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Thursday, July 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 15, edition 000569 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

















































































Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj increasingly appears to be playing a sinister game of trying to destabilise the BJP Government in the State, thus fetching disrepute to the high office he holds. Mr Bhardwaj has taken it upon himself to create a crisis for the BJP by insisting that two Ministers — Mr G Janardhana Reddy, the Tourism Minister, and Mr G Karunakara Reddy, the Revenue Minister, popularly known as the 'Reddy Brothers', who have mining interests in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh — be sacked because of allegations of corruption levelled against them. Mr Bhardwaj, who has served as Union Law Minister in UPA1 and is not unacquainted with the law of the land, should know that it is the Chief Minister's prerogative to include or drop Ministers from his Council of Ministers. The Governor is bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers and not the other way round. Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has already announced that he will forward the complaints against the two Ministers to the Lokayukta for a fair inquiry. But Mr Bhardwaj insists that the Ministers should be summarily sacked and the CBI should be asked to investigate the charges. Not surprisingly, his insistence echoes the demand of the Congress. In the recent past, he defied all norms by pro-actively pursuing election petitions filed by defeated Congress candidates. It would appear that Mr Bhardwaj sees himself not as a former politician given a gubernatorial assignment as reward for services rendered to the Congress, but as an active member of the party who has no qualms about misusing Raj Bhavan to promote partisan political interests. Of course, he is not the first Governor to play such a dubious role, nor will he be the last occupant of the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore — or, for that matter, in any other State capital — to try to topple incumbent Governments. His actions are in keeping with a long established tradition of the Congress.

What makes Mr Bhardwaj's crude effort to destabilise the Yeddyurappa Government so extraordinary is that he, of all people, should be so concerned about the need for "probity and integrity" — two words he has taken to using very frequently of late while castigating the Reddy Brothers, whom he has amazingly declared guilty of indulging in corrupt practices without even a formal inquiry — in the Government. As Law Minister in the first UPA Government, he bent every rule in the book and made a mockery of the criminal justice system to get the Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi, wanted by the CBI to stand trial as the key accused in the Bofors bribery case, off the hook. It was Mr Bhardwaj's expertise that was used by the Congress to bury a scandal that had come to symbolise corruption in high places. And, it was Mr Bhardwaj's intervention that ensured Quattrocchi was able to access the bribe money that had been parked in two London bank accounts which were frozen when the NDA was in power. Critics would say that 'settling' the Bofors scandal was only one of the many services rendered by him as Law Minister. All that, we are now expected to believe, exemplified his commitment to 'probity and integrity'! 








The people of Kerala are now paying a heavy price for the vote-bank politics that the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-headed UDF have been playing for the past three decades. Malayalees are now confronted with the grim reality of diabolic plots being hatched by Islamists and jihadis from not outside the State but embedded in Kerala's otherwise secular, liberal and tolerant society. Each passing day fetches new evidence of the rot that has set in. State-wide police raids following the jihadi attack on a college professor for preparing a question paper that allegedly maligned Mohammed have yielded huge quantities of explosives and weapons, hidden in offices of Islamist organisations and premises of places of worship. If intelligence reports are to be believed, the radical Islamist group, Popular Front of India (formerly the NDF), has been enforcing the 'verdicts' issued by illegal sharia'h courts that draw inspiration from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Apart from the vote-bank politics of the two main coalitions, the tolerance capacity of the Malayalees, which has till now pardoned the wrongs committed by minority groups, is also responsible for the present situation. The anti-establishment cries of the so-called rights-crusaders and the covert and overt links of Maoists with jihadis have acted as catalysts. The indisputable fact is that Kerala has become the headquarters of Indianjihadis with operational bases in Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Bangalore, etc. The most dangerous aspect of Kerala's terror cauldron is the direct and indirect connections of the jihadis with their brethren based in Pakistan and the Gulf countries.

The confiscation of Al Qaeda propaganda material from the house of a Popular Front leader last weekend has come as a rude shock. Even before that there were reports on 'Love Jihad', a devious Jihadi programme to convert young Hindu and Christian women into Islam through deceit. Several of these women, tricked into falling in love with Muslim men, are believed to have been sent to overseas terror camps as sex slaves. Kerala's Jihadis have been going to Pakistan for training since 1992. It is no secret that most of the funds for terror operations forjihadi groups are being routed through Gulf countries by Pakistan. The money for the 2008 Bangalore bombings had come via Muscat from Pakistan. A terror-mafia cartel has been pumping counterfeit Indian currency notes, manufactured in Quetta, obviously under an ISI programme to destabilise India, into Kerala. Recent reports have revealed that funds for Kerala-based Islamists Jihadis were being funneled through numbered bank accounts in Hong Kong. Also, many of these terror operatives tend to take refuge in the Gulf countries. In several such cases, politicians, police and bureaucrats are seen as complicit partners. A senior Kerala IPS officer is now facing an NIA investigation for his alleged negotiations with LeT men in Doha. The people are beginning to realise the frightening dimensions of the threat posed by home-grown jihadis. But unless the political class acts with determination, this evil cannot be destroyed.








Almost a decade ago Delhi first started dreaming of state-of-the-art infrastructure development, one that would, on completion, make it a millennium city. A drive down the Delhi-Jaipur highway back then provided enough evidence of work on the National Capital Region having begun in full earnest, vast tracts of land rapidly acquired to pave way for what is now indeed a world-class expressway. In pursuit of that dream, India bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in 2003, a laudable attempt to showcase Delhi, and the country, to the world. After all, India was one of the fastest growing economies of the world and it was time for the international community to taste this new age reality. 

As with all such ambitious projects, naysayers promptly pounced on the Government: Why was so much wealth being set aside for sports at the cost of basic human rights like food, water, shelter and employment? Could India afford to spend billions on stadiums and race tracks when more than half its population could not access primary health and education? Questions were unending but the counter-argument was legitimate. An international event like the CWG (with 70-odd countries participating) would, in its wake, attract foreign tourists, travelers, and investments, and create employment opportunities, benefits that would eventually percolate to the common man on the street. There was indeed a lot to be said for international exposure. 

Unfortunately, while the Games ambition was a noble one, the script of its implementation has gone horribly awry. For comparison, take China. By 2006, two years ahead of the Olympics, Beijing was Games ready, giving the city's infrastructure ample time to get its efficiency tested, and corrected where the need arose. Games venues were ready in advance; civic agencies gradually got the city accustomed to world-class roads and public conveniences; the Metro network was done; and, Beijing had acquired one of the largest airports in the world. In short, far ahead of international exposure during the Games, Beijing was given time to crystallise the idea of a world city and then ensure its effective implementation. Today, long after its Olympics guests have left, the city has a 21st century infrastructure its citizens are truly proud of. 

Contrast this with Delhi, less than three months short of an international event, where a three-hour rain on Monday brought its citizens to their knees and smashed its megacity dreams to smithereens. Till such time as the Delhi Government promised to transform the Capital into a world city by October 2010, people were willing to bear the inconvenience of rampant construction. However, what happened this manic Monday is simply unacceptable. Construction activity is one thing but it is quite another when what is being put in place is a shameless mockery of the city and its citizens, an appalling infrastructure that cannot survive a three-hour downpour, leave alone stand the test of time. 

Monday dealt a seismic blow to Delhi's dreams as realisation dawned how badly planned and implemented the Government's so-called infrastructure building has been. The Delhi High Court was compelled to observe how, "Roads are symbols of the prowess of a nation but it seems like an oxymoron in the context of Delhi." Indeed, newly paved roads caved in; underpasses got waterlogged; traffic signals, due to water seepage, went on the blink; cars went virtually underwater on their way up or down recently inaugurated flyovers; 11 people were electrocuted; trees, weakened by mindless pavement 'beautification', lay uprooted along arterial roads; the Metro ran late; traffic stood still for hours on Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's flagship enterprise, the BRT corridor, despite its Intelligent Signalling System; the false ceiling of a games venue, ready and inaugurated, came crashing down; and drains, clogged with construction debris, over-flew on to the streets. 

By Tuesday, the Delhi Government's apathy and unconcealed attempts by its various wings to brazen out the criticism was writ large: They were determined to play Passing the Buck. The Chief Minister blamed the ongoing construction activity by various civic agencies like the PWD, MCD, and the NDMC for Monday's mess. (One would have thought these agencies had undertaken construction activity at the Chief Minister's behest only after Delhi decided to dress up for the CWG?). But the game was to get more ludicrous. The MCD deflected the blame, rattling off another list of acronyms — PWD, DMRC, DJB, NDMC, DDA, DSIDC, NDPL and BSES. Mayor PR Sawhney's astounding conclusion was that "After heavy downpour it is natural for water to take time to clear out." The crowning gem of an explanation came from the city's traffic police which said Delhiites are a bunch of unruly drivers whose "indiscipline" was to blame for Monday's chaos. (Pray what else does a driver do when a road ahead caves in three feet than to get on to the wrong side and rescue his vehicle, and perhaps his life?) 

An incensed High Court did articulate every Delhiite's lament that evening, lambasting the Government for its "total insensitivity to the plight" of its citizens and pointing out how despite charging a very high road tax, it is unable to provide smooth roads. While the Chief Minister would ideally like to see fewer cars on the roads, the court rightly observed that "bumpy, uneven roads" are reducing the lifespan of vehicles. It also asked why the common man should expect to have good roads only before an international event.

Admittedly, the Delhi Government cannot be faulted for its desire to dream big. One is therefore willing to overlook the fact that the official estimate of the Games has gone up phenomenally — from Rs 1,899 crore in 2003 it is estimated to cross Rs 10,000 crore. What is infinitely annoying and patently unacceptable, however, is that the tax payer's money is being pumped into an infrastructure whose quality is severely challenged and projects whose deadlines extend beyond October. Visible CWG-related activity started only a year ago leaving little time for dry runs — sample the roof collapse. Lesser time has obviously meant a frenetic pace that has compromised quality. Further, crores are being wasted on imbecile projects like "five-star" public toilets with cafés on top and flower shops adjacent to them! Will all this help Delhi realise its megacity dreams? Certainly not. 

Yet, there is little doubt the city will get a face-saving whitewash for CWG 2010 — the Government must only hope and pray it does not rain. The abiding misery beyond the Games, however, is that Delhiites will have to live with that ubiquitous road-sign: Work in Progress






The consequences of the US' disastrous AfPak policy are now plain to even the most casual of political observers. Swarn Kumar Anand's "America in New Fix" (July 9) rightly mentions that no American today remembers the original reason for the US entering Afghanistan. However, Iran emerging as "a festering sore" now is nothing new. It all started with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran following a nationwide referendum on 30-31 March 1979 and the emergence of Ayatollah Khomeini as its Supreme Leader. 

Pakistan capitalising on the current situation in the region is an example of realpolitik at its best. The day it managed to smuggle in Taliban leaders in special aircrafts with US support from within Afghanistan when American bombing was at its peak, it laid the foundation for the re-emergence of Taliban. The Ministry of External Affairs would do well to learn a lesson or two from its Pakistani counterpart. Even while milking billions from Uncle Sam in terms of aid, Pakistan kills US soldiers in connivance with the Taliban while the US Administration looks the other way. This is a peculiar denial that successive American regimes suffer from. All the brave promises of 'smoking out Osama' have come to exist only on paper and, in reality, the Al-Qaeda-Pakistan-Taliban combine have already started celebrating the US's inglorious exit. 

Ashley Tellis' "How Pak views its Afghan endgame" (July 9) is another brilliant piece of writing. He has only stated the obvious when he says many in ISI are enamoured of LeT's grandiose plans of 'recovering' Muslim lands in Asia and Europe and establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate through violent jihad. For the Pakistani Government, preferring Islamic terror as a state policy in its covert war with India and using fronts such as LeT, JeM and JuD is another clever method of bleeding the enemy while pretending innocence. 

Since the Pakistani establishment has come to believe in its indispensibility, it does not take seriously US warnings about terrorism directed against India. At no time will Islamabad be ready to dismantle its terrorist network established with the help of US and Chinese funds. 








Kerala Islamists' terror connections with Pakistan, and possibly with the Inter-Services Intelligence, go back to the beginning of the 1990s. But the State police — and to an extent the Central authorities — had remained complacent for almost two decades on this matter, thinking that god's own country had an impregnable shell of social peace and religious harmony. This myth got shattered in October 2008 when security forces killed four LeT recruits from Kerala in Kupwara, Kashmir, in an encounter while they were trying to cross over to Pakistan, obviously for advanced weapons and ideological training in the terror academies run by ISI-backed groups. 

The Research and Analysis Wing had come across information that extremists from Kerala terror groups had been going to Pakistan since 1992. In the context of the killing of the four Malayalee terrorists in Kashmir, former RAW director Hormis Tharakan, who had also served as the State's Director General of Police, revealed that CAM Basheer, a native of Aluva, was the first known terrorist from Kerala to cross over to Pakistan. Interestingly, no security or Intelligence agency in India has any reliable information on the present whereabouts of Basheer. 

However, no ordinary citizen, and probably no police or Intelligence official in Kerala had ever expected the extremists' links with terror dens outside India to be so close to the ISI, Al Qaeda and Taliban as revealed last week in the raids on the houses of leaders of the Popular Front of India (formerly the NDF). Reports say that the Popular Front has been trying to collect evidence from deep inside the Indian Navy. As the question of terrorism in Kerala and its connections with external forces is getting all the more complex, military intelligence is preparing to intervene in the matter. 

Instances of the entry into Kerala of economic terrorism, planned and supervised by the ISI, are many. Pakistan-manufactured counterfeit currencies worth several crores have been confiscated at Kerala's international airports from people coming in from the Gulf. Even the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence admits that the confiscated currencies would not constitute a small percentage of the amount being smuggled in. Sleuths say counterfeit currencies printed at ISI-supervised mints in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan are funneled into Kerala by a well-knit gang in Dubai, looked after by none other than Dawood Ibrahim's kin Anees. 

There are evidences to suggest that the ISI has been operating on the ground in Kerala through infiltrators much before the recruitment into LeT of the four Malayalees killed in Kashmir in 2008. A big instance of ISI infiltration into Kerala had come to light after the arrest in Mysore of Muhammad Fahd (30), a Pakistani national with Kerala roots and an Al-Badr coordinator, in October 2006 with an associate, Muhammadali Hussein. There are strong reasons to believe that Fahd, arrested with weapons including AK-47 rifles and components of highly improvised explosive devices, could have assisted in the making of the two bombs that went off in Kozhikode on March 3, 2006. LeT's South India commander Thadiyantavide Nazeer, the chief perpetrator of the Bangalore bombings, is prime accused in this case. Fahd, an MSc in chemistry, was in Kozhikode visiting his relatives in February and March, 2006. Fahd's targets included the imposing Vidhan Soudha complex of Bangalore.

However, the most shocking plans of the ISI came to light last week when the Kerala Police raided the house of Mansoor, the Popular Front's Ernakulam district secretary. The raid unearthed the minutes of the outfit's meetings, which spoke of plans to monitor the preparedness of the Indian Navy at the Southern Naval Command, Kochi (There were reports that David Headley's associate Tahawwur Hussein Rana had photographed the Naval installations in Kochi extensively). The plan was to sneak into the Defence exhibition at Kochi's naval base and collect as much information as possible. However, this plan failed. 

That is not all. Sometime back, the Kochi Police had carried out a mock security drill in the city jointly with the Navy, RAW and IB to realistically assess the preparedness of the Forces to counter any terror attack. The documents seized from Mansoor's house had reportedly contained details of this drill and a declaration that the mock drill would soon become a practical reality, which could only mean that Kochi could witness a terror strike. Security agencies are now asking among themselves the ominous question: Who were behind this? 

The raid at Mansoor's house had reportedly yielded documents that spoke of huge sums of money being pumped into the Popular Front from abroad. Officials say that a cursory look at the documents proved at least Rs 1 crore had been collected in the past one year. Security agencies are now on the trail of these funds. As serious as these revelations is the reported recovery of some disgusting campaign material of Al-Qaeda-Taliban from another Popular Front leader, Kunjumon. These CDs contained visuals of terror men executing the sentences of the Islamic courts of Al Qaeda and Taliban, decapitation of girls and women and repulsive mutilation of their bodies in the midst of cheering terror-mongers. Sleuths say that the Popular Front's July 4 attack on a college professor at Muvattupuzha was a direct import of this terror method. The professor's right hand was cut off allegedly for preparing a question paper that blasphemed Prophet Muhammad. 







I am a PhD student at the University of Texas, Dallas, and I spend the greater part of the day at my research lab. I am an Indian citizen but have been in the US for the last seven years, and sometimes one doesn't realise just how long a time that really is.

Recently I came home at 7 pm. It was raining heavily and I had just finished making dinner. Shortly before 8 pm, the power went out. I waited for about 20 minutes and then decided to call the electric company, TXU, which hires other companies to handle various zones. It turned out power outages in my area are handled by a company called Oncor (pronounced 'encore'). I called them and got an automated line which told me that a technician would be out there shortly and that they expected the problem to be resolved by about 10 pm. It was dark inside and too hot for me, so I went back to my lab.

I finished up at lab by 9.30 pm and decided to head home. On the way back I called Oncor to check the status. This time I was able to speak to a real representative who told me there was no trace of my report regarding the outage. Strange. I figured I'd go back myself and check it out. By now it was dark outside and so all the street and building lights were on. I was happy that the power was back. However, when I went up to my apartment, I was greeted with darkness. As it turned out mine was the only apartment without power.

I called Oncor again and they told me if mine was the only apartment without power, then it was probably an issue with the breakers which the apartment complex maintenance people would be able to take care of. I reset the breakers myself, but couldn't convince the power to come back. So I called the apartment complex emergency services number and left a message. Later I went to Walmart to buy some candles, a lighter and a flashlight with batteries.

As it turned out the maintenance guy came to the apartment while I was gone, and called to ask why I wasn't in the apartment. I said I was buying candles and would be back in five minutes. The grumpy looking chap did exactly what I did with the breakers and said since it didn't help, it must be an outside issue, and hence is the electric company's responsibility. He left.

I called Oncor back and was told that their technicians had already been by and had found nothing wrong. If the breakers didn't solve the problem, then needed to reset the electric metre. They told me they needed the apartment maintenance to "mark" my meter so that when the technician came by, he would know which one to reset. I said it was after hours and I didn't even know if I could reach them. After some shouting (I was getting frustrated) I managed to find out my meter number from him. 

I went out and looked at the meters around my building one by one to find mine. It was dark and raining. I couldn't find the meter and felt very frustrated. The Oncor chap told me until the maintenance people marked my meter, nothing could be done. I called maintenance and left a pleading voice mail describing the situation.

I tried to sleep but couldn't. Around midnight I fell asleep. Then around 12.30 am I got a call on the phone from the maintenance chap. He said he couldn't 'mark' the meter as it was a felony to do so. The meters were Oncor property and he couldn't identify which one was mine. I argued with him and told him I paid rent and I paid my electricity bill and this was unacceptable. The maintenance chap gave me a lecture about how this was not his job and then said he would nonetheless come over and look for my meter. I went downstairs and waited for about 20 minutes until a small truck showed up and a man stepped out. 

The maintenance chap was impatient at first and ignored me for the most part. We went around the building and discovered one set of meters among which one meter was missing. He told me that was my meter and it had been stolen. We called Oncor and reported the incident and Oncor told the maintenance chap to mark the meter. He replaced the panel and sprayed it with a white 'X'. As he was replacing the panel a car drew up and threw a spotlight on us. It was the courtesy patrol at my apartment complex and at first the officer thought we were stealing meters.

It turned out people who cannot pay their electricity bills on time have their power disconnected by disconnecting the meter. Some of these people steal other people's meters and use it instead of their own and this allows them to restore power supply for free. The officer drove me and maintenance chap to the first place and we looked around the meters but couldn't see anything wrong. We went to the second place and, lo and behold, there was my meter on someone else's panel. 

I needed to report this to the police. So I called 911, that was at 2.00 am. In the meantime I profusely thanked the maintenance chap and gave him $30, which was all the cash I had. I felt I owed him, and honestly without him being there I couldn't have found out what was wrong. The police showed up at 2.10 am and I told them what had happened. They were very nice but said they could only file a witness report on my behalf as technically the meter was not my property — it belonged to Oncor and so they needed to report the theft. The police gave me a case number and asked me to pass it on to Concor. I did so and I was told a technician was already on his way.

The power was restored at 4.10 am. I thanked the Oncor technician and went to sleep at 4.30 am. It had been quite a harrowing experience, yet surprisingly educative as well. I learnt how the power supply system works in the US. I had begun to take constant power for granted and had forgotten about how we have to rough it out when the power supply is disrupted in India. Yet, I couldn't help wondering if I were still in India, the problem would have been solved the same night. 







THE meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on tackling the Maoist threat has revealed the lack of clarity and absence of strategic thinking on the part of the political class. As a result, the policy outcomes of this exercise are a compilation of various suggestions— some of them useful— lacking in direction.


The Union Home Minister and most of the Chief Ministers have rightly emphasised the need for a unified command on anti- Naxal operations across all the affected states.


However, the proposal of appointing a retired Major- General for this purpose is only a cosmetic way of achieving this. As was made clear by the massacre of CRPF personnel in Dantewada in April, the need is for better coordination at the ground level between the state police forces and the paramilitary forces.


In fact, the Dantewada lesson seems to have been completely lost on the Centre as it has ordered for the deployment of 34 additional companies of the India Reserve Battalion. As has been repeatedly emphasised, paramilitary forces lack the requisite training for counterinsurgency operations. Increased deployment without adequate training will simply make these personnel sitting ducks for the Naxals.


The Home Ministry doesn't seem to realise that an empowered police force has been the most effective strategy for counter- insurgency operations in the country. The successful decimation of the Naxals in Andhra Pradesh and the experiences from the Punjab insurgency are a testimony to this. In Andhra a crucial role was played by the Greyhounds, a specialised anti- Naxal force from within the state police.


The only proposal coming out of the meeting towards police empowerment— besides some funds earmarked for police modernisation and building police stations— is the increase in recruitment of Special Police Officers ( SPOs).


SPOs in Chhatisgarh have been recruited from the ranks of the Salwa Judum and defectors from within the Naxals and are notorious for human rights violations in the state. This will be counter- productive to say the least.


The meeting also became a field for tussle between the Centre and the states with chief ministers like Naveen Patnaik and K Rosaiah demanding that more districts from their states be included in the list of Maoist- affected so that they can get more central funds.


Unfortunately, what was supposed to be an exercise for greater clarity in dealing with the Maoist threat seems to have ended in generating more confusion.


Don't cross the line


KARNATAKA Governor H R Bhardwaj has clearly exceeded his brief by demanding the sacking of the Reddy brothers from the Karnataka Cabinet on account of their controversial mining activities. The manner in which he has gone about this exercise lends weight to the Bharatiya Janata Party's charge that he is acting as an agent of the Congress party in Karnataka.


As governor of the state, Mr Bhardwaj is supposed to act on the advice of the state council of ministers except in some limited matters where he can exercise his discretion.


Unfortunately, nothing that the governor has done till now suggests that he is conscious of the limits to his gubernatorial powers.


Having been the Union law minister, he should know that it is not for the state's governor to decide who should continue in the Cabinet as minister and who should be dropped.


This is not to suggest that what the Reddy brothers are up to is desirable or even legal.


What these were became evident again through the state Lokayukta resignation controversy.


But this does not take away from the fact that they are democratically elected legislators of a party that has been given the mandate to rule by Karnataka's electorate.


If the Reddy brothers have to be checked, this should happen only through the constitutionally available options provided by the system.


If Mr Bhardwaj thinks the constitutional system has broken down in the state he can certainly recommend the government's dismissal to the President. But what he should not do is to address press conferences on the matter, as happened on Tuesday.


It would also help if he realised that his long political career has not endowed him with the credentials or the credibility of being seen as some kind of a political reformer.








THE debate on food security has been rapidly reduced to one between two extreme preoccupations. On one side we have a rather narrow economists' view that is preoccupied with nightmares of a fiscal deficit going out of control, and on the other side are those who are so focused on giving people a legal right to food that it is assumed that lawyers and activists are the best equipped to put food on the plate. Given the intellectual power that is being absorbed by these preoccupations it would seem there is little left for the actual task of ensuring every Indian has no insecurities about where her meals are going to come from.


Since economists are fond of measuring we could start with the costs of their preoccupations. The logic of their calculations is simple enough. If we offer 35 kgs of foodgrain to everyone in the country at a subsidised price the subsidy would increase to over one lakh crore rupees. If this one lakh or more crores is added to the fiscal deficit it would raise prices. And as inflation hurts the poor more than anyone else we are in fact hurting the poor by insisting on a universal PDS that provides access to everyone, including the non- poor.




Attractive as this argument is, it is not without its flaws. Much as one hates to take the side of politicians against intellectually nimble economists, it is difficult to stay away from Mr Kamal Nath's terminology. This is an armchair view of the food subsidy. If we were to start instead from conditions on the ground we would have to recognise that the food subsidy is often not simply the difference between the procurement price and the price in the public distribution system.


A major contributor to the subsidy is the foodgrains that are procured but cannot be sold in the public distribution system. If these foodgrains were given away free it would not make a difference to the subsidy. Indeed, if it was given at a price lower than what is offered to Below Poverty Line families, it would earn some money instead of rotting in the open. Taken together with lower holding costs, giving away surplus stocks at very low prices would actually reduce the food subsidy.


Even if we choose to remain in our armchairs the economists' view is not impossible to challenge. The assumption that the entire feared increase in costs must be transferred to the fiscal deficit goes against what economics is about. At the risk of quoting the Bible to a bishop, the science of economics is also about a choice between alternative expenditures.


If the Planning Commission wants to make a case for the entire increase in food subsidy being transferred on to the fiscal deficit, it would have to justify its preference for a variety of other expenditures over something as basic as food.


We could, on the basis of selling India to its people as a potential superpower, make a strong case for, say, the Commonwealth Games. But should a country that cannot afford to ensure each of its families has access to 35 kgs of foodgrains a month pretend it's a superpower? These holes in the economists' arguments provide considerable strength to those seeking more wide- ranging entitlements in the Food Security Bill. But this legalistic view of food security is not without its flaws either. The idea of actually using the law to provide food security is clearly inconsistent with any perception of the functioning of our legal system. The long delays make the legal option difficult for the poor. And even if we were to miraculously improve the efficiency of the legal system and get the cases decided in a week, that would still be a long time to remain hungry.



What is much more likely to happen is a few highly publicised cases that have activist and intellectual power behind them. In such cases the emphasis is likely to be on punishing those responsible for not providing food, rather than actually ensuring the poor in remote areas get food when they need it. In the event of a shortfall in food, most of the near- starvation poor who need the food may simply have to do without their legal entitlements being met. This will no doubt generate widespread debate about corruption and the inefficiencies of the system, but not much else.


The real challenge on the front of food security is not so much the legal statements of entitlements but ensuring availability of food on a scale that allows every Indian to take these rights for granted. And the constraints on this availability are already substantial and could grow further. Farmers cannot be faulted for demanding a remunerative price for the foodgrains they produce.


What is considered remunerative would depend not just on costs and yields but would also be influenced by the consumerist lifestyles that non- farmers are able to lead.




A public distribution system that is universal not just in access but also in utilisation would have to offer prices that would be attractive enough to procure sufficient food to feed the entire country. It would also have to sell it at highly subsidised prices. Meeting that huge subsidy in practice is not beyond the means of a committed government, but it would be a lot more difficult than merely passing a law that the really hungry will not have time for.


And the matter is not one of finances alone. There is also the question of production.


The assumption that any domestic shortfall can be met through imports makes food security dependent on the vagaries of global markets. This can be dangerous at the best of times, and in times when the speculators take over these markets, it can be suicidal.


Further, there are items in the Indian diet, particularly some pulses, that cannot be imported on the required scale.


The constraints on the availability of food in India are much too serious to be removed by the wave of a Food Security Bill wand. No one can deny the importance of the right to food, but that right will only be meaningful if there is enough food to go around. Gandhi pointed out a long time ago that a right is meaningful only if we do the duties that make the right feasible.


Unless we see the task of removing the constraints on food security as a fundamental duty, any rights we gain through legislation will remain on paper; widely debated and carefully worded paper, but just a piece of paper nevertheless.


The writer is professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore








THE mining issue is blowing up in Banglore. The ruling BJP and the opposition are trading charges, and Governor HR Bharadwaj has asked the Chief Minister to take action against two of his ministers — the Reddy brothers — allegedly involved in illegal mining and allied activities. Some legislators came to the House one day wearing yellow mining helmets in protest.


Beyond the political heat, in and around Bellary, mining is decimating the local environment, livelihoods and people's health. It leaves a trail of damage, destruction, and poverty.


Mining flattens hillocks, chokes mountain streams and uproots trees. Wildlife, livelihoods and farmlands are

destroyed. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the state to take stringent action against illegal mining and deforestation.


The dust kicked up by the mining operations and hundreds of trucks that ply iron ore from the north to the ports in the south are causing allergic reactions in people. Sometimes people on the roads in northern towns have to wear facemasks to not get choked or fall ill. Red dust covers farmlands and forest trees disappear as mines take over more and more land.


Meanwhile iron ore flows to China, often a large share of it illegally, denying the local people and the state their due.


The big picture of mining in India is quite disturbing even without all this drama. With the liberalisation of the mineral policy in 2006, the floodgates to investments in the sector have been thrown open. Many companies have rushed in to extract minerals hidden in remote forests and hills. An estimated 1.64 lakh hectares of forest land have been diverted for this, according to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment.


In 2005– 06, iron ore mining alone consumed 77 million tonnes of water — more than enough for over three million people. Mining has also generated about 1.84 billion tonnes of waste in 2006, with no proper disposal for the bulk of it, according to the study.


In New Delhi, ministers are expected to meet soon to think of ways to revamp India's mining law that is over half a century old.


The idea is to balance the needs of investors with those of local people hit by the industry. It is ironic that the move comes after opening up the industry — much after many African and Latin American nations have put in place such laws.


The local story is similar to some of the poor, mineral- rich nations of Africa, where mining still fuels poverty and environmental destruction as resources flow out, and a few people get rich. " It is a classic mix of politics, business and crime," says filmmaker and journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who is finishing a documentary on Bellary mining. The people he interviewed had even better ways to describe it. Writer UR Ananthamurthy called it a ' Crime Story'. Civil rights activist KG Kannabiran said the scope of the loot makes Mahmud of Ghazni and Nadir Shah look like petty pickpockets.


Thakurta is toying with the idea of calling his film something like ' Hell Diggers' or ' The New Republic of Bellary'. Going by the Bollywood style of recycling old names, he might like to consider ' Pickpocket' or ' Crime Story'. Meanwhile Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde has withdrawn his resignation, bowing to persuasion from the political parties and the public. He hopes the government will now support him in his clean- up drive.


But observers are sceptical, especially about how much he could move against the mining barons, about whom he had written a largely unnoticed report and who kept throwing spanners in his works. Reading the bold statement etched over the main gate of the secretariat, ' Government Work is God's Work', people here keep their fingers crossed.



THE latest Facebook campaign in Banglore is ' Beef up' that shares recipes of the favourite/ unthinkable meat of many Indians. The campaigners state: " Beef lovers of Bangalore unite, otherwise you will lose your favorite meat to the whims of the forces of bigotry.


Join this group to express your dissent to the Karnataka Government's move to ban beef." The campaign is just beginning with over 300 members, giving a voice to the protests against the move to ban beef.


Recently farmers, writers and activists joined hands in a protest rally.


Their argument is that banning beef might deny many people an affordable source of protein. On a broader plane, villagers might be discouraged from rearing cattle if there is no way they can sell old animals for slaughter.

So there could be milk shortage.


While historians dig up — at considerable health risk — the beef- eating habits of ancient Indians, civil rights activists in Bangalore argue that no government can tell people what to eat.



THE latest Facebook campaign in Banglore is ' Beef up' that shares recipes of the favourite/ unthinkable meat of many Indians. The campaigners state: " Beef lovers of Bangalore unite, otherwise you will lose your favorite meat to the whims of the forces of bigotry.


Join this group to express your dissent to the Karnataka Government's move to ban beef." The campaign is just beginning with over 300 members, giving a voice to the protests against the move to ban beef.


Recently farmers, writers and activists joined hands in a protest rally.


Their argument is that banning beef might deny many people an affordable source of protein. On a broader plane, villagers might be discouraged from rearing cattle if there is no way they can sell old animals for slaughter.


So there could be milk shortage.


While historians dig up — at considerable health risk — the beef- eating habits of ancient Indians, civil rights activists in Bangalore argue that no government can tell people what to eat.



HISTORICALLY, Karnataka's most famous mines have been Kolar Gold Fields ( KGF). Located about 100 km from Bangalore, it was famous during the British era. Starting operations in 1880, four main gold- bearing veins were opened for mining here. Of these one named Champion is one of the deepest in the world, reaching a depth of 3.2 km.

Publicity material of the local municipality claims that the Champion reef was mined during the fifth century, the time of the Gupta kings. Later Vijayanagara kings mined it and Tipu Sultan took it over in his time.


But it was the British who gave KGF a place in the world map, bringing in some of the first railway and electricity lines in this part of the world in the early 20th century. At the height of colonial globalisation, this prosperous, temperate place was called ' Little England.' The closure of the used up mines in 2003 left it a ghost town, dotted with rusting giant machinery, colonial bungalows and place names like Robertsonpet Andersonpet, Edgar's Shaft and so on.


Poverty and alcoholism became issues of concern.


But blessed with good education, especially in English, the sons and daughters of the erstwhile mine workers easily found jobs in the current IT- BPO boom in Bangalore.


Many local people believe that KGF infrastructure could easily absorb a part of the IT industry from Bangalore, easing the pressure on the city.








The numbers being thrown around regarding New Delhi's Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International airport - where the first international flight landed yesterday - are impressive. The world's sixth largest terminal built at a cost of $3 billion, spread over four kilometres, with a capacity of 34 million passengers annually - it goes on. But the most relevant statistic is that it was built in 37 months. That happens to put it exactly on schedule. And it also explains why the terminal's real importance lies in what it signifies for the Indian aviation sector and infrastructure capacity building in the country in general. 

By hewing so closely to projected timelines and targets, it has become one of India's first big infrastructure projects that can be touted as a major success internationally. When inaugurating the terminal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the aviation sector has the capacity to absorb $120 billion of investment by 2020. The success of this project, if leveraged effectively, can play a major role in incentivising that investment, both from domestic sources and foreign. 

But in order to leverage it, a few more measures are necessary. To generate enough traffic to have an effective return on the massive investment, it needs to become a hub with various feeder routes funnelling passengers to it, who can then take direct flights to global destinations. Doing this is truly feasible only with domestic carriers. But at the moment, Jet and Air India both have hubs abroad. With other airlines such as Spicejet, IndiGo and GoAir also set to become international carriers over the next few years, the concept of T3 as an international aviation hub must be incentivised so that Delhi can be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Dubai or Singapore. Allowing foreign carriers to have a stake up to 26 per cent in domestic airlines - something the government is looking at - is one factor here. It could give the latter the financial muscle needed for developing the routes necessary for T3's success as a hub. 

Airports play much the same role today that seaports did in earlier centuries. The cumulative effect of international passenger and cargo flows as well as reputation can turn the host city into a global one. It can create jobs and spur investment and growth in multiple sectors. Little wonder that T3 has gained such significance. Let's hope it keeps its promise, making it easier to build similar airports in other Indian cities.







Even as the Karnataka assembly continues to be rocked over demands for a CBI probe into the illegal mining scam in Bellary, Governor H R Bhardwaj's questionable role threatens to further complicate matters. While Bhardwaj is well within his rights to apprise the Centre, the public indictment of the B S Yeddyurappa-led BJP government in the state exceeds his mandate. Instead of addressing the core issue of rampant illegal mining in Karnataka, the governor's actions may push the state towards a constitutional crisis. It will also strengthen the view that governors act as mere agents of the ruling party at the Centre, further compromising their position in a federal set-up. As for the illegal mining scam, just three weeks ago, the Lokayukta of Karnataka, N Santosh Hegde, had put the spotlight on the state government's failure to curb mining-linked corruption, irrespective of parties in power. 

In fact, rampant illegal mining is a countrywide phenomenon and there are hundreds of such illegal mines in India operating for years on end without being detected or prosecuted. States like Karnataka and Orissa show the blatant hold of the mining lobby on politics and governance and the culture of corruption it spawns. States enjoy unbridled authority to allocate licences as mining is a state subject. Such 'patronage powers' of state governments need to be curtailed by bringing greater transparency in the allocation of leases through competitive bidding. Strong political will is needed to crack down on illegal mining, while satellite mapping can be used to create a better monitoring system. Unless reforms are initiated, the mining sector in India will contribute only to the fortunes of a few while impoverishing the many.








The recent overthrow of Kevin Rudd as Australia's prime minister surprised Australians and foreign observers alike, Indians included. In the face of adverse polling data, the Australian Labour Party ruthlessly ejected its once-popular leader and replaced him with Julia Gillard, who is now Australia's first woman prime minister - Canberra's Indira. 

Now the Gillard-led Labour government is tipped to win national elections expected within the next two months. But what does the Gillard ascension mean for Australia's troubled yet promising relations with India? On balance, it is good news, not least because of Gillard's proven pragmatic and consultative style of leadership. She is a listener, and may well prove more diplomatic than her predecessor, despite his foreign service background. Moreover, she already knows and has a positive working rapport with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. 

Yet Gillard must deal with the baggage of having been deputy prime minister and education minister in the Rudd Labour government, which struggled to find political traction with New Delhi. 

Despite the recent flurry of vindictive criticism of former conservative Prime Minister John Howard from some Indian commentators ^ after his failed bid to be vice-president of the International Cricket Council - the fact is that he had an instinctive understanding of India's importance, and left Australia-India relations in good shape. 

A few months before his election defeat in 2007 he even managed to change decades of Australian policy, by agreeing in principle to sell uranium to India - a decision Rudd immediately reversed. Rudd proclaimed the grand intention of bringing India to the front rank of Australia's foreign friends, but found this easier said than done. Admittedly, he made some strides in the relationship: expanding diplomatic representation through new consulates, creating momentum towards a free trade agreement and concluding a security declaration and strategic partnership that will allow greater defence and intelligence cooperation. 

But Rudd was hamstrung by the party's rigid ideological line against uranium exports to non-NPT countries. He was also immediately - if unfairly - mistrusted in New Delhi because of his reputation as a Mandarin-speaking China expert, even though in reality he had his own healthy worries about China's military power. 

Yet what most spoiled Rudd's chances with India was the crisis over the welfare of Indian students in Australia. An education relationship had become diverted too far too fast into a get-rich scheme for immigration middlemen and substandard colleges, coupled with a perceived shortcut to residency visas for thousands of young people desperate for a new life abroad. Rudd's government did not create this mess, but did not act quickly or sensitively enough to deal with the difficulties and criminal violence encountered by some of the 1,20,000 Indian students in Australia. 

Gillard's challenge is that she inherits Rudd's mixed legacy. So she will need to move promptly to chart her own vision for making the relationship between two great Indian Ocean democracies all that it can be. She hails from the traditionally anti-nuclear left wing of her party, and her political base is the state of Victoria, where much of the violence against Indian students has occurred, and where the state Labour government has been accused of an ineffective response. Yet Gillard could easily turn these points to her advantage in dealings with India. 

On international students, Gillard can rightly claim that as education minister she oversaw Canberra's efforts, however belated, to improve welfare and safety. As prime minister, she will have more capacity than Rudd to put pressure on the Victorian government to keep lifting its game. 

One thing that should not greatly bother Indian observers is Gillard's public comments about the need to manage Australia's population growth. She has distanced herself, on environmental grounds, from Rudd's reported advocacy of a 'big Australia' of up to 40 million people, up from the current 23 million. 

Yet there is little doubt that the Welsh-born Gillard knows full well that skilled, hardworking immigrants and their families are essential to Australia's economic and social dynamism. There is every indication that her vision of Australia's future population includes a place for sustainable migration from India. 

Her reputation among Victoria's Indian community is already positive. She was reportedly a strong supporter of the establishment of an Indian consulate-general in Melbourne some years ago. And her electorate, in a working-class Melbourne neighbourhood, is home to many Indian students and migrants. 

The big question will be where she ends up standing on uranium exports. Rudd probably wanted to change his party's policy, but felt - with good reason, it turns out - that he lacked enough support within the party machine to launch a rapid attack on party orthodoxy. 

Gillard is different. The very fact that she is from the left should give her an advantage in persuading this faction of the merits of Australian civil uranium exports to India, including for diplomatic, economic, climate change and standard-of-living reasons. 

The Australian Labour Party's next national conference is due in 2011. If Gillard does not choose that opportunity to lead a push to overturn the outdated ban on uranium sales to India, then New Delhi will indeed have reason to be disappointed. But for now she has an election on her hands, and India should give her the benefit of the doubt. 

The writer is a programme director at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. 







The vote in the French National Assembly, approving a ban on the Islamic veil or burqa, looks like a manifestation of the anti-Islamic sentiments that are sweeping across Europe. It is unfortunate that France, a country which takes great pride in its secular traditions and considers itself to be the birthplace of civil liberties and human rights, is today championing a right-wing agenda that discriminates against a minority community's choice to observe its own rituals. In a similar step, Switzerland moved recently to ban the construction of minarets. Like veils, minarets too are seen as symbols of Islam. One way to stigmatise a minority, which Europe doesn't see in a good light currently, is to crack down on its symbols. 

It's been said that French secularism restricts the display of all religious symbols, not just of Islam. There is, however, a difference. Display of other religious symbols is restricted in public schools, not everywhere as in the case of the burqa. Forcible integration cannot be equated with secularism, which should be able to accommodate freely chosen plural identities. It's misleading to equate the burqa with the subjugation of women, as the French law appears to be doing. Several educated, independent Muslim women choose to wear the burqa out of their own free will. 

It is not part of any government's business to foist dress codes on the public. To do so is a violation of individual liberty. It's the inverted mirror image of conservative Islamic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, which also impose dress codes. The French government shouldn't foist what it thinks to be a progressive social move on the Muslim community. If at all a change of this nature is to be effected, it has to come from within the community. Clothes don't make the woman, as much as they don't make a man. 








Expect the usual uproar about France inching closer to a ban on the burqa in public places. Only, the pro-veil arguments of human rights advocates and conservative Islamic groups seem conveniently blinkered. For starters, they're based on a one-size-fits-all idea of secularism, allowing for no cultural variations. The fact is, French secularism is very different from, say, Indian secularism in that faith is treated strictly as a private matter. Religious traditions and practices are fine so long as they don't impinge on the public realm. That's why faith-based votebank politicking as often seen in India is unthinkable in much of Europe. 

Integrative in spirit, France's idea of a shared citizenry dates back to the Revolution. French republicanism recognises individuals in the public sphere as citizens, not in terms of differentiating identity markers. Had this not been so, French democracy as it emerged after a long struggle would betray its foundational principles of "liberty, equality and fraternity". The veil, in this sense, is a mark of separation: it sets Muslim women apart from the rest of society. More, attire meant for concealment of femininity is an issue of women's rights. It impacts citizens' gender-neutral equality, since it's not always certain whether Muslim women choose to wear the veil or are forced to by community pressure. 

Again, the burqa impedes identification in public. In the days of global terror, that's a headache for law enforcers. Aware of the security angle, increasing numbers of Muslims are eschewing intransigence on the burqa issue. Besides, France and other European nations have been even-handed in their disapproval of overt signs of religiosity in public. All faiths have come under the scanner, starting with the Church. Finally, the main representative body of French Muslims has said the veil isn't specifically enjoined in their faith and concedes its unsuitability in France. Why not let the matter rest there? 








Delhi got a swanky new airport yesterday; Mumbai's proposed airport only got a new controversy. But even if the environment ministry has blown a huge ozone hole in our project, we aren't going to turn an envious green. Showpieces must land only on the capital, no?


Move over T20, the inauguration of T3 had more cheered leaders than a monthful of IPLs. Everybody and his ticketing agent declared it a runway success. It has zoomed us into the airspace of superpowerdom. In fact, our T3 outstrips any G7 counterpart. The still-unopened terminal certainly looked interminable when, last week, the Jet Airways bus took us on a seemingly endless parikrama around it on our way from the plane to the old terminal. In the awed hush, you could hear a promise drop. Mumbai's new airport is still a spec on the horizon.


The hoopla over T3 got me thinking. Since we keep griping about life in our metros, why don't we do the Indian thing, and simply become permanent squatters at T3? And refuse to budge however much money we are offered to move out with our bori-bistar and matching bidet. Why should we? Doesn't T3 offer everything and more that we have been demanding in vain from the municipal corporation, the metropolitan development authority, and the corner cop. So, T3 Chalo. The Terminapolis is the new urban alternative, scoring over conventional cities on every quality of life indicator.


Let's start with traffic. All these years we have been crying hoarse over this nightmare, and here at last is the answer. Have you any idea how many people like you are stuck every peak hour in buses, cars, autos etc? Now no one needs to fume - or breathe it in either. Road rage no more. Simply take the T3 route to hassle-free movement. Its hi-tech facilities can clear 600 passengers an hour, give or take the odd nit-picking (and nose-picking) Immigration officer.


Are you instead an aam pedestrian living in fear of losing a leg thanks to killer buses, or fed up of being edged off broken pavements by jostlers, hawkers and proprietary cattle? You aren't too lowly for nine-level-high T3. Automated walkways will ferry you to your destination without so much as an aching calf, let alone a bull-like SUV.


 Tired of the endless - and expensive - circling round the block in search of the civic holy grail of parking space? Of tow-away cranes and the 'licence-dekhao' lout in uniform? All these headaches miraculously disappear when you decide to make T3 your place of stay, play and work. You can simply slide into any of its multilevel lots that can accommodate 4,300 cars or swing into the 2,200-car surface space.


