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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month august 23, edition 000606, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- CRASS APPEASEMENT!
- COST OF MAOIST TERROR
- LEGAL REFORMS ARE A PRIORITY - JOGINDER SINGH
- RESURRECTING NALANDA PRIYADARSHI DUTTA
- SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- IT PAYS TO TAKE CARE OF EMPLOYEES - SHIVAJI SARKAR
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY
- NO LONGER THE VICTIM - AYAZ MEMON
- FAILURE TO LAUNCH
- OVER 70,000 WOMEN DIE IN INDIA EVERY YEAR DURING CHILDBIRTH'
- HOOK OR BY COOK - VIVEK ATRAY
- WHEN TAKING ON THE JUDICIARY, SOCIAL ACTIVISTS SHOULD BE ON FIRM GROUND
- SHE CHALLENGES
- START A HUNGAMA
- WE'RE NOT READY TO PLAY THE GAME - PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- BILL OF PASSAGE
- A THOUSAND CITIES
- HANGING TOGETHER
- CASTING THE CASTE NET
- NEITHER WIN, LOSS, NOR DRAW - ASHUTOSH MISRA
- DOES SARKO FORGET HIS FATHER
- REAR VIEW LET THE SHEIKH TRY - INDER MALHOTRA
- STRANGER DANGER THE FIFTH METRO LETTER FROM BANGALORE - SARITHA RAI
- SURPRISE, SURPRISE SURPRISE - THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- WHEREVER YOU ARE, WHATEVER YOU DO - SUNIL ABRAHAM
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- LANDING IN TROUBLE
- PATENTLY WRONG
- SO WHO WANTS TO INVEST IN EQUITY DIRECTLY - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- TIME TO PAUSE ON POLICY TIGHTENING - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- WITHDRAWING' FROM A WRECKED COUNTRY
- MORE SPACE FOR SMALL INVESTORS
- RUSSIA: FORESTS UP IN FLAMES - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- BARACK OBAMA AND THE MISSION - PETER BAKER
- SWEDEN ADDS TO DRAMA OVER WIKILEAKS - JOHN F. BURNS & ERIC SCHMITT
THE ASIAN AGE
- TURN HOMEWARD TO BRIDGE EXPORT GAP
- WHAT AILS INDIA
- THE FAMOUS TWELVE ON A SECRET MISSION
- MOON IS SHRINKING, BUT NOT ITS ROMANCE
- SENTIMENTALITY WON'T WORK WITH PAKISTAN
- VOTING A PAY HIKE FOR YOURSELF ISN'T ON
- LISTEN CAREFULLY
- PERVERTED PARLANCE ON JAMMU & KASHMIR ISSUES
- WHAT BLACKBERRY SHOWS IS OUR TECHNOLOGICAL BACKWARDNESS
THE KASHMIR TIMES
- COMMUNAL HARMONY MUST TRIUMPH
- CHANGES IN EXAM PATTERN
- DEFENDING LIVELIHOODS, PROTECTING ECOLOGY - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- GREATER KASHMIR
- RAINY DAYS
- CRIMES OF HONOUR?
- PAKISTAN FLOODS
- IN AND AROUND J&K - BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
- WAY OUT OF KASHMIR IMBROGLIO - BY K K KHOSA
- DON'T KILL THE QUACKS - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
- OFF DEVELOPMENT
- EXPRESSING CONCERN
- ART OF DECEPTION - VILZAAR KASHMIRI
- INDIA NEEDS 'AZADI' FROM KASHMIR! - SHAH TAVSEEF MAIRAJ
- COMMUNAL DESIGNS
- REDUCED TO A NUMBER
- RAIN OF MISERY
- THE UNREST IN KASHMIR
- ENIGMA OF THE END
- THE MONEY MENACE - V. ESHWAR ANAND
- A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY
SECULAR STATE CAN'T PAY SALARIES TO IMAMS
The Congress appears to be increasingly willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the stunningly absurd demands of its allies and those who help keep the UPA in power. Nothing else explains why the Government should have offered to favourably consider paying salaries to imams as demanded by the Trinamool Congress of Ms Mamata Banerjee, who also happens to be Minister for Railways, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav. It is patently clear that Ms Banerjee and Mr Yadav, as if working in tandem, have fished out a 17-year-old judgement pertaining to salaries for imams of mosques covered by the Wakf Act to pander to the Muslim voters of Bihar and West Bengal where Assembly elections are due. And, it is extremely unfortunate that vote-bank politics should have reached a point where politicians are brazen enough to demand in Parliament that imams should be paid salaries from the public exchequer. Surely India's taxpayers do not part with a portion of their hard-earned money to keep imams or, for that matter, padres and pandits in comfort. This is not the reason why taxes are paid and collected, nor is it the job of a secular state to look after the welfare of those who lead faith-based congregations in prayer and worship. The Supreme Court judgement pertained to salaries to be paid from waqf funds collected from waqf properties or through endowments; any interpretation of that order as the Supreme Court charging the Government with the responsibility of paying salaries to imams from public funds is outright dangerous and should be contested and repudiated lest an effete regime given to toeing the line of least resistance when it comes to minority appeasement capitulates before those traders of Muslim votes. This way lies disaster.
The issue last came up during the years when PV Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. In an attempt to mollify the Muslim clergy after the demolition of the disputed place of worship at Ayodhya the Congress, at the behest of Mr Arjun Singh (who else?), had then offered to pay salaries to imams. The purpose was to co-opt the All-India Imams Organisation and through it regain the votes of the Muslim community. On that occasion most imams had denounced the All-India Imams Organisation, as much for hobnobbing with a discredited Congress (which was rightly held responsible for the Babri Masjid's demolition) as for demeaning their role. It was then
COST OF MAOIST TERROR
RAILWAYS ALONE SUFFERS LOSSES WORTH RS 1,000 CR
For all those who believe that Koteswara Rao (Kishenji to his admirers) and his gang of Maoists are innocent victims of an oppressive Indian state, as is claimed by 'intellectuals' who can see nothing wrong with red terror, should ponder over the data provided by Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee in Parliament last week. The Indian Railways alone has suffered losses worth Rs 1,000 crore due to Maoist depredations more than 400 trains were cancelled and services disrupted by the gun-toting, explosives-planting self-appointed champions of the marginalised sections of our society over the last four years. This is apart from the loss of hundreds of human lives on account of trains being derailed and civilians being shot and bombed by the Maoists and their associates who pose as civil rights organisations, for instance the rather fancifully named People's Committee Against Police Atrocities in West Bengal. The derailment of Gyaneswari Express, caused by PCPA members at the behest of the Maoists tampering with the tracks, and the subsequent collision when a goods train slammed into it, leaving at least 148 people dead, is among the many grotesque crimes committed by the red terrorists with impunity this year alone. The attack on Gyaneswari Express stands out for the terrible loss of human lives, but there have been other attacks on trains too. For instance, the Maoists derailed 14 oil tankers of a goods train in Bihar, resulting in their bursting into flames. Of the 60 major Maoist attacks reported last year, the railways alone suffered half of them; West Bengal and Jharkhand were the worst hit; and, as is to be expected, the victims were civilians
It is ironical that the Maoists should target those very facilities which are meant to fetch development and prosperity to the remote areas of this vast country. Trains may be symbols of the Indian state, but they also ferry masses whom the Maoists claim to represent. Similarly, by blowing up schools, hostels for tribal children, primary health care centres, panchayat buildings and communication towers, built at great expense deep in the hinterland, the Maoists are proving nothing more than the fact they have large quantities of explosives and the expertise to use it with great effect. It is ironical that those who claim to promote tribal rights and voice their demand for development should be guilty of destroying public property meant to carry development programmes to those who need it the most. Of course, the Maoists will insist that these are fair targets in their alleged war for justice which is really a war to weaken and topple the Indians state. That may be over-vaulting ambition, but for the red terrorists it is an article of faith. This alone justifies the harshest possible action against them and their annihilation, root, stem and branch, without feeling any sense of remorse. Maoists are enemies of the nation and must be dealt as such. They are undeserving of pity and forgiveness.
LEGAL REFORMS ARE A PRIORITY
Minor amendments to existing laws can radically transform our justice delivery system. The Government must act without delay,
The Government spends crores of rupees in setting up committees and commissions to discover what is wrong with its own functioning and how it can become more people-friendly. However, there are a few things that it can do and there are some things all of us can and should do as citizens. Obeying the law, for example, is a duty and not a favour done. The truth remains that the Government knows very well what is wrong. It sets up its commissions and committees only as a cover for inaction and to avoid accountability.
The public is no longer shocked by traffic accidents whether it involves the death of one or that of a dozen people and whether it is caused by recklessly driven Blueline buses or by expensive cars with spoilt children of the rich and influential at the wheel. A teenager driving a fast car ran over a young engineering student and his five-year-old cousin riding a motorcycle in Chandigarh.
An eyewitness said that the teenager was drunk at the time of the accident but after she surrendered the next day, she was not charged with drunken driving. After her surrender, she was promptly given bail. Incidentally, she is a student in the US where punishment for such an offence is much more serious and entails permanent dispossession of driving licence.
But cancelling a driving licence in our country is a tortuous process. It is rarely done and in case it is there are plenty of ways to get hold of a new one either genuine or fake. This is because the Government does not have a national register of driving licences as in the case of all-India arms licences or a national register of citizens.
The maximum punishment for this crime under the law is two years imprisonment if found guilty. Data collated for 2007 show that India registered 4,18,657 road accidents with 1,14,590 fatalities which comes to 314 casualties per day, 13 deaths per hour and a death every five minutes. We are still following the laws given to us by the British in 1863. According to these, there is a fine distinction between an act of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and a murder committed with a motive or malice. But a killing is still a killing whether it is caused by a truck or a car or any other vehicle.
In the national capital in 2007, there were 851 fatal incidents in which a total of 2,141 people died and 7,695 were injured. There were only 211 murder cases in the city in the same period. Statistics showing deaths on the road numbering over one lakh still did not awaken the somnolent Government to the gravity of the issue.
Those accused in the Satyam scam (put variously at `24,000 crore to `35,000 crore) were given bail on health ground. The Satyam case is nothing but a mockery of justice. The CBI has traced more than 400 fictitious companies floated by the main accused B Ramalinga Raju and his associates for the purpose of diverting the alleged proceeds of the crime. Nearly 2,000 acres of land, acquired by Raju and his family with the proceeds of the fraud, has been identified by the CBI.
Incidentally, Raju had confessed to fraud worth `7,000 crore on January 7, 2009. The point here is that once the accused has confessed his crime, do we need to go on with the hearings producing witness after witness in court and prolonging the trial for years on end? A simple amendment to the law to the effect that after an accused has voluntarily confessed to a crime the court shall proceed to dispose of the case on the basis of his confession can solve the problem. The heavens will not fall and no right of the accused guaranteed under the Constitution will be adversely affected because to be admissible in a court of law, such a confession must be recorded before a judicial magistrate. Indeed, it will send the right message that the accused has been punished on the basis of his own confession.
The same is the case involving the surviving terrorist in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which, even after two years, the accused is yet to get his just desserts. With such an approach, are we not giving ordinary citizens the impression that the law is keener to provide escape routes to criminals instead of punishing them as they deserve?
On August 17, the Supreme Court observed that "the criminal justice system is either crumbling or has crumbled" after taking note that the High Courts had stayed trials and later forgotten about the cases. According to the information furnished to the Supreme Court, 10,541 criminal trials were stayed by Allahabad High Court. Of these, nine per cent had been pending for more than 20 years and 21 per cent for over a decade. This means stay of trial in 30 per cent of heinous offences continued for more than 10 years.
The judiciary is proclaimed by the high and mighty as one of the pillars of good governance and democracy but successive Governments have starved it of the funds and wherewithal to improve the justice delivery system
It is a fact that the Government had meted out stepmotherly treatment to the judiciary leading to a huge pendency of cases in subordinate courts. The Chief Justice of India observed on August 18, "The time has come for the judiciary to raise its own resources to meet expenses on account of judicial infrastructure, which is lacking in several States." The court has decided to set up a special purpose vehicle under which money, as and when raised, would be earmarked for "judicial infrastructure".
In 2004, the Prime Minister, while addressing a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices, had said that Government litigation including appeals which mostly fail accounts for 70 per cent of the cases and it is these cases that get a hearing at the cost of citizens' cases. He had also observed that such appeals should not have been filed in the first instance.
But as the Punjabi saying goes, ek juun vi nahi hilli, and no steps have been taken to rectify the situation. One does not need great intelligence to take corrective measures if one wishes to take them in the first place. If the Government sticks to the stance of masterly inactivity and waits to do anything until it is satisfied that the time is absolutely right, it will be unable to change the present state of affairs. Our Prime Minister is considered the best leader in the world and he should have a solution.
The grand plan to revive the famed ancient university that existed at Nalanda till it was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 12th century is now taking shape with Parliament voting on the necessary legislation. Sadly, the true inheritors of the Nalanda tradition have been excluded
Nalanda University has been revived once again albeit only in public discourse at the moment; it is yet to take physical shape with a 'secular' cosmopolitan syllabus. The Nalanda University Bill, 2010, strangely drafted by the Ministry of External Affairs, has been passed by the Rajya Sabha and awaits the Lok Sabha's vote. It stems from the University of Nalanda Act, 2007 passed by the Bihar legislature. The thread was then picked up at Second East Asia Summit held at Cebu, the Philippines, on January 15, 2007, and subsequently the Fourth East Asia Summit at Hua Hin, Thailand, on October 25, 2009.
But the core task of developing the concept and preparing the roadmap was entrusted to a mentor group headed by Prof Amartya Sen. It comprised Mr Meghnad Desai, Mr Sugata Bose, Mr Nand Kishore Singh, Prof Wang Banwei (Beijing University), Mr MIkuo Hirayama, Mr George Yeo (Singapore Foreign Minister) and Prof Tansen Sen (who did his MA from Beijing University and researched the transmission of Buddhism to China) and had six meetings in different cities. How this mentor group was selected remains a mystery. The Chinese connection is as obvious as the exclusion of Tibet.
Curiously, Prof Gopa Sabharwal, who teaches sociology at Delhi University and has only two publications to her credit, has been designated Vice-Chancellor. Interestingly, while the Bill lays down the criteria to qualify as members of the governing board (the nominees of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of External Affairs must be officers of the rank of Additional Secretary or above; the three nominated members of the Union Government should be renowned academicians) no such conditions have been prescribed for the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor.
Many may think that the ancient University of Nalanda, sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji in circa 1197 is being recreated with the subvention of an East Asian group. This calls for a thoughtful intervention.
There is already a functional institution, with international flavour, called Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, established in 1951. It is an autonomous institution that works under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture. The Mahavihara stands 100 km from Patna, on the southern banks of the historical lake, Indrapushkarini, on whose northern banks lie the ruins of ancient Nalanda. Rajendra Prasad, then President of India, while laying its foundation stone on November 20, 1951, had remarked, "Let the rays of the sun of Nalanda rise from the summit of this rock in order to brighten the lokabhasa (vernacular) after the passing away of its nights of darkness."
Venerable Bhikku Jagadish Kashyap, founder-director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, brought out a critical edition of Pali Tripitaka in Devanagari script in 41 volumes. He handed over the reins to the well-known Indologist, Prof Satkari Mukherjee, on March 1, 1955. Prof Mukherjee streamlined the research and training programme, and brought out the first three volumes of Nava Nalanda Research Publications. Its eighth and latest volume (Nalanda Buddhism and Buddhism) came out in 2002.
Nava Nalanda showed measurable results even before its first building was inaugurated by S Radhakrishnan, then Vice-President, in March 1956. In January 1981, then President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy laid the foundation stone for an international hostel to host foreign students and scholars.
According to the Ministry of Culture's 2008-09 Annual Report, there were 397 students, 95 of whom were foreign monks from Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Camobodia and Bangladesh, in 2007. In 2008, it published two compilations India's perception through Chinese Travellers and Evolution of Indian Culture as depicted in the Jataka, besides the first volume of a Pali-Hindi dictionary, apart from hosting several international seminars and inauguration of an artisan village and open air theatre. The holy relics of Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang) presented by the Dalai Lama on January 12, 1957 to Jawaharlal Nehru are preserved at the Mahavihara.
Why should Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, with a proven track record of 60 years, be bypassed by the proposed University of Nalanda, instead of becoming its core? But that is merely one part of the omission. The Dalai Lama and his ilk are being kept out of the project to appease China.
The university, to quote Prof Sen, will have extensive collaboration with China and be 'marketed' there because "more Buddhists live there than in any other country". This is far from being true. Buddhism has no living and thriving presence in today's China. Even many expatriate Chinese have abandoned Buddhist traditions. This is in sharp contrast to Tibetan émigrés who practise Buddhism. Tibetans, viewed in historical perspective, should have first claim over Nalanda.
Grateful Tibetans remember that Nalanda was the alma mater of four Indian Buddhist scholars Padmasambhava, Virupa, Naropa and Atish (Dipankar) whose works form the source material for four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyigma, Kagyu, Sakyapa and Gelugpa. It was in recognition of Nalanda's contribution to the shaping of Tibetan Buddhism that Rongton Sheja Kunrig founded the Pal Nalanda Dharma School at Phenpo, in central Tibet, in 1436.
Dispersed from their land, Tibetans have kept alive the spirit of Nalanda. In Olympia, Washington State, US, they have founded the Nalanda Institute. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the Nalanda Translation Committee was set up in 1975 and is engaged in translating Tibetan texts into English and promoting Tibetan Buddhism. Its founder, Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987), also founded the Naropa Institute (now University) in 1974 at Boulder, Colorado, inspired by ancient Nalanda. Any rebirth of Nalanda by discounting its Tibetan heritage will be resurrection of a body without its soul.
While acknowledging that Buddhism was the bedrock of Nalanda and India's bond with South-East Asia, Prof Sen wants to sanitise the new university by keeping Buddhist masters out. This would defeat the raison d'etre of reviving Nalanda. He needed to be reminded that in ancient Nalanda the Vedas were also pursued and Hindu deities have been recovered from its ruins.
Initially the resurrected university will offer courses in Buddhist studies, philosophy and comparative religions; historical studies; international relations and peace studies; business management in relation to public policy and development studies; languages and literature; ecology and environment studies. Though the word 'spirituality' finds mention in the Bill, it is not clear whether temporal subjects will be taught in the context of Indian traditions or according to the prevalent Western discourse.
The Bill envisages the University to be a "non-profit public-private partnership autonomous and accountable to the Governing Board". What will be its status vis-à-vis the UGC? There is already a Nalanda Open University headquartered at Biscomaun Bhawan, Gandhi Maidan, Patna, which is the only distant learning university of Bihar. It was established in March 1987 by an Ordinance of the Government of Bihar, which was later superseded by the Nalanda Open University Act of 1995 passed by the Bihar Legislature.
It is to be hoped that the resurrected University of Nalanda does not become a combination of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Aligarh Muslim University. After all, the Government of India may be resurrecting the ancient centre of scholarship, but the Leftists will control its mind.
Congress's duplicity on Maoists begins to recoil
The Opposition in Parliament, comprising primarily the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxists), is up in arms over the arbitrary intervention of a Cabinet Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, in the matter of dealing with the Maoists, who remain the greatest threat to internal security a point repeatedly stressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and reiterated once again in his address to the nation on Independence Day.
The CPI(M)'s vehemence in denouncing the intervention is entirely expected, given its stakes in defending its long years in Government in West Bengal and the robust challenge that the Trinamool Congress has launched to overset its reign. Linking the Trinamool Congress's success in confronting the CPI(M) to the idea of Maoist assistance in the process of ousting the party at the panchayat, municipal and Lok Sabha elections is also understandable. For the BJP, the Trinamool Congress supremo offers a stick with which it can beat its principal rival the Congress. At the same time, the offer to mediate with the Maoists provides the BJP an opportunity in West Bengal a chance at driving a wedge between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress and so opening up the opposition space, from where it is in serious danger of being virtually edged out.
The reactions of the CPI(M) and the BJP are classic denunciations. But the Congress's stony-faced defence of the intervention, despite the embarrassment and the calls for a statement from the Prime Minister are less easily fathomed. The August 9 rally at Lalgarh in the heartland of Maoist infested and CPI(M) held territory at which Ms Banerjee asked the Maoists to come to the negotiating table and demanded an investigation, indeed a judicial enquiry, into the "murder" of Maoist Polit Bureau member Azad in Andhra Pradesh was acutely embarrassing for the Congress.
The Prime Minister's Independence eve address took repossession of the Maoist peace talks agenda, but since then very little seems to have happened. Meanwhile the Maoists have added fuel to the volatile situation by holding out an olive branch they want to talk peace, at least according to a senior leader, Kishenji, alias Koteswara Rao. The Maoists have laid down conditions that range from the impossible dismissal of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to a three month cease fire by the Government about which the Congress is in denial. What this means is that Banerjee too is in denial, because unless the message from Kishneji is acknowledged as having been received, there is no question of raking up the issue of who will talk to the Maoists on behalf of the Government.
At the same time, the Centre has put it about that it will need to verify if the offer to talk peace from Kishenji has the authority of the centralised command of the Maoists, for divisions are believed to have surfaced as the banned party goes through a periodic leadership-strategy upheaval. By being vague and noncommittal, the Congress led UPA is clearly buying time. Why is the question?
There are some easy answers to the question. First, it is waiting and watching what the Maoists do. Second, it is waiting and watching to see whether the first offer from Kishenji is repeated, either by him or denounced by others. Third, it is waiting and watching to see what the Maoists do to establish its willingness to talk peace. In other words, the Congress led UPA is in wait and watch mode.
This raises a further question: Why? To this there could be a number of answers, all of which are linked to the status and role of the Maoists in Indian politics. Having banned the Maoists as the most dangerous threat to internal security, having promised to curb them and restore law and order, having called them cowards and promised to pursue them, on one level, it seems that the Congress led UPA views the underground party as a hostile force that threatens the security of the Indian state and its people. By repeatedly calling upon the Maoists to hold fire for a few days and come to the discussion table, it is equally obvious that the Centre believes that there is a common ground. How else can a discussion be held, unless there is some common understanding, some shared perceptions and a shared commitment to the Indian Constitution.
The fact is that the Maoists deny the legitimacy of the Indian Constitution their politics is guided by their objective of overthrowing the bourgeois democratic order by "waging war" against the Indian state. It is being argued in some quarters that other movements have also questioned the legitimacy of the Indian state. There have been separatist movements, particularly in the North East, that have rejected the Indian state and waged war to establish a separate nation-state of their own in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Assam. But these demands were not the same as the demands raised by the Maoists, who do not want a separate state. They want to replace the present Indian state order with a new state order in which as the party of the people, the Maoists will be the only legitimate authority.
By allowing the Opposition in Parliament to stage noisy disruptive protests about Ms Banerjee's role in talking to the Maoists, the Congress is ducking out of dealing with the Maoist problem. It does not have a solution that it can offer that would end the Maoist menace across almost 200 districts in India. It knows that the Maoists deny the Congress-led Government legitimacy, just the Government denies the Maoists legitimacy, having banned them. By allowing others to take the rap, Swami Agnivesh, Arundhati Roy, various others who represent the opinion of civil society (sic) Congress is putting up a façade, behind which there is nothing.
IT PAYS TO TAKE CARE OF EMPLOYEES
The corporate sector needs to get rid of its penny wise, pound foolish policies and take lessons from global business research trends in order to implement long-term structural reforms
The workers and CEOs are living in two different Indias. While the Chief Executive Officer has been generous in giving himself his raise, the average worker has hardly got much - a mere one per cent wage hike in the last 20 years when the average GDP growth has been five per cent.
The top executives got a raise of 33 per cent against 25 per cent profit growth in 2009. Over 100 of them are earning upto Rs 80 crore a year as their salaries - a hundredfold rise in the last 20 years. It used to be counted in lakhs earlier.
The country ranked ninth in the list of countries offering highest disparity in wage and productivity growth since 1990, according to International Labour Organisation. A total of 32 countries were surveyed by the ILO. Even Hewitt Associates had said in a report that the average pay rise in India was around 6.3 per cent - a fraction of what the CEOs have got. This is considered as an unwelcome situation because coupled with high inflation - at over 16 per cent on an average - it means severe erosion in real income and the purchasing capacity of the working class.
Only 175 of the over 4,500 listed companies in the country have disclosed the last pay package of their CEOs and other top managers. As many as 60 companies have paid in crores to one or more of their top executives. The CEOs take home high salaries but the benefit of the sums paid to them to the economy at large is doubtful. Many purchases are also credited to the companies they serve.
Contrary to this, an average worker spends most of his earnings on purchase of essentials and some non-essentials. In many ways, it is they who keep the economy rolling and growing.
