate knows this will be difficult to establish, given the country's legal process. The issue is not negligence per se, but the fact that the regulator underestimated the risk of this drilling. They did not provide for safeguards. It is also no surprise then that Obama has accepted that in his country, regulations have been played around with and diluted because of the "cosy relationship between big oil and government".

This is the right time to ask the Indian government to rethink the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. The Bill caps the operator's liability at Rs 500 crore per incident, with additional damages of approximately Rs 2,300 crore to be made good by the government. This amount is even less than what was paid in the case of Bhopal, a ridiculously low amount, and a joke when it comes to a nuclear accident.

US companies with an interest in the nuclear business desperately want India to pass this Bill. It will cap liability and hence reduce their insurance cover and costs. It is, thus, not a surprise that the official US response to the trial court judgment on Bhopal mentions this Bill and wants the Indian government not to link the two.

But there is a link. The issue of liability must be established and it must be based on full costs. All technologies must pay the real cost of their present and future dangers. Only then will we, as a society, try and understand the risks better. Only then will we, as a society, make better technology choices. After the shame of Bhopal, nothing less is acceptable.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BHUPESH BHANDARI: HEALING IN A LOW-COST ERA

IF THERE CAN BE LOW-COST CARS AND LOW-COST HOUSING, WHY CAN'T LOW-COST HEALTH CARE BE POSSIBLE?

BHUPESH BHANDAR

Is a low-cost health-care model possible? To put it differently, can a hospital charge low, affordable fee and still make money? This is the new debate that has gripped the industry in India. Most private hospital chains, at least the ones in news, cater to the top-end of the market. Can they afford to move down the value chain? Tata Motors has made a low-cost car, GE has come out with inexpensive medical equipment and experiments are afoot in low-cost housing. Why not low-cost health care?

 Anand Burman wants to set up a chain of such hospitals in Tier II and III towns, where ordinary folks can come for treatment. If it succeeds, it will blaze a new trail. The demand for good-quality health care will only rise in the days to come. So, it is the right business to be in. But the cost of real estate has deterred people like Burman from taking a top-down approach.

A large hospital can cost as much as Rs 1 crore per bed — more or less the same as a five-star hotel. This is somewhat similar to the United States where the norm is $200,000 for a bed. High real estate prices have made the business economics of hospitals go totally haywire. Most hospital chains have opened shop in high-street addresses because of the prosperous catchment area. On the flip side, it can take up to six years for investors to recover their money. These days, hospitals can be found lobbying the government hard for a tax holiday.

The other capital cost is equipment. Almost 70 per cent of the high-end medical equipment in the country are imported. It comes not from low-cost producers like China and Taiwan but from the United States and Europe. Doctors often say they feel more comfortable with imported machines. This is a challenge that Indian makers of medial equipment need to overcome. It may take long because mindsets don't change overnight. Hospitals, of course, have petitioned the government to cut the import duty of 8-12 per cent to zero. After all, the equipment are used to treat the masses, they have argued.

To be fair, there are hospitals which are delivering low-cost health care. ChrysCapital Managing Director Sanjiv Kaul thinks it is an easily-doable proposition. A bed in the intensive care unit can be done for as little as Rs 25 lakh, according to him. ChrysCapital, in fact, had come close to investing in one such chain of hospitals. The deal fell through in the final lap after differences arose between the private equity firm and the promoter over the valuation of the company.

The Centre for Emerging Market Solutions at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad wants to develop a low-cost model for health care. The Centre began to study the sector when it realised that though 80 per cent of patients go to private hospitals for treatment, the bulk of the aid goes to government hospitals. Some two-and-a-half years ago, it started monitoring the various business models in use. To its surprise, it found in use several best practices that cut the cost of delivery. For instance, some hospitals were found to use their machines round the clock — out-patients during the day and in-patients at night. In the West, these machines are generally used nine to five. It also came to light that several hospitals used paramedics for low-end services. This brought down the cost. The Centre is now doing an in-depth study. At the end, a model might emerge that can be transported to all emerging markets.

Bhavdeep Singh, the CEO of Fortis Healthcare, is hopeful that health care will slowly spread to the masses, much like mobile telephony. The sheer growth of chains like his, Singh says, has improved the penetration of high-quality health care. In the nine years that the company has been around, it has held on to most of its price tags, Singh claims. In some cases, like cardiac care, the prices today are lower than what they were five years ago. This has brought health care closer to the masses. The company has identified 150 touch points with consumers where efficiencies can be brought in. In spite of high real estate prices, it has capped investments at less than Rs 50 lakh per bed. After large cities, Fortis has in its crosshairs smaller towns like Kangra in Himachal Pradesh and Jodhpur in Rajasthan.

There is another reason for hope. Uttar Pradesh, some years ago, had debated a revolutionary idea: Why not get into partnership with the private sector for health care? The state runs primary health centres in remote villages and full-fledged hospitals in towns and cities. It would help, the Lucknow think tank suggested, if private medical colleges were attached to these hospitals. It would be beneficial to all. The hospitals would get new investments. The medical colleges would get hospitals, which is vital for medical education. But then the government changed in the state and nothing more was ever heard of the proposal. But it is important that such a chain of thought has been set in motion. Sooner or later, somebody is likely to latch on to the idea. That will change the health care landscape in India.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WRAP UP PPF

 

The finance ministry's proposal to shelve the plan to tax public provident fund (PPF) on maturity will provide relief to investors. However, the proposal in the revised discussion paper on the direct taxes code is antireform .

The artificial distortions created by offering fixed rate of return on PPF when interest rates on most financial instruments have been deregulated will continue .


Also, PPF is expensive borrowing for the government as it can easily borrow at much cheaper rates in the market and avoid undue pressure on the exchequer. The administered interest rate on PPF is 8%. However, the tax breaks raise the effective yield to 11.25-12 .5%.


This is far higher than the prevailing yield of 7.6% on a 10-year government paper. Sure, the returns make PPF attractive to investors, but the high tax-free interest rate makes it costly borrowing for the Centre. All the more so for the states that are charged a 9.5% interest on the small savings proceeds transferred to them.

It would make sense to wind up the PPF scheme and, instead, encourage people to invest in pension schemes that provide annuities.


The revised code wants a tax-free regime on PPF till a universal social security system is in place and a solution is found to handle the administrative and technological challenges. This is weak defence. Unlike pension, the PPF is not a social security scheme but just a savings scheme with guaranteed returns — a subsidy that hurts the exchequer.

A well-functioning safety net requires the option of stable income after retirement. The new pension scheme (NPS) will provide that stability. The government now contributes Rs 1,000 to the pension account of every new NPS subscriber.


The NPS will ensure positive returns from the very day a subscriber joins it. The revised code has made withdrawals from NPS tax-free . This could make it an attractive alternative to PPF. But the biggest problem with the NPS is that it is relatively unknown. The government has to market the pension scheme better to rope in more subscribers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SINGLE FINANCIAL SECTOR REGULATOR

 

The single all-powerful financial regulator model, touted by many as the most effective way of ensuring there are no more financial crises, received a death blow on Thursday with the UK Chancellor of the exchequer , George Osbourne, abolishing the UK's Financial Services Authority (FSA).


With this, the curtain comes down on a 13-year experiment that in the words of the new Chancellor was responsible for the most 'spectacular regulatory failure' .


In its vastly-diminished role, the FSA will now function as Consumer Protection and Markets Authority, responsible for ensuring individual banks, building societies and insurance companies operate safely.


And lest there be a doubt about who is the boss, it will exist as a subsidiary of the Bank of England whose powers have been vastly enhanced with its head, Mervyn King, chairing a new Financial Policy Committee that

has been given carte blanche to stop a 'dangerous build-up of credit or asset bubbles' .


For us in India, the UK move to scrap the FSA is particularly relevant as it comes soon after the finance minister announced the decision to set up an apex-level Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) in Budget 2010.

To be sure, it would be premature to jump to the conclusion that our existing model with the RBI at the helm of a loose conclave of financial sector regulators is necessarily the best.


The unseemly tussle between the capital markets regulator, the Sebi, and the insurance regulator, the Irda, is clear proof that it could do with some fine-tuning . Nonetheless, there are two reasons why we need to pause before we rush in and replace a reasonably well-functioning model for a yet-unproven one such as the FSDC.


One, the present model has served us well (we are one of the few countries to have emerged from the crisis with our banking sector unscathed). Two, countries such as the UK that tried the alternative are now turning back to a model akin to ours. The old maxim, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, works as well for the financial sector as for as for any other.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK & OPPORTUNITY

 

It would have been hard to convince people a year ago that in June 2010, we would be looking at yearon-year growth of 19% for manufacturing output or 36% for exports. Or, for that matter, that we would have had double-digit inflation for four months in a row to May.


The Indian economy has indeed bounced back sharply from the downswing induced by the global financial crisis. It is now poised to consolidate the recovery of economic expansion, especially that in investment, and set the stage for a new round of sustained investment and growth.

We should, however, not fall prey to the illusion that we are entirely out of the woods. This is especially true given that the advanced economies have yet to overcome the effects of the crises and that they now face new problems flowing from their overstretched public finances.


In this, both Europe and the US are both in a difficult position, although the erosion of confidence in Europe, particularly in the eurozone, is more pronounced. India's problems have been compounded by the very high inflation that has hit us so early into this new phase of growth.


In large measure, this was due to the adverse expectations on food prices flowing from the very poor monsoon of 2009 and the devastating late season floods in parts of southern India, the sizeable loss of foodgrain output and the unhappy coincidence that it overlapped a year in which international cotton and sugar prices tested new records. It was also a year that held salutary lessons on how to improve on the speed and design of our interventions to try and contain such price storms.


The fixed investment rate held up well through the crisis. It was 31.4% of GDP in 2006-07 , rising to 33% in 2007-08 , last year of the global boom, remained there in 2008-09 , and was only marginally lower at 32.4% in 2009-10 .

True, the overall investment rate did fall from the 2007-08 level of 37.7% of GDP to 34.9% in 2008-09 and to an estimated 36% in 2009-10 .

 

But that was due to a drawdown of inventory, not a decline in the fixed investment rate. However, the resilience exhibited in fixed asset creation through the crisis does not necessarily mean that the Indian corporate sector, which had not rolled back its ongoing asset-creation programmes, would not have reconsidered its portfolio of new projects.


Surely, the effects of seeing once-great corporate names crumble into dust, the new-found fascination in the advanced world for antediluvian ideas of how government knows best and markets are never to be trusted and Nobellaureate economists predicting the end of the market economy as we knew it, should surely have sowed the seed of corrosive self-doubt , even amongst the hardiest of entrepreneurs.


Perhaps it did a wee bit, but the fear does not seem to have survived into 2010. This speaks volumes for how well-founded the economic transformation of the Indian economy has been. For, it is when change manifests in the realm of ideas, or as some would call it the superstructure or others the governing paradigm, that such change is indeed a lasting one.

The challenge before public policy is how to leverage on this happy endowment of robust economic dynamism. In order to consolidate the return of

the Indian economy to the growth trajectory of 9%, we must be able to do certain things and do them well.

First, the deficits in physical infrastructure — power, road, rail, ports, airports, urban mass transit and municipal economic infrastructure — remain. We have to push hard on these investments, a large part of which will be either in the private sector or in public-private partnerships. We must be able to gain traction on the issue of better use of water resources, particularly in agriculture and encourage recycling in urban and industrial use.

Second , in order to leverage the momentum of growth, the government has to facilitate not only investments in infrastructure but also the large investments that will be needed in manufacturing and other businesses to support sustained growth of the Indian economy at 9% and higher.


This needs clarity in policy, in the interpretation of these policies and coordinated and cooperative action by the wings of the government.


Further, this agenda of public action must include the reform of the market for infrastructure services, particularly that of the power sector. This is not only a doable proposition, but one on which a lot of ground has indeed already been covered.


Now it is a matter of completing the journey , albeit with some obstacles that are yet to be overcome. Third, the farm sector needs the benefits of technology, especially in water use and improvement of soil quality, which must be combined with a dramatic improvement in the supply chain that connects the farm to the kitchen table.

This is the only way to reduce wastage and inefficiency , improve the net price that the farmer receives and lower the price that the consumer has to bear.


This will not only help us to rein in food price inflation, which in our country has consistently underpinned overall inflation , but it will also improve farm incomes and help bring rural economic transformation into the fast lane. The effort and investment in health and education has to be accelerated, in the full realisation that the lead time to get results are longer, and to sustain the growth process in India, very significant improvements in these fronts are vital.


Trade and investment relations with the rest of Asia, as well as Africa and Latin America, hold the potential of fruitfully deepening the mutually-beneficial engagement with these emerging economies that are today the focus of global growth.


Finally, in a world rudely awakened by the nightmare of a shadow on the solvency of advanced economies, it is ever more imperative that we pursue the course of fiscal consolidation that we have set ourselves with determination and clearly perceptible resolve.


The present decade holds the potential of taking India into the league of the four largest national economies measured at market exchange rates.


We owe it to ourselves, to those who preceded us and on whose shoulders we have the benefit of standing, as well as to tomorrow's generation, that we successfully realise this potential.


(The author is member of Planning Commission)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

BP BEGINS TO ANTE UP

 

Given the size of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we suspect that $20 billion may not be enough to compensate all of the people whose lives and futures have been derailed by the spill. But it's a good start.

 

It took days of very public pressure from President Barack Obama and countless hours of private negotiations, but BP finally agreed on Wednesday to put $20 billion in an independently managed compensation fund.


After meeting with the company's top executives at the White House, Obama stressed that the amount is not a ceiling on BP's obligations, which by some estimates could exceed $40 billion when the costs of cleaning the spill and restoring the gulf's damaged ecosystem are also factored in.


"The people of the gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations," the president declared, adding that the agreement would not pre-empt any claims in court.


BP did not publicly address the issue of a cap, but its chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg did apologise "to the American people" and vowed to "look after the people affected" and "repair the damage to this region and the economy." There are a lot of reasons, of course, not to trust BP.


The company insisted for years that it was ready to deal with a huge oil spill in the Gulf, and it was completely unprepared . After the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig, it downplayed the size of the spill, starting with 1,000 barrels a day, then moving to 5,000, then — as its tallies became less and less credible — turning over the job of estimating to government scientists.


Their present estimate is as much as 60,000 barrels a day. When Obama first started pressing for an escrow fund, and a suspension of dividend payments to BP's shareholders, the company pushed back hard, rallying British politicians to argue that they were being unfairly roughed up by the Americans.


Svanberg appears to have decided that fessing up and anteing up is now the best course. On Wednesday, BP also announced that it would suspend dividend payments of about $7.5 billion over the next three quarters — in effect giving Gulf residents higher priority over its own stockholders.


It also agreed to set aside an additional $100 million to pay workers idled by Obama's suspension of deep-water drilling in the Gulf. This should relieve the pressure on the president to resume that drilling.


Having $20 billion in guarantees should reassure the spill's victims, and all Americans, that BP will not be able to walk away from its responsibilities. It is also reassuring that the fund will be managed by Kenneth Feinberg, a veteran administrator who won high marks for overseeing the 9/11 victims' compensation fund.


Feinberg's task then — determining the value of a life, in nearly 3,000 cases — was extraordinarily daunting. This one will involve many more claims from many more people.


There is not a lot of time for Feinberg to get up to speed. BP is currently handling individual claims and has been criticised for uneven treatment and not responding quickly enough to people who could be weeks or even days away from losing their businesses.


The White House will need to keep pressing BP hard. The agreement gives the company several years to deposit the $20 billion in order to manage its cash flow and not scare off investors. It must be held to that timetable. And it must begin making provisions to ensure a full payout of the billions more in cleanup and restoration costs and civil penalties under the Clean Water Act that are also its responsibility.


We would like to think the battle is over. It is not. Claims in the 1989 Exxon Valdez case were not finally adjudicated until two years ago, and there is still oil on the rocks of Prince William Sound.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S SCARY. GENERAL PRICE RISE HAS BEGUN: PRONAB

V YOGASRI POORNA & SURABH

 

The Indian economy is on a roll with industrial production surging the most in 15 years and the government confident of a near 9% growth in the first quarter. But the potential inflationary spiral and European crisis can play spoilsport, says country's chief statistician, Dr Pronab Sen, in an interview with ET. Excerpts:

 

Why is the food inflation still high despite some measures?

What we have right now in terms of the measured inflation is really what had happened to the same numbers a year ago. We have had a period of high inflation, prices went up to a level and have stabilised at that particular level. The little variation in the inflation are nothing but minor fluctuations, they are statistically not meaningful. The inflation rate will start diminishing either if the prices come down or when we reach the point when prices started climbing last year or some combination of both.


Will a good monsoon actually help cool food prices?

Yes, but there is a contradictory influence. For instance, if today a farmer is expecting a good monsoon, he expects to have a good income in the future. He might actually start increasing his consumption in anticipation of a good harvest. Then, there will be no change in supply, but demand will increase. That pushes the inflation a little bit more. It happens every year.

 

Has food inflation moved to a more generalised inflation?

Well, it certainly has. This is the danger that has been worrying us right since January. At that time, the non-food inflation was low at around 2-2.5%. But even then it was starting to rise. Food price inflation can trigger off a generalised inflation through a wage price spike and that appears to be taking place now.


Do you see the rising international commodity prices will affect India's inflation rate?

That's not really clear. In 2008, there was an upsurge in the international commodity prices, which included minerals as well as agro products. This time around, the upsurge is only in minerals and it's not as bad as two years ago. But even the international prices of minerals are fluctuating a lot, but this is because of the ambiguity over the global economy.


Will further government or monetary intervention help cool prices?

I am not particularly clear on that. The growth process came to an abrupt stop in February last year. Investments went down, projects that were in the pipeline were completely shelved and everything froze. Then from December, a very strong recovery in both consumption and investment started. This boosted demand and led to some amount of inflationary pressure. So we need to be a little careful about taking measures, as we don't know till when this demand supply imbalance will last. The problem is when this gets built into the expectation. That's when the food price inflation comes in.


What are your views on the industrial production numbers? Do you think the current high growth is an aberration or will it continue?

They have to be understood in context. The sector-by sector average for the last two years shows the industrial growth would be around 8-9%. This is the same growth rate that we had from 2002 to 08. We are only making up for what we lost last year. But that doesn't mean that this double-digit growth rate will continue unless other growth drivers come into play.


What are these growth drivers?

The main drivers for industry are the internal demand and normal export growth, which have been leading to an industrial growth of 8% to 9%. The industrial growth of 10% or so was essentially driven by higher exports. So the international economy is important to target a high IIP.


The finance ministry recently said GDP growth in the first quarter could be 8.9%. Will GDP be above the forecast 8.5% for 2010-11?


That's not clear. IIP will gradually taper to 8% in the coming months. So, the 8.5% will be difficult, but not impossible. It will need some supportive environment, but we don't know what will happen in the global economy.

How far will the European crisis affect the Indian economy?

We don't know right now. The European banks are in trouble and there is no idea what will happen. On the positive side, having been through this experience last year, I think we are better placed to manage the problem. We won't see the same kind of shock as last year.


At that time, a large volume of our exports was based on trade credit, which was taken from international banks. When they dried up, exports came to a halt. Indian banks were not prepared for this. Now Indian banks have come back to the trade credit business. Even if there is banking crisis globally, the trade credit is not going to affect that much. What will affect us is the slow down in international demand. If international trade comes down, it'll impact us, but the effect won't be too large.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HR DOESN'T TAKE A HUGE INVESTMENT TO START: TOMMY WEIR

ANIRVAN GHOSH

 

HR was a function always relegated to the background in companies. So when Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, decided to make it a priority, it was something of a novelty. Now, HR has transformed many companies. Dr Tommy Weir, global vice-president of Kenexa,which offers human capital management solutions, talks to ET about how and why small businesses need to adopt modern HR practices.


Why haven't Indian SMEs adopted modern HR practices yet?

Lack of exposure for one. The team members lack exposure to best practices in HR followed by some of the larger companies. But I must point out one thing—that even among larger firms, there are hardly any which have a modern integrated HR policy.


Has the IT sector in India shown innovative HR practices?

Yes, but more needs to be done. If the concern is just to hire good people and stopping at that, then HR clearly has not done its job. The idea is to be involved across the life cycle and not just at one or two stages. It is not just India where we find antiquated HR. We find that in lot of other countries too in the Middle East and in most parts of Asia.


So what is the way forward? How can Indian companies adopt modern HR practices?

That is for the organisational leadership to decide and push. The employees need to be taken into confidence, and new talent at the top level might be needed to implement them. This can be a good opportunity for emerging companies to implement integrated HR policies to reap the benefits through their life cycle.


Frontline managers, especially in SMEs, complain that their training needs are hardly taken care of.


That's true for most companies. I would say that frontline managers are largely ignored. Most training programmes are for senior level officers or executives, while these guys also need it as much, if not more. I have been advising companies here, and other parts of Asia, on this aspect. It might take a bit of time but its slowly happening.


Is HR only about recruitment or should it continue after that as well?

Absolutely. The good thing is that among our clients here, we are seeing much more interest to first know the modern techniques and then implement them. Some of the smaller firms are better placed to put in place these things. The idea is to first do a culture test when you are hiring. Then you build managers around the culture that you have. Understanding the culture is key.


How often do companies need to change their HR practices?

It depends on their needs, but if you take the theories and practices, then I would say every 4-5 years. Every five years, something new has been discovered and added. Organisations which already have the modern integrated systems are better placed to make subtle changes that will better manage their existing and new employees to come. HR is not just one subject. It includes elements of psychology and sociology as well. So new advances in these fields leads to improvements in HR. The good part is that even if you haven't followed advances for sometime, it does not take a huge investment to start off.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

90% of our products are sourced locally: President, Wal-Mart India

Nidhi Nath Srinivas

 

FDI in Indian retail may be a while away, but the $405-billion Wal-Mart Inc is not letting grass grow under its feet. As its annual shareholders meet in Bentonville, the spotlight was on Wal-Mart's two Indian cash-and-carry stores that were an instant hit and are now the blueprint for similar stores in Brazil and Mexico. With board approval for an accelerated rollout this year, Wal-Mart India president Raj Jain tells ET in an interview that a perfect business opportunity is in place for cost-efficient local suppliers. Excerpts:


Most large Indian retailers are discounters. What makes Wal-Mart different?

Raj Jain :There is a difference between lower and lowest prices. We are the lowest. We have an elaborate system of price benchmarking. And for a similar basket of goods, we are always 2-5% cheaper at Bharti and Wal-Mart. That's our claim.


If the government opens 100% FDI in retail, what would you do differently?

Raj Jain: We would invest in the front-end and show our commitment to retail. We would enter into more alliances and joint ventures. It would also be easier to sell bigger plans to the board of Wal-Mart International.

Are the top brands willing to offer significant discounts?


Raj Jain: Lack of scale hampers our ability to bargain hard. But the serious large players and suppliers know we mean business. Moreover, we give 50-70% more sales per square foot compared to competition. That's an incentive.

But you are not able to call the shots.

Raj Jain: The larger brands are sharing trade margins with us. But India is in the early stages of retailing. Power of pricing is still with manufacturers. It will take two decades before power of pricing shifts. The change will happen very fast in apparel where there are no entrenched brands.


How much do rentals eat up your margins?

Raj Jain: Rentals continue to be very high at 3-7% of sales. That is a concern because the global norm is maximum 3%. The problem will become worse in the next 12 months. Our strategy is to get more real estate into play. We are explaining to builders our ability to become an anchor tenant. For cash-and-carry, we are going outside town. If there are good promoters, banks are willing to lend. It is a capital-intensive business in initial years. Companies such as Vishal and Subhiksha expanded too fast and fell into a cash trap. But if you expand very slowly, then you get no scale.


What about supplier credit?

Raj Jain: It continues to be a market problem. Farmers don't give credit. Large manufacturers don't want to give us credit. But they want us to hold their inventory. So we say give us just-in-time delivery if you don't give credit. That's where they are struggling. We have two-week payment terms with suppliers for private labels because they can't afford more than that. We can borrow money more cheaply than them. We have about 800 suppliers and will add another 150 each year.


Will lack of scale delay break-even?

Raj Jain: If in the next five years there is no FDI in retail, then it certainly will. In short term, no.


You have backward linkages for fruits and vegetables in Punjab. Are you extending that to other states?


Raj Jain: We will extend it to UP, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. We will extend it to grains from next season. Punjab has already given us permission to procure grains directly.


Have your local suppliers started exporting to Wal-Mart International too?