Or take that other urban blight, shopping. Do you abhor filthy bazaars or even the now-boring malls? Delhi's T3 is your myriad-delight shopping experience. The 20,000 sq ft of retail space will ensure that your foot never falls on some rotting cabbage leaf or even fraying carpet.


Do you still hesitate to shift from your current squalid town to the sleek Terminopolis? Let me tempt you with the food courts. Row upon row of them offers fare that comes from every country in the world, and costs the earth.





And if you insist on working in this Utopia you can even do that with ease. The new T3 promises to create jobs the way cities create confusion.


What? This perfect bubble makes you feel uncomfortable? It's too orderly, too antiseptic? Don't worry, give it a couple of months and it'll be just like home. Pushers, potholes, paan juice and all.








In every war, the first casualty is often the ability to digest criticism. India's war against the Maoists is no exception. How seriously the government takes this threat can be gauged from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's repeated assertions that Maoist violence is the gravest internal security threat. The Chhattisgarh police, in a press statement, alleged that four activists — all well- known critics of the State's battle tactics in Maoism's 'Ground Zero' — Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar, Himanshu Kumar and Arundhati Roy have close links with Lingaram Kodopi, who allegedly led the July 6 attack on a local Congress leader in Chhattisgarh. A senior state police official has also warned the four that they could be treated as 'co-accused' under the Chhattisgarh Special People's Security Act for "waging war against the State".


It seems that in its no-holds-barred battle to reoccupy lost land from the Maoists, the government is erasing the line that divides someone waging a 'war against the State' and someone who is critical of its policies like the Salwa Judum. Though no case has been filed against the four yet, the State's inability to distinguish between the two is worrying. In a letter to the home minister, historian and anthropologist — not a Maoist  sympathiser by any stretch of stretchable imagination — Ramachandra Guha said that such allegations are "not just slanderous and defamatory, but also deeply counter-productive". He is right. It is clear that there is a trust deficit between the 'pro-Maoist' tribals and the government and such allegations without any evidence beyond sharing a 'territory' will only exacerbate matters. The police, we have now been told, are investigating the alleged links. So what was the perishing hurry to go public with the allegations when they themselves are unsure about the links?


In a democracy, criticism is a part and parcel of solving any problem and the State has to be seen as an exemplar of fair play. The Maoists don't need to follow the rulebook. The State, by definition, has to. Many, especially in the frontline of anti-Maoist operations, may find this dichotomy difficult to tackle. But difficulty is not an excuse to throw the rulebook away. For the sake of the State and what it stands for, let the Government of India not make a 'if you're not with us you're against us' paradigm that serves against its ideals, and more importantly, against its own operational strategy.







In 1844, when Queen Victoria was still amused about queening over a British Empire, an affable 22-year-old George Williams, gathered a bunch of fellow drapers in London to start a 'club' that would allow these blokes to not spend their spare time 'in sin'. The result was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), the goal of which was to put 'Christian principles' of developing "a healthy spirit, mind and body" into practice. More than a century-and-a-half later, neither the colonial pull of Christian values nor the initials 'YMCA', with its residue of 'Christian Association' tag, attracts the men of the world as it used to. So understandably, in a bid to recast itself as a hip gathering, the old YMCA now prefer to be known as 'Y'.


Why? Because the name smells of a secularised 'youth' organisation, not to mention that it fits into the style of having really short names that can easily trip off the tongue before one can say, 'How about a shot of E in the Y loo?'


As is wont with such shifts in nomenclature, social scientists with lots of funds but no work have started to wonder what will happen to the 1978 disco classic — and unofficial gay anthem — 'YMCA'. Will they — some of these secular, asexual morons ask — need to now change the title and lyrics to 'Y', filling the three other syllables of the chorus line 'Y-M-C-A' with some boom'n'bass? As far as we know, nobody in their right mind has asked that stupid question: 'Are we now going to change the song, Bombay se aya mera dost to Mumbai se aya mera dost. So there should be no reason why 'YMCA' should be morphed with the times. As for Williams' noble ghost worrying about how 'Y' will spread the message of good and goodwill, let us refer to the all-important lines in the disco hymn, "It's fun to stay at the y-m-c-a/It's fun to stay at the y-m-c-a/They have everything for you men to enjoy/You can hang out with all the boys..."







'Each one for himself or herself. As in Benares, in the Ganges, each for himself and looking after his own salvation.' These observations were made around 1912 by a French wanderer called Henri Michaux as he drifted across conquered India, recording the "living challenge of the Asiatic peoples to our terrible Western monotony". In his book, A Barbarian in Asia, Michaux exults, "Love live the last resistants!"


A century later, we are still the last resistants. Not for us the comfort of the same McBurger from sea to shining sea. Not for us the conformity of blue jeans and office suits. Not for us the efficiency of Walmart, small government, building codes, one authority or working to a plan.


As the monsoons wreak their annual havoc on the cities of emerging India, it's quite obvious that we are building new infrastructure with scant regard for the basics of town planning, quality standards and common sense, cooperative administration. So, Delhi's grand, new interchanges are flooded after the first monsoon showers. Oops, it turns out that the road engineers didn't build drains. So, despite a wealth of experience at her command, the chief minister of Delhi still needs to do the job of a drain inspector.


There is no method to the madness. Workers uproot old pavements, laying sandstone tiles, carefully chosen to match the buildings of the Raj. It takes weeks of haphazardly strewn debris, an inhuman, shambolic tent city of workers and much shoddy execution before the new pavement is ready. Within days, sometimes hours, along come another lot of workers and tears up the pavement.


Things are now so comical that Sheila Dikshit, chief-minister-turned-drain-inspector, announces a date — not to finish work but to clear debris. She also orders that the men and women working for a host of agencies — MCD, NDMC, PWD, DMRC — must show results. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi promptly declares the flooded areas are not in its jurisdiction and blames the Public Works Department and the Delhi Metro.


In India, whatever goes wrong is usually someone else's responsibility. So the director general of police in India's most-insurgency-wracked state publicly blames the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) — outsiders flown in and deployed in remote areas where the state police refuse to go — for the deaths of more than 100 CRPF troopers. After years of ignoring injustice and poverty, to expect 66,000 ill-trained troops to bring order to a region half the size of Europe is a bit rich. India is still so poor that we struggle to understand how badly off we are.


A new global report says there are more poor people in eight Indian states than there are in the 26 poorest African nations combined.


The Indian official's ability to work towards his or her salvation to the exclusion of realities is not new, but it is surprising. The Judeo-Christian ethic that defines the Western world was built on the power of the individual. Yet, Western civilisation in its order provides a great example of cooperative effort. No man is an island. Indians are, by instinct and tradition, a people given to living in groups. We define ourselves and our bonds by caste, community, religion and organisation. As a nation, these bonds lend us unique, colourful identities and help us survive poverty, tragedy and destitution.


We now need to break some of these bonds while working for the public good. At the very least, the Indian bureaucracy must acquire the ability to work with those not of the group, to accept responsibilities that go beyond the group. Corporate India has learnt these techniques, borrowing the best practices of the West and infusing them with native resilience, creativity and the ability to work long and hard.


A test case for working towards the common good in the public sphere is emerging as the government's next great challenge looms: transforming India's hidebound bureaucracy and reforming the wasteful, corruption-ridden social-security schemes that could theoretically eliminate poverty. As part of its 'Re-Imagining India' series (, this paper has reported how a handful of inspired, energetic bureaucrats and politicians have shown that governmental India can work as a team.


Successful as they are, these initiatives are still islands of order in a sea of chaos. The overwhelming lesson from successful public initiatives is that teams mirroring the old social order rarely work. They need an infusion of talent and ideas from the outside; combine it with a strict adherence to standards, laws and quality; while retaining the ability to be flexible and nimble. That's how the Delhi Metro works. That's how the National Health Insurance Scheme (it offers 60 million poor Indians a cashless, paperless insurance anywhere in India) works. That's how, in a country where more than half the Rs 55,000 crore of the 2010-11 food subsidy will be wasted, the Chhattisgarh government has become the only state government to deliver to its citizens a modern, efficient system of distributing food to its poorest people.


Change must come from the top. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh need to show that the UPA intends to reform one of the world's most regressive bureaucracies. The alliance did just enough creative thinking to squeeze through as UPA-1 and UPA-2. Unless it begins the really hard work of finding answers to the big administrative questions, an endlessly aspirational India won't vote in a UPA-3.







Most of the opposition parties while criticising the government for raising the price of diesel have been urging it to shift the cost burden on to petrol in the outdated belief that cars are the luxury toys of the elite. These critics do not understand that things have changed and that luxury cars today account for just 0.2 per cent of car buyers and that 78 per cent of India's cars are some 11 million hatchbacks owned by a hard-working middle class who need small cars to get to work. Equally important is the fact that India today has some 80 million 2-wheelers that are almost entirely owned by tradesmen, contractors and lower income workers. These 90 million vehicles daily ferry over 150 million people and they do not need to be victimised because of an obsolete stereotype. Today they may not be considered very politically active but if they felt an injustice was being inflicted on them they could cause riots as has been the case in many countries like Egypt and Indonesia.


We are also being persuaded by a government that is shedding crocodile tears over the heavy burden that uncontrollable crude oil prices are putting upon the public sector oil companies. A close look at the facts shows that a barrel of crude contains 158 litres that at $40 (Rs 1840) a barrel in 2004 would have cost Rs 11.39 a litre. It now costs about $72 or Rs. 20.50 a litre. So the prices have now risen by just Rs 9.11 per litre. Though the government does not openly reveal it, the retail prices have more than doubled with the substantial addition of taxes.


The actual cost of petrol after refining and transport in Delhi is just Rs 24.79 that is virtually the same for diesel and kerosene as well. The retail price of petrol at Rs 51.66 contains customs duty of Rs 1.03, sales tax of Rs 7.75 and excise duty of Rs 18.08 totaling 51 per cent of the price the consumers pay. The taxes on diesel are lower but they too carry a big tax element. Only kerosene and LPG are subsidised. The government is also obfuscating about the losses supposedly suffered by the oil companies as the profits and reserves of ONGC, Indian Oil and the others are sinfully high.


The taxes on oil products are the main source of government revenue but the impact is unjustly multiplied because these are levied on a 'ad valorem' (per cent) basis and increase exponentially with every increase in crude oil costs. The government can secure the tax income it needs with tax at a flat rate per kilolitre and its revenues would continue to grow with the growth in fuel consumption.


Diesel for trucks accounts for only one third of their operating costs that, in turn, averages about 5 per cent of the costs of the soap, toiletries and foodstuffs that we buy. Thus the total cost of diesel is just 1.75 per cent of the cost of goods and is not as inflationary as many seem to believe. The defenders of low diesel prices are also in a time warp when they criticise luxury cars that run on diesel not realising that diesel technology has changed so much that many buyers in Europe and US buy diesel cars despite the fact that diesel costs as much as petrol. New diesel engines are now more fuel-efficient than petrol engines and are no longer the sluggish, noisy and polluting vehicles of earlier times. They do not need subsidised prices for fuel nor do the gensets that provide standby power to all the cinemas, malls, offices, hotels, etc, that are estimated to amount to about 10 per cent of India's diesel consumption.


Kerosene actually costs almost the same as petrol or diesel but the huge subsidy encourages massive adulteration that is officially estimated at 40 per cent. Millions of adulterators spend Rs 120 to buy 10 litres and can earn a profit of Rs 400 when they mix it with petrol. Even diesel is adulterated to cause pollution as well as damage to engines. Subsidised kerosene and diesel may only be considered in forest districts. The adulteration would be limited and it might help save the forests. Removing subsidies on the prices of fuels will otherwise impact the actual users of kerosene for cooking and lighting but they will not be inflationary. It is the government's huge 'ad valorem' taxes that are inflationary.


Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobile analyst


The views expressed by the author are personal








Spiritual aspirants can learn a lot from the life of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and a realised master of Mahayan Buddhism. His adamant aspiration, tenacity and absolute surrender to the guru leading to supreme realisation can lighten our own spiritual pilgrimage.


In early life, with terrible spirit of revenge, he acquired occult powers to teach befitting lesson to his inimical relatives who had impoverished his helpless widowed mother with two kids. But very soon he realised that revenge is a kind of wild justice and it invariably fails to generate peace or requisite learning.


The sunlit path of compassion and enlightenment propagated by the Buddha instead can offer permanent peace and solution to all problems in this impermanent world of constant flux. Exercise of supernatural powers over natural phenomenon has its equal opposite reaction. He started frantic search for great guru Marpa for initiation into Buddhist meditation for realisation.


Marpa was ready for his great arrival. But he demanded absolute surrender from the most eligible disciple. Milarepa agreed to follow his instructions. Then followed the rigorous test of his austerity and true surrender.


Marpa ordered him to build a house for him with stones taking bare minimum food. When the enormous task

was complete, instead of being happy, Marpa was angry. The house was not built as per his orders. Hence it had to be destroyed and built anew.  Milarepa obeyed the guru's dictates without any objection. Same thing was repeated, again and again. Thus, the whimsical orders of the guru made him built seven houses. Still the guru was not satisfied. Rigorous and humiliating tests were inflicted on him. But Milarepa, with his goal ever shining before him, could convince himself that he had come for supreme realisation and not for any accomplishment or ego satisfaction. This attitude, ultimately, led him to become a Buddha, an enlightened one.







Now that the World Cup is over, I need to detoxify with some healthy drinks to get some of those toxins out of my system.


Depends on what healthy drinks are in your lexicon.


Well, veggie juices for a start, nothing like a shot of lauki juice straight to your bloodstream in the morning to keep you fighting fit the whole day.


It might be a fight to the finish if you go by the example of the poor man who was detoxified forever after drinking the bitter draught.


One bitter experience does not a whole toxicology report make. Anyway, I reckon that Baba Ramdev who swears by a swig of karela and lauki juice knows his onions.


For goodness sake, nothing that bitter, green or vile could ever make you healthy. And as for Ramdev, all that standing on his head must have gone to his head.


I don't want to run up huge bills with doctors, I'll juice it my way.


You'll probably pay more for the veggies than a strip of tablets and become a sourpuss to boot.


Look at you, I suppose you think that a daily shot of tequila is enough to keep the doctor away.


Why not, it is but the juice of cactus, as vodka is of potatoes and gin of juniper berries. Only I'm having a lot more fun throwing them down the hatch than you are.


Do say:  I'll squeeze through.


Don't say: Leave out the juicy bits.








Maharashtra's politics is now so reflexively chauvinistic that its excesses no longer surprise. After a day spent plotting how to scotch revisionist writing on religious and national icons, the state government has nominated itself to lead an agitation for altering the map of neighbouring Karnataka. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan demanded that Belgaum and 865 villages with Marathi speakers in Karnataka be declared Union territory till the Supreme Court pronounced on their status. It is not just out of line for a state government to interfere in the administration of another state — the politics of competitive chauvinism that's been reignited this week reflects the abdication of responsible policy-making in Maharashtra.


Chavan's demand accompanied a resolution by the Maharashtra assembly asking the Centre to revisit its stance on the border dispute. The Centre's affidavit in the SC had rebuffed the argument that these areas had been wrongly incorporated in Karnataka. It is not just that political parties are vying with each other to reflect the tension between the two states. They have been doing enough to fuel it. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, predictably, outdid the rest by asking for a seat to be reserved in the state assembly for a representative of the areas under dispute.


And that demand captures the state of play in Maharashtra. Parties like the MNS have taken the discourse so decisively to the fringe that it's often ignored that the rest of the fray has moved the middle ground that much closer to the chauvinist extreme. One reason for this is that there is a perception that in the state's traditionally four-party race, the Shiv Sena's political space is up for grabs. To claim that space, the Congress, BJP and NCP allow discourse to be set on the Senas' terms. Witness, most alarmingly, the reaction across the political spectrum on the SC overturning a ban on a book on Shivaji. But the overall effect is that the state has a government uninterested in development and an opposition uninterested in holding it to account.







The promise of inclusive growth has been the UPA's oft repeated mantra in government over the last six years. Needless to say, much remains to be done to actually fulfil that promise. The one policy agenda that could be a gamechanger in that quest is the one that relates to financial inclusion, the theme chosen for discussion and debate at the FE Best Banks Awards on Tuesday. Speaking on the occasion, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee emphasised the need to open more avenues for the bottom of the pyramid to access banking facilities in the country, the essence of any financial inclusion agenda. At a fundamental level, this is a goal that few would pick a quarrel with. The lack of progress in actually extending banking facilities to a greater majority of Indians isn't because of dispute over the goal but rather over differences on the actual policy steps that need to be taken.


There are two different sides to extending banking facilities to the excluded. A first objective is to give people access to bank accounts where they can deposit (and subsequently transact and transfer) their money. A second distinct objective is to enable more Indians to get access to credit from the commercial banking system. Each requires a separate policy momentum. The first objective is a relatively low-hanging fruit especially now that there is technology to help speed it up. The UID numbers, soon to be rolled out, will solve the problem of proving a person's identity, a critical impediment in opening a bank account for the excluded. Couple that with innovative banking methods like banking correspondents and mobile banking, and it should not be difficult to open hundreds of millions of new bank accounts. All it needs is for policymakers, particularly in the RBI, to be liberal in letting banks extend their reach in the most efficient way possible.


The second objective, of extending credit, is more complicated. Financial inclusion at the expense of all prudential norms, the kind practised with sub-prime borrowers in the US until not very long ago, can, as we now know, well have catastrophic consequences. Even in India, the compulsory diversion of credit to priority sectors hasn't really achieved much but to increase the levels of non-performing assets in the system. Still, that is not reason enough to stop providing credit to those with lower incomes. Microfinance institutions in India and elsewhere have already proved that the poor can be creditworthy. But it needs commercial banks to follow a very different business strategy for this segment. How banks rise to this challenge may well define the extent and quality of financial inclusion in India in the years to come.








Kashmir once again numbs us into a deeply agonised silence. The mountain of commentary cannot disguise the ugly truth that genuine conversation has become impossible. Every year, the same tired clichés, the same show of bravado, the same grasping at straws, the same lies and the same wishful thinking, will make their appearance in the public sphere and disappear, leaving no one wiser, or no one healed. It is difficult to figure out the complicated layers of politics in Kashmir. But the discourse that dominates New Delhi is so self-defeating that you begin to wonder if the


Indian state has even a clue where to begin.


The first truth that needs to be acknowledged is that politics in a situation like Kashmir is more deeply psychological, rather than ideological or interest driven. What kind of politics and response is appropriate for a people, who have experienced a particular history of betrayal by the Indian state, whose daily lives have not for more than two decades seen anything outside the horizons of conflict and whose daily lives are marked by a sense of siege? How do you address a generation that has grown up under the spectre of violence and suspicion and with no sense of what normalcy is like? What sediments of fear, anxiety and resentment do you have to work through, to even begin to bridge the chasm that now exists? Delhi's problem is that it has never understood that political interventions in Kashmir have to be therapeutic, more than technical or political. We can debate the security rationale of our troop strategy in Kashmir. We can acknowledge the toll our strategy is taking on the security forces, whose edginess and internal corrosion are a symptom of the price they have paid. But we have not fully understood what it means to live life under the daily interdictions of security forces, where the freedoms and status associated with citizenship seem so elusive to grasp. We make the mistake of assuming that a modicum of a representative process, the flow of funds, as important as they are, can compensate for the existential scars of living amidst a thick security cover.


Part of the reason we don't take these issues seriously is that politics that genuinely addresses pain is very difficult. We have no leaders on the horizon, in Kashmir or outside, who have the personal qualities required in a situation like this: a combination of credibility, power, communicative skills, ability to deal with the past, ability to communicate empathy and an ability to take decisive political action. The prime minister may be sincere, but his room for taking any political risk is virtually zero. And those with more political weight than him refuse to deal with Kashmir in the sustained way in which it needs attention. Most Kashmiri politicians are either too afraid, or now have such an investment in the beaten paths of predictable rhetoric, that they are unlikely to even try a reconciliatory touch.


And the Indian state daily sends out so many reminders in ways big and small, that it does not listen: it is an automaton working on the momentum of its own institutional weight. Consider a seemingly unrelated fact. The government recently decided to censor a chapter in a report it had commissioned on the implementation of PESA. If a government cannot engage in an open dialogue at that level about multi-level governance, its ability to send any signal that it is actually intent on listening is seriously compromised. What is revealing in this episode is how insecure the state is, and in a conflict situation obtuseness and insecurity are a deadly combination. In fact, perhaps the only thing that now bonds so much of the rest of India with Kashmir is that we cannot get the government to listen; we cannot get it to prevent it from becoming a victim of its own self-fulfilling fears.


But there is another reason that we also need to deeply acknowledge. We have been grasping at every explanation that would deny our complicity. The obsession of the media with the so-called transcripts that prove that some of the violence has been deliberately instigated is spectacularly self-defeating. First, it is reported as if it should come as a big surprise. Of course all kinds of forces are going to feed off a conflict situation. And there is something so predictable about how we all want to simply buy what the state is telling us. But more importantly, the whole construction now is to deny any legitimacy to protests in Kashmir. This may give us some ideological comfort. But its net effect is to marginalise the ordinary Kashmiri even more. First, they were under the pall of suspicion; now the sum total of our message to them is that they are also dupes, so we don't need to take their protest seriously. This is hardly a sound basis for the kind of therapeutic politics we need.


There is no doubt that Pakistan will fish in troubled waters. There is greater radicalisation and move towards Islamisation amongst some young people in Kashmir. There is also, as happens in identities constituted by betrayal and resentment, a lack of clear thinking about constraints and pathways out; protest itself becomes an end because that is the only way to assert any sense of agency. But this is all the more reason for the Indian state to act in a way that is more exemplary, rather than thinking that muscularity or ham-handed propaganda will wish the problem away. The proper response is for the state to accept radical criticism. At the risk of being graceless, let us ask ourselves honestly, how many of us have not, at some point, felt deep frustration at the state?


There is no dearth of solutions on offer, from political representation, better policing, economic growth. But the three things necessary for any possible pathway are completely missing: credibility in any of the parties, a willingness to take a risk and, most importantly, deep understanding. In Kashmir, the paramount issue in the immediate context has never been abstract formulas for autonomy; it is convincing Kashmiris that azadi in the day-to-day sense that citizens ought to enjoy is possible. A pathway to that is lost under the weight of big abstractions that passes for solutions in Delhi.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







India's aviation sector has suddenly been hit by bad news. Delhi's much-vaunted Terminal 3 starts operating almost a month after schedule. The environment ministry is delaying clearance for a new airport for Mumbai, while the existing one threatens that it has run out of capacity. Meanwhile, a rule that prevents the operation of two airports within 150 kilometres of each other has reduced the chances of new airports for Chennai and Greater Noida, while the same rule has been bent for Goa.


Operating airports is hard business, and a vibrant aviation sector needs several pieces to fall into place — bilateral treaties for the right to carry passengers and cargo, a financial sector that can support airlines and airports, sensible taxation, supportive regulation, and siting civil and military airports correctly. However, India faces a specific set of problems, which has held it from getting world-class airports.


First — India's abysmal track record with local government. In the US, airports are typically owned by their city governments, and operated by a professional body. By contrast, Indian airports are usually owned by the Union government through the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which means that cities which wish to upgrade their airports need to go to the Centre with political influence, and not to banks with strong balance sheets. Bangalore and Hyderabad's new airports are exceptions, but they too are part owned by the AAI and state governments. The state of city finances and governance makes city ownership of airports seem utopian, but this need not always be the case.


The next problem is the monolithic structure of the AAI, both owner and operator for most airports. Splitting functions into different bodies is now accepted practice in the power and telecom sectors, even the railway ministry has created dedicated corporations for project work and catering. There is no reason, then, for one single body to manage air traffic control, airport cleanliness, and airport financing and other functions.


But even when AAI monopoly has been broken, as in Delhi and Hyderabad airports, regulation has proven inadequate. There was no airport regulator until the civil aviation ministry set up the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority last year. The AERA is a severely constrained regulator — it can only examine quality of service, and allow or reject airports' request to change the fees they charge to airlines and passengers. Until now, the ministry has not said whether the AERA can also rule on the validity of contracts that seek to restructure airport operations and the flow of funds; or whether it will make model concession agreements — financial contracts — for future private airports.


Regulating fees is fraught with difficulty, as the recent episode with the insurance regulator defending high-fee ULIPs has shown us. If the AERA focused instead on creating model concession agreements, it could inject competition into the airport market and let competition do the work of keeping fees down.


International Civil Aviation Organisation guidelines stipulate that there should not be two civilian airports within 150 kilometres of each other, but allow local authorities to make exceptions. At present, the exception is made by the civil aviation ministry. This power could be given over to the AERA and embedded into contracts. An airport concession agreement could stipulate that a firm could continue to operate an airport only as long as it maintained a minimum quality of service on parameters such as congestion, passenger amenities, and safety and maintenance facilities. The contract could also include triggers for allowing a fresh airport within the 150 kilometre radius — congestion, inability to expand, or persistently failing on quality of service measurements. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the AERA will ever be empowered to this extent.

Part of the problem is that the AAI (operator) and the AERA (regulator) are both arms of the civil aviation ministry, which will try to protect the elder sibling. The problem India faces in banking, insurance, telecom, and airlines — of a ministry controlling both player and referee — plagues airports as well. If the AAI was corporatised, and unbundled into different firms carrying out different activities that would have to compete with private sector firms for contracts at every individual airport, the AERA would not have such a difficult job.


The UPA was willing to empower cities in its first term. In its second term, it has taken politically unpopular but fiscally responsible decisions like freeing fuel prices. It has the opportunity to break up AAI, push the parts into a competitive market, and give the AERA more teeth. This could hurt AAI's 22,000 employees, but could give thousands more job opportunities — and give millions of passengers better airports to transit through.


The writer is a former banker







The withdrawal of cashless hospitalisation facilities by the four major public sector health insurance companies in Delhi and other metros — subsequently restored on a case-by-case basis — is a landmark event, one that will impact the long-term viability of the private health insurance industry in India. A major reason for the dispute has been growing abuse of the cashless treatment facility after the entry of third party administrators or TPAs, which led to large losses for the public sector insurance companies.


Numbers also show that though the entry of the TPAs at the start of the decade has helped accelerate growth in the industry, there have been sharp fluctuations in the number of policies issued and in premiums paid, as the industry attempts to stem the growing losses in the sector. This has not only affected the industry's credibility but, indeed, threatened its very viability.


For instance: though health insurance policies have grown steadily, at an average annual rate of above 20 per cent in the five years till 2008-09, and premiums risen at a stupendous 37.7 per cent during that period, growth has been very uneven. Policies issued, for example, went down sharply by close to a tenth in 2004-05 — and then by almost double that level in 2006-07. Similarly the amount of premium paid also suddenly dropped by 2.2 per cent in


2007-08 — despite a simultaneous, double-digit, increase in the number of policies issued.


But more than the sharp fluctuations in volumes, the industry's greater concern has been its rapidly growing losses. Though it made some profits in the second half of the decade, with the claims-to-premium ratio dipping from 96 per cent in 2004-05 to 78 per cent in


2006-07, the gains were neutralised by the sharp increase in claims in subsequent years; in 2007-08, the claims-to-premium ratio rose to 105 per cent, and it stayed above 100 per cent in 2008-09, at 103 per cent.


The reason for the large claims being made in the health insurance market have been well-documented. Studies from across the world show that the main reason is asymmetry of information: both the patient and the insurance company are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the health service provider, whose advice on current diagnoses and future treatments or prices cannot be challenged — in the absence, at least, of a strong competitive market for health services.


And the problem worsens when it comes to cashless insurance, where there are no clear incentives to control costs, as it is looked upon as a free good by both the patients and the service providers who can exploit the fee for a service-based payment system. So while the health provider is tempted to go in for excessive treatment and maximise revenues — a moral hazard that is difficult to overcome — the patient is encouraged to seek treatment for frivolous issues which he would have normally ignored.


The main reason for this unhealthy trend in the industry is the lack of any regulation of health service providers about the quality or cost of services. Though the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Health Care Providers (generally abbreviated NABH) has made suggestions that insurance firms should only empanel hospitals that it has accredited, the proposal has not made much headway: only around 327 hospitals have applied, and a mere 44 hospitals have so far been accredited. And the end result is the bloated growth of health insurance claims. Though the number of policies sold has gone up by an average rate of around 8 per cent in the three years till 2008-09, the outgo on claims made has shot up at more than four times that pace.


But it is just not the sharp deterioration in the claims-to-premium ratio that is worrying the insurance PSUs. More disturbing for them is their widening gap with the claim ratios of private insurance companies. The numbers for 2007-08 and


2008-09 show that, not only have claims-to-premium ratios in the public sector deteriorated sharply from 112 per cent to 117 per cent, the gap with the ratio of private insurance companies has widened, with the latter improving from 95 per cent to 85 per cent.


So the public sector companies drive the health insurance business remain saddled with the losses while the private companies, which have a more stringent mechanism for checking manipulation of service providers and judging claims, remain profitable. At least a part of the bloated premium claims on the public sector health insurance companies have to be borne by the TPA. In fact a committee set up by insurance regulator IRDA to evaluate the TPA system in 2008 highlighted the significant variation in the cost of treatment for the same ailment across providers in different geographies; low incentives for fraud control; leakage and lack of controls in health claims processing; and the prevalence of non-standard billing and payment processes, as the main reasons for the growing gaps in claims-to-premium ratios between the public and private sector companies. Now it is for IRDA, which appointed the committee, to try and end the anomalies, using the services of the industry chambers that have stepped in to resolve the issue.


The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'








Ten years after he first sat on a high chair and asked the individual opposite him "Sure? Confident? Lock kar diya jaye?", 10 years after Daddy-long-legs walked into the small screen of our lives and helped create television history, the don is back. Amitabh Bachchan will, once again, host Kaun Banega Crorepati. And perhaps, once again, it will be a beautiful game.

The consummate performer that he is, he could be the darling of TV viewers sick of watching unhappy love soaps, reality shows where half are happy and the rest unhappy because of the spectre of elimination, or with little children who don't reach even AB's hips, happily gyrating to his "Jumma, chumma de de". Yes, it could well be a second coming for Bachchan on TV.


It's been a decade, but can't you still remember that July of 2000, when he appeared in a halo of strobe lights, in his double-breasted suits and fluorescent ties, rubbing his hands before he sauntered forward and took up his seat? How he made the besotted contestants feel as tall as him and the viewers like welcome guests into his home ("Hello, ? No reality TV show other than perhaps Zee's Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (in its early days) has come even close to being as classy a show as KBC then.


Together they ushered in the greatest television success story so far. Before KBC came calling and brought along with it Ekta Kapoor's K serials — Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi began in July 2000 — all we watched on Star Plus was Saans and The Bold and the Beautiful. This unlikely English-Hindi combination wasn't working well so Star Plus went from being partially pardesi to entirely desi. And in walked the big man with a voice to match his height inviting you to join him in a quiz game that was foreign in origin, but with the Big B became as Indian as, well, him.


Before and after him came the delightful young Tulsi (Kyunki...), the perfect Parvati (Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki) and a year later, TV's most beloved doomed lovers, Anurag and Prerna (Kasautii Zindagi Kay). Those were the days, my friend. This is not pure rosy nostalgia: watching today's top serials — Bidaai, Pavitra Rishta, Pratigya, Balika Vadhu — you can see the K imprint as clearly as though it had been freshly stamped today. The camera gyrations (rather like the kids dancing on Boogie Woogie or Chak Dhoom Dhoom) the close-ups, the costumes, the melodrama heightened by the music, and the storylines which deal with young love, marriage and family responsibilities/injustices. In their heyday, weren't those the stories Kyunki, Kahani or Kasautii recounted? It's entirely possible that if these soaps were to be aired for the first time now, they would be almost as successful as they were during 2000-2005. Really, little has changed for all the claims we make of social themes being the favourite of the day. It's still all about loving or not loving your families.


KBC should do well. Bachchan is older and more frail but that voice still rings out clear and he probably signs his name with that familiar flourish. Let's see if we find him as endearing as we did a decade ago.


What was not at all endearing was the Hindi commentary during the football World Cup final last Sunday. No, haven't lost it, as the Dutch clearly did that night. If you were watching DD National which very kindly telecast the match live, you would have heard something like this, some of it lost in translation: "And the ball is now with Spain. The midfielder passes it to the left inside who passes it to the forward who passes to... who shoots it at the goal keeper and... it's not a goal!" The identity of the players followed — but often after the ball was with another player. We were left trying to keep up with the game and chasing after the names.






I was on vacation when the story broke that 11 Russians had been charged as sleeper agents planted in America by Moscow's spy agency. My first reaction was: This may be the greatest gift to America by a foreign country since France gave us the Statue of Liberty. Someone still wants to spy on us! Just when we were feeling down and out, the Russians show up and tell us that it's still worth briefcases of money to plant people in our think tanks. Subprime crisis or not, some people think we've still got the right stuff. Thank you, Vladimir Putin!


Upon reflection, though, it occurred to me that this is actually a good news/bad news story. The good news is that someone still wants to spy on us. The bad news is that it's the Russians.


Look, if you had told me that we had just arrested 11 Finns who were spying on our schools, then I'd really have felt good — since Finland's public schools always score at the top of the world education tables. If you had told me that 11 Singaporeans were arrested spying on how our government works, then I'd really have felt good — since Singapore has one of the cleanest, well-run bureaucracies in the world and pays its cabinet ministers $1 million-plus a year. If you had told me that 11 Hong Kong Chinese had been arrested studying how we regulate our financial markets, then I'd really have felt good — since that is something Hong Kong excels at. And if you had told me that 11 South Koreans were arrested studying our high-speed bandwidth penetration, then I'd really have felt good — because we've been lagging them for a long time.


But the Russians? Who wants to be spied on by them?


Were it not for oil, gas and mineral exports, Russia's economy would be contracting even more than it has. Moscow's most popular exports today are probably what they were under Khrushchev: vodka, Matryoshka dolls and Kalashnikov rifles. No, this whole spy story has the feel of one of those senior tennis tournaments — John McEnroe against Jimmy Connors, long after their primes — or maybe a rematch between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston in their 60s. You almost want to avert your eyes.


You also want to say to Putin: Do you mean you still don't get it?


Everything the Russians should want from us — the true source of our strength — doesn't require a sleeper cell to penetrate. All it requires is a tourist guide to Washington D.C., which you can buy for under $10. Most of it's in the National Archives: the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And the rest is in our culture and can be found everywhere from Silicon Valley to Route 128 near Boston. It is a commitment to individual freedom, free markets, rule of law, great research universities and a culture that celebrates immigrants and innovators.


Now if the Russians start to find all that and take it home, then we'd have to start taking them more seriously as competitors. But there is little indication of that. Indeed, as Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in a recent essay, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia just announced plans to build an "Innovation City" in Skolkovo, outside Moscow. This "technopolis" is planned as a free-enterprise zone to attract the world's best talent.


There is just one problem, notes Aron: "Importing ideas and technology from the West has been a key element in Russia's 'modernisations' since at least Peter the Great in the early 18th century... But Russia has tightly controlled what it imported: Machines and engineers, yes. A spirit of free inquiry, a commitment to innovation free from bureaucratic 'guidance' and, most important, encouragement of brave, even brash, entrepreneurs who can be confident they will own the results of their work — most certainly no. Peter and his successors sought to produce fruit without cultivating the roots... Only a man or woman free from fear and overseers can build a Silicon Valley. And such men and women are harder and harder to come by in Russia today... Disgusted and scared by the lawlessness and rampant corruption... Russian entrepreneurs are investing very little in their country beyond their immediate production needs."


No, everything the Russians should want from us is everything they don't have to steal. It is also everything should be celebrating and preserving but lately have not: open immigration, educational excellence, a culture of innovation and a financial system designed to promote creative destruction, not "destructive creation," as the economist Jagdish Bhagwati called it.


So, yes, let's swap their spies for ours. But let's also remember that being spied on by the Russians today is not an honour. It's just an old habit. Because they are no longer our peers, except in nuclear weapons unlikely to ever be used. The countries we need to be worried about are the ones whose teachers, bureaucrats, savers, investors and innovators — not spies — are beating us in broad daylight at our own game.








Taking forward the BJP's "UPA is soft on terror" argument, the RSS compares the anti-terror resolve of the Obama administration and Manmohan Singh government in the latest edition of its mouthpiece Organiser. It says while the US executive is focused and systematic in fighting terrorism, the Indian cabinet is confused and wavering from one knee-jerk response to another.


Take the instance of the stringent US Patriot Act enacted by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The article says Obama neither dismantled the act nor disowned the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes by letting the US military complete its task in Afghanistan. "In India, the Manmohan Singh government has refused to challenge terrorists militarily on home grounds of terrorists and in 2004 dismantled the POTA law just to appease Muslims. The UPA set up the National Investigation Agency and amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, but official pronouncements of the UPA government to appease Muslims deter officers from using it pro-actively," it says.


The US is known to have secretly drawn up a list of terrorists including its own citizens who could be killed by US security agencies. "In India, whenever police gun down terrorists based on field intelligence they are accused of fake encounters by Marxists, by media and are called upon by judiciary to justify encounters and policemen often land up in jails facing charges of murder," it says.


US economics out


The RSS has given a thumbs up to the bandh called by the united opposition saying it marked a new beginning in Indian politics. It feels the massive support to the call reminded the country of the politics of the '70s and '80s when mass protest had became a way of national life. In a democracy the idea of mass action has no time warp.


"Nobody is arguing for a return to the days of mindless trade unionism, strikes and layoffs. Their time is past but mass action against the erratic, anti-people policies is another matter. Protest is a legitimate right of the people. Free market economics has its limits," the lead editorial in the RSS organ says.


The bandh proved that in the national interest various parties otherwise on the extremes of the political spectrum can join hands. "This is what made the establishment most nervous. Its elitist, US-dictated economic policies will not go unchallenged. The atmospheric for protest that a united opposition creates will make too hot for comfort for the regime at the helm," the edit argues.


Badal too market-driven?


The BJP may have conveniently ignored coalition partner and Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal's demand that his state be paid royalty on the water allocated to Haryana and Rajasthan from its rivers. But the RSS feels the demand has no justification.


An article in the offical voice of the RSS feels that the reduction of water to a commodity on which a price is put is hardly surprising given the fact that it is becoming scarcer. But, it points out, water is renewable unlike Badal who had equated water with minerals like coal and bauxite, which are non-renewable resources. "Putting a price on water will not solve the problem of water scarcity. After all, food must be produced, whatever the cost. And therein lies the flaw in Badal's argument, however soundly rooted in concern for his state it might be. Punjab's water woes cannot be ignored, but the approach to scarcity cannot be based on mining and transportation of water — that would be to accept Badal's contention that it must be treated as a finite mineral resource," the article says.


It advocates that water must be treated as a community resource, to be conserved and managed by communities according to their needs and not those of the market. "Punjab has an average rainfall of 770 mm — more than enough to meet its needs, if properly managed. This involves a drastic realignment of its agricultural policy as well, which must be farmer-rather than market-driven," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







Speaking on the occasion of the FE Best Banks Awards on Tuesday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee gave Indian banks a pat on the back for having recorded on average, net profits between 15% and 20% in a year, 2009-10, that was difficult for the global financial system. The Indian banking system, and its regulators, do, of course, deserve credit for steering the economy through the worst global crisis in many decades in decent shape. But now is perhaps the time for Indian banks to start thinking beyond resilience. In fact, the finance minister urged banks not to rest on their laurels, but to benchmark themselves with the best and strive further. Very broadly, there are two challenges that Indian banks must rise up to. First, and this was the theme of the FE Best Banks Awards this year, is financial inclusion—banks need to reach out to the hundreds of millions of unbanked Indians to gather deposits and to extend credit to those worthy of it at reasonable rates. And while there are plenty of regulatory hurdles in the way, banks do need to start planning ahead of the regulatory curve on how best to tap this vast market. The UID numbers and other technological innovations, including software for mobile banking, ought to be useful tools for banks to use as they plan ahead.


The second challenge for Indian banks is at the other end of the financial pyramid. While it is without doubt important to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid, it is equally important for banks to begin to participate at the top end of the pyramid. No Indian bank, even SBI, is in a position today to help finance big-ticket overseas mergers and acquisitions. As Indian industry grows and expands overseas, it has greater financing needs and this presents a business opportunity for Indian banks. For now, no Indian bank is big enough to play in this niche segment. It is this lack of scale that prevented Indian banks from acquiring overseas financial institutions, even in the depths of the crisis in the West. Clearly, India needs larger banks and consolidation must be something that banks will have to themselves consider in the near future. Needless to say, it is important for regulatory authorities to ensure that competition is maintained even as consolidation takes place. But regulation aside, the next few years are crucial for Indian banking to demonstrate the ability to join the big league. It will require some deft management to conquer the top and bottom of the pyramid at the same time.







After a strong opening and crossing the 18,000-mark intraday, the benchmark Sensex closed negative, down 48 points at 17,938, on Wednesday, snapping a four-day winning streak. The broader 50-share Nifty saw profit booking amid weak European cues and closed 14.5 points down at 5,386. Although the Sensex touched its highest level in nearly two-and-a-half years on Tuesday, concerns have been raised whether the rally will continue, as RBI is expected to take a fresh look at its key interest rates in its policy review later this month—inflation continues to be the primary worry of the central bank. This may have a negative impact on rate-sensitive sectors like auto, real estate and consumer durables, which have seen a strong rally in the last few weeks. Moreover, the results of IT bellwether Infosys Technologies have underlined the fact that the credit crisis in Europe is affecting the bottom line of Indian companies that have strong links with the region. The markets will, therefore, certainly factor in all the macro trends emerging in that region. There is a consensus among analysts that further negative developments overseas may bring down the risk appetite. The earnings season will give lots of cues going ahead, and the spike in commodity and raw material prices will result in some moderation in earnings after two quarters of robust growth.


Interestingly, global investors are bullish on Indian stocks because of the improving fiscal condition of the government on the back of higher-than-expected licensing fees from the telecom auctions and deregulation of petroleum products. The benchmark Sensex is still up 2.7% so far this year, outperforming the broader Morgan Stanley Capital International's measure of Asian markets. In fact, foreign institutional investors have pumped $8 billion into Indian stocks so far in 2010, after a record $17.5 billion investment in 2009. Also, a recent Reuters poll of 21 economists show that India's economy would grow 8.4% in FY 11 and 8.5% in FY 12, indicating strong domestic demand. Companies that are focused on the domestic economy and consumption would continue to do well and get higher ratings than companies exposed to the headwinds of the global economy, and the markets will certainly factor in that trend.









When was the last time a finance minister of India referred to UTIMF as UTI? Quite some years ago, one would think. The company imploded so badly in the summer of 2001, the offspring took a lot of effort and brand building to develop a new identity for itself to distance itself from UTI.


Be that as it may, it is also interesting to note how the government has again acknowledged that stock market-linked products can offer guaranteed returns. In the 2001 scam, it was a set of guarantees on market-linked products, led by the infamous US-64, that finally did the investors in, along with a clutch of similar products, which also perished simultaneously. It was then made very clear that a market-linked product could not and will not offer any guaranteed returns. The implication was that such guarantees were a misnomer and if the products became popular riding on them, the sovereign will invariably end up as the final stop. But now the insurance regulator has issued guidelines for Ulips, assuring a 'minimum guaranteed return' of 4.5% per annum or as specified by the regulator. So, insurance companies can now race among themselves to offer a higher return. If any of them trip, misjudging their investment, one wonders who will pick up the guarantee.


Besides, once the principle has been re-established, why shouldn't a mutual fund or the plans under the new pension scheme offer a similar guarantee? The latter have not found too many takers and, surely, a guarantee could do wonders. One doesn't know. Just an aside, the Prime Minister, no less, has told a different sector agency—the Employees Provident Fund—it is hurtling to a disaster by providing a guaranteed payout that has no connection with the logic of capital markets.


All this is happening when the Indian financial sector after years of mediocrity seems poised to graduate to the top league of global finance. Sure, Mumbai has not really taken off as an international financial centre with all the trappings that come with it. But because of the size of the Indian economy and its potential growth rate, movements in all aspects of the economy are now fodder for global investors. Its regulations, for instance, are up for inspection at the G-20 high table. This basically means the stakes are high.


To make matters worse, a furious fight has also broken out over who should take the numero uno position among the regulators. To recapitulate: the finance ministry in July issued a press note saying clearly that the controller for the popular Ulip products will be the insurance regulator, ending a dispute between Irda and the stock market regulator, Sebi, over who should run them. The order itself was surprising as the matter was sub judice, that too based on a finance ministry's directive to the two regulators.


The bigger problem with the order is the way it introduced the concept of a financial super regulator in the matrix, which includes RBI, Irda, Sebi, PFRDA and the finance ministry. Not to mention the assorted self-regulatory organisations like the stock exchanges and the depositories. From now on, any product or policy that will impact more than one of the agencies will be vetted by this new body.


In principle, this has merits. The introduction of currency derivatives, interest rate futures and measures to deepen the corporate bond markets have got held up for long, as there is no arbitrator to resolve disputes over turf, like in cases between Sebi and RBI.


So, while there have been several articles in the pink papers debating the necessity of such a regulator, that is not the big problem. Instead, the concern is the way it has been rammed through. In a parliamentary form of government, the legislature does not concern itself if the concerned ministry has consulted its constituent agencies, before it drafts an ordinance or a Bill. So from the point of view of accountability, the finance ministry has stuck to the script. But the agencies in question are not mundane ones. RBI and even Sebi have a role that goes way beyond that of any other organisation working within the ambit of any ministry.


For an economy aspiring to become a leading global player, the spectre of the monetary authority's power being clipped is bound to create tremors in the financial markets. An open admission by the Governor that he was not even consulted makes it worse.


At this stage, dissent between the regulators, including even those within the finance ministry, has reached such a level that it is impossible to guess which way these will pan out. One suspects the differences will be glossed over but at a cost. Perhaps the government could consider letting the ordinance lapse and then all the concerned agencies can start talking afresh, without egos.