An ILO study has attributed the inequality in India to high food prices. This has a negative effect on the purchasing power of households. It notes that the decline in purchasing power of the urban Indian household varies from 5.1 to 3.5 per cent owing to rise in food prices - a major area of expenditure for average lower and middle income groups. The poorest households are stated to have suffered the most with over five per cent erosion in purchasing power against the comparatively affluent with a drop of 2.2 per cent.
Another reason for income inequality has been attributed to the growing trend of working at temporary jobs. The average temporary jobs in the country are of casual nature and workers are paid 45 per cent less than normal wages. This difference is 43 per cent in South America and 20 per cent in Europe and other Western countries.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY
MPS OUT TO GRAB WHAT THEY CAN
The Union cabinet has cleared a 200 per cent hike in salaries and allowances of our MPs, but they aren't happy. A section of them stalled proceedings in the Lok Sabha on Friday on the issue. Curiously, one of the demands raised by the protestors is that their basic salary must be at least a rupee more than Rs 80,000, the salary drawn by the country's top bureaucrats. The demand is unreasonable and based on flawed logic. Compare the clamour for money by India's political class with the radical steps in countries like the UK to slash salaries of public officials to rein in fiscal deficits, and the former ought to be ashamed of themselves.
What the cabinet has cleared is more than reasonable. At over Rs 37 lakh a year, our MPs take home more money than their counterparts in developed countries including Japan, Italy and Singapore. Their pay is 68 times more than what the average Indian earns annually. So there is no case for complaining that MPs are underpaid. Similarly, the demand to peg the basic pay about that of top civil servants is ludicrous. The jobs are not comparable. Legislators are empowered to oversee the working of the bureaucracy, but those privileges provided by the Constitution can't be translated into higher pay.
The hungama over pay hike also raises questions of propriety. Our MPs deserve to be well paid, but the pay needs to be commensurate with their work and the hike ought to be reasonable. Equally important is who decides what is a reasonable raise? Surely it can't be MPs themselves, which is presently the case. A pay commission comprising non-parliamentarians could determine what ought to be the salaries, allowances and perks of MPs. The commission must not limit its remit to the basic salary and allowances MPs are entitled to but also monetise perks like free housing, furniture, water, power, interest-free car loans etc while fixing the pay packet.
It must be remembered that the claim for more money is raised in a Parliament dominated by crorepatis. Over 58 per cent of the members in the present Lok Sabha have declared assets of more than a crore: the average asset holding of a Lok Sabha MP is Rs 5.33 crore. So it's a club of millionaires that's clamouring for more, at a
time of high inflation and economic distress. Let them not forget that voters are watching.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NO LONGER THE VICTIM
INDIA MUST TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN CRICKET IN KEEPING WITH ITS ENORMOUS CLOUT
Shortly into my first job a little over three decades ago, i was given a letter to edit. It was sent by Gogumal Kishenchand asking to be acknowledged for his 'contribution' in Sir Donald Bradman's exploits. It was a strange demand made more intriguing by Kishenchand's persistence, for a similar letter would arrive almost every week.
After a few months of mounting suspense, the mystery was explained. Kishenchand wrote that he was the bowler when Bradman scored the single to reach his hundredth hundred on November 15, 1947 in Sydney where India were playing an Australian Xl in a warm-up match. Incidentally, Kishenchand also made 75 not out and 63 not out as India went on to win by 47 runs, but that seemed of no consequence to him.
This curious example highlights the age-old fetish for personal milestones in India, but what has changed in the 63 years since is how Indians see themselves. Kishenchand saw no irony in trying to pinch some glory from Bradman's achievement, not his own team's win, because that seemed the better opportunity for recognition. When it comes to Suraj Randiv's deliberate no-ball to deny Virender Sehwag a century today, we are filled with opprobrium for the Sri Lankans, obscuring the fact that the match was still won.
The transformation from servility to aggressive selfassertion is a remarkable aspect of the journey of independent India in which cricket has always been a strong metaphor, often a barometer of the country's mood but sometimes also a measure of the nation's frailties.
At the start of this millennium came the match-fixing scam with its epicentre here; earlier this year, the multibillion dollar IPL erupted into massive controversy on matters of governance. Indeed, corruption, nepotism and governance are central to debate in almost every walk of Indian life currently, but i will desist
from further allegory and shift to the issue at hand.
An irksome query has been raised: Has Indian cricket become so powerful as to be unreasonable? Gamesmanship is not new to sport, but what is new in Indian cricket, say critics, is the easy recourse to bristling outrage at each insult, perceived or real.
This has become more pronounced in the last decade. Beginning with the uproar over match referee Mike Denness alleging that Sachin Tendulkar had tampered with the ball in South Africa in 2001 through Monkeygate' in Australia in 2008 to the recent Sehwag controversy, the Indian cricket establishment seems to take umbrage at just about everything.
Unfounded allegations must be countered and it is true that there is fair amount of envy at India's rising clout in the sport. Yet, in a trail of such events Indian cricket often seems to blur the line between genuine grouse and misplaced whine.
There was a time when India would get short shrift. Everybody knows Bishen Singh Bedi lost his contract with Northamptonshire because he complained to the MCC about John Lever using vaseline to tamper the ball during England's tour of India in 1976. Indian players were often at the receiving end of sledging, racist taunts and even physical abuse e.g. Sunil Gavaskar given a mighty heave by John Snow in 1971.
Today though, India is the world's richest cricketing nation as also the number 1 ranked Test team. A fast-growing economy and a billionstrong fan-base fuelled a boom that has made this country cricket's El Dorado. The BCCI contributes more than 70 per cent of the game's economy. This signifies enormous clout and should inspire India to play a leadership role in the sport rather than a victim's.
What constitutes 'spirit of cricket' has always been hazy. It is part of the game's established humour how W G Grace ticked off an umpire for giving him out leg before wicket. "Have they come to see me bat or you raise your finger?" the doctor admonished the cowering ump. Bodyline had sinister overtones and was aimed at stopping Bradman's phenomenal run-making; Trevor Chappell's underarm delivery was a diabolical ploy to deny New Zealand a win in 1981.
By his own admission Randiv was guilty of transgressing the spirit of cricket. But in the context of all that has transpired, this was benign stuff: his mistake was actually of being too clever by half because Sri Lanka were going to lose the game in any case.
The real villain is the law disallowing a batsman runs his strokes merit in a specific situation. Ironically, this law was brought into play by the MCC in circa 2000, the same year in which the 'Spirit of Cricket' clause was given top billing by the game's minders. The folly of it exposed, there is urgent need to revert to the old law in which batsmen were credited with runs their stroke merited irrespective of the situation.
The MCC convenes in October to decide on the resolutions of the meeting which took place on May 5 this year. Obviously the current controversy is not on the agenda, but it would be fitting if the BCCI takes the lead and compels the MCC in to address this extraordinary issue.
Cricket is a funny game, but its laws don't have to be asinine.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
NAVI MUMBAI AIRPORT PROJECT IN LIMBO TOO LONG
The direction that civil aviation is taking in the country's two premier metros is a study in contrast. If the opening of the Indira Gandhi International Airport's Terminal 3 in New Delhi was an indication of the growth potential in the aviation sector, the ongoing muddle over the proposed Navi Mumbai airport is a pointer to the moribund, bureaucratic style of functioning that can scuttle that potential. It has been over three years now since the original proposal to develop the airport. The very public back and forth between civil aviation minister Praful Patel and minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh has resulted in accusations in plenty but no feasible way forward. All this while Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport continues to slip further behind the curve, unable to keep pace with the growth in the civil aviation sector.
The situation will only worsen as the number of Mumbai passengers grows. The country's financial capital which aspires to be a global city cannot afford to be constrained by an access bottleneck. Certainly, there can be no shorthand for due diligence in environmental issues relating to any infrastructure project. But the concerns raised by the environment ministry the diversion of rivers Gandhi and Ulwe and the destruction of a hillock and of about 123 hectares of mangroves seem to have been adequately addressed by Maharashtra's City and Industrial Development Corporation. If a certain minimum of environmental impact is inevitable, then the warring ministries must reach a compromise with the impetus provided by the PMO if necessary given the unsuitability of alternative sites. Three years is a long time for an infrastructure project of such significance to be in limbo. There cannot be any further delays.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'OVER 70,000 WOMEN DIE IN INDIA EVERY YEAR DURING CHILDBIRTH'
Sarah Zeid, a member of the royal family of Jordan, who was in India to launch a multimedia campaign of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, visited villages in Orissa and talked to mothers about health facilities available to them. She spoke to Rema Nagarajan:
What was the reason for visiting India from over 150 countries, which are part of the White Ribbon Alliance?
India accounts for a quarter of all maternal deaths globally. Over 70,000 women die in India every year due to complications related to childbirth. That means over two million maternal orphans, little children who have to grow up without their mother to look after them. It is so tragic. Most of these deaths are preventable. And the solution is very clear and simple. It is the implementation that requires hard work. Something has to be done here urgently and I was very keen to see the work of the Alliance in India.
What impelled you to join the White Ribbon Alliance?
I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Amniotic Fluid Embolism when i was pregnant with our third child in Washington. Most women do not survive this condition. I was lucky to be in excellent hospital with the best medical care. During the delivery i saw my husband holding our second child and watching helplessly, faced with the possibility that his wife could die and he might be left to bring up the children alone. I decided then that i had to reach out and help to ensure that women did not have to die from childbirth. I walked into the office of the Alliance and offered to help in any way possible to make a difference.
What is your role in the White Ribbon Alliance?
I can talk. I have my own story to tell about how i survived only because i had good medical intervention. I help raise funds and use whatever influence i have to gain access to individuals who can make a difference. I travel a lot and meet people to raise awareness on the issue of maternal health. I would be terribly frustrated if i did not do something about such a serious issue. It is a human disgrace that anyone should die giving life. Every woman should have the right to survive.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in India in tackling maternal mortality?
In India, any problem gets magnified because of the sheer size of the population. For instance, 15 per cent of all pregnancies are said to result in an obstetric emergency that cannot be predicted and can happen in any pregnancy. When you look at 15 per cent of the population of mothers in India, that is a huge number we are talking about, spread across the whole country. And the healthcare system is just not geared to handle such huge number of emergencies and complications. The problems in accessing good healthcare are the same in India as they are across the world.
There are three main factors decision-making at the family level about accessing healthcare for childbirth, timely transport to a health facility, the kind of care and response available at the facility. Every minute counts in an emergency and delays at the various levels can prove fatal. The government has many programmes and entitlements for mothers. But on talking to women in India i found that most of them did not know their entitlements and that's where the Alliance is working hard to spread awareness among women about their entitlements.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HOOK OR BY COOK
INDIAN RELATIVES ABROAD ASK YOU: HEY DUDE, WHERE'S MY ACHAAR?
No one from far-off lands any longer asks that question of yore: "What should i get you from here?" With everything under the sun available in the India of today, the USP of the NRI relative has plummeted dramatically. In years gone by, our chacha-chachi, mausa-mausi, bua-phupha, etc, used to visit us every two years, accompanied by huge suitcases laden with goodies and gifts. We used to go gaga over all the chocolates and candies we were presented with.
In fact, we as kids used to be quite wide-eyed at the sight of our 'phoren' cousins flaunting their electronic gadgets and trendy clothes. Our mausis used to dazzle the locals with their hip attire and designer accessories. Innocent and uninitiated as we were in those days, we were prone to being impressed by everything that our NRI kin used to do or say.
Times have changed drastically in recent years, however. We do not feel shy of anything Indian anymore, barring a few aberrations. NRI relatives are members of a tribe that has undergone an unimaginable degree of transformation along the way. Relatives from foreign shores just do not possess the same levels of pomposity any more.
With the tables thus turned, Indians have revved up their lifestyles and have taken to travelling abroad frequently. The irony is that ethnic delicacies like achaars and chutneys are much sought-after now by desis who live abroad. While it is true that several Indian stores have opened up in foreign lands and they sell everything from charpoys to hingoli, exotic imports from India still carry value for the poor deprived non-resident. The time has come
when foreign-bound Indians carry much heavier suitcases than those travelling to India.
One reason is that, try as they might, Indian restaurants abroad can never quite reproduce the same tingling taste that is an integral part of dishes like 'karhai paneer' or 'daal makhni' when cooked in India. A recent incident amply highlighted the
levels of desperation to which Indians living abroad can go in order to satisfy their longing for authentic Indian food.
What happened was that a jar of achaar prepared by a traditional homemaker in Delhi was meant to be sent to her sibling in the US. A crisis occurred when the poor nephew who was to carry the golden load left it at home inadvertently. Not wanting to land up at the house of his formidable aunt without the yummy stuff and without advance intimation, he sent her an e-mail from the airport stating the facts as they stood.
Not one to be defeated easily, the said motherly figure decided to call up a friend who was slated to travel the following week to bring the prized stuff with her. The nephew was spared a severe hiding when the said friend agreed to get it along. But more drama was in store. A baby who was due weeks later decided to arrive in a hurry and the lady had to advance her visit, with the result that achaar-like substances were forgotten.
Finally resigned to the fact that the tangy stuff would not be hers till next season, the said aunt made do with salsa sauces and the like for a while, but when she'd had enough she rescheduled her winter visit. She landed up in Delhi just in time to devour the contents of the jar before they got spoilt.
One thing is for sure. Expert cooks that housewives in India are, they would be more sought-after in foreign lands if they applied for permanent visas than are young men with multiple degrees. Such young men would do well to learn an achaar recipe or two. That way, they may just bolster their chances of working abroad.
WHEN TAKING ON THE JUDICIARY, SOCIAL ACTIVISTS SHOULD BE ON FIRM GROUND
The zeal to see justice done can often lead to activists playing their hand too soon and too rashly. This seems to be the case in the investigations into some of the cases pertaining to the Gujarat riots, notably that of the murder of MLA Ehsan Jaffrey. A Supreme Court bench has taken strong exception to activist Teesta Setalvad contacting a special public prosecutor in connection with the cases. Now it is quite possible that Ms Setalvad may have wanted to convey some pertinent information or clarify some doubts.
But public perception could well be that she is trying to interfere with the course of justice. And this in no way helps the cases of those who suffered grievous losses during those fateful riots.
Earlier too, Ms Setalvad found herself in a bit of a spot when a witness, who was found to have perjured herself in one of the Gujarat riots cases, sought an apex court probe into the activist's assets. Her NGO, the witness alleged, was a cover-up for a commercial venture. Now there may be no truth to any of these accusations, but it does diminish the moral authority of activists when they themselves are found to have blotted their copybook. This is a shame because the role of activists in keeping alive vital public issues cannot be underscored enough in an unwieldy democracy like ours.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the judiciary in India, with all its flaws, is still seen as effective in delivering justice, howsoever slow. So to enter into a confrontational stand with it is ill-advised unless you are really on very strong ground. So far, our activists have not come off the better in their brushes with the judiciary. In the Narmada dam case, author-activist Arundhati Roy fell foul of the courts when she accused the judiciary of trying to silence those protesting against the dam. She was held in contempt and with it the advantage slipped away from those fighting for the rights of those who would be displaced by the project.
India's vibrant civil society rests on the efforts of such people as Ms Roy and Ms Setalvad. But, when they are seen to go against the very institutions that constitute the justice delivery mechanism, people are bound to question their motives. And this weakens the cases against powerful opponents like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It should be the activists' endeavour to ensure that those in whose name they speak get the best deal possible. So, like good card players, they should deal a cautious hand.
Otherwise, they run the risk of being termed the jokers in the pack.
MAMATA BANERJEE HAS FLUNG DOWN THE GAUNTLET. DOES ANYONE HAVE THE GUMPTION TO TAKE HER ON?
Mamata Banerjee has flung down the gauntlet.
Does anyone have the gumption to take her on?
Mamata Banerjee is a nationalist, not a Maoist. We believe that not only because she said so herself but also because no Maoist would deliver such a stirring speech in Parliament as a Government of India minister defending one person: herself, the Railway Minister.
After being rather unfairly tagged `accident minister' and criticised for hardly being in Delhi to clear alleged pending files, Ms Banerjee launched into an impassioned speech in the Lok Sabha. Trains, she reminded her detractors, don't fly in the sky. Then she proceeded to present the anatomy of foul play: "They [trains] go through villages. Some people dislodge the clips. Some cause bomb blasts." Quite.
But what made us stand up and thump on anything wooden near our vicinity was when she proclaimed that she was "neither God nor Allah" -a neat, roundabout way of stamping her credentials despite her NDA past -and that she can't satisfy everybody. Then came the coup de grace: "Show me a single file that is pending. I challenge." That last bit was a rousing repetition of another moment of passiveaggression: "What I have done in one year for you was not done in 50 years. I challenge."
The `I challenge' line, worthy of Robert Graves and Isaac Asimov, is still ringing in our ears. One can almost mistake Didi's throwing of the gauntlet being an echo from a freedom fighter of the past. The real challenge, as we can see it, is for someone with the stomach for a bout of verbal calisthenics with Didi. We challenge, on behalf of Ms Banerjee, any other minister to challenge the world at large to judge them so brazenly. The rest, as they say, is chicanery.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
START A HUNGAMA
TO BATTLE HUNGER AND MALNUTRITION, WE FIRST NEED TO KNOW WHERE THEY EXIST. AS OF NOW, THE STATE'S DATA IS SKETCHY, WRITES MANOJ KUMAR MADHYA PRADESH HAS THE MOST NUMBER OF MALNOURISHED CHILDREN, FOLLOWED BY UP AND BIHAR. IN TERMS OF BELLY COUNT, OF THE APPROXI- MATELY 180 MILLION CHRONICALLY MALNOUR- ISHED CHILDREN WORLD- WIDE, MORE THAN ONE-THIRD IS IN INDIA
It's a silent epidemic that we've never been able to put a finger on. In debates on food security, the issues of hunger and malnutrition have always been add-ons. But for millions, getting the next meal is the difference between life and death. Four-year-old Akash Sahariya can barely stand up. His bleached hair, distended belly and matchstick arms are harbingers of certain death that awaits him. He is the fourth child (and only son) of Kashumal, an adivasi mother living in Bankuri village in Madhya Pradesh.
Kashumal's second daughter gave up the fight for survival at four. The poor tribal mother does not realise that her children's lives, lost to malnutrition, could have been saved.
All the 56 families in this village are from the Sahariya tribe. They are below poverty line (BPL) families. The village is 20 km from Karahal block town; the nearest bus stop is 8 km away after which one has to walk through jungles of thorny leafless bushes to reach the village. Needless to say, there is no school, anganwadi or ration shop in the village.
The only tubewell has been dry for six months in the year and when it does fill, the water is contaminated. Only the very old and very young stay back in this hellhole, everyone else migrates to the Chambal valley, 40 km away, or beyond.
Karahal symbolises the tragedy of so many parts of India where the sons of the soil sit on mineral and other resources but don't have the means to stay alive. But, to many in the media, their stories are not sexy enough. They are people with no purchasing power and no influence. Sadly, even those who purportedly speak in their name, the Maoists, seem more worried about mining the wealth and controlling it.
As for the health of the people to whom this legitimately belongs, who cares?
But the latest National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS) data tells us that Kashumal and her son Akash are no exception. Almost half the children under the age of five in India are chronically malnourished. That is, they have very low height for their age. Forty-three per cent of children under the age of three are underweight, a rate twice as high as the average in sub-Saharan Africa and 20 times higher than would be expected in a well-nourished developed country. Further, 20 per cent children are severely malnourished. `Severity' is a term used to refer to low weight for height. Or, in other words, describing the condition of wasting away. Seven out of 10 children in India are anaemic.
Madhya Pradesh has the most number of malnourished children, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In terms of belly count, of the approximately 180 million chronically malnourished children worldwide, more than one-third is in India. Of this, over 8 million children suffer from acute malnutrition or severe wasting. This is recognised by experts as one of the major killers of children under five and is responsible for approximately one million child deaths every year.
Having been part of an organisation that feeds over a million schoolchildren everyday and having spoken to hundreds of brave mothers of malnourished children across the `hunger route' of India, I believe that this shame of hunger and malnourishment can definitely be eradicated. I think it's long overdue that we give this `non-communicable' disease its due share of attention. And the solutions are not rocket science, but simple and doable.
First, there is neither hide nor hair of either the public distribution system (PDS) or the schemes under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in any of these regions. Public health centres and potable water have never been seen or heard of. The universalisation of the PDS or fortification of foodgrain will do nothing to help these starving people. The real challenge, which we don't seem up to so far, is to identify all the villages and blocks where we have a concentration of hungry and malnourished children, tag them and have a targeted programme across these villages on a war footing. Let there be a state of nutrition `emergency' declared in these villages.
And while initiating targeted interventions, we need to build up a data bank of severely and acutely malnourished children and track how therapeutic food can save their lives.
After this, both these children and the moderately malnourished ones should be tracked. They should, through
the anganwadi system, be given food through `nutrition outposts' (how about putting post offices to use for this?) which if found to falter should be made a culpable offence. Those who shortchange these children are condemning them to death. Of course, for these outlets to be corruption-proof, we will need the involvement of civil society, gram sabhas or community-based organisations set up exclusively for this purpose.
Second, we need to extend the idea of social security or `right to work' that is behind NREGA in a different way. Why can't the State provide wages equivalent of six months to all expectant as well as lactating mothers in the unorganised sector -their version of the organised sector's maternity leave? This will ensure that these frail women will get at least six months of much-deserved rest. These wages can be credited into their accounts directly or given as money orders on a monthly basis.
Third, let the hunger and malnutrition data in these blocks and districts be monitored and reviewed at least annually.
Everyone from the district collectors to the prime minister can make this a mandatory statistic that will be tracked as an index of progress and development. The blocks with the fastest turn around and the best officers can be given suitable incentives. Needless to say, there will have to be objective third party assessments held annually.
Fourth, two major subsidies -for fertilisers and fuel -both politically-motivated and economically unsustainable can be phased out and invested in targeted universal coverage of nutritional security of the inhabitants of the worst 100 districts. But for Kashumal and millions of similar mothers to access food supplies and nutritional supplements, we need to know where to locate them. These villages need to be tracked, the children tagged and only then can any meaningful intervention become viable.
The first step in this battle against HUNGer and MALnutrition is for us to identify on a real time basis where these millions of children live and how many have survived since the last NFHS data was collected in 2005-06. Further, to have precision targeting for maximum impact we need data disaggregated at district level, if not block levels. Current NFHS data at the state level is too much of a helicopter view for any meaningful intervention to be carried out.
We could call this survey HUNGaMA, because surely that is what we must make so that so many children don't die so early and so painfully.
Manoj Kumar is CEO, Naandi Foundation and a Core Member of the Citizens' Alliance to Fight Malnutrition The views expressed by the author are personal
WE'RE NOT READY TO PLAY THE GAME
PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
WHILE SURESH KALMADI MAY HAVE A LOT OF ANSWERING TO DO, M.S. GILL, SHEILA DIKSHIT AND JAIPAL REDDY WILL ALSO HAVE A TOUGH TIME ANSWERING QUERIES IF AND WHEN A PROBE IS HELD INTO THE MAJOR SCAMS
The run-up to the Commonwealth Games has brought into focus both our inadequacies regarding the preparations and the enormous corruption involved. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi have finally intervened and seem determined to hold the Games and punish the guilty after it is over. So, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Central Bureau of Investigation and other agencies must start investigations now.
However, the damage to India's image is done. The world has witnessed the shoddy manner in which we have gone about things. It is unfair to blame Suresh Kalmadi alone for the fiasco. The bigger scam is in the construction and the so-called beautification of Delhi by both the Centre and the Delhi government and its allied agencies. Thousands of crores have been reportedly spent on projects which seem to have missed their deadlines and were cleared at double or many times the cost of similar ones earlier.
In fact, the uglification of the city, as it should be termed, has left every Delhiite fuming. There can be no justification for digging up streets and undertaking substandard work. The roads are full of potholes and motorists pay the price daily.
Every portion where sewage pipes have been laid has either sunk or is in a total mess. One wonders what kind of supervision went into creating this muddle. There is a question that every Indian needs to ask himself honestly. Are we really equipped to carry out world-class events given our propensity for corruption and shoddy work? Should we try to make Delhi look like London, Paris or Singapore or any other top city knowing that this cannot happen? Would we not have been better off had we allowed Delhi to remain Delhi and held the Games without creating this confusion? The arguments that one part has been developed by Delhi Development Authority or this by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi or some other by New Delhi Municipal Corporation or the Public Works Department are unconvincing. During elections, why do Congress leaders take credit for something like the Metro that is not within the ambit of its government in the city?
Another argument that we should allow the Games to be held is downright silly.