Raj Jain: Rice and towels are two categories where we share a supplier with Wal-Mart International. There is a lot of reverse synergy here. Honey, grapes, bananas, Indian ethnic food are other categories where local suppliers can be utilized.


Reducing costs has been a big factor in Wal-Mart's success globally. Has that worked for you in India as well?


Raj Jain: Ninety per cent of our products are sourced locally. Our model is not to buy cheap by negotiation. Instead we reduce waste and total cost in the supply chain. India is a very frugal market. So waste is already low. We find suppliers are willing to listen to suggestions for change if it makes economic reason. No one is interested in feel-good.


So what should your suppliers start doing differently?

Raj Jain: The challenges are quite different. Our large MNC suppliers have the financial, managerial and technological bandwidth and know what has to be done. They only need the will to do it. Large Indian suppliers have everything except technology, where we can help.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HYPOCRISY OF PAK, US GETS EXPOSED

There is predictable unease in Pakistan — in official circles as well as analytical comments — with the key finding of a Harvard scholar's report prepared for the London School of Economics that the relationship of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence with the Taliban and the Haqqani group is anchored in official policy — that it "goes beyond contact and coexistence". This would be a seriously damaging appraisal if it were new.

The truth is that scholars and observers of the Afghan-Pakistan scene have attempted to say exactly this for years, although with varying degrees of definitiveness. As for the historical record, there has never been any ambiguity that Pakistan created the Taliban to bolster its regional ambitions. However, Pakistan has sought to deflect attention by suggesting that only rogue elements, or some retired personnel of its security apparatus, were mixed up with the jihadist insurgents. Publicly, the West, and the US more specifically, bought this line for reasons of expediency as America believed it simply could not afford to show up Pakistan's falsity as it needed the assistance of the Pakistan Army to pursue its objectives in the Afghan theatre.

The LSE report blows the lid off this obfuscation, and shows up the ISI's double-dealing — pretending to back America's war against terrorism while being actively engaged on the side of the same terrorists. Herein lies the intrinsic value of the study, which is based on interviews done between February and May this year with Taliban commanders and their associates.

It is unlikely, however, that the recent findings will have serious policy implications. The United States is not expected even now to point up the failures of the Pakistani establishment for fear of losing an ally of long standing.
Nevertheless, there is another aspect of the study that is of greater interest now. The interviews with the Taliban camp — conducted after this January's London Conference, which sanctioned the tactic of getting insurgents to negotiate with the Karzai government — show that many in the Taliban harbour great bitterness towards the ISI. At one stroke the emergence of this sentiment in the public domain punctures a hole into Pakistan's boast that without its assistance the West and the Kabul government cannot get the Taliban to the negotiating table. This particular finding clearly suggests that the Taliban are not the monolith they were meant to be. It also indicates that if the tactics are right a section of the Taliban can switch sides. It has indeed been known for some time that Kabul has been working on deepening the fissures within the Taliban, although the fear of the ISI in the Taliban leadership is considerable, for the ISI controls its own fraction within the grouping, says the report — a hardcore party of mercenaries within a party — and that this pampered sub-set is the most violent element in the Taliban ready to do the ISI's bidding.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MODI VS MODI

BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA

Having been shaken by the controversy over an advertisement, the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now taken to describing the spat that defocused its National Executive meeting in Patna as a proverbial storm in a teacup. It is clear that despite all the talk about maintaining its "self-respect" and not yielding to every tantrum, the BJP has no desire to walk out of the alliance in Bihar and weaken the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) further. Likewise, it is also clear that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is not yet ready to do a Naveen Patnaik on the BJP, yet.

The fragile truce that was negotiated after Mr Kumar took umbrage to an advertisement featuring a year-old photograph of him with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at the NDA rally in Ludhiana last year, may well withstand the forthcoming Bihar Assembly poll. There is no indication as yet that the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has the necessary support base to go it alone. And more to the point, the idea of teaming up with the Congress is still not very appetising to a party that swears by Ram Manohar Lohia.

Yet, last week's kerfuffle in Patna didn't need a provocation. It had an air of inevitability, advertisement or no advertisement. Aware that every vote counts in the forthcoming Assembly polls, Mr Kumar was concerned that the larger-than-life presence of Mr Modi in Bihar would be used by his opponents to prey on Muslim fears. He needed to do something symbolic to signal that he was in alliance with Sushil Modi, not Narendra Modi.

In politics, it is difficult to be nuanced. There may be a world of difference between the BJP as envisaged by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that imagined by, say, Murli Manohar Joshi. At a popular level, the BJP is the party of Mr Vajpayee and L.K. Advani but it is also the party of the Gujarati Modi. Indeed, after Mr Vajpayee, Mr Modi is the tallest leader of the BJP. Among the committed BJP voters, Mr Modi's status is iconic. It was hardly realistic to even imagine that an executive meeting of a national party could be held by excluding its longest-serving chief minister.

To signal to a section of voters that he is all right with the BJP but not Mr Narendra Modi is a difficult exercise in hair-splitting. In a stark world, Mr Kumar had a choice of breaking with the BJP in its entirety or allowing the National Executive meet to pass without controversy. He needn't have shared a platform with Mr Modi in Patna but he needn't have rescinded a dinner invitation and then let Sharad Yadav pretend all was well. If placating Muslim sentiment was what Mr Kumar was after, his mission was unsuccessful because it led to nothing tangible and, in fact, allowed Mr Modi to grab the national stage momentarily. In the coming months, especially if the JD(U) are in alliance, Mr Kumar will be taunted by ultra-secularists for being a paper tiger.

Not that the inability to drive home his displeasure with what Mr Modi allegedly represents will necessarily be damaging to Mr Kumar. The Bihar Assembly election will be fought on local issues. The Gujarat chief minister will, in all probability, not even be a campaigner in Bihar. The verdict of the electorate will not be shaped by what happened in Godhra and its aftermath eight years ago. There is invariably a mismatch between what activists imagine is important and what voters believe are the main issues. In any case, while Muslims vote enthusiastically, they are not the only people who vote.

All the same, last week's almost-crisis in Bihar is a pointer to the persistence of political posturing. Since the tragic riots in Gujarat in 2002, Mr Modi has won two Assembly elections and helped the BJP win a majority of Lok Sabha seats from the state on two separate occasions. Whatever carping noises may be made about his political orientation or even the administration's culpability in the riots, there is no question that Mr Modi enjoys popular legitimacy in Gujarat. To make his presence in a state a subject of controversy is not merely distasteful but undemocratic. If Mr Modi is anointed the next prime ministerial candidate by the BJP, his credentials will be examined afresh and may become a subject of passionate politics. In the meantime, he is the popularly-elected chief minister of Gujarat and disrespecting him in Patna runs counter to all norms of federalism.

There has been a tendency on the part of some Muslims to use mr Modi as their favourite whipping boy, particularly when invoking the bogey of "Hindu fascism". Muslim activists have an inalienable right to oppose Mr Modi and even hate him. But it is excessive when all other issues are sought to be buried in the quest for an anti-Modi communal mobilisation.

Since his victory in Gujarat in 2002, Mr Modi has been attempting to put the riots behind him and re-invent himself as the most efficient agent of modernisation and development. Gujarat has been one of India's most astonishing success stories. Unfortunately, the recognition of that success has been patchy, not least because of an inclination to view the state solely through the prism of one unfortunate development. As a parallel, it would be a travesty if Rajiv Gandhi's entire political career was seen through the prism of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

By reducing Mr Modi to a caricature, some self-serving politicians may have succeeded in keeping alive a ghetto grounded in fear and insecurity. But using the block vote to intimidate politicians is a dangerous game. It can yield handsome returns when communal polarisation is confined to the margins. However, it would be a sad and dangerous day for India if one religion-based mobilisation produced a countervailing force.

This hasn't happened so far and hopefully it never will. But playing with fire is potentially hazardous.

* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WILL JUDGE DO US PART, IN NO-FAULT STYLE?

BY STEPHANIE COONTZ

FORTY years after the first true no-fault divorce law went into effect in California, New York appears to be on the verge of finally joining the other 49 states in the US in allowing people to end a marriage without having to establish that their spouse was at fault. Supporters argue that no-fault will reduce litigation and conflict between divorcing couples. Opponents claim it will raise New York's divorce rate and hurt women financially.
So who's right? The history of no-fault divorce may provide some answers. Before no-fault, most states required one spouse to provide evidence of the other spouse's wrongdoing (like adultery or cruelty) for a divorce to be granted, even if both partners wanted out. Legal precedent held that the party seeking divorce had to be free from any "suspicion that he has contributed to the injury of which he complains" — a pretty high bar for any marital dispute.

In 1935, for example, reviewing the divorce suit of Louise and Louis Maurer, the Oregon State Supreme Court acknowledged that the husband was so domineering that his wife and children lived in fear. But, the court noted, the wife had also engaged in bad behaviour (she was described as quarrelsome). Therefore, because neither party came to the court "with clean hands", neither deserved to be released from the marriage.
As the Maurer case suggests, such stringent standards of fault often made it easier for couples who got along relatively well to divorce than for people in mutually destructive relationships. Cooperating couples would routinely fabricate grounds for their divorce, picking one party as the wrongdoer. "Victim" after "victim" testified that the offending spouse had slapped him or her with exactly the same force and in exactly the same places that the wording of the law required. A primary motivation for introducing no-fault divorce was, in fact, to reduce perjury in the legal system.

Initially, some states limited no-fault divorce to cases in which both partners wanted to dissolve the marriage. In theory, limiting no-fault to mutual consent seemed fairer to spouses who wanted to save their marriages, but in practice it perpetuated the abuses of fault-based divorce, allowing one partner to stonewall or demand financial concessions in return for agreement, and encouraging the other to hire private investigators to uncover or fabricate grounds for the court. Expensive litigation strained court resources, while the couple remained vulnerable to subjective rulings based on a judge's particular opinion about what a spouse should put up with in a marriage.

Eventually every state except New York moved to what is in effect unilateral no-fault, wherein if one party insisted that his or her commitment to the marriage had irretrievably ended, that person could end the union. New York has been the holdout in insisting that a couple could get a no-fault divorce only if both partners agreed to secure a separation decree and then lived apart for one year. Otherwise, the party who wanted the divorce had to prove that the other was legally at fault.

In every state that adopted no-fault divorce, whether unilateral or by mutual consent, divorce rates increased for the next five years or so. But once the pent-up demand for divorces was met, divorce rates stabilised. Indeed, in the years since no-fault divorce became well-nigh universal, the national divorce rate has fallen, from about 23 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1979 to under 17 per 1,000 in 2005.

Social changes always involve trade-offs. Unilateral divorce increases the risk that a partner who invests in her (or more rarely, his) marriage rather than in her own earning power, and does not engage in "bad behaviour", may suffer financially as well as emotionally if the other partner unilaterally ends the marriage. When courts have not taken this sacrifice into account in dividing property, homemakers have been especially disadvantaged.
Fairer division of marital assets can reduce the severity of this problem. And fault can certainly be taken into account in determining spousal support if domestic violence or other serious marital misbehaviour has reduced the other party's earning power. Still, the ability of one partner to get a divorce over the objections of the other may create an atmosphere in which people think twice before making sacrifices that will be costly if the marriage ends.

It's true that unilateral divorce leaves the spouse who thinks the other's desire to divorce is premature with little leverage to slow down the process or to pressure the other partner into accepting counselling. It allows some individuals to rupture relationships for reasons many would consider shallow and short-sighted.
But once you permit the courts to determine when a person's desire to leave is legitimate, you open the way to arbitrary decisions about what is or should be tolerable in a relationship, made by people who have no stake in the actual lives being lived. After all, there is growing evidence that counselling can repair some marriages even after infidelity.

A far better tack is to encourage couples to mediate their parting rather than litigate it, especially if children are involved. In a 12-year study of divorcing couples randomly assigned to either mediation or litigation, the psychologist Robert Emery of the University of Virginia found that as little as five to six hours of mediation had powerful and long-term effects in reducing the kinds of parental conflict that produce the worst outcomes for children. Parents who took part in mediation settled their disputes in half the time of parents who used litigation; they were also much more likely to consult with each other after the divorce about children's discipline, moral training, education and vacation plans.

Paradoxically, people who went through mediation were also more likely to express regret over the divorce in the ensuing years than those who litigated.

* Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College, is the author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage and the forthcoming history A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.

By arrangement with the New York Times

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TAKING SCIENCE SERIOUSLY

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

One of the great stalemates in recent times was the moratorium on Bt brinjal. The India debate on genetically-modified (GM) food froze to a still life, with activists confused as to the next step. Meanwhile, the environment minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh, seems content with his decision, without realising that moratorium beyond a point is a non-decision. I was wondering whether there was a way of unravelling such debates. Sitting at one of Netherland's most prestigious academic centres, I decided to ask how the Dutch thought through science and technology. My meeting was with Mr Wiebe Bijker, director of science studies at Maastricht University.

Mr Bijker smiled. He warned me that the European reaction to GM foods was absolutely virulent. There was the failure of social trust around the technology. There was a split between citizens and scientist, with the government playing the bumbler. But the Dutch learnt quickly when it came to nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology deals with particles which are less than one-billionth of a metre. When the Health Council invited him to chair a committee on it, Mr Bijker admitted that he initially thought the technology was hype and one could wait it out. The committee's invitation was however flattering. The challenge before him was how one creates methodologies of trust. Social movements are intellectually and emotionally intensive. What we need are methods, a sense of norm, an ability to build institutions which operate on trust and openness. There was one advantage. Dutch society is unique in one aspect. It sees science studies as a form of expertise different from science and takes it seriously. It holds that science is too precious to be left to scientists. More crucially, the scientist as expert and citizen is involved in the process. But the process is democratic, open and institutionalised.

Initially, scientists on the committee for nanotechnology and health were wary. Many were just not used to seeing the public as a part of any serious debate. The learning process was both on the citizen's and the scientist's side. Initial citizen's reaction would be a shrug and a question, "What is it?" The challenge was how to take them past indifference and fear to an open-ended idea of technology.

Mr Bijker made a subtle distinction. He said confidence in a society can be brittle. Faith can be almost magical and when the cards collapse you overact in terms of rage and disappointment. What one needs to build is trust — trust about knowledge, trust about the processes by which knowledge is discussed, generated and applied. There is an everyday ethics to it which is crucial. Social trust is what anchors science policy and democracies. In that sense, science studies can help the democratisation of democracies through an understanding of knowledge as a process.

Societal debates are, however, not easy. In this case, the scientists being twice bitten were thrice shy. There was also a tremendous hype about nanotechnology. It promised breakthroughs in longevity, cosmetics, health and, most of all, sustainability. But the technology was more in the form of a promissory note. Society could move from hype to fear in a few minutes.

One of the interesting things about Europe and the US is the role of think tanks. They are usually small outfits with an unusual cast of scholars. One can think of Rand, the Stanford Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Adam Smith Institute. These institutes try to highlight issues, play the role of middleman, brokering key issues for a society. It is true that some are pressure groups but others play a more public function attempting to retain knowledge as a public good. For nanotechnology, this role was performed by the Walter Rathenau Institute which created a small forum on nanotechnology that went beyond civil servants to create a wider sense of expertise and stakeholder representation. It set the right context for societal debate.

The government set up the committee soon after. The Health Council provided a secretariat of scientists and lawyers. They did the basic research which the committee then sifted through. Process was crucial and the continuous conversation between the team of researchers and the chairman was vital. It allowed for experts to evaluate and respect each other. Expertise, instead of being valorised or overrated, becomes a functional, professional term.

Trust, responsibility needs a culture of debates and controversies. Dutch society tends to see creativity and fairness in balance. Balance is not mere compromise or adjustment; it is a synergy of representations. It is a search for middle ground, the middle path. Every policy process is a thought experiment; it demands skill in problem solving, where trust and intelligence work towards solutions. The drama is not in the process of decision-making. Policy-making, like institution building, is an art form that the Dutch enjoy and take pride in.

The key to the solution was a classificatory act. Classifications need not be bureaucratic. One has to develop a model for handling problems. The committee came up with a four-fold classification. The first dealt with "simple" issues. These were strictly technical and there was clear cut knowledge about it. An example of this would be asbestos poisoning.

Then there were more complex issues. These could not be textbook assignments. They involved multiple worlds where details were clear but relationships were not. Here one addressed the implication of nanotechnology for Third World agriculture.

In the third category one moves to precaution. Scientific knowledge itself is not clear. One needs other forms of expertise — like the citizen, the lawyer, the ethics professor. Decision involves a variety of stakeholders. Balancing is tougher. One faces up to fears and fantasies.

Then there are ambiguous problems which society does not know how to handle. Consider the issue of human enhancement. Many religious groups would object to the idea. Each category demands more and more of the democratic process. A working model created a framework of trust. Politics and policy making is like carpentry. Small pieces count.

Mr Bijker hinted policy is like craftsmanship. We need to steer between technology and populism or even a romantic direct democracy. But when scientists behave like citizens and reciprocal citizens take science seriously, an imagination is born. One wishes India could conduct a similar experiment. Our minister has the intelligence to create such a process. The question is does he have the will. One has to wait and watch.

* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

YOU ARE A PRIEST, FOREVER

BY FRANCIS GONSALVES

If I told you "You're a priest", you'd either laugh or send me to a psychiatrist. But I'm neither joking nor have I gone crazy; for, the Bible suggests that everyone, in some manner and measure, is created to be a priest. It matters not whether you're blissfully meditating atop the Himalayas or busily mediating at the stock exchange. The Biblical concept of "common priesthood" is relevant to all.

The Bible speaks of God making a pact with people. The content of this covenant is condensed in the Book of Exodus, which says: "You shall be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (19:6). God expects people to be priestly and holy since we're all created by God, and just as a child naturally reflects the goodness of his/her parents, so must you and I reflect God's holiness. The Book of Leviticus quite simply says: "You shall be holy, for I, God, am holy" (19:1).

In the pre-Christian era, many patriarchs, prophets and kings performed priestly tasks. For instance, Abraham offered sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:13), Prophet Moses spoke God's word to the people and mediated at the sacrificial altar (Exodus 24:3-8) and King David offered sacrifices, blessed the people and distributed food to them (2 Samuel 6:17-19) much as a pujari offers prasad to devotees. Indeed, the roles of priest and king coalesce in David whom God reminds: "You are a priest forever" (Psalm 110:4).

From the above it seems that popular leaders, heads of families and kings — besides, of course, the "professional priests" — all served God as priests. Their tasks were basically three: (a) communicating God's word to people; (b) offering sacrifices and performing rituals; (c) taking care of the general welfare of all people as visible representatives of the Invisible God: Loving Parent of us all.

Studying Jesus' words and works in the four Gospels, one is struck by the dearth of references to priests. In fact, Jesus mentions priest just once in the Gospel of Luke, when, in his famous "Good Samaritan" parable (10:29-37), he portrays a priest not as a hero but as a villain. Reason? This priest avoids caring for a wounded traveller attacked by robbers.

Among the "letters" in the Bible, there's one to the Hebrews whose anonymous author presents Jesus as a priest. One prayer from Christ's lips is striking: "Offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me… O God, I have come to do your will!" (10:5-6). Here, Jesus is regarded as priest neither because he busied himself "professionally" with rituals nor because he belonged to some blue-blooded family, but because he sacrificed his whole being in loving God and caring for all God's children.

India is truly a punyabhoomi (holy land) that has birthed matas, mullahs, gurus, priests and pujaris by the thousand. Their three tasks, as seen earlier, can be summarised as: speaking God's word, offering sacrifices and caring for all. You might assume that this is best done by holy brahmacharis — literally meaning "those who walk in Brahman, God" — who, in extended sense, become limbs (anga) of God. But aren't you — who teach the unlettered, till the land and tend the sick — also God's anga: God's mouth, hands, feet, body? Truly, in your teaching, tilling, trading and tending, you are priestly.

Today, June 18, marks the ends of a memorable "Year for Priests" announced by Pope Benedict XVI who, in his message to Catholic priests, said: "God needs you!" This applies to all people. God needs your mouth to denounce evil, your hands to bless, your feet to tread pathways of truth.

Centuries ago, Apostle Peter reminded his people: "You are a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9), while Paul recommended that they "offer their bodies as a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1). Can't you too offer up your whole being for a better world? Remember, David was told: "You are a priest, forever!" If I say that to you, will you still laugh? Or, send me to some psychiatrist?

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NEW GIFT IDEAS FOR FATHER'S DAY

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

No more neckties!

Sunday is Father's Day, and we dads will be overwhelmed with neckties and wrench sets. We will feign ecstasy, and our loved ones will pretend to believe our protestations of pleasure.

But for a really nifty Father's Day gift, how about sponsoring a rat? Specifically, an African giant pouched rat, about 30 inches long including tail. These are he-man rats, the kind that send cats fleeing. What's more, we're not talking about just any giant rat, but an educated one with the rodent equivalent of a PhD.

A Dutch company, Apopo, has trained these giant rats, which have poor sight but excellent noses, to detect landmines in Africa. The rats are too light to set off the mines, but they can explore a suspected minefield and point with their noses to buried mines. After many months of training, a rat can clear as much land in 20 minutes as a human can in two days.

In addition to earning their stripes as mine detectors, the giant rats are also trained in health work: detecting cases of tuberculosis. Possible TB sufferers provide samples of sputum, which are then handed over to the rats to sniff out. This detection process turns out to be much faster than your typical microscope examination. A technician with a microscope in Tanzania can screen about 40 samples a day, while one giant rat can screen the same amount in seven minutes. What man wouldn't pass up a necktie for the chance to be associated with an educated, supermacho giant rat? For just $36, you can buy a year's supply of bananas to feed one of these rats. Or, for a gift more on the risqué side, $100 will buy a "love nest" for a breeding pair of rats.

Both options are at www.globalgiving.com [1], a site that allows donors to browse aid projects around the world and make a donation on the spot.

Father's Day tends to be less a celebration of fatherhood than a triumph of commercialism. The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $9.8 billion on Father's Day this year. To put that in perspective, that's more than enough to assure a primary education for every child on the planet who is not getting one right now.

In fact, we could send every child to primary school and have enough left over to get each dad a (cheap) necktie. And if we skipped store-bought cards (almost $750 million annually) and offered handmade versions, the savings alone could make a vast difference to great programs that help young American men escape poverty.

Think of the National Fatherhood Initiative, www.fatherhood.org [2], which works to support dads and keep them engaged in their children's lives. There's some evidence that absent fathers create a vicious cycle: boys grow up without positive male role models, get into trouble and then become absentee fathers themselves.

Another group is the Black Star Project, www.blackstarproject.org [3], which seeks to get families in low-income communities more involved in the educational lives of kids. Or there's World of Money, www.worldofmoney.org [4], which coaches kids in poor communities on financial literacy and business skills.

For gadget lovers, how about a donation in dad's name to the National Urban Technology Center, www.urbantech.org [5], which helps low-income youths gain computer skills?

Or for those into automotive accessories or tools and appliances (almost $1 billion a year, by the way), why not rev up instead a motorcycle used to bring medical care to people in remote areas? An aid group called Riders for Health, www.riders.org [6], provides motorcycles and cars to health workers in Africa, along with rigorous training on maintenance and repair. Health workers end up reaching roughly five times as many patients as they would on foot.

And if you give dad a stake in a motorcycle at a clinic in Zambia, you can be pretty sure he won't crash it.

Wouldn't most dads feel more honoured by a donation to any of these organisations than by a donation to commercialism?

I think so. My hunch is that family members, manipulated by commercial messages, think that they aren't showing dad enough love if they don't buy him something expensive. But give us some credit! The friend who suggested this column, Sam Howe Verhovek, noted the huge sums spent on cuff links and Best Buy gift cards and said: "I don't know about you, but I don't really need any of the above. A handwritten, 'Thanks, Dad!' note from my kids would mean more than anything Hallmark's poets could come up with".

That's the truth. But if you must pull out the credit card, this is my sincere advice: It's a rare dad who would choose a store-bought card over a homemade card; or for that matter, a necktie over a gigantic, bomb-sniffing rat.

By arrangement with the New York Times

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

STRATEGY RE-CAST

CHIDAMBARAM BATTLES ON ~ ALONE?  