Just when everyone thought the Indian software industry was trundling back to normalcy, lightning has struck in the form of dwindling European revenues. Infosys's net profit dipped 2.4% in the April-June period, much against the run of play, with stiff headwinds like higher tax expenses and wage hikes also curtailing the momentum. Analysts had placed bets on Infosys bettering street expectations as usual but this time it came up short, leaving the experts worried about the sector's near-term fortunes. The disappointing outcome is a stern reminder of post-recessionary blues, as key clients continue to hold their purse strings tight. Infosys has said that the uncertain economic environment will affect its billing rates this fiscal, sounding a warning bell for all IT firms waiting to announce their results.


The European debt crisis has played a bigger part than one expected in the first quarter, and that's a whole new development. Infosys's top management has expressed concern over the declining European revenues, with verticals like manufacturing, which has a large exposure to the continent, taking a severe beating this time. The continent accounted for 20% of the total Infosys revenue in the first quarter, dropping from a 23% share recorded during the same period last year. Its business from Europe declined by 5.3% sequentially.


Some analysts have said that contract re-negotiations with companies like British Telecom have also played a role, although the company has not confirmed it. In the first quarter, billing rates fell 1.6% and the talk is that it is likely to decline 2% for the fiscal. The chief financial officer of the company, V Balakrishnan, said steep competition and weak demand prompted Infosys to cut prices and win business from customers in the US and Europe. Customers are asking vendors to do more with less, which translates into discounts. No wonder there were no deals in the $50 million-plus bracket during the quarter. Operating margins dropped to 28.3% from 30.1% during the previous quarter.


The sharp rise in staff costs (average wage hike of 14%) has also contributed to the profit plunging to Rs 1,488 crore. Margins show a downward spiral during the wage hike quarter, but then it is expected to recover through the year as cheaper resources join in. Despite the hikes, Infosys saw its attrition rising to 15.8%, which should concern HR head Mohandas Pai.


The company will now also see about 80% of its revenues taxed compared to 70% in earlier years. This year the effective tax rate would be about 25% of the profits-before-tax, compared to 21% the previous year. The current scenario is attributable to the firm moving out of the STPI scheme, which offered tax sops for 10 years, ending this fiscal.


The fluctuating foreign exchange scenario has also been a matter of concern. The dollar has gained nearly 8% against the euro and around 5% against the pound sterling during the first quarter. The euro has also slipped against the rupee over the last six months. Since Indian IT firms earn most of their revenues in these currencies, they expose themselves to greater risks. The interesting part of the equation is that Infosys has guided upwards with regard to its annual revenues, on the back of some encouraging client feedback. Volumes grew steadily in the first quarter (7.6% sequentially) despite challenges, pushing the revenues north by 13.3% to touch Rs 6,198 crore. These factors have given some confidence to the company, which has revised its annual earnings forecast to Rs 26,441-26,885 crore. During the March quarter, the company had guided for a 9-11% growth, which it has revised to 16.3-18.2%. Analysts are relieved by these numbers, as they point towards some great performances in the following quarters.


Infosys is traditionally rated as a conservative company that promises little and delivers big. Against that backdrop, the steep revision of the annual revenue guidance is certainly a bold move. This is a great show of confidence by the company, which augurs well in the medium term.


Infosys has been well supported by its ever-growing North American revenues, which now contribute 66% of the revenues. The improved performance from the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector has streamlined the revenues from that part of the world. BFSI contributed 36% of the revenues. Analysts believe that the encouraging guidance has lots to do with growing dollar revenues. Research firm Forrester has said that top US customers, like GE and Citigroup, are expected to spend over $90 billion on IT outsourcing this year, thereby reducing their operational costs by up to 30%. There is still hope.









Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh recently exhorted Maharashtra to emulate Gujarat's commendable efforts to conserve mangrove forests. Gujarat's efforts show how industrialisation needn't come at the cost of environmental degradation.


In 2006, Gujarat announced an eco-restoration model for the mangrove wetlands as part of its coastal zone management PPP scheme. Spearheaded by the Gujarat Ecology Commission, this was the first-of-its-kind initiative in which corporates like Adani, Shell and Ambuja have been roped in for funding and monitoring the project, while community-based village organisations share responsibility for project implementation. The project has shown spectacular results, with 1490 ha of mangrove plantation being developed through active involvement of the coastal community and corporate partners in Surat, Bharuch and Bhavnagar districts over the past four years. The project has also helped create awareness about the importance of mangrove conservation among local communities and industrial groups. Thus, it's not surprising that Gujarat's mangrove forest cover has risen sharply in an over 55 sq km area during the last two years.


Of the 4,639 sq km area of mangrove plantation in India, Gujarat covered 1,046 sq km in 2007 compared to 991 sq km in 2005. In 2008-09, the state added another 30 sq km of mangrove forest cover to protect its coast from sand erosion. Not only that, in view of the vital role mangroves play in the overall protection of the ecosystem in coastal areas and also of marine animals and birds, the state government has undertaken a ten-year project of mangrove plantations. With the aim of increasing mangrove cover across its coastline, the Gujarat government has also initiated a mass campaign to mobilise local communities to participate in large-scale plantation. Awareness generation programmes and community mobilisation activities are planned in over 300 villages along the 1,600 km coastline of Gujarat. The state ministry of environment and forests has decided to undertake mangrove plantation in over 10,000 hectares every year to achieve this target, the kind of plantation and replantation that Maharashtra's government ought to consider doing to balance the twin goals of environment protection and industrialisation.








Under the Indian Constitution, the Governor of a State is a symbolic repository of its executive powers and acts chiefly on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. At the same time, persons occupying such a position may properly provide counsel to the State government privately and without being intrusive. But Karnataka Governor Hansraj Bharadwaj has flagrantly shed the restraint required of his office by publicly demanding that Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa take action against two of his Ministers, by speaking to the media about their alleged profiteering from illegal mining operations, and by assuming an activist role in this matter. Apart from placing himself in direct conflict with the elected government, Mr. Bharadwaj has, by his impropriety, lent credence to the allegation that he has acted as an "agent of the Congress" in meddling with the ugly political controversy raging in Karnataka. If it is too much for him to show the restraint, dignity, and even-handedness expected of the Governor's office, he must resign or be replaced forthwith.


To deplore Mr. Bharadwaj's gubernatorial overreach is not of course to turn a blind eye to the issue of illegal mining, which is on the political front-burner in Karnataka. It is no secret that the two Ministers the Governor was referring to were the powerful Bellary brothers — G. Janardhana Reddy and G. Karunakara Reddy — who own and operate mines in Karnataka as well as in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. With Mr. Yeddyurappa himself admitting in the State Assembly that as many as 30 million tonnes of iron ore have been exported illegally over the past seven years, there is a serious case for a fast-track investigation into this scandal. The ongoing Lok Ayukta probe against the Reddy brothers has been marred by stonewalling by government officials and agencies. Given the inter-State ramifications of illegal mining — most of the iron ore mines owned by the Reddy brothers are in Andhra Pradesh — only the Central Bureau of Investigation is equipped to conduct a thorough investigation into the alleged illegalities. The Chief Minister's unwillingness to hand over the case to the CBI has compounded the impression that he is reluctant to act firmly against the Reddy brothers. This hesitancy is, in large part, a reflection of the support they enjoy with the Bharatiya Janata Party central leadership. The BJP leadership is badly mistaken if it believes the financial clout of the brothers outweighs the enormous political liability they represent. It did not require Governor Bharadwaj to step out of constitutional line for it to become clear that the Bellary brothers are best relieved of ministerial office.







The persisting urban gender divide and its adverse effects on women, particularly the poor and those living in slums, were highlighted at a special ministerial meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council held recently. The loud and clear message for India is that unless the gender divide is bridged, its cities will remain less inclusive and less safe and their development will be unsustainable. Women are more vulnerable in cities because of their subordinate housing rights; and they face difficulties in accessing social housing. The state normally allots social housing only to the head of the family who is invariably a man, overlooking the possibility of joint holding. (Tsunami rehabilitation housing was a progessive exception.) Determining housing rights with a male bias, as UN-Habitat studies report, also makes breaking away from violent relationships and seeking relief difficult. Further, women make up 60 to 80 per cent of the informal workforce in developing countries. The uncertain nature of their work and the small income it fetches denies them access to the formal credit system, making owning a house virtually impossible. Regular eviction of hawkers from urban spaces compounds their woes. As a result, women often suffer multiple shelter deprivations, including lack of access to safe sanitation.


Cities might appear equally accessible to men and women but in practice they are anything but that. Studies by Jagori, a non-governmental organisation, show that many women in Delhi find public transport and many public spaces traumatically unsafe. UN–Habitat's survey (Global Assessment of Women's Safety, 2009) has identified violence in public spaces as one of the three most widespread forms of violence against women. Unsafe cities shrink urban opportunities and reduce mobility for women. Cities such as Seoul faced a similar situation but responded by significantly improving women-friendly city projects. Public spaces such as streets, parks, and parking lots were evaluated through safety audits, and unsafe areas were mapped. This, in turn, helped improve the design and management of urban spaces. Such gender impact studies can be dovetailed into urban projects in India too. The UN-Habitat initiative in Jinja, Uganda, is another good practice that Indian cities could emulate. Exclusive housing projects for low-income women with a revolving fund and a credit guarantee scheme have produced heartening results. Developing gender-responsive cities is vital to the urban future and, in this respect, rising India has a great deal to learn from other countries.










On visiting the China Foreign Affairs Ministry website, you can access a document, "China's African Policy." But if you look for a document on "India's Africa Policy" on our Ministry website, you are unlikely to succeed. Even a phone call to South Block may not help. The reason perhaps is that no such document exists.


Nevertheless, India has a reasonably successful policy towards the African continent, one that reflects a balance between our values and interests. It takes into account the diversity of Africa as well as the policies of other key players — the United States, the European Union, China and Japan.


Evolved over time, this policy owes a lot to Mahatma Gandhi, who became a beacon for Africa; to Jawaharlal Nehru, who left an indelible imprint on India-Africa relations; and to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, who contributed immensely to India's friendship with African countries.


On international fora, India played a leading role in assisting and expediting Africa's de-colonisation process. The help it extended to the African countries in gaining independence and to South Africa in its struggle against apartheid was recognised widely and often. At the root of Nehru's belief was that India's independence would be incomplete without Africa's freedom. As a visionary, he also foresaw and strengthened Afro-Asian unity that led to the Bandung Conference and the birth of non-alignment. Political relations have since been marked by mutual understanding and support.


Later, when parts of Africa were torn by conflict, and restoring and maintaining peace became a priority, India came forward to help in the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Congo, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Sudan, among others.


Development has been a pressing need in sub-Saharan Africa. The Indian government has been generous in extending assistance, giving African students access to higher education, mainly under the auspices of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, and in offering technical cooperation under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and related programmes. These have been innovative, though modest, instruments, but their effectiveness lies in identifying Africa's felt needs and our responding to them suitably.


An important element of Africa policy relates to defence cooperation with select countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana in order to assist their forces through training programmes and exposure to the best practices and professionalism of India's armed forces. Cooperation in the IT, health care, agriculture, mining, small industry, infrastructure and hydrocarbon sectors has been promoted. Another significant aspect has been to cultivate good relations with the Indian diaspora in view of their role as a bridge between host countries and India.


Our Africa policy has laid emphasis, especially in recent years, on expansion and diversification of trade, investment and economic relations. Trade between the two sides stood at $35 billion in 2008. Indian investment in Africa is estimated to be $29 billion at present. Investment from Africa in India is also sizeable.


The presence in Africa of leading members of India Inc — the Tatas, the Mahindras, Ranbaxy, NIIT, and the Bharti; of public sector undertakings — OVL, RITES, Ircon and NSIC; of banks — the State Bank of India, the Bank of Baroda, the Bank of India and ICICI; and contribution by top national business chambers to wide-ranging business promotion have imparted content to India's economic representation there. The best exposition of India's policy, one anchored in Afro-optimism, was articulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his opening and concluding statements at the historic, first India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in April 2008. Since then, India's engagement with Africa has clearly become multilayered. It runs at three levels — at the Pan-African level through growing ties with the African Union; at the regional level through Regional Economic Communities; and with all countries at the bilateral level.


From the foregoing, however, we should not conclude that there is no scope for improvement in India-Africa relations. There is. We have been on the right track, but we need to recognise that the unfolding change in Africa is complex, that its pace is rapid and inconsistent, and that competition for Africa's affection and attention has become increasingly severe. Hence there may be need for a fresh evaluation of policy issues and constraints on speedy implementation of past decisions. We need to deepen our engagement with the specific goal of fulfilling Africa's needs and aspirations in accordance with our capabilities and interests. It will require more resources — human, technical and financial — and faster speed and, above all, a change in our conventional mindset.


Two years ago, the government termed Africa "an emerging priority" in foreign policy. Now, in 2010 and beyond, Africa should be treated as one of our key priorities.


Sustained attention to Africa at the political level is essential. Happily, the first half of 2010 witnessed a successful visit by Vice President Hamid Ansari to Zambia, Malawi and Botswana, followed by the first visit to Africa — to Mauritius and Mozambique — by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. In the past six months, India has received three African VVIPs, one each from Seychelles, South Africa and Botswana. The momentum should be maintained. In the run-up to the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2011, it will be greatly helpful if our President and Prime Minister visit Africa soon. Close personal relations at the summit level are very important in Africa's political culture.


India Inc. has been on a roll in Africa in recent years. Its profile is set to increase. But Indian companies should follow a path different from that of European and Chinese firms. They would do well to adhere to the basic canons of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and to a partnership-oriented business culture. They must help Africans through value-addition, employment creation and skill development. The Africans expect them to bring new technology and substantial investment in socio-economic development which, in turn, will present attractive business opportunities.


South Block needs to create a new synergy by opening its doors to a small but talented community of Africanists working in the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the Indian Council of World Affairs, the Association of Indian Diplomats and a few universities. Taken together, they represent valuable expertise outside the government. The External Affairs Minister, fresh from his visit to Africa, might consider convening a roundtable for an informal interaction with select experts. Fresh ideas and advice might be useful as he supervises the preparations for the second India-Africa Forum Summit. The media can help by enhancing the public interest in the continent, following World Cup 2010. Through an increased focus on Africa, they should inform, educate and entertain us. Indeed a few media organisations are already doing so. Developments in Africa are fascinating, besides having a bearing on our national interests. This exciting story is waiting to be told to audiences in India.


A powerful triad of the Government of India, India Inc., and civil society can take the India-Africa relationship to a new level of strength and vitality. Thus, to the query whether India's African policy can do better, the answer is 'yes, we can.' The question is: do we have the will and the stamina?

(The author served as India's High Commissioner to South Africa and Lesotho as well as to Kenya.)









The sovereign Republic of India stands for socialism, egalitarianism, trans-religious secularism and national unity based on the principles of fraternity. Our independence was meant to "wipe every tear from every eye" — as Jawaharlal Nehru declared in his tryst-with-destiny address. There was a pledge in the Preamble to the Constitution that justice, social, economic and political, would be ensured for every Indian.


But three score and three years later, we as a nation have much to answer for and account to generations of the past and the future. The expectations at Independence darkened into deprivation, and depravation into dread, hunger, homelessness, have-not status and finally despair. This gradual, slow-process economic destitution and social estrangement led to the people losing their faith in the instrumentalities of the Constitution, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.


Inevitably, when the state failed the confidence of the people they took to the streets, to the jungle and to lawlessness. Terrorism was the next step, ubiquitously shaking up peace and the sense of safety and development. This is the genesis of Naxalism, Maoism and other forms of extremism. The government, instead of creating conditions to win back the confidence of the people, has resorted to guns and police weaponry.


Long ago, U.S. President Eisenhower warned: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies — in the final sense — a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."


The consequence was inevitable: more people became desperate. The masses got alienated and bullets did not and could not generate a milieu or haven of tranquillity when government policy aggravated militancy and spread demoralisation. Many parts of India ceased to be safe or peaceful. Today the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the Maoists are able to fire upon the military. The state has virtually abandoned the peace process and resorted to short-cuts to law and order, hoping that soldiers are a more reliable force than processes of peace and justice, or civilian forces. Some move here and there to talk peace through dialogue and tranquillity, although some sensitive statesman have tried to transform social conditions.


Swami Agnivesh, a great Indian patriot who stands for a casteless society, religious amity and non-violent

conditions of life, responded to the challenge of Indian tumult and confrontation, hoping to initiate a fruitful process of dialogue as a measure of Gandhian non-violence, as distinct from Godse's gun-politics. He struck a note that was the beginning of social justice, trying to initiate a dialogue with Azad alias Cherukuri Raj Kumar, a leader of the Maoists. Azad's response was positive and radiated a ray of hope.


But Azad was shot dead in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh on July 1: it was the act of a government without a vision. It strangled the prospect of peaceful negotiations. What a gaffe and an egregious error, what a monstrous mistake! Agnivesh is bitter. So am I, and so are the thinking millions of Indians who do not want extremism but seek smiling moderation. We are all disappointed that the government's negative and noxious policy of handling such situations through military methods amounts to jettisoning the Buddha-Gandhi heritage. Is the Home Minister's dialogue strategy a travesty?


May I appeal to the President and the Prime Minister, the wise Sonia Gandhi, and leaders of all political parties with sense and sensibility, to express their exasperation over the killing of Azad? May I also appeal to the extremists to unconditionally come forward for talks? Do not lose your head. Maoists and others of their ilk should be convinced that the state means peaceful streets and homes, not bullets or the AK-47. India is yours as well. Build it sans violence. Let the masses and the classes rise for peace and human rights. Let us stand for the right to life in dignity and for egalite and economic justice, and not allow a mafia element in government where the rich, the rigid obscurantist and the obdurate become policy-makers, and the indigent underdogs are crushed.


Hope, not despair, should be the fundamental policy of great government. The grand green negotiated policy will win. It harvests contentment and contains extremism. The alternative is functional chaos, administrative anarchy and farewell to public welfare. The killers are culpable. A judicial enquiry is the nation's desideratum. I make this appeal not out of pusillanimity but out of patriotism.











The United Nations is set to pay billions of pounds of public money to giant energy companies to build 20 heavily polluting coal-fired power plants on the basis that they will emit less carbon dioxide than older ones.


Data seen by the Guardian shows that 12 companies have applied to the UN for hundreds of millions of emission reduction credits to subsidise "efficient" coal-fired power stations in China and India. Many of the plants would be paid for with carbon offsets bought by European companies in lieu of cutting their own emissions.


If, as expected, the power company applications are approved by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they will earn around £3.5bn at current carbon market prices. This would make the U.N. body set up to promote clean energy and reduce global climate emissions one of the world's largest provider of funds for new coal burning.


The rush by companies to take advantage of the U.N.'s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) subsidies follows the successful application for credits by the Indian Adani coal group for two large power stations at Mundra in Gujarat, India. Adani will earn around £25m a year for the lifetime of its power stations in return for using "super-critical" technology, which burns the coal at lower temperatures and emits up to 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than conventional power plants.


An Adani company spokesman said that its application had been approved by the U.N. only after a "complex and gruelling" evaluation process by national government, independent inspectors and a U.N. committee.


Others companies are now examining if they qualify. Eskom, the giant South African coal mining company controversially loaned £3.75bn by the World Bank in April to build what one of the largest coal-fired power stations in the world, has said it will apply for emission reduction credits. If built, the Medupi plant will emit nearly 25m tonnes of CO {-2} a year, more than the national output of 115 individual countries. If Medupi is allowed to sell carbon offsets to rich countries, it will be able to discount 6.5m tonnes of CO {-2} every year for 10 years, earning it tens of millions of pounds. It would be able offset all the emissions from a major new coal power station in a rich country, effectively allowing governments to meet carbon-reduction targets by subsidising a plant in South Africa that would have been built anyway.


Eva Filzmoser, director of CDM-watch said: "It's completely unacceptable for the U.N. to keep issuing an inflated number of bogus credits that create vast profits for carbon trading groups and chemical companies. If the U.N. wishes to avoid irreparable damage to its reputation and show that is truly serious about climate mitigation, it must put the current methodology on hold with immediate effect and halt issuing credits until the methodology is revised." The news comes at the same time as a report into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by the campaign group Sandbag. In 2009, European companies bought EURO860m of international offsets to comply with caps imposed by the ETS, but the report found that companies were directly subsidising competing industries in developing countries. Sandbag says this undermines claims by these companies that caps on their emissions force business to countries outside the EU and so lead to "carbon leakage". The largest purchaser of offsets, for example — Salzgitter's Glock Satzgitter steel production plant — bought 40,000 offsets from an Indian steel project.

"Frustratingly, it seems that EU installations seem to have a greater incentive to fund abatement projects amongst their competitors rather than invest in these improvements themselves," said Sandbag founder and director, Bryony Worthington, "While it is perfectly legal and on one level economically rational to do this, it begs the question of why companies would choose to send a direct subsidy to their international competitors if fears of carbon leakage were so pronounced." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










A survey of some 3,000 individuals has found that one in five adults claim to be "in love with someone other than their partner". This "other" is usually a friend or work colleague. "Even in a happy relationship," a spokesman for the polling firm said on Tuesday, "it seems to be possible to have a wandering eye or even crave affection from another person." So far, so unsurprising, at least to me. The human brain is geared up to imagine that which is not — "Would I be happier with her as my lover?" — and to make comparisons — "Would he be easier to live with than my current partner?" We're also more likely to imagine what life might be like with people we encounter in our everyday life — friends and colleagues — than with people we've never actually met.


However the report goes on to claim that one in 25 people say they have been in love with someone else for more than five years and one in 50 say they have loved another for as long as they could remember. Furthermore, 29 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women say they plan to leave their partner.


Now I don't know about you, but I find those latter statistics both surprising and incredibly disheartening. It's so sad to think that at least one in five of us feels that our current situation is so unsatisfying that we're planning to leave it, and that we've believed for some time that there's someone better "out there". However, rather than adding to the general dissatisfaction that's apparently rampant, I'd like to put these findings into some sort of context.


It's generally accepted in psychological circles that more people in the western world today are feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, particularly with regard to their relationships. We know, for example, that divorce rates are rising, especially among the over-60s, and that many younger people — particularly men in their 30s — report startlingly high rates of loneliness and unhappiness. What could lie behind this unhappiness? There are, I believe, three reasons why dissatisfaction is so rife today. The first — and possibly the most critical — is our misunderstanding about what it means to be "in love". When asked, I suspect most people would describe being in love as feeling strongly attracted to someone else, as considering another person to be overwhelmingly desirable. When people are in love, we imagine that they're constantly preoccupied with thoughts of their beloved, and that they want nothing more than to be with that person.


Actually, however, these feelings don't describe love at all. They describe lust. Lust is an initial physical attraction to another person. It's overwhelmingly powerful and it's driven by pheromones — although we're not generally aware of that. When we're madly attracted to someone else, it's because we sense (unconsciously) that they'd make an excellent genetic match, someone who would allow us to produce the strongest and healthiest offspring. Lust is all about the survival of our DNA. It's not about long-term compatibility, about "happily ever after".


Love, on the other hand, isn't an immediate feeling. It grows over time. Love is more akin to a friendship than to a coupling. To paraphrase the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, love is the desire to extend yourself — at whatever personal cost — for the purpose of nurturing the growth and furthering the dreams of another individual. Love is effortful; it involves personal sacrifice, and it grows slowly. Love is not about "me" — what I can have? — it's about "you" — what can I do to make your life richer? When we separate "love" from "lust" in this way, it's less distressing to note that one in five people desire someone other than their partner. They're simply confusing lust with love.


Fair enough, you might say. But what about the fact that the respondents claim to have had these feelings for many years? Didn't I just say that lustful feelings don't last long? They don't if put to the test. But people imagine that lustful feelings can by themselves hold a relationship together for ever. And this brings us to the second reason why so many people are feeling dissatisfied in today's society. We find it difficult to differentiate between what we have and what we imagine we could have. That's not surprising. We're constantly bombarded with images of "perfect" (air-brushed) bodies, and stories of "idyllic" (edited) relationships which, as soon as they're no longer idyllic, can easily be traded in for another idyllic relationship. These images and stories, together with the advertising mantra that "you deserve better", has led many to believe that "better" is outside of us, somewhere, if only we can find it.


Finally, the third reason why so many of us are feeling dissatisfied is that we're constantly reminded of the myriad options from which we can theoretically choose. We're repeatedly told that "there's a whole world out there, just waiting for you", and that if your current relationship isn't working, you simply need to leave it, because there will be plenty of others to choose from. Instead of making us feel rich, this suggestion of infinite choice leaves us feeling uncertain when we finally do choose a partner. Instead of setting to work to bring that relationship alive, we may start to wonder if we really have chosen the "right" one. Maybe we should search a bit more, for a bit longer? The doubt stops us from truly committing.


Better way to live,


These three reasons may help explain the depressing findings of this survey. But the therapist in me refuses to leave it there. I can't help but wonder why so many people continue to live their lives feeling so unfulfilled, when there's an alternative, a way to feel more content.


A better way to live, I believe, is to stop searching outside of the self for someone who can "make" you happy. Happiness, satisfaction, contentment — call it what you will — isn't something you'll find "out there." Instead, it's something that you'll create when you decide to work with what you already have. Of course, there will be circumstances in which you will have tried everything you can think of, and you've done so repeatedly, and still things aren't working out. But in the vast majority of cases, a change of attitude is all that would be necessary to alleviate the great weight of dissatisfaction so many of us feel. The key to contentment has nothing to do with what you do or don't have. It's all about what you decide to do with what is already yours. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


( Linda Blair is a writer and clinical psychologist.)









A report last month in the Economist tells us that "blogging is dying" as more and more bloggers abandon the form for its cousins: the tweet, the Facebook Wall, the Digg.


Do a search-and-replace on "blog" and you could rewrite the coverage as evidence of the death of television, novels, short stories, poetry, live theatre, musicals, or any of the hundreds of the other media that went from breathless ascendancy to merely another tile in the mosaic.


Of course, none of those media is dead, and neither is blogging. Instead, what's happened is that they've been succeeded by new forms that share some of their characteristics and these new forms have peeled away all the stories that suit them best.


When all we had was the stage, every performance was a play. When we got films, a great lot of these stories moved to the screen, where they'd always belonged (they'd been squeezed on to a stage because there was no alternative). When TV came along, those stories that were better suited to the small screen were peeled away from the cinema and relocated to the telly. When YouTube came along, it liberated all those stories that wanted to be 3 to 8 minutes long, not a 22-minute sitcom or a 48-minute drama. And so on.


What's left behind at each turn isn't less, but more: the stories we tell on the stage today are there not because they must be, but because they're better suited to the stage than they are to any other platform we know about. This is wonderful for all concerned — the audience numbers might be smaller, but the form is much, much better.


When blogging was the easiest, most prominent way to produce short, informal, thinking-aloud pieces for the net, we all blogged. Now that we have Twitter, social media platforms and all the other tools that continue to emerge, many of us are finding that the material we used to save for our blogs has a better home somewhere else. And some of us are discovering that we weren't bloggers after all, but blogging was good enough until something more suited to us came along.


I still blog 10 to 15 items a day, just as I've done for 10 years now on Boing Boing. But I also tweet and retweet 30 to 50 times a day. Almost all of that material is stuff that wouldn't be a good fit for the blog — material I just wouldn't have published at all before Twitter came along. But a few of those tweets might have been stretched into a blogpost in years gone by, and now they can live as a short thought.


For me, the great attraction of all this is that preparing material for public consumption forces me to clarify it in my own mind. I don't really know it until I write it. Thus the more media I have at my disposal, the more ways there are for me to work out my own ideas.Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling says: "The future composts the past." There's even a law to describe this, Riepl's Law which says new types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. "Instead, a convergence takes place in their field, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms." That was coined in 1913 by Wolfgang Riepl. It's as true now as it was then. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







Despite the economic upturn, more than half the companies in the Asia-Pacific region are still in the belt-tightening mode, local media reported on Wednesday. In addition, 68 per cent of the firms polled said their cost management measures have permanently changed the way their organisations do business.


A survey across 210 organisations by consulting firm Accenture showed that 58 per cent of Asian firms will continue to manage cost "aggressively" this year, local TV broadcaster Channel NewsAsia reported.


The global financial crisis has hurt businesses in the Asia Pacific, the survey showed that pushing them to focus on cost management and reaping cost savings of between 11 and 30 per cent last year. The poll said the businesses can expect cost savings of up to 20 percent in 2010.


The poll also found that pressure from shareholders to deliver higher returns is also driving structural reforms within the companies. Businesses will also have to eliminate redundant processes and channel resources to higher value activities. The survey was conducted between January and February this year. The poll covered firms in Australia, China, India and Southeast Asia. — Xinhua








Tuesday's ruling by a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice of India on the question of backward classes reservation is likely to surprise many. All that the court had to do in respect of the quota-related cases relating to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka before it was to reiterate its own judgment of 1993, which laid down that no more than 50 per cent of available seats in government-funded educational institutions and government employment will be demarcated for beneficiaries under the reservation scheme. Leaving the remaining 50 per cent open to general competition was a practical way out of the situation imposed by the political system during Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh's tenure following the acceptance of Mandal Commission recommendations. Even under the reservation plan, nothing stops candidates whose castes otherwise qualify for quota benefits from taking part in open competition. This means "quota plus" benefits are available to caste groups for which reservation was intended. Instead of abiding by the letter and spirit of its earlier judgment, which the political and social system in the country had broadly come to accept as a reasonable benchmark, the latest thinking of the Supreme Court may have the unintended effect of producing a contentious debate across the country that could vitiate the atmosphere, as had been the case when Mr V.P. Singh gave effect to the Mandal recommendations.

In effect, the Supreme Court has now permitted states to come up with accurately compiled lists of backward castes, and allow all of the BC percentage of the population to enjoy quota benefits. The 50 per cent limit is thus out of the window. It is not clear wh at is to happen in respect of reservations in institutions that are un d er the purview of the Centre, not the states. The trouble with the Supreme Court's new approach is that it can be made a plaything in the ha nds of politicians. A caste not hitherto listed in the backward category can armtwist its way into the privileged group in or der to gr­ab reservation benefits if it can bring everyday life to a st andstill, using methods of protest that are violent. Several such ca ses have come to light in various states. Strongly placed caste gr oups tend to use protest as an instrument of blackmail on the eve of electi o ns in order to advance their economic interests, wh e t her they are genuinely needy or not. There is also an element of implied disc r i m ination here. A caste group, which may be no better placed in the socio-economic hierarchy than one which has su cceeded in st o rming its way into the quota ranks, will be left out of considerati on if it doesn't have at least as much nuisance value as the first. This is clearly an unsustainable situation, not to say an inequitable one as well, especially in a context in which caste alone becomes the criterion of deciding ways of going about helping those in need.

Caste is unquestionably a dominant reality in India. Also, caste realities coincide with class realities in many cases. But none of this can mean that caste is the best way to decide the allocation of government benefits for the needy. Why not treat an individual's want as the legitimate basis for offering help? Such an approach would be non-discriminatory, and eschew the statist quota method. The framers of our Constitution understood this and allowed quota benefits only for SC and ST categories as these had suffered societal discrimination for millennia. Furthermore, the quota allowance was to be for a limited period only. Alas, quota categories have not only mushroomed, but the so-called "creamy layers" have never been eased out. This is a trap of our own making, and the Supreme Court has now only compounded it.








Last fortnight a respected magazine came out with a report it termed "shocking but true". The report claimed that nearly 50 per cent of total Plan expenditure goes unaudited in this country. We, the citizens, presume that every rupee spent by the governments, both at the Centre and the states, is audited. The constitutionally-authorised body to undertake this not-so-glamorous but vital exercise is the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Being the watchdog of public finances, the CAG reports form the very basis for scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. The immediate implication of the aforementioned report is that we do not know how over Rs 83,000 crores were spent in 2008-'09 — the Centre transferred over Rs 83,000 crores directly to state- and district-level autonomous bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for implementation of various flagship schemes but it is not known how much of this money remained unspent. By presumption, therefore, I risk here to say, a similar sum of public money is just not being audited, every year, each year!

But why would this happen? Does the Constitution not give enough powers to the CAG? The simple but worrying answer is: As with many things in India, the act governing the CAG — The Comptroller and Auditor-General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971 — is outdated and needs immediate and urgent updating.

Public spending has been growing in "free India", especially and justifiably so on welfare schemes. In a liberalised and privatised world where there's a desperate need to ensure "inclusive growth", governments have adapted several out of the box ways to reach out to the poor and the needy. In other words, several parallel channels of reaching out to the poorest of the poor have been adopted. Similar is the need to rapidly develop our infrastructure in order to meet with our growing demands. NGOs were brought in to help with the mid-day meal scheme; public-private partnership (PPP) ensured the desired private capital and innovative management for building the infrastructure. However, this meant a change in the way public funds were transferred. Central funds were being transferred directly to state- and district-level autonomous bodies. Some of these Central funds do not have to pass through the state budgets. The funds transferred thus remain unaudited. Tracking down the transfer is possible, we can say, but accounting and auditing the usage of funds for the stated purpose is out of the pale of the CAG.

Addressing a national seminar on "Legislature and Audit Interface for Enforcing and Strengthening Accountability Mechanism", the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Murli Manohar Joshi, said, "…the government's capacity to keep track of fund flows is… shrinking. This development poses a dilemma, which is to keep intact the structure of accountability in regard to public money without losing the operational flexibilities expected from these new approaches in delivery of services to the citizens of this country. We will therefore have to readjust and refocus our strategies to meet this new situation".

There are several organisations within the government's orbit that have been given exemption from the ambit of the CAG, such as the National Highways Authority of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the Petroleum Gas Regulatory Board. The PAC chairman observes, "Though enormous responsibility and discretionary powers have been bestowed on such bodies, there is regrettably no parliamentary oversight over their functioning".

This anguish is reflected in the comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Vinod Rai, when he says, "While any individual can use the RTI and get information within 30 days, the CAG does not enjoy any such privilege". Privilege is not what the Comptroller and Auditor General of India needs. He should be vested with what is rightfully due to a watchdog; a watchdog of all our monies.
The sheer size of the sums of monies involved makes it necessary for the CAG to get the powers to audit. The PAC estimates that an investment of Rs 20.3 trillion is to be made in the infrastructure sector alone during the 11th Five-Year Plan period. In a PPP setup at least less than half of the money will come from public funds. We know that nearly Rs 59,000 crores are spent on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, while nearly Rs 13,000 crores are spent on Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and the Mid-day Meal Scheme.

Throwing money at problems alone cannot help attain the objective. We should "process, assess" them and refocus as necessary. Talking more than a decade ago on "How to guarantee non-performance", management guru Peter Ferdinand Drucker observed: "Most public service institutions, governmental ones and non-governmental ones are budget focused. For performance, the budget needs to be paralleled with a statement of expected results and with systematic feedback from results, on expenditures and on efforts. Otherwise the agency will, almost immediately, channel more and more of its efforts toward non-results and will become the prisoner of its limitations, its weaknesses, and its blind spots, rather than the beneficiary of its own strengths". (Towards the Next Economics and other Essays, The Drucker Library, Harvard Business Press, 2010)
There is an urgent need to give more powers to the CAG. The act of 1971 enabling the CAG needs to be revisited. Parliament should immediately attend to the desperate call of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to empower him. People of India should be convinced that every paisa of the tax-payers' money is accounted for. After all it is hard-earned money of the citizens and is being spent on very worthy and deserving causes. Let us be convinced that it is so assessed, too.


Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.








The confrontation in Karnataka between governor H.R. Bha r dwaj, a Congress loyalist, and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of B.S. Yeddyurappa, has, to put it mildly, rai sed eyebrows. On the complaint of a Congress member of the legislative council, the governor had issued a showcause notice to three state Cabinet ministers. They re fused to appear before him. The ch ief minister has taken strong ob j e ction to such intervention by the go vernor. In the past, such cases were referred to the chief minister or to the Speaker, and the governor had not taken it upon himself to carry out investigations. Mr Bhardwaj then referred the case to the El e ction Commission of India. The Un ion law minister has supported his action. One does not know what the outcome of this controversy will be.

As governor for 11 continuous years in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, I faced serious controversies with two chief ministers. It will be relevant to recount their details. When I was Assam governor, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sought my sanction to prosecute the chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. I went through the CBI's voluminous investigation report with a fine-tooth comb and found that the CBI had failed to establish a prima facie case. I sent for the director, CBI, and apprised him of my views. I told him that if further evidence was produced I could revise my opinion. He could not send me any additional evidence. I rejected the recommendation. This was the first time a governor had rejected the recommendation of the CBI. It became a major national controversy. Congress MPs from Assam petitioned the President to recall me. A PIL was filed in the high court, but it upheld my decision.

The second controversy pertained to my 42-page printed report on illegal migration from Bangladesh to the President with copies to the Pr i me Minister and the chief minister. I consulted the chief minister. He fully agreed with me but could not do anything about it due to compulsions of coalition politics. In the late Sixties, B.K. Ne h ru, the then Assam governor, had ta ken up this issue with the Centre. He was told to ignore it. In his autobio g raphy, Nice Guys Finish Seco nd, he laments that the old generati on of Congressmen gave primacy to na ti o nal interests but for the new generation party interests were su p r eme. The problem had become mo re acute over the years. It had led to the eruption of militancy in the st a te. My report highlighted that the un abated influx from Bangladesh not only threatened the demography of Assam but also the nation's security. I recommended that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, designed to facilitate illegal mi gration and which applied to As s­am only and not to other states, be sc rapped. My report was serialised in full in all the newspapers of Assam.

Many Congress leaders meeting me in private applauded what I had done but said that for political reasons they had to oppose my report. They again petitioned the President for my recall. When the Congress came to power in Assam, I had to read my address to the Assembly, which stated that there was no illegal migration into Assam and the IMDT Act was necessary to maintain communal harmony. This created an uproar all over the state. People accused me of a shameless volte-face and the press was highly critical of me. I had a press communiqué issued saying that the governor's address reflected the views of the state government and not of the governor. Tarun Gogoi told the press that I had committed a grave constitutional impropriety and he would be taking up the matter with the Centre. Nothing came of it. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court. The apex court struck down the obnoxious IMDT Act quoting extensively from my report to the President. This vindicated my stand.

During my 11 years as governor I had very good relations with Mr Mahanta in Assam and Ghulam Nabi Azad in Kashmir. Together we achieved much. Due to my personal contacts with the Army, which had a large presence in both these states, I was able to get a tremendous amount of work done by it, both in combating militancy and in initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the people. I had differences with Mr Gogoi on the illegal migration issue, but otherwise our relations were good.

Unfortunately, my relations with Mufti Muhammad Sayeed were far from cordial. He wanted a healing touch for the terrorists rather than for the victims of terrorists. He succeeded in getting government pensions for families of terrorists killed in encounters with the security forces. Such a bizarre arrangement does not exist anywhere in the world. It virtually provides a fillip to terrorism. He was opposed to improving the horrible living conditions of Kashmiri pandits in refugee camps around Jammu. Much to his chagrin, I managed to get Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to rectify this. He opposed extending the duration of the Amarnath Yatra and improving facilities for pilgrims. The high court overruled him. He wanted a dual currency system in Kashmir and a united Upper House with Pakistan in the state legislature and so on. In 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance government came to power, he tried desperately to get me removed along with the four other BJP-appointed governors. The press was full of speculation for one month. He failed. This only made matters worse.
Despite our differences, I tried to put up a façade of amity with him. After his term as chief minister expired and the Congress got its turn, he became more bitter and created difficulties not only for me but also for his successor, Mr Azad.

A harmonious relationship between a governor and a chief minister is in the interest of the state. The governor should show no political bias nor interfere with governance in the state. He should be friendly to the chief minister and be available for advice without it being incumbent on the chief minister to follow his advice. At the same time, the governor should also earn the confidence of the Opposition. A public controversy between a governor and a chief minister only undermines the dignity of both these high offices.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.







One of India's biggest success stories of the recent past has been the massive boom in the aviation sector. From being an expensive state-run operation, restricted to the use of a lucky few, the last 15 years have seen it becoming an easily accessed and more affordable mode of transportation. There have been times when air fares have battled with train fares to draw customers.


However, together with the growth in traffic, we do not seem to have made corresponding investments in infrastructure, logistics and, most importantly, security. Saturday saw one more near-miss between two aircraft circling over Mumbai airport, which at one point were reportedly only about 500 feet apart vertically and 4.5 miles horizontally. This is not a stray occurrence.

Safety is rarely a priority in India and usually becomes a concern only after an accident. The recent Mangalore air crash demonstrated how warnings are ignored and papered over, only to be regretted after people have died. The first inclination of all the parties involved is to try and clear themselves of blame rather than investigate the real problems.

Added to this is the fact that the airlines seem to have overstretched themselves and some may be cutting corners. Fares seesaw up and down, leaving passengers at the mercy of the carriers. Crew are hired and sacked depending on finances, leading to an unstable work environment. Rules about pilots not only change from airline to airline but sometimes at the whims of the top brass.


The upshot is that while passengers now have more choice than they ever had before, the health of the aviation sector seems to be in some doubt. The government and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation have a lot of work to do here. A holistic view of the industry is required where all aspects of flying — from runway maintenance to air traffic control to safety protocols to quick and efficient infrastructure upgrades for passenger comfort — are looked into afresh.

The inauguration of the new terminal at New Delhi was done with much fanfare and the quick rollout has received much praise. It is indeed gratifying that we are moving up on the luxury scale when it comes to airports. But when your life is on the line once you get onto an aeroplane, you come down to earth with a bump. The civil aviation ministry perhaps needs to rethink its priorities here.






The controversy surrounding Karnataka's BJP ministers G Janardhan Reddy and G Karunakar Reddy, brothers and mining barons from Bellary, is complicated and murky. The brothers have detractors inside the party, and the opposition Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) have seized the opportunity to nail the government of chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. Governor HR Bhardwaj's observations on the issue have only muddied the waters. The brothers are being accused of violating laws and of threatening political opponents. 

The BJP will have to take a call on how they want to handle the issue and in what way this will impact the image of the party and government in the state. But those who are accusing them of harbouring law-breakers will have to do more than hurl charges and score political points. It will be necessary to prove these accusations in a court of law. 

There is a need to go beyond partisan politics and look at some of the larger issues. One of them concerns mining policy. In the case of the Reddy brothers, the charge is that undue favours were shown to them in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh — and that is a murky story in itself. But mining has larger political and social implications. The rebirth of Naxalism, for example, is related to mining and the alienation of tribals. 


Mining is a big issue not only in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, but in other states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. 

There are protests against the Posco steel plant project. The South Korean company is demanding captive coal and iron mines, and the state government is willing, but the local people, no doubt egged on by activists, are opposing it. The situation is similar with regard to the LN Mittal steel project in Chhattisgarh. 

Currently, governments allocate mines to public sector and private sector players. The people who live on the site have no say or stake in the matter. This leads to charges of favouritism, as in the case of the Reddy brothers, and to charges of 'anti-people' policies, as in the case of Posco and Mittal. A policy that clearly spells out the stakes and rights of the people will go a long way in checking abuse of governmental powers. Mines constitute the wealth of the country and the people. Neither governments nor private players can pretend to own them. There are limits as well as obligations, and they have to be spelled out.








A new measure of poverty has shown that just eight Indian states have more poor people than 26 of the poorest African nations together. So much for our grand economic success story.

Being worse off than Sub-Saharan Africa is serious. And we do it so effortlessly. Just eight states, mind you, of one country — our shining India — offered 421 million really poor people, while the top 26 poor countries of Africa, the dark continent known for poverty, famines and wars, could together come up with only 410 million. Chak de India!


The eight states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan — are not new to the game of poverty. But what the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) shows is that they are poor not just because they lack money but also because they have abysmal standards of living. And no, the two are not umbilically attached.

The MPI was developed at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative under the leadership of development economist Sabina Alkire. It goes beyond money to measure levels of poverty. It looks at a range of deprivations in the household, of which income is just one factor. It looks at human development, and what makes one poor. And this holistic approach to assessing poverty can force us to look at human beings rather than at beguiling figures like the GDP.

To measure poverty through the MPI, one examines a situation from various angles, using different indicators of poverty, like education, health, housing, nutrition, assets and access to basic services like drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel and electricity. And assessed this way, it turns out that more than half the world's poor live in south Asia (51%), and just over a quarter (28%) in Africa.


Take the glorious case of our own country. We have had rapid economic growth, more income and less poverty measured in cold monetary terms. Yet our development indicators are as bad as before, endemic hunger still rules, and child malnutrition remains at almost 50%. How poor you actually are could depend as much on your own income as on the social investment made by the state. To overcome poverty we need to recognise it — and that's where the MPI could be an enormous help. Especially when we are looking at targeted spending of limited public resources.

But coming back to the shame factor, this is not the first time that India has been compared unfavourably with the poorest countries of Africa. The definitive study by Peter Svedberg, development economist at Stockholm University, comparing food insecurity and endemic hunger in India and sub-Saharan Africa (we were worse off, mostly) raised eyebrows in academic circles a few years ago, but nothing came of it in actual terms of policy. More recently, Abhijit Banerjee, development economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pointed out that the state of maternal and child health in India is much worse than in sub-Saharan Africa. He was also pretty critical of the government's ways of dealing with such failures. 

Meanwhile, it is clear that India — and south Asia — will not be able to meet the millennium development goals. According to a recent United Nations report, no progress had been made in the last two decades in reducing hunger levels in south Asia. Happily, however, hunger levels have fallen somewhat in sub-Saharan Africa.

Incidentally, the MPI method can also be used to monitor and evaluate programmes and policies. It has been taken up by Mexico to create their own multi-dimensional measure of poverty and Bhutan uses it to calculate Gross National Happiness. Maybe we can use it in parts. It may help us get to that fantastic, elusive 'inclusive development'.







The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is in need of a renewal itself. It is barking — partly — up the wrong tree by trying to beef up the infrastructure of existing cities. While old cities like Mumbai do indeed need renewal, India's urban nirvana lies in creating new cities. Scattering thousands of crores on decaying cities is like sprinkling expensive cologne on garbage dumps. They may lessen the stink, but the decay will not go away.