Who is preventing them from being held?
It is just that the preparations are not complete. While Suresh Kalmadi may have a lot of answering to do as far as the role of the Organising Committee is concerned, Manohar Singh Gill, Sheila Dikshit and Jaipal Reddy, besides a battery of bureaucrats, will also have a tough time answering queries if and when a probe is held into the major scams.
No one seems to be accountable as of now and even though the bureaucracy and some ministers have been entrusted with the task, there is no option left but to keep one's fingers crossed. The comparison of the preparations to that of an Indian wedding are stupid. One can only hope that the stadiums built at a huge cost do not later become venues for film star nights and political conventions but are used by our sportspersons.
There are lessons to be learnt from this blunder. India, in its present indecisive phase, should not volunteer to host any international events. Instead there should be a more inward-looking policy where we must recognise our limitations and try to remove them first. India can become a world player only if the quality of what we do is of international standard. More important, the honesty with which we do it is paramount. Between us.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BILL OF PASSAGE
GOVERNMENT CANNOT AFFORD TO DELAY THE LAND ACQUISITION LEGISLATION
The land acquis C ONGRESS General Secre tary Rahul Gandhi waded into the vexed politics of land acquisition over the weekend by expressing solidarity with a group of Aligarh farmers who are demanding higher compensation for land acquired from them to construct the Yamuna Expressway and townships.
Ironically enough, it is the Congress-led UPA government's delay in pushing through Parliament a long overdue amendment to the antiquated Land Acquisition Act that is making the problem worse. The 1894 legislation gives unbridled power to the state to acquire land for public purpose or for companies at a price determined by the state. There is no open market where a fair price for the land can be determined through bargaining between the buyer and the seller. And there is a problem of perception, of the state acquiring land cheaply for projects that will yield a high income stream, often for a private industrial party, in the future.
These problems were recognised in the drafting of the Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill of 2007. To address the problem of perception, the phrase "for companies" was removed to leave only "public purpose", broadly defined of course. And there was a provision for a direct negotiation between a private buyer and the landowner: only if the private buyer was able to acquire 70 per cent of the required land through direct negotiation, would the government step in to compulsorily acquire the rest at the market price, determined after direct negotiation. It is reasonable to assume that there would be a fair price -higher than the current agricultural-use price -at which a farmer or tribal would sell his or her land, and at which industry would still find it worthwhile to buy. In addition, the government had also planned to introduce a separate Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill that would have provided further safeguards to those displaced.
Those two bills lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha and the UPA has been reluctant to reintroduce them citing the opposition of a key ally, Mamata Banerjee.
But the longer the government delays the new legislation, the more it will be confronted with Aligarhtype farmer agitations. That will have not just an economic cost, but a political one too. The government needs to call Banerjee's bluff: and it would be fair to say she is not as obstuctionist as she is made out to be. The government should also reach out to the BJP, like it has on the nuclear liability bill. Responsible for running several state governments, the BJP should see reason in sorting out the mess that land acquisition has become.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A THOUSAND CITIES
PEOPLE NEED TOWNS TO MOVE TO.
WE NEED TO PLAN THEM
INDIA will urbanise, whether we will it or not, whether we plan for it or not. Updating urban infrastructure to meet the stream of migrants is at least on the policy horizon now, even if not implemented everywhere. Perhaps in due course, political pressure for similar efforts will begin to work in smaller cities as well. But that won't be enough: being distractedly unconscious of the great alterations of our rural-urban frontiers that have begun happening, and that will intensify in the decades to come, can harm us greatly. Not that we can really remain unconscious.
And yet we have prepared so little, planned not at all. New Raipur, in Chhattisgarh, is one of the few places where a comprehensive town-planning and building project is in operation. And even the seed of what is unquestionably a worthy project comes from a necessity that might have struck even the most hidebound in 1950s India: a new state will need a new capital. We need to think outside those limits.
Towns must come up even when governments see no reason of prestige or politics. They must come up because we have too few.
From New Raipur there are both lessons and cautions to be drawn.
Lessons are many: the presence of a nodal authority, coordinating projects that include the private sector; housing those who live in the vicinity as integral parts of the new town; broad agreement between political parties; already-existing links to highways, a fast-tracked connection to the rail network. And, of course, land acquisition was largely carried out at prices acceptable to farmers.
But one caution remains: new urban areas cannot always be greenfield projects of this sort. We need to sense where villages are coalescing into towns, and anticipate their need for civic structures and support.
That sense cannot always depend on the leaden-footed state, but it needs government resources. Policy needs to find a way to induce towns into being, to lay down grids and create frameworks where people, with their relocation decisions, are already telling us it's needed.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
AUSTRALIA JOINS THE TREND IN DELIVERING A SPLIT VERDICT
I N the spate of elections across the globe throwing up hung legislatures or minority governments, it is easily forgotten that hung parliaments and coalition governments (without any causal relation between them) characterised electoral democracies in the early 20th century. Post-World War II, that trend continued in many states, where coalition is usually the norm -Germany, the Scandinavian and Benelux countries, Israel, Italy, Japan, etc; and perhaps it is here to stay here in India. But a hung parliament, as a technicality, evokes a sense of unease in states not very used to it, thanks to the uncertainty of government formation. Last May's general election produced the UK's first hung parliament in decades, and the coalition government is still around its 100-day milestone.
Canada's present parliament is a hung one, as were the last two.
Germany till last October had a four-year grand coalition.
Now, Australia is set to elect its first hung parliament since 1940. Voting is compulsory in Australia, and this election had intensely engaged the public in debate. The Labor administration witnessed an internal coup in June when Kevin Rudd was removed as prime minister and Julia Gillard took over, seeking a fresh mandate.
The reason why a swing has deprived Labour of a majority is the disappointment with Rudd. This verdict is being interpreted as one against big government -while Labour is credited with saving the economy from the global meltdown, Rudd went on a personal crusade against capital and on a government spending spree. This Australian election may tie up with a European trend of the recession not helping centre-left parties.
In any case, a hung parliament or coalition government, when it functions, is perhaps the healthiest sign of democratic maturity. Voters increasingly make pragmatic, non-ideological choices, and the fragmentation of the vote shows the complexity of the collective thought process.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CASTING THE CASTE NET
By the Mandal Commission estimates, only about 25 per cent of all Hindus are considered as high caste or socio economically better off; whereas, about 50 per cent of Muslims are classified so. This is because none from among the Muslims are classified under the SC/ ST category. We must consider the implications of a caste census ABUSALEH SHARIFF
THE group of ministers led by Pranab Mukherjee has approved the collection of caste information in Census2011.AlthoughMuslimsare consideredacaste-lesscommunity,it is diverse and practically all sections are experiencing deep levels of deprivation in various social, educationalandeconomicfacets.HereI'd like to discuss alternatives for collecting caste data and also highlight implications for the Muslim communitywithinthecontextofthe inclusive development agenda of the UPA government.
We should consider an openended question method. Given the largenumberofcastesandcaste-like identities in India, whatever the "caste names" the informants' report can be filled in and codified later. A pre-coded list of castes that enumerators normally carry to ascertain the SC/ST identity would continue; for all others it can be open-ended caste reporting. Such a method would reveal the actual numbers,butfromthesenumbersitis not possible to declare a particular caste as backward or forward. The information along social, economic andeducationalindicatorswhichwill becollectedinCensus2011maynot be adequate to compute the backwardness or forwardness of castes.
The Muslim community would participate in this process of data collection of the open-ended caste identitiesalongwithallothercommunity groups in India. But it appears thatsuchanopen-methodwillnotbe used in the 2011 census operation although the demand of caste collectionofdataisofthisnature.
We should match the reported caste with the pre-coded caste/ class lists. As mentioned above, SCs and STs are so identified using a precoded list which is matched while taking the census. Thus, only two codedcategoriesareextractedfrom the census which are used to estimate the SCs and STs for any geographic or administrative area.
Now since the demand for the caste census has been made mostly by the castes which can be grouped as the OBCs (other backward classes), it is but expected that a similar procedure is used to collect the share of OBCs in Census 2011.
Unlike in case of the SCs/ STs, for whom the respective lists have been compiledandupdatedforthelastsix censuses in independent India, the case for OBCs is to be undertaken for the first time in 2011. The most likely benchmark will be a list of OBCs from the Mandal Commission. It is puzzling to note that as per the Mandal Commission the "OBC list" is considered a "class" category with little sociological, cultural or economic basis to designate it as such. Besides, the OBC list was prepared almost 30 years ago and that too in the absence of any dependable data. The communities were identified using some sketchy data from the 1931 census, and in many cases even by the Mandal Commission's own view are "best guesses". I am of the opinion that using the OBC list during Census 2011 to identify the size and share of the OBCs will be highly problematic, and it will make devising inclusivepoliciesdifficultbothatthe national and state levels.
The Mandal Commission guessed the percentages of both the Hinduandnon-HinduOBCsonthe basis of assumptions. For example, onenoticeswidevariationinidentifying the "castes" and their shares to qualify as OBCs both in the state andCentrallists.Forexample,inthe case of Muslims, while almost all Muslims in Kerala are listed as OBCs, almost none (a very small proportion) in West Bengal are listed as such in the Mandal Commission document. About 40 per cent of Muslims are counted as the OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and such OBCs in Karnataka are about 5-7 per cent. The OBC listings for Muslims for all the respective states are just "guesstimates". Such lists will do more harm to the cause of Muslims, especially because a large proportion of Muslims will be counted as those belonging to the "highcastes/class"andthereforewill be excluded from any scheme of affirmativeaction(forexample,ifgovernmentconsiderstheimplementation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations or other similar inclusive policies).
By the Mandal Commission estimates, only about 25 per cent of all Hindus are considered as high caste or socio-economically better off; whereas, about 50 per cent of Muslims are classified as high caste or socio-economically better off.
This is because none from among theMuslimsareclassifiedunderthe SC/ST category and all such MuslimswiththeSC/STidentityare actually listed as high caste/class, which is unacceptable. This is a serious anomaly in estimates of OBCs by the Mandal Commission in case of the Muslim community.
In view of these facts it is essential that correct estimates with respect to "SC/ST-type Muslims", "OBC Muslims" and "all other Muslims" are undertaken with care and sensitivity. Even if the SC/ST-type of Muslims are not so listed due to certain procedural hurdles even when legally and constitutionally appropriate, such Muslims must be listed as OBCs in which case up to 80 per cent of all Muslims will be so classified. Note that practically all Muslims in India are converts, and hardly any original Muslims who migratedfromerstwhileIndianterritorynowresideinIndia.Further,itis historically documented that most of those converted to Islam belong to low castes such as the Dalits and the tribes. The Sachar Committee onthestatusofMuslimsinIndiahas also clearly revealed the distressing socio-economic and educational conditions of Muslims in India.
Itwillbealmostimpossibletoprepare a list of Muslim caste/ class for classifying them as Muslim OBCs.
Therefore, I suggest that the "list of exclusion" can be prepared so as to determine the social forwardness or backwardness of a large section of Muslims in India. Such a list of exclusion can be prepared for each state separately after consultations withstate-levelMuslimintellectuals and religious bodies. Thus, once a listofexclusionisprepared,allother Muslims who do not match the list of exclusion can be identified as "Muslim OBCs".
Given the UPA government's resolve to ensure inclusive development in India, it is necessary that a serious anomaly with respect to identification of the Muslims OBCs isremovedbeforetheconductofthe 2011 census, lest the discrimination so far faced by Muslims continue for ever after.
Thewriter, chiefeconomistatNCAER, wasmember-secretaryoftheRajinder
Sachar committeeon the statusof Muslims firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NEITHER WIN, LOSS, NOR DRAW
What happens now, in the land of tied Tests? As Peter Costello, the former Liberal Treasurer said: `Australia will remain in permanent election mode.
ON 21 August when my wife and I voted in the Australian federal elections for the first time as citizens, we hoped to make a difference, and we did. The country has its first hung parliament since 1940 -and the polity closely resembles India's in the late '80s and mid-'90s. Whether we brought the bug here with us is not clear, but what is clear is that hung parliaments can occur even in twoparty dominated systems. First it was the United Kingdom and now it's Australia in which a political landscape dominated by two parties -the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party -is rife with serious uncertainties. A majority in the 150-seat house is 76, which neither has succeeded in attaining thus far. Labor lost its majority of 17 seats which it had achieved in 2007 under Kevin Rudd, ousting the Liberals under John Howard. In recent months both parties were torn by internal dissensions, in which Tony Abbott won Liberal leadership by one vote, and Julia Gillard took over Labor by toppling Rudd in an unprecedented party coup. Now the fate of both is in limbo, as they reach out to the independents that will decide the shape of the next government. That will take several days.
The country faces a considerable and novel challenge, and as Peter Costello, the former Lib eral Treasurer said: "Australia will remain in permanent election mode... whoever forms the next government, it will not be very stable, and we are looking at another early election."
This election, characterised by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith as "neither won, lost or drawn" has many interesting tales to tell.
Labor was badly hit in Queensland and New South Wales, losing 8 and 7 seats respectively due to voters' anger against the poor performance of the Labor state governments. In Victoria, though, they won three more seats -and, in a first, the Green Party saw its first successful candidate there. The elections also saw the youngest ever parliamentarian being elected: 20-year old Wyatt Roy of the Liberals, who defeated his sitting Labor rival with a 2.5 per cent swing.
His schoolboyish looks and lack of experience were at the centre of much debate before the elections -but anyone who heard his interview after his win would appreciate his calm demeanour, and guess he has a mature head on his shoulders. The Liberals, too, got the first Aboriginal candidate in -something Tony Abbott took special note of in his speech later in the evening. Prior to the elections, Labor's popularity was severely damaged due to several controversial policy decisions by Kevin Rudd, including the super profit tax on the mining industry, a botched home insulation drive, and the lack of progress on an emissions trading scheme. As a result, his popularity nose-dived leading to the unceremonious coup by Labor insiders. Rudd's sacking seems to have had some effect on voters, especially in Rudd's home state of Queensland, where the party has been routed.
But as expected Rudd has retained his seat -and sent a strong message to his nemeses in the party not to count him out yet.
Interestingly, there was a massive swing of 6-8 per cent in key states against Labor, but it did not necessarily benefit the Liberals. In many constituencies, the Greens got the larger share of the swing then the Liberals; many upset with Labor chose to vote for the Greens rather than the Liberals. It could be said, therefore,that although the Liberals managed to end Labor's majority, voters preferred Julia Gillard (50 per cent) as prime minister over Tony Abbott (37 per cent) -something also indicated by pre-election polls.
Julia Gillard has claimed that she has a better track record of working with the Green Party in the upper, and independents, in the lower house; she could get a crack at retaining power, if Tony Abbott fails to woo enough independents.
Nonetheless it is pretty certain that Australia is in for prolonged political instability, which will mean a weak government, and insufficient decision-making on several issues. This election was fought onpurely domestic issues, as always; but what is worrisome is that both leaders have a dismal record in the foreign policy department, unlike Kevin Rudd and John Howard. Relations with India will remain one of the core foreign policy challenges for the new government; it is unlikely that whoever comes to power will be able to approve the supply of uranium to India, if governing with the support of independents. Besides, both leaders will be looking inwards rather than outwards. Voters will not like another early election. This means that the resolve of both parties to produce a stable government will be put to the biggest possible test, almost 70 years on.
The writer is at Griffith University, Queensland email@example.com
DOES SARKO FORGET HIS FATHER?
FRANCE'S DEPORTATION OF ROMA WILL BOOST THE RISING TIDE OF XENOPHOBIA
THE deportations began [on Thursday]. Two flights left France, bound for Bucharest, with 93 Roma immigrants on board. Some 700 Roma are expected to be removed by the end of August. And 300 illegal Roma camps in the country will be demolished over the next three months. The explanation of the French government for the deportations is that the camps have become bases for peopletrafficking, prostitution and crime. But critics of the policy detect an uglier motive: a hope from President Nicolas Sarkozy to distract public attention away from allegations of corruption that swirl around his administration.
If true, this would be nothing new. Immigrants often find themselves made into scapegoats, especially at times of economic stress. And France is by no means alone in this respect. The Italian state has been harassing and deporting its Roma migrants for several years now. A legal battle is raging in the US over a law passed by the state government in Arizona giving police the right to demand that individuals show their identification in order to detect illegal immigrants from Mexico, something that opponents say has resulted in racial profiling. Popular concern about the children of illegal immigrants in the US has also led to some suggestions in Republican circles that the constitutional provision that grants citizenship to those born on US soil should be revoked. Meanwhile, the two candidates in the Australian election, the prime minister, Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott of the opposition Liberal Party, are locked in competition over who can adopt a tougher line on the "boat people", a reference to the desperate asylum seekers who make for Australia's shores by sea.
The hypocrisy of all this is rich. In Australia, Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott are both immigrants themselves, the prime minister having been born in Wales and the opposition leader in London. President Sarkozy's father was a Hungarian aristocrat who fled to France in the wake of the Second World War. But the hypocrisy is not confined to politicians.
From a leader in `The Independent', London
REAR VIEW LET THE SHEIKH TRY
How Nehru put his faith behind Sheikh Abdullah to forge a solution acceptable to Kashmir, India and Pakistan Looking at yesterday to explain today, tomorrow
H AVING written about the Hazratbal crisis in Kashmir in December 1963-January 1964, when the entire Valley seemed to be "hanging by a hair" (IE, August 9), it is necessary to carry the story forward to the phenomenal upheaval's hugely important follow-up. Remarkably, the issue underlying the new development was uppermost in the minds of most Kashmiris even during the crisis over the missing holy relic. But no one articulated it, presumably because the agitators' immediate demand -"asli mujrim ko pesh karo (produce the real culprit) -took precedence.
However, Lal Bahadur Shastri, with his prodigious political acumen and vast experience, had quietly concluded that without releasing Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Kashmir's towering leader, from prolonged imprisonment and seeking his cooperation, it would be very difficult to stabilise the sensitive state.
He was equally convinced that the "Kamaraj-ed" Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed's nominee as his successor, Shamsuddin, must go. This was easily done. Within a month, the bumbling chief minister had made way for the much-respected G. M. Sadiq. Shastri wasn't so sure, however, whether his colleagues in New Delhi would agree to the Sheikh's release at that juncture, even though the state government was in full agreement with him. He need not have worried.
On his return home, when Shastri went straight to meet the prime minister, he found that Nehru's thinking was far ahead of his. Nehru who, having suffered a stroke, was not in the best of health not only wanted to free Sheikh Abdullah but also to encourage him to go to Pakistan to explore the prospects of a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir question. "Let the Sheikh try", he said.
The Sheikh was first arrested in August 1953, besides being dismissed as Jammu and Kashmir's first chief minister. By demanding immediate independence for Kashmir that had acceded to the Indian Union under his own leadership, he had left Nehru with no other option. The Sheikh's authoritarian successor, the Bakshi, found it expedient to keep him locked up longer than necessary. Under Nehru's pressure, however, he released Sheikh Abdullah in 1958, only to re-arrest him within a few months on the ground that his predecessor was still singing his theme song of independence for Kashmir.
This time around the Bakshi in Srinagar and the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi launched the Kashmir conspiracy case that virtually charged the Sheikh with treason and with being in the pay of Pakistan. As elsewhere in India under similar circumstances, so in Jammu, the trial went on and on like a bad Bollywood film.
Something had to be done about this case, therefore, before the jail's door could be opened to let Sheikh Abdullah off. Nehru called a meeting of his top advisors and told them that the time had come to withdraw the Kashmir conspiracy case. Surprisingly, he encountered strong opposition from, of all people, the intelligence czar of that era, B. N.Mullik, who usually enjoyed the prime minister's full confidence.
When Mullik claimed that he would prove the charges against the Sheikh within a few days, a visibly angry Nehru thumped the table and remarked: "You haven't been able to do it for years. Don't talk of days".
On April 8 1964, in the Jammu special court, the state government withdrew the Kashmir conspiracy case. The Sheikh strode out and decided to go to Srinagar through a circumambulatory route via Kishtwar and Bhadarwah districts of Jammu, receiving adulation from surging crowds all the way. Sometime in the midst of this tumult he received Nehru's message inviting him to Delhi, to be his house-guest at Te en Murti, and discuss what the two of them together could do. The old friends hadn't met face to face for more than a decade. Ye t, when they did, there wasn't the slightest recrimination. The two talked cordially as if nothing had happened.
One night, while the Sheikh was still under the prime minister's roof, Mir Qasim, later chief minister of J&K, got a phone call asking him to "see Panditji at once". On arrival, he was told that Sheikh sahib was talking in terms of a "confederation" of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. His reaction: "Sir, kaan kaat di jiye". "Whose ears am I supposed to cut"? Nehru asked testily. "No, sir, I am suggesting that instead of confederation let us talk of a federation".
President Ayub Khan turned down the Sheikh's suggestion summarily though he (and his countrymen) welcomed the idea of a fresh summit with Nehru in June. It is needless to add that Nehru's death put paid to the Sheikh's mission with all its nuances. Since I have written at length about Pakistan's heartwarming reaction to Nehru's passing (IE, May 29, 2009), as well as elsewhere, let me report whatever has remained unknown about the Sheikh's first and last visit to Pakistan.
Pakistan had given him a rapturous welcome usually reserved for either a national hero or the head of a very friendly state. There was no dearth of fawning on and flattery of him. Every Pakistan wanted him to say something about Kashmir's affinity with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, but he would do nothing of the sort.
He insisted that the solution must be acceptable equally to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. When some members of the Pakistan national assembly complained to him that Uncle Sam had "ceased to be of help", he retorted: "If so, why are the nephews clinging to him"? It was at Muzaffarabad, the capital of "A zad Kashmir" usually out of bounds for Indian visitors, that the news of Nehru's death reached us. As I started rushing back immediately, the Sheikh stood sobbing uncontrollably. He looked every inch a man who knew that some superior force had cut the ground from under his feet. Regrettably, within a year of Nehru's passing, the Sheikh was back in detention. After a pilgrimage to Mecca he had gone to Algiers where he met Zhou Enlai. Nothing could have been more infuriating than this to a people still traumatised by the 1962 war. He was taken into custody the moment he landed in Delhi.
STRANGER DANGER THE FIFTH METRO LETTER FROM BANGALORE
In Bangalore, a 17-year-old is on a mission to teach children about safe Internet us
A FRESH-FACED Bangalore student is on a crusade to educate Indian school kids about the dangers skulking on the Internet and to drill into them the difference between Internet use and abuse.
Shaurya Saluja is barely 17. Through his RISE India (Raising Information Security Education India), Saluja is designing a cyber-safety and cyber-ethics curriculum that school boards in India can use to educate students on prudent ways of using the Internet.
The campaign could not be timelier.
Internet use by urban Indians as young as eight or nine is exploding. Pressure is building up at school and at home for kids to become Internet-savvy. With information technology becoming a favoured career path, the average age of kids going online independently is lessening.
"India does not have an army of cyber cops scouring the Internet like in the West, waiting to catch crooks and perverts preying on young children," says Divya Bansal, assistant professor at the Cyber Security Research Centre at Punjab Engineering College. Bansal, who is guiding Saluja with the cyber safety curriculum, says self-patrolling is vital.
Saluja, who studies at Bangalore's Indus International School was rudely wakened to the perils of the Internet a few months ago. At his grandparents' home in Chandigarh, his ten-year old cousin pestered him to open a Facebook account for her. On her profile, she wanted to provide her age, her home address, the name of her school, her likes and dislikes ("I hate getting back from school at...").
"I was shocked at her ignorance and naiveté," said Saluja. His cousin only stopped short of giving out a personal phone number because her she did not have a cell phone. The rush to get online whether to finish a class project or to use instant messenger to chat with friends is making kids vulnerable. At Saluja's Indus International, an exclusive school in the Sarjapura suburbs of Bangalore, students walk through the school gates to step into a wi-fi-enabled campus. The school is introducing a one-laptop-per-child rule from sixth grade onwards.
As computers come increasingly within the reach of average Indian school kids, children are vulnerable, says Saluja. "There seems to be a large gap between the rush to get online and the awareness about doing it in a secure manner," he says. While the syllabus he is designing is for grades 9 to 12, Saluja says kids from third grade upwards need to be warned about taking safety measures such as not sharing passwords with anybody, not even their best friend, and not opening email attachments from random people.
Even among older kids, his own peers for instance, there is a mad rush to amass friends on social networking sites such as Facebook and Orkut because, 'the larger the number of friends, the higher your perceived status,' bemoans Saluja. Many kids then end up accepting friend requests from strangers, and giving them access to all kinds of personal information from photos to posts on what you are planning to do over the weekend and where. They are clueless that people may be masquerading as somebody else on the Internet. "In real life, kids are always warned not to speak with strangers but who is cautioning them about strangers online?" he asks.