FROM North Block's perspective they were not the best seven or eight days. The CCS dithered over (dodged?) providing the home minister enhanced army/air support to contain the Maoists. Consequently, pilots of Pawan Hans operating BSF helicopters wavered over a more combative role: scuttling a key element of the strategy being revised to compensate for the defence ministry's virtual non-cooperation. Pressure eventually forced action on the Manipur blockade, meanwhile Bhopal blew up and P Chidambaram was drafted to give effect to Dr Manmohan Singh's refined brand of decision-ducking. Time was when committees, then commissions, were tasked with averting hard decisions for those mandated to take them: now ministerial groups are in vogue. Given the reality of his handling what the Prime Minister identified as the gravest of threats, surely another minister could have been entrusted with dousing the resurging flames from the simmering shame at Bhopal. Or does the UPA have only Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram to emulate Houdini? A lesser man might have buckled, fortunately for the home minister some successes in anti-Maoist actions in Jharkand and West Midnapore have proved encouragement to keep battling on. Certainly he has learnt lessons, efforts to secure more positive involvement from the states are underway (an impediment has been removed with Jharkhand now under President's Rule), less bombast flows down Raisina Hill. It will be a long, un-dramatic slog out there, with the Maoists occasionally displaying their headline-striking ability. If only there was a magic wand to overnight convert sections of the all-purpose CRPF into a focused anti-naxal force.


A critical question remains unanswered. Has the home minister ~ as it appears ~ been isolated in the counter-Maoist endeavour? While there will always be more political backing for a "development-oriented" strategy the UPA has not officially indicated any abandoning the "military option". Then why back off from hitting the adversary hard? There is no end to the philosophical debate over utilising the Army for internal security, but some of the reasons put forth invite ridicule. Is the Army more over-stretched than the CRPF? Are helicopters not "national" assets to be used where required? Hopefully history will not conclude the Army allowed a sore to fester. But in the short term there is a case to freeze/slash defence expenditure and re-allocate the funds to meet "live" internal security challenges: rather than prepare for a war that diplomacy would probably avert. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HIGHWAY PATROLS

WILL DELHI STAY THE DISTANCE?


ANXIOUSLY awaited will be the movement of the first convoy to Imphal scheduled for this weekend, yet it will take more than an ad hoc deployment of 2,000 paramilitary personnel to keep the two highways constantly open. For while it took a crippling, extended blockade to shake North Block out of its customary North-east slumber and persuade some of the Naga groups to relent, the harassment truckers endured having to pay a host of "taxes" extorted by various extremist groups is a torment that has persisted for decades. And they are demanding assurances before resuming operations. What is the mandate of the so-called highway patrol? How frequently will its units ply the two affected roadways? Will it be authorised and equipped (in terms of both men and weaponry) to clear blockades and drive away the well-entrenched "tax collectors"? Effective measures on that front will require the cooperation of  local police units, the latter have obviously condoned such extortion for too long to be galvanised into immediate action. Movement of trucks and buses in escorted convoys cannot be a permanent arrangement: commercial and personal vehicles must be assured free movement before some confidence is restored. The trauma has a huge human dimension, people have been "trapped" in Manipur for over 60 days, it was more than economic hardships that New Delhi shamelessly ignored. Would a shutdown of the Jammu-Srinagar highway have been thus tolerated?


A question that will be asked in those troubled parts is whether New Delhi will stay the distance and sustain the highway patrol, progressively providing its personnel with suitable vehicles, maintenance support, accommodation, medical cover and so on. Equally important is monitoring the personnel lest they either link up with the extortionists or indulge in similar activity of their own ~ cops, after all, are cops. Apprehensions will be entertained that once immediate problems dissipate, the Government of India's focus will shift or get diluted, it has indicated no comprehensive remedial policy, just temporary crisis management. That the blockade was allowed to continue some 60 days reinforced the impression that the "distance" between New Delhi and the affected region was more than a multiplication of the combined length of the two lifelines.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BSP IN BIHAR

MAYAWATI BANKS ON BROKEN ALLIANCES

 

AFTER officially declaring personal assets to the tune of Rs 83 crore ~ a quantum leap from around Rs 15 crore barely five years ago ~ Miss Mayawati may not sound very convincing with the anti-capitalist slogan she has coined for the Bihar Assembly election. Nevertheless, she may have discovered entry points into the state which are tempting enough. In the normal course, the Bahujan Samaj Party would have been considered as much of an "outsider'' in Bihar as the Communists who must latch on to one of the major contenders if they have any ambitions of ruling the state. But the UP chief minister, whose rise has been quite meteoric, is not just the strategist dealing with high-profile rivals such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in her home state but sensible enough to realise that the divided polity in Bihar provides her a good opportunity to record a reasonable presence even if it doesn't mean a successful bid for power. At her rally held at the spot where LK Advani regretted the misunderstanding in the ruling alliance, Miss Mayawati pressed the solitary cause of "oppressed Dalits'' that would fetch votes in a state where elections have traditionally been held on the basis of caste and community. The old claimants to vote-banks have suffered fluctuating fortunes and Miss Mayawati may have smelt an opportunity to grab a slice of the cake. The BSP begins with the distinct advantage of laying no particular claim to ideological principles except for its Dalit credentials. That doesn't make it untouchable to anyone with the exception of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party which itself is in trouble after the departure of Amar Singh. Mayawati's fulminations against the UPA on prices, poverty and unemployment don't preclude the chances of bonhomie in a compelling situation, just as the CPI-M had counted her among its "friends'' in the Third Front. She places herself judiciously. Significant in Bihar at the moment are the frictions among different partners ~ whether between Congress and RJD or between BJP and JD-U. When the electorate has reason to be confused, this could leave Mayawati with unexpected gains ~ maybe bargaining power as well in a fractured mandate.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ARMY AGAINST MAOISTS

THE INHERENT RISK OF A DUAL SHAME 

MG DEVASAHAYAM

 

THE Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) deliberations on the 'larger mandate' sought by Home minister Chidambaram to annihilate the Maoists with the might of the Armed Forces ended in a stalemate in view of the sharp differences between the Defence and Home ministries. It now looks highly doubtful whether the military will be deployed in "a direct combat role'' in the anti-Naxal battle. 


Now that the issue is out in the open, Defence minister AK Antony cannot stick to his oft-repeated stand: ''I don't want a public debate on this. The government will take a decision after carefully assessing various implications. We will come to a conclusion only after weighing the pros and cons of a possible deployment of armed forces in the fight against Maoists.''


While the need to weigh the pros and cons cannot be disputed, to reject the public debate is untenable. Governments have used all agencies, forces and resources at their command ~ civil services, state police, mercenary agencies like the Salwa Judum and central forces ~ to combat the Maoists  and have failed. The Army is the 'last resort' and there is no other force left. Therefore, the people have a right to know and debate as to how state and paramilitary forces were used, why they failed and what difference can the deployment of the army make. More importantly, should the Armed Forces, trained and equipped to wage war and decimate enemies, be used at all to fight and kill our own people.


PC's 'development model'

What needs to be debated is why the Home ministry, particularly Chidambaram, aided and abetted by certain media channels, is hell-bent on India's 1.2 million strong regular well-equipped Army getting into direct confrontation with the itinerant, ramshackle 'Maoist militants' probably numbering a few thousands. Obviously to capture, hold and hand over  tribal territories for 'development' purposes.


 Let us take a reality-check on the kind of 'development' that Chidambaram has in mind. In a Congress-ruled state with a large mineral belt, deals were signed with two alumina refining companies for mining 7.5 million tonnes of bauxite. While fetching the government a mere Rs 64.5 crore as royalty, both companies would make a staggering profit of Rs. 3610 crore per year. This loot has been given the protective cover of a Public Sector Undertaking which would do the notional mining and sell to the alumina refineries. For the community, mining operations would at best create 400 additional jobs against nearly 100,000, mainly tribal people, who would be rendered homeless.


One of the media channels, fascinated with this 'development model' had trumped up an 'opinion-poll' suggesting 67 per cent public support for the 'use of the Army against the Naxals'. Interviewed by this channel, Chidambaram gleefully endorsed this farce and said that he was not surprised at all. Anchors of this and other media channels have been screaming and screeching for launching the Army for area domination so that this 'development model' could be implemented in the entire tribal territory.


It redounds to the credit of the military establishment that even amidst all this sound and fury they have analysed the situation dispassionately. Their main ground of course is the fear of collateral damage and the predominant view is that the Army should step in only as the last resort since this task really belongs to the state police, familiar with the local terrain and local conditions. The Generals rightly feel that the presence of soldiers in civilian areas could lead to a greater sense of alienation among the tribal population who are deprived even of basic facilities. 


Another factor is that a military offensive could intensify NGO resistance and that the damage to the social fabric could be more serious. An already over-stretched Army doubts whether it can sustain another major long-term internal security commitment.


This discourse reminds me of the deep faith in the Army expressed in a Time magazine article at the height of the Emergency in August 1975. Describing the predicament of Indira Gandhi between choosing to become a dictator on her own or with the support of the Soviet agents, the author Claire Sterling wrote: "Neither development is likely to leave the Indian Army unmoved. And that is perhaps the crux of the situation. India's standing Army of nearly a million men has been resolutely non-political since Independence. But it is also sensitive to the smallest slight to its honour, dignity and military independence, not to mention the nation's sovereignty; and it is steeped in loyalty to constitutional principles……".


 The article concludes: "Depending on how fast and how far she goes in changing from a traditional Prime Minister to the one-woman ruler of a police state, the Indian Army ~ the one group with the power to stop the process ~ could intervene. If it were to do so, it would almost certainly be not to replace her with a military dictator, but to restore the institutions it has been drilled into defending since birth". 


The Indian Army has lived up to this faith. But the tragedy is that some of the present-day democrats are turning dictatorial and in their desperation are handing over one-third of India ~ Jammu & Kashmir, the north-eastern states and now the vast Dandakaranya territory ~ to an unwilling Army. Now is the trying time for the Army's loyalty and core values.


 Participating in a 'war' against our own people, suffering from long years of neglect, injustice and repression, runs against the most basic value system of India's proud Army enshrined in the soul-raising credo of the Indian Military Academy: "The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."


Responsibility of police

THE top military brass has realized this and have stood their ground. They have also disregarded the incessant spin-doctoring by the electronic media who have roped in some ex-Army busybodies also in support. Under immense MNC-media pressure the weak and unstable political set-up seems to be vacillating.
But there is no need for the Defence ministry and military chiefs to dither. They have already spoken their mind, and are on a strong wicket. Combating Naxalism is indeed the job of the state government, more particularly its police force. The Union Home Ministry should support them with well-trained and better-motivated paramilitary forces. Instead of doing this in a professional manner, Chidambaram and his team want to achieve their mining/MNC agenda riding on the back of the armed forces whose duty lies in upholding the 'safety, honour and welfare of the nation and its people' and not in securing and holding territory for the multinational billionaires and assorted carpetbaggers. Though a tentative decision has been taken not to involve the Army in 'direct action', the CCS would be taking a final call soon on this extremely sensitive issue. Before doing so it should deeply ponder and ask two critical questions: One is, will not militarization of the Dandakaranya tribal territory signify the collective and complete collapse of civil governance? And the second, will not the world opinion justifiably equate India with Pakistan, which is considered a 'failed state'? 

Do we really need this dual shame?  

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

A NEW MAYOR WITH FRESH IDEAS

 

A young councillor in 1985, Sovan Chatterjee has grown in political stature to become the mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. He is the first mayor from the added areas of Kolkata ~ something that the CPI-M had failed to provide during its tenure, due to opposition from within the party. A staunch Mamata Banerjee loyalist, he joined Trinamul Congress in 1999. As a member, member-in-council in the Trinamul-led KMC administration (2000-2005)


he had charge of the water supply department. Since 1985, he has never lost any election in Behala. Later, he also took charge of the South 24-Parganas district unit of the Trinamul Congress. In an interview with Abhishek Law, the new mayor speaks about his plans for development of the city.

Q. One of the major decisions of the Left Front board was imposition of the unit area assessment method of taxation. But the project is still far for implementation. As the new mayor, what will be your action in this regard?


A: The provision for the unit area assessment tax system has been passed in the state assembly. Unfortunately, the Left Front board has not done anything to implement the unit area assessment of tax. It smacks of their callousness.


However, we have plans to implement the scheme. We plan to set up a committee to look into the provisions of the taxation. We will also implement the tax structure but in a simplified manner.


Q: What about water tax? The Asian Development Bank has made it clear that water charge has to be imposed, otherwise loan repayment will have to be done through the civic body's own resources.
A: Water tax will not be imposed and that is our mandate. As regards repayment of loans, we will arrange funds from our own resources.


Q: What about water meters?

Ans: Water meters have nothing to do with water tax. I have been to France to see how metering is done there. There are several points that have to be looked into at the time of installation of water meters. Installation of water meters is required to determine water usage and minimise water wastage and not just for imposition of tax.

Q: What about the problems of touts having a free run in the KMC? From assessment to the solid waste management department, touts are active in all departments of the civic body. As mayor of Kolkata what steps do you plan in this regard?


A: Yes, I am aware of touts having a free run in various departments of the civic body. I need to look into the matter. We have plans to have a scientific approach to stop this menace. The tout menace will end soon.

Q: Till 2000 the KMC had a football team that would be sent to Europe to participate in the Gothia Cup.

However, this was stopped since 2005. Any plans to revive it? What about the reviving the sports tent of the KMC?
A: I have not thought about the matter yet. I will be looking into these issues once I take charge properly. But before that I need to know the details.


Q: Every year waterlogging remains a major problem in the city. People are harassed and there seems to be no end to the woes of citizens. Any specific plans in this regard?

A: Well, as you know the Left Front board has been unnecessarily politicising the issue of waterlogging. When I came to the civic headquarters as mayor-elect to look into the issue, a controversy was created. Naturally, it will take some time for the Trinamul board to identify the problem and resolve them. But I assure you that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that people do not suffer during the monsoon. I will see what can be done.

Q: When the Trinamul-BJP board came to power in 2000, augmentation of water supply in the city was a major success story. In 2010 non-availability of water in different pockets of the city became a major poll issue. Rampant sinking of tubewells have been a problem during the last five years. Any plans now to augment the water supply in the city?


A: The Left board has been a failure in ensuring proper supply of water across the city. We increased the capacity of the Garden Reach Waterworks to 120 million gallons per day. But the Left board could not take any benefit from this.However, some projects have been taken up that include setting up a 15 million gallon water treatment plant in Garden Reach. Dhapa is also there.


Other than this, we are planning to set up a new water treatment plant to augment water supply. We are looking into various aspects of this project.


Q. As the new mayor, what are your plans for the city's beautification?

A: Our focus will be on beautifying the ghats located along the river Hooghly. A comprehensive plan in this regard has been proposed by Mamata Banerjee. The Kolkata Port Trust, KMC and Railways will work together to beautify the ghats and its adjoining areas.


Across the city we plan to plant different saplings and go on a massive plantation drive. We will take the help of non-government organisations in this regard. We have already asked some non-government organisations to help us out.


Q, What would be the new board's focus on employee welfare?

A: We have not decided anything as yet. We need a little more time to study the matter and then I can say something concrete.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THAT PERSISTING TRUST DEFICIT IN INDO-PAK RELATIONS

 

Will the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) never learn from experience? A little ahead of resuming Indo-Pak peace talks in Islamabad, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao participating in a Delhi seminar repeated all the worn out prescriptions – put an end to terrorism, make borders irrelevant, remove trust-deficit through dialogue, etc., etc. She also said: "Asymmetries in size and development should not prevent us (India and Pakistan) from working together." Was this observation intended to reduce trust-deficit? Translating it in street talk meant: "Look, we're big and strong, you're small and weak! That don't mean we can't be partners right, dude?"
Ms Rao recalled how the Indo-Pak peace process was derailed by 26/11. She should have jogged her memory a little more. Each time India and Pakistan approached agreement there was derailment caused by an event. The Lahore summit was derailed by Kargil, the Agra summit was wrecked by a last-minute semantic dispute, the Musharraf initiative was aborted by his ouster and the Manmohan Singh-Zardari effort was knocked out by 26/11. Each time warmth creeps into the Indo-Pak dialogue, a major event inflames public opinion to ruin the atmosphere. Does it need Sherlock Holmes to deduce that there is a link? There are powerful interests with a long reach dead set against Indo-Pak peace. These interests will never allow any step-by-step progress towards peace.


 That is why this scribe rightly predicted failure of the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh peace effort to make borders irrelevant by creating trust through confidence building measures. As pointed out, it required very little for the wreckers of peace to derail the peace effort. Confidence building measures from the ground up will never succeed. Indeed, far greater trust among the common peoples of India and Pakistan already exists than it does between their official establishments.


To remove mistrust there must be an irreversible commitment at the top. No peace effort to make borders irrelevant can ever succeed unless there is trust between the armies of India and Pakistan. It may take a long time to entirely eliminate terrorism. But if in the interregnum the armies of both nations genuinely cooperate to fight terrorism, peace will be achieved. That is why the PM and MEA, if they seriously seek a breakthrough in the peace dialogue, must think out of the box. They must involve the army chiefs of both nations in the nitty-gritty of composite dialogue. Only if they start talking from this end would they succeed. Commitment at the top would frustrate opponents of peace. If commitment is not forthcoming MEA should stop wasting time. In all fairness the Foreign Secretary cannot publicly reveal the government's cards in a seminar. But let's hope MEA officials in Islamabad will lay their cards on the table.


 If they do so they would clear the fog from their minds. Pakistan's reaction is predictable. General Kayani will have returned from his five-day visit to China for strengthening ties with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). China's softer civilian government merely facilitates success for the relentless foreign policy goals of the PLA. How long will India continue to deceive itself and refuse to confront the real challenge for which formulation of an adequate response is desperately needed? By pursuing a fruitless peace process, the government may please America and deceive itself. It will not thwart the disaster looming ahead.


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

100 YEARS AGO TODAY


The problem of the distribution of the Monsoon rainfall is one that has as yet successfully defied the efforts of science wholly to solve it. As the Meteorological Department state in their forecast of the rainfall for 1910, which appeared in our telegraphic columns yesterday, "it is certain that we do not know more than half of the conditions on which the Monsoon rainfall of India depends," while it may be added, the influencing factors which are known are of such a complex character and of such variety as to make the task of deducing from them reliable indications one of great difficulty. What is commonly described in India as the Monsoon is primarily caused by great world movements of air currents in the lower atmosphere, which, as a result of passing from cooler to warmer areas, ultimately enter the Indian seas and approach the Asiatic coasts highly charged with aqueous vapour. The probable variability of these movements may be judged by the conditions which they have produced in their earlier courses in other parts of the world. Thus the conditions prevailing in certain areas in such widely separated continents as Australia, Africa, and South America, supply data for estimating the intensity or volume of the two great currents governing the Indian rainfall. But the character of the Monsoon may be greatly modified also by local conditions, such as a heavy or late snowfall in the Himalayan regions, or abnormal pressure conditions, which may have been set up during the hot weather antecedent to the arrival of the rains. In the face of all these varying factors there is every justification for the declaration of the Meteorological Department, that it is only when indications are strongly favourable or unfavourable that a definite forecast is justified. Fortunately on the present occasion the indications are such as to comply with the condition, and the Department is enabled thereby to give us a forecast which is of a distinctly favourable character.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

ENEMY LINES

 

No two insurgencies are quite the same and the strategies to fight them cannot but be different. The Maoist "people's war", therefore, poses challenges to the Indian State that are different from those encountered by the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the Northeast. But no counter-insurgency offensive can be effective without two primary conditions — a reliable information network and an ability to change strategies and tactics as and when necessary. The failure of the anti-Maoist campaigns in Lalgarh has largely been due to the authorities' inability to garner precise information and act on it with precision. The "success" of the joint forces in their operations against the rebels early on Wednesday morning shows how adequate preparedness can achieve results even in difficult circumstances. It also points to the failures of the past and to the priorities for the future. More than anything else, the West Bengal police seemed to have been unequal to the task of containing the Maoist campaign because of the collapse of their intelligence network. That again was largely due to the fact that the police and the administration in the state had long been made to serve political interests of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). The result is a sharp decline in the efficiency of the police that makes the force utterly incapable of tackling serious law-and-order problems, let alone a full-blown insurgency.

 

However, the authorities have no reason to sit on the "success" of their latest campaign. It is almost certain that the Maoists would try to hit back in their own ways. There is thus a need for constantly reviewing the state of preparedness of the forces. The Maoists' audacious attack on a camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles at Shilda last February exposed the gaps in the planning of the counter-insurgency measures. With president's rule in Jharkhand opening up new possibilities for the battle there, the West Bengal government needs to coordinate its strategies and actions better with those in the neighbouring states. All sides agree that the battle is going to be a long and hard one. But defeating the Maoist rebellion is not just a question of superior strategy; it is ultimately a commitment that the State has to fulfil. Political rhetoric has often clouded this simple truth. The Maoist challenge cannot be a matter of political one-upmanship.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

KILLING SPREE

 

Ethnic violence is usually the result of chronic insecurity over the allocation of limited resources. It is significant that the Uzbeks, who are being exterminated in a frenzy of slaughter by the native population of Kyrgyzstan, happen to be a more or less prosperous community. The ethnic Uzbeks, who make up only 15 per cent of Kyrgyzstan's population, are reputed to be an industrious people. They are also in the minority in the towns of Osh and Jalalabad from where they have been practically wiped out. Worse still, the Uzbeks find themselves on the wrong side of the political divide. A majority of them are sympathetic towards the new government that came into being in April this year, ending the misrule of the last president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fomented ethnic disputes. Since then, the volatile south, where Mr Bakiyev's supporters lord over, has turned into the centre of a brutal civil war.

 

What is the new government, which has been supported by so many Uzbeks to their great detriment, doing? Apparently, not much. The interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, did try to quell the dissent in the Fergana Valley, but finally threw up its hands when faced with an increasingly belligerent Kyrgyz mob out there on a killing spree. So the only hope now is to wait for a Russian intervention, although Moscow has made no such overture so far. Twenty years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev had sent troops to Osh to control another outburst of ethnic violence. But that was in a different era, and Russia has quite sensibly moved on from its Soviet hangover. So, in spite of its desire for supremacy in Central Asia, Russia is unlikely to jump headlong into the fray. After the recent disaster with Georgia for control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia will probably wish to avoid being dragged into yet another quagmire — this time, not even of its own making. Among the so-called global superpowers, China is keeping quiet, probably because of its economic interests in the region. The United States of America is also being tardy, possibly because it leases an airbase vital to its interests in Afghanistan. The Uzbeks are left with no choice but to flock back to their native country, which too, after a point, will stop accepting refugees. This collective ducking of responsibility not only helps strengthen authoritarian leaders in the region but also portends bigger catastrophes in the days to come.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

COME OUT CLEAN

MALVIKA SINGH

 

The manifold tragedies of India stare us in the face every waking moment. They are a result of decades of bad governance and neglect. The inability of those who administer us to adhere to the rule of law has deepened the corruption of mind, body and soul in our benighted land. The latest amongst the many mala fide acts that are ignored by the government and its law enforcing agencies are the ruthless murders of innocent people, who are in love with each other, by order from the khap panchayats — our version of the kangaroo courts. It is a shame to witness this kind of brutality in our backyard, especially since no single political entity is held responsible for these daily murders. Haryana is reeling from this shock, with representatives from the state going to the absurd extent of supporting such murders in Parliament.

 

Where are the progressive leaders of India? Why are our national leaders not condemning these crimes? India is

being engulfed by all the negative traditions of a long and layered history thousands of years old. Sati, a 'tradition' where the wife committed suicide on the pyre of her husband, was banned, but there are people in power who continue to support the practice. Under the Indian Penal Code, murder and suicide are criminal acts. Why does the law not kick in with immediate effect? Why do the judiciary, administration and political class find endless excuses for the delay of human justice?

From Bhopal to the khaps, India seems to be sliding rapidly into the morass that some countries to our west have sunk into. Is that where this emerging economic power is being led by rapacious and exploitative politicians whose prime and often the only interest lies in making personal good at any cost? Is this where a progressive party like the Congress, the party of India's stalwart international leaders, would like to take the nation?

 

Such rubbish

Why does no single individual at the helm of power in Delhi or in the states address the people on Doordarshan and apologize for the murder of innocent lovers, the exploitation of the poor, the creation and nurturing of the Naxalite and Maoist menace, for the failure to compensate those who were killed, and maimed in Bhopal, and much, much more? Why does the leadership not lay down a strategy for bringing about radical change and for an overhaul of the corroded mechanisms of governance?

 

We are constantly being briefed about the importance of the economic 'rate of growth' but the same leadership has not addressed the rate of growth of corruption, murder, illegalities, perhaps because we, the fortunate ones, have not lost our own in Bhopal or at the hands of the khap panchayats. Whenever I suggest that the economic rate of growth needs to connect with the many critical issues of existing environmental laws and suchlike, I am brushed aside as a 'leftie'! Such rubbish is responsible for the complete lack of debate and discourse on issues that confront India at this point in time.