Consider this stark number. India's current urban population is reckoned to be around 300 million. This figure is expected to balloon to 600 million by 2030. The additional 300 million can either congregate at the existing cities and make them completely unliveable or be redirected substantially to new ones, creating a better life for all. 

Assuming one million as the optimum population for a city, it means we need to create 300 new cities in 20 years to handle the influx. Every year we need 15 new cities. Since it takes at least five to 10 years to create infrastructure for a brand new city, it means the first cities cannot come up before 2015-2020 even if we start today. We thus need to double the rate of yearly city creation to 30 a year.  

Creating new cities is easier than renewing existing ones for commonsense reasons. One, its costlier to construct infrastructure in overpopulated areas. Two, it will also take longer. 

Since existing public spaces are congested and substantially encroached upon, creating one km of railway line or road or even a water pipeline will probably take twice the time in an existing city than in a new one. Three, it's easier to plan a new city than replan an old one.


Some idealists may like to romanticise rural life, but urbanisation is the inexorable law of life. Development equals urbanisation. Maharashtra is already 50% urban, and many other states are headed that way. If we accept this as reality, we have to shift policy mindsets in a different direction — towards new urban centres.

First, the JNNURM, which funnels money to 63 identified cities, needs to focus 80% of its resources on building new infrastructure away from old cities and connect new urban hubs. 

For example, instead of investing the bulk of its resources in Mumbai or Pune, it should be creating new towns some 50km away by connecting them with high-speed trains to the existing metros. The Mumbai trans-harbour link needs to go deeper into the hinterland, and not just pitch its tent on the shore opposite the island city. The same applies to satellite cities for Bangalore or Kolkata.


Second, the balance 20% of JNNURM money can be ploughed back into the older cities, but with a caveat: whatever infrastructure is built there must be recovered through higher user charges. The logic is this: while subsidies must be directed towards new cities, the older cities must learn to pay more for the advantages they already enjoy and to help the authorities to clean up the air, water or ruined earth. No policy will work unless we incentivise desirable change and disincentivise filth and environmental degradation.

There is, for example, no reason to subsidise car travel in Mumbai when public transport should be the norm. Car owners today pay practically nothing for the amount of road space they occupy and pollution they cause. If we recognise the principle that public transport must be given primacy, it follows that cars must be heavily taxed in Mumbai, both upfront and for monthly usage.


It is possible to ease Mumbai's transport problems in months (not years) if we do two things: banish cars completely from all trunk roads between 8am to 8pm on all weekdays, and invest in thousands of eco-friendly buses and public vehicles of all kinds — AC buses, minibuses, vans, taxies. The roads will be less congested, and cars will be used only on weekends for family outings or late-night movies. 

The excess supply of cars in the city can be partly converted to luxury taxies, which will help the moneyed to enjoy their daily car rides without owning cars themselves. Like in Singapore, owning a car should be made prohibitively expensive in overcongested cities like Mumbai. 

Once cars are off the roads and buses fill the immediate transport needs, it would also be easier to build metros at a saner pace — assuming they are still needed. Entire roads can be excavated at once since there will be no cars 12 hours of the day. 

In Maharashtra, one could emphasise the shift in focus from old cities to new by moving the state government machinery out of Mumbai. This will force influence peddlers, companies and other interests of shifting, too. When the rich move on, the poor follow









WHILE nobody can question Karnataka Governor Hans Raj Bharadwaj's concern over the alleged involvement of some ministers in illegal mining in his state, the manner in which he is going about it is questionable and is a clear transgression of the provisions of the Constitution that do not envisage an activist Governor. Under the Constitution, a Governor can play an independent role only on two occasions: in determining who should be invited to explore the possibility of forming a government in the case of a hung verdict in the Assembly elections; and when a government loses the majority support of the State Assembly and is reduced to a minority. The manner in which Mr Bharadwaj has been functioning in Karnataka in the past one year raises doubts about his intentions. Apart from dabbling in state politics, he has been creating hurdles in the functioning of the government at every step and even on matters relating to holding elections to the Bangalore City Corporation, something that the Constitution doesn't allow him to do.


True, the Governor has not named the two controversial ministers — Tourism Minister G. Janardhan Reddy and Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy — while asking Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to take action against them. However, he violated the Lakshman Rekha when he questioned their legitimacy and continuance in the Cabinet. Consider the synchronisation of his controversial statement soon after his meeting with President Pratibha Patil on Wednesday and the indefinite sit-in by the Congress and Janata Dal (S) MLAs in the State Assembly demanding a CBI probe on the two ministers. Not surprisingly, the BJP dubbed the Governor a "Congress agent" working to "dislodge" the Yeddyurappa government.


While there is no reason why the Chief Minister should not act firmly against those involved in illegal mining

(particularly in the backdrop of Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde's strong disapproval of the same) and take effective steps to stem the rot, the Governor, on his part, would do well to observe the constitutional niceties and decorum and leave the matter of day-to-day governance to the duly elected government. The bane of most Governors increasingly playing partisan politics in the states will continue as long as the Centre appoints active politicians of the ruling party or its allies to the Raj Bhavans. Indeed, several expert committees have recommended that this malaise can be checked only if apolitical persons of high integrity and calibre are appointed as Governors. One can understand Mr Bharadwaj's penchant to hit headlines, but this has no constitutional sanction. 








AS soon as Punjab and Haryana were hit by floods, vociferous demands were sent out to the Centre to come to their aid to cope with the crisis and to pay the farmers for the damage to their crops. Somebody conveniently forgot that the two states already had calamity relief funds worth Rs 3,467 crore lying unused. Now the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has reminded the chief ministers of the two states that while Punjab has with it Rs 2,316 crore, Haryana is sitting pretty on Rs 1,151 crore. It is this money which should have been utilised immediately for restoration and repair works and for providing relief to the affected people. Instead, the onus was shifted to the Centre mechanically. Ironically, Haryana asked the Prime Minister to release Rs 1,022.94 crore for flood relief on the same day — Tuesday — that the Home Ministry reminded it about the unused money.


It is paradoxical that the calamity relief money is lying unused while the public is suffering. Even more cruel is the fact that while thousands of crores of rupees will be made available after the floods, even one-tenth of that sum was not used beforehand to prevent them. For instance, the drainage department of Punjab had asked for Rs 125 crore to carry out flood control measures before the onset of monsoons, but only Rs 10 crore had been sanctioned.


Isn't it a state's responsibility to ensure that a calamity is averted in the first place? The situation in Punjab and Haryana took a turn for the worse because flood control measures were grossly inadequate. Drains were not strengthened or cleaned. With canals breaching the banks at several places, large areas were inundated. This tendency of closing the stable door after the horses have bolted has gone on for too long. Somebody should have pity on the plight of the people left homeless and helpless by the flood fury. 









A position of authority in marriage, society and government has generally been denied to women, and this is also true of various religious institutions in the world. Thus, generally speaking, women do not have formal positions in church leadership, especially those that require some form of ordination. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and even the conservative Protestants maintain that only men can be ordained as clergy.


The traditional model of male-authority and female-submission has been challenged in every sphere of life and it would be unrealistic to expect that even these bastions of male supremacy would not be affected by it. An egalitarian approach is expected from denominations that keep pace with the changing society, and in fact, slowly but ever so surely, women have been making inroads into the ranks of ecclesiastical leadership. Florence Li Tim-Oi became the first Anglican woman ordained to the priesthood by an English bishop. The year was 1944, and the place Hong Kong. Her appointment created such a controversy that she stopped acting as a priest. However, renounce her priesthood she did not. It was 50 years later that the Church of England announced, after much deliberation, that women could be ordained as deacons and priests, but not as bishops. Today, there are more than 5,000 women priests, and many are eligible to be bishops, except that their gender bars them from being so.


The Church of England's position in general has been supportive of having women bishops since a few years, but it has had to bow to the traditionalists and it is unfortunate that the General Synod, or parliament of the church became a battle ground between traditionalists and reformers over this question. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Rowan Williams, has not been able to assert his authority at this critical time, the divisions have sharpened. While reform is never easy, especially in institutions that value tradition, the dynamics of change in society make it imperative. The Church of England must firmly keep the door open for women to reach high positions of responsibility and leadership.

















THE RSS, with a repulsive and parochial ideology, has taken the BJP to task for having supported the proposal to have caste enumeration in the 2011 census. The party has once again been caught on the wrong foot to placate the Yadav opinion. It has gone to farthest limit to please them in the past.


Had there been no Mandal, there would have been no kamandal. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee made the observation after returning from Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1990. He had gone to the President to give a letter on the withdrawal of support to the V.P. Singh government.


The BJP was furious over the stoppage of L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra at Samastipur in Bihar. Lalu Prasad Yadav, then the state chief minister, was V.P. Singh's ally. It was apparent that Lalu Yadav had not acted on his own, but at V.P. Singh's instance.


The dilemma before the BJP was that if it did not proceed with the yatra to expand the base among the Hindus, it would further lose the support that the implementation of the Mandal Commission's recommendations had cost it among the Dalits. V.P. Singh was the villain of the piece in the eyes of the party because he had accepted the report on reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBC).


The country saw the fall of the V.P. Singh government and a large-scale violence planned and instigated by the Sangh Parivar. However, the worst fallout was in the form of retaliation by the upper castes to the V.P. Singh government. It had given a quota of 27 per cent reservations in employment and education to the OBCs through an ordinance, which was made a constitutional amendment Act subsequently. The BJP did not oppose it at that time because of the substantial OBC electorate.


The entire country erupted into a kind of civil war. But people ultimately settled to live with the additional reservations. (The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes enjoyed a quota of 23 per cent). It took the nation many years to achieve an equilibrium of sorts. Reservations in educational institutions still irritate the upper castes but they have got reconciled to the Supreme Court's limit of 50 per cent in reservations.


Many years after the downfall of V.P. Singh, this writer asked him that if he had any agenda after the reservations under the Mandal Commission. He said he did not have. When I pointed out to him that he was blamed for the large-scale violence in the country, the former Prime Minister said: "True, I broke my leg, but I at least scored the goal."


Probably, the Yadav leaders have given an undertaking to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi that they (Yadavs) would support the Women's Reservation Bill if the government were to accept their demand to have caste enumerated in the census. But the ruling party has been deterred by the anger of the upper castes and has appointed the Group of Ministers (GoM) to recommend a solution. The latest is that there is a sharp division in the GoM and the government is back to the original proposition of finding a consensus on the caste issue.


It is not the first time that Sonia Gandhi, given to immediate pressures, has faltered in her decision. She did so when she announced the formation of Telengana at midnight. But she realised the mistake and formed a committee under Justice B.N. Krishna to make recommendations on the division or the status quo in Andhra Pradesh.


Sonia Gandhi's initial mistake to have caste in the census saw the same change of mind — first the announcement to have caste census and then to appoint the GoM to consider whether it should be recorded.


The Congress or, for that matter, the BJP which has supported the caste census does not realise the harm the political parties are doing to the polity for electoral considerations. There was no need to rake up the issue when Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav, representing the creamy layer of the OBCs, came to articulate the issue to expand their political base. A firm 'no' would have nipped their ploy in the bud.


Incidentally, all the three Yadav leaders claim to be the followers of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan who urged the nation to become a "casteless society." Even during the Independence movement, the slogan was to have a country without creed and caste after winning freedom.


Whatever the compulsions of the Yadav leaders, the Congress and the BJP should not have played into their hands. They can still take a moral stand on an issue and insist on non-partisan mature thinking on the part of political parties. They cannot play with fire and then expect that the conflagration would be limited. The caste census may once again give an opportunity to fanatics of every colour to peddle their agenda.


The British had a question in every census till 1941 to find out religion and caste. But theirs was a policy of "divide and rule." When Jawaharlal Nehru became India's first Prime Minister, he had even the column of caste in application forms and such other government records deleted. The question on caste was never asked after 1951.


To introduce caste is to renew all the ills of primitive and fractured society. The khap panchayats seen in Haryana will appear all over the country. It is horrible to find Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda agreeing with the khaps to ban the inter-gotra marriage. Thank God, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has rejected the pernicious practice.


Yadav leaders' argument that the caste census would help them know how many poor are among the OBCs. Why not count the poor? Travails do not lessen if the poor belong to the upper caste. It is time India began the economic consideration as the criterion for reservations. Otherwise, we shall be perpetuating bias, prejudice and hatred, something not desirable in a country which is wedded to establishing an 
egalitarian society.








IT is a story of two persons who live at an earshot distance from me and they, when not in the company of Bacchus, are helpful and sweet-talkers. But when pot-valiant, they are satellite-like roaming on the sky.


They started with a little of liquor plus soda, then graduated to a little of soda plus liquor and finally to no soda, only liquor or the bottled dynamite. The doctor, during their recent medical check-up, told them that they suffered from the same disease - excess of water. They blamed it on "the damned ice-cubes" and have since then kicked the glasses out to hit the bottle directly.


In their extreme state of bliss, they generally miss the road and slip towards the jungle. The result of this state and stage is that their teeth are missing and there are quite a few scars on their faces but like Rana Sanga they believe in 'never say die' and because both of them are theatre artists, their motto is 'the show must go on.'


The show must go on. Yes, one of them goes poetical after sucking the bottle and recites a few couplets of his favourite Shiv Batalvi, "Chup di awaaz suno, Khandhar di chat sundi hai" (Listen to the sound of silence, the roof of a ruined building hears it). He goes philosophical and quotes Sartre, "I am no longer sure of anything. If I satiate my desires, I sin but I deliver myself from them; if I refuse to satisfy them, they infect the whole soul."


He, then, follows Bhagwadgita's words, "niraharsya dehinh' (no food for the body) and sleeps like a log with his dog. His wife once said, "You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses". The dog then got up and slowly walked away and till that date refused to sleep with him.


His nocturnal rest often extends to noon too. What a waste of a grasping brain, agile body and senses as sharp as that of anybody!


The other, equally good fellow, when full of Dutch courage, behaves like the Admiral of the Red. Have you heard the story of the rat who took a few sips of hard liquor from a peg and then standing on his hind legs with chest blown up shouted, "Where is the cat? Call her here".


This person, when inebriated, cares a fig for his bosses and the world, shouts cuss-words on them and hums the dialogues stolen from the blockbuster films of Amitabh Bachchan. He also goes spiritual and has a belief that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has sung the hymns of Vedas because both the Vedas and Nusrat's Sufi songs are invocations taking one to the presence of the divine thus purifying one's inner-self.


He, when in company of 'lalpari', which he often is, plays the CD in full volume and in a song where Nusrat sings, "Allah-hoo", he, after him, shouts "Shambhoo" in the same tune and tenor.


They are learned, no doubt, but a quote says, 'be in the company of a sober cannibal than a drunken learned.' Do they know it?










IT seems so odd, now that it is over and the streets did not run with blood and the stadiums did not fall down, that so many said, so vociferously, that it would.

Now we know better. We know it wasn't the South African hosts, a nation of astonishing forbearance and

courage, who were so much being tested but those who came with their preconceptions, and not least some of the celebrity footballers who are paid in a few days more than the average township dweller in South Africa could hope to find in a lifetime.


South Africa has over the last few weeks done what it has been required to do since it emerged from one of the most viciously imbalanced societies the world is ever likely to see with a resolve not to seek revenge but to try to make a more hopeful future.


It just got along, made the best of things and put on a smile that has generally been as bright as the first glimpses of the winter sun which, now that the big show is over, will continue to shine down on the workers crowded into the back of the pick-up vans and trucks going to the factories and the farms.


The privilege has not been so much South Africa's but that of all those who have travelled across its vast and thrilling landscape.


Some visitors came with their fears, hermetically sealed, but there were those with open eyes - and hearts - who did not flinch at spending time in a society which had been so persistently alleged to constitute the most severe threat to their safety and peace of mind they were ever likely to face this side of going to war.


Their reward, they have repeatedly told you in airports from here to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and in towns like Rustenburg and Bloemfontein, which may never again feel quite so at the centre of the world, is that they have had the adventures of their lives, experiences which have carried them to a new level of understanding of how other people live with at least a small degree of optimism despite disadvantages which make their own seem, relatively, so slight.


No, South Africa didn't drag football into a bloodbath or an orgy of predatory crime. It reminded us of its power to create not just profit but also joy.


Among the visitors, the distinguished American actor Morgan Freeman - whose uncanny portrayal of Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus, the story of the unifying force of South Africa's victory in the 1995 rugby World Cup here, has led to a warm friendship with the great man - has been particularly delighted by the dramatic extension of the message of his work.


"Once again," he said over dinner in a Johannesburg restaurant filled with the different languages of the world, "I've seen here the power of sport to unite and lift people." Once Freeman refused to participate in a "month of black history" and told the leading American TV presenter Mike Wallace, "If you stop referring to me as a black man I will not think of you as a white man." Here, like so many others, he has again celebrated the power of sport, in this case the world's most popular game, to support his point. South Africa returns to its most grinding problems of unemployment and unacceptably high crime rates - and the fear that when the rest of the world goes about its business, hostility towards millions of immigrant workers will flare into violence in the townships - but it will do so with the confidence that for a month in the most intense of spotlights it was able to hold up and show its best face.


There will be no prosecutions against the great footballers who failed to deliver the best of their talent and character here - but maybe some serious reflection on the fact that too many of them seemed insufficiently stirred by the challenge of playing in football's greatest tournament.


Some inside the game fear that it is the inevitable consequence of huge financial rewards and a sense that it is no longer at the World Cup but in such important club competitions as the Champions League that the key players shape their future prospects.


The world's most talented footballer, Lionel Messi, was left in tears by his failure to lift up Argentina, but no one played harder or with more desperation to succeed.


Spain, inspired by the brilliance of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez made their statement of values and the Dutch, who brought down Brazil, conjured the memory of some of their greatest days as a small but superbly gifted nation with the performances of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.


But if we want to put a face to this it has to be, most appropriately, the brave and tortured African one of Ghana's Asamoah Gyan, a hero and a villain who still had the nerve to step up to successfully take a shoot-out penalty against Uruguay despite having missed the one that would have carried Africa into their first World Cup semi-final. That spoke of Africa's belief in itself, which, whatever happened at Soccer City, is always going to be the best legacy of an unforgettable World Cup.


The Independent










"IT is hard to imagine that in 2014 our reality will be better," wrote Andre Kfouri in Lance, Brazil's sports daily, in a dispatch from South Africa.


Kfouri drew two conclusions. "The first is obvious; if South Africa can stage a World Cup, so can Brazil." The second - "the tournament seems to be passing through a period of adaptation so that no one gets a fright in four years."


For all of Brazil's growing economic strength and international importance, staging a World Cup presents huge challenges. Some, as Kfouri outlined, are similar to South Africa. But there are also extra ones, the consequence of staging it in a country the size of a continent.


How will teams and fans get around such a large country ? : "I've always said that the 2014 World Cup faces three major problems," said Ricardo Teixeira, the long-term president of the CBF (Brazil's FA) at an event last week to launch the tournament logo. "The first is airports, the second is airports and the third is airports."


Brazil is more than seven-times bigger than South Africa. Air travel will be a necessity, but the 2014 hosts currently lack the capacity to move World Cup-sized crowds around the country.


With huge variations in temperatures in the north and south, teams could find themselves playing in searing heat in one game and in freezing rain the next. Manaus, Fortaleza and Natal are likely to have temperatures well over 30 degrees in June and July. But Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the south may well be under 10 degrees, and could even be at freezing point. Teams based in one region for their group matches may suffer when the knock-out stage takes them to another.


Will it be an administrative nightmare ?: For all the obstacles of nature, the biggest impediment to the smooth running of the 2014 World Cup is man-made: the political structure of Brazilian football.


For South Africa, staging the World Cup was rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle. But for all its progress, the movement in Brazil is very different. Its football administrators could not be further removed from activists. They represent the old, semi-feudal Brazil.


Federal Deputy Paulo Rattes wrote a Congressional report on 2014 planning. "What struck me about South Africa," he said, "was that there was participation from society and political leaders."


"In Brazil, meanwhile, "it is a black box that no one enters, only Ricardo Teixeira and his friends." Teixeira has been in power since 1989. His power base is formed by the presidents of the football federations in the 27 states that comprise this giant country, some of whom have been in power far longer than him.


Teixeira's need to keep his power base onside has already affected the organisation of the tournament. Many state presidents wanted 2014 games to be staged in their domain, so the CBF successfully lobbied Fifa to have 12 host cities, rather than the original plan of between eight and 10.


All this took time. The formal announcement that Brazil would stage the World Cup came in October 2007, but it was clear Brazil would be awarded the tournament as far back as March 2003. Yet, the host cities were not named until the end of last May. This delay has already left insufficient time for a number of transport infrastructure projects.


Is there any good news ?: Though all of Brazil ended up crying over the final defeat to Uruguay, the 1950 World Cup played an important role in developing the game. The tournament helped to decentralise the game and paved the way for a national championship launched in 1971. The 2014 World Cup can have a similar impact, dragging Brazilian football into the 21st century.


The Independent









FOR the World Cup, TV and newspapers had caught on to the idea of watching the games with people from the countries playing. So if you went somewhere to watch the match 'Live', chances were everyone there would be from the media except one poor sod from Honduras, who would kept getting asked, "Can you do a native dance into the camera, mate?" So rather than watch the final in a famous bar or Dutch pub, I watched it in Greenland, the world's largest Island with a population of less than 70,000.


The Inuit settlement of Kusuluk had 300 people and was surrounded by mountains and icebergs, with just one shop, that sold chewing gum, soap and rifles.


But they do play football there.


Indeed, in the course of just one afternoon, I saw six Inuit children wearing Manchester United bobble hats, and two adults wearing Man United shirts.


There was no bar in the village, so watching matches with others was difficult, though a large crowd did gather in front of the community hall not long before the final match, suggesting they might be erecting a giant screen for a fan zone. But it turned out someone had captured a seal.


The one place where you could watch the final collectively was in the small hotel, with two Greenlandic girls supporting Netherlands, and some 70-year-old American tourists. Pam disagreed with the locals, because, "The Netherlands is lousy, honey. I got sent to the Red Light District there once, I had an awful time, believe me, so I'm backing Spain. Is the score zero-zero?"


But Helen was shrieking for the Netherlands, especially when Robben broke through with only the goalkeeper to beat and fluffed his chance. "Oh my God, oh my God, so close," she howled, with such a yelp that the locals must have thought we'd caught a seal for ourselves. Then a few seconds later, she screamed even louder, "Oh my God, he's done it again, the same guy."


"That was the replay," I told her.


The commentary was in Danish, except the commentator preferred to say nothing, at one point staying silent for four minutes. Was he dead? Or stoned, or moonlighting for a Latvian channel and nipping between the two?


When Iniesta scored, Helen stormed out of the room, growling, "No one speak to me for a week," though if she saw it later on the news she'd have thought they'd lost all over again. But in the village no one was quite so upset.


The Independent









When Judy Cascales, a friend from US graduate school days, mentioned she and her husband were going to Colombia for a month to visit his family in Medellin, I had to tell her that the name invariably conjured up images of the notorious Medellin Cartel. It's certainly a place with serious problems, she agreed, not all of them related to drugs. But some civic-minded mayors have done a great deal for the city, built a good public transport system, opened wonderful libraries for the poor. 


And Marquez? "I am amused," Judy says, "by the description of his work as magical realism, which places the emphasis on 'magical'. Marquez has repeated many times that his works are based on true stories, often events that took place in the coastal region where he was born. His explanation for events that seem fantastic is that people often embellish the re-telling of these events either to avoid revealing an embarrassing truth, to explain something they don't understand, to protect 'the innocent,' or simply to give the event more importance." 


An example from One Hundred Years of Solitude (Spanish pub 1967) that Marquez himself gave: Remedios Buendia is so beautiful that she drove men to their deaths. One day she ascended to heaven as she was hanging out the wash. That's the story the family spread so that no one would know she had run off with a travelling salesman. But given the fact that Marquez was tracing the history of Colombia through seven generations of the Buendia family, the "fantastic events" are often extended symbols of colonial history, the sense of lost traditions, the death of so many people through diseases brought by the colonisers, dispossession of land. The 'solitude' he speaks of, Marquez says, is not just caused by the remoteness of the settlement of Macondo, but a state of mind induced by the colonial experience. 


In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the author said, "The interpretation of reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us even more unknown, even less free, ever more solitary." He learned his way of telling stories (the supernatural presented as ordinary and the other way round) from his maternal grandmother who looked after him during his early years. "No matter how fantastic or improbable her statements, she always delivered them as if they were the irrefutable truth." The house was full of ghosts, omens, premonitions. His grandfather ignored all this and told him stories from history, the civil wars, cruelty and injustice. 


"It's a very different world from Europe and from North America. People believe in the supernatural, though there are also those who take such stories with a pinch of salt," Judy says. "When we lived in Colombia for about 10 years, I saw many strange things: People with tumours that disappeared when they went to a 'healer.' It's probably psychosomatic, but even the healers could find no explanation." She tells an amusing story about playing healer to one of the family maids who was wasting away, certain she was dying because a curse had been put on her. Other healers could do nothing because their power was weaker than the curser's. The maid admired Judy's motherin-law a great deal. No power is stronger than her goodness, Judy assured the maid. She also told her that she had learned various prayers and potions from the good lady. She put some burning herbs in a dish, and fumigated every corner of the house while saying the 'Hail Mary' in English. The next day the woman began eating normally again! 


It wouldn't surprise me if Judy and her husband who are visiting India in January find India in some ways, a very familiar place. 



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Those looking for signs of real progress at the many international conclaves that are on national leaders'

agendas, will be disappointed. The Doha Round of trade talks is stuck in the mud; the negotiations to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol are getting nowhere, the Copenhagen fudge notwithstanding; even the G20, hailed a short year ago as the harbinger of the new world order, does not seem to be achieving anything. Instead, all the talk is of the undeniable change of power relationships — the US is in relative decline, while China is on the ascendant — without sufficient focus on how a changing world's affairs might be reordered.


Global institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are hopelessly slow in changing their governance structures, even as they seek renewed relevance in the most active continent in the world. On the military front, America's forces are in a quagmire called Afghanistan, while its partner countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation pull out their troops one by one, providing yet more proof of the erstwhile global hegemon's inability to exert its will, and of the absence of new structures and powers that might contribute to evolving a new world order. American impotence in the face of nuclear defiance by Iran and North Korea only adds substance to the thesis, as does the lack of traction for the multi-nation efforts to engage with these nuclear recalcitrants.


 In short, 20 years after an enthusiastic academic announced the "end of history" and the triumph of the western world, international relations are caught in a twilight zone where new shapes and forces are only dimly seen. The majority of countries, mostly poor and small, may not have empathised with America's sense of exceptionalism and its view of itself as a benign superpower, but the fact that it acted as a global policeman ensured the peace in distant corners of the globe (East Asia, for instance, and perhaps Europe itself) and kept the sea lanes open, even as its espousal of free trade helped fashion the opening up of national markets and massive expansion of global trade. But while the US is no longer able to impose its writ or to act alone (any guesses on when it will next send its troops overseas?), other countries are still at cross-purposes when it comes to protecting the global commons and helping to write new rules to govern them. On almost any major issue, all that can be seen are coalitions of the unwilling.


This is a prescription for paralysis, which a world in flux cannot afford. For while it is obvious that the international governance and alliance structures that were evolved immediately after World War II look dated, it is also evident that nothing new is emerging in their place. The US will argue that this is in part because the rising powers (India included) are not stepping forward to play their role, while others will argue that conflicting interests are a fact of life. For this situation to change, the two major powers of the new world must both adapt. China must get "normalised", and the US must look for more cooperative arrangements with other benign forces. Only then will it be possible to evolve a 21st century arrangement for the world.







The two-day Centre-state meet on revamping the public distribution system (PDS), with an eye to the likely enactment of the National Food Security Law, has harped on the same measures that have been talked about for long. These include the computerisation of PDS operations, timely delivery of stocks to PDS outlets, and proper identification of the beneficiaries, especially those entitled to the below-poverty-line (BPL) cards, based on the latest poverty and population counts. The only new development at the meet was the formal launch of the "smart card" project on a pilot basis in Haryana, to curb leakages and corruption in the "targeted PDS" programme. However, even this initiative has taken over two years to materialise, as it was announced in the 2008-09 Budget speech by the then finance minister, P Chidambaram. Nevertheless, its launch is a potential precursor to the much bigger initiative mooted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The proposed system stipulates the use of a biometric ID number for issuance of any ration card, and linking all ration shops electronically with the government agencies involved in foodgrain distribution. This, it is hoped, will ensure both transparency and accountability.


These are medium-term solutions; what about short-term steps to arrest the rampant diversion of highly subsidised foodgrain from the PDS, and the flawed distribution of ration cards as reflected in both the large number of bogus cards and the exclusion of a sizable chunk of the genuinely poor from the PDS? Surveys have revealed that over 40 per cent of PDS grain does not reach the poor. Since the government supplies wheat and rice for BPL households at Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively, the subsidy on these staple cereals works out to over 80 per cent. As for ration card distribution, the government recently conceded in Parliament that 110.8 million cards were in circulation in March 2010, against the estimate of 65.3 million BPL families. Should this situation be allowed to continue until the UIDAI-proposed initiative is in place, and the entire PDS network is computerised?


 One option would be to review and verify the BPL cards, preferably in meetings of Gram Sabhas (people's assembly) and not just panchayat officials. The diversion of foodgrain can also be curbed by making the timing and the quantum of foodgrain allocated to the PDS shops transparent, as has been done with considerable success in Chhattisgarh. All that needs to be done is to inform, by whatever means, a few members of the public in a locality about the supply of grains to the ration shops concerned. Several states have expressed their willingness to undertake such an exercise. The other states should also be asked to fall in line.









The Planning Commission has begun the process for preparing the Twelfth Five Year Plan. They want this to be different from previous Plans, which typically involved some macro-economic jiggery-pokery to justify a growth target that is a per cent or two above recent trends; some re-packaging of anti-poverty programmes so that they appear to address charges of misuse and waste; pious promises to protect the environment and brave promises to make the country an economic superpower. We started doing this in the 1970s and have repeated the exercise many more times since then. How can the twelfth iteration of the planning exercise be different?


Judging by the first semi-public meeting on the Twelfth Plan (which I attended), it seems that the responsibility for managing the process for the preparation of the approach to the Twelfth Plan has been assigned to Arun Maira, who has a lifetime of experience in catalysing change and reform at the enterprise level. There is even some talk of converting Yojana Bhavan into a System Reforms Commission.


 But writing a Plan that is an effective blueprint for radical change is much more difficult than reinventing a corporation, and Yojana Bhavan will need a lot of support from well-wishers outside the government. From this perspective, as a purana papi, let me make my suggestions on what I would like to see in the Plan.


The Plan is about what the government will do. But the starting point should be a clear analysis of the exogenous forces, the trends beyond governmental control that will make the future matrix for development substantially different from the past. Let me mention three. The first is the demographic shift with a rising proportion of young workers in the North, the opposite phenomenon of a rise in the old age dependency ratio in the South and a massive shift of population from rural to urban areas. The second is the shift of the centre of gravity of the global economy to Asia, most particularly the rise of China. The third is the growing pressure to dematerialise growth, partly because of environmental concerns (e.g. global warming) and partly because of resource scarcities (e.g. of cheap oil). Other inflexion points could be added to this list and Yojana Bhavan would do well to talk to think tanks, corporate planners and security analysts who are peering into the future for their own purposes. Understanding the implications of these directional shifts in the underlying driving forces has to be the basis for a grand strategy for development.


A strategic approach, working with scenarios, would be far more valuable for this purpose than the usual projection exercise that is based more on past trends than on future changes. In particular, the planners should not sweat too much over the macro-economics of growth. It really is rather futile to get into an argument about whether the growth goal should be 9 per cent or 10 per cent, or what the steel production target should be. Instead the government should focus its deliberations on what it does control, like its fiscal stance, the draft of the public sector on private savings, monetary policy, the regulatory system and similar matters. Even here, if the planners have nothing new to say, then they may as well keep quiet.


A grand strategy can only be the beginning. The real meat in the Plan is the programme of action. Here too Yojana Bhavan must restrict itself to the areas where a major policy shift or redeployment of development resources is required. These areas can only emerge after the analysis; but as a first guess, one can say that they will be mostly about making development more inclusive and more sustainable, that is more on the people and the planet than on the profit side of the three-P triad that Yojana Bhavan has unveiled for organising discussions on the Twelfth Plan.


Not that the basics of economic growth do not matter. They do. But the Indian economy is now quite robust and reasonably government-proof. The big reforms in the regulatory structure, fiscal policy, monetary management and external liberalisation have already been undertaken. There is a pending agenda on the external liberalisation side, but it is no longer something that would make much of a difference to the potential growth rate. The big change that we need is in the management of the delivery mechanism for public services to make it less corrupt, more responsive to the needs of the beneficiaries it serves, more clearly accountable to the citizens and more open to innovation. We need for the public sector a reform programme as far-reaching as the 1991 big bang for the corporate sector.


The agenda for radical change in the policy areas that impinge on inclusion and sustainability can become quite extensive and all of us will have our own priorities for the areas that need special attention. Let me offer my list of priorities:


Connecting slow growth regions and remote areas (e.g. the tribal belt, the Northeast, the Gangetic plain and Kashmir) to the fast-growing mainstream economy.


Providing top-quality vocational training to widen opportunities for young workers.


Reconstructing the plethora of anti-poverty and affirmative action programmes as a structured social security system.


Moving Indian agriculture from a low-productivity-staple producing system to a rising productivity, commercially oriented sector.


Reinventing the process and management of urbanisation.


Building much stronger economic links with China and East Asia.


Managing emerging stresses in the water economy.


Coping with the risks of climate change.


These eight areas do not constitute the sum of all development. But they are the areas where our present policies are grossly inadequate and need radical overhaul.


The type of selectivity that I am advocating will not come easily. A Plan is a negotiated product among the Planning Commission, the finance ministry, the line ministries and their technocrats and the state governments. A vast network of bureaucrats will work through various working groups, steering groups and task forces to protect and expand their programmes. The great challenge that Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Arun Maira face is to persuade this grand army that a Plan can only add value to the development effort if it focuses on a few sectors and areas and really delivers results there.








In recent months, the government and bureaucrats have added a new phrase to their lexicon: "calibrated approach". This phrase finds its way into just about every situation where the issue at hand requires clarity of vision and boldness in approach but the actual reaction of the government and/or the bureaucracy is to just wade in pools of uncertainty, stay frozen in inaction, and demonstrate its timidity while allowing vested interests to strike back. India needs approaches which are all "calibrated" towards delivering quantum change simply because we have already lost decades on account of fuzzy ideology, political expediency, and meaningless debates.


 The most recent misuse of this phrase is in the context of the debate relating to opening of the retail sector to foreign investment. While the motive behind the issuance of the discussion document (by DIPP) is laudable, the government should — if only for its own survival — come out with a policy that is calibrated to liberate this very important sector completely from the clutches of middlemen and price-gouging small, independent retailers who have contributed in no small measure to the consumer food-price inflation, and create an investment environment which tackles the almost criminal wastage of food and other perishable products on account of system inefficiencies in the supply chain from farm to fork. While political pundits are much better placed to comment on the prospects of a UPA-III, its coming into existence would seem most unlikely if the government fails to take firm steps to rein in the runaway inflation and create jobs and more income at the grass roots level.


Fortunately for India, the window of opportunity is still open, though perhaps it won't remain so for very long. The India story is still very strong globally, and the image of the Indian prime minister and UPA-II is still relatively positive — at least outside India, even if it's rapidly eroding within the country. The world's factory's manufacturing prowess has come under unprecedented stress in recent months, prompting global companies to seek new manufacturing/manufactured goods supply locations outside China even as China itself makes conscious efforts to move to production of higher value-added goods, and its domestic consumption growth remains very buoyant. With early indications of a good monsoon, the government should have some more room to manoeuvre. Finally, with the Opposition still in disarray and the largest opposition party's leadership continuing to put their feet into their mouths, the government probably has its last chance to come up with fundamental, bold reforms which can deliver short, medium and long-term gains to India and most probably to UPA-II itself in the backdrop of the 2014 general election year.


The sectors which require approaches calibrated to deliver maximum impact and most changes include

agriculture, education, manufacturing, retail, real estate and construction, and health care. In case of agriculture, land reforms leading to consolidation of land holdings and encouragement of non-farmers to get into farming (whether individuals or cooperatives or private companies of Indian or foreign origin) are probably the most needed changes. In education, the government has to acknowledge the practical necessity of making it "for-profit" if it wishes to bridge the huge gap between current capacity (and quality) and the current and near-term demand, especially in the domain of higher education. Further, the government has to have a far more determined resolve and a budgetary allocation almost on the scale of the NREGA focused entirely on vocational training so that the hundreds of millions who are under-employed or unemployed can find income-generating jobs while alleviating the trained workforce needs of Indian manufacturing and services industries. In manufacturing, the government has to come up with progressive reforms on the labour front while making hundreds of thousands of additional (and infrastructurally developed) hectares available across India to set up new manufacturing facilities for small, medium and large enterprises. In retail, the government must free the sector from financial ownership-related constraints and instead, it should only focus on coming out with a suitable policy framework which allows for an equitable co-existence of small and large retail businesses while encouraging competition and efficiency. In real estate, the government has to make Defence and its own PSUs and departments give up thousands of acres of prime real estate in urban centres for the development of new schools, colleges, hospitals, sports arenas and shopping and commercial space, while boldly increasing the FAR on the lines of land-deficient cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Manhattan-New York and Shanghai. And finally, in health care, policy support must come to encourage creation of millions of new hospital beds and hundreds of thousands of additional doctors on a war footing, else by 2030 itself, India will face a health-care challenge of insurmountable proportions.


Hopefully, our political leadership will calibrate their ideological and policy approach to the critical needs of

the nation rather than petty, misguided self interests. 








Have we ever wondered why China is always in the world's limelight and India is not? Why do others pay more attention to what China does and says than to what we do and say? It can't only be its sizzling GDP growth, since we aren't doing badly either. It isn't also its open economy, because we are open, too. Why is it, then, that the world inevitably regards China, not India, as Asia's defining face?


 No matter where I looked for an explanation, I always came back to three unavoidable conclusions. First, China is always in change, always trying to excel itself, always trying out new ideas. To an outside observer, this is the mark of a truly dynamic nation, a nation seriously engaged with its future, a dragon awake in its full glory, and that impresses. By comparison, India is but a sluggish elephant, though dignified in its gait.


Secondly, China has espoused the world in a way India will never be able to do because of India's kinky mental make-up that thinks dependence on foreigners is a slur on its intelligence. If foreign designers, architects, sculptors, and town planners can produce a better, brighter, and more modern image, the Chinese won't hesitate to engage them. Naturally, China is the world's darling, despite Tiananmen Square; India is not, despite Bhopal.


Thirdly, China is capable of dreaming big and acting bigger, which makes it a nation of achievers. And when the achievements are bold and monumental, how can the world not pay attention? Here are a few of China's new-age icons that are as impressive as the Great Wall or the terracotta warriors of Xian:


The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project that spans the mighty Yangtze River, has cost $26 billion to build, and will produce up to 22,500 MW of electricity to serve an important industrial belt that includes Shanghai. Its deep, 600-km long reservoir has enough storage to reduce the frequency of devastating downstream floods from once in ten years to once in a hundred. Because of the dam, it's now possible for even 10,000-tonne freighters to navigate up to 2,250 km inland from the East China Sea. The world may debate the wisdom of this project but can't ignore its boldness.


The Golmud-Lhasa Railway that has ended Tibet's isolation from the rest of China and presents to the world a stunning engineering feat that many thought could not be achieved. The 1,142-km link between Golmud in Qinghai province and the Tibetan capital took five years and $4.2 billion to build and crosses the Tanggula Pass 5,072 metres above sea level to become the world's highest railway track. More than 80 per cent of the line has been laid at altitudes of 4,000 metres or more, and a stretch of 550 km is laid on permafrost requiring difficult track stabilisation measures.


The Hangzhou Bay Bridge, the world's longest (36 km) sea-going bridge, is another impressive example of China's will and daring. The "S" shaped, cable-stayed bridge, with six lanes in both directions and costing $1.7 billion, stretches across Hangzhou Bay to cut travel distance between Shanghai and Ningbo, the country's second largest port, by 120 km. While this kind of saving may not be worthwhile for others, it's critical for growth-obsessed China, where development is a race against time.


The Shanghai Maglev railway, connecting downtown Shanghai with Pudong International Airport, is the world's first fully-commercial magnetic levitation railway. Travelling at up to 431 km an hour and covering a distance of 30 km in seven minutes and 20 seconds sharp, the $1.2 billion railway not only symbolises China as a nation in a hurry but has also set off a new craze for high-speed railway travel worldwide.


The Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3, hailed as the biggest man-made structure in the world in terms of area covered (986,000 sq. m.) when it opened in 2008 and now the second-largest airport terminal after Dubai. Designed like a stretched-out dragon by a consortium of foreign architectural firms led by UK's Foster & Partners and built entirely from scratch at a cost of $3.5 billion, the new terminal offered a grand message of welcome to foreign visitors as they trooped in for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


To this very impressive list of achievements, one could, of course, add many more. The Olympic stadiums, for one thing, or Highway 312, China's Mother Road, that crosses the country east to west from Shanghai to Khorgas on the border with Kazakhstan 4,967 km away. And surely there is the massive south-to-north water diversion project, likely to cost a whopping $62 billion and now in the full swing of construction.


Against such daring displays of vision, what have we got to show to get noticed? "Honour" killings in Delhi and church burnings in Orissa. 







Asia understood a long time ago that pluralism in difficult situations may accelerate the crisis


If somebody had asserted during the late 1990s that Europe would slide into an economic crisis as Asia had done more than a decade ago, one would have dismissed the person as delusional. A reasonable response would have been: Crises only occur in developing countries where governments borrow beyond their means. Newly rich elites in these countries have not fully comprehended the risk of the game.


 And then one would have politely changed the topic of the conversation.


Yet now we have the Asian financial crisis in Europe. Similar to what's happening in Europe now, back in 1997, one Asian country went beyond its means economically and pulled other countries in the region down. The Asian Greece was Thailand, which today remains one of the most economically vulnerable countries in east and south-east Asia. However, contrary to the situation in Europe, Asian countries had a valve that allowed them to release pressure: They were able to devalue their respective currencies. And the Asian nations that remained sound in the late 1990s were still anticipating a new phase of economic growth with their unsaturated markets.


Since an economic growth spurt in Europe is unlikely in the near future, one has to assume that the worst is yet to come. Spain may become the South Korea of Europe. Spanish banks are already shaking. And the economic rating of the country is falling. Thailand was down on its knees in July 1997; South Korea followed in November the same year. And then everybody began to say: "Now it's getting serious."


Parallels can also be drawn between the term used for bailing out countries in economic trouble by Europe and that used by Asia.


The China of crisis-stricken Europe is Germany. Both countries are export champions of their respective regions. With large trade surpluses, each has the strongest economy and, therefore, carries substantive political weight. Because of their success and, at times, brusque ways of conducting politics, both are more respected than appreciated.


Nevertheless, Asia has never put its economic and political champion China under pressure as Europe did with Germany. First, the Germans had to defend themselves for their economic well-being, which allegedly occurred at the cost of its European neighbours. Once the crisis broke, the Germans were expected to foot most of the bill and were consequently criticised for their reluctance to do so. Then the Germans had to rally all European leaders around an economic rescue package. Eventually, the Germans tried a solo run to push through a tighter regulation of financial markets. Again, criticism was strong — but this time it was justified. This poorly prepared step led to Europe drifting further apart on important issues.


To treat a leading nation in such a way in crisis would have been unthinkable in Asia — then and now. Asia is far from being as integrated as Europe. To date, Asia has no common currency, no common market, no relaxed customs and no common government.


The respectful treatment of China in Asia may have been for cultural reasons. It definitely has to do with the fact that China has a lot more power in Asia than Germany has in Europe. But there is another reason: Asians currently have a more realistic self-image. They are a lot more aware of their own weaknesses, while Europeans until recently felt unimpeachable. They believed that there was no competition out there.


Now, Europeans have woken up — although not completely. While they are tending to their wounds, they have begun to quarrel among themselves again. Leading politicians in Europe may not yet have fully grasped the unfavourable situation that Europe finds itself in. They still believe that a lasting economic crisis in Europe is impossible.


In the meantime, political observers in Beijing have come to the following conclusion: Europe has to get through a short crisis, but in the long term, it is also in an inauspicious development phase. That becomes apparent in a comparison between the European crisis and the Asian financial crisis. Shortly after the economic turmoil, Asians resumed an economic spirit of optimism that has prevailed to this day. The European crisis, on the other hand, will be followed by economic stagnation. Irrespective of Europe's continued secret and bashful accumulation of debt or attempts to reduce government spending, thereby undermining any possible economic take-off, the fact is that Europe has limited scope to expand its prosperity level.


Even the Chinese prime minister has publicly expressed concern about conditions in Europe: "This phenomenon — is it over? It does not look like it. We have to become aware of the full extent of the difficulties." The problems in America and Europe cannot stop the global recovery and cause a new downturn of economic growth, the premier added.


This assessment does not appear to be exaggerated. It suggests that Europe is being burnt, slowly and steadily, by a long-smouldering fire. The flames are cooled but may soon blaze again. Europe has to become accustomed to the smell of a smouldering fire.


There is also no all-clear signal coming from America. Household savings rates are declining again, the government continues to accumulate debt. It is likely that we will have to face a series of crises with the trouble spots alternating between Europe and America.


Although a bit exaggerated, one can identify three different reactions to the global crisis. The US is becoming more aggressive, especially towards China, which won't make it any more popular. One should not be deluded by the seeming cosiness between the two super powers at the recent US-China summit in Beijing. Europeans only act collaboratively in an acute crisis and then disunite again over major issues. That weakens their position towards other regions in the world. In the meantime, Asians are moving closer together — suppressing their national egos, assessing opportunities and risks rationally and becoming more competitive. All three reactions contribute to a development which will hurt Europe economically in the long run — the shift of the epicentre of global economic development towards Asia. The dramatic increase of inter-Asia trade in recent months attests to this.