In the higher grades in Indian schools, general computer education is already a part of the syllabus but the education is theoretical rather than practical, criticises Saluja. "The book will tell you what is a 'virus' and who is a 'hacker' but you will have no way of relating it all back to you when you are actually using your computer." Saluja wants to enlist NGO's and employees of technology firms such as Infosys and Wipro to train teachers and evangelise to school students about secure ways of using the Internet.
India's kids want their cyber freedom. But if Saluja has his say, they will know not to download copyrighted material from the Internet. They will know that plagiarising content from the Internet and passing it off as original work is immoral. And importantly, they will learn to stay out of harm's way as they ride the surf.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE SURPRISE
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The Muslim world needs a leader with Mandela-like imagination and generosity THE KEY struggle with Islam is not inter-communal, and certainly not between Americans and Muslims. It is intracommunal and going on across the Muslim world. The reason the Iraq war was, is and will remain important is that it created the first chance for Arab Sunnis and Shiites to surprise us and freely write their own social contract.
I JUST saw the movie Invictus the story of how Nelson Mandela, in his first term as president of South Africa, enlists the country's famed rugby team, the Springboks, on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and, through that, to start the healing of that apartheid-torn land. The almost all-white Springboks had been a symbol of white domination, and blacks routinely rooted against them. When the post-apartheid, black-led South African sports committee moved to change the team's name and colours, President Mandela stopped them.
He explained that part of making whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa was not uprooting all their cherished symbols. "That is selfish thinking," Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, says in the movie. "It does not serve the nation." Then speaking of South Africa's whites, Mandela adds, "We have to surprise them with restraint and generosity." I love that line: "We have to surprise them." I was watching the movie on an aeroplane and scribbled that line down on my napkin because it summarises what is missing today in so many places: leaders who surprise us by rising above their histories, their constituencies, their pollsters, their circumstances and just do the right things for their countries.
I tried to recall the last time a leader of importance surprised me on the upside by doing something positive, courageous and against the popular will of his country or party. I can think of a few: Yitzhak Rabin in signing onto the Oslo peace process. Anwar Sadat in going to Jerusalem. And, of course, Mandela in the way he led South Africa.
But these are such exceptions. Look at Iraq today. Five months after its first truly open, broad-based election, in which all the major communities voted, the political elite there cannot rise above Shiite or Sunni identities and reach out to the other side so as to produce a national unity government that could carry Iraq into the future. Tr ue, democracy takes a long time to grow, especially in a soil bloodied by a murderous dictator for 30 years. Nevertheless, up to now, Iraq's new leaders have surprised us only on the downside.
Will they ever surprise us the other way? Should we care now that we're leaving? Ye s, because the roots of 9/11 are an intraMuslim fight, which America, as an ally of one faction, got pulled into. There are at least three different intra-Muslim wars raging today. One is between the Sunni far right and the Sunni far-far right in Saudi Arabia. This was the war between Osama bin Laden (the far-far right) and the Saudi ruling family (the far right). It is a war between those who think women shouldn't drive and those who think they shouldn't even leave the house. Bin Laden attacked us because we prop up his Saudi rivals which we do to get their oil.
In Iraq, you have the pure Sunni-versus Shiite struggle. And in Pakistan, you have the fundamentalist Sunnis versus every one else: Shiites, Ahmadis and Sufis. You will notice that in each of these civil wars, barely a week goes by without one Mus lim faction blowing up another faction's mosque or gathering of innocents -like Tuesday's bombing in Baghdad, at the opening of Ramadan, which killed 61 people.
In short: the key struggle with Islam is not inter-communal, and certainly not between Americans and Muslims. It is intracommunal and going on across the Muslim world. The reason the Iraq war was, is and will remain important is that it created the first chance for Arab Sunnis and Shiites to do something they have never done in modern history: surprise us and freely write their own social contract for how to live together and share power and resources. If they could do that, in the heart of the Arab world, and actually begin to ease the intra-communal struggle within Islam, it would be a huge example for others. It would mean that any Arab country could be a democracy and not have to be held together by an iron fist from above. But it will be impossible without Iraqi Shiite and Sunni Mandelas ready to let the future bury the past. As one of Mandela's guards, watching the new president engage with South African whites, asks in the movie, "How do you spend 30 years in a tiny cell and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there?" It takes a very special leader.
This is also why the issue of the mosque and community centre near the site of 9/11 is a sideshow. The truly important question "is not can the different Muslim sects live with Americans in harmony, but can they live with each other in harmony," said Stephen P. Cohen, an expert on interfaith relations and author of Beyond America's Grasp: a Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East.
Indeed, the big problem is not those Muslims building mosques in America, it is those Muslims blowing up mosques in the Middle East. And the answer to them is not an interfaith dialogue in America. It is an intrafaith dialogue so sorely missing in the Muslim world. Our surge in Iraq will never bear fruit without a political surge by Arabs and Muslims to heal intracommunal divides. It would be great if President Obama surprised everyone and gave another speech in Cairo or Baghdad saying that.
WHEREVER YOU ARE, WHATEVER YOU DO
The fuss over Facebook Places is valid, but there are many more ways in which you are digitally located and tracked PRIVACYa ctivists are up in arms again, at Facebook's recent launch of a new location-based service called Places. But what's the new issue here? For years, telecom operators have been able to roughly locate you by triangulating the signal strength between the three nearest cell towers. In India, geo-location is part of the call logs maintained by the operator. That is how the police was able to determine that Bangalore resident Sathish Gupta killed his wife Priyanka. He took her mobile with him during a jog with his friend and then faked a phone call as an alibi. He knew that the time-stamps on the call logs would corroborate his lies. But the location-data nailed him.
So, in short, the state and telecom operators know where you are even if you don't have a smartphone with GPS support.
For those who can afford it? GPS support provides greater accuracy and reliability, independent of telecom signal strength. The immediate and future benefits are huge. For parents, MyKidIsSafe.com, allows them to create a geofence and receive automatic notification when the child leaves the safety zone. In combination with RFID, businesses are able to provide their customers with accurate updates regarding status of deliveries. The Karnataka police is able to verify that the police inspector issuing the challan using a Blackberry for a traffic violation is not doing it from home.
Seven hundred and fifty thousand gay men from 162 countries use a geo-social network called Grindr to find love. In the future, most car-pooling services will be GPS-enabled. Geo-location-based crowd-sourcing will be used to predict and avoid traffic jams by measuring the density and velocity of mobile phones on various routes.
Privacy advocates worry that after helping the police solve crimes and fight terrrorism, telecom companies retain the logs instead of deleting, anonymising or obfuscating them. Especially so in India,giventhelackofprivacylaws,telecom operators, web and mobile service providers could retain the logs for customerprofilingorworsestill,selltheraw data or analysis to third parties.
Cyberstalkers,childmolestersandrapistsbenefit.Catburglarswillknowwhenyouare away and be able to clean out your house in a more relaxed fashion. Geosurveillancebyastate,obsessedwithterrorism, will have negligible benefits while extracting a huge social cost and significantly undermining national security.
So why this particular outcry against the world's most successful social networking website? There are three reasons that come immediately to mind.
First,Facebookhasaterriblerecordwith privacy. In the last five years, the default settings have moved from one where no personal data was available for anonymous access to one with anonymous access to everything except birthday and contact information. And these are settings that affect the majority of the half a billion people who don't bother changing default settings. So there is no guaranteethatFacebookwillnotgetmoreintrusive with its default geo-location privacysettings.
Second, a friend can geo-tag you without requiring you to approve or confirm this. Once you are geo-tagged, all your common friends will be notified through the friend-feed system. This is similar to the current system of photo sharing. A friend can upload a inappropriate photograph and tag you almost instantly all your work-mates who also happen to be your Facebook friends get a notification via the feed. Of course, you can always untag the photo, change the settings and defriend the culprit but by then the damage is usually done.
Third, the Facebook user-interface for privacy settings is notoriously complex and cumbersome. Many users will think that they have managed to bolt down the security settings when in fact their personal data will remain all up for grabs. The half a million third-party products available today on the Facebook platform only compounds this problem.
The writer is director of policy at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
LANDING IN TROUBLE
The recent farmer agitation over land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh is another reminder of just how complicated the process of acquiring land for industry (or indeed for any other non-agricultural purpose) has become. It now threatens to be the major bottleneck for growth and development. It is well known that one of the roots of the problem is the antiquated legal framework for land acquisition, which actually dates back to 1894. That particular law gives the state almost unbridled powers to acquire land. There was an attempt to draft a new law in 2007, but it never came to fruition. Under the UPA-2 regime, Mamata Banerjee has been adamant on not supporting any new legislation on land acquisition. The new draft Bill did try to address some of the concerns of those opposed to the old system of land acquisition by mandating the private sector to acquire a certain proportion of the land directly, with the state only empowered to acquire a minority share. It also contained better provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation than had ever existed before. Unfortunately, the UPA government seems unwilling to press Mamata Banerjee on this issue.
At the core of the problem is identifying the right price for a particular piece of agricultural land. All considered, it makes sense to consider the future use of a piece of land before deciding its pricethe current price of agricultural land is likely to be lower than its price when converted to industrial use. And it isn't necessarily impossible to discover this price if the private sector is allowed to negotiate directly with the farmers, rather than the state mandating a particular price. There will, after all, be some price at which the farmers will not say no and it will still be worthwhile for the industry to buy. The problem, of course, is that land markets, particularly in rural areas, are not well developed. There is a serious problem of titlingwithout a formal title, a farmer will obviously not agree to sell. Assigning titles is a gigantic exercise but it must be done along with computerisation of land records. This will help farmers sell their land. Interestingly, in states that are richer (also where farmers are better off) and where land markets are better developed, there is much less controversy over land acquisitionwhen was the last time you heard about agitation over land in Gujarat? The poorer states, Orissa, UP and West Bengal are at the epicentre of the agitation. The government needs to act on new legislation immediately.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
It isn't quite clear why the Prime Minister's Office decided to stir a debate on the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI)it comprises mostly MNCs operating in India and their partners heredemand to dilute Section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act. The Patent Act, as modified five years ago, has helped ensure India was not inundated with drugs that were just minor modifications of existing onessomething that one would expect, given the sharp slowdown in the number of new discoveries and the increased proclivity of the blockbusters-starved 'innovator firms' to look for pecuniary rewards from patenting of incremental inventions and try 'ever-greening'. When India's lawmakers were debating 3(d) in the winter of 2004, the transnational pharma majors from the US and EU said it would violate Article 27 of the TRIPS agreement. They were subsequently proved wrong, and even the ardent votaries of undiluted and liberal patent rights like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have endorsed 3(d) as a legitimate, TRIPS-compliant tool. The PMO's move is also ill-timed because the Supreme Court is hearing an appeal from Swiss drug major Novartis on this matter.
The reason why Big Pharma dislikes Section 3(d) is that it makes it difficult to get patent rights for new (physical) forms or admixtures of previously known new chemical entities (NCEs) unless these seemingly trivial changes bring 'significant improvement in the efficacy' of the product in question. If vigorously implemented, 3(d) can thwart stockpiling of separate 20-year patents for multiple attributes of a single product. According to news reports, OPPI wants the term 'efficacy' to be defined and quantified. This apparently innocuous demand has the potential to undermine the utility of 3(d). It is not that the Indian patent offices haven't granted patents for deserving incremental inventions that are of real therapeutic value to the patient-consumer. True, just about 40 of the 3,500 product patents for pharmaceuticals granted since 2005 are for new crystalline forms or polymorphs of a pre-existing NCEs. However, these patents have translated into just 30-odd products in the market so far, of which a dozen are crystalline forms. This shows how important the removal/dilution of 3(d) is to the patent seekers. Indian companies, too, may get a few patents for incremental inventions if 3(d) is diluted. But this would hardly offset the adverse effect, on the consumer or the Indian industry, of a bad patent.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
SO WHO WANTS TO INVEST IN EQUITY DIRECTLY
The capital markets regulator wants to double the investment limit for small investors in public issues from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. With the Coal India issue looming large it's not surprising that the government wants to make sure it gets the Rs 15,000 crore or more that it's looking for. And since around 30% of an issue is reserved for small investors, it needs to make sure it gets a good enough response from them. Obviously, simply allowing investors to put in more money is not going to be enough; at the end of the day, it's the quality of the business whose shares are on offer and the valuations that will determine how the issue fares. But yes, since the data shows that three-fourths of the total number of applications for an IPO is made for amounts between Rs 80,000 and Rs 1 lakh, there is perhaps sense in increasing the threshold.
A glance at retail subscriptions to IPOs, over the last year or so, shows that small investors weren't really falling over each other to write out cheques. Several issues closed without the quota for small investors being used up. The fault lay clearly in the way the issues were priced; although the Sensex was close to a 30-month high in the last week of July, more than half of the nearly 30 IPOs that hit the market since January 2010 were trading below their issue price. Even otherwise, the volatility in the market seems to have spooked investors who have stayed away since late 2008.
Even most of those who are around are punting rather than investing and so prefer to trade in the derivatives segment rather than buy shares outright. While secondary market volumes have grown at a 43% CAGR between 2004-09, volumes in the futures and options (F&O) space have clocked a compounded growth of 52% with the result that volumes in the space account for three-fourths of total volumes. Meanwhile, the share of deliveries to the total value, although above trough levels, is less than 25% and it's possible much of this would be accounted for by institutions, whether local or foreign. So while volumes in the secondary market may have risen 60% year-on-year to Rs 97,800 crore in 2009-10, much of the action has happened in the derivatives segment, which is why broking is such a tough business.
Also, in terms of absolute numbers, there aren't too many participants in the market. The government recently informed Parliament that the number of clients who traded in the derivatives segment, in the three months to June 2010, was 5.74 lakh. And fewer than 2,200 accounted for 80% of the derivatives turnover while only 31 lakh investors traded in the NSE cash segment. Of these 52% were retail, high-net worth individuals and corporate customers while institutions and proprietary traders accounted for a share of 24% each. About 90% of the trading, during these three months, was done by fewer than two lakh investors while 80% of the turnover was accounted for by fewer than 42,000 investors. While the numbers may appear small, it reinforces the point that not too many small investors are really keen to participate directly in the market; they've probably learnt the hard way that investing is best left to professionals.
It is not such a bad thing. After all, what's important is that the share of household savings, which is invested in the capital marketwhether through mutual funds or insurance companiesgoes up. However, that doesn't seem to be happening. The latest numbers will be out soon but gross household financial savings, as a share of GDP, actually fell to 14% of GDP in 2008-09, according to provisional estimates of RBI. And within this, the share of financial savings that went into shares and debentures was only 2.6% (preliminary estimate) in 2008-09, compared to 12.4% (provisional estimate) in the previous year. On the other hand, the share of savings that went into deposits rose nearly 600 basis points to 58.5%. So most people would rather play safe even if inflation is eroding the value of their savings. Also, the outflows from mutual funds over the past year or so since entry loads were banned indicate how much of a push product these schemes were. Individuals need to be encouraged to invest in equities and the way to channel their savings into the stock market is to encourage them to buy schemes of mutual funds. With a bit of prodding, people should be willing to park some of their savings in mutual funds or Ulips. So, perhaps commissions on mutual funds need to be restored, maybe not to the earlier levels of 2.25%, but enough to make it attractive for agents to sell these products. For sure, the commissions on Ulips were almost usurious and needed to be brought down and while agents may be miffed, over time they will learn to live with smaller incentives. But that's the way forward.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
TIME TO PAUSE ON POLICY TIGHTENING
Signals from multiple economic and financial markets data released over the past week suggest that there is now a case for revisiting the pace and timing of the monetary policy tightening trajectory. There is sufficient evidence of a moderation of the economic growth momentum to argue for a pause on the policy tightening trajectory.
Inflation remains a key concern, but the WPI inflation data for July reinforced expectations of not just lower inflation but an actual fall in prices. More or less normal monsoons will help in moderating food prices over the rest of the year. Our understanding of the global economic environment suggests that prices of major manufacturing inputs and commodities are likely to remain steady for the near future. Our projections suggest that WPI inflation will probably fall steadily to around 7% by March 2011.
Sharply lower June industry growth might be the harbinger of a period of relatively subdued industrial activity, as is being signalled by various leading indicators, as well as our own channel checks with industry associations. The slowdown in merchandise exports in July, given the lags in domestic production, is another signal of a continuing impact on domestic manufacturing over the rest of the year. Weakness in both manufacturing and services was also indicated by the April-June 2010 corporate results, showing a compression of profit margins. Input costs had increased in Q1, but companies have largely not passed these on to consumers. This weakness in pricing power, somewhat at odds with a belief of high capacity utilisation levels, will continue, partially due to potential cheaper imports from countries with excess capacity, particularly China. Bank credit offtake in July remained negative, a sign of weak credit demand, probably due both to capacity slack and an uncertain economic environment.
Of greater concern, deposit growth has trended down almost secularly since mid-2009, an anomaly in the current growth situation, with expectations of concomitant increased savings having been belied. This drop has contributed to a continuing tightness in banking sector liquidity, more prolonged and severe than initially expected. We know that a presumed lack of foreign funds inflows has contributed to the squeeze, with faltering capital flows unable to bridge the current account deficit, evident from the continuing weakness of the rupee. Indian equities markets are already probably fairly-to-richly valued, and the uncertain global environment might lead to lower portfolio inflows. This was compounded by an unusual buildup of "currency with the public" in the early fortnights of FY11, reportedly the result of high inflation forcing retention of cash in households for grocery buys.
A continuing constriction of deposits is likely to severely hamper credit delivery. Unless foreign funds flows pick up, or more domestic funds become available for banks, there is an increasing chance that a 20% credit growth might be unfeasible other than at a high cost to borrowers, an undesirable outcome for an economy that is operating with capacity bottlenecks in key segments. At the risk of oversimplification, there is no money available to banks, from depositors or markets, to fund credit delivery. If credit demand does pick up, then banks will try to attract term deposits. But the cost of these funds will increase, given the continuing and indeed increasing liquidity tightness that we foresee for the rest of the year.
Is it then time to pause on the calibrated trajectory of monetary policy tightening? The current economic, financial and credit environment suggests a strong affirmative. Overnight uncollateralised call money rates have increased from around 3.25% in January to around 5.7%, over 250 basis points, much larger than the 75 basis points signalled by the increase in LAF repo rates, partially engineered by a policy tightening of liquidity with the 75 bps increase in the CRR.
Of course, a rebuttal to this reasoning might be that bank lending rates have not responded to the policy rate signals. One reason is that demand for credit has just not been robust enough for banks to start raising term deposits at higher cost and passing on these higher rates to borrowers. Moreover, ample liquidity in previous months had also been a disincentive for increasing deposit rates. This has changed, due to the combination of effects described above. There is little to gain in stressing a fragile credit situation.
We stress again that we are arguing for a pause in the tightening cycle, not an end to the tightening. It appears that we are still some distance from potential output, and the lagged effects of the earlier tightening are only now being felt, probably a little too strongly, given the weak global environment. Rural incomes will certainly revive demand later in the year. As and when credit demand resumes, so must RBI's calibrated policy tightening.
The author is senior VP, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views
'WITHDRAWING' FROM A WRECKED COUNTRY
As with everything else the United States has done in respect of Iraq since September 11, 2001, nothing about the claim to have withdrawn can be believed. The official line is that the last American combat troops moved from Iraq into Kuwait in the early hours of August 20. They departed not in a display causing shock and awe but in silence and darkness. They had arrived on a monstrous lie, the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and they have left on a whopper. Over 50,000 U.S. troops are to remain in Iraq, and their numbers could rise to 70,000. They will be called 'Advise and Assist brigades'; they have warplanes and helicopters and will accompany Iraqi troops into combat. The U.S. also has several big, effectively permanent military bases in Iraq; and intends to maintain about 200,000 mercenaries as 'protectors' of western business and other interests across the country. The troops who have left have done so seven years after President George W. Bush made his 'Mission accomplished' proclamation.
The effects of the illegal U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and the subsequent occupation have been catastrophic. There is no accurate record of how many Iraqis have died or been wounded in the seven years: estimates range up to a million deaths. About five million Iraqis are refugees, with 2.7 million of them displaced internally. Unemployment is at 40 per cent. With temperatures around 50°C for several months a year, power supplies fail, which means water-treatment plants shut down, increasing the risk of epidemics. The administrative chaos was caused by Washington's assumption in 2003 that much of the population was fanatical in supporting Saddam Hussein; this led the occupying powers to disband the Iraqi army and much of the police and civic administration around the country. The effects of war include the poisoning of Iraq and beyond by an estimated 1,000 tonnes of depleted uranium used in U.S. munitions. As for the lives of ordinary Iraqis, the population of 30 million faces another descent into vicious sectarian violence. This is driven by extremist elements out to exploit the political vacuum as the country's elected politicians squabble interminably over forming a government, five months after the election. Indeed the invasion has been a gift to the al-Qaeda, which now has expanded influence in West Asia. Furthermore, Iran, which Washington openly hates and fears, has strong influence on Iraqi Shia leaders. The U.S. may have removed Saddam, who by 2003 was so weakened that even neighbouring states no longer feared him; but it has wrecked a whole country that represents one of the world's great ancient civilisations.
MORE SPACE FOR SMALL INVESTORS
A recent proposal mooted by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) seeks to create more space for small investors in initial public offerings by expanding the definition of a retail investor. Henceforth applications up to Rs.2 lakh double the present limit will come under this category. This is expected to motivate many more investors to apply in the retail category. On analysing the allotment patterns in recent public offers, the regulator has found that the majority of retail applications is in the range of Rs.80,000 to Rs.1 lakh. It is more than likely that many of the applicants have the capacity and appetite to go for shares even beyond the Rs.1 lakh limit but are not doing so because that would push them out of the retail investor category.
Current SEBI guidelines require the issuing companies to earmark 35 per cent of the allotment to the retail investors and just 15 per cent to the non-institutional category. The chances of success are greater if shares are applied for in the retail category. Some very large issuers would welcome the hike in the limit for retail investors. For an issue size of Rs.4,000-6,000 crore, the limit of Rs.1 lakh would mean that the issue has to attract a minimum of 1.5 to 2 lakh applications for the retail category quota to be filled, a truly daunting task.
The government is also obviously concerned over the outcome of the forthcoming large disinvestments by public sector enterprises such as Coal India. There have been other moves to enhance the level of retail participation in the share market. The most recent example was the directive to listed companies to keep the level of public float at 25 per cent. A three-year time frame was given to comply with this norm. However, for certain practical reasons the government reduced the size of the minimum float to 10 per cent for public sector companies. A change in the regulatory rules, by itself, is unlikely to increase participation by small investors. Recent public offers by government companies were over-subscribed but retail participation was disappointing. The low discount allowed on the offer price and the complexities of the new auction method were some of the factors that discouraged small investors. A variety of developments such as large-scale technology application and the enhancement of capital requirements for brokers have improved efficiency and security, and the large investors are comfortable with the system. At the same time, small investors are feeling alienated, and the recent steps should go some way in addressing their concerns.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
RUSSIA: FORESTS UP IN FLAMES
WHILE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HAVE BLAMED THE UNPRECEDENTED WILDFIRES ON THE HOTTEST AND DRIEST SUMMER IN 1000 YEARS, EXPERTS SAY THE NATIONAL DISASTER WAS MAN-MADE.
Forests, Russia's greatest wealth after hydrocarbons, have turned into its curse this summer. The worst heat wave on record, aggravated by a severe drought, has triggered ferocious wildfires that have burned down scores of villages, left thousands of people homeless and forced an evacuation at the country's main nuclear facility.
With forests covering two-thirds of Russia's territory, wildfires break out every summer. But in previous years, they most often affected the sparsely populated territories of Siberia and the Far East. This year, deadly wildfires engulfed European Russia, where four-fifths of the country's 142 million people live.
At the height of the disaster, more than 800 fires raged in over 800,000 hectares in central Russia, which had almost no rains this summer as temperatures soared above 40° Centigrade, almost 20° above the annual average. Over 2,000 houses have burned, leaving thousands of people homeless; dozens have died in burning houses and fighting the fires. The Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, had to remove all radioactive and explosive material from the Federal Nuclear Centre near the town of Sarov in central Russia, as forest fires came within 4,000 metres of the secret facilities where Russian nuclear weapons are made. More than 200,000 fire-fighters and army personnel battled the fires across the country.