 

Jats hold Delhi water supply to ransom as they demand some caste status or the other. These 'political' demands have reached a point where blackmail would seem a polite threat. Successive governments — in their desperation to remain in the gaddi, to the detriment of the values and ethos of India — have perpetuated the caste system in its worst form in order to garner votes and divide Bharat forever. If division of India and the breaking of law are the two priorities of those who have been elected to govern us, then courts should revert to khaps and India should be readied for Balkanization. Let us come out clean. The syndrome of 'this-too-will-pass' has killed contemporary India.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HARD TIMES

BY BEING OBDURATE, THE LEADERS OF THE LEFT MAY IMPERIL INDIA

CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA

 

Local elections in one of the 28 states constituting the Union of India should not ordinarily be of any significance. The outcome of the recent municipal polls in West Bengal has turned out to be an exception; it has created an existential crisis for the Left at the national level. The kind of outrageously unequal society the country's rulers are hell-bent on building calls for the safety valve of a viable Opposition working within the contours of the constitutional framework. The Left preferring to walk the parliamentary path fills that role. Any weakening on its part may cause some short-term jubilation in the ranks of the conventional parties on the right and the middle but the real beneficiaries will be the non-parliamentary Left out on the lawless road.

 

As in nearly everywhere else, the parliamentary Left in India has been steadily in retreat in recent decades. Its main constituent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has been, in effect, pushed back into the sanctuary of three states, Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal. Tiny Tripura can be passed over. Kerala, the land of A.K. Gopalan and E.M.S Namboodiripad, is, of course, a vastly different proposition. Even so, the heavy influx of gulf money has introduced otiose factors in its social infrastructure; it is now more of a 'swing state', the Left's hold is no longer as sure as it was in earlier days.

 

West Bengal, in contrast, provided the impression of a Left continuum. The CPI(M) succeeded in welding together formidable mass organizations representing major segments of peasants, workers and the middle and lower-middle classes, including from among the minority communities. It could take legitimate pride in its phalanx of dedicated cadre deeply imbued with ideological conviction. The West Bengal electorate voted decisively for the Left Front under the stewardship of the CPI(M) in the post-Emergency assembly election in 1977. That mandate was renewed, in poll after poll, at different levels, for the next 29 years. This enduring confidence reposed on it was on account of the Left administration's series of measures supportive of the weaker sections, including land reforms which ensured land to the hitherto landless and legal status to share-croppers. Much ahead of the rest of the country, it introduced the three-tier panchayat system based on adult suffrage. The Left Front government also saw to it that a hefty chunk of the funds earmarked in the state budget for development work flowed to the local bodies, including the panchayat. Its initiatives in the industrial sphere — so crucially important for curing the scourge of joblessness — were hamstrung because of the lack of resources at the disposal of a state regime. It therefore spearheaded a searing national campaign for re-structuring Centre-state relations which could provide the states with more administrative power and financial resources.

 

A long tenure can generate complacency. That apart, the state CPI(M)'s rustic approach to things was not always conducive to administrative efficiency. Nor did its ministers occasionally not fall prey to such bourgeois vices as hauteur and sycophancy. The continual renewal of the mandate, however, proved the point: on a balance of considerations, the West Bengal electorate was reasonably satisfied with the performance of the Left Front.

 

Perhaps influenced by the doubt expressed in some quarters over the genuineness of the electorate's repeatedly renewed confidence in the Front regime, the Election Commission enforced extraordinary surveillance during the state assembly polls in 2008. The Front nonetheless once again emerged triumphant, winning 235 seats out of a total tally of 294.

 

The Left had ushered in no El Dorado in West Bengal. But it re-established a measure of social tranquillity so missing in the state for some time and it steadfastly kept the interests of the poor in the fore. For the immiserized and exploited masses across the country, the Left regime in the state indeed offered a ray of hope. Globalization had shrunk the space for radical initiatives, whether the poorer classes lived or perished was no longer on the agenda of those who had taken charge of the national polity. West Bengal offered a base from where those on the other side of the class barrier could hope to launch a counter-attack. The Left hinterland in the state, it was assumed, was indestructible.

 

That assumption was torn asunder, in the course of two swift years between 2006 and 2008. A critical proportion of the traditional supporters — roughly one decile or thereabouts of the total electorate — walked away from it in the wake of the crass insensitivity exhibited by the Left Front regime on the issue of land requisition for industrialization under private auspices. Arrogance on the part of the new generation in charge of both the state government and the CPI(M) state party apparatus, coupled with their total disregard of Left ideology and praxis, caused strong resentment often mounting to fury. Those with umbilical links with the party grumbled silently. But thousands, who had supported the Left come hell or high water for decades on end, were determined to take revenge on the betrayers of their trust. They voted against the CPI(M) in the panchayat polls in 2008 and the Lok Sabha polls the following year. Their ire, the results of the local body elections held last month indicate, has not abated one bit.

 

What is most bizarre is the apparent inability of party leaders and ministers to comprehend the magnitude of the catastrophe they had brought upon themselves. And they have the gall to persist with the claim that the reverses suffered in the Lok Sabha polls were exclusively on account of the CPI(M)'s decision to withdraw support from the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre on the issue of the India-United States of America nuclear deal, a decision which supposedly did not receive public approval. But had not an alienation of voters on the same scale already taken place in the panchayat elections which took place a full 15 months before the withdrawal of support to the UPA? Would these discredited leaders also venture to suggest that the voters had rewarded the Left in the Lok Sabha poll in 2004 with as many as 60 seats because they were sanguine it would form a post-poll alliance with the Congress?

 

Inanities of ministers and leaders gone wayward can be treated with the pity these deserve. Far more relevant is to search for an answer to the query, whether, despite the significant erosion that has taken place in the Left hinterland, the damage is reparable. Admittedly, the immediate prospect does not look at all cheerful. It appears nearly inevitable that the of-late most-talked-of lady is going to grasp the reins of state administration once the next assembly elections are held. Her campaign hysterics, including wildly irresponsible statements, have frightened the daylights out of many who are otherwise peeved no end with the Left Front. She may change, but habits and propensities die hard. Demagogues, especially those who under-emphasize the task of building, brick by brick, the network of an organization, are prone to self-destruction; it might not be different in her case either. The Left could then be presented with another opportunity to provide the state and the country with a radical alternative. The ground reality would thirst for such an alternative, for meanwhile gross domestic product growth fetishists would have continued their vicious onslaught against the peasantry, the working class and the lower middle classes.

 

But this possibility of a Left revival in West Bengal hinges on an important assumption. No point in being polite about it, what has happened in the mindset of a not inconsiderable section of the electorate is a meshing of subjectivity and objectivity. They have come to identify some faces as much with the outrage of the land acquisition episode as with the general wobbliness of the state administration. Till as long as these faces are not substituted, any chance of the Left staging a quick comeback in the state would remain wobbly.

 

Every extra day, the Left Front government stays in office, it actually alienates the people some more, quite apart from the fact that its effectiveness has now touched zero, as is abundantly evident in its failure to save its own supporters from Maoist depredations. To put it even more bluntly, so that the Left can hope for a restoration of its fortunes in the longer run, the present Left Front government needs to terminate itself without further ado.

 

There is a parallel problem with the CPI(M)'s state party leadership too. The huge army of party cadre, loyal and honest to the core, is no less keen to have a new set of sentinels who could lead them out of the cul-de-sac they have reached. Unless the present leaders step down on their own, the structure of discipline within the party will stand in the way of that transition. Curiously enough, given the overwhelming dominance of West Bengal in the party, the central leadership too will fail to remove the current leadership in the state. Obduracy of the latter might then imperil the Left all over the country.

 

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

EDITORIAL

STRENGTHEN VIGIL

'H1N1 COULD POSE SERIOUS RISK AGAIN THIS YEAR.'

 

 

The launch of an indigenously developed vaccine against the H1N1 influenza has come almost a year after the outbreak of the disease in the country. The single shot vaccine was developed by a private pharmaceutical company from H1N1 strain supplied by the WHO and is much cheaper than imported alternatives. Still at Rs 350 it is not affordable to the common man. It is expected that the price will come down further when vaccines developed by other companies also come into the market. The authorities will have to take the initiative for vaccination as awareness about the disease is low. Even though it spread fast in many parts of the country last year and is estimated to have killed over 1,500 people, it is not considered to be in the category of major killers.

But there is no place for complacence. The disease or its variants has killed several thousands of people in many parts of the world in the last century and there are different strains of the virus. It had taken about 20,000 lives all over the world last year and was active in most countries. After a seasonal hibernation it is now being reported from America and parts of Asia. In the last few weeks many cases have been reported from within the country also. If reports of 16 deaths in Kerala in one month are true, the disease can assume epidemic proportions with the strengthening of the monsoon. Karnataka and Maharashtra have also seen three deaths each. The health authorities need to be prepared with vaccines, drugs and adequate testing facilities.

The WHO has again sounded a worldwide alert against the disease. This is in spite of the criticism received by the organisation for allegedly exaggerating the seriousness of the H1N1 threat last year. Some investigations recently found that scientists who advised the WHO on the disease also had links with the pharmaceutical industry. It was even alleged that public health priorities were distorted and money wasted because of the scare. If the findings are true they could lower the WHO's credibility. But the organisation has defended its warnings last year and issued a fresh one this year. In the case of public health it is not wrong to be prepared for a bigger threat than there might actually be.

 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MAN OF VERSATILITY

'MALGONKAR WAS A PIONEER-ING INDIAN ENGLISH WRITER.'

 

Manohar Malgonkar, who passed away on Monday, was not only a novelist and columnist but also a historian, conservationist, soldier, farmer, businessman and even an amateur politician. The varied vocations marked the versatility of his personality and the range of his interests. A person whose life spanned so many different fields has a touch of the renaissance character in him and that distinguished him from many of his contemporary writers. It is ironical that a life lived actively on different planes for many decades would move into a shell of solitude in later years. But even when he engaged with the world in real life and in imagination there was a distinctive streak of individualism in his perspective and that might explain his withdrawal into the remote obscurity of a northern Karnataka village, away from the distant drums of a tumultuous world.

That tumult and even violence was however the theme of some of his best fiction. Partition, the most searing event in modern India's collective experience, formed the backdrop of his well-known novel, 'A Bend in the Ganges.' As a pioneering Indian English writer he shaped a niche for himself and was among the few to earn early international recognition. He did not have the earthiness of a Mulk Raj Anand, the evocativeness of an R K Narayan or the philosophical subtleties of a Raja Rao but had a strong sense of the social and political milieu of pre-independence India. Malgonkar's stories had a historical dimension and they drew on the ebb and tide of shifting times, and he succeeded in bringing history to life through an interplay of human relationships. Historical fiction often suffers from an imbalance between the two. But history does not weigh down heavily on the story in Malgonkar's world, and imagination and craft redeem it from the prosaic march of events.

There is a view that Malgonkar has been underrated as a writer. He has also been criticised for his sometimes benevolent characterisation of English men. But a writer is judged not only on his attitudes, but on their value and relevance in the world that he creates. Malgonkar did not always readily accept the world in which he lived and questioned its beliefs and values. The diversity of his tastes and talents and his pursuit of many interests might have helped him to make sense of a changing world in the most turbulent of recent times.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CONGRESS, NO. 1 CULPRIT

BY KULDIP NAYAR


By shouting down its critics, the Congress underlines its arrogance of power. It must own the responsibility and apologise to the nation.

 

Democratic polity in India has been again exposed when the details of Bhopal gas tragedy have come out. There was a nexus between the judiciary, the executive and the bureaucracy. All the three joined hands to let chairman Warren Anderson of Union Carbide, the company which owned the gas plant, escape from India. They also scaled down the compensation that the company had offered and delayed the court judgment by 26 years.

This was like the Emergency, a decade earlier, when prime minister Indira Gandhi battered the polity on June 25, 1975, denying even the fundamental right. It was the same story: the judiciary, the executive and the bureaucracy falling in line to justify an authoritarian rule. Scant attention was paid to the democratic constitution. In fact, the organs of the state were part of the tyranny perpetrated.


On both occasions, the ruling Congress was in power at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh where the gas plant was located. And on both occasions the prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, became law unto themselves and inflicted deep wounds on the democratic structure which is still recovering from the staggering blows it received.


Rajiv is said to have told state chief minister Arjun Singh to let off Anderson, which what a top Congress functionary characterised as under 'US pressure.' Rajiv consulted the cabinet subsequently, if he at all did. Indira too imposed the emergency on her own, consulting the cabinet only subsequently.


Both happenings show that the army does not have to walk in to make the judiciary, the executive and the bureaucracy to toe line. The prime ministers who can concentrate power in themselves can flout all the norms and rules which necessitate accountability.


Indira had the supreme court uphold by 5 to 1 her authoritarian rule in the emergency like Pakistan chief justice Munir who justified the takeover by General Ayub through 'the doctrine of necessity.' Such instances indicate that the judges are as much dictated by 'other considerations' as civil servants. They are just afraid to stand up to the government's aggrandisement. Chief Justice A H Ahmadi diluted the section under which the perpetrators of Bhopal gas tragedy were booked, from section 304 of the IPC, which laid out a punishment of 10 years, to section 304-A, where the maximum sentence given was two years.


As far as the bureaucracy, including officials of the CBI, is concerned, it has become too hapless and too obliging, ready to 'serve' any party which comes to power. Over the years, it has got over the qualms of conscience, if it had any, and high ideals of service without fear or favour.


Chief minister's orders


It was comical to find the same deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police, who put Anderson under arrest on arrival for the gas tragedy, escorted him to the airport to fly out in the state plane. The chief minister's orders had made all the difference. None of the two stood up to the oath they had taken to uphold the constitution and the country's integrity.

I have seen similar things happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The ruler counts, not the rules. The ethical considerations inherent in public servants have become generally dim and in many cases beyond their mental grasp. Anxiety to survive at any cost forms the keynote of approach to the problems that come before them.


Accountability is the only way to ensure that those who violate the norms followed in a democratic system do not go scot-free. I have never seen an erring judge, a tainted minister or a delinquent civil servant getting punishment. They are chips of the same block, using all methods if and when they are arraigned even before any tribunal.


In fact, the Congress has put all the blame on the then chief minister, also a Congressman. Even if the party is able to deflect the blame — as it did when it came to saving Indira — there is something called the value system. True, political parties have substituted it with power. But then they must be prepared for the violent, desperate forces like that of the Maoists or the Taliban.


Home Minister P Chidambaram, appointed by the prime minister to preside over the Group of Ministers and look into the Bhopal gas tragedy was trying, as finance minister, to push through a decision that would absolve the Dow Chemicals, which had bought Union Carbide, of responsibility. By shouting down every critic, the ruling Congress underlines its arrogance of power. It must own the responsibility and offer apologies to the nation. At least, it can take immediate steps to rehabilitate thousands of victims still in the cold. The Congress must learn humiliation.


Yet, if the nation has to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society, every person — whether a public functionary or a private citizen — must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. Without the awareness of what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RACIAL DIVIDE IN INDIA'S NORTHEAST

BY BHASKAR DUTTA-BARUAH


People specific states and Autonomous Councils have helped in the protection of the identities of the tribals.

 

A friendly chat on a sultry summer evening in Kokrajhar with my Bodo friends — in low voices — the arrest of Ranjan Daimary (commander of the Bodo rebel outfit, NDFB) and the visible mistreatment meted out to him by the Assam government crept into the conversation. Questions that arose — why the bias in the manner Daimary was handled compared to Arabinda Rajkhowa (chairman of the ULFA) after their arrests? How did the Guwahati blasts turn Daimary into a bigger criminal than Rajkhowa who was accountable for the killing of schoolchildren in Dhemaji?


Daimary and NDFB are the prime accused in the serial Guwahati blasts of 2008; the ULFA has been charged of the murder of 10 schoolchildren in 2004.


We talked about my 'foreign' ancestry and my invading forefathers — a tinge of guilt overshadowed the feeling of pride in my mind.


A cold spring afternoon in Nagaland; the conversation I was having with a senior Naga associate went into the days of the Naga movement in the early 1950s and the punishments his father's generation faced from the Indian authorities. A majority of the Naga people had voted for independence during the plebiscite of May 16, 1951.  The Indian authorities' efforts to suppress this movement resulted in countless atrocious incidents and the ugly memories they left behind will probably remain in the Naga pyche for another generation or more.

Five of the seven northeastern states were a single entity before the 1950s — Assam. One by one, the indigenous people rebelled and succeeded in forming their own political entities namely Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. I can give other examples of this global phenomenon of 'assimilation.'


Australia, 1869-1969: The white settlers created the 'Stolen Generations', ie the indigenous Australians victimised during the process of forced assimilation — most went missing, many died and the aboriginal gene became endangered in Australia.


North America, late 18th century: The European settlers took steps to eliminate the culture and traditions of the indigenous Red Indians. The resulting Indian wars lasted for more than a hundred years.


Ancient India (Indo-Aryan transmigration theory): Immigrants from the western side of Hindukush settled in the Indian subcontinent — without going into the debates and ongoing researches on this theory and stating from the old chronicles, we find citations of many 'clandestine' people in parts of what is now India, namely Asur, Daitya, Danava, etc. It is difficult to believe they were simply mythical creatures; the fact is that basically everything non-Aryan or native was branded Pagan (negative) and had to be either assimilated or obliterated.

In the northeast: The indigenous people never gained the 'mainstream' status among the 'more advanced' people that migrated here from Uttar Pradesh in the 14th century — these warlords called the Baro-Bhuyans bulldozed the indigenous culture, especially in the plain areas through their customs, language and later their religious views.


Barring the ruling Ahoms that were the 13th century settlers of Assam, the indigenous people including the Kacharis were pushed to lead an obscure existence. Something that both my Bodo and Naga friends had told me separately, "I lived in Delhi for so many years, but never was I invited by my friends to their homes for a meal because I am a Bodo/Naga."


It may not be what they think it was; maybe their friends never thought about it that way, but something, somewhere must have hit them to shape their mindsets in this manner.  It is easy to see what this factor might have been — Kachari is a metamorphosis of Ku-Achari (people of an evil nature) in the Assamese language — most of the tribes have the suffix Kachari added to the name of their tribe.


Majority of the modern Assamese (read: until a generation back) scorn the Kacharis because "they eat pork, drink alcohol, dress scantily and possess a bad temper". No reader of this article, Kachari or non-Kachari can deny having heard this in the past.


Today, people specific states and Autonomous Councils for the tribal people have forged strong environments for the protection of their identities. The rebellions, past and present, were in fact ways these indigenous people hit back at their oppressive conquerors. 'The invader-native conflict in north-east India' is by far the longest of such wars in the world and it still continues.


We do not need any more 'lands' or bloodshed here — this is a time for unity and for these wars to stop. Let the invaders realise the mistakes of the past and rectify the future and let the natives forgive and start the social order afresh.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE ALL-TIME HERO

BY DOROTHY VICTOR


The day comes as a fitting gesture to convey our regard to these all-time heroes.

 

The new era has many a super hero. Superman, Spider Man and the all-new Iron Man are all heroes of the 21st century. From among these mega men there stands one stalwart, taller and stronger than anyone else, from the Stone Age to the age of supersonic jets. He is in a league of his own — incomparable to any magic-man the world can produce. He is the first love of any girl and the best friend to any boy. The world calls him 'dad' and he is the true face of god's love here on earth.


To me, through the ages, my dad has always been a real hero. Kind-hearted, warm, understanding, gentlemanly, diligent, well-read and god-fearing is all that he personifies. He has a way with all his children. He shares a special and unique bond with us that very strangely, each one of us sincerely believes that "I am his favourite, the blue-eyed one!" Of course, we still argue on that one and as the old belief goes "no one has won that argument" so far. Yet, there is one fact that we siblings unanimously agree — our dad, a superhero of our childhood days continues to be an evergreen hero even as we have moved out of our homes to raise families of our own.


My brother recently confessed that his habit of refraining from coffee came out of his desire to imitate his 'super hero.' "As a child, I looked at dad and thought, if dad does not have coffee and drinks only tea, then there must be something wrong about drinking coffee," he said with a chuckle. That is how blindly and fervently we children looked up to our dad, mundane as it sounds!


My brother is still a 'no coffee' person and those who know him well are intrigued by the inconsistency of a person who is fine with tea but allergic to coffee. However, amidst inconsistencies there is always the clarity of a perfect understanding between a dad and his child. With Father's Day around the corner, I salute every father who through his hard work and labour, sweat and toil, patience and endurance, affection and care has been a blessing to his family and an inspiration to society. A day set aside to all fathers comes as a fitting gesture to convey our respect, regard and gratitude to these all-time heroes! I raise a toast to all dads in the words of the great poet William Wordsworth: "Father! To God himself we cannot give a holier name!"

           

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE LOST JEWS


A collective abandonment of authentic Jewish values seems to have overtaken the haredi community.

A collective abandonment of authentic Jewish values seems to have overtaken the haredi community.

Nothing else can explain the phenomenon of tens of thousands of religious zealots, dressed in black hats and coats, congregating under the glaring midday sun to fight for the right to discriminate against their fellow Jews.

A group of haredi families in Emmanuel has for months contemptuously refused to abide by a High Court ruling that reflects what the US Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education ruled back in 1954: segregation is unjust. Emmanuel's Ashkenazi families, most of them members of the Slonim Hassidic movement, have refused to integrate their elementary school girls with a group of Sephardi peers. They insist, instead, on maintaining a quota of "quality" Sephardi girls that makes up about a quarter of the total school body, while separating the rest. At the same time, they insist on receiving full funding from the State of Israel for their segregated educational enterprise.

 

Walls inside the school and on the playground that once separated the "Ashkenazi" and "Sephardi" sections were taken down under court order. As a result, the Ashkenazi families, in violation of the mandatory education law, have refused to send their children to school. Attempts to reach a compromise were rebutted by order of Rabbi Aharon Barazovsky, the leader of the Slonim Hassidim. Families were fined for being held in contempt of court, to no effect. Finally, the judges lost patience and ordered the mothers and fathers to sit in prison for the remaining two weeks of the school year.


One can argue that it was unwise for the court to imprison the recalcitrant mothers and fathers, even for such a short spell. True, they will receive special prison conditions, including separate cells, but they are not criminals in any conventional sense. They are guilty of holding the opinion – widespread in the haredi community – that Sephardim are culturally inferior to Ashkenazim. Even some Sephardim share this opinion, which explains why many – including prominent Shas MKs – choose to send their children to Ashkenazi schools, while at the same time fighting to ensure that a strong Ashkenazi majority is maintained.


MEANWHILE, DURING Thursday's mass demonstrations, which drew over 100,000 in Jerusalem and in Bnei Brak, haredi leaders, in a convoluted perception of history, compared the High Court's decision to incidents of repression perpetrated by the Greeks, the Romans, Tzarist Russia and even Nazi Germany.


Rabbi Yosef Efrati, a protégé of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most important living halachic authority for Ashkenazi haredim, likened the High Court's attempt to bring together students of diverse backgrounds to idolaters striving to coerce Jews to bow down to a statue.


No, Rabbi Efrati, agreeing to learn with fellow Jews who come from a different cultural background as a condition for receiving state funds is not idolatry – it is acting like a mentsch. Even if Slonim Hassidim did not enjoy the Zionist state's largesse, they should have accepted elementary school girls different from themselves – even those with a lower level of religious observance – as an expression of their care for fellow Jews. This is the way of Chabad and religious Zionists, among others.

To call such an arrangement idolatry is a distortion of Judaism. To compare it to the situation in Tzarist Russia reveals a total lack of appreciation for the Jewish state's role in helping haredi Judaism rebuild itself after the Holocaust. Thanks to the security provided by the IDF, the generous funds made available by successive governments, and the exemption enjoyed by young haredi men from the obligation to serve in the IDF, there are today more devout Jews dedicating themselves to the full-time study of Torah than ever before in history. And they have the privilege of doing so in the Land of Israel thanks to the secular Zionists whose initiative broke nearly 2,000 years of humiliating exile.


Nor does the haredi community seem to appreciate Israel's democracy. Despite the short notice, police fastidiously guarded the haredi community's right to protest the High Court's ruling. Haredi leaders were free to publicly criticize the court and the state. If one day the haredim become the majority in Israel, would they treat minority groups so fairly? Ask the Sephardi girls who were walled out in Emmanuel.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

GOOD MORNING, EHUD

THE ONLY WAY BARAK CAN MAKE HIS INFLUENCE FELT IS BY THREATENING TO PULL THE LABOR PARTY OUT OF THE COALITION.