In the same way that Europeans are still disbelieving that an Asian financial crisis-type situation has arrived in Europe, they do not appraise their situation realistically. Every major nation still believes it can pursue its own individual economic path, its Sonderweg. That is dangerous, as it is by pulling itself together that Europe will be able to find a pathway through and out of the crisis. Europeans particularly have to realise what Asians understood a long time ago: Pluralism in difficult situations may accelerate the crisis.

Andreas Sieren is a specialist in international relations and development aid. He worked for many years for the United Nations in Asia and Africa. His brother Frank Sieren is a bestselling author and has been living in Beijing for 15 years. He is regarded as one of the leading German experts on China







THERE is no necessary contradiction between the government divesting its holdings in public enterprises through auction to a limited number of large investors and its desire to widen the base of ownership of these enterprises. In any capital-raising exercise through sale of existing shares in a company or fresh issue, the primary objective must be to ensure that the issuer gets the best price. This objective is defeated if a large portion of a public offer is reserved for small investors. They have little influence on the pricing of shares in a public issue, but issuers are forced to keep the issue price at a substantial discount to the expected price on listing, so as to generate so-called listing gains. To ensure that pricing of issues is market-determined and issuers get the best deal, it would make eminent sense for issuers of capital to sell shares to large institutions through a French auction. This allots as many shares as are bid for by the highest remaining bidder till all the shares on offer are exhausted. Retail participation could be through mutual funds or brokerages that agglomerate retail applications and also take on the task of allotting shares to the applicants. Retail investors can always buy shares in the secondary market after the listing. 


The government claims the emphasis of the disinvestment programme is to widen people's ownership of the public sector enterprises. The trouble is, less than 5% of the population invests in equities as an asset class, most people would rather keep their money with banks or invested in relatively-less-risky assets such as real estate. Offering a 5-10% discount to the issue price is not the best way to increase the equity culture among the citizens. Equity needs to be considered as a viable asset class by a wider spectrum of people. Easier norms for opening demat accounts, more large brokerages — floated, perhaps by public sector banks — with credible, transparent ways of working, sound corporate governance practices, all would help. Selling public sector shares cheap when the potential investor base remains tiny only serves to enrich an elite at the cost of the exchequer.









THE Chhattisgarh police have alleged that there are links between Maoist attacks and human rights activists like Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and Nandini Sundar. The fact that the state police can, with such apparent ease and without a proper investigation or evidence, make such allegations against known public figures, even threaten to slap the harsh Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act against them, underscores an authoritarian disregard for the democratic right to dissent that is being sought to be legitimised in the name of public safety and security. This is just not acceptable. Deliberate targeting of individuals who oppose, or have differing views on, the campaign against the Maoists and its effects on ordinary citizens and tribals can only be motivated by intimidation and coercion. This is plain reprehensible. If the campaign against the Maoists is also about establishing the rule of law, then that very law is unravelled if it targets not just non-combatants but critics of official policy or democratic dissenters. There have been enough number of reports about cases of activists being wrongfully imprisoned or framed. And more often than not, they are individuals who do not have the resources or ability to challenge such allegations that relatively well-known public figures might have. 

The point isn't just that charges, including the attempt to establish some sort of link to a terror attack, are being made against individuals far removed from the scene. The larger issue is that any instance of ordinary citizens or tribals being implicated, like any human rights violation during anti-Maoist operations, weakens the democratic credentials and legitimacy of the state. It lends credence to Maoist claims that the operation against them is nothing short of the state's war against its own people. The Maoists have to be taken on, and defeated. But not by force alone. If ushering in inclusive development is one aspect of the response, then ensuring that the campaign does not ride roughshod over individual and democratic rights is another.









CONMEN exist everywhere. Tales have been told, films have been made, all over the world, about their exploits. We too have our own Natwarlals. But there often tends to be one small, but key, difference between conmen elsewhere and over here, one that reveals a truth about our relationship to the sarkar and things sarkari. Abroad, most tricksters have the singular aim of tricking and conning people or institutions out of money. It's simple, they do it for the moolah. Here, however, we often enough find a conman, an impersonator, who apparently gains nothing material from running a scam except a momentary taste of the trappings of power. Such is the preoccupation with sarkari authority, the envy and desire for living a little bit like how the powerful babus do, that some people end up tricking others merely to feel like someone important for some time. It's the other side of the VIP syndrome. Take the case of the chap who pretended to be an adviser to the prime minister, and did a darshan at the Vaishno Devi shrine in J&K in rather grand style. Some work went into the trick, it seems. Apparently, the J&K police received a call that a VVIP was coming to the shrine, which fact seemed to be confirmed as around three red-beacon-laden seriouslysarkari-looking white ambassador cars drove up to the state border where the J&K police was waiting. They then proceeded to provide a security convoy, the fleet drove all the way to the shrine, the impostor was provided accommodation usually made available to the Governor, and he generally did a grandiloquent darshan. 


The chap would probably have gotten away with it had he not picked an argument with officials about some payment. Verily, often that extra bit of greed often gets the better of men and conmen. Suspicious, officials called the PMO and the lie was exposed. The 'prime minister's adviser' is now cooling his heels in gaol, in Delhi. He's still close to the centre of the sarkar, though.







IN AN increasingly-competitive world, the developed countries are pursuing intellectual property rights (IPRs) route to retain competitive edge over developing countries. The fact that the former followed a liberal IP regime during their development phase is conveniently forgotten. The globally-mandated WTO's TRIPS agreement seeks to strike a balance between private rights of IP-holders and public interest by prescribing only the minimum IP standards of protection and enforcement. However, the developed countries are seeking to raise the bar by pursuing a TRIPS-plus agenda, especially on IP enforcement, with a view to tilting the balance in favour of IP right holders. 


This stratagem finds reflection in various multilateral bodies. In recent past, IMPACT, a WHO taskforce, sought to define counterfeit medical products in a way that could have made Indian generic trade illegal. Wipo attempted to harmonise patent laws in a way that could have taken away the right of countries to define scope of patentability based on their socio-economic profile. The World Customs Organization (WCO) also attempted to raise the bar of standards for Customs enforcement. The MNCs who fear losing against competitively-priced goods from developing countries are often the brain behind such moves. They are pursuing IP route to restrict manufacturing and export prowess of developing countries. 


TRIPS recognises IPRs as territorial rights and IP is protected only in the jurisdiction where it is registered. However, Kenya's recent Anti-Counterfeit Act even recognises IPRs protected in other countries. This would make generic goods imported into or transiting through Kenya illegal if a patent exists anywhere in the world. This has serious repercussions not only for Indian exports but also takes away right of Kenya to independently define patentability criteria based on its development requirements. This is also a loss for Kenya, which in initial stages of its development would be denied the opportunity of drawing innovation and encouraging economic growth within the country. 


Many other African countries are being lured into the same trap. There were allegations that EU provided funds for a similar bill in Uganda. Such legislations would deny public access to generic drugs and make them dependent on monopoly of a few patent drug suppliers. Three AIDS victims had to move Kenya's Constitutional Court against the Anti-Counterfeit Act for a stay on the grounds that it denied them access to generic anti-retroviral drugs and, thus, violated their Right to Life. 


In other cases, the developed countries are trying to force the developing countries, such as in Latin America, to undertake TRIPS-plus commitments through the free trade agreements (FTA) route. They are targeting IPs such as data exclusivity and patent term linkage to extend exclusive marketing period for their patented drugs. 
    Having failed to get much success in multilateral forums, the developed countries are now pursuing the plurilateral route. The latest in armory is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) largely among developed countries to create a maximalist IP enforcement regime. Some of the developing countries such as Mexico, which are tied with them under FTAs, have also been roped in.


The draft Acta text unveiled by EU in April has a provision that allows the rightholders to seek seizure of goods in transit on account of purported IPR violation through summary administrative action. Acta provisions would be enforced through their domestic IP laws. TRIPSplus IP standards in the domestic laws of countries, even if outcomes of unilateral or plurilateral moves, would equally impact all countries by virtue of the WTO's mostfavoured-nation clause. Consequently, even goods of non-members would be subject to such TRIPS-plus measures when they are exported to or transit through such countries. 


INDIA has very strong commercial interests related to IPRs. These derive from the enormous growth in knowledge-intensive sectors over the past decade. In a knowledge-based economy, a better understanding of IP is indispensable to informed policy-making in all areas of development. India's commercial interests must be protected in WTO, where they create a binding legal effect and in other multilateral bodies from where they can create a spillover effect into WTO. What then are the options for India? 


While TRIPS permits the WTO members to have TRIPS-plus standards, such measures cannot contravene the fundamental principles of TRIPS. Thus, TRIPS also sets a ceiling that cannot be breached. Acta provisions are not only TRIPS-plus but in some cases could violate fundamental principles of TRIPS and, thus, legally challengeable in WTO. The recent controversy over seizure of Indian drugs in transit by EU members saw their own public right activists take up case against their own governments. Gullible nations need to be sensitised about TRIPS-plus norms for public health, transfer of technology, socio-economic development, promotion of innovation and access to knowledge. Bringing secret bilateral or plurilateral agreements to international scrutiny through discussions in multilateral forums could also generate necessary pressure. 


A reactive approach to critical TRIPSplus moves may not be in India's best interest as it does not empower us enough to influence international IP rule-making in a manner that takes into consideration our interests and priorities. Given the way the different facets of an IP regime spillover from different multilateral fora, it is best that as a country India has a coordinated and coherent stance in such matters in consultation with all the affected stakeholders. This would help India identify its interests on sensitive IP issues and work out a coherent strategy, and thereby take an appropriate stand at international level and tailor domestic policies accordingly. 


The feedback from Indian industry is quite critical here. Unfortunately, except for the pharma industry, the rest of industry in general is not alive to threat from TRIPS-plus measures. Indian software industry may be the next target of such moves. There is a need to take proactive stand and build appropriate coalitions against such moves, including through involvement of NGOs, and pursue legal route, wherever required. The Indian industry needs to awaken to the threat. 

 (The author is a civil servant.     Views are personal.)








INNOVATION wasn't always a hot topic in the Silicon Valley. More than a decade ago, when our firm was just a small group of product designers working over a dress shop in Palo Alto, we became very interested in why companies looked outside for product development. We hired a professional services firm to help answer that question, and after interviewing many clients (and non-clients), we distilled the answers down into four key reasons: one was just raw capacity. Companies had a bigger appetite than their in-house resources could satisfy. The second was speed. If they couldn't find anybody in-house to sign up to some incredibly tight deadline, they would look outside. The third reason was the need for some specific expertise outside their core competencies. And the fourth was innovation. 


Well, a funny thing has happened in the ensuing years. Innovation has risen from the bottom to the top of the list. I personally have met executives from more than a thousand firms to talk about their organisations' emerging technologies, market perceptions and, of course, product development plans. With more than a thousand firsthand experiences, it's hard not to spot emerging trends unless you are truly asleep at the wheel. The biggest single trend we've observed is the growing acknowledegment of innovation as a centrepiece of corporate strategies and initiatives. Today, companies seem to have an almost insatiable thirst for knowledge, expertise, methodologies and work practices around innovation.







BUY, hold, sell. Every morning at 9:00, millions of stock market investors confront the three choices without knowing what to do with any. More so now as Sensex is swinging between 17,000 and 18,000 and the Nifty caught in a 150-point band. Not something every Joe can fathom. Even pros find it frustrating. So far, over the first half of 2010, it's been trapped in the range. It's showing signs of moving out, but will it get trapped in a new range? A disaster like Dubai realty crash, another Greek tragedy or negative consumer confidence data in the US can trigger new worries. 


The good part is the market's off the lows hit over a year ago. The bad news: it's come all the way from the troughs, but is rangebound now. Considering this rangeboundat-best market, the best course of action may be no action. Much like Warren Buffett's buy (value)-and-hold-forever strategy. Yet, millions are tempted to trade daily, taking cues from resistance levels that experts tout. Or you buy or sell on your neighbour's tip before he left for that holiday to Goa. Don't curse the poor fellow doesn't return from the sea; he was probably following a gratis tip his sister's friend at that brokerage gave. 


All those fortunate to have invested in the bull run between 2004 and 2008 (markets scaled from 6,000 to 21,000 in the period) will find it easy to say 'buy and hold forever'. Indeed, for long, the market had been in one direction. Till Lehman Bros collapse and the global economic wreckage hit the bourses and the 'decoupled' Dalal Street couldn't help but recede. It bounced back smartly — from around 8,000 to 17,000 in about a year —but now caught in a range. 


Perhaps you need to dive deeper into P-Es or brush up the fundamentals of investing or hear out what Warren Buffett to Mark Mobius crystal-gaze on the future of emerging markets. Despite the sound words or valueinvestingbasicsthatpeople(often,notjustretail investors but even seasoned portfolio managers) claim they follow, most burn money. When they finally invest, they follow none but the hot tips. 


The key to taking advantage of the market's swings — buying on the stalls and selling onthesurges—istofocusonthevalueofindividual securities. Good companies, the value buys, will outsmart the narrow range. For suchstocks,evenabuy-high-sell-higherstrategythatlegendaryWallStreetinvestorsfrom Jesse Livermore to William O'Neil followed canhelpmakemillions.Valueinvestinghelps steer in the right direction. No one ever advises to buy high? Ironically, lot of the legendary investors avoid cheap stocks and those that have hit lows and frequently 'risk' buying high, even after a stock hits a new high. 


Ifyoucan'tdothatonyourown,outsource it to someone who can, via systematic investing. If you think you know it better yourself, focus on using fundamental valuation techniques — discounted cash-flow analysis, price-to-earnings models and margin of safety — to take advantage of range-bound markets. You will finally make money, when the markets get out and up from the range, or won't lose much if they suddenly head south. Just hang around for the bounce in the right direction for that pot of money. 


In the post-slowdown rally, lessons from Depression era's greatest investor Livermore offer clues to market strategies. Areas of expertise he thought essential included emotional control, knowledge of business conditions and patience. The four skills Livermore used to do that included observation, memory (of key events), maths and experience. Dig into those before putting money on what your friend has bet on. 


It took the Sensex little over 20 years to reach the first 10,000 mark, but just a little over 20 months to double that score. In the last six months the markets have turned rangebound, maybe riskier, global economy is trying to find 'new normals' and oil prices and currencies are volatile. Local investors believetheindexcangoupfurther,ridingonthe domestic growth story. Never mind the double-dip recession or W-shaped recovery. 


From punters to experts, everyone's trading and investing skills are tested daily. Every market participant is an ever-graduating student in the art of investing. But few learn. Most short-term players end up chasing tips and rumours, booking losses or small profits. Long-terminvestorslivetotelladifferenttale.





No minister as regulator, please



AS A finance ministry ordinance to resolve the turf battle between insurance regulator Irda and markets regulator Sebi evokes unprecedented rebellion by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it is time to rethink the entire question of regulation of finance. 

The ordinance that the RBI has taken objection to, and has been criticised by Sebi as well, makes the finance minister the chairman of a statutory body that would resolve differences, if any, between regulators. This is bad in principle, even if the intention behind the move is perfectly chaste. 


Does the country need a financial stability and development board chaired by the finance minister? The finance ministry thinks it does, for two reasons: one, the pace of reform in the sector has been unacceptably slow, and the ministry's direct role in the regulatory apparatus would get things moving. Further, whenever a crisis has occurred, it is the finance minister who has taken the lead to coordinate emergency action, rallying all the regulators and the major players in the sector. Both the cited grounds are, in themselves, factually valid but do not warrant the conclusion that India needs a financial stability board chaired by the finance minister that will also settle disputes among regulators. 


The mistake lies in relying on regulators to develop the financial sector. Policy is the prerogative of the government. The regulator's job is not to formulate policy, even if it should give its inputs on the propriety of proposed policy. The regulator's job is to regulate, according to the policy put in place by the government. And in that regulation, there should be no supervening role for the government of the day. 


But what of the exemplary role played by governments around the world during the recent financial crisis, when no regulator was autonomous and everyone worked together to salvage the system? Doesn't this show that all talk of keeping the regulator at arm's length from the government is empty rhetoric? Isn't the finance ministry right, then, to propose the finance minister as chairman of a body that potentially is the super-regulator? 


This line of argument is completely misplaced. When the referee gives the rival football team a free kick from just outside the penalty box, you'd find all the players crowding together in front of the goal, not just the defenders. Does this mean that forwards and midfielders should, at all times, stay glued to their own penalty box? The crisis-time role of the finance minister being used to justify a permanent role for him in the regulatory apparatus would be just as absurd. 


Given the reality of sluggish development of the bond market, of the bond-currency-derivative nexus, there is need for change. In arguing that, the finance ministry is on perfectly solid ground. But it slips up in the formulation of the regulatory structure it proposes. 


Financial sector regulation is of two kinds: macroprudential regulation and regulation of the different financial institution, and of markets, such as those for stocks, bonds, insurance, pensions, commodity derivatives and financial derivatives. The two cannot, of course, be completely separated. If the stock and credit markets allow asset bubbles to build up, that could undermine the financial system as a whole. 


Macroprudential regulation is concerned with the risk to the financial system as a whole, which is not the sum of the risks of the individual entities that together constitute the financial universe. For a single bank, it makes sense to get rid of all the junk bonds on its books, when a crisis looms. But if all banks simultaneously try to sell off their substandard assets, that would actually precipitate the crisis they wish to avoid. It is the larger stability of the financial system as a whole that macroprudential regulation seeks to achieve, while microprudential regulation —capital requirements of banks, margins for trades, etc — seeks to protect individual units of the financial system. 


Stability of the financial system is a function of not just what the world of finance does, but of fiscal policy as well, of how much the government borrows and spends. No financial regulator can discipline a profligate government. Within this constraint, at the present stage of development of India's financial sector, the RBI is best placed to play the role of the macroprudential regulator. 


All financial markets should ideally have a single regulator, to avoid both arbitrage between regulations of individual markets and turf incursions. And macro- and microprudential regulators should work within the policy framed by the government and be answerable to Parliament. This is the direction in which policy needs to evolve. Till that framework crystallises, the High-Level Coordination Committee on Financial Markets should continue, with the RBI governor playing a more proactive role as its chairman than he had over Ulips. The minister should focus on policy, and have no institutional capacity for a day-to-day role in regulation.







DIEGO Maradona's Handof-God goal against England notoriously went unpenalised in the 1986 World Cup final. Contrast that with the Argentinean star's second Goalof-the-Century performance in the same tournament. Why is this not as well-remembered? Likewise, Nigel de Jong's Kung fu tackle in the Johannesburg final did not attract a red card. Is it likely to become unforgettable for that reason? 


Iniesta's extratime winner in the same match is also likely to be remembered for his spectacular disrobing — he was paying tribute to the memory of the Espanyol Captain Dani Jarque, who collapsed and died at the age of 26 during a pre-season match against Italy in August 2009 — than for his artistry in beating the Netherlands' goalkeeper. 

The fact that the Spanish midfielder automatically earned a yellow card would reinforce the memory more strongly in people's minds. This is because the human brain may be hardwired for what some evolutionary biologists describe as 'the fairness instinct'. 


This goes far beyond the vicarious pleasure we take in the romantic exploits of heroes and iconic footballers. The fairness instinct also has a normative aspect: behavioral economists call it 'inequity aversion'. This is the tendency to turn down a perfectly good offer if others are seen to be getting a better deal! 

This could also explain why the exploits of Robin Hood and his merry men in the Sherwood Forest have such a powerful hold on the public imagination. Hood might have been forgotten as a common hoodlum had he only enriched himself. But the outlaw, who had himself been victimised by venial power, robbed the rich only to feed the poor. That made his legend immortal. 


Writers and poets have exploited such emotions to move audience. The manner in which the King of Gods diddles the Mahabharata hero Karna out of his divine armour makes his plight as poignant as that of the tribal boy Ekalavya's trial when Guru Dronacharya asks for and accepts the grisly tribute of a dismembered right thumb from the noble archer just to protect his own protégé's prospects. 

Likewise, what blackens Prince Duryodhana's perfidy is his extortionate greed and sheer obduracy: in the ill-fated peace parley with Sri Krishna, he refuses to concede even a needlepoint of land to the rightful claimants of the kingdom. That leads to the horrific Mother of All Battles, almost inevitably.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Tuesday's ruling by a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice of India on the question of backward classes reservation is likely to surprise many. All that the court had to do in respect of the quota-related cases relating to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka before it was to reiterate its own judgment of 1993, which laid down that no more than 50 per cent of available seats in government-funded educational institutions and government employment will be demarcated for beneficiaries under the reservation scheme. Leaving the remaining 50 per cent open to general competition was a practical way out of the situation imposed by the political system during Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh's tenure following the acceptance of Mandal Commission recommendations. Even under the reservation plan, nothing stops candidates whose castes otherwise qualify for quota benefits from taking part in open competition. This means "quota plus" benefits are available to caste groups for which reservation was intended. Instead of abiding by the letter and spirit of its earlier judgment, which the political and social system in the country had broadly come to accept as a reasonable benchmark, the latest thinking of the Supreme Court may have the unintended effect of producing a contentious debate across the country that could vitiate the atmosphere, as had been the case when Mr V.P. Singh gave effect to the Mandal recommendations. In effect, the Supreme Court has now permitted states to come up with accurately compiled lists of backward castes, and allow all of the BC percentage of the population to enjoy quota benefits. The 50 per cent limit is thus out of the window. It is not clear what is to happen in respect of reservations in institutions that are under the purview of the Centre, not the states. The trouble with the Supreme Court's new approach is that it can be made a plaything in the hands of politicians. A caste not hitherto listed in the backward category can armtwist its way into the privileged group. This is clearly an unsustainable situation, not to say an inequitable one as well, especially in a context in which caste alone becomes the criterion of deciding ways of going about helping those in need. Caste is unquestionably a dominant reality in India. Also, caste realities coincide with class realities in many cases. But none of this can mean that caste is the best way to decide the allocation of benefits for the needy. Why not treat an individual's want as the legitimate basis for offering help? Such an approach would be non-discriminatory, and eschew the statist quota method. The framers of our Constitution understood this and allowed quota benefits only for SC and ST categories as these had suffered societal discrimination for millennia. Furthermore, the quota was to be for a limited period only. Alas, quota categories have not only mushroomed, but the so-called "creamy layers" have never been eased out. This is a trap of our own making, and the Supreme Court has now only compounded it.








Last fortnight a respected magazine came out with a report it termed "shocking but true". The report claimed that nearly 50 per cent of total Plan expenditure goes unaudited in this country. We, the citizens, presume that every rupee spent by the governments, both at the Centre and the states, is audited. The constitutionally-authorised body to undertake this not-so-glamorous but vital exercise is the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Being the watchdog of public finances, the CAG reports form the very basis for scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. The immediate implication of the aforementioned report is that we do not know how over Rs 83,000 crores were spent in 2008-'09 — the Centre transferred over Rs 83,000 crores directly to state- and district-level autonomous bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for implementation of various flagship schemes but it is not known how much of this money remained unspent. By presumption, therefore, I risk here to say, a similar sum of public money is just not being audited, every year, each year!

But why would this happen? Does the Constitution not give enough powers to the CAG? The simple but worrying answer is: As with many things in India, the act governing the CAG — The Comptroller and Auditor-General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971 — is outdated and needs immediate and urgent updating.

Public spending has been growing in "free India", especially and justifiably so on welfare schemes. In a liberalised and privatised world where there's a desperate need to ensure "inclusive growth", governments have adapted several out of the box ways to reach out to the poor and the needy. In other words, several parallel channels of reaching out to the poorest of the poor have been adopted.

Similar is the need to rapidly develop our infrastructure in order to meet with our growing demands. NGOs were brought in to help with the mid-day meal scheme; public-private partnership (PPP) ensured the desired private capital and innovative management for building the infrastructure.

However, this meant a change in the way public funds were transferred. Central funds were being transferred directly to state- and district-level autonomous bodies. Some of these Central funds do not have to pass through the state budgets. The funds transferred thus remain unaudited. Tracking down the transfer is possible, we can say, but accounting and auditing the usage of funds for the stated purpose is out of the pale of the CAG.

Addressing a national seminar on "Legislature and Audit Interface for Enforcing and Strengthening Accountability Mechanism", the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Murli Manohar Joshi, said, "…the government's capacity to keep track of fund flows is… shrinking. This development poses a dilemma, which is to keep intact the structure of accountability in regard to public money without losing the operational flexibilities expected from these new approaches in delivery of services to the citizens of this country. We will therefore have to readjust and refocus our strategies to meet this new situation".
There are several organisations within the government's orbit that have been given exemption from the ambit of the CAG, such as the National Highways Authority of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the Petroleum Gas Regulatory Board.

The PAC chairman observes, "Though enormous responsibility and discretionary powers have been bestowed on such bodies, there is regrettably no parliamentary oversight over their functioning".

This anguish is reflected in the comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Vinod Rai, when he says, "While any individual can use the RTI and get information within 30 days, the CAG does not enjoy any such privilege". Privilege is not what the Comptroller and Auditor General of India needs. He should be vested with what is rightfully due to a watchdog; a watchdog of all our monies.

The sheer size of the sums of monies involved makes it necessary for the CAG to get the powers to audit. The PAC estimates that an investment of Rs 20.3 trillion is to be made in the infrastructure sector alone during the 11th Five-Year Plan period. In a PPP setup at least less than half of the money will come from public funds. We know that nearly Rs 59,000 crores are spent on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, while nearly Rs 13,000 crores are spent on Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and the Mid-day Meal Scheme.

Throwing money at problems alone cannot help attain the objective. We should "process, assess" them and refocus as necessary.

Talking more than a decade ago on "How to guarantee non-performance", management guru Peter Ferdinand Drucker observed: "Most public service institutions, governmental ones and non-governmental ones are budget focused. For performance, the budget needs to be paralleled with a statement of expected results and with systematic feedback from results, on expenditures and on efforts. Otherwise the agency will, almost immediately, channel more and more of its efforts toward non-results and will become the prisoner of its limitations, its weaknesses, and its blind spots, rather than the beneficiary of its own strengths". (Towards the Next Economics and other Essays, The Drucker Library, Harvard Business Press, 2010)
There is an urgent need to give more powers to the CAG. The act of 1971 enabling the CAG needs to be revisited. Parliament should immediately attend to the desperate call of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to empower him. People of India should be convinced that every paisa of the tax-payers' money is accounted for. After all it is hard-earned money of the citizens and is being spent on very worthy and deserving causes. Let us be convinced that it is so assessed, too.


- Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.








THE CONFRONTATION in Karnataka between governor H.R. Bhardwaj, a Congress loyalist, and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of B.S. Yeddyurappa, has, to put it mildly, raised eyebrows. On the complaint of a Congress member of the legislative council, the governor had issued a showcause notice to three state Cabinet ministers. They refused to appear before him. The chief minister has taken strong objection to such intervention by the governor. In the past, such cases were referred to the chief minister or to the Speaker, and the governor had not taken it upon himself to carry out investigations. Mr Bhardwaj then referred the case to the Election Commission of India. The Union law minister has supported his action. One does not know what the outcome of this controversy will be.


As governor for 11 continuous years in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, I faced serious controversies with two chief ministers. It will be relevant to recount their details. When I was Assam governor, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sought my sanction to prosecute the chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. I went through the CBI's voluminous investigation report with a fine-tooth comb and found that the CBI had failed to establish a prima facie case. I sent for the director, CBI, and apprised him of my views. I told him that if further evidence was produced I could revise my opinion. He could not send me any additional evidence. I rejected the recommendation. This was the first time a governor had rejected the recommendation of the CBI.


The second controversy pertained to my 42-page printed report on illegal migration from Bangladesh to the President with copies to the Prime Minister and the chief minister. I consulted the chief minister. He fully agreed with me but could not do anything about it due to compulsions of coalition politics. In the late Sixties, B.K. Nehru, the then Assam governor, had taken up this issue with the Centre. He was told to ignore it. In his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Second, he laments that the old generation of Congressmen gave primacy to national interests but for the new generation party interests were supreme. The problem had become more acute over the years. It had led to the eruption of militancy in the state. My report highlighted that the unabated influx from Bangladesh not only threatened the demography of Assam but also the nation's security. I recommended that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, designed to facilitate illegal migration and which applied to Assam only and not to other states, be scrapped.


Many Congress leaders meeting me in private applauded what I had done but said that for political reasons they had to oppose my report. They again petitioned the President for my recall. When the Congress came to power in Assam, I had to read my address to the Assembly, which stated that there was no illegal migration into Assam and the IMDT Act was necessary to maintain communal harmony. This created an uproar all over the state. People accused me of a shameless volte-face and the press was highly critical of me. I had a press communiqué issued saying that the governor's address reflected the views of the state government and not of the governor. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court. The apex court struck down the obnoxious IMDT Act quoting extensively from my report to the President. This vindicated my stand.


During my 11 years as governor I had very good relations with Mr Mahanta in Assam and Ghulam Nabi Azad in Kashmir. Together we achieved much. Due to my personal contacts with the Army, which had a large presence in both these states, I was able to get a tremendous amount of work done by it, both in combating militancy and in initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the people.


Unfortunately, my relations with Mufti Muhammad Sayeed were far from cordial. He wanted a healing touch for the terrorists rather than for the victims of terrorists. He succeeded in getting government pensions for families of terrorists killed in encounters with the security forces. Such a bizarre arrangement does not exist anywhere in the world. It virtually provides a fillip to terrorism. He was opposed to improving the horrible living conditions of Kashmiri pandits in refugee camps around Jammu. Much to his chagrin, I managed to get Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to rectify this. He opposed extending the duration of the Amarnath Yatra and improving facilities for pilgrims. The high court overruled him. In 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance government came to power, he tried desperately to get me removed along with the four other BJP-appointed governors. He failed. Despite our differences, I tried to put up a façade of amity with him. After his term as chief minister expired and the Congress got its turn, he became more bitter and created difficulties not only for me but also for his successor, Mr Azad.


A harmonious relationship between a governor and a chief minister is in the interest of the state. The governor should show no political bias nor interfere with governance in the state. He should be friendly to the chief minister and be available for advice without it being incumbent on the chief minister to follow his advice. At the same time, the governor should also earn the confidence of the Opposition. A public controversy between a governor and a chief minister only undermines the dignity of both these high offices.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.









The Bhopal gas tragedy was the worst industrial disaster in human history. Twenty-five thousand people died, 500,000 were injured, and the injustice done to the victims of Bhopal over the past 25 years will go down as the worst case of jurisprudence ever.


The gas leak in Bhopal in December 1984 was from the Union Carbide pesticide plant which manufactured "carabaryl" (trade name "sevin") — a pesticide used mostly in cotton plants. It was, in fact, because of the Bhopal gas tragedy and the tragedy of extremist violence in Punjab that I woke up to the fact that agriculture had become a war zone. Pesticides are war chemicals that kill — every year 220,000 people are killed by pesticides worldwide.


After research I realised that we do not need toxic pesticides that kill humans and other species which maintain the web of life. Pesticides do not control pests, they create pests by killing beneficial species. We have safer, non-violent alternatives such as neem. That is why at the time of the Bhopal disaster I started the campaign "No more Bhopals, plant a neem". The neem campaign led to challenging the biopiracy of neem in 1994 when I found that a US multinational, W.R. Grace, had patented neem for use as pesticide and fungicide and was setting up a neem oil extraction plant in Tumkur, Karnataka. We fought the biopiracy case for 11 years and were eventually successful in striking down the biopiracy patent.


Meanwhile, the old pesticide industry was mutating into the biotechnology and genetic engineering industry. While genetic engineering was promoted as an alternative to pesticides, Bt cotton was introduced to end pesticide use. But Bt cotton has failed to control the bollworm and has instead created major new pests, leading to an increase in pesticide use.


The high costs of genetically-modified (GM) seeds and pesticides are pushing farmers into debt, and indebted farmers are committing suicide. If one adds the 200,000 farmer suicides in India to the 25,000 killed in Bhopal, we are witnessing a massive corporate genocide — the killing of people for super profits. To maintain these super profits, lies are told about how, without pesticides and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), there will be no food. In fact, the conclusions of International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, undertaken by the United Nations, shows that ecologically organic agriculture produces more food and better food at lower cost than either chemical agriculture or GMOs.


The agrochemical industry and its new avatar, the biotechnology industry, do not merely distort and manipulate knowledge, science and public policy. They also manipulate the law and the justice system. The reason justice has been denied to the victims of Bhopal is because corporations want to escape liability. Freedom from liability is, in fact, the real meaning of "free trade". The tragedy of Bhopal is dual. Interestingly, the Bhopal disaster happened precisely when corporations were seeking deregulation and freedom from liability through the instruments of "free trade", "trade liberalisation" and "globalisation", both through bilateral pressure and through the Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) which led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation.


Injustice for Bhopal has been used to tell corporations that they can get away with murder. This is what senior politicians communicated to Dow Chemical. This is what the US-India Commission for Environmental Cooperation forum stated on June 11, 2010, in the context of the call from across India for justice for Bhopal victims. As one newspaper commented, Bhopal is being seen as a "road block and impediment to trade… the recommendations include removing road blocks to commercial trade by (India), and adoption of a nuclear liability regime".


Denial of justice to Bhopal has been the basis of all toxic investments since Bhopal, be it Bt cotton, DuPont's nylon plant or the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill.


Just as Bhopal victims were paid a mere Rs 12,000 (approximately $250) each, the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill also seeks to put a ceiling on liability of a mere $100 million on private operations of a nuclear power plant in case of a nuclear accident. Once again, people can be killed but corporations should not have to pay.


There has also been an intense debate in India on GMOs. An attempt was made by Monsanto/Mahyco to introduce Bt brinjal in 2009. As a result of public hearings across the country, a moratorium has been put on its commercialisation. Immediately after the moratorium a bill was introduced for a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India —the bill does not only leave the biotechnology industry free of liability, but it also has a clause which empowers the government to arrest and fine those of us who question the need and safety of GMOs.


From Bhopal to pesticides to GMOs to nuclear plants, there are two lessons we can draw. One is that corporations introduce hazardous technologies like pesticides and GMOs for profits, and profits alone. And second lesson, related to trade, is that corporations are seeking to expand markets and relocate hazardous and environmentally costly technologies to countries like India.


Corporates seek to globalise production but they do not want to globalise justice and rights. The difference in the treatment of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical in the context of Bhopal, and of BP in the context of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows how an apartheid is being created. The devaluation of the life of people of the Third World and ecosystems is built into the project of globalisation. Globalisation is leading to the outsourcing of pollution — hazardous substances and technologies — to the Third World. This is at the heart of globalisation — the economies of genocide.


Lawrence Summers, who was the World Bank's chief economist and is now chief economic adviser to the Obama government, in a memo dated December 12, 1991, to senior World Bank staff, wrote, "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the less developed countries?"


Since wages are low in the Third World, economic costs of pollution arising from increased illness and death are least in the poorest countries. According to Mr Summers, the logic "of relocation of pollutants in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that".


All this and Bhopal must teach us to reclaim our universal and common humanity and build an Earth Democracy in which all are equal, and corporations are not allowed to get away with crimes against people and the planet.


 Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust








I have believed for long that there is no need for a body like the Planning Commission. In the age of free market economy we don't have any need for detailed planning at the state level or at the Centre. As far as indicative planning is concerned, the Government of India (GoI) has enough talent in the finance ministry to take care of this. More than planning we need supervision of implementation. We cannot depend entirely on the line ministries to monitor implementation of various schemes which are initiated and funded by the GoI and executed by state governments. What we need is fewer Central schemes and proper monitoring of those schemes. Therefore, instead of having a Planning Commission what we should really have is an Implementation Commission.


The Implementation Commission should be an independent monitoring authority of GoI schemes and such schemes where state governments want the Centre's assistance. It should make a report to state governments and the Centre. I will go to the extent of suggesting that the Implementation Commission should be created under an act of Parliament, just like many other independent authorities. There should be a statutory Implementation Commission backed by legislation which will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of schemes.


The Planning Commission has not been able to do that job. It has only multiplied the number of schemes which are being run and funded by GoI according to various formulae. It has failed completely to monitor schemes.


The Planning Commission has outlived its utility. The intention of setting it up may have been good in the 50s, but that's no longer valid. The finance ministry and its various offices, and independent regulators like the Reserve Bank of India, have enough talent to suggest policies and formulate policies. There is no need for inputs from the Planning Commission.


I will agree that the Planning Commission is an unnecessary burden on a line ministry. It hinders the work of ministries. The plan panel tends to behave like overlords. They set targets which are unrealistic. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has put his most trusted economic adviser, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in the Planning Commission because he could not give the man another job. It is as simple as that. The adviser could not be made a minister because he is not an elected representative. Planning Commission has become a favourite parking place not only for someone like its deputy chairman but also other bureaucrats and experts.


(As told to Pawan Bali)


— Yashwant Sinha, former Union finance minister and senior BJP leader


Panel assesses and manages resources


Jagannadham Thunuguntla
The Planning Commission was set up by an Indian government resolution in March 1950 in pursuance of the declared objectives of the government to promote a rapid rise in the standard of living by efficient exploitation of the country's resources, increasing production and offering employment opportunities to all. The Planning Commission was charged with the responsibility of assessing all resources, augmenting deficient resources, formulating plans for the most effective and balanced utilisation of resources and determining priorities.


The Planning Commission has played a critical role in the past 60 years, striking a fine balance between limited resources and unlimited objectives. The unprecedented growth in the Indian economy is increasing demands for infrastructural needs. However, the resources to finance these remain limited. Despite that perpetual gap, the Planning Commission has played the role of a responsible parent in allocation of resources to every son to fulfil its mandated objective of "balanced utilisation" of resources.


For the first eight Five-Year Plans, the emphasis was on a growing public sector with massive investments in basic and heavy industries. But since the launch of the Ninth Plan, in 1997, this emphasis became less pronounced. Current thinking on planning, in general, is that it should increasingly be indicative in nature. This underscores the acknowledgement of the relevance of adaptability to the ever-changing demands of the Indian economy. But when resources are limited, it's difficult to keep everyone happy.


One segment of recent criticism about the Planning Commission's approach is that it is "just theoretical, and not practical". However, one needs to appreciate that the Planning Commission's role is to contribute with its "brains", not necessarily with its "hands". It is a plan-making body and not an execution body.


The recent criticism of the Planning Commission's approach by key ministries symbolises the standard conflict between the "line and staff" functions of any organisation. The "staff" function drafts strategies. Several times this leads to criticism from the "line" function that the strategies are not market-oriented. However, such debates are healthy. They help unleash human potential and improve productivity.


In any scenario, it is reasonable to assume that the Planning Commission remains the epicentre of the Indian administrative think tank.


— Jagannadham Thunuguntla, Equity Head, SMC Capitals Limited







Stress has become the password of this age. It is a 20th century phenomenon — a gift of the mechanised world. Dr Hans Selye, the famous Austrian "stress doctor", started to investigate this new phenomenon in 1930; it was unheard of before that time. It was so unknown that when Dr Selye was asked to present his theory in France and Germany, he found that there was no word for stress in these languages! So he coined new words: le stress in French and der stress in German.


Actually speaking, stress is the wear and tear our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually-changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings.


Because it is more mental than physical, a strange phenomenon can be observed: the younger the person, the more stressed s/he feels. Excessive competition, unattainable high goals and too many options are some of the stressors. Words like burnout, exhaustion, anxiety and boredom have entered the contemporary vocabulary and become a part of our daily conversations. As a result, efficiency goes down.


According to the Osho vision, stress is a force that can be used creatively. Instead of repressing it, and thus forming a blockage in the body, it is more useful and healthier to learn the art of transforming it. The key is: Do not try to relax when the body/mind is stressed, instead use that energy in a positive way.


And mind you, there is no need to go anywhere or renounce your work place — just bring awareness to the small acts that you are involved in.


Here are some simple Osho techniques to get over stress:


Live your stress fully: Sometimes stress is so much that you can't sleep at night. There is no need to worry. Use the energy that is coming up: walk up and down, go for a run or a long walk, play fast music and dance, or let the mind do what it wants to do. Rather than trying to go to sleep — which is not possible — use the rush of energy in a creative way. It simply means that the body is ready to fight with the problem. If you have lived your stress totally, you will come to a relaxation automatically.


Take note, twice: If you have a headache or any pain, don't feel inimical towards it and reach for an aspirin. Have no attitude, neither friendly nor antagonistic. Just take note: "headache, headache", or "tension, tension". Remain undisturbed by it, without any opinion. Immediately, 90 per cent of the headache will be gone — because a headache is not real pain, 90 per cent arises out of the antagonistic opinion. Immediately you will see that the greater part of it is no longer there.


Talk to the body: Sit in your chair, be comfortable. Let there be a dim light in the room. Close your eyes and relax the body from the toe up to the head, feel inside where you feel the tension. You will find many spots of tension. If you feel it at the knee, just touch the knee and say to the knee, "Please relax". If you feel some tension in the shoulders, just touch the place with love and compassion and say, "Please relax". Within a week you will be able to communicate with your body. And once you start communicating with your body, things become very easy. This will take at least five minutes, and you will start feeling very, very limp. Relaxed, almost sleepy.


The body need not be forced, it can be persuaded. It will look a little absurd in the beginning because we have never been taught to talk to our own body — but miracles can happen by taking to the body.


Talk to the breathing: Then bring your consciousness to your breathing and relax the breathing. Have a little talk with your breathing: "Please relax. Be natural". You will see that the moment you say, "Please relax", there will be a subtle click. So tell it to relax two or three times and then just remain silent. When you exhale, say "one", when you inhale, remain silent.


Do this for seven days and by the end of it you would have found a golden key!

— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.








THE reality is out of Africa. To specifically establish the co-relation between poverty and Maoism was obviously beyond the remit of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), the latest technique that has been adopted to compile the UNDP's Human Development Report. Yet the subtext of the findings confirm that grinding poverty is endemic along the Red Corridor, a reality that is accepted by the State as an entity of governance, but one that governments have never had the inclination to tackle. While a comment on specifics must await the formal release of the UNDP Report 2010 in October, it remains for the Centre and the states to sit up and take notice of the resounding message ~ no fewer than eight states have more poor people than the 26 poorest countries in Africa! The conclusion is inescapable ~ that in terms of the poverty index, the Dark Continent fares better than a major swathe of the subcontinent. And no less crucially, that swathe includes Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, two states that have not been affected by the Maoist phenomenon and are geographically beyond the contours of the Red Corridor. The findings, based on empirical evidence, indicate that poverty is particularly extensive in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh besides UP and Rajasthan. While this may be fairly common knowledge, it is the data that must astound. Between these eight states, there are 421 million poor people... against 410 million in all of Africa! And politically, they represent a cross-section of the parties that strut the stage articulating egalitarian cant. 
The disgrace is collective as must be the responsibility to alleviate poverty and countenance the forbidding challenge of Left radicalism. If Africa, where poverty is endemic, fares better than a part of India ~ a country perceived as an emerging tiger ~ the periodically orchestrated growth figures count for little or nothing. The UNDP's Multidimensional Poverty Index confirms what Amartya Sen had once cynically described as a country languishing between sub-Saharan Africa and the Silicon Valley. The reality must now be still more awesome ~ a large segment of chronically poor Africa fares better than a sizeable chunk of India. Yes, the Maoist does have a point.




TRULY has Sheila Dikshit added insult to the injury residents of Delhi suffered when normal life was disrupted because the administration miserably failed in the wake of just two monsoon downpours. The chief minister counsels patience, says all will be well by 10 August. That deadline insults, for it has nothing to do with the monsoon, or measures to tackle heavy rain. It is calculated in relation to the commencement of what is increasingly being seen as the Capital's curse ~ the Commonwealth Games. So obsessed with the event are Sheila & Co. (blame-games are pointless; the buck, the home minister insists, stops with the chief minister) that they have deemed of no consequence the well-being of the citizen condemned to live in a city under their supervision. The message is that for the next four weeks or so ~ when the monsoon could be active, perhaps near its peak ~ people should be prepared to endure more traffic jams, waterlogging, flooded roads and underpasses, fouled power lines that electrocute even as long power outages are the norm. Even the Metro has proved itself far from rain-proof. There is nothing unusual about the Delhi monsoon this year. It always sets in at the end of June and continues till mid-September. So why fix a 10 August deadline for clearing rubble resulting from CWG construction? All it confirms is that the Dilliwallah be damned, the politically top-heavy Games alone matter. Underscoring the dismay is that previous deadlines ~ 30 June ~ have proved jocular. A pity no local elections are in the offing, anger might translate into votes.  
To be fair, projects directly associated with the Games are not entirely responsible for the mess. In their greed to bleed the exchequer under the "world class city" garb, all local agencies undertook more projects than they could handle, everything has gone awry. It is more than rubble blocking culverts, the entire drainage pattern has been changed, with no matching run-off channelising plan. All the "directions" local ministers may now issue ~ not surprisingly the Central government remains comatose ~ will not remedy the man-made malady. Sheila's "gagging" her ministers will not suppress public outcry. Never before has the image of the world's second largest event of its kind (after the Olympics) been so brazenly blackened.