Wildfires have destroyed a major naval equipment base and forced the moving of missiles at an air-defence facility near Moscow. Trial tests of Russia's newest missiles Bulava and Iskander have had to be postponed, as factories where they are manufactured were threatened by fire. Thick smoke from the burning woods and peat bogs blanketed Moscow and other cities, creeping into apartments, offices, stores and even the Moscow underground metro. Health officials have said that the death rate in Moscow has doubled, even as funeral services admitted that they had at least three-four times more work than they usually have at this time of the year. Satellite images have shown smoke from Russian fires rising 12 km above the earth and forming dense clouds of the type volcanoes produce. The smoke is known to have caused the cancellation or delayed more than 60,000 flights in Russia two-thirds of the number of flights cancelled during Iceland's volcanic eruption in April.New Forest Code Officials have blamed the unprecedented wildfires on the hottest and driest summer in at least 1000 years. However, experts say the national disaster was man-made and the responsibility for it lies with the Russian government, and personally with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who disbanded the national forestry service that existed in the Soviet Union. Four years ago, Mr. Putin, then President, signed into law a new Forest Code, which disbanded the centralised forest authority.
In the Soviet Union, the state forestry service was responsible for forest monitoring, fire prevention and fire-fighting. It employed 80,000 forest rangers whose main job was to monitor the woodlands on a daily basis and put out minor fires before they could grow into major conflagrations. Under the Forest Code, the responsibility for forest administration, including fire protection, passed from the federal government to the regions and to the businesses leasing the forest area. This was done in line with the prevailing ideology of Mr. Putin's government that the state should pull out from non-strategic sectors and leave regulatory functions to market forces. State fire-fighting services are no longer responsible for putting out forest fires and government funding for wildfire prevention measures has been drastically scaled back. Russia currently spends about 3 cents per hectare of woodlands on fire fighting services. In comparison, it is about $4 in the United States.
The Soviet Union had arguably the world's best aerial task force that specialised in combating wildfires. It employed 11,000 firefighters, who would fly and parachute into remote areas to put out incipient forest fires with backpack fire extinguishers. It was probably the only way of controlling forest fires in the world's largest country where vast woodlands were and still are inaccessible by road. Under the forestry reform, the airborne fire service was pared down to 2,000 personnel, with monitoring functions only, and its fleet of more than 100 low-flying An-2 biplanes and helicopters given to the regions.
Moreover, the declared goal of the Forest Code was to modernise the industry and encourage sustainable forest use by large companies on long-term lease contracts acquired through auctions. In reality, the reform benefited corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen linked to them. The new law removed the federal oversight of forests and led to a dramatic rise in illegal tree felling and arbitrary transfer of woodlands to other categories of land that allow commercial development. The forest fire protection service was a victim in the game of corruption.
The Kremlin encourages regional authorities to abuse forests by abusing the law itself. As flames consumed the woodlands around Moscow, a centuries-old oak forest on the outskirts of the Russian capital was being cut down to make way for a 10-lane toll highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Khimki forest, part of the green belt around the metropolis called "the lungs of Moscow," had been protected by law for decades. But the government moved the forest out of its protected status and allowed the construction to go forward, while the police beat up ecologists and local residents who protested the illegal tree-felling. Ecologists said the authorities turned down alternative routes for the road because they involved relocating hundreds of residents, whereas the forest is state property and therefore no compensation has to be paid. The project smacked of corruption, as the private company that won the contract also received the right to build shopping centres two kilometres on either side of the highway.
Russia's expert community was strongly opposed to the Forest Code, warning of dire consequences if approved. "The Forest Code spells catastrophe. It opens the way to criminal seizures of forests and plunder of timber resources," warned Academician Alexander Isayev, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Centre for Forest Ecology and Productivity.
The government ignored the experts' warnings and a docile Parliament duly endorsed the bill. As a result, illegal logging in the past three years has soared from 20 per cent of annual forest cuts to 30 per cent, and the number of forest fires has doubled, according to ecologists.
'Power vertical' The way the forestry industry was reorganised highlighted the core weaknesses of governance in Russia over the past decade. Mr. Putin is rightly credited with pulling together a country that was falling apart when he became President in 2000. He defeated the Chechen insurgency, rebuilt the state machinery and returned Russia to the high table of powerful global players. However, in combating the chaos and turmoil that marked the era of President Boris Yeltsin, Mr. Putin fell into the opposite extreme. He created what the Kremlin proudly calls a "power vertical" a centralised system of government devoid of any checks and balances. There is no credible opposition or any independent electronic media; Parliament rubberstamps government decisions and the courts never go against the authorities. There is no feedback from society to the government. This inevitably produces such blunders as the forestry reform, which has left Russia defenceless in the face of massive wildfires this summer, or the catastrophic accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant last year, which was largely the result of the carving-up and privatisation of the unified electricity generation system that existed in the Soviet Union.
Mr. Putin understands that his vertical power structure is highly ineffective.
"We have a vast network of governmental institutions and experts but their efficiency is extremely low and real risks are neglected," he said in March. But he was aware of the problem five years ago, too. In his 2005 state-of-nation address, President Putin lambasted the bureaucracy as an "arrogant caste" that "understands state service as just another kind of business."
Yet, today Russia is as far from multi-party democracy, political competition and bureaucratic accountability classic recipes for improving the administration as it was five or 10 years ago.
In a report released at the height of the forest fires, the Independent Association of Lawyers for Human Rights estimated the market of corruption in Russia at 50 per cent of the country's GDP.
In a revealing insight into how little trust he has in his subordinates, Mr. Putin ordered web cameras set up in fire-ravaged villages so that he could control online the state-funded construction of burnt homes. As a Russian daily said in a comment on forest fires: "It is not just forests that are on fire, it is Mr. Putin's power vertical that is going up in flames."
BARACK OBAMA AND THE MISSION
AFTER HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, MORE THAN 4,400 U.S. MILITARY DEATHS AND AT LEAST 100,000 IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS, WAS THE IRAQ WAR WORTH IT?
The official end of America's combat mission in Iraq next week will fulfil the campaign promise that helped vault President Barack Obama to the White House, but it also presents profound risks as he seeks to claim credit without issuing a premature declaration of victory.
As columns of vehicles crossed the border and troops arrived to happy homecomings last week, Mr. Obama released a restrained written statement and made a one-sentence reference at a pair of fund-raisers. While some called it the end of the seven-year war, Mr. Obama sought to avoid the sort of "mission accomplished" moment that haunted his predecessor.
But the White House wants to find a way to mark the moment and remind voters just two months before mid-term elections that he delivered on his vow to pull out combat forces. Mr. Obama plans to make a high-profile speech on the drawdown next week, and aides are discussing whether to have him meet with returning troops. Vice-President Joe Biden will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis on Monday.
The symbolism of the departing troops that played out on network TV masked the more complex reality on the ground. Even as the last designated combat forces leave and the mission formally changes on August 31 to a support role, 50,000 U.S. "advise and assist" troops will remain in the country for 16 months more, still in harm's way and still armed for combat if necessary. What's more, Iraq's future remains fraught with challenges amid a stubborn political impasse and a continuing low-grade insurgency.
"Political posturing is the norm in Washington, and claiming victory and an end to a war is far more popular than bearing the burden of leadership and dealing with reality," Anthony H. Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote on the centre's website on Friday. "The Iraq war is not over and it is not 'won.' In fact, it is at as critical a stage as at any time since 2003."
Denis R. McDonough, chief of staff of the National Security Council, said the administration had no illusions.
"Does anybody believe the violence is going to stop entirely and the opponents to stability and progress in Iraq are going to stand down? No," he said. "But we do know that the Iraqi security forces are in a position to take that role on themselves increasingly."
The official transition is as much a change in labels as it is a change in mission. With violence far below its peak in 2006 and 2007, American forces have increasingly taken a backseat to the Iraqi security units they trained.
But after seven years of a war started by President George W. Bush on the basis of false intelligence, the desire for finality and, perhaps, closure has focussed attention on this moment and provoked a fresh discussion in Washington about what it all has meant.
After hundreds of billions of dollars, more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and perhaps many more, was it worth it? Did toppling a dictator and nursing a fledgling, if flawed, democracy make a difference? And did the United States salvage credibility by sticking it out and finally stabilising Iraq even if not winning the clear-cut victory originally envisioned?
"If we can't have a victory parade, we at least ought to be able to make some definitive conclusions," said Andrew J. Bacevich, a military specialist at Boston University who lost a son in Iraq and has written a new book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. "And it just doesn't seem that we are going to do so. We want to just move on, sadly."
In part, that owes to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama is sending more troops, as well as the fragile economy at home, where millions of Americans are looking for work. And so while his opposition to the Iraq war animated his early candidacy, it seems almost a secondary issue these days.
During a fund-raising speech in Ohio last week, for instance, Mr. Obama mentioned the Iraq transition only in passing. "We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency: By the end of this month, we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq, and our combat mission will be over in Iraq," he said, a line he later repeated at a fund-raiser in Miami.
As they mark the moment, Democrats generally make no mention of the troop build-up and strategy change ordered by Mr. Bush in 2007, which many credit with turning around the war and making it possible to end combat now. By the time Mr. Bush left office, he had sealed an agreement with Iraq to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. After taking office, Mr. Obama ordered an intermediary deadline of drawing down to 50,000 by the end of this month.
Mr. Bush showed up unannounced at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport earlier this month to greet troops returning from Iraq. While no media were invited, homemade video posted on YouTube showed him in casual clothes shaking hands and posing for pictures with the troops as they entered the terminal one by one.
While Mr. Bush has declined to discuss the mission change, former advisers see it as a validation that after all the pain and the blood, Iraq may finally be in a better place, governed by a freer, more democratic system that could yet serve as a model in an otherwise largely authoritarian Middle East.
"We can take a certain measure of satisfaction from the success in Iraq," L. Paul Bremer III, the former Iraqi occupation administrator, said in an interview. "It's not a complete success yet, obviously, but building democracy takes time."
He added that "a successful Arab-Muslim democracy basically puts the lie to the Islamic extremists" who maintain that democracy is anathema to Islam and advocate a harsh form of rule.
Stephen J. Hadley, who was Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said the current transition was due to the surge ordered by the former President and opposed by Mr. Obama when he was a Senator.
But he said he was glad that Mr. Obama's team "has gone through a transition" and that it seemed to be taking pride in accomplishments in Iraq. He said he hoped that the administration would see the task through.
"If they do, they can rightly claim some measure of credit, and I would be the first to give them credit," Mr. Hadley said. "But they need to stay focussed and stay engaged."
For Mr. Obama, this moment is a reminder of the lesson his predecessor learned after declaring the end of major combat operations in front of an aircraft carrier under a "Mission Accomplished" banner in 2003. Iraq was a messy war with no tidy end. "There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship," Mr. Bush later concluded.Mr. Obama has come to the same realisation, in almost the exact same words. "There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey's end," he declared last spring. New York Times News Service
SWEDEN ADDS TO DRAMA OVER WIKILEAKS
JOHN F. BURNS & ERIC SCHMITT
Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website who is embroiled in a fight with the Pentagon over the disclosure of secret military documents, was caught up in a new drama on Saturday when Swedish prosecutors sought him for questioning on allegations of rape and molestation and then announced that the rape allegation was unfounded.
The abrupt reversal marked another strange twist to Mr. Assange's already complicated tale. A 39-year-old former computer hacker from Australia, Mr. Assange has become ever more elusive in recent weeks as the Obama administration hinted it might prosecute him for releasing about 77,000 classified Afghan war documents on the Internet last month. His confrontation with the administration has grown only more bitter as he warned that the organisation would soon release 15,000 more documents.
Using Skype and Twitter to communicate, Mr. Assange has expressed increased worries that the United States might try to stop his work, which is dedicated to exposing government and corporate secrets. Defending himself against the Swedish allegations on Saturday in Twitter feeds, he said the accusations were "without basis" and implied that they were payback for his disclosures. "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks.' Now we have the first one."
The bizarre episode in Sweden on Saturday left more questions than answers, and it raised doubts about Mr. Assange's apparent strategy to make Sweden a new permanent home for himself and WikiLeaks because of the country's strong press freedom laws that he hoped would offer protection against legal actions.
Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for Sweden's national prosecutor's office, initially confirmed in a telephone interview on Saturday that Mr. Assange was wanted for questioning on allegations of rape and molestation, and that an arrest warrant had been issued on Friday. But shortly after that conversation, the prosecutor's office issued a statement on its website saying that the chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, had concluded there was no reason to believe Mr. Assange raped anyone and that the arrest warrant had been cancelled.
The prosecutor's office provided few details about the allegations, why it originally thought they merited an arrest warrant, or why prosecutors backtracked within 24 hours. Two Swedish newspapers said the allegations were made by two women who worked with WikiLeaks in Sweden, and the prosecutors told The Associated Press that they were still looking into an accusation of molestation.
In his attempts to be heard but stay hidden, Mr. Assange has reverted to a secretive, shadowy lifestyle. Two weeks ago, he announced an appearance at London's Frontline Club, then cancelled for "logistical"' reasons, and then rescheduled a few days later and appeared by Skype from Sweden.
Mr. Assange last week also agreed to write a regular column for the popular Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, which would qualify him as a Swedish journalist and safeguard him under the country's press laws. "It's no coincidence that I'm going to be writing for a Swedish paper," Mr. Assange told the publication. "The Swedish publishing culture and Swedish law have supported us from the beginning."
It was not immediately clear if Mr. Assange remained in Sweden, where he made his last public appearance on August 14 at a news conference in Stockholm to announce that WikiLeaks planned to defy Pentagon warnings and go ahead with the Internet posting of the additional 15,000 secret documents on the Afghanistan war, probably within a month. The website has come under widespread criticism since its original disclosure of American documents because some Afghan informants' names were published, possibly putting them in jeopardy. Mr. Assange did not respond immediately to attempts by reporters for The New York Times to reach him by email and telephone.
WikiLeaks officials have said they expected the U.S. to pressure the governments in Britain, Germany, Australia and other countries, where Mr. Assange travels and where WikiLeaks operates, to prosecute Mr. Assange and the organisation in reprisal for disclosing the Afghan war documents. Spokesmen for the Justice, State and Defense departments all denied on Saturday having any such contacts with foreign governments about WikiLeaks or Mr. Assange. "The United States government is evaluating whether Assange has broken any of our laws, and we assume other countries are doing the same," Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said by telephone.
A person familiar with the investigation told The Times late last month that Justice Department lawyers were exploring whether Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks could be charged with inducing, or conspiring in, violations of the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of national security information.
The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, after being given early access by WikiLeaks, published excerpts from an archive of 77,000 classified documents, but excluded those that identified individuals or could compromise operations. At the administration's request, The Times also forwarded a request to WikiLeaks not to post online any documents that would put informants in jeopardy.
Mr. Assange responded to the White House request by announcing that WikiLeaks was withholding 15,000 of the 92,000 Pentagon documents involved for review in what WikiLeaks has described as a "harm minimisation" process. New York Times News Service
(John F. Burns reported from London, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Charlie Savage contributed reporting from Washington, Ravi Somaiya from London, and Liz Robbins from New York.)
THE ASIAN AGE
TURN HOMEWARD TO BRIDGE EXPORT GAP
The slowing down of exports in July as compared to June should set the alarm bells ringing for India Inc. to change its export strategy and to think seriously about increasing domestic demand. The growth of exports at 13.2 per cent in July was the slowest as against 30 per cent in the preceding five months of the year. The bulk of India's exports are to the US and Europe and both these economies are in slowdown mode. There is no way that they will recover even one year down the line though
some optimists say they should recover in six months. The US, the largest consumer market, is witnessing a huge contraction in consumption people are saving money as against the rabid consumerism exhibited prior to the financial crisis of 2007-08 that began in the US. Jobless claims have risen at an alarming rate in the US and, while the rich have grown richer in America, the middle class is reeling under the effects of pink slips. The Obama government has been unable to create the number of jobs required to stop more people entering the jobless market. Added to this is the need for withdrawing stimulus packages in a calibrated manner both in the US and Europe and adopting austerity measures. All this does not paint a rosy picture for Indian exports to America and Europe picking up in the near or medium term. The silver lining is that exports to Africa, West Asia and Latin America have increased thanks to the push provided by the Export-Import Bank of India and other government initiatives. The move to diversify exports to other markets has started but it will take time.
India Inc. is as usual seeking financial support and sops for sectors affected by the slowdown in demand in the advanced economies. There is no doubt that some sectors suffer from handicaps, like, for instance, in competition with Bangladesh in textiles. Bangladesh enjoys favoured treatment from the US and the European Union and has special duty exemptions that range from 12 to 28 per cent, according to textile manufacturers. The government has so far been silent on sops for the export sector.
However, in the long term, the only way out is to develop the domestic market. This means the government will have to put more purchasing power in the hands of the people. The sectors affected by the slowdown in exports are leather, textiles, man-made fibres, electronic goods and tea. There is no reason why exporters cannot find a market in India for these products, and for more. Much is being made about how the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has put purchasing power in the hands of the people. The scheme is being implemented in a very haphazard manner and is seeped in corruption, if one goes by the various reports on the monitoring of the scheme. This is one flagship programme that could do wonders for rural India if the state governments could implement it efficiently and honestly and use it to build productive assets. The worldwide horror at stories of corruption in preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games should spur the Manmohan Singh government to crack the whip against corruption, which is largely responsible for impoverishing the people and keeping millions of Indians out of the economic mainstream. The "chalta hai" philosophy against corruption imposed on the people for the benefit of the corrupt elite has been allowed to sap the moral fabric of the country. Unless the situation is tackled, the people will remain poor and unable to take part in the growth story
THE ASIAN AGE
WHAT AILS INDIA
The state of affairs in India has suddenly deteriorated in the last two months. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who came to power a second time with an impressive electoral victory, was expected to dominate the Indian scene. The coalition that put him up seemed to be strong enough to carry his government along for the full term and those who were not fully with him seemed to have lost steam. Those who were against him, especially on the national scale, did not seem to know the ways of their
survival and Dr Singh was literally given a mandate to run the full show in order to let him implement his programmes. Within a year, the situation seems to have changed. The rating of Dr Singh's government has come down sharply so that if there is any national election it is totally unpredictable whether the PM will come back to his seat. Many things have happened, many events have occurred and it is not that all his detractors are against his position or his line of action. But still his position today has become much weaker than before and it is a fascinating subject for a social analyst trying to understand the situation and explain it properly.
Let me try my hands on some of these issues to see if we can learn from the lessons from his rule of the last one year and whether the situation can be retrieved even at this stage with proper planning.
The main point that everybody is talking about responsible for the current situation is an unprecedented increase in the level of corruption in governance. There is no doubt that corruption has increased but it is difficult to ascertain that it is unprecedented. If it is not unprecedented it cannot be the explanation of the sudden change of the spirit of governance. Politicians in India have always made money for themselves and for the party. The methods of making money are also quite well-known indiscriminate bribery, contracting projects and programmes and making payments to parties without much accountability. If the situation has deteriorated today, the question asked should be why and not how. Why should there be a sudden spate of corrupt methods which include allegations against the highest authorities? In democratic politics things do not depend on water-tight proofs but mainly on perception based on allegations, suspicions and the reported coalition of corrupt groups irrespective of caste, creed and ideology.
As perception is the most important determinant of the public opinion, the government has to see how that can be reduced or diverted. In present days' governance, what is happening is that the perception of corruption is extending beyond particular groups and is in terms of corrupt practices. There is a little to choose between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance governments in the methods of practice of competition and the quantum of malpractice. In what way, can we say that Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi or former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda were more partial to the UPA government? It is in this sense one has come to identify corruption today as a universal phenomenon, but that would not be enough to bring down the popularity of the UPA. For that, we must be able to identify at least some groups who are less corrupt and also efficient in the government. Otherwise, the question will always remain that if not the UPA, which party would be better suited to run this government.
I am raising these issues not to diminish the importance of corruption in Indian body politics today, all I am saying is that the increase in corruption cannot be held responsible for the certain deterioration in the quality of governance. We have to go beyond and what we can do is to hold an independent inquiry and I submit that it is not so much corruption as the inefficiency in the government that is drastically reducing its popularity. By efficiency, I mean the government's ability to get things done within the existing system and with a clear objective or a road map to the government programmes in a cost-effective manner. The UPA-II government has formulated many such programmes. If some of them can be implemented, the results would be visible and instantaneously popular.
The question remains as to why there is such a phenomenal increase in inefficiency today. Any project with an initial finance provision goes up very high as the projects get implemented. It is essentially related to an all-round increase in the opportunity to indulge in financial activities with little accountability for the results. The system got adjusted to such a high level of inefficiency because (a) its scope has increased and (b) it goes unpunished in our financial system.
The last feature is the direct result of increased globalisation that has expanded the volume of market transactions when it becomes extremely difficult to hold the people responsible and accountable for their operations. If the size of the market had not extended so much, competition would have brought down the level of inefficiency. Surely we were not fully prepared to face the onslaught of expanding markets. Even if all the actors were honest and men of integrity, the expanding scope for making money without being fully accountable would have distorted our market transactions.
If my diagnosis of the problem is anywhere nearly correct, the answer to this problem is straightforward. The system must get itself prepared to deal with a high volume of financial transaction through the creation of institutions and the development of a vigilant civil society. If the legal system does not make the actors accountable, it is the civil society movement which will have to play the role of the market monitors.
In other words, the answers lie in the institutional changes, something similar to what happened in the West.
Democracy is one major institutional monitor of changes but democracy then will have to be taken in its true sense, where the rule of law and of reprimanding the failures and impartial and equitable way of distributing the benefit of change are fully integrated. There will still be morally unjust transaction with enormous bounties accruing to the corrupt. But increased competition is an expanding market will be the check to bring the system back to a reasonable level of efficiency a process which is directly related to increased volume of transaction. This is the irony of globalisation a process which is responsible to increased volume of illegal transaction, but which can correct itself by relatively efficient market players to remove the creamy layer of market transactions.
Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
THE ASIAN AGE OPINION
THE ASIAN AGE
THE FAMOUS TWELVE ON A SECRET MISSION
For someone who intensely dislikes travel, I've done more than my share. Today I'm somewhere in South America. I can't disclose the exact location because quite frankly even I don't really know what it is. All I know is that I'm on a large mainland, with plenty of trees and people speaking a foreign language like Goa which means in all probability it's Goa.
The actual fact of the matter is we are here for our training on the Indian version of the hit TV show Fear Factor. I'm told the first four rounds will be particularly hazardous. Round 1. climb a tree Round 2. climb down the tree Round 3. work for Mr Kalmadi Round 4. quickly climb and hide in the tree again. Yesterday, I got to meet the participants who were all selected by a very rigid, complicated and arduous process which consisted of the TV channel asking them to participate and then saying yes immediately.
So before you watch the show, let me introduce you to other participants. Remember this is a thumbnail sketch, except, of course, in the case of Dino Morea who doesn't have any thumbnails.
1. Rahul Bose: Actor, philanthropist, director, international rugby player. Rahul also holds an Indian reward for wearing the shortest shorts ever on TV. A record he holds in tandem with Sherlyn Chopra who is also an actor, philanthropist, director and an international rugby player.
2. Milind Soman: Ex-international swimmer, runner and above all model. Milind is an expert at doing the breaststroke, backstroke, and for a suitable fee any other stroke of your choice. He's also the one who convinced me to take part in this event. His exact words "if you don't do the show I'll give you a tight slap".
3. Rahul Dev: In Chennai, children scream and flee from Rahul Dev, in much the same way women do from me in Mumbai. A successful character actor, and villain Rahul Dev has a fixed exercise regime. He drives his truck to the gym. He then picks up his pick-up truck and puts it in the gym. He then removes the truck from the gym and drives it away. Awesome power, seen just like the kind Mr Kalmadi enjoyed before the damn Commonwealth Games racket hit the floor.
4. Dino Morea: Actor, chef, producer, model and the Italian ambassador to India. Dino is one of the hot picks to actually win the event. He also claims that in his spare time he invented pasta, pizza, ravioli and Himesh's look in Radio.
5. Manjot Singh and 6. Armaan Ebrahim. These two 12-year-olds will be made to work only half days as they are still in school. Manjot knows no English and Armaan can't speak Hindi. It's a match made in heaven. By the way Manjot is a budding actor and Armaan is an underage racing car driver with tremendous potential and no licence.
7. Karan Singh Grover: Actor, dancer and model may not have time to do all the tasks as he is otherwise engaged. Engaged in waxing his chest, back and upper arms, a task that takes over seven days. But as Karan himself says "everyone must have a passion, everyone must have a meaning in life".
8. Shabbir Ahluwalia: Actor, and sometimes cricketer. Rumour has it, that if he drops out early, he'll be asked to replace Yuvrag Singh in the Indian squad. The only problem is he started the rumour himself.
9. Ritwik Bhattarcharya: Squash champion. He can sprint 30 metres in less than four seconds. A fact he was very buoyed about until I explained to him that this attribute won't really help against a Piranha.