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

I don't know in what order Defense Minister Ehud Barak reads his newspaper, but it's doubtful he could have missed Haaretz's five-column headline on Wednesday for a story by Barak Ravid: "Barak tells Netanyahu: Israel needs 'daring political initiative' to emerge from international isolation." In any case, there's no question that the story made his morning, if not his day.

 

The screw-ups of recent weeks have not been kind to Barak. The defense minister with the high IQ has been the focus of criticism about the flotilla foul-ups, the deterioration of relations with Turkey and the tension between him and the Israel Defense Forces. On top of all that is the threat that he might be mentioned by every investigative committee, including the one by the state comptroller, who doesn't miss a chance to slap a high-ranking person in the face. Barak heads for the United States in the middle of next week, and a few days later Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be going to the White House. I don't want to suspect that Barak is pushing his trip forward to steal the show from Netanyahu. Both are cooking in the same boiling pot of stew. Nor is it clear whether Barak is willing and able to play the role played by Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin's foreign minister. In secret talks, Dayan initiated and led the way to peace with Egypt. He got Begin to forcibly remove settlements in the Rafah Salient and withdraw from Sinai up to the last millimeter.

 

Observers in both courts say Netanyahu treats Barak with respect, and that is the secret of their close relationship. And when Barak declares that Israel must lead rather than be led, the question is: What are the limits of the pressure he can apply? Is he capable of taking the risk that he will lose the defense portfolio that is so dear to him? Were he to pressure Netanyahu with the same determination he used to have Silvan Shalom appointed chairman of the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, I would believe him, says a Labor Party hack. But according to Ravid, Barak did not issue an ultimatum and did not threaten to resign from the government. Everything he says is under the category of ministerial advice that Israel should lead rather than be led.

 

An associate believes that Barak is saying that he will discuss new ideas with the Americans and create solutions rather than problems; he'll examine whether it's possible to remove Syria from the axis of evil, whether it's possible to sever Iran from Hezbollah and return relations with Turkey to where they were. "It's impossible to live in a villa in a jungle," says a friend, quoting Barak. In any case, Israel cannot be in the situation of the old woman who was helped across the street by 20 Boy Scouts - not because she had trouble walking but because she refused to cross.

 

If Barak is serious about the daring political initiative, he has two options: to resign from the government along with the Labor Party and lose his favorite portfolio, or bring Kadima into the government and remain defense minister. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni doesn't seem to be refusing. She says Barak is right about the daring initiative, but he continues to serve in the government. Had the flotillas come against the backdrop of a peace plan, the global reaction would have been different.

 

"When Israel does not operate according to a plan, every minor operation is colored according to its image. It's never clear where Israel is heading, so every incident becomes an issue," says Livni.

 

When Barak notes that the situation will worsen, he is right, says Livni, because the gap between vigorous activity and the absence of action is tremendous. And the only way to change the situation is to move to another court. Even Turkey would have behaved differently, and we would not have deteriorated to a situation where Hamas is gaining legitimacy while Israel is losing it. We have reached a point where the country can't defend itself without being thought to be threatening the neighborhood.

 

The question is whether Netanyahu understands how bad our situation is and how urgently we need any kind of plan that will relieve our distress. The ambition to survive as prime minister is not a solution for anything. The only way Barak can make his influence felt is the threat that Labor will resign from the government and leave Netanyahu with Shas and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu. That would be accompanied by the danger of deterioration, ending with Netanyahu losing the premiership for the second and final time and leaving behind a country considered a leper by the world.

 

Barak got a nice headline in Haaretz. But despite the daring plan that he spoke about already a few months ago without doing anything about it, we have deteriorated to a point where we're a hair's breadth away from an imposed solution.

 

There is only one way to stop the deterioration, and that is to bring Kadima into a functioning broad government. A government that will implement the plan of two states for two peoples and get all the world's lepers off our back.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHERE IS THE SILVER PLATTER?

THE 9TH OF THE HEBREW MONTH OF AV WILL MARK THE CENTENARY OF NATAN ALTERMAN, THE MOST PROMINENT OF A LARGE GROUP OF WRITERS WHOSE WORK HERALDED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE.

BY ISRAEL HAREL

 

The 9th of the Hebrew month of Av - when the Book of Lamentations says "All thy enemies open their mouths wide against thee" - will mark the 100th birthday of Natan Alterman, the most prominent of the large group of writers and poets whose most important work was intertwined with encouraging the establishment of a state for the Jewish people. Whenever an injustice was done us - as it seems the vast majority of Israelis feel is happening right now - these writers and poets, together with other intellectuals and public figures, inspired faith in the righteousness of our path and condemned the falsification, hypocrisy and wickedness of the enemies of the people and of Zionism.

 

When necessary, they also knew how to criticize and reprove. But they did not do so with the avidity, sometimes stemming from impure motives, that some of their most prominent modern-day counterparts display. At this time, when Israel's citizens are enduring a global torrent of malicious accusations, only a very small number, if any, of those in that gallery have mobilized to offer words of comfort, encouragement and consolation. Even worse, some of those who could lift our morale a bit, or even a great deal, and who could also, due to their status abroad, play a role in moderating the onslaught against Israel, have themselves sprinkled additional drops of venom into the cup of poison. Their words are quoted throughout the world and serve Israel's worst enemies. There is no way to explain this except by saying it is apparently a unique Jewish trait.

 

The prestate Jewish community was able to withstand all troubles and setbacks in part thanks to the courageous, visionary poems of these writers, and Alterman above all. In the days when everything seemed lost, he wrote "Fate has given us millions of tomorrows." And when the attacks grew worse, he inspired faith: "And it is not in vain, my brother, that you have plowed and built: We go to war for our lives and for our homes ... We will not fall back, for there is no other way. No nation would retreat from the trenches of its life."

 

It would be one thing if there were no one left today capable of writing such words (or setting them to music, as Daniel Sambursky did ). But since we do have such people, why - especially at a time like this - do they not raise their voices?

 

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tel Aviv Municipality, Army Radio and the Culture Ministry organized an event about a week ago that was billed as featuring Alterman's work - that same Alterman who "gave three generations of Israelis what a true poet can give: the symbols they needed" (Nissim Calderon ) and "influenced everything that took place here from the 1940s to this very day" (Culture Minister Limor Livnat ).

 

But instead of a comprehensive program that included all the symbols, the organizers of the event (which was musically and technically impressive) omitted any national symbol of the poet identified more than any other with such symbols (see "Song of the [Army] Companies" or "The Silver Platter" ). The audience was treated to 28 songs, plus interstitial material, but there was no mention whatsoever of the Alterman of "This is my land and its fields, this the Jezreel Valley." Yet of course, his "Song of the Drunkard" and "Song of Wine" were heard, along with an endless roster of his other generic poems (though these would also be charming and wonderful in the right proportion ).

 

The IPO (as expected ), Army Radio (as expected ) and the Culture Ministry (not as expected ) skipped over his nationalist poetry, as well as the moving pieces in his regular newspaper column, "The Seventh Column." In their eyes, what was important and symbolic were the two songs that were each presented in two versions - "He Popped Up and She Popped Up" and "The Bargain Market" - as well as a profusion of pieces from the musical "King Solomon and Shlomi the Shoemaker," which is not even one that Alterman wrote.

 

After all, our children never wept in the shadow of the gallows; the state, as all know, was presented to us on a silver platter; the journey of the "Exodus," as the New Historians have confirmed, was a Zionist manipulation, and the Italian captain's speech was never made. And Operation Magic Carpet was also merely a fable. But "Uriana" (a popular Alterman lyric ) was there for sure.

 

At the close of his short life (he died at 60 ), Alterman obviously foresaw this development, for he wrote the following hair-raising lines:

 

"Then Satan said: How do I overcome / this besieged one? / He has courage and talent / And implements of war and resourcefulness. / And he said: I shall not take away his strength / And I shall not curb him with bit and bridle ... / And I shall not weaken his hands as in days of yore. / Only this shall I do: I will dull his mind / and cause him to forget / the justice of his cause / ... And it was as if the heavens blanched in terror / As they saw him arise / To carry out his plot."

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHICH IS WORSE, A POEM OR A FLOTILLA?

THIS WEEK, HUNDREDS TURNED OUT FOR THE INAUGURATION OF A CULTURAL CENTER NAMED AFTER THE POET MAHMOUD DARWISH, INCLUDING AT LEAST THREE JEWS.

BY YOSSI SARID

 

Relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel have never been as bad as they are now. This week, I once again experienced the alienation. A cultural center named for the poet Mahmoud Darwish was inaugurated in Kafr Yasif, near Acre. Hundreds of people came, all of them Arabs. The Jews could be counted on the orphaned fingers of one hand. I identified three, but even Jews do not have horns.

One of the ships of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was intercepted by the IDF enters the port of Ashdod.

 

Photo by: Eli Hershkovitz

 

Either they were invited and did not come, or no one bothered to invite them to begin with. Either options bodes ill. I still remember similar events in the past that bore the stamp of partnership and hope. I shall not describe them now, lest I burst into tears of nostalgia and anxiety. A great deal of sewage has flowed through the country's drains since then, even before the Knesset woke up to the song, "Go to Gaza, you traitor!" Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was present and infused the event with a good feeling of moderate optimism, or optimistic moderation. But not one Hebrew newspaper reported a word about the beautiful things we heard at Kafr Yasif; it is not of any interest.

 

When I was asked to say a few words about the man in whose name we had gathered there, I described how I tried to introduce three poems by Darwish into the school curriculum, and how the country responded with an outcry. The heavens almost fell in.

 

I also told the audience how the idea had germinated. I once spoke with Darwish about his experiences as a student in Israel. "I am happy that I studied Bialik's poems," he told me. "He is a great poet, and through his poetry, I learned to understand the shadows that pursue you and the hopes that go before you."

 

At that point, I said to myself: If an Arab pupil found interest in our national poet, why should a Jewish pupil not be interested in their national poet? On the contrary, let him read and become familiar with his neighbors' dreams and sufferings, and think about how, together, we can heal each other's wounds.

 

The most vocal protesters were, as usual, the uneducated, who had never even read one of his poems. But apparently, they had heard about one of his poems - that offensive poem that told us to get out of this land, with all our belongings and our memories, our names and our dead.

 

On another occasion, I asked Darwish, who was a sober man, what had led him into this foolish act. He directed my attention to an interesting fact: He had published some 40 books, and this poem, "Those Who Pass Between the Fleeting Words," had never been included in any of them. "I wrote it in a moment of anger," he explained. And he had since regretted it.

 

We, in our holy wrath, will also not forgive his regret. As if Bialik had never written in a stormy mood, as if Uri Zvi Greenberg had not poured out his wrath on the gentiles, as well as on those he considered Jewish apostates, whom he hated and cursed and wished death on.

 

The storm over the three poems was frightening. Once again, we appeared like budding saplings that have no roots; once again, we seemed like leaves being blown through history, with no history of their own. I felt sorry then for all those who feel at home only when they are in a ghetto, surrounded by high walls and fences, for whom only a home with moat and gates is a castle. I still pity them, and also rather scorn them. They have not yet been set free.

 

Recently, I have been searching for an answer to this question: What threatens us more, what does more to erode "the rock of our existence" - a poem or a flotilla?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PR FOR INTERNAL CONSUMPTION

NETANYAHU'S PR, WHICH PLAYS ON THE PARANOIA AND DEEPEST FEARS OF THE GHETTO , IS WORKING - BUT ONLY INTERNALLY.

BY DORON ROSENBLUM

 

If the Israeli public employed the classification system famously used by Napoleon Bonaparte - who made light of the courage and cleverness of officers who were recommended to him, focusing instead on the question "But are they lucky?" - there is no question that not only would Defense Minister Ehud Barak drop to the bottom of the popularity scale, but so, and to the same degree, would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

It is hard to be certain which of them is the schlemiel and which the schlimazel, or whose luck is worse. But one thing is clear: Every time those two grab the steering wheel - whether together or separately - they find themselves battered and bruised, limping from mishap to fiasco, from screw-up to snafu, and from there to all kinds of bad luck that have not yet even made it into the slang dictionaries.

 

It wouldn't matter if it were only them. The problem is that those two get all of us into trouble: Shortly after the journey begins, the entire Israeli bus finds itself overturned on the side of the road with its wheels spinning uselessly on top.

 

In order to understand why public opinion surveys nevertheless tend to fault the ticket taker more than the driver, you have to get to the bottom of the difference, which does exist, between Barak's schlimazel personality and Netanyahu's schlemiel personality. The former, despite his great expectations, sees every initiative blow up in his face. But the latter has no intention of succeeding, and never did have.

 

In his ambition to perform spectacular pirouettes that will take the region's breath away, Barak repeatedly finds himself on the boards. Netanyahu gets even more battered, but somehow looks less ridiculous, since he repeatedly tries - and repeatedly succeeds - to prove his standard opening argument: The floor is crooked. It was, still is and always will be. Or as he summed up his own failure of statesmanship this week, "Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy."

 

For Barak bad luck is random, an accident (even if it is a multivehicle pileup ). For Netanyahu, bad luck is a worldview, a psychological situation assessment, almost an ideology - the decree of "Jewish" fate. That is precisely the difference between Barak's premature assertion in the city square - "This is the dawning of a new day" - and what Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction this week: "Benighted medieval forces are rising up against us ... A wave of hatred is flooding us ... They are trying to grip us in an iron vise of missiles and terror." Perhaps these words were a boastful "I told you so," or perhaps they were a type of vision: a pessimistic vision that, whether consciously or not, fulfills itself every day as long as the prophet of destruction - this Job, who scratches himself with a potsherd - continues to serve as prime minister.

 

Is it by chance that during the term of "Mr. Public Relations" of all time, Israel has become one of the most ostracized and misunderstood countries in the world? Ironically, the person who built his entire political career on being a fluent spokesman for Israel's righteousness to the outside world changed the direction of the loudspeaker the moment the responsibility became his. He has turned into the great rebroadcaster of every external threat for internal consumption - into a person who repeatedly plays on the paranoias and deepest fears of the ghetto mentality.

 

In that sense, Netanyahu's PR has in fact succeeded, but only internally: The national PR man has once again succeeded in explaining to the domestic consumer, who is wallowing in his fears and hatreds, that there really is a reason for the sense of siege, isolation and persecution: The world is hypocritical, the wave is getting stronger, the vise is closing in.

 

Ostensibly, his reason for doing so is clear: to obviate the need for action and to avoid personal responsibility. For if this is a deterministic existential situation, there is nothing to be done: There is no point in further shaking up the ship that is being flooded in any case, or in trying to navigate it. All that remains is to sit and curse the entire world. But in that case, one question arises: Why did Netanyahu want to be prime minister, and for a second time yet?

 

After all, he can be a "concerned citizen" at home, too. So why is he behaving this way? Where is he actually trying to lead us? What does he want to promote, if anything - even according to his own lights? The answers to these questions have long since gone beyond the political realm. They apparently belong to the realm of the soul. And not only Netanyahu's.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

THE ARMY'S FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS FOR CRIMES IN THE GAZA WAR HAVE SHOWN HOW MUCH ISRAEL NEEDS GROUPS LIKE B'TSELEM TO EXPOSE THE TRUTH.

 

The military advocate general is poised to file a grave indictment against an Israel Defense Forces soldier from the Givati Brigade who allegedly shot and killed two Palestinian women carrying white flags in an open field during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajaj, a mother and daughter, were killed while fleeing their home after the IDF had ordered them to leave it. This severe incident of killing was first exposed by B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and by Haaretz reporter Amira Hass - both of whom investigated the suspicions and collected testimony from eyewitnesses shortly after the incident. The IDF Spokesman's response to Haaretz's query at the time was, "the event was examined over the course of several days, and these checks found that the IDF is unaware of any such case."

 

About a year and a half have gone by, and now Military Police investigators and army prosecutors have concluded that Staff Sgt. S. opened fire on the two women contrary to regulations. After a hearing for the suspect next week, the MAG will decide what charge to indict him on - manslaughter or causing death by negligence.

 

The army prosecution should be commended for its courageous and necessary decision to put the soldier on trial. Shooting at civilians who are carrying white flags and pose no threat to the soldiers is a war crime. If it transpires that the soldier did so, he must be severely punished.

 

However, one must wonder why the IDF initially tried to ignore and deny the story, and why the investigation dragged on for so long. A more vigorous investigation into this and other serious incidents could have warded off some of the international criticism hurled at Israel following the army's operation in Gaza. It could also have helped the IDF and the Israeli public discover the truth, so that they could learn the required lessons to prevent similar incidents from recurring in the future.

 

The slaying of the two women is included in the Goldstone Committee's report. Instead of slamming the report, as the Israeli government did, it should have studied its contents. Perhaps its pages hide other incidents that require thorough investigation and whose perpetrators should be brought to justice.

 

But Israel's fury was not directed at Goldstone alone. Since Operation Cast Lead, Israeli human rights groups, first and foremost B'Tselem, have been subjected to an unbridled public onslaught. Even graduates of the Rabin premilitary academy, who testified about a similar killing, were harshly castigated. Now, after the IDF has admitted that the investigation into the women's slaying was based on testimonies it received from B'Tselem, all the slanderers and mudslingers must retract their deplorable smear campaign. The IDF needed the human-rights organization's investigators in order to probe its soldiers' conduct, and Israeli society needs organizations like B'Tselem to expose that which must be exposed, to investigate what must be investigated and to draw the necessary conclusions. Without such organizations, there is no real democracy. Now it is time to praise the army prosecution, make sure the truth comes out and conduct a swift trial. And it is also time to repent the sin of having slandered and smeared nongovernmental groups that are doing sacred work on behalf of democracy.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE HIGH COURT ISN'T RACIST

IN THE BATTLE OVER SEGREGATION IN SCHOOLS, THE ISSUE IS NOT JEWISH RELIGIOUS LAW, BUT THE RACIST SOCIAL NORMS THAT CHARACTERIZE THE ENTIRE ULTRA-ORTHODOX WORLDVIEW.

BY YAIR SHELEG

 

The case of ethnic discrimination at a girls' religious school in Immanuel should be examined from the standpoint of both principle and practicality.

 

Haredim protesting at the High Court of Justice on Tuesday June 15, 2010.

 

Photo by: Emil Salman

On the level of principle, there are no words to describe the shame provoked by this blatant ultra-Orthodox racism. This isn't a debate between a High Court of Justice ruling and orders from on high, as some Haredim would have us believe, because there is nothing in the leading halakhic texts, such as the Shulhan Arukh and the Mishneh Torah, that sanctions such discrimination.

 

Indeed, there could be no such ruling, since both Joseph Karo and Moses Maimonides, who compiled the Shulhan Arukh and the Mishneh Torah, respectively, were themselves Sephardim.

 

The issue, then, is not Jewish religious law, but rather the racist social norms that characterize the entire ultra-Orthodox worldview. (The Haredim, as we know, also discriminate against the newly religious. )

 

Nor is there any justification for comparing this obvious racism with the extent to which Sephardim, or religious Jews, are represented as justices on the High Court itself. Indeed, it is a pity that in the name of multiculturalism and the desire to "include" the Haredim in mainstream discourse, secular media figures fall into this simplistic trap.

 

The criteria for appointment to the Supreme Court must be the quality of the candidate's rulings, character and intellect. In my view, they also include the capacity for a complex, considered perspective on the needs and values of Israeli society.

 

On the practical level, however, the problem should be addressed more cautiously than it was in the High Court this week. There was no need to reach the point of attempting to impose integration by judicial fiat, even if this segregation is infuriating to any level-headed person.

 

In a society that contains communities whose identities are different from, and sometimes even polar opposites of, each other, there is a constant tension between the right of each community to maintain its way of life and the enforcement of universal norms of human rights. The test, as always, is one of maintaining this delicate balance, and of proportionality.

 

In this respect, it seems that the injury to the Sephardi students' human rights was not so grave as to warrant the imposition of integrated classrooms by judicial fiat, particularly in light of the fact that they could easily have avoided this slight to their dignity by relinquishing, from the outset, the dubious "right" to attend a racist school.

 

It would therefore be appropriate to make do with the court's long-term solution - revoking the school's state funding - instead of insisting on arm-twisting tactics during the two weeks remaining in the school year.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS

DEMONIZATION OF THE HAREDIM BY THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS GROWING, AND REPERCUSSIONS WILL SOON FOLLOW.

BY YEDIDIA STERN

 

There is no choice but to enforce court rulings. Even those who take issue with the way the High Court of Justice handled the Immanuel school case should say loudly and clearly that court rulings must be respected. The courts provide the societal restraints that enable us to live together. They are the spearhead of that sovereign power whose might keeps men from devouring each other, and nothing must be done to diminish their authority.

 

But that bottom line does not absolve us of substantive discussion of the event itself. How is it that in a Jewish state, the emotionally charged words that symbolize martyrdom - Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel ) - are hurled defiantly at the symbol of the state, the menorah, inside a courtroom? How is it that average, ordinary people are being thrown in jail as a group? What happens to the court's image in the deepest recesses of our culture when a provocative, contemptuous dance is performed in the courtroom? How did a localized dispute, which could be resolved in myriad ways, turn into a dispute over the principle of religion and state, exacerbated by a dose of communal tensions?

 

The Haredim (ultra-Orthodox ) made a strategic error. Since they are always in the minority, they ought to be striving to bolster the status of the courts. For if court rulings are not respected, who will defend the Haredim when the Israeli majority decides to take out its growing anger at them by infringing on their rights? MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) knows quite well that his real protection is ultimately not the legislature, but the courts.

 

On the other hand, sober judgment must prevail at the High Court. The court must maintain respect for itself as an institution; it must not allow the slightest doubt to develop as to whether it represents sovereign Israeli authority. And for that reason, it should avoid placing itself in the eye of the storm whenever possible. As with any power, the court's power is actually strengthened by sparing use. When power is unleashed, it should be clear that it is the last resort - and that it is guaranteed to work.

 

Mistakes come at a high societal price. Demonization of the Haredim by the general public is growing, and repercussions will soon follow. And this is happening at a time when Haredi participation in the work force, and even in the army, is making hesitant progress. Now, this progress could be lost.

 

But worst of all, we are evidently undergoing a historic process in which religious authority is becoming a substitute for the authority of the state.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NO TO RACIST EDUCATION

EVERY ISRAELI SYSTEM OF INSTITUTIONS, CERTAINLY THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, MUST OPERATE WITHIN THE PROVISIONS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, 'IRRESPECTIVE OF RELIGION, RACE OR GENDER'.

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

 

At the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations in Jerusalem and especially in Bnei Brak, there was a recurrent theme in conversations with the people in the crowd and in the rabbis' speeches. It is a moment before the coming of the Messiah.

 

What was condemned in the past as messianism of the Zionist strain of thinking of former chief rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook is now considered obvious. A sign of the coming of the Messiah, in addition to the great flourishing of yeshivas, is what was promised in the mystical book the Zohar. The Zohar speaks of the harshest exile of all, the exile of the multitudes who joined the Exodus from Egypt, Amalekites posing as Jews, which is why secular Jews hate the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim, more than all the non-Jews do.

 

The drawn-out entry of the High Court of Justice into the frenzied relations between religion and state does not stem from the court's passion but rather from the state's extreme negligence. But even worse is that the autonomous racist and messianic system of institutions that threatens to swallow up Israel not only grew under state auspices and funding but is entirely the creation of that weak secular state.

 

In the Orthodox world, there is no greater figure than Maimonides. His ruling is clear and unequivocal: "Anyone who devotes himself to study Torah and does not work and supports himself through charity is as if he profaned the name of the Almighty and the Torah and deprived himself of an afterlife." This means if Orthodox faith is the truth, anyone from among these Karaites who God forbid goes to hell will find himself in the company of many Haredim.

 

True, the 16th-century Shulchan Aruch limited Maimonides' prohibition a bit, in providing that "if there are no billy goats, there are no kids," meaning that rabbis could earn a living through Torah, though Maimonides disagreed with even that. There is an absolute Torah prohibition, however, against an entire population supporting itself this way, and such a situation had never occurred anywhere in the world (though maybe it would occur when the Messiah comes ) until secular Jews came to Israel.

 

The High Court of Justice must now deal with the issue of teaching of core subjects in the religious education system. This is expected to be a 10-second ruling and not a 10-year one, but that's not enough. A state should not fund even a shekel of support for an education system based on racism and hostility to democracy. Education funding is not an absolute right or a caprice. The state has an obligation to give young people a basis for critical thinking, a response to their natural curiosity as well as self-evident values.