Japan is headed for a legislative deadlock, if not a threat to the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan just yet. The outcome of Sunday's election to the Upper House must be still more astonishing for a head of government whose party had scored a landslide triumph barely a year ago. That victory of the Democratic Party of Japan had ended half a century of uninterrupted conservative rule. The DPJ has now lost its majority in the Upper House. The timing of the setback ~ or of a warning shot by the voters ~ suggests that politics in Japan may yet be in a state of flux despite the DPJ's historic victory in the Lower House last September. It comes a month after Mr Kan took over as PM, succeeding Yukio Hatoyama who had resigned in the wake of his failure to relocate the US base in Okinawa. The result may make it difficult for the new Prime Minister to enact urgent legislation; there may even be a quest for new coalition partners. The Upper House defeat can be potentially disastrous. It bears recall that Ryutaro Hashimoto had resigned in 1998 and Shinzo Abe in 2007 after similar debacles. The DPJ will have to contend with the drop in its popularity in less than a year. And primarily owing to corruption and swingbacks over policy, notably over Okinawa. Mr Kan did succeed to a depleted inheritance, which explains the baffling turn in political fortunes. His popularity ratings have dropped dramatically ~ from 60 per cent on 8 June, when he took over, to 20 per cent now.  
It is a truism of history that an economic crisis precedes the political. There is deep resentment in Japan over the Prime Minister's resolve to increase consumption tax in order to take care of welfare spending. The move is embedded in Mr Kan's awareness of a looming crisis of the Grecian variety. He clearly has a difficult choice before him ~ retain the original popularity ratings or take unpalatable decisions to revive the economy. The scenario is grim if his recent warning is any indication ~ Japan's public debt is approaching 200 per cent of the GDP. This is said to be the highest in the industrialised world, indeed double the figure Greece has had to contend with. Cuts in public spending and higher taxes have had a devastating effect in Athens. A similar prescription in Britain has caused a rift in the Con-LibDem lute. The ground may be slipping from under Mr Kan's feet. His debt pledges are now uncertain. And willy-nilly the beneficiary may be the Liberal Democratic Party that was swept out of power last September. 








IN a bid to halt the recent backsliding in US-Israel relations, Prime Minister Netanyahu has paid a visit to Washington. The previous visit by him not so long ago had made matters worse by exposing differences between the two sides, as shown in deliberate cold-shouldering of the visitor ~ no photo-opportunities with Mr Obama, no official hospitality. But there are limits; this is a critical relationship for both parties and neither can afford to let it go seriously wrong. Israel's many friends in the USA have been vocal, for any downturn registers strongly on the domestic political graph, and with elections now not so far away, this is no time for Washington to add fuel to the fire. So on this occasion Mr Netanyahu was shown some of the honours that were previously withheld, including the chance to be photographed with Mr Obama and to join him for a working lunch. And after the visit there were reassuring words from both sides to indicate that the gap was being bridged.
But that does not look like the end of the problem. Like many Presidents before him, Mr Obama has been anxious to give an impetus to the Middle East peace process and persuade the parties to implement the long-established roadmap. Despite strong backing from the USA, this has not happened so far and the plan remains only on paper, with the Arabs in considerable disarray and Israel in no hurry to make peace. It is a sign of Mr Obama's earnestness that he has taken the initiative on this difficult issue in the early part of his term: more frequently it is in their final stretch that US leaders have turned to the Middle East peace process, for it is politically tricky and can exact a domestic price. Having to deal with Mr Netanyahu's hard line conservative government must also be a disincentive, for there can be little expectation of flexibility from that quarter, which is identified inter alia with the policy of forced establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, the sorest of the many sore points.


Two-state solution


IT has taken much persuasion to bring Israel's leader to endorse the two-state solution of the roadmap, and even now his position on this crucial point is ambiguous; it is not known, for instance, where he stands in respect of the proposed new Jewish settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem, a location which is earmarked for the Palestinian capital under the two-state scheme. Unless halted in time, this new project will complicate further an already desperately complicated situation.
In the circumstances, the peace process can only proceed in agonizing driblets. Those who are not convinced of its merits can try to hold out and stall it, in the expectation that, before long, some other development, all too often another sanguinary incident, will claim priority attention, and with it all routes to peace will be blocked.
Something not entirely dissimilar is to be observed in South Asia, where India and Pakistan have reportedly come to agree on principles for resolving their dispute over Kashmir. But, like the Middle East, Kashmir is highly accident prone, and plans for peace readily fall victim to regional political disorders. The fall of Gen Musharraf put a halt to the back-channel talks where progress had been achieved, and subsequently other matters came up to drive thoughts of reconciliation off the page. Here, too, as in the Middle East terror is the most daunting barrier, as shown so vividly in Mumbai. Those groups that remain unreconciled to peace have shown repeatedly how any sort of peace process can be stalled by terror attacks. To overcome these constraints and give a consistent message about where we should be headed has hitherto remained something unattainable by the political leadership.
Meanwhile, an important and unexpected new development has taken place in the Middle East in that Turkey has come prominently onto the scene and taken initiatives that have drawn a great deal of international attention. In a striking new proposal, Turkey in partnership with Brazil negotiated an agreement with Iran aimed at bringing at least a portion of that country's uranium holdings under international control and thereby easing anxieties about its long- term nuclear plans. This new scheme looked promising for a while until it was brusquely set aside by the USA, which was able instead to steer a resolution for stronger sanctions against Iran through the UN Security Council. Irked at the summary rejection of their efforts, Turkey and Brazil broke ranks with the USA and other P-5 members and voted against the sanctions resolution. In an unrelated but no less striking move, a group of Turkey-based activists, who seem to have enjoyed a measure of official acceptance, took a small flotilla of supply ships towards Gaza in a deliberate attempt to break the Israeli blockade of some years that had caused great hardship to the local population. Israel felt it necessary to stop the ships on the high seas by force and this led to a lethal incident in which nine Turkish nationals were killed. There was an indignant reaction in Turkey, and a chorus of international condemnation.


Turkey and Israel


THE UN has made a demand for an international inquiry, and Turkey continues to press for it. However, Israel has refused to accept wrongdoing by its armed personnel and is not ready for anything beyond an internal investigation into the incident. This remains a live issue as a result of which relations between Turkey and Israel, formerly close, have plummeted.
Some fallout in the USA is to be discerned from Turkey's more active involvement in Middle East affairs. Among forceful supporters of Israel, of whom there is no shortage, some have been very critical of Turkey and even called for its removal from NATO while showing satisfaction that the EU has refused it entry. But others, more sober in judgment, have tried to weigh the significance of this dependable US ally now striking out on its own and not taking its lead from Washington. They note that economic success over the last few years at a time when traditional partners in the West have been faltering has given a boost to Turkey's confidence. Europe may have been unwelcoming to Turkey's candidature but new partners have been found and there is now an eastward orientation to the economy. There is also the perception that Turkey's greater diplomatic activism could be indicative of the emergence of new international players, middle level countries ready and able to be involved in issues in which they have an interest. Maybe it is a sign of the uncongealing of fixed relationships and a move towards multipolarity, bringing with it new possibilities of action even in areas of great sensitivity like the Middle East.


(The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary)







I watch the national news channels like CNN-IBN, Times Now and NDTV 24/7. Their anchors are intelligent and impressive. I envy their analytical abilities. However, when it comes to news items from J&K, most of them go wrong in their analyses and in the conclusions that they draw. I wonder why.

Perhaps they cannot fully understand the complexities of the politics of J&K. Perhaps it is because they have not lived in J&K for a long enough period in the midst of Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Hindus and the Hindu Dogras of Jammu. The politics of Jammu & Kashmir is full of riddles and is very different from the politics of other states of India. In other states, most of the politics revolve around caste, communities and the issues of development. In J&K, casteism does not exist among the Muslims who form 65 per cent of the population. For Kashmiri Hindus also, casteism is meaningless since all of them are Brahmins. Among the Hindus of Jammu, there is mild casteism which cannot be compared in intensity with the caste dominance that prevails in other states with the exception of West Bengal and the North-East.

Development is also not a major issue in J&K because of the huge volume of funds pumped into the state by the government of India to placate the secession-minded population of the Kashmir valley. As a result, J&K today enjoys one of the highest per capita assistance from the government of India.

The percentage of people below the poverty line in J&K is also the lowest in India. In J&K only three per cent of the population is below the poverty line. Even Goa and Chandigarh which are known to be very affluent have four to five per cent of the people living below the poverty line. The violence that occurs in J&K every day, therefore, cannot be compared with the terrorist violence which we witness in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand or Bihar which is related to poverty and lack of development. 

In a recent interview, the chief minister tried to highlight this point and said that the state government has very little to do with the violence in J&K. The problem has to be tackled by the government of India along with the government of Pakistan in a political way. His position as CM is also precarious because he cannot survive without the support of Congress. The two major regional parties of J&K - PDP and National Conference - are both part of the UPA. Since voters in Kashmir are Muslims, PDP and NC cannot take the support of BJP for survival. So both of them have to seek the assistance of the Congress. If Mehbooba Mufti becomes CM, her position will also be precarious.

The situation was quite different before 2002 when NC enjoyed a huge majority in the assembly. Prior to 2002, Sheikh Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah were more independent-minded because the Centre was not in a position to topple the state government easily. Sheikh Abdullah openly pleaded for a near total autonomy for J&K (the pre-1953 position) and Farooq Abdullah went one step ahead to pass a Bill in the J&K assembly giving political autonomy to J&K with India retaining marginal sovereignty over J&K. 

At that time, the NDA government was in power at the Centre. The NDA had a sharp nationalist ideology and they rejected the autonomy Bill at the first Cabinet meeting. Farooq Abdullah also passed the Resettlement Bill which was never approved by the Centre. The Bill had proposed that Muslims of J&K who had fled to Pakistan or PoK during Partition be brought back to Indian Kashmir and resettled there with honour and dignity. The land they had left behind were to be restored to them. All these Bills were liked by the Kashmiri Muslims.
Today, the present CM cannot dream of bringing in such populist Bills because that will  infuriate the government of India. It was an accepted fact that the CM of J&K had to speak in three voices. In Delhi he had to seek compromises with the Indian government while in Jammu he had to appease Hindu voters and, therefore, sing in a nationalist tune. In Srinagar, the CM had to sing pro-independence and secessionist tunes.
All the three voices were necessary to somehow keep the Kashmir valley as part of India. It was known to everyone that most of the Kashmiris had no love in their hearts for anything connected with India. Everyone knew that the more you support pro-independence and separatist forces, the more votes you are likely to get. The more you drift away from India, the closer you get to the Kashmiri heart. The CM of J&K has no other alternative but to blame the CRPF, BSF and the Indian army for every small incident. Otherwise, he loses all popularity We should not assume that Kashmiris are natural born Indians. They have to be persuaded coaxed and cajoled into being Indian.
Somehow, the government of India must try to bring all the separatist forces into the electoral fray. That would be an ideal situation. To do that, we have to grant unlimited autonomy to the Kashmir valley at least, if not J&K as a whole, as had been suggested by Narasimha Rao.
Television anchors, therefore, should not make wrong assumptions about Kashmiris being patriotic Indians. Otherwise, all their conclusions would be wrong.

The writer is a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service







The modest price of tickets for the evening show was a welcome relief from the rather expensive movie tickets that one has gotten used to purchasing in this age of globalization, NGOization, wi-fi connectivity, ignoble high resolutions and barbaric blood baths. It was an evening dedicated to the songs and other writings of Tagore -  a thoughtful endeavour.

As the red curtain was raised, the anchor announced that one of the listed star performers had lost her mother at around 7 am that morning. The audience observed a minute's silence and was convinced that out of the listed seven artistes of the evening, one would not perform. Obviously, having lost her mother just 12 hours ago, no other conclusion seemed logical.

But one recalled Tagore's own negotiation with death and the devastating loss of loved ones. These were not only scripted in his numerous lyrics. He dealt with the relentless onslaught of death within his family with astonishing stoicism. 

His eldest son Rathindranath recorded in his memoirs of his father (Pitrismriti) that the poet would visit his terminally ill daughter Madhurilata (Bela) every morning. 

She died early in the morning on 16 May, 1918. That same evening there was a meeting scheduled at the poet's residence. Instead of cancelling the programme which would have been usual, he participated in the interactions, not for a moment betraying the personal devastation. "From his conversation not a single person present could understand what a heart-breaking disaster had taken place, in what a terrible state of mind the poet determinedly continued with the civilities."

If the spirit of Tagore had infused itself into those who sang his songs, recited his poetry and read his texts, then it seemed reasonable to expect the bereaved singer to come on stage that evening.
As the curtain rose after the interval, the audience gasped. The singer wearing a simple off-white sari walked from the wings towards the centre-stage, 13 hours after her mother had passed away. She referred to her mother as her friend, confidante, guide and an unconditional support system. Like the other artists who sang that evening, she sang song after song in a steady and melodic voice, she did not drop a note, nor was there any tremolo as we have often witnessed in similar situations in films. But tears streamed down the eyes of many members of the audience. They marvelled at the performer who stood up to the trauma of death and loss of a loved one with a song on her lips.






News Items

The Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam published with its Resolution No 1039E, dated the 12th May 1908, a revised curriculum of studies for English Schools in Eastern Bengal. The question whether this curriculum should also be introduced into Assam was considered at the time, and it was decided that Government officers and members of the public in Assam should be consulted. These opinions have now been received and they show a very strong consensus of opinion in favour of adopting the curriculum in Assam. The Lieutenant-Governor is accordingly pleased to direct that the curriculum published with the Resolution of the 12th May 1908 shall be brought into force in Assam with effect from the 1st January 1911. Both official and non-official reports indicate that the curriculum of 1908 is working ina satisfactory manner, but on a consideration of the criticisms received, His Honor has decided that certain minor amendments should be made. Some relate to additions to meet the special circumstances of Assam, and others to general alterations that experience has shown to be advisable.

An All-India Hockey tournament will take place from the January 23rd to 28th 1911 in Allahabad. The games in the preliminary round will be played during the last days of the preceeding week. The tournament will be held during the Allahabad Exhibition. It is understand that the semi-final and final rounds will be played on the Exhibition grounds. If a sufficiently large number of teams enter, trophies or special value will be presented.










As is usual in India, there is a whole array of laws against offending sentiments of all kinds: religious, racial, residential, linguistic — everything except the democratic. Yet the courts have not found adequate ground, amid this wide sweep of hypersensitivities that Indians revel in, to ban the book on Shivaji by the scholar, James Laine. The writing of the book, alleged to contain a 'controversial' account of Shivaji's background, had earlier led to vandalism on Pune's Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, with the consequent destruction of priceless manuscripts. The ban had followed. But both the lower court and the Supreme Court have directed that it be lifted. However welcome this direction may be, it is necessary to ask how groups unacquainted with history, research, thought and the practice of reading repeatedly manage to get away with muffling or attempting to muffle scholarship, debate, and multiple points of view.


One clue lies in the court's response. The courts do not consider a ban improper or unthinkable in a democratic country where freedom of expression is supposed to be taken for granted. That freedom is not a non-negotiable value; instead, it is to be granted by "reasonable" and "courageous" people. Who are these "reasonable" people and who decides on the quality of their reasonableness? Reasonable from which point of view? Why do they need courage? Is it because marauding mobs spouting sentiment enjoy freedoms without limit? The invocation of an imaginary group of censors obfuscates the central question regarding the limits and duties of freedom in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy. That a ban, if imposed on a book at all, should be the rarest of rare exceptions, prompted by clear evidence of malice and the intention to incite hatred, is a statement that no one seems to be prepared to make. This refusal feeds, and is fed by, the mob culture that dominates ignorant and destructive movements against books and paintings, always fanned to create firmer vote banks by nurturing hatred. How politics is inextricable from culture is illustrated in this context by the Maharashtra government's decision to formulate a law to prevent the defamation of state icons. This defies the spirit of the Supreme Court's direction, and takes the country back aeons in civilization. But a country deserves the icons it worships.








A surface calm has returned to Kashmir. But more than the army and the police, the administration owes it to the bandh called by the separatists for keeping people off the streets. From here, the valley seems destined to travel the same circuitous path with which it is well acquainted. The all parties' meet has concluded with two expected resolutions. One, to hold an independent inquiry into the killing of civilians. Two, to ask the Centre to restart the dialogue process, implement the recommendations of its working groups and consider an employment package for the state. The first resolution, despite mirroring the demands of the state Opposition, is bound to be stonewalled with questions about the 'independence' of the inquiry commission. The second resolution, which firmly throws the entire responsibility of sorting out the Kashmir mess on the Centre, is unlikely to take matters anywhere. It should be obvious that it is impossible to revive any kind of dialogue unless the participants are willing to talk. It may have been beyond the capacity of the all parties' meet to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio, but whatever chances it had were defeated by the intransigence of mainstream parties like the People's Democratic Party to come to the table. Yet, there is little debate that there is no other way forward than by reinstating the internal dialogue that has been almost snuffed out by the mindless violence of a month.


To get things moving in Kashmir, it is imperative that certain responsibilities are owned up to. The state administration of Omar Abdullah has to accept the unpleasant fact that, over the past year-and-a-half, it has failed one crucial test after another to prove that it can address popular grievances, provide effective governance and negotiate the question of azadi. The Opposition has to remember that it is not fulfilling the collective responsibility it has towards the people by merely humiliating the ruling party and refusing to break bread with it. And the Centre has to remember that it cannot let itself fall into the same pattern of playing big brother, sermonizing to bumbling satraps and shielding tyrants in military boots. Unless familiar moulds are broken, the secular democratic revival that the valley had seen not too long ago will be replaced by the religious fundamentalism of hardline secessionists who are happily calling the shots now.









The G20 meeting has come and gone. The group of 20 representatives was established in 1999 and represents 85 per cent or more of the economy, 80 per cent of trade and 66 per cent of the population of the whole world. From 2008, it has met at heads-of-government level to deal with the economic crisis caused initially by the deficiencies in the United States of America's banking system that spread like a virus across the globe. The latest summit in Toronto was divided between the contrasting positions of the Europeans, who wanted to press ahead with stringent economic measures to reduce fiscal deficits, and the US, which urged that there should be no let-up in the stimulus packages that encouraged growth, promoted trade and reduced unemployment. Despite the preponderance of the G20 in the global landscape, it is only a consensus-building forum and not a body that can act quickly or ensure compliance. So this was again a case of prescribing remedies globally while action was to be taken locally. There is globalization of finance, but there is no globalization of regulation, and in the areas that have free flows of trade and capital and a common currency like the Eurozone, the choice of policy instruments available at the national level is almost zero. This leaves governments with a seriously difficult task of managing sudden flights of capital.


The economic meltdown has brought renewed attention to the role of governments in preventing such crises and managing them when they do occur. Since the 1980s, mainstream thinking has veered towards de-emphasizing the role of the government and the public sector in direct economic activity to create greater space for markets through deregulation and the pursuit of profit. Faith in this ideology rests on the ability of markets to self-adjust and reap the benefits of financial liberalization. Hence foreign trade was liberalized and restrictions on cross-border financial flows were removed.


But the recession from 2007 onwards has exposed the inability of governments to contain and manage the crisis, with growth turning negative in large parts of the world, along with the loss of jobs, savings and houses. While rescue packages were put in place with some speed in the US and elsewhere, the revival of the economy remains fragile. The question is: was the recession an inevitable part of the market-led growth process or can it be managed with a better defined role for the public sector?


It is clear that the turmoil could be attributed to certain factors. The opening of borders to trade, capital flows and financial services exposed many countries to vulnerability. For example, the huge export surpluses of China resulted in a sharp increase of short-term flows of capital. Driven by electronic technology, any crisis now spreads and magnifies more rapidly. The abolition in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act in the US, that had been formulated after the Great Depression to prohibit commercial banks from acting as investment banks or owning firms dealing in securities, encouraged banks to play the markets for profit. Added to this was a bonus-earning culture that tempted bankers into short-term speculation. The valuation of underlying assets, like houses under mortgage and sub-prime loans (loans given with inadequate collateral), bundled into hybrid instruments with names like credit default swaps and collateral debt obligations could not be valued in any transparent manner, least of all by oligopolistic credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch. Soon these came to be known as 'junk bonds'.


Regulatory operations were weak, uncoordinated, lacking in power. They relied too much on the companies' own assessments, leading to unwarranted risk-taking in open defiance of regulatory regimes. Hedge funds were obscure, not regulated, and became major financial players, while banks became 'too big to fail'. There was an unholy alliance between bankers, property developers, and political parties that deliberately obfuscated the real state of toxic assets. The International Monetary Fund, the apex body intended to warn of systemic risks, was conspicuous by its silence. Its governing structure being weighted towards the industrialized West, it was unable to help its main shareholders when their regulatory mechanisms were captured by the very institutions that fuelled the crisis.


At the Toronto meeting, Manmohan Singh stood tall between the US and Eurozone positions. He is on strong ground in seeking balance, since there is evidence that countries that have relied more on governmental direction have managed to contain the crisis better. Among these countries would rank China, India, Brazil and Canada. China's accumulation of huge foreign exchange reserves and a large public sector enabled it to effect a significant stimulus by way of investment in infrastructure and subsidies to consumers. Brazil's high reserve requirements, with the Banco do Brasil leading the way, were able to step in to prevent bank failures and replace the credit from abroad which had dried up. Canada limited the extent of leveraging and adopted a cautious approach towards easing the regulatory framework. India was prudent in having a significant State-owned commercial banking sector that enabled the Reserve Bank of India to stabilize the situation quickly.


The non-bank financial companies, such as insurance, pension funds and mutual funds, were regulated, the use of innovations like derivatives was moderated and non-core activity by banks was restricted or banned. The pay, entry and exit bonuses of bank officials, even in the private sector, were scrutinized and subject to guidelines. Singh was also right to recall that countries with big governments, with concentration of economic and political power in a few hands and agencies, run the risk of a loss of freedom and innovation, and poor service delivery, since monopoly suppliers of goods and services are purveyors of indifferent quality and high costs. So what is needed is competition and decentralization of power.


Countries whose currencies form part of the international reserves, like the dollar, yen and euro, have an advantage in funding stimulus packages whereas other countries have to earn these currencies through exports. There may be a case here for a global unit like the Special Drawing Rights that could be allocated to countries under a formula that gives weight to the gross domestic product and trade volume. As to who should bear the burden of the rescue packages, it is natural that some have looked to the banking system to take responsibility and fund some of the costs of intervention. But other countries have opposed any levy on banks to create a sinking fund and, though this proposal has been deferred, it is not likely to gain traction. Similarly, a revival of the Tobin Tax on capital flows to reduce volatility in short-term capital flows may not find favour.


Yet the assumption that the world can press the pause and reset buttons is misplaced. Germany will not accept a situation where it is repeatedly asked to subsidize the rest of the Eurozone. Reflecting the popular backlash against Wall Street, the US Congress is on the point of finalizing the biggest financial regulation reform since the Depression. While there is traditional Republican opposition to any controls, achieved by raising the bogey of socialism, under the compromises necessary in any US legislation there will be higher capital requirements for banks, a limit of three per cent of capital imposed on the banks' ability to make risky speculative bets on hedge or private equity funds, and a consumer financial protection bureau set up to prevent sharp practices by credit card companies and mortgage lenders.


Wall Street will nevertheless breathe a sigh of relief: the initial proposals would have limited the size and leverage of banks, the three per cent limit is a dilution of the original limit, and a five-year transition for banks to meet the new capital rules has been agreed upon, with banks having less than $15 billion in assets being exempt altogether. Speculation on interest rates and currency exchange rates are exempt from the ban on credit default swaps, which Warren Buffett called "financial weapons of mass destruction"; banks will henceforth have to deflect to separate affiliated companies to protect themselves from potential losses. While this legislation represents the second major success for Barack Obama after healthcare reform, it remains doubtful whether the actions taken by the G20 and the US will insulate the world from financial meltdowns in the future. Public anger may seethe at Western bankers who inflicted such widespread distress, especially on the most vulnerable, but the persons who are resolving the crisis are the same ones that failed to anticipate it. Until a root and branch reform of the financial system is undertaken, the next crisis will not be long in coming.


The author is former foreign secretary of India








While the tribal-dominated districts of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore are at the centre of official attention because of Maoist troubles, another area of conflict involving tribals has developed in the Dooars region of North Bengal. So far, the 'conflict' has not led to law-and-order problems. But the sustained campaign for some measure of self-rule, carried out by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, has had an impact on tribal minds, particularly on a section of tea-garden workers.


Even if the ABAVP does not make common cause with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, as the latter wants it to, it can create problems on its own for the Left parties and the Writers' Buildings. There is no certainty that the issue will remain confined to peaceful rallies and submission of memoranda. Also, how can one be sure that the Maoists, who have already entered Murshidabad bordering North Bengal, will not turn their eyes northwards?


Development, or vikas, is a common sore point with politicians as well as with ordinary citizens in North Bengal — and for good reason too. Barring the towns of Siliguri and Malda, the other districts present a picture of neglect. Even constituents of the ruling Left Front are unhappy. The Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority has made plans for projects but how many of these have taken off? Not that there is no money floating around, but for that the unguarded borders with Nepal and Bangladesh should be thanked much more than any effort at industrial development without which vikas is not possible. For those living in the interiors, communication with Calcutta continues to be difficult. Matters may improve slightly if the long-delayed air link between Calcutta and Cooch Behar is restored. Why have the small airstrips, which became grazing grounds once private carriers closed shop, not been revived?


Thorn in the flesh


Broadly speaking, it has been neglect all the way. So the birth of the ABAVP was perhaps natural. Indifference at the top has led to the tribals feeling that their misfortune is related to ethnicity and that their lot can only be improved if they have a say in the conduct of their lives. The Left parties that are active in the Dooars today are having problems finding takers for their philosophy: that the poor must remain united in their struggle. Neglect is posing a threat to tribal identity. No wonder, though relatively better off than the others, tea-garden workers are responding more to such preaching — only those who have tasted a better life are the ones to demand more. The result of the last by-poll in Kalchini in Jalpaiguri shows to what extent the mood of protest has gained ground.


Not that tribal leaders among the Left parties lack sincerity. Their problem lies elsewhere. They find it difficult to assert themselves in parties dominated by Bengalis. The ordinary tribal has been seeing this happening for ages and is today increasingly convinced that his salvation lies in an organization entirely his own. Unlike in South Bengal, in the north it is not fear that has forced tribals to walk along an alternative course. They only want to carve out a niche for themselves where they will be the masters of their rights. So all of them are not willing to join hands with the GJM.Elsewhere in North Bengal, there are the movements for a separate Kamtapur or Greater Cooch Behar. These have never flowered and are unlikely to do so as they do not enjoy popular support. But the issue of neglect should strike a chord. Even Left Front constituents have problems shoving it aside. Unhappiness had been building up in the Dooars for some time, but precious little is being done by the powers that be. They face a new problem now. A few months on, the ABAVP may prove to be a thorn on their sides, and not just in Kalchini.








When Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish releases in theatres later this year, we will be exposed to the issue of euthanasia. The contentious subject of the film might force people to be engaged more actively in debates about the merits and demerits of mercy killing.


The reality is that we are still not willing to confront the notion of euthanasia, either as a matter of personal choice or in administered form. Euthanasia can also be voluntary, but that is something that is fraught with problems related to its feasibility, theological aspects, psychological pressures, implications on inheritance, and so on. The case of Aruna Shanbag — who has been living in a vegetative state for 37 years — is an example of how issues surrounding euthanasia remain unresolved. Shanbag, a nurse at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital, was raped by a janitor who used a dog chain to throttle her. This resulted in the blood and oxygen supply to her brain being cut off. Her comatose state has generated intense discussion: religious leaders have hailed the decision to keep her alive, while the media are agog with experts debating issues such as the morality, logic and legality of euthanasia.


Legalized euthanasia is, unfortunately, limited to a handful of countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg as well as the states of Oregon, Washington and Montana in the United States of America. South Australia is trying to legalize euthanasia. It is, in fact, scheduled to host a conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies in Melbourne this year.


When I asked Derek Humphry — founder of the Hemlock Society and author of Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying — in an emailed correspondence why we were not making more progress with voluntary euthanasia, he retorted that, "It takes time, a lot of effort, and buckets of money to bring about change. Our main opposition comes from religions, none of which supports us. Thus politicians are afraid to back us for fear of being boycotted at the polls by religious voters." Hemlock Society, the oldest and the largest of the right-to-die organizations in the US, attempts to provide information to those willing to consider euthanasia, and to pass legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide with accompanying guidelines to prevent abuse.


In India, as in the West, with healthcare expenses being what they are, the right to determine if a patient wants to live or die should be premised on informed choice. But what are the implications of life choices? And of individual volition in ending life when it becomes untenable due to prolonged and incurable illness or old age?


My first brush with voluntary euthanasia was when Minoo Masani's strong belief in the right to die with dignity almost convinced many of us to want to sign an intentional pledge. This would be in the form of an actual vow on paper, while still in possession of our senses, to give those around us the right to remove life-support systems in the event of our entering a brain-dead state. Family conflicts and apprehensions about life-at-the-brink decisions could be resolved, argued Masani, if a clear document were to indicate that a patient's life could be formally ended should the vegetative state become a curse for the patient and his suffering relatives.


Arguments in favour of such action are based on the increasing levels of suffering brought about by new cancerous syndromes, the swelling numbers of accident victims, and the drug-induced derelictions. Such a step can save families years of agonizing wait and mounting expenses that many can ill afford. But then, premeditated postures are one thing. Such a decision invariably puts the patients' relatives in a dilemma. This often results in religious groups, medical experts and legal practitioners consider euthanasia iniquitous and unethical. Often, one sibling could be in favour of a parent's right to die with decorum while the other might want to cling on for purely sentimental reasons.


Most of us are still unclear about the differences between euthanasia and the voluntary administering of it. Euthanasia programmes were also conducted during Hitler's time. Codenamed Aktion T4, they were administered to newborns and very young children who exhibited symptoms of mental retardation or physical deformity. Soon, the programmes were expanded to include older, disabled children and adults. Physicians are estimated to have killed over 70,000 people who were "judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination". Later evidence indicated that lakhs of people had been exterminated under this programme.


There is also the widely publicized instance of Jack Kevorkian in more recent times. His claim to fame was as an active euthanasia advocate whose assisted suicide campaign ended the lives of 130 people. Some of these people were terminally ill; some others were disabled or chronically ill. On the face of it, he could look like a redeemer. But his actions were not looked upon as acceptable, and he was arrested and convicted of second-degree murder. The irony of it all is that Kevorkian himself was reported to be terminally ill and was paroled for good behaviour in 2007 on the condition that he would not help anyone else die.


But we are still left battling with the differences between euthanasia — which can be termed as an intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit — and voluntary euthanasia, which is when the person who is put to death has actually requested for such termination. There is also the matter of physician assisted suicide.


There are historical precedents of well-known people fasting unto death. In our time, there is Acharya Vinoba Bhave who decided to end his life. In another era, there was Chandragupta Maurya, who retired to the Jain pilgrimage centre at Shravanabelagola and starved himself to death.


This could well be one of the earliest instances of the Shwetambari Jain practice ofsanthara in which those wanting to die did so in a ceremonial manner, giving up food and drink and then allowing themselves to die peacefully. What is debatable here is whether the practice of santhara or sallekhana can be equated with suicide. Human rights activists have filed public interest litigations, claiming that sallekhana is a social evil and should be considered as suicide under the Indian legal statute. But Jains belonging to that particular sect claim that the slow suffering that people choose to endure when they are approaching the end is what makes them strive to find greater peace and purification.


Today, terminal patients continue to suffer and the community of relatives endure the vicissitude brought about by uncertain decisions. Given the situation, will Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code give credence to merciful approaches? Are we going back to the basics? Or are we moving forward in the spirit of Sherwin Nuland's book, How We Die, Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, in which he says that a doctor should be prepared to psychologically and practically help a long-time patient "slip off the scene in relative comfort?"


Even as we continue to argue about active versus passive euthanasia, assisted as opposed to non-assisted suicide, lethal injections versus non-intervention, opting for palliatives or getting on with mercy endings, could we not think of genuine feelings and reactions to brain-dead situations with an 'unpremeditated' stance? Whose life is it anyway?








Why do the media get all excited over the suicides of fashion models?


The suicide of the model, Viveka Babajee, late last month, has evoked a predictable response in the media. It has given newspapers and television channels the opportunity to launch into a familiar lament — that there's a dark side to the world of glamour and untold pitfalls in a life under the arc lights. And now that another former model, Natasha Padbidri, has committed suicide, the din is bound to get louder.


It was no different when Geetanjali Nagpal, once a successful model, was found begging and bedraggled on the streets of Delhi in 2007. Or when Nafisa Joseph, an ex-model and MTV anchor, hanged herself in 2004. On each occasion, the media came up with a flurry of stories to show that, for all its glitz and glamour, the world of high fashion could chew you up and throw you out as a psychological wreck. Indeed, every time a model commits suicide, the incident is held up almost as a cautionary tale, as if to say that the lives of those exotic creatures of the catwalk are unstable in the extreme and fame on the ramp can exact a heavy price.


One wonders why this is so. For if we take the number of suicides to be an index of the vulnerability of a social class, then lots of other groups appear to be at a much greater risk than models and hence ought to attract much more hand-wringing on the part of the media.


Take housewives, for example. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one out of every five suicides in the country was committed by a housewife in 2008, the latest year for which data are available. Also, housewives accounted for 54.8 per cent of the total number of suicides by women that year. Yet one does not see the media getting exercised over the fragility of the profession of a full-time wife and mother, or the helplessness and desperation that often drive her to take her own life.


One reason for that is the fact that housewives are faceless non-entities. As indeed are countless other despairing souls — the unemployed, the bankrupt, the frustrated in love, the manic misfit — who opt out of this world daily. Their lives and deaths do not make good copy. But models, even down-at-heel former models, are near celebrities. As any media hand will tell you, people are interested in their stories.


Fair enough. But surely harping on the 'seamy side of glamour' in the wake of a model's suicide does more than just slake our curiosity about how and why she died. For no matter what the apparent reason for their deaths — both Babajee and Joseph seemed to have been depressed about failed love relationships — there's always an insidious attempt to suggest that their lives came apart because of their lifestyle and the pressures of the modelling world.


It's an attractive proposition all right, since it plays on our desire to see the downside of life in the fast lane. If the vast majority of us will not achieve fame, then it's nice to know that fame has a sordid underpinning. And since movie stars no longer carry the stain of social disapproval, who better than fashion models, those quasi celebs who supposedly thrive on ecstasy and easy virtue, to illustrate that point?Such an attitude is shockingly prejudicial to the modelling industry. Not only because it implies a moral judgment, but also because it ignores the fact that most models tackle the stresses and strains of their high-visibility jobs without careening towards self-destruction. And the sooner members of the media realize this the better.








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





The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has the responsibility to advise the Congress-NCP coalition government in Maharashtra to immediately stop playing politics with the so-called border issue with neighbouring Karnataka. The rabble rousing by the Maharashtra politicians over the Centre's matter-of-fact affidavit in the supreme court, rejecting Maharashtra's claim over certain Marathi-speaking regions of Karnataka, has the potential of inflaming passions over an issue which was irrevocably settled over five decades ago. If the prime minister does not intervene and tell the Maharashtra leaders firmly that they should desist from playing with the sentiments of people and await the court's judgment, the country will be plunged into another needless conflagration at a time when other divisive issues are already taxing the nation's peace, unity and integrity.

Karnataka, or the then Mysore state, was as much aggrieved as many other states with the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, when its claim over Sholapur in Maharashtra or Kasargod in Kerala — which were predominantly Kannada-speaking regions — were not accepted, though it got Belgaum as per its wish. The Mahajan Commission, which was set up subsequently at the instance of Maharashtra, also upheld the inclusion of Belgaum and 814 villages in the border areas of Mysore state. The Maharashtra politicians have tried to stoke the fire off and on, but never succeeded in convincing anyone of the bona fides of their demand. Most importantly, the Kannadigas and Marathis of Belgaum and other villages have been living in harmony for decades despite political attempts to drive a wedge in their relations. The chauvinistic feelings have all but died down as evident from the fact that the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi, which tried to fish in troubled waters, has almost been rejected by the local people.


The recent competitive politics in Maharashtra forced the government there to file an affidavit in the supreme court in 2004 to make a fresh bid for 'Marathi-speaking areas' included in Karnataka. It does not have much of a case and the court should have dismissed the petition at the admission stage. Having stalled the Centre from presenting the facts before the court earlier, the Maharashtra government is now not able to accept the 'truth' that has been spelt out in the home ministry's affidavit. The Centre must make it clear to the Ashok Chavan government that it should stop flogging a dead horse and concentrate on providing good governance.








With the successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C15) which released five satellites into their orbits on Monday, the Indian Space Research Organisation has put behind the failure of its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D3) in April. For over 10 years the PSLV has been a reliable workhorse and has put many satellites, both Indian and foreign, successfully into the space. Its success rate has been excellent and ISRO can deservedly be proud of its performance. Launch of multiple satellites is not new.

ISRO had put into the orbit as many as 10 satellites in 2008 and set a record.

The GSLV programme is yet to be perfected as the April failure showed. According to reports, ISRO has identified the reason for failure of the GSLV rocket with an indigenous cryogenic engine as the non-availability of liquid hydrogen supply to the main engine. It plans to rectify the problem and make another flight test within an year. Monday's launch put into orbit the satellite Cartosat 2B and four other satellites, three of them belonging to foreign countries, and a pico satellite Studsat which was designed by engineering students from Bangalore and Hyderabad. Earth observation satellites  are important for national security also as they are capable of long distance surveillance of small areas and objects of even less than a metre in size. With the launch of Cartosat 2B India has four such satellites in space which ensure continuous observation of a geographical area. The images sent from the satellite will be useful in preparing cartographic maps, monitoring development work in villages, and preparing watershed development plans. Studsat is remarkable for the involvement of students in space science and engineering. The students who were associated with it deserve congratulations. 

ISRO has a number of other launches scheduled in the coming months. They also include an unmanned crew module to be launched by a PSLV in 2013 as a forerunner to sending two Indians in space. This calls for creation of more facilities, improvement of technologies and better preparations, but ISRO is confident that it will be equal to the challenge.






Fight against corruption will be futile and meaningless if no effort is made to extirpate the political corruption.


The Karnataka government has finally given the power to the Lokayukta to take suo motu cognisance of allegations of corruption against any official up to the rank of the chief secretary, but the chief minister, ministers and MLAs have been kept beyond the purview of the Lokayukta.

Justice N Santosh Hegde (retd), Lokayukta of Karnataka, put the state BJP government in the dock by resigning from his post blaming it of 'indifferent attitude' to corruption. However, the top leadership of the BJP was quick to discern the growing tide of public opinion against the state government, and L K Advani stepped in to control the damage and successfully persuaded Hegde to withdraw the resignation.

The state government has conceded his one demand and class I and senior officials have been brought within ambit of Lokayukta's jurisdiction. However, the rationale behind leaving the elected representatives out of bounds is not understandable. Fight against corruption will be futile and meaningless if no effort is made to extirpate the political corruption which is the fountainhead of all maladies.

The office of the ombudsman must be bequeathed adequate power if it is to be a watchdog against corruption. Unfortunately, neither the Union government nor any state government is willing to strengthen the institution. In 2004, Manmohan Singh had boldly declared his intent to set up the office of the Lok Pal and had said that even the prime minister would come under his purview.

It is reliably learnt that the prime minster had even asked a former Chief Justice of India to stay back in Delhi for the new assignment, but his allies like Lalu Prasad and Sharad Pawar vetoed the proposal.

One positive outcome of the unsavoury episode of Hedge's resignation is that the Union government is mulling over bringing a Central legislation to effect sweeping changes in the ambit and functions of the ombudsman's office, besides vesting it with constitutional status and making it a multi-member body like the Commission with more powers.


It is necessary to make the office of Lokayukta uniform across the country. It is proposed to be headed by a retired supreme court judge or a high court chief justice and consist of the state vigilance commissioner and a jurist or an eminent administrator. They will be appointed by a collegium of the chief minister, the leader of the opposition in the state legislative assembly and the chief justice of the high court of the respective state.

A Central legislation is essential to make the institution permanent and not contingent on the mercy of the state government. So far, 17 states have set up the institution, but there are pronounced differences in their respective legislations with regard to their powers, functions and jurisdiction.

While some states have not appointed Lokayuktas, in others, the holder of this post is more or less toothless. In some states, the Lokayuktas complain of inadequate staff and poor infrastructure while in others the requests for sanction of prosecution or recommendations are gathering dust in the cupboards of the state governments.

Orissa was the first state to pass an enabling legislation in 1970 and was the first to abolish it in 1992. Justice S K Ray (retd) was appointed as Lok Pal of Orissa in 1989 for 5 years but was removed from the post following the abolition of the Lok Pal Act.

Several other Lokayuktas have been unceremoniously removed by different state governments. Justice I P Vashisht (retd) was appointed as the Lokayukta of Haryana by the Bansi Lal government in 1997, but the next government headed by Om Prakash Chautala removed him after less than eight months through an ordinance. Such instances abound.

The office of ombudsman was introduced on the recommendation the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Morarji Desai. Acting on the recommendations, the Centre tabled a Bill in parliament in 1968 providing for such an institution. However, the Bill lapsed following the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Since then, the legislation for Lok Pal at the Centre has been tabled at least eight times, the last being in 2001, but every time it lapsed with the dissolution of House.

The Second ARC, headed by M Veerappa Moily, recommended giving Lokayukta more powers to investigate corruption. However, in 2008, parliament diluted the Prevention of Corruption Act through an amendment which virtually nullified the powers of the prosecuting agencies, including the Lokayukta.

The question is how to combat and contain corruption? The government has made discriminatory provisions under which senior officers are protected and only petty officials are subjected to investigation and prosecution. It is precisely against this that Justice Hegde fulminated.

At the Centre also, the government protects the officers in the rank of joint secretary and above for whom sanction is required from the appointing authority to prosecute them. It was done through single directive which was held unconstitutional by the supreme court in the Vineet Narayan case.

The office of the ombudsman must be strengthened to fight the canker of corruption. After all, the ombudsman is subject to the jurisdiction of the court. So, the powers needed for the effective functioning of the office must be vested in it.







Several youths who died in the Kashmir encounter were NDF activists.



Kerala was jolted by the terror lurking in its backyard for the first time in October 2008, when five youths from the state were killed in an encounter with security forces in Jammu & Kashmir. The state government and the police had then just woken up to the reality that terror had arrived in God's Own Country.

However, little did they realise that much water had already flown under the bridge well before that incident thanks to the political deals struck by both the UDF and LDF with organisations of dubious repute overtly and covertly. The events of the past few months and police raids have now established that terrorism has taken roots in the state.

Kerala may have so far witnessed only a series of low intensity bomb blasts like the Kozhikode twin blasts and the Ernakulam civil station blasts. However, seizure of gelatin sticks, detonators and other materials for making explosives, hawala money and counterfeit notes have been frequently reported, even as recent as last week from Kannur.

It was the investigation into the recent barbaric chopping of the palm of a professor for framing a 'provocative' question about Prophet Mohammed that has unearthed a minefield of information. Pamphlets inducing hate, documents showing transaction of huge quantities of money, an al-Qaeda CD showing the brutal maiming of westerners et all have been seized from the houses of PFI activists. Four days ago, the brake pipes of a passenger train were found cut off at several places when it was stationed at Nilambur in Malappuram district.

PFI under scanner

At the centre of the emerging terror scenario are a clutch of organisations, primarily the Popular Front of India (PFI) which swears by the rights of Muslims, dalits and other minorities. The PFI is a confederation of three organisations — the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KDF), the National Development Front in Kerala and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) in Tamil Nadu.

It was reported almost a decade ago when the NDF was formed that the organisation was imparting training to its cadres. Their involvement in the 2003 Marad killings is yet to be proven but strongly suspected as it was alleged at that time that NDF activists owned dual membership in the Indian Union Muslim League. However, there has been no concerted attempt to bridle the activities of the organisation.

In fact, the PFI and its precursor National Development Front (NDF) have been involved in many incidences of violence, instances of threatening police officials and campaigns for imposing dress codes for Muslim women. 

"The ISI's presence is also very much there in Kerala and its money is funding organisations here," said Congress leader Aryadan Mohammed.

However, both the Congress-led UDF as well as the CPM-led ruling LDF had befriended PFI and the Jama'at-e-Islami overtly or covertly in the past. The NDF activists had campaigned for home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in his constituency Thalassery in Kannur when he contested the assembly elections in 2006. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a prominent constituent of the UDF, had held secret discussions a month ago with the Jama'at-e-Islami which created a big uproar in political circles.

Most of the youths who died in the Kashmir encounter were NDF activists and several of them who have now been arrested in connection with the Bangalore blasts are also connected with the outfit. PDP chairman Abdul Nasser Madhani who is accused of having influenced many Muslim youths to turn to the extremist path more than a decade ago may be a changed man now.

However, his past associations and followers who were led to extremism have been hounding him with the result that after being let off in the Coimbatore blasts case, he has now been chargesheeted in the Bangalore blasts case.

Clearly shaken by the new revelations, the Kerala government and Assembly separately discussed the growing menace of terrorism on Monday. A high-level meeting came to the conclusion that the palm-chopping incident as well as the attempt to sabotage the passenger train were the handiwork of terrorists.

This is the first time that the state has spelled out clearly that terrorists are indeed operating in its backyard. Certainly, many Malayalis who took pride in the fact that they have been insulated from the blasts and terror modules which have been active elsewhere in the country are now worried. God's Own Country is no more a safe place







Birds skirted from one branch to another, celebrating the dawn.



Last Monday, a colleague after a business trip to Hong Kong brought a thoughtful gift. "It's a singing bird alarm clock, wakes you up with beautiful bird sounds," she said excitedly, "As someone who loves nature I am sure you'll like it in your new house."


"No, thanks, lady," I said, "I already have a 'natural' bird sounds alarm system going. I surface each morning at the crack of dawn to the sounds of birds and their cheerful song."

So it was the very next morning. When I went from bed to window, it was there, the magic on the raintree. As day's first light gradually formed, life was up and going in the foliage. The common myna from its communal roost was the first off the block. As more of its ilk joined in, there was a chorus of bird song — a koel's repeated koo-oo, a distant kotroo-kotroo, a low-pitched song with trills, down-sliding at the end or a lovely two-part harmony. For most part, it was sweet duets and melodious whistles as birds skirted from one branch to another, celebrating the dawn.

A friend who knows birds says, "They are busy chatting, connecting with each other, sending out signals. When you hear them in small or large doses, the varied birdsong is spatial realism of the jungle, nature. They remind us that we are part of the delightful unfathomable mystery known as nature."

After a few days out of town, I returned late last evening and woke up early after an unusual night of gale and thunderstorm. I found the sounds of birds were not the normal. Instead of song, there was a lot of frenzied chatter and activity. Looking out of the window, I saw agitated birds landing, some ready for take-off and many riding swaying branches. Keen to know what was happening, I got out.