10. Abhishek Kapoor: Film director and actor. Famous for directing the film Rock On, on every Tuesday and Wednesday in 2007. Abhishek says he's doing this show to gather material for his next film. Which means his next film will be on a) great white sharks or b) Indian on trampolines or c) Milind Soman.
11. Terence Lewis: Many years ago Terence Lewis invented the Mamba, the Samba, and even the masala dosa. In the next few weeks Terence Lewis dancer, extraordinaire, will find these inventions of absolute no use. There is a 13th contestant who will be revealed to us in two years after the show has been telecast, or by when Milind Soman would have given up swimming whichever is first.
I hope this thumbnail sketch will tell you a little about the men and their missions. And if you see any of them on the streets of Mumbai or Hyderabad or Delhi, please keep quiet about it as we're all supposed to be in a secret location in South America.
MOON IS SHRINKING, BUT NOT ITS ROMANCE
A whimsical, well-known poem by EE Cummings asks if the moon's a balloon. Maybe the American poet knew more than people gave him credit for.
Scientists now tell us that our companion satellite is shrinking. As the moon's core cools down, it causes the surface to crinkle and shrink. The current contractions are apparently new just about over a billion years old.
Of course, given that we have a very close relationship with the moon at various levels, from the physical the ebb and flow of tides to the religious, mythological, spiritual, metaphorical, fantastical and romantic, it may make sense to take even minor shrinkages seriously.
No Bollywood romantic song is complete without comparing the heroine's face to the moon.
The philosophically minded might point out that the moon may be fed up of us on earth and is, therefore, shrinking away from us. The pessimistic might wonder if this portends bad times for us. And the optimistic might wonder if a shrinking moon and earth means rising prices.
Lovers, lunatics and those out at sea can, however, still feel safe. The tides will continue and the shining light of the moon will still inspire the same feelings as it has for so long. The balloon is still intact for now
SENTIMENTALITY WON'T WORK WITH PAKISTAN
It should have been done without any fuss on either side. First, prime minister Manmohan Singh took a long time to talk to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani and offer $5 million as India's contribution to relief operations in that flood-ravaged country.
The floods have been the worst in 80 years and 20 million people have been displaced. It is a calamity of enormous magnitude and, unfortunately, the international response has been slow and niggardly.
It would have been better if India had been quicker off the mark. What seems to have held New Delhi back from being spontaneous is the sensitivity surrounding the whole issue.
It seemed quite uncertain as to how Pakistan would respond and those reservations were proved right when Pakistan held in abeyance the Indian offer. It took a nudge from the Americans for the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, to say that Islamabad would indeed accept the Indian contribution.
Meanwhile, the Indian electronic media got into the act and as is their wont managed to work up a lather over the issue. There were snappy and profound debates about the rights and wrongs of it all.
Some experts thought that this was an opportunity to bring the two bickering neighbours together. The real trouble lies in the sentimentality of the gesture.
This explains the alacrity with which Pakistan declined to accept the aid at first. This is a lesson that Delhi's liberal intelligentsia, with their pre-1947 nostalgia for an undivided Punjab, needs to learn. It is time to deal with Pakistan as a sovereign state without invoking the old bonds.
What Delhi's pre-partition mindset needs to realise is that their sentimental generosity has a negative effect in Pakistan. No Pakistani wants to deal with India on the basis of shared (or imagined) closeness in the past.
Our foreign office should have quietly contributed to the UN relief fund for Pakistan instead of trying to make a separate gesture of it. When India and Pakistan do business, the big reality is that we should leave sentiments at the door.
VOTING A PAY HIKE FOR YOURSELF ISN'T ON
Our honourable members of Parliament (MP) have just given themselves a three-fold hike in salaries and doubled most of their allowances. Their monthly salary has gone up from Rs16,000 to Rs50,000. Not a prince's ransom, but not chickenfeed either. On the one hand, there is no denying that they do need a better salary. Rs16,000 a month is what a junior executive would earn in Mumbai or Delhi.
Such a low salary for MPs, who spend a large part of their time in Delhi, surely tempts them to accept bribes.
But there are questions that need to be answered. The first is the ethical question of whether a person can decide his own salary. Yes, if you own a company, you can give yourself the salary you like, but our MPs do not own India (though they behave like they do). While they have already given themselves a raise (it is still to be legislated, but the cabinet has okayed the idea), some are demanding more Rs80,001, a rupee more than what the cabinet secretary, the highest paid government employee, gets. What if tomorrow they decide that they should earn at least twice as much as the cabinet secretary? If MPs want their salaries to be comparable to civil servants, they must at least be civil and be willing to play by the rules.
We also need to follow good governance norms practised in other countries. For instance, in the US, a salary hike goes into effect only from the subsequent term. Thus when Bill Clinton raised the US president's salary, the beneficiaries were George W Bush and Barack Obama.
In India, too, any hike in salary must come into effect only from the next legislative term. By hiking salaries mid-term, the executive is, in effect, giving MPs money that can be construed as an incentive to vote with the executive. That surely is not the intention, but why create conflicts of interest?
There are other aspects that need to be looked at. For instance, is an MP an employee or a trustee of the people? It is probably the latter. If they are paid a salary by the executive, how can they be accountable to the electorate? Salaries need to be decided by somebody other than the MPs themselves to ensure accountability.
Perhaps the government can set up a Pay Commission with eminent members of the public as members to look into how much our honourable representatives really deserve.
Just read these immensely important words of celebrated designer Bruce Mau that I need to share with you: "Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same."
We are shaped by our conversations. We are influenced by the ideas we hear and the people we meet. (Big idea: Every person you meet knows at least one thing you don't; don't let them leave without learning it.)
Listening is a master skill for personal and professional excellence. Leaders listen. Staggeringly well. Mau's absolutely right: When we go deep into listening to the person we are communicating with, when we allow them to share what they know, we have the opportunity to get behind their eyeballs and learn, grow and evolve into our highest and best.
And if you are lucky enough to be talking to the right person at the right time that single conversation might be the one that changes the way you think, feel and behave forever. Their stardust will rub off on you. And you'll be transformed. For good.
PERVERTED PARLANCE ON JAMMU & KASHMIR ISSUES
As always happens with many issues relating to Jammu & Kashmir, the media and the intellectuals project them only with respect to a small section of the people living in Kashmir Valley.
Those in Jammu and Ladakh just do not exist. Nor are the views of the people in the rest of India of any concern to them. Thus, the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, ethnically cleansed from the Valley in 1989, receives comment only as an aside. A secular-fundamentalist, Teesta Setalvad, best expressed the attitude of her group when she said: "For, while there are the hapless and forgotten Kashmiri Pandits also displaced and bitterly abandoned in Jammu and Delhi camps, they have been innocent victims of foreign-bred mercenaries, not home grown terror bands."
Recently, there was an agitation in the Kashmir Valley against providing land for the Amarnath pilgrims. The 200 acres selected for the comfort of the pilgrims during the two months of the pilgrimage was projected as one that would change the demographic character of Kashmir Valley, implying that the Valley was to be an exclusive preserve of the Muslims.
This perverse argument was lapped up by the media and intellectuals. The area is not exactly habitable, except during the summer months. Even if habitable, the number of Hindus who could be accommodated would be a fraction of the population of the Valley.
The only secular-fundamentalist who was able to sift the wheat from the chaff was MJ Akbar.He wrote: "But there is always a flashpoint lurking in the subconscious, waiting to explode. The Hindu who has quietly watched mosque and dargah expand around him, explodes when a few acres are denied to pilgrims on the arduous trek to Amarnath.
He has seen Haj Houses sprout around him for Muslims on their way to Mecca. These rest houses are not temporary structures created for the two months involved in the two-way journey for Haj; they have become permanent community centres. He asks a question: why should he be denied a place for tired feet on the way to Amarnath? Is it a punishment to be a Hindu in India?"
P Chidambaram came down heavily on Maoist sympathisers for providing intellectual support to Naxalism. Replace his views on Naxalism and Maoists with the appropriate terms for the secessionists in the Kashmir Valley, and you would have a statement that actually explains the situation in J&K.
The media and the intellectuals have appointed the secessionists as the leaders of the Muslims in Kashmir Valley. Not once have they questioned their right to speak as such leaders. Not once have they asked for the opinions of the non-Muslims in J&K.
When they talk about Article 370, they do not state that the heading clearly states that it was a temporary provision, as Jawaharlal Nehru had said in Parliament.
When there is a mention about the plebiscite, there is no reference that a prior condition was that the Pakistani army had to withdraw from Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. There is no talk about the change in the demographic character of PoK, making plebiscite a fruitless exercise.
A resolution in Parliament, affirming the whole of J&K as an integral part of India, was passed unanimously during the prime ministership of Narasimha Rao. Issues get resolved only when the analysis is an informed one, and facts are not fudged to suit an agenda. Our intellectuals and the media in India have ensured that this will not happen.
WHAT BLACKBERRY SHOWS IS OUR TECHNOLOGICAL BACKWARDNESS
Recent statistics show that there are nearly one million BlackBerries in use in India compared to over 600 million other mobile phones. The obvious question one asks is this: why is the government so agitated by BlackBerry when its numbers are so small, while no fuss was made in the mass proliferation of Nokias, Samsungs and Motorolas?
Does this mean that the BlackBerry company, RIM (Research in Motion), is the only one bothered about our right to privacy, while all the other mobile phone brands and service providers like Airtel, Loop, and Vodafone don't give a damn?
As it happens, the right to privacy isn't an issue that particularly bothers us as a nation. It bothers Americans a lot and they are constantly fighting legal and political battles to preserve their privacy, sometimes going to absurd lengths, at least to our unconcerned eyes.
This is particularly so now in the age of terrorism, when time and again phone tapping, hacking into e-mails and other forms of electronic surveillance have enabled American and British authoritiesto foil many major terrorist attacks before they happened. Shouldn't we, therefore, sacrifice a little privacy for the greater good? we ask virtuously.
As it happens, it's not a 'little privacy' we are talking about. Investigative agencies can access our phone call records; not just that, they can look at all our SMSes if we are under suspicion. And how many of us are aware that each and every conversation of ours can be accessed for a certain period if we are under investigation?
The thought is scary: all of us have unguarded private conversations, either with our family members, or business associates, or friends.
We may even indulge in harmless jokes in casual conversations in which we might facetiously call this friend or that a 'terrorist'. (Remember the trouble cricket commentator Dean Jones got into when, between overs, assuming his mike to be off, he referred to the bearded Hashim Amla as a terrorist?) That kind of silly joke could land us into nightmarish problems if someone hacks into our account or misuses our number.
In spite of that, as a nation we haven't ever seen the right to privacy as an important issue. Remember the furore in Parliament when it was revealed that phone calls of important politicians like LK Advani were being tapped?
There was no debate, no follow up legislation. Only a lot of steam being blow off, with everything returning to normal the moment the authorities said it was a mistake and apologised for it. In such a situation of complete disinterest adding up to near apathy, why is the government about to ban BlackBerry's services in the country?
It turns out that the stand-off has nothing to do with the citizens' right to privacy. In fact, it has to do with the exact opposite, with the government saying that a BlackBerry enables its user to send e-mails which the government cannot decipher. A BlackBerry's encryption of e-mails apparently gives us a privacy the government doesn't want us to have! Apart from the government fighting a battle for us to not have privacy, there is another aspect of the BlackBerry versus government of India battle that should worry us.
Look at the obvious question: the BlackBerry device and the services it provides haven't just entered the market.
They have been around in the developed world for a few years now. The United States is one of the biggest markets while Canada, most European nations and the UK aren't lagging behind either.
Even China and Russia have many BlackBerry customers. So why is it that none of these countries have made a fuss about the device's encrypted services? This is particularly surprising when you consider that countries like the US and China are almost paranoid about security and consider that more important than almost every other issue. It cannot be that RIM shared technological details with all of them which they are stubbornly hiding from us.
This leads us to a very uncomfortable and disconcerting conclusion: our surveillance agencies are technologically backward compared to the agencies of all the other countries.
These other countries didn't need to confront RIM and demand technological information for the simple reason that they had worked out how to decode the BlackBerry services by themselves! Our agencies were able to do that with the lower technology of other hand-held devices, particularly the mobile phone, but when it comes to the BlackBerry, they are clueless. Apparently our agencies are also unprepared for 3G services.
They will need help in dealing with that technology even though it's been around in many countries for a few years.
The right to privacy question should bother us more than it does. At the same time the technological backwardness of our snoops should bother our home minister far more than it seems to do so now.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
COMMUNAL HARMONY MUST TRIUMPH
Govt and political groups need to be mature; onus of maintaining secular polity essentially lies in co-ordination between communities
The anonymous, computerised, threatening letters and posters circulated to Sikh community members in some pockets in the Valley, need to be condemned and opposed for the communal hate that they propagate. They are indeed a cause for grave concern and cannot simply be dismissed away with just mere assurances. It needs some action on the ground where the need for maintaining communal harmony should override the greed for politicising every issue. So far all sections of society and groups have revealed maturity by opposing the mysterious threat letters and have given assurances that any harm to the minorities in Kashmir Valley will not be allowed. Some weeks ago when tension cropped up between the Sikhs and Muslims over an incident in Tral, the civil society from both sides played a very significant and important role in dispelling rumours and in sorting out the matter amicably to restore the trust between the two communities. Such efforts need to be strengthened and given a more concrete shape in this hour of crisis. The job of protecting the minorities should not be left solely to the government or other political formations. The civil society must jump in to play its role.
The Sikhs have already formed committees in various localities against any mischief. It would be only fit for the majority community to respond with similar efforts and maintain a regular co-ordination with each other in a bid to prevent any space for anti-social elements and those with nefarious designs, setting the best example of Kashmiriyat even in these very difficult moments of strife in the Valley. People in the Valley have already learnt the bitter lesson of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990-91, when vested interests cashed in on the increasing psychological insecurity of the minorities to not just create a rift but also trigger large scale enmasse displacements. In the last twenty years, the minorities including Sikhs, Pandits, Christians and some non-Kashmiri Hindus have successfully managed to uphold the tradition of communal harmony, barring some stray incidents, not allowing the fabric of Kashmiriyat to be tarnished despite the prevalence of guns, violence and some fanatic discourse. What imbues hope in this dismal scenario of continuing strife that also makes the secular polity of the Valley vulnerable are the people to people efforts to maintain harmony, the onus of which naturally lies more on the majority community. Even as disturbing reports about the mysterious letters cropped up, there were encouraging reports from other parts of the Valley about Muslims performing the last rites of their Pandit neighbour who died, as well as several other stories of Muslims aiding their sole Pandit neighbour in reaching the hospital or getting other supplies. The triumph of the spirit in such instances need not only be celebrated, it needs to be strengthened to defeat nefarious designs of whoever is trying to sow the seeds of communal hatred.
It is also important for both the civil society and the government to get to the bottom of the mysterious letters and expose its creators. Obviously, the mysterious letters are intended to create communal discord in the Valley and hamper all prospects of peace. Whether it is fringe fanatic groups or individuals behind it, agencies or some other vested interests (as has been suggested by people across the state while condemning the threats), what becomes more imperative is to defeat the designs of the saboteurs of peace and secular polity. It is the handi-work of disruptive vested interests and needs to be challenged by fighting the designs behind it and by ensuring that any space for such elements is plugged. The majority community in Kashmir, the government or other political formations including separatists, who have all rightly condemned the threats to the minorities, cannot enjoy the complacency for another such mischief to take place. They need to dispel rumours that create rifts and
expose the elements that are trying to create communal polarization. They need to gear up for the occasion and strengthen the people to people co-ordination for better vigilance against such anti-social elements hell bent on
vitiating the atmosphere in ways that can have disastrous consequences not just for the Valley but the entire state, also for the sub-continent.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
CHANGES IN EXAM PATTERN
MOST STUDENTS IN KASHMIR VALLEY WILL BE LOSERS IN PROFESSIONAL COURSES
In view of the prevailing disturbed conditions in Kashmir valley, which has adversely affected the education sector, J&K Board of School Education (BOSE) has been forced to change the examination pattern for the students of this region. The change in examination system for these students is likely to impact their merit and pass percentage in the results which will be taken into consideration for their admission to the professional courses. Unless this change is also reflected in the overall entrance examinations also, the changes in BOSE patterns for exams are unlikely to go in favour of these students, who have been bearing the brunt of the strikes and continued curfew restrictions. Already the situation has taken a heavy toll of the studies of the students during the past three months of disturbed conditions and curfew restrictions. The one paper norm for each subject instead of two as was the previous practice is unlikely to help the students in the completion of courses of study for various classes. Under the given situation, which has no signs of improvement even in the days to come, completion of academic courses will be a far cry. On one hand, the BOSE has taken some remedial measures, the question arises as what will be the fate of those students, who are studying in various
schools which have opted for Central Board of School Education (CBSE) courses. Two years back, the CBSE had refused to give any concessions to J&K students, who constitute not more than a fraction of the total number of students at the all India level for the reason that studies were completed in rest of the country. The disturbed conditions in 2008 affected students of CBSE pattern in whole of J&K due to three-month long strike in whole of J&K. The students were left to fend for themselves and that was the major reason that those students became losers in terms of merit and high percentage in the results of matriculation and 12th classes.
Many a student, who were quite meritorious in their studies could not get admission in the professional courses within and outside J&K colleges. In certain cases, these students had to wait for the next year to get admission in professional colleges. Keeping in view the prevailing situation, some of the students have started online guidance for their studies but access to internet and computers is limited and most of the students particularly those studying in government schools have been left high and dry. Alternate ways and means have to be found out for helping the students, who are in decisive stages of their education and career when they are opting for professional courses.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
DEFENDING LIVELIHOODS, PROTECTING ECOLOGY
STOP THE MINING JUGGERNAUT!
When the British coined the term "juggernaut" (a distortion of Jagannath, Lord of the famous temple in Puri in Orissa), they captured the metaphor of the havoc the yatra chariot can sometimes cause. But they couldn't have imagined that the metaphor would become literally true for Orissa, its culture and spirit. These are threatened as never before by reckless extraction of precious resources to feed gigantic profit-making machines.
Mining of iron ore, coal, bauxite, and manganese ore has become a public menace in India, particularly in the tribal heartland comprising Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. These states now face the "resource curse"-an affliction in many African countries, where great mineral wealth generates overexploitation and intensifies poverty.
Orissa is being ravaged by huge projects promoted by powerful global corporates like South Korea's Posco-once the world's biggest steelmaker-, the Tatas, and Vedanta, run by Anil Agarwal, Britain's 10th richest person, who has just bought a $9.6-billion stake in Cairn Energy. The promoters, backed by the servile state government, are pitted squarely against the people, whose livelihoods will be destroyed as their land is acquired, forests are cut, mountains flattened and water diverted. Popular struggles against these projects, sustained over a decade, seem to be bearing fruit.
The Centre is putting some of these projects under ecological and legal scrutiny. This is a victory for environmentalism. Vedanta's proposal for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri Hills to feed their nearby alumina refinery was examined by an expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, headed by former IAS officer NC Saxena. It was found to have violated the Forest Conservation Act, Environment Protection Act, Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) "in active collusion with the state". The committee wants Vedanta's proposal rejected.
One hopes this is the last nail in the proposal's coffin. I say this not only because the proposal is environmentally and socially unsound, and because Vedanta has been boycotted by ethical investment funds the world over, but also because the Saxena committee's report (available at www.moef.nic.in) is worthy and remarkably sensitive to vulnerable Adivasis. The committee included retired forester Pramode Kant and two scholars, Tata Institute of Social Sciences director S Parasuraman and sociologist Amita Baviskar.
To paraphrase the report, Vedanta's proposal would cause the destruction of the Niyamgiri hills' precious grassy meadows ecosystem. This is home to the Dongaria Kondh and Kutia Kondh Adivasis, notified as "Primitive Tribal Groups" eligible for special protection, who regard the hills "as sacred and believe that their survival is dependent on the integrity of its ecosystem."
One-fifth of all Dongaria Kondhs, who totally number less than 8,000, live here. Mining would undermine the way of life and violate the rights of this vulnerable group, including "traditional, customary, and often formalised access to the project area .[and]. surrounding thick forests .." This will threaten the community's "very survival" and its biological and social reproduction.
Mining will destroy significant tracts of forest land. Since the Kondh heavily depend on forest produce, this will cause "a decline in their economic well-being". Mining-related activities such as tree-felling, blasting, removal of soil, road building, and movement of heavy machinery will deny them access to the lands that they have used for generations. They will also adversely affect the surrounding slopes and streams that are crucial for their agriculture.
The ecological costs will also be high, including severe degradation of the Niyamgiri hills, destruction of wildlife, felling of 1.21 lakh trees and killing of perennial springs, which will produce "a hydrological disaster".
The Niyamgiri hills are part of a continuous, long forest corridor important for the conservation of elephants and tigers.
More than 7 square kilometres of undisturbed forest protected for ages by the Dongaria Kondh, and essential for the region's fertility, will be stripped of its vegetation and soil and become a vast barrenness. Mining will build roads through Adivasi territories, opening them to outsiders, "a trend that is already threatening the hills' rich biodiversity". Yet, it will provide only 3 million tonnes-per-annum (mtpa) of ore out of the Vedanta alumina refinery's total requirement of 18 mtpa.
As if this weren't bad enough, Vedanta has violated numerous laws. It has failed to obtain clearances mandatory under the FRA from the Gram Sabhas for the project. Each Gram Sabha must give its consent to any diversion of forest land. This was not done. In fact, several Gram Sabhas have passed unanimous resolutions protesting the project.
Argues the report: "The MoEF cannot grant clearance for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes" unless the process of recognition of rights under the Forest Rights Act is complete and satisfactory and the consent of the concerned community is granted. Both points must be certified by the Gram Sabhas. The three conditions are not satisfied; "therefore the application of the Orissa government for diversion of forest land should be rejected".
Vedanta has blatantly violated the Forest Conservation Act by illegally occupying 26 acres of forest land within its refinery. "This is an act of total contempt for the law on the part of the company and an appalling degree of collusion on the part of the concerned officials". Similarly, Vedanta has illegally expanded its refinery capacity six-fold from the licensed one mtpa-without environmental clearance. "This expansion, its extensive scale and advanced nature, is in complete violation of the EPA and is an expression of the contempt with which this company treats the laws of the land."
Nor has the Orissa government implemented PESA, which is vitally important to tribal self-rule. PESA mandates consultation with Gram Sabhas and empowers them "to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution" and to "prevent alienation of land in the Scheduled Areas".
Hence, the committee says it's of "the firm view that allowing mining in the proposed mining lease area by depriving two 'Primitive Tribal Groups' of their rights over the proposed mining site in order to benefit a private company would shake the faith of tribal people in the laws of the land, which may have serious consequences for the security and well-being of the entire country."
It would be a travesty of justice if the report's recommendations were diluted. These are in consonance with some excellent analysis in Felix Padel and Samaraendra Das's book, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel (Orient Blackswan), which traces the history of aluminium production and its enormous ecological costs. Aluminium refineries (which convert bauxite into alumina) and smelters (in which electric current is passed through molten alumina to produce the metal) consume about 15,000 units of power per tonne of aluminium. The processes use large amounts of toxic chemicals like cyanide and leave enormous residues.
Vedanta isn't the only project that has been put on hold by the MoEF. It recently stopped Posco's steel project, following the recommendations of another committee, also headed by Mr Saxena. But Posco is making every effort to get clearance for its enormous 12 million tonnes-per-annum plant which will cause extensive destruction. It will annually need 20 million tonnes of iron ore, besides 4,000 acres of land, including 438 acres of private land and over 3,000 acres forest land, whose transfer was wrongly cleared by the MoEF last December.
Posco recently announced a measly Rs 400-crore rehabilitation package for the 1,200 families who will be displaced-a minuscule fraction of its total project cost of Rs 56,000 crores. But the people rejected the package and refused to sell their land. The anti-Posco agitation has been sustained since 2005. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh says his Ministry's clearance to Posco isn't valid because it violates the Forest Rights Act.
Now, however, Posco may be rescued by the Centre, which is under South Korean and multinational industry pressure to clear the project. Last year, the South Korean president lobbied Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, who is himself loath to lose India's highest Foreign Direct Investment proposal hitherto. So the Centre has set up yet another committee composed of pro-industry former bureaucrats, which might clear the project. That would be disastrous.
Such disasters must be prevented at any cost. So must illegal mining. The Reddy Brothers' ugly racket in Karnataka exposes the toxic influence of the mining lobbies on society, politics and governance. Illegal mining thrives everywhere, especially in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, from where millions of tonnes of iron ore are smuggled to China. Recently, a fly-by-night company, Pushp Limited, with a capital of Rs 1 lakh, was given a mining lease worth Rs 380 crores in Chhattisgarh. It has failed to start operations even after five years.