 

It's clear that an educational system that enforces a racist policy of separation should not be subsidized. Nor should communal separation, separation of boys and girls, or separation that bars secular citizens from teaching.

 

Every Israeli system of institutions, certainly the educational system, must operate within the provisions of the Declaration of Independence, "irrespective of religion, race or gender." It is understood that a system that exists in contradiction to that and preaches to its children about a fundamental and qualitative difference between women and men, Jews and non-Jews, cannot receive a cent from the state.

 

A ruling such as Rabbi Kook's, who ruled that the difference between Jews and Gentiles was immeasurably greater than between Gentiles and animals, cannot exist in any public education system. According to Kook, there was a quantitative difference between non-Jews and animals, but there was an infinite qualitative difference between Jews and non-Jews. And we see that in Israel, "moderate" Rabbi Kook's views are the basis of state religious education. Haredi education goes even further.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ANALYSIS / EASING OF GAZA BLOCKADE MARKS VICTORY FOR FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS

ENFORCEMENT OF THE SIEGE HAS ALL BUT ENDED - PART OF THE PRICE ISRAEL IS PAYING TO RESTORE ITS INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION AFTER ITS DISASTROUS FLOTILLA RAID.

BY AMOS HAREL AND AVI ISSACHAROFF TAGS: ISRAEL NEWS GAZA

 

Despite the contradictory statements issued by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, the general direction is clear. Whether the decision has already been made, as the English statement indicates, or will become official only at a later stage, as the Hebrew statement implies, Israel has folded.

 

Enforcement of the blockade - the purpose of the government's order to stop a Gaza-bound flotilla by force on May 31 - has effectively ended. This is part of the price Israel is paying the international community in order to end the flotilla affair and prevent a rerun of the uproar that led to last year's Goldstone report.

 

But perhaps the price is not so high. Israel will give up something that was unnecessary anyway: the ban on allowing food products and other goods classified as "luxuries" into Gaza. This ban was actually a collective punishment for the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

 

Israel will probably compromise on allowing building materials into the Gaza Strip, because this embargo is preventing the reconstruction of neighborhoods that were destroyed during last year's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

 

According to international organizations, 3,400 Palestinian houses were destroyed during the offensive.

 

The battle against arms smuggling into Gaza will continue. And if there is ultimately no choice but to end the naval blockade, Israel will consider involving international forces in searches of Gaza-bound ships.

 

The right flank of Netanyahu's cabinet is far from thrilled with these steps, and the same goes for senior defense establishment officials. But when the Obama administration insists, the Netanyahu government gives in.

 

The world, of course, is responding to Israel's statement in English. But Jordan's reaction typifies the international community's impression: "Cosmetic measures," Amman's statement sniffed, though adding that it was a step in the "right direction."

 

As far as Gaza's people are concerned, the situation will not change much.

 

The extensive smuggling via tunnels from Sinai has made up for many of the shortages Israel tried to cause. Halva, jam and chocolate have found their way into Gaza in roundabout ways, while the official ban on letting them in brought Israel nothing but embarrassment.

 

The recent cabinet discussions appear to be cementing Israel's image in the Arab - and perhaps also the Western - world as a state that mainly understands the language of force.

 

The Turkish passengers who beat Israeli naval commandos with clubs on the deck of the Mavi Marmara have scored a victory. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will now be portrayed as the leader who broke Israel's resistance.

 

But even so, a partial easing of the blockade at an inconvenient time is better than continuing the current flawed policy.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAELI APATHY IS TO BLAME FOR ULTRA-ORTHODOX ARROGANCE

WHY DO THE HAREDIM HAVE THEIR OWN SCHOOL SYSTEM? BECAUSE THE STATE LETS THEM GET AWAY WITH IT.

BY ANSHEL PFEFFER TAGS: ISRAEL NEWS

 

I really would like to dedicate this column to praising Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy for standing up for the rule of law and calling time on the despicable segregation between girls of Ashkenazi origin and those of Sephardi or Mizrahi origin in ultra-Orthodox schools. But as much as his decision to jail the 74 couples who are refusing to allow their daughters to attend a desegregated school in Immanuel for their breathtaking contempt of his court is justified, his judicial wrath is misdirected.

 

Justice Levy has changed the rules that allow the ultra-Orthodox rabbis to decide upon every aspect of the education of 20 percent of Israel's children. One can understand the anger of the parents and the rabbis at the fact that nobody told them about the change. But you can be certain that the final outcome of the Immanuel saga will take the form of a new school, solely for girls from the "Hasidic stream" (that is, Ashkenazi ). Instead of one small school, split done the middle, there will be two tiny ones. A monument to Haredi separatism and bigotry, and also to the limits of Israeli sovereignty.

 

The issue of state versus private education is a controversial one in most democracies. But even in the most liberal countries private schools must accept some form of government supervision and calibrate at least part of their schedule to the national curriculum. In those countries, "private" schools are just that, privately funded. In Israel, the vast, overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox schools receive most of their funding, usually around 75 percent, from the state. They are not required to teach the core subjects determined by the Education Ministry, nor are they obliged to prepare their students for national examinations. Officially, they are under the aegis of the woefully understaffed Haredi education department in the ministry. But the education inspectors, omnipotent when it comes to the other educational streams, have no real say when it comes to ultra-Orthodox schools. Most are Haredi themselves, and wouldn't dream of contradicting the rabbis who control the schools.

 

But even this is too much for some Haredi schools. They go for the option of rejecting even token supervision while still being entitled to have the taxpayer provide 55 percent of their budget.

 

We can blame the Haredi community for its arrogance, but the real blame lies with all of Israel's successive governments. For 62 years they allowed it to happen, approving ever-greater budgets and increased autonomy for the ultra-Orthodox schools. That's not something the High Court of Justice can change. The court would not be challenging the status quo had a small number of brave petitioners not decided to go all the way against the segregation in Immanuel. But this is a local issue, which has been inaccurately portrayed in the media as a matter of Ashkenazy bigotry, even racism. It is actually an example of the Haredi class system by which those who were born into the community will always be superior to the ba'alei teshuva, those who choose religious observance later in life.

 

The real issue at stake here is the extent to which a closed and separate community can be allowed to manage its own affairs in a democratic state. Does the government have any responsibility to children whose parents choose to belong to a group that shuns modern education? When can the courts intervene to prevent perceived injustices carried out in the name of a belief that is not the norm? Where do we draw the line between the duties of society and a dictatorship of the majority? The Haredi leadership claims to uphold not only Jewish values, or their interpretation of those values, but also the sacred cause of democracy. How can the government tell them how to educate their children, they ask, this is a secular Zionist dictatorship!

 

On the airwaves, they liken the justices to the Bolshevik commissars who shut all Jewish schools in the Soviet Union. In booklets intended for internal consumption the comparison is with the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust. But there's no need to go that far; how are ultra-Orthodox schools faring today in the lands of the goyim?

 

The Immanuel parents are willing to go to prison to defend their "pure education" and a way of life they claim to have been leading for 3,000 years. For them, the Slonim Rebbe's rulings take precedence over the law of the land. But somehow their brothers abroad seem to have no problem subjecting their children's schools to the inspectors of the non-Jewish authorities. Haredi schools in every country in the West teach the subjects of the national curriculum and are tested by the same examinations as everyone else.

 

If this was indeed a matter of life and death, a cause worth sitting in jail for, surely the ultra-Orthodox communities of New York and London would long ago have uprooted themselves and moved to the only country in the world that not only allows them total educational freedom but even pays for it. There is only one reason the Haredi leadership in Israel insists on running a totally independent education system, with no governmental involvement. They know they can get away with it. David Ben-Gurion, in the early days of the state, wanted a single education system for all, but political and practical circumstances precluded this. Then, it was the powerful secular parties that insisted on keeping their special schools. The only community whose schools were controlled closely was the Arab community. For security reasons, of course.

 

Ben-Gurion wasn't worried about the ultra-Orthodox. He believed they were a small, archaic group that was destined to dwindle and die out. He was sure that just as he had put aside the tefillin and prayer book of his childhood, so too would the young generation of Haredim choose to be part of a brave new society. How wrong he was. Today, almost 300,000 children are enrolled in ultra-Orthodox schools in Israel - 51 percent more than a decade ago.

 

With the exception of a muted response from Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, no senior cabinet minister has said anything about the Immanuel situation. They can do the political math. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lose his coalition if he is seen in any way to be supporting government interference in Haredi schools. If Justice Levy genuinely wants to establish the supremacy of law over a recalcitrant minority, he should direct his efforts toward the government.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMMON SENSE AND PRIVATE PROPERTY

 

Not a single Supreme Court justice agreed with the harebrained notion that some Florida property owners were entitled to the extra land created when the state widened the beach in front of their houses.

But in an opinion issued Thursday, four justices came very close to creating an equally harebrained precedent:

that a court decision about the application of a state's property laws can amount to a "taking" of private property, as if a city or state had confiscated it.

 

The case was brought after the state began adding sand to miles of eroded beaches in Florida's panhandle. Homeowners said they should have exclusive access to the newly created beach, but the Florida Supreme Court said in 2008 that the owners had rights only to the old land. The owners said that would bring unwanted visitors, damaging their property values, and demanded compensation as a result of the court's decision.

 

When their demand went to the United States Supreme Court, it was championed by leaders of the "property rights" movement, who are somehow convinced that the government, courts included, are bent on the confiscation of too much private property. At last, the movement thought it might have a chance at achieving its dream ruling: that courts — along with cities, states and Washington — are required to compensate property owners for adverse decisions based on their reading of a state property law.

 

There are, in fact, many good reasons why the legal system has never accepted this idea. As Solicitor General Elena Kagan noted in her brief to the court last year, it would have a profoundly chilling effect on judges trying to interpret property statutes. It would raise a host of practical questions. Who would have to pay the compensation? Would federal courts have to begin reviewing hundreds of state court property rulings? Many legal scholars think the idea is thoroughly unworkable.

 

But four justices — Antonin Scalia, John Roberts Jr., Samuel Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas — seemed to have hoped this would be the case that would establish the concept of "judicial taking."

 

It was clear from Justice Scalia's opinion that he wanted to do that, even though he disagreed with the beachfront property owners. The harsh sarcasm he directed toward justices in disagreement may have reflected anger at his inability to win a fifth and deciding vote for his belief.

 

Justice Stephen Breyer presented a calm rebuttal. Adopting Justice Scalia's idea, he said, would create a huge and unnecessary mess in both the federal and state courts, and could force federal judges to rule on purely local matters of property law. More important, as he and Justice Anthony Kennedy reminded Justice Scalia, it was perfectly possible to decide the beach case without creating a huge new judicial doctrine.

 

Justice Scalia has never been a proponent of judicial minimalism, but even for him, the reach he attempted in this case was a little breathtaking. Fortunately, for the lack of one more vote, common sense dodged a bullet.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FINISH THE JOB, ALBANY

 

Hard as it may be to imagine, New York legislators have actually managed to agree to about half of the state's $135 billion annual budget through Gov. David Paterson's tactic of attaching parts of it to the weekly emergency-spending measures that are keeping the state government from shutting down.

 

The bad news is that the other half is the hard part.

 

The state faces a $9.2 billion deficit this year, and, so far, lawmakers and Mr. Paterson have agreed on about $4.2 billion of health care, welfare and administration cuts. That still leaves a big hole, especially since New York had been hoping for $1 billion from the federal jobs bill, a hope that seems to be fading daily.

 

Cuts in health care, welfare and a few other parts of the state budget have already been passed, which leaves education as the big hurdle. Mr. Paterson has proposed $1.6 billion in school aid cuts, and the Assembly wants to restore about $420 million, including about $200 million for New York City schools. The Assembly's speaker, Sheldon Silver, and Mr. Paterson could reverse some of the governor's cuts, especially as they affect poorer districts. But Mr. Silver and his supporters — like the teachers' union — will have to find revenues to make up the difference.

 

There are some obvious fixes, but they take nerve, which is in short supply in this Legislature. A tax on sugary drinks, for example, could raise $600 million this year and $1 billion next year to help pay health care costs. But the tax offends bottlers with very fat wallets. Similarly, the sale of wine in grocery stores, in addition to beer, would add $250 million in fees — but has ignited a powerful lobbying backlash. Other taxes could surface in the scramble to create a budget over the next few weeks. If necessary, they should be aimed at people with higher incomes and kept to the short term.

 

Mr. Paterson has been recently insisting that he refuses to support any borrowing to fill the deepening hole in the budget. He doesn't seem to count his tricky "amortization" of the state pension plan costs that, in effect, borrows from the pension fund and results in far higher payments in the future. That kind of high-jinx borrowing is almost as bad as the State Senate's proposal to extend the bonds taken out with New York's share of the nationwide tobacco settlement.

 

Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch has rightly warned that New York's deficit will eventually require limited careful borrowing. The tobacco bond idea sounds mostly like a plan to make someone rich on Wall Street.

 

Meanwhile, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported on Thursday that the state has once again run out of money and may have to delay payments. That is no way to run a state. It's time for Albany to pass a real budget.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A BAD DAY FOR BP AND MR. BARTON

 

It's hard to imagine anyone having a worse day than Tony Hayward, BP's embattled chief executive, who spent Thursday in the cross hairs of an angry Congressional committee and turned in a mind-bogglingly vapid performance. But he got a run for his money from Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, who inexplicably decided to call the escrow account agreed to by BP and the White House a "$20 billion shakedown."

 

If Mr. Barton was trying to be supportive of Mr. Hayward, who looked like he had not slept in weeks, he failed. Mr. Hayward delivered an opening statement full of contrition for the immense damage his company has done. He then faced Henry Waxman and other veteran interrogators armed with truckloads of documents suggesting that BP had behaved sloppily at best and at worst sidestepped safety precautions to save money.

 

Mr. Hayward insisted that he had never heard of any problems in drilling and completing the well that is now spouting 60,000 barrels of oil a day. He further confessed that he did not even know his company was drilling the doomed well until the day it hit oil.

 

"I had no prior knowledge of the drilling of this well, none whatsoever," he told Representative Michael

Burgess, a Texas Republican. "With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year around the world." To which Mr. Burgess shot back: "That's what's scaring me now."

 

While the final verdict on this disaster is not in, BP's boss should at least be prepared to concede what everyone else in the world knows: BP was utterly unprepared to handle a blowout at 5,000 feet below sea level. As Mr. Waxman put it, "There is not a single e-mail or document that shows you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at the well."

 

BP's cause was hardly helped by "Smoky Joe" Barton, a reliable friend of big coal and big oil and no stranger to rhetorical excess. His "shakedown" remark was too much for some of his Republican colleagues, especially those from other gulf states. Jeff Miller of Pensacola, Fla., said Mr. Barton was "out of touch." Even John Boehner, the House minority leader, who normally cannot resist a partisan roundhouse, said "BP ought to be held responsible for every dime of this tragedy."

 

Apparently chastened by these and other reprimands, Mr. Barton later apologized for his apology to Mr. Hayward and said he regretted using the word "shakedown." He was not entirely convincing.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THAT CHEATS THE KIDS

 

The parents of children attending George Washington Elementary School in Baltimore were understandably outraged when they learned last month that someone at the school had altered thousands of answers on students' 2008 state math and reading tests to raise their scores. Following a lengthy investigation, state education officials did exactly the right thing. They revoked the principal's state teaching license and made clear that educators elsewhere could expect the same if they tampered with test results.

 

Most educators across the country administer these tests honestly and in good faith. But as The Times's Trip Gabriel reported last week, cases of test-tampering have recently turned up in at least a half-dozen states. The problem seems to be spreading since states began to evaluate teachers based at least in part on how well they improve student performance.

 

In Georgia, state officials are looking into suspicious test results at nearly 200 schools. The inquiry was triggered when computer analyses showed that someone at each of the schools had erased an inordinately large number of incorrect student answers and penciled in correct ones.

 

Groups that dislike standardized tests — and teacher accountability systems based on them — are blaming both for the cheating problem. But that's like blaming the biopsy that turns up evidence of serious disease.

 

Yearly testing, required by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, is the cornerstone of the school reform effort. It allows districts to know which reforms are working and which are not. And it is the only way to ensure that poor and minority children are being taught to meet the same standards as their affluent and white counterparts.

 

George Washington Elementary, which serves mainly poor and minority children, has clearly benefited from school reforms. In 2003, about 35 percent of the children passed the state math test. In 2009 — when the state monitored testing to prevent tampering — the pass rate reached an impressive 78 percent. One of the tragedies of the fraud is that it casts doubt on the honest achievements of hard-working children.

 

This is no time to back away from testing. States need to develop clear, well-publicized antifraud policies and act decisively when test-tampering is uncovered.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

HIJACKING THEIR WAY OUT OF TYRANNY

BY GAL BECKERMAN

 

LATE one summer night 40 years ago this month, Yosef Mendelevich, a young Soviet Jew, camped with a group of friends outside the Smolny airport near Leningrad. The next morning, they planned to commandeer a 12-seat airplane, fly it to Sweden and, once there, declare their purpose: to move to Israel, a dream they had long been denied.

 

Most in the group were pessimistic about their chances — but none more than Mr. Mendelevich. He felt sure they would get caught, but to his mind, a group suicide was preferable to a life of waiting for an exit visa that would never arrive. Even a botched attempt, he figured, would at least attract the eyes of the world.

 

Early the next day, as the plotters walked onto the tarmac, they were, indeed, caught. The K.G.B. had known of their plan for months. And the two leaders were later sentenced to death.

 

But Mr. Mendelevich was also right that their desperate act would make their demand for free emigration impossible to ignore. Now largely forgotten, this planned hijacking, and the Soviet government's overreaction to it, opened the first significant rip in the Iron Curtain, one through which hundreds of thousands would eventually flee. With great drama, it undermined Communist orthodoxy. After all, if the Bolsheviks had built the perfect society, why would any well-adjusted citizens want to leave, let alone risk their lives to do so?

 

The essential weakness of the Soviet Union was exposed: to survive, the regime had to imprison its own population. This would be the beginning of the end.

 

Jews were understandably at the forefront of the emigration battle. Even as they were forbidden to exercise any kind of Jewish identity, they also had no option to assimilate in Soviet society. Their internal passports were stamped "Jew," a word that three generations after the 1917 revolution signified little more than their status as outsiders. Many had come to feel that their existence inside the Soviet Union was untenable, that the only way to escape this paradox was to move away. But the doors were firmly shut; those who requested permission to leave were refused and then ostracized.

 

The push to emigrate, which had begun in the early 1960s as an underground movement, had grown by 1970 into an open campaign. Letters to the United Nations were signed by hundreds of Soviet Jews. Only a few months before the hijacking attempt, the Kremlin had called for a public relations counteroffensive that would paint Zionism as "a vanguard of imperialism." A large press conference was arranged with "acceptable" Jews, including the prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and the comedian Arkady Raikin, vowing loyalty to the Soviet Union and denouncing Zionism as expressing "the chauvinistic views and racist ravings of the Jewish bourgeoisie."

 

This was only the opening act. On the morning of June 15, 1970, K.G.B. agents tackled the would-be hijackers on the tarmac in Leningrad and threw them in jail. Afterward, dozens of Jewish activists unconnected to the plot were arrested. The government saw an opportunity to present Zionists as nothing more than subversive hooligans. But six months later, at their trial, the hijacking plotters offered the more compelling narrative: their story of unrequited longing for a homeland.

 

In her closing statement, Sylva Zalmanson, the only female defendant, recited from Psalm 137, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither." While she was trying to repeat the words in Hebrew, the judge shouted at her to use a language recognized by the court. In the end, Mark Dymshits and Eduard Kuznetsov, the two leaders, were sentenced to face a firing squad.

 

Worldwide reaction to the news was immediate. Overnight, the small cause of Soviet Jewry — until then supported only by impassioned students and isolated activists — became a mass movement. Italian longshoremen in Genoa refused to unload Soviet ships. Students in Stockholm marched with torches through the streets. Even Salvador Allende, Chile's Marxist president, called for clemency. In Israel, air-raid sirens blasted through the cities and 100,000 people gathered in front of the Western Wall. In Washington, Richard Nixon held an emergency meeting with leaders of Jewish groups.

 

More was at stake than just the fate of the two men. As The Times editorialized, "The real defendants in the court were not the handful of accused, but the tens of thousands of Soviet Jews who have courageously demanded the right to emigrate to Israel."

 

On New Year's Eve, less than a week after the trial, Eduard Kuznetsov was taken from his cell, certain he was going to be shot. But the prison warden told him, "A humanitarian gesture has been made on your behalf." His sentence was commuted to 15 years. All the hijackers had their time reduced, though they still spent years at hard labor camps in the Urals. Only in 1979 were Mr. Dymshits and Mr. Kuznetsov released in a spy exchange. Yosef Mendelevich was freed in 1981.

 

By overturning the death sentences, the Soviet government tacitly accepted that the hijackers' cause was one the world found to be just — and demonstrated that it was not deaf to outside opinion. Apparently, the leaders realized a hammer alone could not solve their Jewish problem. Yet neither could they simply meet the Jews' demands to allow unfettered emigration. As Anatoly Dobrynin, the longtime Soviet ambassador to the United States, would later admit in his memoirs, the Kremlin feared that emigration would "offer a degree of liberalization that might destabilize the domestic situation."

 

Still, within a month of the trial, more exit visas were being granted to Jews. By the end of 1971, 13,000 had been issued — more than in the previous 10 years combined. The following year, 32,000 people got permission to leave.

 

The bravery of the hijacking plotters also ignited a movement in the United States that would lead Congress, a few years later, to pass the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which withheld preferred trading status from the Soviet Union until it allowed tens of thousands of Jews to emigrate. The American action so exasperated Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, that he demanded that his Politburo find more creative answers to the "Jewish question." "Zionism," he told them, "is making us stupid."

 

Emigration was now linked to the Soviet-American relationship. In 1979, when the Soviets were hoping to buy more American grain and wanted to make sure a new arms limitation treaty would be signed and ratified, an unprecedented 50,000 Jews were allowed out. Just as quickly, a year later, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the spigot was turned off.

 

Ronald Reagan saw in the Soviet Jews the perfect poster children for his view of the Soviet Union as an evil empire. Unlike Richard Nixon, President Reagan was publicly sympathetic to the emigration movement, and unlike Jimmy Carter, he wielded human rights as a strategic weapon rather than just touting it as a moral cause. Only a few months after Yosef Mendelevich was let out of prison, he was invited to the White House.

 

George Shultz, the secretary of state in the Reagan administration, made it clear time and again that not only trade but even arms control talks would depend on the emigration issue. By 1985, well before glasnost and perestroika, Anatoly Chernyaev, a foreign policy aide to Mikhail Gorbachev, would write in his diary, "We have to solve the Jewish question, the most burning of human rights problems."

 

But the true solution was no less mortal a threat to the Soviets in the late 1980s than it had been in 1970. If they let the Jews leave, what would keep everyone else from doing the same?

 

When Soviet Jews finally emigrated en masse — nearly 1.5 million by the end of the 1990s — it looked like just another happy side effect of the Soviet Union's collapse, another wall crumbling. Forgotten were the decades of pushing from the inside. The Soviet Union might have gone the way of China and had an economic liberalization that ignored human rights. But this option was not open, because the Soviet Jews made it clear that any change would need to include open borders.

 

As a result, not only were hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews able to build new lives, but forces were set in

motion that would bring down the Berlin Wall and, eventually, an empire — a world-shaking transformation born from the hopes once placed on a small airplane that never even left the ground.

 

Gal Beckerman, a staff writer at The Forward, is the author of the forthcoming "When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THAT '30S FEELING

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

BERLIN

 

Suddenly, creating jobs is out, inflicting pain is in. Condemning deficits and refusing to help a still-struggling economy has become the new fashion everywhere, including the United States, where 52 senators voted against extending aid to the unemployed despite the highest rate of long-term joblessness since the 1930s.

 

Many economists, myself included, regard this turn to austerity as a huge mistake. It raises memories of 1937, when F.D.R.'s premature attempt to balance the budget helped plunge a recovering economy back into severe recession. And here in Germany, a few scholars see parallels to the policies of Heinrich Brüning, the chancellor from 1930 to 1932, whose devotion to financial orthodoxy ended up sealing the doom of the Weimar Republic.

 

But despite these warnings, the deficit hawks are prevailing in most places — and nowhere more than here, where the government has pledged 80 billion euros, almost $100 billion, in tax increases and spending cuts even though the economy continues to operate far below capacity.