The answer came almost as soon as I got outdoors. Last night's rain had twisted trees out of shape or had severed branches. Then there was 'man-made' disaster — tall majestic giants lay on the street biting dust. Some were already converted into logs, numbered, ready for the timberyard. Stumps, scattered leaves, and squashed orange flowers lay everywhere. "Road widening, saar" chipped in the newspaper boy, lifting bicycle over a trunk blocking his path.

As I turned back homewards with heavy heart, it struck me. Maybe that was why the birds had gathered in such large numbers on the tree outside. It was an emergency meeting, an EGM, to take stock of the situation, discuss the next move, new abodes…

In addition to poor care and maintenance, the urban forest that improves the air, protects our water, saves energy, and improves economic sustainability was getting the 'axe-effect'? Like many hapless citizens who have few options other than talking to the forest department or running to the media or finding sympathetic shoulders of like minded tree-huggers, I found myself punching in numbers on the mobile. A sleepy, groggy voice answered. "Sorry for interrupting your beauty sleep, lady," I said, "Something urgent cropped up this morning and I need to re-consider your gift offer. Do you still have the 'singing bird alarm clock?'"








The tragic hit-and-run last year that left 12-year-old Amir Balahsan in a vegetative state but produced a mere slap on the offenders' wrist is a prime example of judicial insensitivity.


There's lots of squawk in our public discourse about waning respect for our judiciary. But the hand-wringing is disingenuous if we fail to take notice of judicial superciliousness and insensitivity.

The latest case in point: The tragic hit-and-run last year that left 12-year-old Amir Balahsan of Yehud in an irrevocable vegetative state but produced a mere slap on the offenders' wrist.

Driver Pnina Toren and passenger Omri Naim were sentenced to three years. With a third off for good behavior, they're likely to be free in two years. They were also ordered to pay the comatose boy NIS 30,000 in damages. This preposterous award only pours salt on the wounds of Amir's family.

There are approximately 800 hit-and-runs in this country each year. But this one goes beyond an offense that's anyway so odious that the law designates a nine-year sentence for it.

The couple didn't just abandon their bleeding victim. They sped away and immediately embarked on intensive attempts to cover up all traces of the crime. They weren't unwitting, traumatized or panic-stricken individuals (as some hit-and-run drivers claim to be). They were scheming and aware of their wrongdoing. They took the damaged car to an auto shop to repair dents and wash off Amir's blood and other evidence. They then went to a restaurant and dined calmly... as the boy lay motionless at the curb.

Later they claimed they weren't responsible for the original injury but that Amir, riding a scooter, suddenly appeared in the path of their car. Even if this had been the case, it in no way justifies deserting him and then calculatingly tampering with the evidence.

THIS SORDID episode leaves us with two disconcerting questions: Why did the prosecution opt for a plea-bargain? And why did the court see fit to accept it? To be sure, plea-bargains make sense in certain circumstances – such as when police have a hard time proving what they are convinced is the defendant's guilt. Moreover, in sexual assault cases, it may be argued that sparing the victim from the ordeal of reliving the torment supersedes tougher punishment (although testimony may be taken by video rather than in front of the perpetrator). There are also cases in which the police are loath to betray sources and expose informants or witnesses.

Last but not least, there is, regrettably, a bureaucratic impetus. If every case in the justice system went to trial, it is maintained, the courts would be so overloaded that they would effectively be shut down. Plea bargaining allows prosecutors to obtain guilty pleas in cases that might otherwise go to trial.

Our courts are indeed hopelessly bogged down, but this specific case is so egregious that speeding up processes and saving money are intolerable excuses. Likewise, the prosecution faced no insuperable difficulties in making the charges stick. They were incontrovertibly backed up by traffic surveillance cameras. Issues like protecting victims or witnesses weren't remotely relevant either.

No satisfactory rationale exists for going easy on this couple. The message this sends to Israel's numerous negligent (if not reckless) drivers undermines deterrence.

In our system, furthermore, judges clearly aren't bound by prosecution-defense deals. There was no onus on the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court to abide by the plea agreement. And the harsh condemnation that came from the bench for the couple's callousness doesn't begin to mitigate the judicial incongruity.


The very suspicion that judges may be taking the easy way out when offered the opportunity is more than distressing. It affects the safety of us all and severely undermines our faith in the justice they mete out.

As Amir's distraught father noted, "three years is what the disturbed man who hurled his shoe at [Supreme Court chief justice Dorit] Beinisch got. Where is the sense of proportion? This pair sentenced Amir to a lifetime of unconsciousness."

Yossi Balahsan voiced his own personal anguish. Yet we all have cause to question the frequent and increasingly routine reliance on deals that skew the law and chip away at the notion of equal justice for all.








We've gone from being a Jewish state to being a Jewish mini-empire.

Given the way Israel behaves now, it's pretty sad to remember that it was envisioned as a country where the Jews ran their own national affairs – but nobody else's.

Now it's not enough for Israel to have its own coast, its own territorial waters, its own airspace – no, we've got to control Gaza's coast, Gaza's territorial waters, Gaza's airspace, too. The Gaza Strip is part of our sphere of influence. Let any Turkish ship, Libyan ship or any other ship we don't like try to sail into Gaza, and they'll get a taste of gunboat diplomacy, Israeli-style. Let anyone try to fly a plane in or out of Gaza and they'll be at the mercy of the Israel Air Force.

Is this what any decent, fair-minded, peace-loving Zionist ever had in mind? We've gone from being a Jewish state to being a Jewish mini-empire. A Jewish hegemon.

We fly spy planes over Lebanon on a daily basis. We blew up the beginnings of a nuclear reactor in Syria. We run the lives of two million Palestinians in the West Bankand take their land piece by piece.

Why? Because might makes right. If anybody tried to blockade our coast and our airspace, if anybody flew spy planes over us, if anybody blew up one of our nuclear installations, if anybody ruled our lives at gunpoint and built foreign settlements on our land, we'd kill whoever we had to kill to stop it.

But the Arabs are weak and we're strong, so we get away with it.


And we wonder why we're not so popular in the world? The Arabs want to destroy us, we say, that's why we have to blockade this and bomb that and put up a new row of houses over there.

BUT WHAT we don't see, what we are absolutely unwilling to see, is that while the Arabs may want to destroy us, or certainly to dismantle the Jewish state, they can't do it – and they know they can't.

They've known it since the end of the Six Day War. That's why they've stopped fighting us, all but the Palestinians, who, coincidentally, are the only Muslims whose lives we're ruling at gunpoint.

All the Islamic countries are afraid of Israel, and for good reason – because this country is much stronger than all of them put together. We do things to the Palestinians, to Syria, to Lebanon and, reportedly, to Iran that we would never let anyone do to us in a million years – and they can't stop us. They are extremely reluctant to even try; our military power deters them.

So what more do we want from our enemies before we'll stop screwing with them? Love? Recognition of the justice of the Zionist cause? An admission that they were wrong all these years and we were right? If that's what we're waiting for, we came to the wrong neighborhood. If we're going to go on intercepting ships until their sponsors accept our right to keep Gaza under lock and key, we're going to be engaged in gunboat diplomacy for a long time. If we think we can rule the West Bank Palestinians until they give up even nonviolent resistance, fly spy planes over Lebanon until Hizbullah agrees that we have the right to bear arms but it doesn't, and bomb enemy nuclear sites until the wholeMiddle East acknowledges Israel as its sole, rightful nuclear power, then our future here is untenable.

Maybe the United States and Russia can hold sway over their regions, maybe they can have spheres of influence, but a little Jewish state surrounded by 57 Muslim states cannot. Neither our enemies nor our friends will allow us to be a mini-empire, a hegemon, for long. That's a recipe for escalating, never-ending conflict.

The new cry of gevalt around here is that Israel's legitimacy is under worldwide attack – but the truth is that the West has accepted the legitimacy of the Jewish state since 1947, and nothing's changed. As for the Muslim world, it never has and never will accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state – but it has accepted the hard fact of it since the Six Day War.

Between Israel's legitimacy in the West and deterrent power in the Middle East, we have what we need to survive as a Jewish state within our rightful, democratic borders. But we can't survive as the neighborhood bully.









Despite last week's positive meeting, it would be foolish to assume that American policy toward Israel has undergone a fundamental change.


Last week's meeting with US President Barack Obama was, on the surface, a dream outcome for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, especially in view of the harsh political environment surrounding him prior to his visit.

Although it was widely anticipated that Obama would roll out the red carpet, the effusive praise he showered on Netanyahu and Israel was almost surrealistic and reminiscent of the best days of US-Israel relations. It contrasted starkly to previous hostility, which had even descended to chilling allegations that Israeli intransigence was costing American "blood and treasure."

Obama praised Netanyahu, saying "I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I believe he is ready to take risks for peace." He also stated that while there was hope for peace, he was not "blindly optimistic" and that Israel was entitled to be skeptical about the peace process. He even urged the Arabs to move forward.

More importantly, even prior to the meeting, the Obama administration's belated sanctions against Iran heightened its concern about the nuclear threat which poses the greatest danger facing Israel. In striking contrast to the US betrayal of Israel at May's nuclear nonproliferation conference, where the Jewish state was the only country singled out for condemnation, Obama went beyond any previous US leader in providing public endorsement for Israel's nuclear policy. He explicitly told Netanyahu that "theUnited States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests" and until such time as a comprehensive regional peace settlement had been achieved, would resist pressures from those seeking to force Israel to abandon its nuclear capabilities.

Beyond this, despite predictions from the media and Netanyahu's political opponents that he would be obliged to make further unilateral concessions to placate Obama, the prime minister publicly conceded nothing beyond reiterating his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians. Nor was there evidence of pressure on him to extend the settlement freeze after September.

It is quite possible that after 18 months of failing to beat Israel into submission, and observing the resilient manner in which Netanyahu retained his dignity and resisted his bullying, Obama realized that his strategy was counterproductive. He may have decided to utilize carrots rather than sticks and cooperation as an ally rather than an adversary.

As a consequence, the Netanyahu government has, at least in the short term, emerged stronger than ever. The displays of affection Obama conveyed to Netanyahu neutralized Kadima's principal argument that he could never cooperate with this administration. The Labor rebels will also have less justification for withdrawing from the government.

YET DESPITE the sighs of relief, it would be foolish to assume that American policy toward Israel has undergone a fundamental change. 

We are not privy to the 90 minutes of discussions that took place behind closed doors. Were commitments made in relation to extending the settlement freeze? Did Netanyahu reach any agreements regarding defensible borders? Was there still talk of a two-year timetable for an independent Palestinian state? We will probably know more in the months to come.

Irrespective of what will happen in the future, we must unhesitatingly welcome the dramatically changed atmosphere in which Israel is treated as an ally rather than a pariah. Obama's statements are immensely beneficial, especially during these turbulent times. And in light of what he said on record, it will be awkward (although not inconceivable) for him to once again reverse his position.

Yet we should not count our chickens until they are hatched and must gird ourselves for the very real possibility that this Netanyahu-Obama summit of goodwill may still prove to be a false calm before the storm.

One need not be a cynic to recognize that the primary motivation for the dramatic reversal was the hostile public reaction, by Americans solidly supportive of Israel, against the shabby treatment meted to the Jewish state. And more so, the alienation of Jewish Democrats and pressure on Obama from congressmen concerned about the fallout in the November congressional elections.

One need only observe the precedents of Obama's zigzagging in relation to Israel during the course of the presidential elections to appreciate how fickle (or pragmatic) he can be to garner votes and financial contributions. However unlikely it may seem today, we must be prepared for the possibility that Obama could resume his previous posture after the congressional elections and revert to beating up on Israel in a vain effort to appease the Arab world. Indeed, when the impending talks with the Palestinians inevitably fail, Obama may even consider himself better positioned as a "friend" supposedly acting in our best interests to impose a solution on us.


NEVERTHELESS, THERE is a major window of opportunity between now and November to reinforce the new approach and set the record straight with the administration concerning our narrative – which was skimmed over during the talks. The bottom line remains that without a sea change in the attitude of the Palestinians, there is unlikely to be any real progress toward a Palestinian state. In that context, Israel has made enough compromises and shed sufficient blood over the past decade not to be expected to make further unilateral concessions unless based on genuine reciprocity.

This will necessitate the US recognizing that peace is unachievable unless the Palestinians accept that Israel is here to stay and that their dream of ending Jewish sovereignty is unattainable. It will require US pressure on the Palestinian leaders to prepare their people for peace by ending the vicious incitement which continues to poison their society.

Obama surely understands that, surrounded by vicious enemies under Iranian direction, Israel must ensure that a future Palestinian state will be demilitarized and that we retain defensible borders, including control over the Jordan Valley. Having witnessed the impotence and failure of UNIFIL in Lebanon to prevent the rearmament of Hizbullah, Netanyahu must reject the recommendation of US National Security Adviser James Jones that IDF forces in the West Bank be substituted by third parties like NATO, the UN or other international bodies.

Whatever the future concerning the settlement freeze portends, there must be a clear understanding that Israel would not extend a moratorium in those areas which the Bush administration had already agreed would permanently remain in the country.

Above all, in the absence of direct negotiations which were maintained uninterruptedly over the past 20 years, there can be no progress on the Palestinian front.

While Netanyahu hopes to strengthen his relationship with Obama, he must be prepared, if necessary, to again stand firm against undue pressure. It is disconcerting that immediately following his meeting, Netanyahu effervescently expressed the belief that a peace settlement could be achieved within 12 months. This is virtually impossible with his current "peace partner" and he does not assist his cause by raising false expectations. But equally, we must appreciate that a prime minister is obliged to build bridges and demonstrate that he is doing his utmost to cooperate with the long-term objectives of the American administration, as long as they do not conflict with our basic security interests.







The greatest threat to US-Israel relations has nothing to do with a secret peace plan, settlements, or boycotts. It's a question of religion.


The greatest threat to US-Israel relations has nothing to do with a secret American peace plan, settlement construction, a new intifada, another Arab oil boycott or Palestinian civil war. It is religious extremists – Jewish not Muslim.

The latest skirmish in the "who is a Jew" wars is taking place in the Knesset Law Committee, where two right-wing parties, one secular and the other haredi, are writing a new law governing conversion that has many American Jewish leaders worried about the far-reaching impact on support for Israel.

The legislation gives the Chief Rabbinate, run by the haredim, a monopoly on conversions and overturns a High Court ruling providing Israeli citizenship for Jews converted by all branches of Judaism.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, called the measure divisive, saying it would define many in the Jewish world "as second- class Jews."

"By recognizing Orthodox conversions, and not the conversions of other streams of Judaism, it causes Diaspora Jews to feel that they are being made 'illegal.' This is stupidity," he said.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has said the law "delegitimizes most of North American Jewry."

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Movement, called the legislation "foolish, disruptive" and said, "It will cause an anger amid American Jews when Israel needs its support the most."

SEVERAL YEARS ago, when legislation before the Knesset defining "who is a Jew" was about to come to a vote, a delegation of wealthy and influential American Jewish leaders quickly flew to Jerusalem to lobby the prime minister and Knesset to block the new law. It was a very personal thing: Many of them or their children and grandchildren were intermarried, many converted by Reform and Conservative rabbis, and they feared this would brand them all non-Jews.

Their message was clear: Why should we work so hard for a cause that says we don't respect you, we don't want you and we don't even consider you a real Jew? It is even more valid today as the religious establishment's domination spreads across Israeli society.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said the bill will not come up for a final vote, but that could change in the face of pressure from its two principle backers, Israel Beiteinuand Shas, who have the power to bring down his government if they don't get their way.

The two made a deal: The hard-line Israel Beiteinu, whose constituency is largely Russian and secular and is headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, wanted a law permitting civil marriage, and Shas is the haredi Sephardi party whose main interest is in draining the state treasury to support its institutions and interests, traded that for the conversion issue.

The Interior Ministry, which is run by Shas, on paper recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions conducted outside the country, but under the proposed law the Chief Rabbinate could end that.


The new monopoly on conversions is likely to have a profound affect on Diaspora Jewry and discourage aliya.

It is part of a larger problem that threatens Israel-Diaspora relations. Religious extremists are taking greater and greater control of Israeli life. They are disproportionately getting public funding, while growing numbers are not working, not paying taxes and not serving in the army.

THIS CONVERSION bill is the latest example of an anti-democratic religious establishment run amok thanks to politicians who are willing to buy their votes at any cost.

Earlier this week police arrested Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall, for carrying a Torah near the Western Wall, a practice forbidden by a High Court ruling and laws passed for the haredim who control the area. Worshipers are segregated by gender, and women are forbidden to read from the Torah or wear tallit or tefillin near the Kotel.


Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman late last year said he would like to see Halacha, Torah law, replace the state's legal system. He dropped the idea in the face of extensive criticism. Even if he was just thinking out loud, as justice minister that sent a disturbing message to 90 percent of American Jewry who are not Orthodox – Israel is not for you.

Israel's Orthodox establishment has been pushing for laws that forbid the display ofhametz in stores and restaurants during Pessah.


In many communities bus companies are pressured to segregate passengers by gender. Where is the Israeli Rosa Parks? In the city of Emmanuel, Ashkenazi parents went to jail rather than let their daughters attend an all-girls schools with Sephardi girls after the High Court ruled against racial segregation. The parents insisted they weren't racists, just protecting their right to choose where to send their children to school.

Jewish success in America owes much to the traditions of religious tolerance and constitutional separation of church and state – two qualities sadly missing in the world's only Jewish state.

With a religious establishment that appears bent on turning Israel into an anti-democratic theocracy and at a time when much has been written about the disaffection of many younger American Jews toward Israel, this is guaranteed to accelerate that exodus.

If it is enacted, the new conversion law could create a severe – and unnecessary – crisis in relations between Israel and American Jewry that would undermine Israel's support on Capitol Hill by discouraging political activism among the huge majority of American Jews who do not identify as Orthodox. What motivation would they have to lobby or provide financial support for an Israel that tells them they're not really Jewish? 

Admirers say Netanyahu is at heart a political pragmatist. Now is the time for him to demonstrate that pragmatism by blocking the conversion bill and putting an end to the religious blackmail that threatens the Israel most American Jews care so deeply about.








Only by standing together, united as one in defense of Jerusalem, can we repel the threats which loom over the horizon.


Each week for the past nine months, a small band of noisy left-wing protesters has been gathering in the heart of Jerusalem. Though claiming to be motivated by the highest of ideals, these would-be campaigners for human rights appear to have trouble respecting even the most basic of society's ground rules.

The demonstrators have repeatedly clashed with the police, broken through security barriers, attempted to block roads and even sought to storm privately-owned property. Mustering all the indignation at their disposal, they have waged an increasingly strident battle in an attempt to draw attention to their crusade.

Thus far, more than 100 have been arrested, and 44 have been slapped with indictments for a variety of offenses.

And just what, you might be wondering, could spark so much ire? What possible "injustice" could prompt people to come out in such a regular, and raucous, fashion? Why, it must be Jews moving into Jewish-owned homes in Jerusalem, of course! The scene of the action is the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood, which the media prefers to call by its Arabic name (what a surprise) of 
Sheikh Jarrah.

LOCATED JUST north of the Old City, the area is home to the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik (Simeon the Just), a high priest who served in the Second Temple and who was among the last members of the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset Hagedola) more than two millennia ago.

For centuries, the site was popular with Jewish pilgrims, and in 1876, the tomb and a surrounding plot of 18 dunams (4.5 acres) were purchased by a committee of Jews. Dozens of families subsequently moved in, with the neighborhood eventually serving as home to a thriving community of hundreds of Jews.

But in 1936, Arab rioters assaulted the area's Jewish residents, and during the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan invaded and captured the neighborhood, bringing about a temporary end to the Jewish presence there. The Jordanians allowed Arabs to move into the deserted Jewish residences, effectively creating a cadre of squatters.

But after the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, efforts began to correct this historical injustice by restoring the area to its rightful Jewish owners. Sanctioned by the courts and with the backing of police, Jewish families have been moving into homes in the neighborhood for years, in some instances forcing out Arab residents who had no legal or moral right to be there.

And this – believe it or not – is what incenses the leftwing activists so much. Tossing aside the area's historical Jewish connection, they choose to ignore the fact that the Jewish presence is being renewed after it was snuffed out by Arab violence and hatred several decades ago.

Instead, they prefer to raise their voices on behalf of the neighborhood's unlawful Arab tenants, rather than championing the rights of its legal Jewish owners, simply because they oppose a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem.

It is a matter of such profound hypocrisy, and shortsighted ignorance, that it almost seems to defy rational comprehension. And that is precisely what lies at the root of the problem: a virulent strain of senseless hatred which overwhelms the mind's capacity for coherent thought.

ON A recent Friday, this antagonism was very much on display, as the demonstrators sought to turn up the heat still another notch. On July 9, nine protesters were arrested in a particularly violent scuffle with law enforcement after they sought to barge into one of the Jewish-owned homes.


As a senior official of the Jerusalem police toldHaaretz, "Once again, as in past weeks, the leftists are complaining after they broke the law... Dozens of protesters left the protest area set by the court, blocked the road and tried to break into the homes of the Jews. The police force ordered them repeatedly to go back to the protest area and they refused." Among those taking part in the demonstration were author David Grossman, former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair and former Meretz MK Zehava Gal- On.

There is something truly pitiful about all of this, coming as it does at a time when Israel is under increasing attack in the international arena. After all, there is so much advocacy work to be done, so much effort that needs to be made to defend the Jewish state from its growing number of detractors abroad.

But rather than joining forces to confront this challenge, this gallant band of left-wingers invests its energies in trying to undermine the right of Jews to live in any part of Jerusalem. How sad. And how pathetic.

Indeed, this coming week, the people of Israel will commemorate Tisha Be'av and the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. According to theTalmud, it was our own internal discord which brought about our downfall. The historian Josephus also describes how the bitterly estranged Jewish factions of the time battled each other, even as the Roman legions advanced and surrounded them.

Now, we find ourselves encircled yet again, with our foes busy tightening their grip. Then, as now, our only hope lay in casting aside senseless hatred and forging a unity of strength and purpose as we defend what is rightfully ours.

When Jews seek to discriminate against their fellow Jews, and aim to deny them the right to live in a certain area because they are Jews, it is a recipe for dissension and disaster. Only by standing together, united as one in defense of Jerusalem and our land, can we repel the threats which loom over the horizon.

What a shame – what a terrible and tragic shame! – that despite the passage of nearly 2,000 years, the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah and their like have yet to learn this most basic of lessons.








The US position is so well known, so well established, that it is rather absurd to think that Israel plays a major part in this game.


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan recently announced its intention to construct a nuclear reactor for the dual purpose of electricity production and the desalination of seawater. There can be no doubt that this is a worthwhile project for a country that does not have oil or coal, and is one of the most arid countries in the world. On the other hand, Jordan has recently discovered ample supplies of uranium, the raw material of fuel for reactors. It is the issues of turning this uranium into reactor fuel and dealing with the spent nuclear fuel following its irradiation in the reactor that cause much of the debate and accusations that are taking place in the media.

Evaluating the project dispassionately, it is first and foremost an economic issue. One has to weigh the investment costs, which are considerable, the fuel costs and the operating costs, including the disposal of the

spent fuel, versus the costs of using other energy sources. The energy and water prices have to be compatible to justify the investment in a nuclear reactor. Another factor is the dependence of a country on a single major source of energy, in case of power outages, planned and unforeseen. Selling part of the electricity output of a nuclear station to neighboring countries is a partial solution to this problem, and not necessarily a bad thing, promoting cooperation with them. As mentioned, one of the economic considerations is the price of the nuclear fuel. This is not the only issue. The issue of proliferation is the fly in the ointment.


MOST POWER reactors utilize low-enriched uranium (LEU), that is, uranium enriched from 0.7 percent in its

U-235 content to about 3.5%. This process is proliferation-prone, since it is quite easy to proceed from LEU to military-grade (90%) uranium. In addition, enrichment is also a very costly affair, unless carried out in large quantities and in well-established enrichment plants. To tackle this issue, and following US leadership, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) was established in 2007, before the present rush for nuclear power in the Middle East. On September 16, 2007, 16 countries officially became GNEP partners by signing the GNEP Statement of Principles.

One of the stated purposes of the partnership is to "establish international supply frameworks to enhance reliable, cost effective fuel services and supplies to the world market, providing options for generating nuclear energy and fostering development while reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation by creating a viable alternative to acquisition of sensitive fuel cycle technologies." Jordan was one of the 16 countries to sign these principles.

This would negate the apprehension that national enrichment plants would be used to produce military-grade uranium. At the moment, there are already several enrichment plants around the globe that could supply nuclear fuel to new power reactors. On the other hand, many countries (e.g. Australia) are major suppliers of natural uranium without carrying out any industrial-scale indigenous enrichment activities.

Another proliferation issue is the disposal of the spent fuel. There are two ways to deal with it: the long-term storage and the reprocessing of the fuel in which the plutonium, a product of the reactor irradiation, and of potentially military use, is extracted from it. Another one of the principles of GNEP states the ways to deal with this issue.

With Jordan things appear to be not so simple. 
King Abdullah II, apparently foregoing the commitment to GNEP, wants to develop the complete nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment, in Jordan. The US, however, is strongly against this, as has been its stance, including in GNEP, for a long time. The king has apparently decided that the easy way of arguing with the US is through blaming Israel for standing in the way of the Jordanian nuclear project. Bashing Israel has become both a Middle East favorite pastime these days, and apparently a safe one at that.

It is a pity that Zvi Bar'el (Haaretz, July 7), ignoring or being unaware of the history of the matter, chose to decide that "...when [Jordan] is negotiating with the United States, it is in fact also negotiating with Israel." The US position is so well known, so well established, that it is rather absurd to think that Israel plays a major part in this game. In this case, the work is done by others.

The writer worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for more than 40 years.









Many Israelis are simply not going to let this one slide. In this protest, solidarity cuts across national identities

It is becoming increasingly hard to talk about Jerusalem without clichés. Israeli politicians have been peddling sentimental platitudes for so long that even the most accurate and incisive criticisms sound hackneyed.

No, Jerusalem is not a unified city: Jewish Jerusalemites never venture into the east side and Palestinian Jerusalemites rarely set foot in the west side. The school systems are separate and far from equal; public transportation is entirely segregated; one would be hard pressed to find commercial ties or cultural exchanges across the east-west divide. Indeed, the story of Jerusalem is a tale of two cities.

But Israeli politicians have long ago found out that the truth cannot do as much for their careers as intoxicating myths. And so celestial Jerusalem, unified and eternal Jerusalem, Jerusalem of gold, superseded earthly Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. So powerful is this myth that it can justify practically anything: decades of political stagnation, systematic discrimination and above all, the creeping dispossession

of Palestinians.

Underlying this tragedy is a single, tiny, word: ours. It is this possessive pronoun which animates Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's belligerent rhetoric, which guides Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to demolish 22 houses in Silwan in favor of the fictional "King's Garden," and which led the courts to authorize the eviction of four Palestinian families from their homes in 
Sheikh Jarrah.

At its core, the dispute in Sheikh Jarrah boils down to an infuriating asymmetry in the right to say "ours." At the heart of this story are 28 Palestinian families who fled their houses in what is now Israel during the 1948 war. Arriving in Jordanian east Jerusalem after the war, these families were offered an opportunity to rebuild their lives. The Jordanian government and UNRWA gave them plots of land in an empty field in Sheikh Jarrah in exchange for their refugee cards.

After Israel's occupation of east Jerusalem in 1967, these resettled refugees discovered that a Jewish organization claims ownership of their houses based on deeds dating from the 19th century. But when the Palestinian families presented the same kind of deeds to their pre-'48 properties, they found out that the right to say "ours" is ethnically biased. As a result, four of these families were thrown into the street, and 24 more await a similar fate.

BUT THE human aspect tells only half the story. For behind the human tragedy lurks a larger political program, the plan for the "Judaization" of east Jerusalem. In a remarkable cooperation between state officials and secretive settlers' organizations, Jerusalem is becoming a demographic battlefield.

Official agencies, such as the Jerusalem Municipality, weave a net of nightmarish bureaucracy around the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, refusing to issue building permits, demolishing illegal construction, revoking permanent residencies and eschewing responsibility for education, health and transportation. This growing obsession with changing the Jewish-Arab proportions is clearly evidenced in the proposed local outline plan (Jerusalem 2000), which actually sets demographic benchmarks for policy makers.

All the while, settlers' organizations such as Elad, Ateret Cohanim and Nahalat Shimon work unremittingly to implant small Jewish enclaves within Palestinian neighborhoods so as to undermine any possibility for a future division of sovereignty over this manifestly divided city. More than 2,000 Jewish settlers already inhabit heavily guarded residential outposts in a ring around the Old City. They are accompanied by private security guards who become the new sheriffs in town, and use constant harassment to make the daily lives of Palestinian residents unbearable. The message is clear: Jerusalem is ours; kindly pack your bags and leave.

Discrimination and dispossession systematically pervade all aspects of life in east Jerusalem. What makes Sheikh Jarrah unique is the fact that soon after the forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes, it became clear that many Israelis are simply not going to let this one slide.

What began in small solidarity vigils in August 2009 quickly evolved into weekly demonstrations in which hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, renounce the occupation of east Jerusalem.


Much about this nascent protest movement is spontaneous and disorganized, but the basic principles it lays down may become the foundations for a rejuvenation of the Israeli left. In Sheikh Jarrah, reconciliation comes before peace, solidarity cuts across national identities and loyalties are formed on the basis of shared principles and mutual interests.

A peculiar mixture of reasons, real and imagined, place Jerusalem at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For years, it has been considered an insurmountable stumbling block on the way to a solution. But this is precisely where the truly subversive aspect of the Sheikh Jarrah movement comes to light. For it is at this heart of the conflict that the daily friction with the reality of segregation, domination and discrimination unmasks the deception of political rhetoric. And this rift between what one is led to believe and what one sees with one's own eyes is a tremendous source of motivation. Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict, and this heart is slowly opening up.

The writer is a PhD candidate in the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought. He lives in Jerusalem.







What would Herzl have said about the dangling sword of deportation? His answer would surprise you.

Let me tell you about Angelo and Jeremiah. Angelo and Jeremiah are both just over five years old. Angelo and Jeremiah were both born in Israel. Angelo and Jeremiah both speak Hebrew, and can barely understand their parents' languages, those spoken in the Philippines and in a small West African country. They are both being raised here by their mothers, who entered Israel legally, and go to an Israeli preschool. But within a month, Angelo is likely to be deported, and Jeremiah might get residency.

After a long public struggle, a committee established by the government to decide the fate of non-Israeli children living among us has made its recommendation. On Sunday these recommendations are likely to be approved by the government. Among the recommended criteria it is stated that only children who are registered for first grade or higher will be eligible for residency. But Angelo is small for his age, and is supposed to stay another year in kindergarten, whereas Jeremiah is already registered for first grade. According to the arbitrary sword of bureaucracy, Angelo will be deported.

But Jeremiah won't be in a mood for celebrations. His mother and father are both here, but are divorced. According to the recommended criteria, in such cases the father will be deported. The heavy sword of bureaucracy has decided that Jeremiah must part with his father as well as his friend Angelo. They will be deported.

Let me tell you about Maria, who was also born and raised here to non-Israeli parents. She is now 22 years old. She lives here with her mother and her one-year-old child. But the committee recommends that only children between the ages of five and 18 will be eligible for residency. So Maria is too old, and her son is too young. They will be deported.

Out of 1,200 children of non-Israelis living here only a few hundred will meet the age criteria. But the committee's criteria are designed to get as many of them as possible deported. The committee recommended that the parents will be allowed just 21 days to put together the many documents required for a residency application.

This is usually not enough even to extend a passport, which is one of the committee's requirements. Those who won't make it in time, those who lost their original entry documents from many years ago, those who don't have embassies here, will all be excluded according to the recommended criteria. These children will all be deported.

The committee also recommends that if any document is missing or not quite up to the required standards, the applicants will not be allowed to resubmit, correct or complement the application. The slightest bureaucratic glitch will unleash the wrath of the bureaucratic blade upon them. These children will be deported.

This last recommendation exposes the intent behind the committee's policy. It wants to appear humanitarian, it wants to appear as if it's acknowledging the right of children to live where they were born and raised, as do many countries across the world (including the United States). But it only wants it for appearance's sake. Unreasonable age brackets, arbitrary bureaucratic restrictions and a process designed explicitly to fail applicants, all combine to make sure that the number of successful applicants will be reduced to a couple of hundred at the most. This is not even bureaucracy, this is simply hypocrisy.

BUT CHILDREN are not the only ones under the sword of deportation. Two legally employed migrant workers, Charlene Ramos and Judser Maclenda, from the Philippines got married on June 6. On June 14 the Immigration Police were at their door, asking which of them prefers to be deported. The thing is that migrant workers who get married here can't keep their jobs. If they fall in love, they will be deported.

And then there's Ms. Amon. She has legally served as a caregiver here for 17 years. The rule is that since patients can seriously deteriorate if their caregivers are replaced, caregivers are often allowed to stay as long as their patients live. I know of no country that would refuse granting residency to a person who worked there legally for 17 years, and whose life is completely centered there. No country, that is, except for Israel. Ms. Amon too will be deported.

Many people are concerned that giving residency to 1,200 children of migrant workers and a few faithful long-term caregivers will threaten the character of Israel as a Jewish state. But I don't see which Jewish value is served by deporting children whose parents were allowed to stay here, and who know no culture or society other than this one. I don't see the Jewish value protected by throwing away a person who was good enough to serve us for 17 years.I don't see why Angelo, Maria, Mr. Maclenda and Ms. Amon should be deported. All I see is an unfounded fear of foreigners and small children.


Maybe we should ask ourselves what Herzlwould have said. Well, he stated his case clearly. In his famous Altneuland, he reaches an unequivocal conclusion: Those who work with us for at least two years and accept our laws must be allowed equal membership in our society, regardless of religion. Today, we ask us for far less, but the government gives in to an irrational fear of small children.

The government should rethink immigration policy. The current committee recommendations concerning children of migrant workers must be relaxed in terms of age limits and bureaucratic obstacles. A committee for special cases must be established.

Let's not give in to this ludicrous fear of small children. Come demonstrate with us this Saturday evening in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park, meet the children yourselves, and demand from the government to let them stay with us, where they belong.

The writer is a lecturer at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and an activist at NGOs Kav La'oved and Israeli Children.













Tuesday's Knesset decision to revoke three key parliamentary privileges from Balad MK Hanin Zuabi is cause for concern. Though the move was adopted in the plenum, there were few participants present, and the extremists - led by MK Michael Ben Ari of National Union - managed to push it through unimpeded.


It seems elected officials no longer understand the meaning of freedom of expression. If they believe Zuabi broke the law, the Knesset's legal adviser is supposed to handle the matter. If this is not the case, even if her opinions are considered offensive, her colleagues must resolutely support her right to have them heard.


It is difficult to ignore that Zuabi, like other Arab MKs, is enthusiastically participating in acts of extreme provocation. It could even be assumed that she profits to some degree from being marked as an enemy of the people, but this is destructive to the Arab population in particular, and to Israeli society on the whole. It certainly does not justify revoking substantive privileges to which Zuabi's position entitles her.


But in an atmosphere of overheated rhetoric directed at Arab MKs, the decision is not surprising. Rightist MKs are continuously planning new boycotts and excommunications: The interior minister considered stripping Zuabi of her citizenship because of her participation in the Gaza aid flotilla, and Ben Ari and Carmel Shama (Likud ) proposed prosecuting and stripping the parliamentary immunity of Arab lawmakers who had visited Libya.


This week the government approved the Bishara bill, a problematic measure that makes it possible to revoke the pension rights of an MK defined as a "traitor," even before he or she has been convicted . In addition, the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ), declared he will not support bills brought by MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ) on the grounds that Tibi assisted the Libyan aid flotilla. Akunis went further, threatening Tibi: "We'll deal separately with your presence in the Knesset."


It's a shame Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who scolded Akunis and sharply criticized the decision against Zuabi, ultimately abstained from the vote, thereby turning his protest into empty words. All of these developments symbolize the moral weakness of the 18th Knesset, the damage it is inflicting on freedom of speech and the danger it poses to democracy in Israel.









First the good news: The last 20 years have seen a real revolution in higher education in Israel. The number of academic institutions has increased from 21 to 63. The number of Ph.D. candidates has increased from 3,910 to 10,300. The total number of students has gone from 76,000 to 260,000. In a period during which five Israelis won Nobel Prizes, the percentage of Israelis born in a single year studying at universities rose from 23 percent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2010.


Swift, sweeping and unplanned democratization have in a short time made Israel one of the world's leaders in accessibility to higher education and academic studies.


Now the bad news. In 1990 Israel was first in the world in "quality" scientific papers per capita. Today it is fifth and falling. In 1990, more than half the senior academic staff were at their peak age in terms of scientific productiveness; less than 45 years old. Today more than half of senior faculty are 55 and over.


In 1990 the lecturer-student ratio was 16:1, today it is 24:1.


In 20 years, Israeli academia has grown much older and shriveled up. Departments that were some of the best in the world have become wastelands, left without a new generation.


The social sciences are in the doldrums, the humanities are inadequate, the exact sciences are in crisis. Higher education, which was a source of strength for Israel, has become its weak point.


Where did we go wrong? We went wrong when we slashed our education budget at a time most of the developed world was increasing theirs. We went wrong again when we gave in to populist pressures and reduced tuition. We went wrong a third time when we let academia manage itself poorly and mortgage a good deal of its resources to pension payments. We erred a fourth time when we let welcome democratization come at the expense of declining excellence and we lost our commitment to academic elitism. We made our fifth mistake when we forgot that everything here - security, the economy and quality of life - derives from our ability to be a power that produces cutting-edge science and excellent-quality higher education.


The outcome of these five mistakes is very serious. Universities that were on the verge of bankruptcy in recent years have had to cut deeply. At Tel Aviv University, for example, faculty positions dropped from around 1,400 to less than 1,000. What made the situation worse was the short-sighted way the slashes were made: Senior faculty who retired were not replaced by younger people, leaving the faculty older and atrophied.


The result was an unprecedented brain drain. Young, vibrant and excellent academia within a decade became old, exhausted and mediocre.


Over the past year, the head of the committee for planning and funding of the Council for Higher Education prepared a plan to rescue higher education. According to Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg's plan, 30 centers of excellence will be established at universities to attract the best and the brightest scientists back to Israel, and places will be found for some 2,000 new, young and promising faculty members.


If the government, the students and the academic institutions all do their parts, we will be able to begin tackling the issues destroying Israeli academia. At a cost of around half a billion shekels in the coming year and NIS 2 billion over the next five years, change can come about.


Is Trajtenberg's plan enough? It may not be. A much more ambitious plan should have been created to give academia a higher jumping-off point. But the Trajtenberg plan is the minimum. If it is not adopted, the crisis in higher education will become irreparable.


The cabinet is to meet today to discuss the budget. Resources are meager and needs are great: security, health, welfare and infrastructure. But the most important proposal of all before the cabinet is the one that calls for the renewal of Israel's academic infrastructure. Heavy is the responsibility that rests with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.


If they don't do the right thing today, Israel will no longer have higher education that soars. Like academia, the state, too, will sink into a mire of fruitless mediocrity.








This video should have been banned for broadcast to minors. This video should have been shown in every home in Israel, then sent to Washington and Ramallah. Banned for viewing by children so as not to corrupt them, and distributed around the country and the world so that everyone will know who leads the government of Israel. Channel 10 presented: The real (and deceitful ) face of Binyamin Netanyahu. Broadcast on Friday night on "This Week with Miki Rosenthal," it was filmed secretly in 2001, during a visit by Citizen Netanyahu to the home of a bereaved family in the settlement of Ofra, and astoundingly, it has not created a stir.


The scene was both pathetic and outrageous. The last of Netanyahu's devoted followers, who believe he is the man who will bring peace, would have immediately changed their minds. Presidents Barack Obama and Shimon Peres, who continue to maintain that Netanyahu will bring peace, would be talking differently had they seen this secretly filmed video clip. Even the objection of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to conducting direct negotiations with the man from the video would be understandable. What is there to discuss with a huckster whose sole purpose is "to give 2 percent in order to prevent 100 percent," as his father told him, quoting his grandfather.


Israel has had many rightist leaders since Menachem Begin promised "many Elon Morehs," but there has never been one like Netanyahu, who wants to do it by deceit, to mock America, trick the Palestinians and lead us all astray. The man in the video betrays himself in his own words as a con artist, and now he is again prime minister of Israel. Don't try to claim that he has changed since then. Such a crooked way of thinking does not change over the years.


Forget the Bar-Ilan University speech, forget the virtual achievements in his last visit to the United States; this is the real Netanyahu. No more claims that the Palestinians are to blame for the failure of the Oslo Accords. Netanyahu exposed the naked truth to his hosts at Ofra: he destroyed the Oslo accords with his own hands and deeds, and he's even proud of it. After years in which we were told that the Palestinians are to blame, the truth has emerged from the horse's mouth.


And how did he do it? He recalled how he conditioned his signing of the 1997 Hebron agreement on American consent that there be no withdrawals from "specified military locations," and insisted he choose those same locations, such as the whole of the Jordan Valley, for example. "Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo Accords," he boasts. The real Netanyahu also brags about his knowledge of America: "I know what America is. America is something that can be moved easily." For the White House's information.


He calls then-U.S. President Bill Clinton "extremely pro-Palestinian," and says the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. With such retrograde beliefs, no one can convincingly argue that he wants an agreement.


These remarks are profoundly depressing. They bear out all of our fears and suspicions: that the government of Israel is led by a man who doesn't believe the Palestinians and doesn't believe in the chance of an agreement with them, who thinks that Washington is in his pocket and that he can pull the wool over its eyes. There's no point in talking about Netanyahu's impossible rightist coalition as an obstacle to progress. From now on, just say that Netanyahu doesn't want it.


What if Kadima joins the government and Yisrael Beiteinu leaves? Nothing will change. What if Danny Danon goes leftist and Tzipi Hotovely joins Peace Now? Netanyahu doesn't want it.


If he had said so honestly, as he did when he thought the camera in Ofra was turned off, then he could have been forgiven for his extreme positions. It's his right to think that way and get elected for it. The people will have gotten what they chose. But when Netanyahu hides his real positions under camouflage netting and entangles them in webs of deceit, he not only reduces the chances of reaching an agreement, he also damages Israel's political culture. Many people may want a right-wing, nationalist prime minister, but a prime minister who is a con artist? Is is too much to expect of Netanyahu that he speak to us precisely as he spoke in Ofra? Why do a handful of settlers deserve to know the truth, and not us? Tell us the truth, Netanyahu. Talk to us as if the cameras were off, just as you thought then, in 2001 in Ofra.









Blondes have more fun. If browsing through men's magazines, of the sort that are read with one hand, have still not convinced the last of the brunettes, then the incidents - what may be called the pogroms - in the Knesset over the participation of MK Hanin Zuabi in the Gaza-bound flotilla have proven this.


There is no doubt: Anastassia Michaeli, the ravishing blonde, is having a blast. She shouts, she disparages, she threatens to beat people and she even makes placards, and all this in the name of war against another woman, and for the amusement of men - especially those who have an openly racist worldview, like MK Michael Ben Ari (a point of view that won a definitive and despicable victory over democracy when it was decided to strip MK Zuabi of some of her rights ). And there is the worldview of MK Yariv Levin, whose racist attitude derived from statements like the one he made Tuesday, when he told Zuabi: "You have no place in the Knesset of Israel - you are unworthy of carrying an Israeli ID."


The fact that a fairly anonymous Knesset member who is an Israeli Jew is directing such comments at an Israeli-Palestinian MK makes them appear patronizing, shaded with the sort of haughtiness that is not far from being racist. The answer to the question of whether Zuabi has a place in the Knesset is for the voters alone to decide, and her Israeli identity card is hers by law. So where does Levin get the audacity? I wish it would have been possible to ignore his comment as simple foolishness. But it represents something serious: the sense that there are quite a few MKs for whom the citizenship of all Israeli Arabs and their right to equality are issues that are still open for debate, the sense that citizenship and equal rights should be seen as a reward for good behavior that will be granted to them by fervent Zionists - especially those who, like Michaeli, do not quite know Hebrew but are certain that they understand Arabic.


No one would dare tell Michaeli that she has no right to an Israeli identity card or that she has no place in the Knesset, even though, unlike Zuabi, she was not born or raised here.


How sad it is to remember that when she started in the 18th Knesset, Michaeli was perceived as a perfect post-feminist model: an engineer by training who used to be a successful television presenter, a mother of eight, and pretty too - in short, the archetypal blonde nightmare that haunts every woman who dreams of being Miss Universe.


Zuabi, by contrast, has opted to remain single (something that was also used to slander her ), wishing to dedicate her life to political struggle in a clearly unpopular party and fending off the possibility of becoming a token Arab, or even just another nice woman who has a husband to protect her and knows when to shut her mouth and stay out of the affairs of men.


While Zuabi can serve as a model for many young Palestinian women struggling for equality in Palestinian society, Michaeli has proven to be a problematic type, mostly because of her struggle against Zuabi. Not only is Michaeli not a post-feminist, she is actually a pre-feminist: a woman who, in her attitude toward other women, adopts male chauvinist behavioral traits of the most primitive sort.


It makes sense, then, that she is the one who jumped down Zuabi's throat the last time there was a discussion of the flotilla in the Knesset, that she is the one who made a threatening gesture while shouting at Zuabi and waved a placard showing an image of an Iranian passport with the Balad MK's photograph on it. The public fails to realize that this is a terrible failure of the democracy that is the sole basis of the Knesset's existence, preferring to think that it's just mud wrestling for women, a cat fight for the pleasure of the men who, naturally, prefer blondes.









It was known, even before the Eiland report, that the government bears supreme responsibility for the problematic events that took place when the Turkish flotilla heading toward Gaza was stopped. As far as proper governance goes, only the government is responsible. Certainly there was nothing new in the military plan's failures (not to be attributed in any way to the soldiers, who followed a flawed plan ), in which the defense minister was involved to the last detail.