The Centre has done well to set up a committee on illegal mining. But what we badly need is a coherent, comprehensive policy for sustainable mining and against displacement and expropriation of people. Unsound mining projects will poison our society, make nonsense of the rule of law, create a "might is right" regime, and undermine what little is left of the state's legitimacy.
Another spell of heavy rain has exposed the vulnerability of this region especially this city. It is too clear, to put it mildly, that we have paid no heed at all to our urban planning. As a result we are unable to effectively handle vagaries of the weather. Water has entered houses and industrial units in low-lying areas in this city. Indeed, it is a pity that as busy an inter-section as Jewel Chowk is in a big mess with a nallah developing a breach for the third time. A report in this newspaper points out that the scenario is almost identical in Rajiv Nagar, Qasim Nagar, Gangyal, Preet Nagar, Nanak Nagar, Krishna Nagar, Maulana Azad Stadium, Shakti Nagar, Shiv Nagar, Resham Ghar, Domana, Nasib Nagar Janipur, Durga Nagar, Muthi, Talab Tillo, Bohri and Anand Nagar as well as in Purkhoo and Mishriwalla migrant camps. Domestic effects have been damaged in more than a few localities where the people have also been forced to spend sleepless nights. Industrial enterprises have suffered financial losses. This does not mean that the old Jammu city has remained immune from the adverse impact of extremely heavy downpour. There are pools of water almost everywhere. Already a nightmare, the vehicular traffic has gone haywire. The filthy water is overflowing from open drains. There was a time when it would be said that a good spell of rain was enough to wash the historic Jammu city clean perched as it was on the slope of a hill. All the dirty effluents would be swept down the Gummat Gate and into the Tawi. It does not pay to always live in the past. Nostalgia, as we have said in these columns on a couple of earlier occasions as well, is like grammar: the past is perfect and the present tense.
At every step in life we have to grapple with the emerging realities. Presently there is a vast stretch below the Gummat Gate on the one hand and across the B.C. Road on the other which far exceeds the size of the old city.
We have to pay attention to that too. There is absolute necessity that we have an efficient drainage system all over. In addition, we have to have good road network. There has to be an application of mind to ensure that these settlements are properly designed. Since this has evidently not happened so far (over the years we have made matters worse for ourselves by going on regularising unauthorised colonies) does not mean that we should not say that enough is enough. That as well a planned colony as Gandhinagar is water-logged should be a lesson for our town planners that we have to do our homework rather well. We ought to keep in mind not only our immediate requirements but also future growth. There is extensive destruction in areas where illegal encroachments and constructions have taken place. It is not surprising that the adjoining Samba and Kathua districts too are feeling the pinch.
Four government schools in Kathua town besides many places like Patel Nagar and Shiv Nagar are flooded. There is a nallah running in the middle of the town. It has played havoc with houses on both sides. A portion of the Jammu-Pathankot highway has been washed away at Hiranagar Morh. Reports are pouring in of casualties --- the people being either washed away or getting buried. If this is the state of our planes we can very well imagine the condition in our vast mountainous region. For the present we should provide relief to those who have come to grief. As a long-term measure, however, we have to seriously study the ground situation. Only if we draw the right conclusions there will be no repeat of what is now a regular bitter experience year after year as and when we have rainy days.
These days we seem to interpret crimes of honour in the sense of honour killings which in turn are based on a perceived and mostly sense of dishonour. These involve the murders of one or more persons by the people who believe that the victims have brought disgrace to their family, clan or community. Such an approach can be flawed on several counts. There are several instances in which offence has been taken even to the marriages between boys and girls belonging to different castes leave alone religions. The preference is given to social taboos at the cost of law and logic. Actually, personal and family honour is construed in more ways than one.
Their definition varies from one person to the other. Largely, it depends upon one's understanding and experience of the surroundings. How it is translated into reality is linked to one's temperament. There are people who have a lot of patience and take things in their stride in the hope that all would be well in the long run.
Unfortunately, however, the majority of us have short fuse and let our emotions get the better of us. We hurry to settle scores without application of mind about the consequences. The remedies we apply are worse than the diseases we want to cure. How else can one explain two incidents that have taken place in our vicinity in the last few days? In the first, three sons are alleged to have killed their father in protest against his second marriage at an old age in a village under the jurisdiction of the Nagrota police station. The trio along with their mother had already been made to leave their house. The other happening is blood-stained as well. It has occurred in Nanak Nagar in this city. Three cousins of a woman accompanied her to a school where she wanted to meet her son and daughter born of her estranged husband.
The school principal rang up father seeking his permission to pave the way for a meeting between mother and children. Instead, the man is said to have been infuriated. He rushed to the spot along with a sharp-edged weapon and mercilessly attacked three cousins inflicting grievous injuries on them. Who has gained what in these cases? Three accused in the Nagrota episode have been nabbed and face murder charge. The alleged killer in Nanak Nagar has been held for attempt to murder. Have not they gone up to multiply their agony? Can their doings be read in some other form? Do they feel satisfied with having gained revenge? Is the mother in the first instance gainer by any stretch of imagination? How have the children in the other example benefited
IN AND AROUND J&K
BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
The incessant floods in Pakistan during July-August has affected all four provinces, besides Gilgit-Baltistan. According to the UN estimates more than 4 million people have been affected and more than 1600 dead. One fifth of Pakistan's land is under water, with more than 20 million people displaced with half of them not having a roof to live under, as of today. There are certain immediate requirements, especially in terms addressing the human disaster and others, in terms of long term implications.
What are the immediate challenges? The biggest test is addressing the immediate relief requirements of the victims - from providing food, makeshift shelter and medicines; the long term rehabilitation programme could wait. The hard truth is, continuous political instability and regime changes between democratic and military, have deeply affected the institutions that could plan ahead and deliver. Given the nature of the present disaster, effective functioning of delivery mechanisms is the immediate challenge to understand the nature of requirement and proper distribution of existing relief and ensure it reaches the people who are in dire need.
Given the weak institutions and the strength of provincial governments, one is likely to expect political blaming between the parties and provinces. In fact, this blame game has already started. All four provinces are asking for more aid and are totally dependent on the federal government. Who gets what and how much from the federal government is the major issue and is laced with political blame gaming.
Worse, the provinces are deeply divided and are accusing the each other, for purposefully ignoring the interests of smaller provinces. For example, the controversy over flooding Jaffarabad in Balochistan was seen as a deliberate effort to save the Jacobabad air base, which is being used by the US. The Nation, reported a senior leader - Mir Jan Mohammad Khan Jamali, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate, making this accusation, resulting in more than 85 percent part of Jaffarabad has been inundated by the flood. On the other hand, the powerful water lobby has been accusing the smaller provinces that had they allowed the dams like Kalabagh to be built, the floods situation could have been managed better. There are reports in the print media, that there should be a referendum on building Kalabagh. The political parties are also deeply divided; the PML-N, led by the Sharif brothers is already on a war path.
Will these provincial and political differences affect the regime balance? With millions of people looking for immediate relief and long term rehabilitation, the only institution that is capable of distribution of relief and carrying out rehabilitation seems to be Pakistan's military. At least, this is the predominant perception, which one could observe from reading various Pakistani news papers. While Kayani has succeeded in projecting a positive image of the military in the last few years, over successive politically destabilizing events such as the judicial controvery, lawyers' movement and the struggle between PML-N and PPP, will he continue to remain neutral, even if there is a popular expectation that the military should take over? This expectation is likely to increase, as the extent calamity becomes apparent, with the government unable to address the requirements.
Given the current challenges that Pakistan military is facing - an unstable Afghanistan and equally unstable Frontier region, growing jihadi threat (remember, ISI now consider the jihadis as a bigger threat than India!) and a fractured politico-economy, Kayani may consider twice before taking over directly. Unless, he and the majority of military leadership firmly believe, it would be better to face the regional security environment, if they rule directly. Currently, this possibility seems remote. The military, for the time being, would like the political dispensation to take the blame.
Will the jihadis be able to make use of public antipathy? This has been the greatest fear, especially amongst the international donors, including the US. True, after the 2005 earthquake in J&K, the jihadi groups were able to make substantial gains - in terms of raising the funding support, earn public sympathy and improve their cadre support. The LTTE in Sri Lanka made use of the Tsunami to improve its financial conditions. However, this is an exaggerated threat; the jihadis will be able to gain considerable publicity, but they simply do not have the mechanisms and structures to make long term gains. In retrospect, one could conclude, that the situation in Afghanistan and the Frontier region was the primary reason behind the growth of the militancy in Pakistan, rather than the earthquake in J&K.
Role of the jihadi groups, however, needs to be watched closely - in terms of who is working where, and what their primary objectives are. Some groups, especially their front organisations, may be working in terms of providing immediate relief, in terms of organizing medical camps, in certain remote areas. Critiquing such efforts may be counter productive. On the other hand, there will be some groups, working in relief camps, trying to manipulate the youth, like the Taliban did in various refugee camps.
Finally, will the Indian aid improve Indo-Pak relations? There are two sets of Pakistani arguments. A section feels, that the flood situation and the subsequent disaster has not evoked a humanitarian response from India. This section, in fact questions the Indian media for not providing adequate space to project the humanitarian conditions faced by the victims in Pakistan. Instead, there is too much focus on the aid controversy. Another section is absolutely jingoistic and does not want the Pakistani government to accept any Indian aid. A leading commentator, known for her anti-Indian and anti-US views, commented in the Nation, that accepting Indian aid is against their Kashmir policy.
The paper's editorial, separately screamed: "The PPP government has played a reprehensible role, and not only mismanaged the response to the floods, but has also made the receipt of aid a surrender of sovereignty at American and Indian hands."More than the aid, India should be able to considerably share its experience in disaster management. India's NDMA is better experienced and that that of Pakistan's; since both countries share a similar culture, in terms of bureaucratic institutions, Pakistan could learn from the Indian experience, in terms of meeting practical problems of delivery mechanisms. Both countries may have to work together, in terms of meeting the emerging challenges of climate change and its impact on the Himalayan belt. Instead, unfortunately, what one is likely to witness is the water mafia in Pakistan accusing India, for the deluge.
The Author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi
BY K K KHOSA
Yes, the heart bleeds for Kashmir and it also bleeds for Kashmiris of all hues. For all those people whose ancestors have lived in the valley for many millennia the present scenario is extremely painful and depressing. When the whole world marches on the path of progress and development our mouj kashir is hurtling down the deep gorge of death, destruction and retrogression.
Ever since India gained its freedom from the exploitative British rule lasting two centuries, it marked the beginning of the present travails of Kashmir which its inhabitants have undergone for the last six decades. While as most of the other states became part of the Indian union without any struggle, the joining of J&K was not only under duress but it was controversial as well. It is only because of this unfortunate sequence of events that the common Kashmiri has had to suffer for all these years especially during the 20 years just gone by.
In these devastating years thousands have died and lacs have been rendered homeless with no light yet visible at the end of the dark and long tunnel. Kashmiris have lost their peace of mind and happiness which has resulted in converting this paradise on earth into a veritable hell where suffering in different forms has become the destiny of its people. God alone knows when this mayhem in the valley comes to end and when those hapless Kashmiris who have been living in exile can return to the land of their ancestors and settle down once again.
In spite of the fact that the Kashmiris are respected world over for their wisdom, erudition and pragmatism it is a matter of anguish and surprise that we have landed ourselves in such an unenviable situation, a virtual mess of sorts from where the way out appears to be difficult. However the flip side is that a way out from this rather impossible situation has to be found out only by banking upon these very rare virtues. Having said this, the natural corollary that follows is how to go about it and who has to initiate it. But before a fresh beginning can be made all Kashmiris have to understand that a Kashmiri does not owe his distinct identity, which he wants to preserve to his religion but due to the fact that his roots are embedded deep in the soil of the land of his forefathers. It also becomes even more important to understand that a way out from this maze may have to come necessarily from the pages of history. History is replete with instances when Kashmir was subsumed into vast and prosperous empires either by force or by deceit or sometimes voluntarily and each time after short periods the indomitable Kashmiri urge to preserve its distinct cultural identity would reassert itself which would be followed by an insurrection resulting in the overthrow of foreign yoke and restoration of independent status.The seeds of the present Kashmir problem were sown in the partition of the country in 1947. Had there been no partition obviously this problem would not have existed.
The people who are propagating separatism want the world to believe that they are the sole custodians of the distinct cultural identity of Kashmiris. They perhaps don't realize that the instinct to preserve our distinct cultural identity runs in our blood and not due to the fact that we are followers of any particular religion. To that extent they are attempting to make the rich Kashmiri culture subservient to a lesser important factor, that is religion. Those people should remember that a couple of thousand years back when people of Kashmir professed only one religion, the introduction of another religion, i.e. Buddhism did not make any difference to the Kashmir culture except that the form of worship became plural. Many Kashmiris who converted to Buddhism did not do so under any duress or compulsion. The people with different religious beliefs so existed for years. Thereafter, after the advent of Islam in the 14th century many more people adopted this new religion and here again initially there was no force or compulsion behind the conversions. Many people must have converted to the new religion after being impressed by its teachings. Since then again there was peaceful co-existence with intermittent periods of religious strife whenever religious bigots acceded to the throne of Kashmir and tried to carry out mass conversions. In spite of periods of unrest the distinct cultural identity of all Kashmiris remained preserved and even progressed and developed with people professing different faiths co-existing peacefully. One has to remember that Kashmir could be conquered by the force of spiritual merit alone and not by armed force.
In this backdrop it is very important at this crucuial juncture to find out a way out of this highly self destructive situation so that Kashmir and its cultural identity can be preserved for its future generations. For this we have to realize that the only people who can find a solution to this jigsaw puzzle are the Kashmiris themselves because it is only they who are suffering the most. Instead of blaming the Central Govt and the Govt of Pakistan we must take the initiative ourselves and then approach the others for their cooperation. Kashmiris have to first put their house in order before seeking others help. We have to set an agenda which has the backing of the entire population and only then we can hope to succeed.
We have today a cacophony of voices raising different demands with nothing concrete emerging out of it. The divergent demands range from azadi to full integration with the Union of India by abrogating Art. 370 of the constitution of India. The other options advocated are, incorporation into Pakistan, trifurcation of the three regions of the state, quadrification of the state, grant of greater autonomy, demand for self rule, demand for joint sovereigny of India and Pakistan etc. The need todays is to debate and consider all these options with a cool mind and arrive at the most pragmatic choice keeping in mind the world scenario that has emerged where we talk in terms of the world having become a global village wherein it is imperative to have a congenial and mutually beneficial relationship within the comity of nations not only for progress and prosperity but even for survival as a nation. Another thing to be borne in mind while arriving at a decision is that the primary objective that of preservation of our distinct cultural identity as Kashmiris does not get marginalized in any respect. All other issues are secondary and do not warrant any importance. Let us all take a pledge that we shall not brook any further delay in catching the full by its horns. Swami Vivekanand's dictum 'Arise awake and stop not till the goal is reached' would be the most appropriate to follow under the circumstances.
BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
Reports of medical mistreatment by barefoot medical practitioners appear frequently in the media sometimes even leading to death of the patient. But similar mistreatment is often done by registered medical practitioners (RMPs) as well. One teacher suffered a minor fall in the school. The doctor told her that there was a hairline fracture and terrorized her by saying that she would become lame if she did not have a full cast put on. The poor lady paid two thousand rupees to put the cast. Back home her husband showed the X-Ray to another RMP friend. He said there was no fracture at all. There was only an injury to the vein. He removed the cast and told them to do regular hot fermentation. Soon the pain was gone. It is clear that mistreatment is done both by barefoot- and registered doctors. But mistreatment by a barefoot doctor is considered a crime while same mistreatment by a RMP is passed off as a mishappening.
It is also well known among medical circles that RMPs prescribe many unnecessary tests because they get commissions from the labs. A lab owner in Delhi told this writer that Rs 20 out of every X-Ray costing Rs 100 goes to the doctor. They get commissions of Rs 500 to Rs 2500 on every CT- or MRI scan.
The situation of RMPs in Government hospitals is no better. WHO's World Health Report 2000 had pointed out that employees of the Government hospitals serve themselves more than the public; they use Government hospitals as a window for charging illicit fees; and being in command of more information they mislead and fool the public into paying more. The WHO says that they "have serious shortcomings when it comes to the provision of health services. Bureaucracies are vulnerable to capture by the vested interests of the bureaucrats and providers who work in them. They are often associated with abuse of monopoly power (such as collection of rents in the form of informal charges) and information asymmetry." The Report further adds that government employees very frequently engage in illegal private practice during duty hours, charge illegal fees and use government hospitals to promote their private practices.
It is clear that both barefoot- and registered doctors are equally dishonest. The solution, therefore, is not to put a lid on barefoot doctors and give oxygen to RMPs. Need is to establish an independent regulatory authority that redresses grievances against all medical practitioners. This function cannot be truly discharged by the government doctors who invariably come from the RMP stream. Worse, giving regulatory function to the Chief Medical Officer is putting the accused on the seat of the judge. Complaint against a Government RMP is heard by another fellow Government RMP. Thus there is an all-encompassing regulatory failure in the system. It is necessary to establish and independent regulator for all medical practitioners along the lines of Lokayukta.
Barefoot doctors are providing cure in distant rural areas. Government doctors are unavailable because they prefer postings in metros where they can earn big commissions by writing CT- and MRI scans. Putting an end to the services provided by barefoot doctors will deprive these areas of all medical cure. Worse, reduced competition from barefoot doctors will enable RMPs to increase their charges. It is seen that the call for action against barefoot doctors is coming mainly from RMPs and not from the affected patients. RMPs want to remove competition from these barefoot doctors so that they can charge exorbitant fees from patients who have no alternative.
Solution is to increase the supply of RMPs. This will lead to increased competition and bring down their consultation charges as well as commissions from labs. There is a need to establish a parallel stream of examination and registration for barefoot doctors. A candidate has to pass certain examinations and do apprenticeship with an established Chartered Accountant to become one. There is no need for him to attend four years of college for becoming a CA. A similar registration system can be set up for barefoot doctors. They can be given the authority to prescribe medicines in a limited area. We can establish a graded registration system akin to the star-rating fro hotels. Barefoot doctors can be given one-star rating and super-specialists can be given five-star rating. Registration of barefoot doctors will increase their accountability. Another way to increase supply is to introduce a private examination system for RMPs. Many compounders, pharmacists and nurses have more experience than RMPs. They do not presently have the authority to write medicines. These may be registered as doctors if they are able to pass an exam just as 'private' candidates are allowed to sit in exams of BA. These measures will lead to an increase in supply of RMPs, they will set up their clinics in distant rural areas and also lead to a reduction in the fees and commissions charged by them.
The subject also has bearing on our tradition medicine system. There was no system of registration of vaidyas, astrologers and pundits. Young men became apprentices of a practicing vaidya and, in due time, became vaidya themselves. This system spontaneously led to decentralization. Different vaidyas were free to evolve different methods of treatment. They also experimented with locally available herbs and made new formulations that were suitable to local climate, culture and eating habits. This research was not done in air-conditioned labs. It was done by the vaidya prescribing different medicines and observing the results. This system was economically efficient. Different medicines were developed for wet- and dry, warm- and cold, vegetarian- and non-vegetarian conditions. The cost of treatment was less because of reliance on locally available herbs. It does not cost much to eat two leaves of Tulsi everyday. The same treatment would cost more if a RMP prescribes Tulsi extract. This traditional system of medicine is now dying. One reason is that an experienced vaidya is treated as a unregistered doctor and his knowledge is declared illegal. Another reason is that vaidyas have started prescribing medicines produced in big companies. These are expensive. They do not now discover or prescribe locally available remedies. Thus ayurvedic treatment often turns out more expensive than allopathic treatment. We have, therefore, become dependent upon the modern centralized and expensive medical system.
Centralization is harmful for research. The RMP is like a clerk. He reads the rule book and prescribes the medicines. His own contribution is limited to deciding which page in the rule book to read. The RMP is not oriented to undertake innovation and research. It becomes very difficult to mainstream his findings should he made some invention because the procedure of clinical trials etc. is expensive and cumbersome and requires a pharmaceutical company to sponsor his research. All this is a consequence of us denigrating our traditional system of medicine. We should not blindly adopt the expensive centralized modern medicine system to the detriment of our inexpensive decentralized system.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
Although the state government would like the people to believe that the economy is on track, however the events that have been unfolding may force it to make a realistic assessment
Omar Abdullah led coalition has laid much stress on getting the developmental works completed on time and during these times of crisis meeting after meetings are being conducted to drive home the point that development would receive the thrust despite all odds.
With the State's growth in doldrums, it is time for crucial policy fixes and not just projection of hypothetical figures that lack credibility as well as the sense. Omar's claim that his mandate is to fulfill people's daily needs which include sadak, pani, bijli, sehat and jobs are far removed from its performance on governance. The government lacks direction when it comes to execution and completion of projects as many instances are there where funds from one region have been utilized in other areas. The State government does not even bother to take cues from other states of India when it comes to transparency in fiscal matters and resources allocation.
Let the government come up with off-budget figures that reveals the funds that have been received from the centre for health sector, welfare schemes, social security and revenues generated indigenously before, during and after the present crisis. The current year isn't just memorable because it marks the failure of the government machinery at all levels; it is also important because the claims of the government on the development front may be most sorely tested in the coming times. Call it apathy or just the bad luck for the incumbent government they are caught in political turbulence that has virtually brought the economy to its knees. The trend speaks for themselves: industries are defunct, vital sectors of the economy have suffered the biggest jolt and government seems to be a hapless. Evidence suggests the State's economy might be running up against critical sectors where growth forecasts are set to get more and more modest. So holding of bureaucratic meets to project that all is well when it comes to execution of projects speaks about volumes as how far the government is from reality.
If one takes the segment of the population that lives from hand to mouth and is totally dependent on daily earnings, their distress needs to be addressed in right earnest rather than projecting that government is concerned. Most of the bureaucrats and politicians would like the people to believe that the economy is on track; however the events that have been unfolding during the last quarter may force them to make a realistic assessment of the economy. It is one thing to find ways to continue with the development and project execution, even if on paper; that is much easy part. The more difficult part is to neutralize the affect of the current economic slowdown that is turning to be worst ever for the State. More than ever before, the government and the policy makers would be tested for their commitment towards the welfare of common man and devising of contingency plans as and when the economy gets on track.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
A NATION THAT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE ITS HEROES IS LIKELY TO FIND THE HOLLOW HINGES OF ANY SUPPORT
DR SYED NAZIR GILANI
People in Kashmir have been over politicized and their collective defences have been spread thin. They have been reduced to a process of life. While as people around the world continue their efforts (politics) to move to next most important stage, that is, a quality of life.
The spill over of over politicization manifested itself between 15-17 August 2010 when the people of Kashmir lost all command of their reason and hailed a head constable Ahad Jan as their new and super hero. They did not wait for a single minute to reconcile the merits of his anger with the broad police culture of oppression which he had continued to represent and support until he decided to hurl his 'shoe' at the chief minister. Our leaders, opinion makers and concerned citizens represented in all disciplines of life need to move fast and re-set the 'wisdom compass' which seems to be badly failing the people.
People of Kashmir seem to be losing the dignity of their case and once one loses the dignity of person, there is no cause. One of the serious defects in our approach has been trivialization of our political phrase and the midstream change of horses to mount new heroes. Chief Minister has helped the people to take to other credible issue and leave Ahad Jan as part of 'police culture'. The system has reclaimed its lost 'sheep' and the streets continue to be soaked with fresh blood.
Every heart bleeds on the daily loss of life in Kashmir (Valley). Two such meritable concerns have come one each from India and Pakistan. Congress President Sonia Gandhi on August 19 expressed her condolences to each family which has lost its loved ones and expressed anguish over the killings in Valley and said Kashmiri youths' pain and anger must be addressed. Government of Pakistan in its weekly briefing on the same day has asked India to read writing on the wall. It informed Delhi that Kashmiri people were resolved to get their right to self-determination and New Delhi should read the "writing on the wall".
A support from Pakistan or any part of the world is welcome. However, Pakistani spokesperson was overtaken by a strange intuitive sway and he said "It is our firm belief that when (Kashmiri) people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their cause, then nothing can stop them from reaching their destination." He further said that the government and people of Pakistan will "continue to stand by the people of Jammu and Kashmir through thick and thin by providing full diplomatic and moral support to their struggle".