 

What's the economic logic behind the government's moves? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there isn't any. Press German officials to explain why they need to impose austerity on a depressed economy, and you get rationales that don't add up. Point this out, and they come up with different rationales, which also don't add up. Arguing with German deficit hawks feels more than a bit like arguing with U.S. Iraq hawks back in 2002: They know what they want to do, and every time you refute one argument, they just come up with another.

 

Here's roughly how the typical conversation goes (this is based both on my own experience and that of other American economists):

 

German hawk: "We must cut deficits immediately, because we have to deal with the fiscal burden of an aging population."

 

Ugly American: "But that doesn't make sense. Even if you manage to save 80 billion euros — which you won't, because the budget cuts will hurt your economy and reduce revenues — the interest payments on that much debt would be less than a tenth of a percent of your G.D.P. So the austerity you're pursuing will threaten economic recovery while doing next to nothing to improve your long-run budget position."

 

German hawk: "I won't try to argue the arithmetic. You have to take into account the market reaction."

 

Ugly American: "But how do you know how the market will react? And anyway, why should the market be

moved by policies that have almost no impact on the long-run fiscal position?"

 

German hawk: "You just don't understand our situation."

 

The key point is that while the advocates of austerity pose as hardheaded realists, doing what has to be done, they can't and won't justify their stance with actual numbers — because the numbers do not, in fact, support their position. Nor can they claim that markets are demanding austerity. On the contrary, the German government remains able to borrow at rock-bottom interest rates.

 

So the real motivations for their obsession with austerity lie somewhere else.

In America, many self-described deficit hawks are hypocrites, pure and simple: They're eager to slash benefits for those in need, but their concerns about red ink vanish when it comes to tax breaks for the wealthy. Thus, Senator Ben Nelson, who sanctimoniously declared that we can't afford $77 billion in aid to the unemployed, was instrumental in passing the first Bush tax cut, which cost a cool $1.3 trillion.

 

German deficit hawkery seems more sincere. But it still has nothing to do with fiscal realism. Instead, it's about moralizing and posturing. Germans tend to think of running deficits as being morally wrong, while balancing budgets is considered virtuous, never mind the circumstances or economic logic. "The last few hours were a singular show of strength," declared Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, after a special cabinet meeting agreed on the austerity plan. And showing strength — or what is perceived as strength — is what it's all about.

 

There will, of course, be a price for this posturing. Only part of that price will fall on Germany: German austerity will worsen the crisis in the euro area, making it that much harder for Spain and other troubled economies to recover. Europe's troubles are also leading to a weak euro, which perversely helps German manufacturing, but also exports the consequences of German austerity to the rest of the world, including the United States.

 

But German politicians seem determined to prove their strength by imposing suffering — and politicians around the world are following their lead.

 

How bad will it be? Will it really be 1937 all over again? I don't know. What I do know is that economic policy around the world has taken a major wrong turn, and that the odds of a prolonged slump are rising by the day.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

TRIM THE 'EXPERTS,' TRUST THE LOCALS

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

On Tuesday, The Times ran a front-page article on the chaotic efforts to clean up the oil washing around the Gulf of Mexico. Campbell Robertson reported on an incident in which boats that were supposed to be laying boom were, in fact, anchored on the wrong side of a bay in Louisiana. They were helpless as oil oozed in from the gulf, and BP had no way of contacting the workers to get the boats moving.

 

The article described a cleanup operation that is overwhelmed. "From the beginning," Robertson wrote, "the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP."

 

Some of the chaos was inevitable, once this much oil started gushing into the coastal waters. What was not inevitable, however, was the sense of insult and rage local officials now feel.

 

If you talk to elected leaders from Louisiana to Florida, they fill your ears with tales of incompetence — of advice that was not heeded, of red tape stifling effective operations, of local knowledge that was cast aside and trampled.

 

If you read the local news media from the gulf region, this anger flows out in article after article. "The information is not flowing," Senator Bill Nelson of Florida told a Senate hearing. "The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess, with no command and control."

 

Tony Kennon, the mayor of Orange Beach, Ala., waited helplessly as federal planners failed to protect his town's beaches. "It was a very discombobulated and discoordinated effort. It still is," he told The Press Register of Mobile last week. "And they've had five weeks to plan this."

 

The most common complaint you read in the local papers is that lines of authority are either tangled or opaque. "If you asked me today, 'Who was in charge: the Coast Guard, BP or their subcontractors?' I couldn't look you in the eye and tell you who was making the decisions," Billy Nungesser, the president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

 

Local officials in Magnolia Springs, Ala., drew up plans to protect the Magnolia River. They sent the plans up the chain of command for approval in mid-May, and it took weeks of confusion before they heard back. "This is the biggest damn mess I've ever seen," Gib Hixon of the Fish River/Marlow Fire and Rescue Department told Jay Reeves, a reporter for The Associated Press.

 

Others describe times when the cleanup plans were effective, but there was no follow-through. An article in The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., described how federal, state and BP officials fly over coastal areas and recommend where cleanup work should be done. But then the plans don't get executed.

 

"It's drawn up right. It's just not happening that way," said Louis Buatt of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

 

Leaders in Okaloosa County, Fla., had a state-approved plan to protect their waterways, but then the Coast Guard raised a fuss, and now they've got to start over, according to The Northwest Florida Daily News of Fort Walton Beach.

 

The Times-Picayune reported this week that state officials claim "Louisiana's efforts to attack oil approaching coastal wetlands have repeatedly been stymied by BP and federal officials."

 

Many locals say that they are perpetually in the dark. "Calls go into a maddeningly circuitous string of dead ends, as local residents, businesses and Herald reporters can attest," declared an editorial in The Bradenton Herald of Bradenton, Fla.

 

In Louisiana, Deano Bonano, a Jefferson Parish administrator, has tried to get information on marsh cleanup plans. "I cannot get an answer," he e-mailed The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

 

In article after article, you see local officials exploding in anger. Bill McCollum, Florida's attorney general, has called himself "absolutely appalled." Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said this week, "We are not winning this war."

 

The county commissioners in Okaloosa County, Fla., got so fed up with outside interference that they unanimously voted to give their emergency management team the power to do whatever it wants. "We made the decision legislatively to break the laws if necessary," Chairman Wayne Harris told The Northwest Florida Daily News.

 

Some of this rage is unavoidable when you have a crisis that no one can control. But it's also clear that we have a federalism problem. All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above.

 

The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON GULF DISASTER: BIG OIL'S SHODDY SPILL PLANS REFLECT INDUSTRY'S ARROGANCE

 

It was almost comical to hear chief executives of major oil companies sheepishly admitting to Congress this week that most of them had virtually the same worthless, cookie-cutter plan for coping with oil spills. It vowed to protect walruses, a species that hasn't inhabited the Gulf of Mexico for 3 million years, and as part of the emergency response, it listed the phone number of a marine biologist who has been dead since 2005.

 

Far less amusing is the fact a federal agency used those plans as the basis for granting the companies drilling permits. Apparently, none of the drillers — or the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency in charge of holding their feet to the fire — had the imagination, the humility or the integrity to think it might actually have to put such plans into operation.

 

The consequences of this smug assurance are on display every day on BP's "spillcam" and on beaches around the Gulf. The industry cleanup consortium that objected to being called "overmatched" in the early days of the spill can hardly argue anymore that it's up to the job.

 

The reality is that the industry was ready for routine spills from tankers and barges, or from production platforms damaged by storms, but it wasn't even remotely prepared for a spill now estimated at up to 60,000 barrels a day. Permit applications that asserted the companies could handle spills twice or three times as big were simply a fraud, one to which the executives essentially confessed at the hearing.

 

"When these things happen, we are not well-equipped to deal with them," ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said matter-of-factly, as if that's something everyone should have expected from one of the wealthiest industries on the planet. "There will be impacts, as we are seeing. "

 

Tillerson and the other executives implied that they wouldn't have made the same mistakes that BP did in bringing the Deepwater Horizon well to grief, and here they might have a point. The more we learn about what happened in the final days and hours before the April 20 blowout, the more it looks as if BP officials made a series of reckless, corner-cutting decisions. Until this incident, the industry had a remarkable safety record — no serious drilling-related spill in U.S. waters since 1969, including numerous deep-water wells in the Gulf.

 

Even so, the accident exposed the fact that the other major oil companies are in no better position than BP to plug this sort of deep-sea blowout or clean it up. Given that revelation, the Obama administration imposed a six-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling in the Gulf. This will allow time to make sure the rigs — 33 of which were already deployed — can operate as safely as the companies claim. One obvious safety improvement is to mandate more redundant shut-off mechanisms to stop a blowout.

 

The moratorium is not an action to be take blithely. It carries major economic costs in the Gulf, and if it can be shortened, it should be. But first, the administration must be able to plausibly tell people that the chance of a new blowout is in fact as remote as it seemed to be for the past four decades. To do otherwise would be like allowing a restaurant to stay open after discovering it had been serving rancid food. In addition — and apart from the moratorium — oil companies must be forced to show that if there is another accident, they could snuff the well a lot more quickly than BP has — and contain the spill as effectively as they claimed when they got their drilling permits in the first place.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON GULF DISASTER: WE WILL MAKE CHANGES

BY JACK N. GERARD

 

President Obama spoke eloquently from the Oval Office Tuesday night about the challenges facing our country as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Since the tragic accident, our thoughts and prayers have been with our workers and their neighbors along the coast. Our focus, however, has been on helping to stop the spill, clean up the oil and — once the causes of the spill are known — prevent it from happening again.

 

In fact, we have already begun. We have assembled five expert task forces to address issues related to offshore equipment, operating practices, oil spill containment and cleanup. Two of those task forces have submitted recommendations to the Department of the Interior, which incorporated them in its report to the president.

 

The industry's commitment to safety and environmental protection is real and strong, but the tragedy in the Gulf clearly demonstrates the need to review our practices. Investigations will identify needed changes. We will make them.

 

We support the efforts to halt the spill, make the Gulf whole and find ways to prevent future spills. We have great concerns, however, about what an extended moratorium could mean to the nation.

 

It could endanger our nation's economy and its energy security. And, because it will place in jeopardy thousands of offshore and onshore jobs, it will particularly hit hard those already suffering, the Gulf states' residents.

 

An extended moratorium wouldn't reduce our need for oil and natural gas. It would only force us to import more because idle rigs can move to operate in other countries' waters. It would take months or longer to bring them back once they are gone.

 

Americans are frustrated, and they expect better industry performance. We accept that and are committed to providing energy safely and reliably. But halting offshore development, despite successful safety reviews of every Gulf rig, without a definite end date, must be evaluated with a realistic view of the energy needed to keep our economy moving, and an understanding of what it would do to Gulf coast states.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

FATHER'S DAY TREAT: THE BRADLEES BOOK

PLAIN TALK BY AL NEUHARTH, USA TODAY FOUNDER

 

The dad is 88 years old. Ben Bradlee. As longtime executive editor of The Washington Post, he became one of the best-known media executives in the country.

 

The son is 28. Quinn Bradlee. He was born with a heart defect and a learning disability. Now he has overcome or learned to live with his challenges.

 

They have co-authored a new book called A Life's Work: Fathers and Sons (Simon and Schuster, $19.99). It's available just in time for a Father's Day gift. It sure beats giving Dad a necktie or a bottle of booze.

 

Father and son both tell moving stories. But the son's personal achievements are most compelling. Examples:

 

•He has launched the website FriendsOfQuinn.com to help learning-disabled kids and their families.

 

•He has made a series of short documentary films about children with learning disabilities (LD).

 

The book recites touching accounts of how they bonded best by working outdoors together in the woods on a farm on weekends. The wife and mother, Sally Quinn— noted journalist in her own right — adds some forceful family stories.

 

For those who knew Bradlee in the olden days, his transition is especially telling.

 

When he edited The Washington Post, he was one of the crustiest journalists in the Nation's Capital. He realized how good he was, but he expressed little regard or respect for others in the news media.

 

After we started USA TODAY in 1982, a reporter asked him whether he thought it could qualify as one of the top newspapers. His reply: "If it can, I'm in the wrong business."

 

I responded publicly that I agreed he was in the wrong business.

 

Since our retirement, we've both mellowed as old dads (88 and 86). But he had further to go than I did, so he deserves a better grade.

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

IN DEATH, ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT DAD MELT AWAY

 

I didn't think my father cared about me. I left Hong Kong at age 5, when my mother divorced my father in 1968. My father never contacted me. I lived in America. He lived a world away. Then in 1996, at age 33, I returned with my mom to Hong Kong and met my father. I spoke only English. He spoke only Cantonese. My mother needed to serve as interpreter.

 

After I married my wife, Quyen, in 1998, I visited Hong Kong again to introduce her to my father. When Quyen and I had kids, I heard through my mom that he wanted to see our children. So I invited him to the U.S., told him I would pay for his plane ticket and that he could stay with us. But I never received a response. I didn't think he cared. So I went about my life.

 

In March, my father suffered a stroke and died. It was my family's obligation to go to Hong Kong to take part in the funeral. I was his only child; my kids were his only grandchildren. Once there, my father's younger brother brought my father's possessions to me. From a faded, leather carrying bag, my uncle took out a small, tarnished brass picture frame holding a photo of Quyen and me at our wedding reception. My uncle told me that my father kept the picture on his nightstand beside his bed. It was his favorite. Then my uncle handed me a worn, crusty plain brown packaging envelope, which contained photographs and cards my mom had sent my father throughout the years.

 

There were pictures of me in my college cap and gown, Quyen and me at a formal dinner while dating, the two of us beaming at our wedding reception, our son Kevin on his third birthday, a 5-month-old Kristie cradled in my left arm on the couch. I found Christmas cards from my mother nestled between the photos, and a neatly folded paper with a hand-drawn heart and a message of love from Kristie.

 

I leafed through more pictures and discovered a group shot of my father, mother and me next to a number of relatives and friends on a pier in Hong Kong. I must've been 4 at the time. I came upon another photo of me in elementary school, maybe 8 years old and wearing a gaudy blue sweater. My father had kept every item relating to me and my family.

 

My uncle said my father never traveled. In his 76 years of life, my father had never been on an airplane.

 

For most of my life, I didn't think my father cared about me. As I looked upon the pictures of my family with tears in my eyes, I knew I was wrong.

 

Ray M. Wong is a writer based in San Diego.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

 

OPINIONLINE

 

Alan Colmes, radio host, on AOL News: "President Obama gave his first Oval Office address since becoming president, and he clearly and concisely explained what had been done, what is being done and what needs to be done to address the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Who among us would do a better job in such a crisis? ... Yes, President Obama was short on specifics, but ... this speech was meant to give a broad overview and to let America, and the world, know that the president is in charge and can even feel our pain. ... Obama can't 'stop the gusher,' but neither can his critics. If they can, it's their patriotic duty to catch the next plane for the Gulf and do so immediately."

 

Tina Brown, blogger, on The Daily Beast: "Obama's speech was a strong energy bill pitch, necessary and resounding — a good use of the Rahm Emanuel theory that you should never let a crisis go to waste. But he didn't do what was needed: convey the sense that the CEO is back from offsite and now deeply, viscerally engaged in the messy process of management. The speech showcased what he has always shown us he is good at — articulating the overarching goal, and ramping up the rhetoric to meet it. But he cited too many names that have already lost our vote. ... Energy Secretary Steven Chu (is) leading what Obama called 'a team of the nation's best scientists and engineers' in combating the spill, even as he ups the estimate of how much is gushing out from the ocean floor: The fishermen of the Gulf probably have views of where he can put his Nobel."

 

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, in an editorial: "We ... want (Obama) to understand that his most decisive response to the oil spill — a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling — threatens to capsize our already struggling economy. We want specifics about what his administration plans to do to help sustain the economy in the meantime, and we want specifics about his plans for restoring 'the unique beauty and bounty of this region.' ... The president said he understands that his moratorium 'creates difficulty' for us, but he wasn't very convincing. He's right when he says the oil is producing anxiety that we'll lose our way of life but seems unaware that his moratorium does the same thing."

 

Byron York, columnist, in The (Washington) Examiner: "Stopping the leak ... was a topic the president sidestepped during his 18-minute speech. And yet polls show it is the most pressing priority for Americans when they think about the Gulf oil disaster, with many Americans wondering whether the federal government has really done everything that can be done to stop the flow of oil. Hearing the president invoke American technological genius in the service of his political goal — a cap-and-trade bill — while remaining silent on the application of that technological genius to the problem at hand in the Gulf cannot have increased the public's confidence in Obama's ability to handle the crisis."

 

The New York Times, in an editorial: "We know that the country is eager for reassurance. We're not sure the American people got it from a speech that was short on specifics and devoid of self-criticism. Certainly, we hope that Obama was right when he predicted that in 'coming weeks and days,' up to 90% of the oil leaking from the well will be captured and the well finally capped by this summer. But he was less than frank about his administration's faltering efforts to manage this vast environmental and human disaster."

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

'TEA PARTY' TOOK ROOT BEFORE OBAMA

BY CHUCK RAASCH

 

WASHINGTON — It is a misnomer and political miscalculation for detractors and supporters of the "Tea Party" movement to view it strictly as a recoil to President Obama and his policies.

 

Indeed, as leading conservative activists, thinkers and writers said this week, millions of conservative Americans seethed in quiet discontent over the spending and growth of the federal government under Republican George W. Bush. Only the fight against terrorism kept the fire from breaking out under Bush's watch.

 

Some trace the Tea Party's roots as far back as Bush's decision to endorse then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter over his limited-government primary opponent, Pat Toomey, in a 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary.

 

Specter later switched parties, lost a primary as a Democrat this year, and will leave office as the target of much ridicule on the right. Toomey is the GOP nominee in a closely contested Pennsylvania Senate race with liberal Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.

 

"Whatever lit the kindling that caused this conflagration, what dried out the kindling in many respects was eight years of George Bush," said conservative author and columnist Jonah Goldberg. "There is a certain element of the Tea Party movement that is delayed Bush backlash (to the) . . . endorsement of Specter, the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the expansion of Medicare, No Child Left Behind (education reform).

 

"There was a lot that a lot of loyal Republicans put up with, and conservatives put up with, because the war on terror was a legitimate, overriding issue," Goldberg said.

 

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who voted against the Wall Street bailout last fall, says the Tea Party is an "authentic American movement" that is "not from any political party."

 

"There was a sense that compassionate conservatism (under Bush) was just another phrase for big-government Republicanism," said Pence, who some think might run for president in 2012.

 

Goldberg and Pence spoke Wednesday at a forum on the Tea Party and populism sponsored by the conservative Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal. The panel also included former House Republican leader Dick Armey, who has helped organize Tea Party protests; author and commentator Bill Kristol; and Michael Barone, author and editor of the influential Almanac of American Politics.

 

Among the key agreements:

 

— Tea Party stirrings picked up with the bailout of Wall Street banks and brokerage houses under Bush in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, and really accelerated with Obama's $787 billion stimulus package early in 2009.

 

"The Obama administration took runaway spending under the Bush administration and put it on steroids," Pence said.

 

Some economists believe that, while the spending did not prevent unemployment from rising above 8% as Obama predicted, it helped the United States avoid far worse economic fallout from the failure of big banks, brokerage houses and the bursting of a decades-long real estate bubble.

 

— Attacks on Sarah Palin, who has become a voice if not a leader of the movement, also helped galvanize Tea

Party protesters. Kristol said that "liberals and a media elite" were bent on destroying Palin because she "didn't

come from them." Kristol was an early supporter of Palin before Sen. John McCain asked her to run for vice president during his presidential campaign against Obama.

 

— This Tea Party is the fifth grassroots, limited-government movement in the past 50 years, but only the second rising from what Armey called "fear and despair."

 

Armey said the movement behind Barry Goldwater in 1964, the one that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the one that led to Republican takeover of the Congress in 1994, were "waves of optimism, hope and expectation."

 

But this movement, and the one that led to Ross Perot's third-party candidacy in 1992 and 1996, were products of "angry disappointment," Armey said.

 

— Perot is a lesson for Tea Party activists tempted to start a new party, and for a GOP establishment unsure of how to react to it. What started out as a Perot-led, centrist movement around the deficit and entitlement reform faded into a distant third party in both 1992 and 1996.

 

"Third parties are like bees," Goldberg said. "They have their influence by stinging, and then they die. If the Tea Party successfully stings the Republican Party into girding its loins and returning to its roots and providing a choice and all of these sorts of things, it will already have served its purpose." He predicted the Tea Party would fail if it turned into "a fighting wedge for pro-life causes" or strayed from a "constitutional argument" focusing on "government living within its means." Echoing a familiar Tea Party claim that Obama is pushing the United States toward European big-government models, he said the Tea Party would be most effective as an "antibody to the imposition of Euro-sclerosis that we see from Obama."

 

(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at craasch(AT)gannett.com, follow him at http://twitter.com/craasch or join in the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/raaschcolumn)

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

DIETARY HABITS IN NEED OF CHANGE

 

Many Americans are aware of what they should do to improve their diet and health. The mantra is familiar -- eat more fruits, vegetables, high-fiber whole grains and certain types of seafood and cut back on salt, sugar and saturated fats. Not enough people heed that advice. The result is that Americans are increasingly overweight and obese and, as a result, more prone to diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet.

 

The federal government is aware of the problem and has long been involved in providing information to correct it. The familiar food pyramid is the most prominent example of that campaign. Every five years, in fact, an advisory panel surveys the nation's dietary habits and then suggests changes to the food pyramid and other federal projects and programs -- including school lunch and other nutrition programs -- to improve the U.S. diet.

 

This week, the panel made preliminary recommendations for revising those guidelines for the next five years.

The panel specifically suggested that the government encourage Americans to reduce their daily salt intake from the currently recommended 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 daily. That is an ambitious goal; average daily consumption of salt now stands at 3,400 milligrams. The experts recognize the difficulty in achieving that goal.

 

The panel says it will be "challenging to achieve the lower level." It does recommend that the reduction take place over time, though it offers no advice on how long that should be. Given Americans' demonstrated propensity for ignoring dietary advice, more specific guidelines might be useful, or at least harder to disregard.

 

The panel also suggested that officials emphasize the importance of a balanced diet and improve nutrition education and cooking programs to promote consumption of healthy foods. They recommended, as well, expanded school-based emphasis on health, nutrition and the need for physical activity. The recommendations have merit, and should be incorporated into the final version of diet guidelines issued at year's end.

 

That's the easy part. The more difficult task will be to convince Americans to incorporate the guidelines into their daily lives rather than to acknowledge and then ignore them.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

GOOD LOCAL JOB NEWS IN BAD TIMES

 

It's a terrible thing if anyone really needs a job, and really wants a job, but can't find one. That is especially challenging in a time of general economic crisis. But we hastily observe that Chattanooga-area people have more reasons for optimism than most.

 

There are many job opportunities beginning to be developed in our area. Foremost, of course, is the big, new Volkswagen plant. It will provide about 2,000 jobs -- and then generate thousands of others that will be related closely or generally.

 

Several other significant companies are planning to locate or expand here. Their job openings will "fit" many local people, but also will create large and small opportunities for both skilled and unskilled people who want to work and make significant contributions for self-support and general economic benefit.

 

There are lots of eager and able Chattanooga-area people who want to be a part of success and earn just rewards.

 

For example, when the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chattanooga Times Free Press invited job seekers to a JobsFest 2010 event at the Chattanooga Convention Center Wednesday, about 1,500 people showed up. We hope all of them were inspired and that most of them will find positive answers, or at least some leads, for jobs that need to be done.

 

Nearly everyone really wants to be financially independent, to have a constructive purpose in life, and to earn

good results.

 

We are fortunate that Chattanooga is a progress-minded community and that our local economy is better than most -- and "looking up."

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

BILLIONS MORE $$ FOR GOVERNMENT?

 

Nobody should delight in the prospect that someone will be laid off -- even if that "someone" is part of a bloated government bureaucracy.

 

Government has undoubtedly gotten far too big and has many employees who never should have been hired in the first place. But that is more the fault of lawmakers who decide how to spend your tax dollars than of individuals who are hired by government. Regardless, it is unpleasant to see the rug pulled out from under any worker who is trying to make ends meet.

 

But with all that said, can you believe that Democrats in Congress have been demanding that billions more dollars be spent to prop up jobs in state and local government around the country? President Barack Obama supports the spending and "did not propose to offset the cost of any state aid with savings from other spending cuts or tax increases," The New York Times reported.