The public feels that something, despite the intensive training, is wrong in the Israel Defense Forces, and it is worried. Its army, despite its quantitative, technological, intelligence and human edge, repeatedly has failed or not accomplished its missions.


This is all the more troubling since it has happened in the face of a handful of poorly equipped terrorists with limited capabilities. The public is also concerned about the Mossad, which in recent years has seen several failures that indicate structural deficiencies.


The low motivation of top officials, especially in the IDF, is keeping those who know how serious the basic problems are awake at night.


But this is not the only critical issue worrying many Israelis these days, when the government and media's main attention is focused on a small Libyan boat, and most of the decision makers and the executive divisions of the military and the state are investing their energy in the question of how and when to stop it. The government is escaping responsibility in another strategic matter that made headlines this week and which some say is fateful to Israel's continued survival as a state: nationalist groups that endanger the security forces.


The police, which end up bearing the whole brunt of this challenge, including setting policy, cannot and will not carry out the mission, especially since they have been neglected and betrayed after the October 2000 events. Hence, an inquiry committee should have been set up to look into the police and other state authorities' ongoing surrender to Arab, Bedouin and Druze violence. It should also have probed the inaction over large-scale land robbery in the Galilee and Negev, which significantly reduces the state's sovereignty over its territory, and for failing to enforce tax, planning and construction laws and the polygamy prohibition.


But the state's evasion of responsibility even after many years of Druze, Arabs and Bedouin violently defying Israel's sovereignty in the Golan, Galilee and Negev is not evoking - unlike the flotilla mistakes - a public demand for examining whence these continued failures stem and how they must be treated.


It is only natural therefore that inspectors who try to prevent these people from taking over land, or policemen who come to arrest a man suspected of security offenses, are rescued with the intervention of "elders," rather than by the state's enforcement authorities. The attackers, from all the communities, are not brought to trial, either. Not even those who abducted a policewoman and burned Jewish houses in Peki'in in 2007.


The government is renouncing its sovereignty over large areas, much larger than the densely-populated area along the coast from Haifa to Ashkelon. It is also giving up taxes in those places, as well as not enforcing planning and construction laws. In the few cases in which the authorities dare to complain against building offenders or land robbers, the state fails to enforce court orders.


Indeed, what are all these compared to a Libyan or Turkish boat trying to reach Gaza?





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




A panel of expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration delivered a confusing verdict on Wednesday after two days of hearings on the safety of the diabetes drug Avandia. A majority of the 33-member panel expressed concern that Avandia raises the risk of heart attacks compared with other diabetes drugs. But a majority also voted to leave the drug on the market anyway, with various degrees of restrictions or warnings.


It will now be up to patients and their doctors to decide whether the risk is worth taking in particular cases.


The clearest lesson to emerge from the hearings and other recent revelations is that GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Avandia, can't be trusted to report adverse clinical results fairly. The company must be watched like a hawk as additional trials that it sponsors go forward.


Avandia is used to control blood sugar levels in diabetics, and it apparently does that well. Over the past three years, at least two major studies have suggested that it also increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart failure, heart attacks or strokes. The evidence, however, is mixed, and one recent study even suggested that Avandia might lower some cardiovascular risks. The F.D.A.'s own staff is sharply split over whether Avandia should be withdrawn; the outside experts were called upon to render independent advice before the agency makes a final decision.


The most troubling aspect of the Avandia saga is evidence — from internal company documents and investigations by a Senate committee and an F.D.A. investigator — that Glaxo sought to hide emerging indications of Avandia's heart risks.


Glaxo failed to report the results of a 1999 study that showed Avandia might be riskier for the heart than a competing drug ("these data should not see the light of day," cautioned an internal e-mail message). And Glaxo made Avandia look good in a major clinical trial by failing to include in its tally of adverse events at least a dozen patients who suffered serious heart problems. The company found reasons to drop them from the study or misreport their ailments.


In the crucial votes on Wednesday, the experts were asked to choose among five options for regulatory actions that the F.D.A. might take.


Twelve voted to remove Avandia from the market. Ten voted to leave it on the market while further beefing up warning labels and adding restrictions on use, such as allowing only certain physicians to prescribe it or requiring special education for doctors and patients. Another 10 would settle for the current or somewhat stronger warnings. (One expert abstained.)


Some analysts see a victory for Glaxo, in that 20 of the panelists voted to retain the drug. But it is hardly reassuring that 22 of the panelists voted either for severe restrictions or complete banishment.


 The process doesn't end here. The panel also voted to continue a large Glaxo-sponsored clinical trial to compare the cardiovascular risks of Avandia with those of Actos, its major rival, and with standard treatments for diabetes. Even if that trial is allowed to go forward, the results won't be in for years. Right now, doctors and patients will have to think very hard before using a drug that a majority of these experts has deemed risky.







Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last week that he will open 1.8 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska to oil and gas leasing. He pledged to protect habitat for migratory birds and caribou near Teshekpuk Lake, an ecologically sensitive area inside the 1.8 million acre tract — welcome news. Even better news would be a pledge by the secretary to go slow on any future development in the reserve.


The southern section has immense coal deposits. The potential environmental destruction involved in extracting that coal is enormous.


The 23 million acre reserve was set aside by President Warren Harding in 1923 as a source of oil for the Navy in times of crisis, and it has long attracted oil companies and presidents. It also is a rich oasis for caribou, grizzlies, wolves and birds — a region as important for wildlife as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Congress authorized leasing in 1981, but it was not until the 1990s that industry and Alaska's politicians began to apply serious pressure. In 1998, Bruce Babbitt, President Bill Clinton's interior secretary, authorized exploratory drilling on four million acres. When the new lease sale goes through in August, more than 20 percent of the reserve will have been opened for development.


Like Mr. Babbitt, Mr. Salazar set aide "special areas" inside the lease area (Mr. Babbitt, too, protected Teshekpuk Lake). But what worries us as much as the immediate loss of habitat is the potential for almost unrestricted development in the future. The new tracts available for leasing are the ones closest to pipelines and roads. Yet the infrastructure will inevitably spread, making it that much easier to justify future leases.


We take Mr. Salazar at his word when he says these new leases mean "environmentally responsible development," and we applaud his decision to protect the lake and some of the most critical lands around it. But right now conservation plans and development plans are wildly out of balance in the National Petroleum Reserve.


The spigot to its oil and gas cannot be opened without doing serious harm to a largely unspoiled Arctic ecosystem. We need to find surer protections for what is, after all, the reserve's most valuable resource: its wildness.







Google handles nearly two-thirds of Internet search queries worldwide. Analysts reckon that most Web sites rely on the search engine for half of their traffic. When Google engineers tweak its supersecret algorithm — as they do hundreds of times a year — they can break the business of a Web site that is pushed down the rankings.


When Google was a pure search engine, it was easy to appear agnostic about search results, with no reason to play favorites with one Web site or another. But as Google has branched out into online services from maps and videos to comparison shopping, it has acquired pecuniary incentives to favor its own over rivals.


Google argues that its behavior is kept in check by competitors like Yahoo or Bing. But Google has become the default search engine for many Internet users. Competitors are a click away, but a case is building for some sort of oversight of the gatekeeper of the Internet.


In the past few months, Google has come under investigation by antitrust regulators in Europe. Rivals have accused Google of placing the Web sites of affiliates like Google Maps or YouTube at the top of Internet searches and relegating competitors to obscurity down the list. In the United States, Google said it expects antitrust regulators to scrutinize its $700 million purchase of the flight information software firm ITA, with which it plans to enter the online travel search market occupied by Expedia, Orbitz, Bing and others.


The accusations in Europe may or may not have merit. Google says it only tweaks its algorithm to improve its searches. Some Web sites that have accused Google of unfair placing are merely collections of links with next to no original content of their own, precisely the kind of sites that Google's search algorithm screens out to better answer queries. Antitrust regulators in the United States could well let Google buy ITA because it does not now provide online travel services.


Still, the potential impact of Google's algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google's tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google's other businesses.


Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having Google explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.


Google provides an incredibly valuable service, and the government must be careful not to stifle its ability to innovate. Forcing it to publish the algorithm or the method it uses to evaluate it would allow every Web site to game the rules in order to climb up the rankings — destroying its value as a search engine. Requiring each algorithm tweak to be approved by regulators could drastically slow down its improvements. Forbidding Google to favor its own services — such as when it offers a Google Map to queries about addresses — might reduce the value of its searches.


With these caveats in mind, if Google is to continue to be the main map to the information highway, it concerns us all that it leads us fairly to where we want to go.







Nine Cuban political prisoners tasted freedom this week after they were allowed to fly to exile in Spain. They pledged to keep fighting for democracy in Cuba. They must not fight alone.


The president of Cuba, Raúl Castro, has said he would free 43 more prisoners. But Cuba is believed to be holding dozens or possibly hundreds of others whose only crime is that they dared to challenge their government's repression. When Mr. Castro took the reins from Fidel, his ailing brother, in 2006, there was hope that things might change. Too little has. We are not sure why Raúl Castro decided to free these prisoners now, but he may be trying to improve his government's standing abroad.


Spain, which has been pressing the European Union to ease its policy of linking economic aid to Cuba with human rights progress, helped broker the release. The Roman Catholic Church, which has begun speaking out on issues of political conscience, also played a role.


Mr. Castro moved only after one courageous prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, starved himself to death in February to protest prison conditions. Another prisoner, Guillermo Farinas, then began his own hunger strike. Mr. Farinas, who was in poor condition, began eating again after the prisoner release was announced.


The Ladies in White, wives and mothers of the imprisoned dissidents, also have impressed the world — and shamed their government — with their peaceful Sunday protests and their courage in the face of attacks by government-backed mobs.


We have long called for an end to the Cuban embargo that has given the Castro governments all too convenient an excuse for their failures — and ensured that the United States has little influence there. The people of Cuba have been trapped in a cold war nightmare. The United States needs to join with Europe and come up with a strategy to finally end that nightmare.








Against all odds, this year's publishing sensation is a trio of thrillers by a dead Swede relating tangentially to human trafficking and sexual abuse.


"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" series tops the best-seller lists. More than 150 years ago, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" helped lay the groundwork for the end of slavery. Let's hope that these novels help build pressure on trafficking as a modern echo of slavery.


Human trafficking tends to get ignored because it is an indelicate, sordid topic, with troubled victims who don't make great poster children for family values. Indeed, many of the victims are rebellious teenage girls — often runaways — who have been in trouble with their parents and the law, and at times they think they love their pimps.


Because trafficking gets ignored, it rarely is a top priority for law enforcement officials — so it seems to be growing. Various reports and studies, none of them particularly reliable, suggest that between 100,000 and 600,000 children may be involved in prostitution in the United States, with the numbers increasing.


Just last month, police freed a 12-year-old girl who they said had been imprisoned in a Knights Inn hotel in

Laurel, Md. The police charged a 42-year-old man, Derwin Smith, with human trafficking and false imprisonment in connection with the case.


The Anne Arundel County Police Department said that Mr. Smith met the girl in a seedy area, had sex with her and then transported her back and forth from Washington, D.C., to Atlantic City, N.J., while prostituting her.


"The juvenile advised that all of the money made was collected and kept by the suspect," the police department said in a statement. "At one point, the victim conveyed to the suspect that she wanted to return home, but he held her against her will."


Just two days later, the same police force freed three other young women from a Garden Inn about a block away. They were 16, 19 and 23, and police officials accused a 23-year-old man, Gabriel Dreke-Hernandez, of pimping them.


Police said that Mr. Dreke-Hernandez had kidnapped the 19-year-old from a party and had taken her to a hotel

room. "Once at the hotel," the police statement said, Mr. Dreke-Hernandez allegedly "grabbed her around the throat and began to choke her. Hernandez then pushed her head against the wall several times before placing a knife to her throat and demanding that she follow his commands.


"The female further advised that all of the money made was collected and kept by the suspect. At one point, she indicated that she would not prostitute any longer and the suspect subsequently pulled her into the bathroom and threatened her again with a knife."


Police officials did not release details about the 16-year-old and 23-year-old, though they said customers for the teenager had been sought on the Internet.


There's a misperception in America that "sex trafficking" is mostly about foreigners smuggled into the U.S. That exists. But I've concluded that the biggest problem and worst abuses involve not foreign women but home-grown runaway kids.


In a typical case, a rebellious 13-year-old girl runs away from a home where her mother's boyfriend is hitting on her. She is angry and doesn't trust the police. She goes to the bus station in hopes of getting out of town — and the only person on the lookout for girls like her is a pimp, who buys her a meal, offers her a place to stay and tells her he loves her.


The next thing she knows, she's having sex with four men a night and all the money is going to her "boyfriend." If she voices reservations, he puts a gun in her mouth and threatens to blow her head off.


Her customers, often recruited on the Internet, may have no inkling that her actions are not completely voluntary. Some mix of fear, love, hopelessness and shattered self-esteem keep her from trying to run away.


No strategy has worked particularly well against human trafficking, and commercial sex may well exist 1,000 years from now. But a starting point is for law enforcement to go after pimps rather than the girls. That's the only way to break the business model of forced prostitution.


Sweden offers us not only the summer's top beach paperbacks, but also a useful strategy for dealing with trafficking. The Swedish model, adopted in 1999, is to prosecute the men who purchase sex, while treating the women who sell it as victims who merit social services.


Prosecution of johns has reduced demand for prostitution in Sweden, which in turn reduces market prices. That reduces the incentives for trafficking into Sweden, and the number of prostitutes seems to have declined there. A growing number of countries are concluding that the Swedish model works better than any other, and it would be wise for American states to experiment with it as well. It's not a panacea, but cracking down on demand seems a useful way to chip away at 21st-century slavery.








Today's additions to the category of No Good Can Ever Come of This:


— "Mel Gibson is on the phone."


— "The Bachelorette is close to selecting the man of her dreams."


— "Bristol and Levi are back together."


Let me go out on a limb and say that Sarah Palin was probably not happy to learn about her oldest daughter's re-engagement to her baby-daddy via an eight-page cover spread in Us Weekly.


"It is intimidating and scary just to think about what her reaction is going to be," Bristol confided. "Hopefully, she will jump on board."


Not right this very moment. Continuing the family tradition of communicating via press release, Sarah and Todd icily noted that at 19, Bristol is an adult. And, in this case, an adult who "believes in redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice in our daily lives."


The story of how Bristol went from suing her ex-squeeze for child support to accepting a new engagement ring is, like everything about this couple, stupendously unremarkable. They met to discuss custody arrangements. They took baby Tripp out for a walk. Bristol made fun of Levi's hair. "It was nice," he recalled.


Levi went home. And texted words of love.


"The next day we started hanging out and, literally, we have hung out every day since," Bristol concluded.


Not exactly "Wuthering Heights" or "Jane Eyre." ("Reader, I hung out with him.") Not even "Twilight," although, like Levi, the perpetually teenaged Edward Cullen never managed to get through 12th grade.


Johnston has proved to be the only person in the world who can make me feel sympathy for Sarah Palin. He told Us Weekly that he broached the subject of marrying Bristol at the same family meeting where he apologized to Sarah for telling the national news media that she was money-hungry, insensitive, a bad housekeeper, an indifferent mother and a bad shot. Astonishingly, the Palins didn't immediately welcome him back into the clan. "They want me to get a career and an education and prove I can take care of Bristol before we can even think about getting back together," he recounted.


Finally, an issue on which the entire nation can unite. We can't agree on how to fix the economy, but we are as one when it comes to fixing Levi. Get thee to a G.E.D. tutor.


Bristol, who followed up her Us Weekly appearance with a People interview, agreed that before her mother will come around Levi would "have to get his education and a job and be willing to support Tripp the right way." The wrong way was presumably Levi's previous attempts to earn a living by posing for Playgirl.


This cannot be a welcome change of subject for the former Republican vice presidential nominee. She's been on a political roll — raising money, making some prescient picks in the Republican primaries. She's got a hot "mama grizzlies" video out, in which she touts a new wave of conservative women, rising up to protest ... the bad thing. Palin is really, really vague about exactly what the threat is. (The closest she gets is "the fundamental transformation of America.") But there's really no need to be specific because, as she says in the video, "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong."


The Bristol-Levi debacle, which might be a minor sideshow for another politician, looms larger for a Mama Grizzly. Inquiring minds might want to know why she didn't sniff trouble, rise up on her hind legs and eviscerate that hockey-playing thug the first time he followed her daughter through the kitchen door.


Since Sarah Palin's own fame seems grounded on little but a look and an attitude, you can't blame the kids for thinking the same kind of thing would work for them. Bristol tried to become a celebrity unwed mother, the anti-teen-pregnancy spokeswoman for a sexy clothing line. Levi tried to make a name for himself as the celebrity unwed mother's ex-boyfriend. It might have worked out, except that as a spokeswoman, Bristol turned out to have nothing to say. And Levi, who kept showing up on TV promising to tell "my side of the story" was close to sub-verbal.


But the conviction that celebrity is transferable, like chicken pox, is still going strong in Wasilla. Levi has broken relations with his sister, Mercede, over her insistence on telling "my side of the story" on The Official Blog of Mercede Johnston. The home page includes a request for donations and a list of recent posts, including, "Time to set the record straight," and "No I will NOT sit down and shut up!" Her grievances seem to center on Bristol, who she claims got pregnant on purpose and then tried to turn her brother against his family.


Tune in tomorrow when ... What next? My money's on an all-Palin-Johnston edition of "Dancing With the Stars."







IT seems that every week a new book or major newspaper article appears showing that irrational decision-making helped cause the housing bubble or the rise in health care costs.


Such insights draw on behavioral economics, an increasingly popular field that incorporates elements from psychology to explain why people make seemingly irrational decisions, at least according to traditional economic theory and its emphasis on rational choice. Behavioral economics helps to explain why, for example, people under-save for retirement, why they eat too much and exercise too little and why they buy energy-inefficient light bulbs and appliances. And, by understanding the causes of these problems, behavioral economics has spawned a number of creative interventions to deal with them.


But the field has its limits. As policymakers use it to devise programs, it's becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn't meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics.


Take, for example, our nation's obesity epidemic. The fashionable response, based on the belief that better information can lead to better behavior, is to influence consumers through things like calorie labeling — for instance, there's a mandate in the health care reform act requiring restaurant chains to post the number of calories in their dishes.


Calorie labeling is a good thing; dieters should know more about the foods they are eating. But studies of New York City's attempt at calorie posting have found that it has had little impact on dieters' choices.


Obesity isn't a result of a lack of information; instead, economists argue that rising levels of obesity can be traced to falling food prices, especially for unhealthy processed foods.


To combat the epidemic effectively, then, we need to change the relative price of healthful and unhealthful food — for example, we need to stop subsidizing corn, thereby raising the price of high fructose corn syrup used in sodas, and we also need to consider taxes on unhealthful foods. But because we lack the political will to change the price of junk food, we focus on consumer behavior.


Or take conflicts of interest in medicine. Despite volumes of research showing that pharmaceutical industry gifts distort decisions by doctors, the medical establishment has not mustered the will to bar such thinly disguised bribes, and the health care reform act fails to outlaw them. Instead, much like food labeling, the act includes "sunshine" provisionsthat will simply make information about these gifts available to the public. We have shifted the burden from industry, which has the power to change the way it does business, to the relatively uninformed and powerless consumer.


The same pattern can be seen in health care reform itself. The act promises to achieve the admirable goal of insuring most Americans, yet it fails to address the more fundamental problem of health care costs. Instead of requiring individuals to pay out of pocket if they choose to receive expensive and unproven interventions, the act tries to lower costs by promoting incentive programs that reward healthy behaviors.


Prevention is certainly a worthy goal; it is much better to prevent a case of lung cancer than to treat it. But efforts to improve public health, even if enhanced by insights from behavioral economics, are unlikely to have a major impact on health care costs. Studies show that preventive medicine, even when it works, rarely saves money.


Our over-reliance on behavioral economics is not limited to health care. A "gallons-per-mile" bill recently passed by the New York State Senate is intended to help drivers think more clearly about the fuel consumption of the vehicles they purchase; research has shown thatgallons-per-mile is a more effective means of getting drivers to appreciate the realities of fuel consumption than the traditional miles-per-gallon.


But more and better information fails to get at the core of the problem: people drive large, energy-inefficient cars because gas is still relatively cheap. An increase in the gas tax that made the price of gas reflect its true costs would be a far more effective — though much more politically painful — way to reduce fuel consumption.


Similarly, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain recently promoted behavioral economics as a remedy for his country's over-use of electricity, citing what he claimed were remarkable results from a study that reduced household electricity use by informing consumers of how their use compared to that of their neighbors.


Under closer scrutiny, however, tests of the program found that better information reduced energy use by a mere 1 percent to 2.5 percent — modest relative to the hopes being pinned on it.


Compare that with the likely results of a solution rooted in traditional economics: a carbon tax would instantly

bring the price of energy into line with its true cost and would unleash the creative power of the marketplace to generate cleaner energy sources.


Behavioral economics should complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions. If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioral economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks.


But that's the most it can do. For all of its insights, behavioral economics alone is not a viable alternative to the kinds of far-reaching policies we need to tackle our nation's challenges.


George Loewenstein is a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Peter Ubel is a professor of business and public policy at Duke and the author of "Free Market Madness: Why Human Nature Is at Odds With Economics."








Anthony Graber admits he was breaking the law when he zipped down I-95 near Baltimore last March on his motorcycle, ignoring the speed limit and popping wheelies as he raced by slower traffic. But that's not what has him facing felony charges that could land him in prison for up to 16 years.


Graber was wearing a helmet camera that recorded his adventure — as well as the shouted orders from a plainclothes Maryland state trooper who cut him off on an exit ramp and drew his gun before announcing that he was a law officer. A week later, Graber posted the videotaped encounter onYouTube, and the law came down on him, hard.


Police searched his home and confiscated his computers. State attorney Joseph Cassilly charged him with four felony counts, chiefly with violating Maryland's wiretap law. If he's convicted, the YouTube video could land Graber in prison, strip him of his right to vote, take away his security clearance and disqualify him for some jobs for years.


This is an abuse of prosecutorial authority and a misinterpretation of state law. But it's typical of the attitude of too many prosecutors and police toward people who record their encounters with law enforcement and are usually completely within their rights to do so.


Websites that monitor these cases have posted stories from around the country of police ordering people to stop videotaping or photographing them, sometimes violently. Most of the time, the police apparently either don't understand the law or are deliberately misstating it to bully people into putting away their cameras or cellphones.


Only in Massachusetts and Illinois is it explicitly illegal to make an audio recording of people without their consent, so officials there can prosecute those who tape police encounters. Ten other states, including Maryland, have "two-party consent" laws that require both (or all) people being audiotaped to approve, but the statutes apply to "private" conversations, such as a phone call. Generally, courts and prosecutors conclude that an officer arresting someone in a public place has no expectation of privacy.


In many jurisdictions, the police themselves record these encounters with dashboard cams in their cruisers. Most of the time, these cruiser-cam videos show law enforcement officers doing their jobs with great competence and restraint.


Occasionally, however, citizen videotapes show an entirely different set of events than the police report. In March, for example, police in College Park, Md., arrested several students after celebrations following a basketball game turned rowdy. Police charged two students with assaulting mounted police and their horses — until avideotape surfaced that showed police officers beating the students. Charges against the students were dropped, and the officers faced investigation.

Some police departments have acknowledged reality and instructed officers to assume they'll be recorded and act accordingly. Other departments learn the hard way. Beaverton, Ore., was ordered last month to pay a $19,000 settlement to a man arrested after he videotaped his friend's arrest.


As police officers point out, videotapes can be taken out of context, or show an incomplete story. And, in some instances, police might have a legitimate need for privacy, such as when they meet with informants. But there are ways to deal with this without shutting down citizens' rights to protect themselves from abuse.









Much is said about First Amendment rights regarding the videotaping of police officers. While officers often have legitimate complaints about misuse of video tapes, we are still sensitive to the right granted under the First Amendment. That's because we don't always enjoy that right.


If we make a statement contrary to what a commander thinks, we may face subtle but onerous retaliation in our workplace. It may be a demotion, a negative evaluation, days off without pay or a transfer to less than desirable duty.


In today's environment, police officers have to assume that every action they take is captured on tape, somewhere. They must be comfortable that everything they say or do in the course of their duties may be shown on the 5 o'clock news.


Our problem is not so much with the videotaping as it is with the inability of those with no understanding of police work to clearly and objectively interpret what they see. Videotapes frequently do not show what occurred before or after the camera was on, and the viewer has no idea what may have triggered the incident or what transpired afterwards.


Policing is a job full of extraordinary risks. Officers have no choice but to make decisions based upon split-second determinations coupled with their training and experience. Out of approximately 400,000 men and women who regularly patrol the streets and highways (we are not counting an additional 400,000 who have purely administrative assignments) an average of 160 will be killed, 60,000 will be physically assaulted and 20,000 will receive serious injuries in the line of duty every year.


No one can speak knowledgeably about a piece of video without viewing it through the prism of experience and training. It is not a question of whether a citizen has the right to videotape an incident, but a matter of ensuring that any officer involved has the right to due process and fair, objective treatment independent of subjective and sometimes ill-informed opinion based on a videotape showing but a vignette of a significant event.


Dennis J. Slocumb is international vice president and Rich Roberts is public information officer for theInternational Union of Police AssociationsAFL-CIO.








Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan did little to undo the impression that nominating hearings are little more than a charade in which cautious non-answers take the place of substantive exchanges.


In this, she was following the practice of high court nominees since Judge Robert Bork. But her non-answers were all the more frustrating, given her past writings that the hearings were vacuous and lacked substance. She accused Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer of stonewalling, but then she did the same, leaving senators to search for clues on her judicial philosophy.


Her hearings showed an impressive legal mind, a ready humor and a collegial temperament suitable to the court. But they shed no light on how she feels about the court's contemptuous dismissal of Congress' "fact-finding" role, its overturning of precedent in allowing corporate political advertising, and the expansion of executive authority at the expense of congressional power.


She offered no meaningful observations on U.S. vs. Morrison, in which the court overturned the Violence Against Women Act, blaming Congress' "method of reasoning," notwithstanding a "mountain of data assembled by Congress" demonstrating "the effects of violence against women on interstate commerce" noted in Justice David Souter's dissent.


She offered no substantive comment on Citizens United, in which the court reversed a century-old precedent by allowing corporations to engage in political advertising. Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that the court showed disrespect by "pulling out the rug beneath Congress," which had structured the campaign-finance reform bill, McCain-Feingold, on a 100,000-page factual record based on standards cited in a recent Supreme Court decision.


Likewise, she avoided taking sides in the court's expansion of executive authority, declining comment on the historic clash posed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the president's warrantless wiretapping authorized under the Terrorist Surveillance Program.


Despite repeated questioning, Kagan refused to comment on the court's refusal to resolve a contentious dispute involving the Sovereign Immunity Act and the Obama administration's foreign policy. Survivors of 9/11 victims sued Saudi Arabia, Saudi princes and a Saudi-controlled charity with substantial evidence that they had financed the 9/11 terrorists. The Obama administration persuaded the court not to hear the case, arguing that the Saudi Arabian conduct occurred outside the U.S.


On one controversial issue — the question of whether to televise open Supreme Court proceedings — Kagan was candid, stating that she welcomed TV in the court and, if confirmed, would seek to convince her colleagues on the bench. "It's always a good thing," she said, "when people understand more about government, rather than less. And certainly, the Supreme Court is an important institution and one that the American citizenry has every right to know about and understand."


Her testimony recognized that the court is a public institution that should be available to all Americans, not just the select few who can travel to Washington. A recent C-SPAN poll found that 63% of Americans support televising the Supreme Court's oral arguments.


Given the fact that the court decides all of the cutting-edge questions — a woman's right to choose, death penalty cases for juveniles, affirmative action, freedom of speech and religion — public demand for greater transparency should come as no surprise. When 85% of those polled think the Citizens United case expanding corporate spending in politics was a bad decision, one can conclude they want to know why the court decided as it did.


On balance, Kagan did little to move the nomination hearings from the stylized "farce" (her own word) they have become into a discussion of substantive issues that reveal something of the nominee's judicial philosophy and predilections.


It may be understandable that she said little after White House coaching and the continuing success of stonewalling nominees. But it is regrettable. Some indication of her judicial philosophy may be gleaned by her self-classification as a "progressive" and her acknowledged admiration for Justice Thurgood Marshall. That suggests she would uphold congressional fact-finding resulting in remedial legislation and protect individual rights in the congressional-executive battles.


The best protection of those values may come from the public's understanding through television of the court's tremendous power in deciding the nation's critical questions. In addition to her intellect, academic and professional qualifications, Kagan did just enough to win my vote by her answers that television would be good for the country and the court, and by identifying Justice Marshall as her role model.


Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.








Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at USA TODAY's YouTube channel at


Today: Guns in the USA.


Bob: Despite what you might think, Cal, I don't hate guns. I might hate the havoc they unleash on our society, but I'm not your typical no-gun-is-a-good-gun liberal.


Cal: Well I, too, hate the havoc that criminal behavior unleashes on our society. I will say, though, that I'm pleased that our Constitution still means something, as the U.S. Supreme Court once again confirmed in upholding our Second Amendment.


Bob: You mean the conservative majority's outrageous decision to strike down Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban? The conservative right may have cheered the decision, but this is the same crowd that champions states' rights and judicial restraint. Hypocrites, all of them. If this decision wasn't so dangerous, the ruling would be laughable.


Cal: I was delighted to see that the one who successfully brought this case was an African-American Democrat from Chicago's South Side. How perfect. The gentleman merely wants to defend himself against gangs who shoot up his neighborhood and have no intention of obeying any gun law, no matter how tough.


Bob: The same old NRA song. The Second Amendment was intended for the arming of a "well regulated militia" against tyranny from the government. It was written after the U.S. went to war against the king of England's oppression of ...


Cal: It's over, Bob. It's the law of the land, now sealed with two Supreme Court cases. We have precedent. First the District of Columbia's Heller case, and now this. By the way, the Founders understood — far better than today's gun-control lobby — that only tyrants and criminals have anything to fear from law-abiding individuals who own guns and properly use them in defense of personal and national liberties.


Bob: The Chicago City Council, in a 45-0 vote after the Supreme Court decision, was able to put some roadblocks in the way of this insanity. Under the new law, gun owners cannot take their guns outside even on their own front porch. They must take a four-hour gun class and one hour of training at a gun range. The new law requires gun locks where children live and denies them to people involved in violent crime, domestic violence or alcohol abuse. The Supreme Court may decide that it's legal to own guns, but it can't control the hurdles required to get guns.


Cal: Reasonable safeguards are one thing, but if cities simply try to circumvent the law of the land, and short-circuit the Second Amendment with onerous restrictions, you bet the court will eventually hear about it.


Bob: Your "onerous" is probably my "sensible."


Cal: I would remind you that all of these attempts to get around the court ruling will not deter law-breakers. They will simply make it more difficult for law-abiding gun owners — and those who wish to legally own guns — to use them in self-defense. Chicago keeps passing stronger gun laws that deter the lawful, not the outlaws. One weekend last month, 54 people were shot in Chicago. Ten died. Not one of those shooters was deterred by gun laws, but the victims might have defended themselves if they had had a gun and were able to fire back.


Bob: The last official count of gun deaths of children comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1999, it reported 3,385 children died from gunshots. All this talk — and it's just talk — about preventing crime if we all armed ourselves wouldn't come close to saving the lives of 3,385 kids, some of whom were shot accidently in their own homes by their parents' guns. This is insanity.


Cal: I guess you'd better put a straight jacket on me. Consider this: Last month, a man in Forestville, Md., shot a guy who forced his way into his home. The home invader had a gun and started shooting at the resident. Fortunately, the resident was able to reach his gun and kill the intruder. If a criminal suspects someone is armed, he is less likely to attack. Most of these characters prey on people they believe are unarmed.


Bob: The strongest advocate of the Chicago gun laws are the city's police department, and for good reason. They fear — justifiably so — that when they enter houses on a domestic violence call, for example, that legal guns will be used against police. Ditto paramedics who go to homes in a medical emergency. It's reasonable to assume that more police and paramedics will die as a result of the Supreme Court decision than criminals will die at the hands of homeowners.


Cal: I am not a fundamentalist about the Second Amendment. There are some gun laws I endorse. You have

already listed some of them. But I don't want a lock, for example, to be so difficult to remove that someone can't unlock it fast enough to use his gun when threatened by a criminal who has no gun lock.


Bob: The ol' lock excuse. How many stories have you read about where if not for the safety on a gun, the crime victim would have been able to take care of his attacker? On the other hand, how many stories do we read about the child being killed from an unsecured gun? I rest my case.


Cal: Hardly! I'll give you this, though: Something must be done about gun shows. Only seven states require background checks for sales of guns at these events. I'm also all for mandatory training and renewed licensing every few years. But I am not for limiting our Second Amendment rights. I like the idea of a criminal not knowing whether I'm armed.


Bob: You're quite right about the gun shows. I was talking recently to the head of the D.C. police department's weapons training program. He told me that the majority of guns used in the commission of a crime in D.C. come from gun show sales in nearby Virginia.


Cal: Please answer one serious question: How will stricter gun laws keep people who are intent on using a gun

to commit a crime from getting one?


Bob: I'm not saying gun laws will stem the flow, but simply tackling gun shows, for instance, will make a dent. How big of a dent I don't know, but it's a start. And since at least some criminals get their handguns from NRA-protected gun shows, perhaps we should close gun shows or force them to do background checks.


Cal: Let's start with background checks. And yes, I also support mandatory training. Certainly I'm pro-gun, but I also see wisdom in allowing states and localities to limit the types of guns that one can possess. No bazookas or automatic weapons, for example. No guns for felons, of course. But I maintain that the last line of defense against criminals and tyranny is a well-armed, law-abiding individual — and that's what the Founders intended when they wrote the Second Amendment.








There's no doubt that chaos reigned in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Yet some dark acts hidden by the veil of that chaos have only recently come to light. The latest are alleged in an indictment filed Tuesday by the Department of Justice. It claims that four New Orleans police officers used the aura of chaos to shoot unarmed civilians on the city's Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, while flood waters were still high, and then to cover up the shootings. Four people were wounded and two others killed in the shootings.


The account cited by the indictment is chilling. After a police report went out that police were under fire, the accused officers drove to a bridge over the city's Industrial Canal in a rental truck. There, the indictment says, Officer Robert Faulcon, Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, St. Robert Gisevius and Officer Anthony Villavaso opened fire without cause on members of the Bartholomew family and a companion, who were unarmed and walking across the bridge to a nearby supermarket.


Four members of the family were shot -- Susan Bartholomew, 38, lost an arm and her husband, Leonard Bartholomew III, was shot in the head. Their companion, James Brissette, 17, was shot seven times and killed.


Some of the officers then went to the end of the bridge, where they confronted Ronald and Lance Madison, who were going to check on the dentist office of their brother, Dr. Romell Madison. The indictment claims Officer Faulcon shot Ronald Madison with a shotgun, and that St. Bowen then kicked and stomped him as he died.


Two other officers named in the indictment, homicide detectives Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and Sgt. Gerard Duge, who were assigned to investigate the shootings, were also charged Tuesday with helping the four officers arrange a cover-up in a meeting at a precinct house. Sgt. Kaufman is also accused of creating fictional witnesses and putting a pistol at the scene of the shooting.


The case was not a surprise. The Orleans Parish district attorney attempted in 2006 to bring a case to court against the four men indicted Tuesday and three others on charges of murder and attempted murder. The case was dismissed in 2008 by a judge who ruled the case was handled improperly.


The Justice Department revived the case in 2009 amid other evidence that the New Orleans police department was infected by rogue officers and needed a systemic overhaul.


A similar case, for example, led to the indictment last month of five officers for the alleged murder of a 31-year-old man, Henry Glover, who was shot in the Algiers neighborhood just after the hurricane. His body was found behind a police station in a burned car.


The two cases that have been brought to light so far are among at least eight incidents that are now being investigated by federal agents, and more may yet shake out.


Pursuit of the Danziger Bridge shootings and other investigations by the Justice Department is important for several reasons. One is that the New Orleans' police department has been notorious for years for racial bias, corruption and tainted justice. It clearly needs, and the city's residents deserve, a police department which operates with integrity and which can be trusted by its citizens to ethically discharge its law enforcement duties.


The city's new mayor, Mitch Landrieu, agrees. He invited the Justice Department to perform a comprehensive review of the police department after he assumed office in May. The process may well result in a legally binding consent decree by the city for systemic reform. Given the police department's reputation, that's the best thing that could happen. Without a Justice Department that is, again, focused on justice at the street level, however, such a change would be unlikely to occur.







The figures we are about to give you will be "out of date" before we can print them and before you can read them.


They are figures concerning our U.S. national debt— that "all of us" as citizens and taxpayers owe.


But why would we print national debt figures that admittedly will be out of date?


The reason is that our national debt is growing by the second! We just can't keep up with it.


Our U.S. government is collecting high taxes from us — but it is spending much, much more than our total tax collections.


The federal spending this year will be about $3.6 trillion!


Written out fully with all of the necessary zeros, that's $3,600,000,000,000!


That spending will exceed our high tax collections about $1.5 trillion. (Remember, the figures are changing constantly, going up.)


While "all of us" owe the national debt, how much would that work out for "you"?


Each of us owes about $42,500 of the national debt — with the figure growing, second by second.


What would happen to us personally if we had to pay our share — now? You know! It would be impossible for each of us to pay "our share." Most of us would "go broke."


Well, since we can't pay what each of us owes as a share of our national debt, why doesn't the federal government "go broke"?


It's because the government can pass the debt on to our children, our grandchildren and later generations.


Is that something we want to "do to our children," etc.?


We certainly don't want higher taxes. We'd like to have tax cuts. But our national government is spending too much.


The people we elect to be presidents, a majority of our 100 senators and a majority of our 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are doing the taxing and spending and adding to our debt.


Is that what we want?






There is no real doubt that a submarine from Communist North Korea torpedoed an unoffending South Korean naval vessel on March 26, murdering 46 innocent sailors.


But as usual, the indecisive U.N. is giving a pass to the guilty party.


The U.N. has come up with a "proposed statement" expressing condemnation over the unprovoked attack, but, as The Associated Press noted, the statement "doesn't identify who is responsible." It only points out that Communist North Korea has denied any responsibility.


As if to confirm its obvious guilt, the totalitarian country says it will respond with military force if the U.N. Security Council so much as questions whether North Korea was involved in the sinking of the ship.


The wishy-washy U.N. statement offers all the usual "deep concern" for which U.N. statements and resolutions are notorious, and it says "appropriate and peaceful measures" should be taken against "whoever" is responsible.


But we already know who is responsible -- Communist North Korea -- and that repressive nation's actions have been neither "appropriate" nor "peaceful."


Disgustingly, the United States' own U.N. representative introduced the meaningless U.N. statement of "concern" at a Security Council meeting, and the Obama administration has refused to label the attack an act of terrorism -- which it plainly was.


So just to recap:


* Communist North Korea sank a peaceful South Korean ship, killing scores of innocent men.


* It threatens further violence if it is even criticized.


* The U.N. refuses to condemn or sanction the perpetrator.


Now the question is, what is to stop the offending country from attacking another South Korean ship, or perhaps one from some other nation? A U.N. resolution certainly isn't going to assure safety.







It was a little fishy last year when the Libyan terrorist convicted of killing 270 people -- mostly Americans -- in an airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, was released from a Scottish prison on "humanitarian grounds." The terrorist, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, supposedly had terminal cancer, and he received a disgusting hero's welcome back in Libya after his release.


But as it turns out, al-Megrahi's condition is not so "terminal" after all. He has blocked the release of his medical records, and a doctor now says he could live 10 years more. Meanwhile, he recently celebrated his 58th birthday in a Libyan mansion and is reportedly working on a TV documentary designed to prove his "innocence."


Even more disturbing is a report in the London Sunday Telegraph that the Libyan government, under dictator Moammar Gadhafi, paid for the medical assessment that led to al-Megrahi's being turned loose. That has led some in the U.S. Senate to demand that Scotland investigate the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi's release.


There are "suspicions as to whether there was a rotten deal between the United Kingdom and the Libya government," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in a letter to Britain's ambassador to the United States. "So we're calling on the State Department to put a full-court press on the United Kingdom to return this terrorist to prison."


The State Department is equally disgusted by the questionable "diagnosis."


"Every day that (al-Megrahi) lives as a free man, we think is an affront to the families of and victims of Pan Am 103," department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

We agree.

Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





Lots of environmental activists are convinced that man's use of fossil fuels is heating the planet. But we certainly hope the activists are not relying on the U.N. to "fix" that. As it turns out, a big anti-global-warming program run by the U.N. is actually paying companies to increase production of the "greenhouse gases" blamed for global warming.


Here is how the scam works:


Through a U.N. treaty, less developed nations such as India and Communist China get paid to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, those countries get lots of money to destroy rather than release a greenhouse gas called HFC-23.


At the same time, India and China are being paid to produce another chemical -- HCFC-22 -- because it is "environmentally friendly." The trouble is, the "bad" HFC-23 is a byproduct of the "good" HCFC-22.


So the countries get paid once for manufacturing the "good" chemical, but then they get paid a second time for destroying its "bad" byproduct. With the U.N.'s blessing, it has become lucrative for the countries to keep making (then destroying) the very greenhouse gases that trouble environmentalists. It's just a big scam!


The $2.7 billion program is "working against its own goal of producing reductions of greenhouse gas emissions ...," one angry environmentalist told The Associated Press.


Does this bureaucratic bungling not suggest that the U.N. is incapable of managing its own finances, much less "climate change"? Wherever you stand on global warming, don't you think it would be wise for the United States to chart its own course rather than enter vague treaties with unaccountable international organizations?








In our view, there are really two ways to measure press freedom. Most often the various watchdogs for press freedom, from Reporters Without Borders in Paris to the Vienna-based International Press Institute, gauge the health of the media by measuring the sanctions upon it.


How many journalists in a given country are in jail? How many newspapers have been shut down or constrained in some way by the government? How many journalists have been physically assaulted or even killed?


Press organizations produce scorecards accordingly. Routinely, Turkey winds up better than, say, Russia. But we always fare far worse on such listings than most of our colleagues in Europe. We appreciate the support this conveys to our own continuing struggle and we are grateful to our colleagues abroad.


But there is another way to gauge the health of a nation's media. Along with analysis of the sanctions forced upon freedom of expression, we think it is also worth considering just what is being freely expressed. For, most of these conventional scorecards are of a single dimension. The criteria by which they are created allow limited scope to examine journalists' commitment, courage, perspective and reach. We know of no exercise that attempts to measure the quality of journalism in a comparable fashion that would result in a country-by-country ranking of our virtue. But we do believe that were such an exercise undertaken, Turkey would score quite high. Our own discussion of this around the table yesterday concluded that in such a survey, the United Kingdom would probably rank first and we second. After all, Istanbul has more daily newspapers than any other capital in Europe. Some are good, some less so. But no one can deny the sheer breadth and depth of the perspectives reflected in the daily work of Turkey's reporters and editors. And no one doubts the courage of Turkish journalists.


The closest things that exist for such measurement are the various prizes and awards that journalists bestow upon themselves. America's Pulitzer is the gold standard, the coveted imprimatur of excellence in the craft. In Turkey, the most comparable prize in our mind is the annual Press Freedom Award announced this week.


Two of "our own" were recipients this year. Sedat Ergin, a columnist for the daily Hürriyet, our company's flagship, and Ismail Saymaz, of our sister daily Radikal, were both singled out for excellence and bravery. The Daily News, as readers know, is unusual in that we rely both on the work of our own 50-plus reporters, photographers and editors as well as the work of all journalists within the Doğan Media Group. So our readers are familiar with the work of both Ergin and Saymaz.


We congratulate both of them as we salute our thousands of colleagues in Turkey who strive richly each day in the service of free and democratic expression.








Turkey will reportedly join in for the first-ever humanitarian aid drill to be held by NATO in Armenia. Turkish officials will be in the region of Lori Mar, Armenia at the headquarters from Sept. 11 to 17. Besides, if needed and requested, the Turkish border will be opened to vehicles during the drill. Diplomatic sources said this would not be an official opening of the border and that permission would be given for humanitarian reasons only.


The military exercise has been planned by the Euro-Atlantic Disasters Response Coordination Center, or EADRCC, under the NATO umbrella, where all decisions are based on the unanimity of votes. EADRCC organizes humanitarian assistance practices in member countries of the European Atlantic Partnership Council, or EAPC, aiming at cooperation between neighboring non-member countries.


The Council has prepared a scenario of a devastating earthquake in Armenia for the drill, titled "Armenia-2010." According to the scenario, the infrastructure of the country will have been ruined completely in the aftermath of a large earthquake, based on the one that took place on Dec. 7, 1988, and 20,000 people will have died. Hazardous industrial waste will have spilled, in the scenario. The drill includes rescue, evacuation and the fight with hazardous waste. The goal is to see how NATO and council members coordinate with each other. (The Metsamour nuclear plant is located in a region close to the Turkey-Armenia border. It is one of a few that come to mind when one mentions hazardous spills.)


So far, 19 countries, including Turkey, are to participate in the practice. A three-member diplomatic and disaster response team from each country will join the drill. Although Azerbaijan is a council member, like Armenia, they are not participating. Georgia, on the other hand, is pitching in.


According to the initial scheme, supply and evacuation operation in the Lori region in the north is envisaged via Georgia.

Preparations easing the atmosphere


However, Georgian ports cannot meet assistance delivery needs from the sea. So, Turkey comes into the picture, as several parts of the drill have been suggested to take place in the country. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, keeping a possibility in mind, continues to work to maintain conditions of transition points, highways in the region, in order not cause any unnecessary political flaws.


As part of the efforts, as the Office of the Governor in Kars was asked about the condition of highways, public excitement was created, and it was perceived as a "border opening," because U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was paying a