Sonia Gandhi has a higher burden of responsibility and connectivity in Kashmir. She needs to examine the situation on the basis that Indian Security Forces have been admitted into the State to discharge a duty (fully specified) as long as the State Government required this supplement. Security forces are in Kashmir to protect 'life', 'honour' and 'property' of the people of Kashmir, in this case from any outside invaders. As a consequence the security forces are there on invitation, as a supplement and subordinate to State Government.
Therefore loss of life accrues a criminal liability for the State Government. The loss of life caused by the Indian security forces vitiates the basis of their presence and stay in Kashmir. Any act or duty performed outside the terms of the agreement would be a breach of the agreement and the death would incur a criminal liability for the Command of these forces. The concern shown by Sonia Gandhi may be welcome but it does not come near enough to the practical steps needed to address the situation.
One should not doubt the concern shown by Pakistan's spokesman for the situation in Kashmir. However, one is encouraged to question the intuitive content of his statement that "It is our firm belief that when (the Kashmiri) people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their cause, then nothing can stop them from reaching their destination." The spokesman seems to have doubts in the substantive merits of the rights movement of Kashmir. May be he looks at it through the tenure based programme, to which he has remained exposed (post 1990) and has failed to go back to October 1877 when the people of Kashmir raised their voice against social injustice. He fails to reconcile the 62 deaths with the death of a generation in the last 19 years.
At the same time the reiteration of a pledge that the government and people of Pakistan will "continue to stand by the people of Jammu and Kashmir through thick and thin by providing full diplomatic and moral support to their struggle" can't hide its hollow hinges. Pakistan has yet to reconcile its role as a party to the dispute for its own interest and as a member nation of UN obliged to support the Right of Self Determination as a Charter obligation. Unfortunately, the Government of Pakistan has been choosing different time zones to express its interest in the rights movement of the people of Kashmir. They have used Kashmir to exact more political and diplomatic advantage from Delhi and have done very little to contribute in moving the process of life towards a quality of life in Kashmir. Encouraging an engagement between unarmed civilians of Kashmir and the Indian security forces has no wisdom.
The government of Pakistan endured a complete lull on Kashmir from 5 November 1965 to 15 September 1996. It did not raise the right of self determination of the people of Kashmir at the UN for 30 years and 11 months. Kashmir attracted rule 11 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council in August 1996 and suffered deletion from the UN Security Council as a regular agenda item. It had continued as a regular pending agenda item for 48 years from January 1948 to 15 September 1996. It is unfortunate that some Kashmiri leaders and a Pakistan sponsored spread on Kashmir has been helping Pakistan more in embarrassing India for tactical reasons and the common interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir have continued to suffer.
Pakistan Governments have failed to agitate the Kashmir policy for 30 years and 11 months at the UN. Governments do not follow their Kashmir policy in accordance with article 257 of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Trust Obligations assumed under UNCIP Resolutions and AJK Constitution. Foreign office spokesperson or a visiting leader at the General Assembly of UN has the same outdated one liner for Kashmir, that is, the government and people of Pakistan will "continue to stand by the people of Jammu and Kashmir through thick and thin by providing full diplomatic and moral support to their struggle".
So far the support in the last 19 years has caused Kashmir the death of a generation and the death of self determination. The fabric of plural civil society is in tatters and the 'wisdom compass' has grown so defective that it pointed out to add a head constable to the list of our heroes. A nation that fails to recognize its heroes is likely to find the hollow hinges of any support. Support expressed by Pakistan is welcome. There is no harm to test its hinges.
Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
ART OF DECEPTION
TALKING ABOUT 'AZADI' WHILE BEING IN MAINSTREAM CAMP ISN'T DIGESTIBLE
Famous saying is "Politics is art of possible" but it is also "art of deception". Throughout world the democracies have flourished on both. A politician, essentially an elected one is agent of change and development.
Not only in West where the politicians are accountable to their people, in a country like India too, there are some glaring exceptions. Many MPs and MLAs have changed the destiny of their people. Here (in Jammu and Kashmir) too there are few exceptions who have changed the shape of their constituencies as far as the development is concerned, thus romped back several times.
But Kashmir is such a place where "tricks" play a vital role in furthering politics. It is hardly based on sincerity. Whipping the emotions of the people is the "essence" of their politics. Here they want to tread on all paths even if they are contradictory to their known ideologies. Those in mainstream should remain on that side and the separatists should continue to "work for their cause" without falling for concessions. Similarly the mainstream politicians must not cross the limits to hoodwink public opinion.
In the air of "azadi" the mainstream parties too fall in line pretending that azadi was there goal too. NC and PDP are surely "elected" by a section of people and their mandate is to improve basic conditions. They have a responsibility to talk about the atrocities committed against the people but complete shift is not palatable. The fashion is that while you are in government you try to be very cautious and when in opposition you come very openly on the issues of Kashmir dispute. Assembly is not the forum to discuss Kashmir issue but surely the problems, which arise out of this conflict.
There is a category of pseudo-separatists, who enjoy all government privileges, fight elections, some even reach assembly, some fail but still they talk of "azadi". They even claim that their respective areas were in "peace" during the ongoing protests. They get everything "under the sun" to further improve vote bank in the area, get all the money for development from government. Good enough, to alleviate the sufferings of people as for as basic amenities of Bijli, Sadak and Pani is concerned is not bad. But taking plunge to work for "azadi" while being in mainstream camp is not digestible. Please be on the side you have chosen to be, as "you cannot have the cake and eat it too". It is mere deception and not making something possible. Think over it, but don't take it to heart.
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THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
INDIA NEEDS 'AZADI' FROM KASHMIR!
SHAH TAVSEEF MAIRAJ
It has been 63 years since the Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Since then India has been murdering its commitments made to the people of Kashmir. In reply to the Accession offer of Maharaja Hari Singh, the then Governor General of India, Mountbatten had said,
"As soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the state's accession should be settled by a reference to the people".After that Jawaharlal Nehru had said, in the Parliament of India, that Plebiscite for Kashmiris would be held at any cost, even if it meant modification of Indian constitution. But India continued to shy away from these commitments. In the process, it has been strengthening its presence in Kashmir. But it has not been able to integrate the people of Kashmir with Indian mainstream. Bullets, ballots or coffers nothing has worked for India.
India itself suffers due to the Kashmir problem. Its aim for a permanent UN Security Council is severely affected due to human rights violations in Kashmir. In order to maintain its presence in Siachen, it has to spend Rs 14.4 billion annually while half of its population lives under the specified Poverty Level of 1.25 dollars a day. India's defence expenditure is expected to touch a whopping 80 billion dollars by 2015. Instead of spending its major chunk in 'defending' Kashmir, if India diverts this sum of money towards the development of tribals and OBCs, its major internal security problem of Naxalism can get resolved. India should see the writing on the wall and should not take Kashmiris for granted.
India's prospects of becoming a super-power are severely dented by its presence in Kashmir. That is why Arundhti Roy remarked, in
2008, "India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India".
Author is a student at NIT, Srinagar
J&K MUST ENSURE MINORITIES' SAFETY
Keeping in view the situation that prevails in the Kashmir valley, it is hardly surprising that fringe elements have threatened the Sikhs there to either embrace Islam and take part in the protests against civilian killings, or leave the region. There is no dearth of agencies in the troubled state which can indulge in such provocative behaviour. It is the responsibility of the Jammu and Kashmir government to ensure that no harm comes to the Sikhs as a 60,000-strong minority. Efforts must be made to track down the culprits and bring them to book. No one has the right to force anyone to change his or her religion in India, and Kashmir is an inalienable part of it.
If any harm is caused to a Sikh in Jammu and Kashmir because of his religious belief, it is bound to have repercussions in Punjab and elsewhere, as Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has rightly cautioned.
The matter was raised in Parliament on Friday with some members expressing their concern over the security of the minority community. It is good that Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has assured the Sikhs that nobody will be allowed to endanger their lives in J and K. However, issuing such statements is not enough. The need of the hour is to strengthen the security arrangements in the areas having the maximum presence of the Sikhs. The matter is too sensitive to be taken lightly.
Sikhs have been targeted in the past by extremists, under the guidance of Pakistan's ISI. The most famous incident in which 35 Sikhs were massacred on March 20, 2000, occurred at Chhattisinghpura in Anantnag district. Eleven months after this carnage six Sikhs were gunned down in Srinagar. The enemies of the nation are always on the lookout for new ways to disturb the peace in India. First they instigated the agitated people of J and K to resort to stone-pelting at the security forces at every available opportunity. Now they seem to be working on a new idea to create social unrest. We must not allow them to succeed.
REDUCED TO A NUMBER
FIGURING OUT YOUR PLACE IN LIFE
You are a person, you have your own identity and the one thing that you never wanted to do was to be reduced to a number. Yet, you are governed by labels and identifiers which are nothing but a string of digits. You have a phone number, you have a PAN number, you have the PIN you use in your ATM, you have your bank account number in fact, you are now reduced to a number. Numbers are not only becoming ubiquitous, these are also spreading in our lives at a swift clip. The telecom regulator, TRAI, is advocating the use of 10-digit numbers for fixed lines by December 2011. Now, this is the nearest that most Indians are going to get to being an arabpati, but this is one time they would rather be lakhpatis or less. In fact, they are ready to pay lakhs to get the Number 1 for their car licence plates. Yet, surely, we can't blame TRAI.
The existing system, which was supposed to last till 2030, is under strain as more and more Indians reach out to each other through telecom devices, more mobile than fixed ones, though. Thus, 750 million connections are not enough; we have to plan for over a billion by 2014.
Now, surely the mind can only absorb so much. When we talk of 'memory', young people think in terms of gigabytes, whereas the older generation harks back to the original concept of the human organism's ability to store, retain, and recall information. We are overwhelmed with the need to recollect an assortment of strings of digits that govern our lives, and often are reduced to jotting them down on a piece of paper, which gradually takes the shape of an ever-growing notebook. The maze of numbers through which the modern homo sapien has to negotiate has now become even more daunting, but then the key to the theory of evolution is the ability to adapt, and those who don't will devolve into the antediluvian ancestors who could only handle six to eight digits at a time.
RAIN OF MISERY
POOR GOVERNANCE, CORRUPTION EXPOSED
When a normal monsoon has caused so much devastation, imagine what would happen if the rains were a little excessive? Blame the flood ruin on poor governance, low expectations from the elected representatives or plain public indifference. Politicians care more for their own well-being or comforts than the citizens' basic needs. They survey flood damage from helicopters and carry media photographers along. The sight of river waters submerging villages gives them an opportunity to play politics rather than prod them to do some constructive action. First, the Ghaggar played havoc in large areas of Haryana and Punjab. Now the Satluj is giving people sleepless nights. Given the neglect of the rivers and canals, the flood threat always looms in nearby villages.
Year after year civic mismanagement has stood exposed and urban infrastructure proved inadequate. Power switches off the moment it rains, bringing industrial and domestic activity to a halt apart from adding to the woes of citizens coping with the hot and humid weather. The sewerage is either non-existent or non-functional.
If Chandigarh roads can get flooded by rain, the desperation of people in old, unplanned towns is understandable. It is urban chaos all over. Villages are simply left at the mercy of rain gods. Roads and even railway tracks get submerged by some brisk showers, disrupting the transportation of people and essential supplies.
It is amazing how the apathetic, non-governing leaders at the village, town and state levels get elected time and again. The municipalities do not deliver. Yet citizens do not hold anyone from top to bottom accountable for their misery. Political and bureaucratic greed and corruption know no limits. Bridges built a year or two ago have collapsed. Roads develop potholes soon after the first rain. From shopkeepers, traders to airlines jack up prices to cash in on victims' helplessness. The flood fury in Leh was caused by an unexpected cloudburst and it is understandable if the state machinery was caught unprepared for the disaster. But elsewhere the rains are an annual occurrence and yet the administration is caught sleeping. And it is not just this year only.
THE UNREST IN KASHMIR
BLAME FAILURES AT THE POLITICAL LEVEL
BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD )
It was the winter of 1963 when the holy relic at the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar went missing. News spread like wildfire and a huge crowd assembled in Srinagar town. A police station, tehsil headquarters and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed's hotel, then under construction, were set on fire. The fire-fighting vehicles that were called to the scene were also attacked. Then the military's fire-fighting vehicles accompanied by a fully armed platoon were sent to the area. The civil administration simply panicked and handed over the city of Srinagar to the Army.
The Army moved two of its battalions from Baramullah and made them camp at the centre of the town. The 300-odd vehicles which had only recently returned from Ladakh were moved at midnight towards Baramullah and then brought back at day-break, giving the impression that the whole division had been moved to Srinagar.
While crowds continued to gather in the town for the next couple of days, no untoward incident took place.
Troops with their officers were out day and night to show their presence and appeared determined to take firm action to deal with any mischief. Till then the military's presence had a salutary effect on the mobs, which unfortunately has been eroded due to its excessive use for such tasks. Since then much water has flowed down the Jhelum; the political scene, too, has undergone a sea change; crowds have become more restive, and hardliners multiplied. Politics in the valley has become of the very base variety.
There is no apparent reason or rationale for the present turmoil in the valley. There is a functional government, as caring and efficient as any in the country. Unemployment is a permanent feature all across India, more in many other parts of the country. Employment opportunities everywhere have not been able to keep pace with population explosion. Two decades of violence is not the state's doing but that of Pakistan and the hardliner separatists. Frustration in the ranks of the political parties now out of power and others who stoke fires of discontent at every turn of events, aided and abetted by Pakistan, is the primary cause of the ongoing trouble.
In crowd control, when all other means fail and fire has to be opened as a last resort, the governing principal is to shoot to incapacitate, not to kill. How then has the police and the CRPF been shooting to kill? This form of fire has been leading to a cascading cycle of protests and more killings. Police officers who should be there to ensure that policemen exercise restrain are not to be seen and have left the field to hawaldars and inspectors.
Intelligence agencies, whose performance has invariably been poor, failed to gather information concerning stone pelting, a new form of protest involving young men and others behind this nefarious activity. There are reports of regular payments having been made to stone-pelters. It is likely that quite a few killings are the result of fire from terrorists hiding in the surrounding buildings. Ingenious are the ways of mischief-makers.
While India has poured hundreds of millions of rupees into the state and is continuing with the practice, most of it has been finding its way into corrupt pockets and the balance mainly deployed in the valley. Thus, people below poverty line in the valley are only 4 to 5 per cent. There has been complete political freedom, and free and fair elections have been regularly held.
Yet thousands have died at the hands of terrorists. Fathers of both Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Sajjad Lone were murdered by terrorists. Mehbooba Mufti's sister was kidnapped, and her rescue in exchange for the release of some terrorists was the starting point of the turmoil in the valley. Yet they have never uttered a word against the terrorists and insurgents. It is only the security forces who are the whipping boys for them.
Those of us who have spent many years in J and K, both at the grassroots level and among higher echelons, have maintained that there are no moderates in the valley. On August 13, after the Friday prayers, the Mirwaiz realised that it was an opportune moment to take off the moderate mask and declared that he wanted no financial package, no jobs, no autonomy and no Indian military, but only "azadi"!
Farooq Kathwari, a US-based Indian, was invited to India in 1999 to put forward his proposal for the "way forward", thus indicating a change in the Indian strategic perspective. The Kathwari Plan pointed to a quasi-independent state, which eventually would have led to independent Greater Muslim Kashmir. The Regional Autonomy Report of the National Conference envisaged a division of the state along the same lines as General Musharraf did later on. However, such a proposal is incompatible with the secular character of India. That is why Article 370 remains a transitory provision.
Considering the stand taken by the desparate groups in the valley, no useful talks are possible. Nor can the sops being offered by the Prime Minister work. It is time New Delhi got real and dealt firmly with the situation. We have allowed this problem to simmer for too long.
The idea of open or soft borders in J and K is fraught with serious security implications, more so when the Americans pull out of Afghanistan and the Taliban regain their foothold in that country. Thereafter their focus, that of jihadi groups and the ISI will shift to J and K. Soft borders in J and K can only be considered when we have soft borders elsewhere with Pakistan. Equally, the proposal for greater autonomy or quasi-independence will have a domino effect elsewhere in India and may eventually lead to Balkanisation of the country: a long-term aim of some of our adversaries.
India has failed to draw the people of the valley into the national mainstream and this has been the principal failure at the political level. Article 370 has been the main stumbling block towards this assimilation. If hardliners and other anti-national elements do not give up their nefarious activities, then India must seriously consider abrogation of Article 370. The nation must show the resolve to bite the bullet and integrate the people of J and K into the national mainstream.
Attempts are on to water down the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Army Chief has already expressed his views on the subject, and the others who have a long experience of counter-insurgency operations warn us that this watering down of the Act will render the military ineffective. We must keep in view the long-term implications of any step that we take.
ENIGMA OF THE END
BY DEVASHISH CHAKRABORTY
It was one of those long nights that would not end to see the light of day again. Sitting on the floor of a local hospital, sharing space with attendants of other patients, I was contemplating what the morning might have in store for me. For, over six months had elapsed without my father opening his eyes even once. He was, apparently, in the last stage of his life and the curtain of his life's drama could fall any moment.
I distinctly recollect that Sunday afternoon, when I was summoned to the ICU of the hospital, after my father was shifted from the ward, allowing me a mere glimpse of the saga of his battle with death. I could witness the doctors and the nurses working frantically on his emaciated body. His face all wrapped up in tubes of variegated dimensions, body covered in thick blankets. I could discern only his heaving breast. A chill ran down my spine as I felt the world spinning around.
Unable to stand any longer, I reclined on a dilapidated chair. As time rolled by, I found myself dozing off and my father's last words came to memory. "Son," he had said, "When I am gone, you will be left all by yourself." He was crying inconsolably as he was being hauled into an ambulance for what turned out to be his "last ride".
My father was suffering from a debilitating condition of the brain, which had rendered him bed-ridden for months. Gradually, his brain deteriorated further and he slipped into a coma. Six months' stay at the hospital couldn't revive his consciousness. Death was imminent and I was a mere spectator. At such a moment, I wondered the futility of egotism and all of my idiosyncrasies, in the face of harsh realities of life.
Death is no respecter of status, tutoring all alike to be humble. The rich wail their dead as much as the poor. No wonder, the great warrior Alexander understood the futility of his sprawling kingdom only at the point of death.
As for my father, the end came in the wee hours of the morning. When the news broke upon me like a thunderbolt, my eyes were piercing through the misty hospital window, beholding the pre-dawn sky dotted with innumerable stars. I was then, reminiscent of the words of my father which he would often repeat when I was a child, "Somewhere in the starlight, you'll find me when I'm gone."
I still look nostalgically at the stars in search of the father who is no more
THE MONEY MENACE
THE INCREASING ROLE OF MONEY POWER IN ELECTIONS IS CAUSE FOR SERIOUS CONCERN. THE MENACE HAS SPREAD EVEN TO THE RAJYA SABHA ELECTIONS. THERE IS A NEED TO TACKLE IT TO ENSURE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS AND SAVE DEMOCRACY.
THE emerging trend of spiraling amounts spent on elections is a grave danger to our democracy. In the last decade, elections have become a high stakes game where candidates, political parties or their leaders spend crores of rupees in each constituency. This is true not only for Lok Sabha seats but also for Assembly and Panchayat elections.
Apart from the moral issue, there is a clear connection with good governance anyone who spends crores of rupees in an election will focus on recouping his or her investment after winning. Governance and public interest will take a back seat. Now we see rich industrialists joining this bandwagon through the Rajya Sabha where they bribe MLAs up to a crore of rupees for their votes.
From the civil society perspective, several citizen groups have emerged to confront this issue. Perhaps the most prominent among them is the National Election Watch (NEW) network of over 1200 NGOs from all the states in India (see www.adrindia.org, www.myneta.info, www.nationalelectionwatch.org).
Data gathered over the years from this network shows a variety of innovative methods used to buy voters from door to door distribution, to mass weddings where gifts are distributed, to coupon systems where voters can get liquor or meat from designated shops, to a complex network of middlemen who buy block votes in return for money, vehicles, and even real estate.
Even women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs) have not been spared and their leaders have sometimes been bought. The latest trend in this cynical game is the misuse of public funds and resources to buy votes by the party in power. Two arguments need to be confronted here. One is that voters take money from everyone and so the outcome of the election is not affected. That may or may not be true, but good governance definitely suffers as stated earlier.
The second argument that politicians usually give is that if voters are ready to take money, and in fact demand money, why blame us? In a by-election in Thirumangalam, some voters surrounded a vehicle containing wads of notes seized by the Election Commission, and demanded the money saying it was meant for them.
Earlier, corruption was spreading into various activities, particularly in the government. If it creeps into the entire society, we will not be able to solve the problem in the foreseeable future. Why are voters so cynical? Perhaps they feel there is no connection between their vote and good governance. If all political parties deliver bad governance, voters will cynically take money during elections. The buck stops with the political leadership. When politicians start blaming voters, we are really in trouble as a society.
The trend clearly shows an increasing number of our elected representatives come from the rich. The number of people with assets of a crore or more increased from 156 in the last Lok Sabha to 315 in the current one. The average declared assets of MPs in the current Lok Sabha is Rs 4.5 crore. Meanwhile, election campaigns have got more and more divorced from the people with buying of votes, media-based campaigns and almost no direct contact with voters.
So elected politicians are doubly insulated from the concerns of the poor they can buy their votes, and do not interact with them often enough. While being well off or rich is not a crime, there is no one to represent the interests of the poor.
Recent trends in legislation also reflect this where we take care of vested interests more than the interests of people. Money-based elections inevitably leads to a political system up for sale, and it is the moneyed who can buy governments. The ordinary citizen can only watch helplessly. In this high stakes electoral game, the ordinary public-minded aspiring politician with little or no assets has no chance. He cannot get a ticket, cannot fight a fair election and cannot win, rare exceptions apart.
Other democracies have passed through this kind of votes-for-cash system. In the 19th century, votes were, apparently, bought for as much as $30 in New York City. Starting with Watergate, a set of legislations to control election spending has been put in place. Germany, Japan, the UK and France have laws to govern campaign spending. None of these countries have perfect laws, but we have to learn from them.
Our own legislation on this count is still weak. That is not for want of expertise. The Law Commission's report has a set of laws that address this and other related issues. At the same time, laws will only go so far. Eternal vigilance on the part of citizens along with the good work done by the Election Commission has to go hand in hand to stamp out this menace to democracy.
The writer is Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and Founder Member, Association for Democratic Reforms
A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY
V. ESHWAR ANAND
THE role of money power has been increasing in elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies over the years. Disturbingly, this malaise has now spread even to the Rajya Sabha. Reports of some Jharkhand MLAs caught on camera in a sting operation while selling their votes during the recent Rajya Sabha elections are a sad reflection of the quality and integrity of some politicians. It would be unfair to blame the entire political class for the malady, but it is because of these few rotten apples that the world's largest democracy is getting a bad name.
Significantly, the Election Commission has taken serious note of the episode. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi had promptly convened a meeting of the commission which, in turn, directed the Jharkhand government to file first information reports (FIRs) against the four MLAs involved in the episode Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Tek Lal Mahto and Simon Marandi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Umashankar Akela and the Congress' Rajesh Ranjan.
These MLAs were demanding between Rs 50 lakh and one crore to vote in favour of a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha election. Their boast that on payment they could get their and their colleagues' first and second preference votes in the Rajya Sabha elections amounts to an offence of bribery at an election under Section 171 of the Indian Penal Code, the commission said. The sale of votes amounts to an offence under Section 8 and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, it said.
While the Election Commission's prompt response is commendable, it deserves to be given more teeth to tackle this problem. At the same time, the onus for the malady lies on the political parties. Surprisingly, they are yet to take action against those caught on camera. The Rajya Sabha's Ethics Committee and the Jharkhand Assembly should take the initiative to stem the rot. Parliament did show the way forward in 2005. It took cognisance of a sting operation in the Cash-for-questions scandal and expelled 11 MPs (10 from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha). The Supreme Court upheld Parliament's power to expel MPs.
In a representative democracy, political parties are an essential concomitant of elections. The ills confronting the system are due largely to our failure to elect men and women of calibre, integrity, probity and rectitude in public life. Parliament needs to enact a comprehensive law regulating the registration and functioning of political parties. The law should provide for regulation of their funding and the scrutiny of audited accounts by the Election Commission.
Criminalisation of politics is another issue of major concern as it is directly linked to the role of money power in elections. Political parties should refuse to give tickets to history sheeters and those with criminal antecedents.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the Standing Committee of Parliament is examining the Election Commission's recommendations on electoral reforms. The committee should hasten its report to help the Union Cabinet and Parliament debate it thoroughly for early legislative enactment. Implementation of other reports such as the Law Commission's 170th Report, the Dinesh Goswami Bill, the Indrajit Gupta Committee Report and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission Report, too, brook no delay. Political will is imperative to check the money menace.
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