 

Has it escaped Democrats' notice that most of the millions of layoffs over the past couple years have come not in government but in the private sector? Are they unaware that Congress' so-called "stimulus" spending has often protected government jobs rather than "created or saved" jobs in the productive private sector?

 

Do they not realize our nation faces a debilitating $13 trillion national debt, on which we must pay hundreds of billions of dollars in interest every year? Those monstrous payments require money that cannot be used for constitutional purposes such as national defense, nor be left in taxpayers' pockets so they can invest in job-creating ventures.

 

When politicians want to raise taxes, they often talk of "shared sacrifices" by everyone. But when will government -- especially the federal government -- begin "sharing in the sacrifice" by tightening its belt? Is there any reason why government workers ought to be provided special protection (courtesy of taxpayers) from the economic crisis that is taking a painful toll on everyone else?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

THE EPA AND 'MILK POLLUTION'

 

We don't doubt that it would be a big mess if a storage tank containing thousands of gallons of milk were suddenly to rupture and spill its contents. But would any reasonable person liken that to the environmental hazard of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico?

 

Well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does. It has classified milk as "oil." Why? Because milk contains some animal fat -- even though it is biodegradable and certainly is nothing like petroleum.

 

Under the EPA's regulation, come November, dairy farmers would have to develop and put into place expensive plans to prevent spills from their milk storage tanks. That process could cost thousands of dollars, a spokesman for the Michigan Farm Bureau told The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, and that would mean higher prices for consumers.

 

"This is an example of where we have overreach by the department that defies common sense," said Matt Smego, of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

 

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would forbid the EPA to enforce such ridiculous rules about milk storage.

 

It is a sign of how absurd some federal regulation has become that such legislation should even be necessary.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ASSERTIVE TALK NO GOOD FOR FINE DIPLOMACY

 

A lot has happened since May 31, the date of a tragic event that claimed the lives of nine civilians by Israeli troops what foreign minister described as Turkey's 9/11. Turkey launched a diplomatic war against Israel, used almost all international forums for the condemnation of the Israeli assault on humanitarian ships in international waters, looked into some potential measures to take as a show of reaction and continuously slammed the Israeli government.

 

In parallel, it also made clear that it had some expectations from Israel, if the latter did not want further deterioration in bilateral ties. "If these are not met, we'll downgrade our diplomatic representation in this country to the level of chargé d'affair," Thursday's Daily News quoted Turkish diplomatic sources as saying. Among expectations are an official apology, compensation for victims on the aid ship Mavi Marmara, the return of the three Turkish ships in the flotilla and the establishment of an impartial inquiry commission into the incident.

 

On the other side of the coin are the expectations of some circles of the Turkish public opinion. These circles are pressing on the government to cut all diplomatic ties with Israel, to annul all military and defense deals and etc. They are one step away from asking the government to declare war against Israel. It was Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç who replied to those groups in the early days of the flotilla crisis when he said: "No one shall expect us to declare war."

 

We applauded Arınç when he said this. But doesn't the government have responsibility in provoking the masses against Israel? What Israel did has no definition in the dictionary of humanity. It's in its clearest form of brutality that obviously requires reciprocity – as the government assured – in legal and diplomatic ways.

 

What we observe, however, is going beyond what a mature and responsible government would do in such cases.

 

Statements by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and some other Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials can be seen as evidence of the ruling party's intention to exploit the Israeli crisis in the domestic politics. The decision not to include deputies from opposition parties in the delegation of AKP lawmakers sent to Israel for the safe return of the activists strengthens this view.

 

The government is likely to announce "its new round of sanctions" against Israel in the days ahead.

 

For a fine and respected diplomacy, we believe the steps to be taken should be free of domestic policy concerns. These steps should not target Israeli people and should not hurt Turkey's interests either. That's the only way for a great state like Turkey to keep itself balanced in the worldwide debate on shifting axes.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

BEING 'ORIENTALIST' OR BECOMING 'MIDDLE EASTERN'

NURAY MERT

 

These are not the issues that can be explained in an article deservedly. But I've tried to write about how I look at the "shift of political axis." I said my real concern was the danger of a "shift in the axis of democracy" in national politics via a shift in foreign policy of Turkey.

 

In the meantime, internal politics turning more authoritarian every day and the setup is via anti-Semitism. I said this will take Turkey closer to the Middle East, not the authoritarian political scene of the Middle East. But saying is one thing and adopting an "Orientalist" language by using a term like "becoming Middle Eastern" is another.

 

Kadir Gürsel of Milliyet daily in his article "To be or not to be Middle Eastern" (June 14, 2010) adopts a somewhat sharper and more direct language as opposed to what some imply indirectly.

 

"In the political culture of the Middle East," he wrote "theocracy, fundamentalism, monarchism, authoritarianism, nepotism, tribalism, sectarianism, pressuring religious and ethnic minorities, genociders and insults to women are together. In addition to all these, can you point out a single positive dominant element?"

 

Now, at this point, I want to say to him "Wait a minute."

 

To say "Let's look at today's Middle East, we see authoritarian regimes, monarchism, sectarianism etc. So we have to question all these and save ourselves from a romantic atmosphere of the Middle East," which is one thing. To read all negativities of mankind into the political culture of the Middle East - such an approach is the very self of "Orientalism," which reads what is "historic" into "cultural." And this is not different from "anti-Semitism" and "Occidentalism," which sees the West as the center of all evil. Moreover, Orientalism is a hegemonic approach bothering the mind of men excessively via colonialism.

 

Aside from the Western look to the East, not only in Turkey but in non-Western countries, the "internalization of Orientalism" dominates. What I mean by "internalized Orientalism" is "being part of Orientalism" or "penetration into Orientalism." In other words, it is to look down on the West, or the Arab, or non-Western everything. It is to experience an inferiority complex because of seeing one's self in this angle.

 

Apparently, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to refer to this angle as part of his latest "Arab"

initiative! However, his referrals are problematic, just like the "Arab initiative" itself.

First of all, the only reason why Turkey has been standing at a distance from the Arab World or the Middle East for a long time is not the "internalized Orientalism" that undoubtedly dominates the republican period of Turkey. The main element here is political preferences of the Cold War period! Secondly, the approach that Erdoğan complains about - "Some name their dogs after Arabs" - stands on a different reference point. Let me elaborate this:

 

Although the word "Arab" has been modified in our culture, since the Ottoman period, we have meant not the Arab nation but dark-skinned people by the word "Arab." I am not saying to make an excuse for "naming dogs after Arabs." To the contrary, the issue turns more racist at this point.

 

Secondly, negative remarks about Arabs have not been explored in the Republican era. The Ottomans term Arabs as "Noble People" (kavm-i necip) and come up with idioms involving the term. This, in general, is about the Ottoman aristocratic looking to all people. For this reason exactly, Turks are termed as "unperceptive" (etrak-ı bi idrak).

 

At milestones of history, in particular, historic prejudices, national/religious identities, Orientalism, "internalized Orientalism" etc. all these concepts and categories should be re-checked. Let's mull over them. At this point, again, let's discuss the issue of "anti-Semitism." On this particular subject, lastly, I see Deputy Prime Minister Hüseyin Çelik's interview with Devrim Sevimay of Milliyet daily on June 14. Clearly, he is not convincing when Çelik blames the single-party period for the anti-Semitic approach in Turkey and ignores the anti-Semitic tradition that appears as a mentality trying to link anything negative to Jews.

 

It seems that, however, those who have adopted a way of thinking that reads history as a "Jewish plot" and links

every ill to Jews easily uses "anti-Semitic" language. On the other hand, those who start from an Orientalist approach find themselves in the very same language. In the end, unless everyone stops labeling each other and starts questioning himself/herself first, we will not be able to discuss the issue properly.

 

Most importantly, what we call "discussion" is not "brainstorming." We always forget that debates are the final resort of democratic politics. If we lose it, everyone will pay the price!

 

* Ms. Nuray Mert is a columnist for the daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

FATMANUR ERDOĞAN

 

fati@fatierdogan.com

As I write this week's column, I am sitting in a large conference hall at the Swiss Hotel in Istanbul, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Thomas Friedman. Friedman is an internationally-renowned author, reporter, and columnist, the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes and the author of five bestselling books. His latest work is called "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," and that perfectly describes the packed room where he is about to speak. 

 

These days Friedman talks a lot about the environment, but he is no Al Gore. His PowerPoint presentation doesn't overwhelm the audience with gloriously-lit charts and he doesn't speak of devastation and doom to come. Instead, he is a "sober optimist" who sees in environmental challenges the opportunity to become better citizens of the world.  

 

Friedman's speaking style is genuine and informative, and his words real, serious, and to the point. He envisions a world that takes responsibility now rather than later. He says the baby boomers of 20 or 30 years ago could afford to do things "later," but generations today must act now. He reminds us that simply using the word "green" doesn't make a company green. In fact, he says, companies can use the word green to distract people from the fact they are anything but, like the way BP talks about green practices in its annual report, but is now responsible for one of the world's largest oil spills ever. To Friedman, genuine caring for the world is not expressed through a green revolution per se - after all, he asks us, "Have you ever seen a revolution without a fight?" Instead, genuine caring for the world takes place through the innovation and entrepreneurship that will create sustainability. 

 

His book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" is about exactly that: creating a sustainable world through innovation. By hot, he means global warming. By flat, he means a globalization that has brought sameness to societies. And by crowded, he means a growing population and its impact on biodiversity. He wakes us up to the dangers of an environmental crisis in his own unique way: "The world is warming up by 2 degrees, which doesn't seem much to most. After all the number looks and feels 'small.' But if your body temperature goes up by 2 degrees, you have a fever. And if it goes up by another 2 degrees, you end up in the hospital."

 

Friedman is convinced that the next era of innovation will be in "Energy Technology," which he calls ET. He says, "I don't know who will lead it, but I know that the next generation will be about ET." He calls on entrepreneurs and researchers to take action so that new, clean, inexpensive alternative energy resources are made available sooner rather than later. The world can't wait. He tells us, "We are the first generation to strategically do something for our survival." 

 

More than just urging a few people to create this new era though, Friedman asks all of us with creative minds to explore opportunities collectively so we can innovate towards a sustainable world.  

 

Put this way, entrepreneurial creativity is not just a path to financial success and happiness. It is a moral calling. It is our duty to the world. When you hear that, how can you not find the courage to venture out of the port and explore unknown seas?

 

For those of you inspired by Friedman's words, take your quest to Özyeğin University. The university fosters innovation with programs and a center devoted to the kind of entrepreneurship Friedman encourages. And with an initiative called research@ozyegin, the University has set a goal to become a research-oriented institute, a notion unheard of in Turkey in the past. At Özyeğin you will find others of a like mind engaging in passionate discussion and debate and building the foundations of responsible learning.  

 

I am in awe of the faculty's caliber, its boldness, and its vision for the future. Hüsnü Özyeğin and the university's leadership team aim to nurture the actions that will benefit our communities and create a more sustainable world. That is exactly the kind of institution that can forge a path into Friedman's new era.

 

www.fatmanurerdogan.com

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

DIRE REMARKS ON EUROPE FROM MEN AT THE HELM

SEMIH IDIZ

 

The head of Turkey's General Secretariat for the European Union, Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso were quoted this week uttering what appear to be prophetic remarks about the EU and Turkey's relations with it.

 

Addressing a conference in Izmir on Tuesday, Ambassador Bozkir was reported as saying "The EU dream is over. The EU is no longer a place that provides money for new members. It has become a place that has to deal with the problems of its own members."

 

Ambassador Bozkir went on to indicate that this did not mean Turkey was giving up on its EU bid, adding that he still expected membership, which he declared to be "inevitable" from a European point of view.

 

But his words clearly reflect a growing feeling in Turkey about Europe, and it is not an optimistic one.

 

Remarks attributed to Mr. Barroso in the European press, on the other hand, were far more dramatic than Ambassador Bozkir's words and will no doubt contribute further to this pessimistic outlook among Turks concerning the future of the EU.

 

It is indeed hard to believe and perhaps somewhat ironic from a Turkish point of view, but it seems that, according to Mr. Barroso, democracy could collapse in Greece, Spain and Portugal unless urgent action is taken to tackle the current debt crisis wreaking havoc in the European continent and beyond.

 

The three countries Mr. Barroso was referring to only became democracies in the 1970s and have a history of military coups, of course. The warning from Barroso, which was apparently made during a briefing to trade union chiefs last week, is doubly important since he himself is Portuguese and clearly has a sense of the dynamics of his own society.

 

All of this immediately begs some questions that should be obvious. If the EU cannot prevent the collapse of democracy, and a possible military takeover in countries that have had sufficient time to consolidate the Copenhagen Political Criteria, then what are its chances of doing so with new members in Southeast Europe, which are on shakier grounds in this respect?

 

Is Mr. Barroso saying in effect that, despite all the talk over the decades about how the EU perspective consolidates democracies in an irreversible manner, this may not in fact be the case in the event of a major crisis in Europe, such as the current economic one?

 

If, on the other hand, an economic crisis can have this effect in today's Europe, then does this not question the whole foundation of a union that started off as an economic entity half a century ago and should have long since established mechanisms that help it overcome such crises?

 

These questions return us to Ambassador Bozkir's perspective. In this column we have frequently touched on the economic crisis in Europe and its political fallout.

 

We have indicated that EU membership does not appear so attractive to Turks anymore as a result of this.

 

What we wrote was taken by some as an expression of "sour grapes by someone who is bitter because Europe will not let his country in." What they should have been doing instead is to take note of the Europeans we have been quoting, and who provide not the best of outlooks for the old continent in the face of today's emerging global realities.

 

Now they have even more food for thought with the startling remarks attributed to the Head of the European Commission, even if we personally consider these remarks to be a little exaggerated.

 

For example, it could very well be that all Mr. Barroso was trying to do was to scare European Trade Unionists in order to prevent them from using their democratic rights of demonstrating and going on strike.

 

Those who want to see an early recovery in Europe clearly do not want to see scenes like those in Greece spread to other EU members at this critical juncture. Especially when there are international financial speculators like George Soros, who are warning that the second curtain in the economic crisis has been raised now and there are hard days ahead for Europe again.

 

Turkey is also suffering the ill effects of the economic crisis, of course. But it is faring better than some EU members, given that it revamped its banking system after the devastating economic crisis in 2001 and enacted major structural reforms in the economic field that are proving helpful now.

 

Given this, there may be yet another irony here in terms of Turkey's ties with Europe. It appears for all intents and purposes that we are headed for a multi-tiered Europe, where some members are more equal than others, based on their economic performance.

 

Some are already saying that Europe has been divided into a wealthy North and poorer South. And those in the North are already saying they do not want to pay for the South. It can be expected that, as the economic crisis continues, such sentiments will spread with an inevitable counter-reaction from the South.

 

It seems therefore that Turkey will be dealing with an increasingly divided Europe even if the overall structure of the EU stands. While such a Europe will perhaps have less time for Turkey collectively, individual European states will want to forge further ties with a country that is considered one of the most promising among emerging markets.

 

It is also likely that the countries from the richer North will continue to be the ones that are most interested in this country for economic reasons. This in turn will give more clout to Turkey with its EU bid. As matters stand, it is already noticeable that the "No to Turkey" chorus line has toned down its negative rhetoric, especially among mainstream parties in France and Germany.

 

It is perhaps because of this that it is the ultra-rightwing in countries like Holland and Denmark that are now the ones saying "No to Turkey" openly and vocally. But even this tells us more about Europe than it does about Turkey since the ultra-rightwing is less concerned about economics and more about cultural and religious identity issues.

 

But as we know "its all about the economy, stupid!" and has always been at the end of the day.

 

As we have said before, while Turkey's bid for EU membership may be "open-ended," according to some in Europe, it is clear that the whole "EU dream," to use Ambassador Bozkir's words, is in fact "open-ended" also.

 

If the remarks attributed to Mr. Barroso are not merely designed to scare working men and women from striking, but to carry an element of truth in them, then these provide the best example of just how open-ended the overall European project may in fact be.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

WITH LOVE FROM HAMAS

BURAK BEKDİL

 

Since 2001, between 8,000 and 12,000 rockets which future Nobel Peace Prize winner Khaled Mashal once described as "modest, home-made rockets," have been fired. The first casualties were reported in 2004 when two civilians were killed by a "modest, home-made" Qassam rocket, including the four-year-old Afik Zahavi. Afik's 28-year-old mother was critically injured and nine others were wounded. Hamas claimed responsibility.

 

"Those who support terror are collaborators of terrorists," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan very rightfully asserted a few days ago. Of course, he was referring to the PKK. In the past Mr. Erdoğan's main reference point about Operation Cast Lead, in which the Israeli Defense Forces killed hundreds of civilians in the Gaza Strip, was the famous Goldstone Report.

 

Last September, Mr. Erdoğan's principal reference point on Israel's Gaza offensive found out that: "…they (Hamas' activities) constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population. These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity…The rocket and mortar attacks launched by armed Palestinian groups have caused terror."

 

Another finding: "Hamas continues to view all armed activity directed against Israel as… a legitimate right of the Palestinian people."

 

The Goldstone Report, also accusing Israel for war crimes and other offenses, further found out that: "…security services under the control of the Gaza authorities carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, detentions and ill treatment of people…"

 

No doubt, Mr. Erdoğan is right: supporting terrorists is tantamount to collaborating with them. Last week, Mr. Erdoğan made it clear that "Hamas is not a terrorist organization, and he even said that to President Barack Obama," although Hamas is listed as such by the United States. Good… We can now expect Washington to drop Hamas from its list of terrorist entities.

 

What makes Mr. Erdoğan think that the Hamas chaps are as remote to terror as U.S. congressmen or members of the European Parliament?

 

One of Mr. Erdoğan's favorite statements is his famous line, "There is no Islamic terror." Recently online humor "daily" Zaytung fabricated a story whose lead paragraph read: "Erdoğan's claims that 'there is no Islamic terror' have left several Islamic terror organizations heart-broken. A press release from al-Qaeda's press section read: 'The prime minister's remarks are very discouraging. We are doing our best!'"

 

Last month, at the Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Erdoğan reiterated that "there is no Islamic terror" and that "the words Islam and terror could never come together." I tried, and Google gave me 9,510,000 entries when I typed 'Islam' and 'terror.' It's bizarre that a significantly large crowd all over the world has been producing texts on something that does not exist.

 

According to Wikipedia, "Islamic terrorism is terrorism committed by Muslims, and aimed at achieving various political ends like Osama bin Ladin's stated goal of ending American presence in the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, overthrowing "infidel regimes" and stopping American support for Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

 

I have no idea if there can be such things as 'Christian terrorism' or 'Jewish terrorism.' Mr Erdogan did not tell. But he did tell us more than once that Israel committed "state terror." So, there is Israeli state terror, PKK terror and Ergenekon terror, but there isn't Islamic terror. Since Mr. Erdoğan invariably singles out Islam as one religion that cannot be associated with terrorism, he must be thinking that other religions (or atheism) can be.

Too bad, I have never been privileged enough to be physically close to the prime minister and ask him if there could be Christian or Jewish or atheist terror. I might also be curious and ask him what kind of terrorism NATO has been fighting in Afghanistan, with the non-combat from the Turkish military supporting that fight.

 

Really, why does Turkey maintain a military presence in Afghanistan? What does a multinational NATO task force do in Afghan lands? Fighting insects? Corruption? Having vacation in the Talibanland?

 

What kind of terror was it, really, which targeted a British bank and two synagogues in Istanbul in 2003, killing over 50 people? Red Army Brigades? The PKK? The Ergenekon?

 

Mr. Erdoğan's rhetoric on what is and what isn't terror as well as who is and who isn't a terrorist is more than problematic, especially for a prime minister whose country is fighting terrorists who, for some, are 'freedom fighters.' It must be a bad irony that it was the Turks who complained for decades about other nations' double standards on labeling some terrorists as terrorists and some as freedom fighters. Who would know one day…

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY

YUSUF KANLI

 

The Turkish judiciary is of course "independent" in this country even if the top judges of this country say the opposite and express complaints that the government is in efforts to further enhance its influence on the judiciary in clear breach of the separation of powers principle enshrined in the constitution.

 

Even though some top judges often come up with "Judges are caught in between their valets and justice" revelations, to claim that court verdicts can be bought in this country through various methods may land someone in prison on the grounds of harming the public image of "independent judiciary" and of humiliating most honorable judges and prosecutors of this country.

 

There is of course freedom of expression in this country but if an out-of-line columnist comes up with an article suggesting that people inclined to commit crime must make sure to have an "uncle" in the top state bureaucracy, preferably in the justice bureaucracy, before committing a crime may spend years at the doors of court rooms and in trying to defend himself in front of judges and if he – and under the press law the editor of that publication – is lucky enough may be sentenced only to a fine. Of course there is no nepotism in the Turkish justice system.

 

As neither the lower courts nor the higher courts of this country have any judges involved in nepotism, of course in this country no one can come up with some pervert allegations such as a lucrative land swap deal between a close relative of a top judge and a notoriously corrupt mayor just before the ruling party of the country narrowly escaped a closure case [though condemned as focus of anti-secular activities and subjected to a lofty fine] or no one can feel the slightest need to buy backing of some top men of justice to win a case, let's say, at the Court of Appeals.

 

Anyhow, under the current laws of this country making an assertion that the judiciary has become subservient to the government or the party in power may land someone behind bars as such a claim might be interpreted as an insult to the "independent judiciary."

 

Of course there is an "independent judiciary" in this country. There is no question that justice prevails in this country and no one can buy out court verdicts with cash or through blackmail, government pressure or various intimidation tactics, including discipline penalties, posting to some remote Anatolian towns or sacking from the profession. If there are such reports in the media or speculation to that end among the people, it must be acknowledged that there might be "exceptional cases" and of course exceptions are just exceptions, they should not be generalized.

 

In this country with an independent judiciary, the government cannot of course order a judge and prosecutor of a courthouse to set up a tent-court within the border gate area and offer privileged treatment to a group of not-so-criminal members of a separatist terrorist gang returning from a bordering country.

 

Naturally, even if such a tent-court is established, of course, Turkish courts don't remove the Turkish flag and portraits of the founder not to offend the returning terrorists. If the returning terrorists don't repent but on the contrary tell the "court" their leader told them to return and indeed they are carrying letters from their chieftain, the unrepentant terrorists are of course cannot be allowed to benefit from a repentance law and set free by the court.

 

Turkish government cannot of course order impromptu release of the not-so-criminal terrorists irrespective they repent or not. Should the "independent tent-court" decides in goodwill for the release of the terrorists and contribute to national peace and order, the security forces of the country of course don't allow the released terrorists and the supporters of the separatist gang to stage "victory rallies" in many cities.

 

Almost nine months after the establishment of a "tent-court" and impromptu release of not-so-criminal yet unrepentant terrorists, not some other courts of the country started netting the very same terrorists and placing behind bars as part of a judicial process on the alleged criminal activities they were implicated in.

 

And in some sections of this country people started to make complaints that if the returned terrorists are brought in front of courts Turkey should forget about return of the remaining terrorists on the mountains.

 

After all, Turkish courts are "independent." In Turkey's constitution it is said it is a state respecting supremacy of law. Besides, everyone is "equal" in front of law.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

A DIFFERENT JURIST: OSMAN CAN

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

 

A short time ago there was no mention of Osman Can, the rapporteur for the Constitutional Court.

 

First, he drew attention to the headscarf issue with a report prepared by the Constitutional Court. And now he has become the man of the day with his views he stated before negotiations for the constitutional reform started.

 

Why Osman Can?

 

The reason is simple. For, if the constitutional court cancels two articles (the ones concerning the HSYK and the formation of the court) of the constitutional reform package, Can advised the administration to ignore this decision, thus creating a shock. The interesting part of it is that he received criticism from almost each segment of society.

 

No one, from liberals to conservatives, from jurists to politicians, from the opposition to the administration party, "can request ignoring a decision made by a jurist or the court. It is neither ethical nor acceptable from a jurisdictional point of view. It is a crime."

 

This debate is still going on and has taken its place in the agenda.

 

Because of his stunning proposal I invited Osman Can to my program 32.Gün. To tell the truth, I was stunned while listening to Can.

 

A social democrat who admires Rumi

 

I did not expect such a rapporteur in front of me. The Osman Can I had in mind was close to the AKP and strong in his religious believes. According to some even a member of them. His statements and gossip made people paint a portrait like that.

 

I found an extremely well equipped jurist in front of me who was convincing with his extraordinary views and who knew what he was talking about.

 

I don't know if you had a chance to watch.