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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month august 24, edition 000607, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- INTENT IS TO DECEIVE
- NAIPAUL DOES IT AGAIN
- THE BHOPAL WHODUNIT - A SURYA PRAKASH
- EXPLOITING A HUMAN TRAGEDY - B RAMAN
- US SELLING FALSE HOPE - BARRY RUBIN
- TOO MUCH NOW, TOO LITTLE LATER - GWYNNE DYER
- DEVIANT REGIONALISM SWAMPS UPA - CP BHAMBHRI
- ASSURE PEOPLE THAT THE MILK THEY CONSUME IS SAFE
- PROTECT INDIAN INTERESTS
- TAKE GOLF TO NEXT LEVEL NOW
- QUICKEN THE PACE OF TIES WITH JAPAN - BY KANWAL SIBAL
- LALU WON'T GO DOWN WITHOUT A GOOD FIGHT - GIRIDHAR JHA
- CAP AND LIP
- INTELLIGENT ENVIRONMENT IN THE OFFING
- THE WAY TO HEALING - MUZAFFAR BHAT, SHAH FAISAL AND PREETAISH KAUL
- BREACHES PRIVACY AND HUMAN CONTROL
- TELL-TAIL SIGN - K V KRISHNAN,
- LIABLE TO CAUSE MORE CONFUSION
- A STRANGE CRUSADE - ASHOK MALIK
- ON THE FENCE ON FENCING FOR SO LONG - PRAFULLA KUMAR MAHANTA
- ADOPTED BY ALL
- TRADE AND BALANCE
- FRONT FOR LEFT
- NAVI MUMBAI, NEW MUMBAI - MILIND DEORA
- FREE THE CAPTIVES - NOOR MOHAMMAD
- 'RAJIV WAS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER CONG LEADERS. HE WENT BEYOND HIS PARTY LINE ON THE ASSAM ACCORD'
- CAN'T INSURE SUCCESS
- PATENTLY WRONG
- ERRORS OF COMMISSION, AND MORE - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- NO WINNERS IN AUSTRALIA
- NEW LIGHT ON STONEHENGE
- UNDERSTANDING THE PAKISTANI FLOODS - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
- PROPOSED RESTRICTIONS ON MEDIA CAUSE ALARM IN SOUTH AFRICA - CELIA W. DUGGER
- TAKING A VACATION IS NOT SIMPLE FOR THE FIRST FAMILY - JACKIE CALMES
- CHINA MULLS OVER LAW AMENDMENT TO HELP WATER, SOIL
- EXPATRIATE BANGLADESHIS GET VOTING RIGHTS
- TURN HOMEWARD TO BRIDGE EXPORT GAP
- INDIA'S ATHLETES BADLY LET DOWN
- THE QUEST FOR PEACE
- A LITTLE ROMANCE IN INDO-US TANGO
- MULTIDIMENSIONAL POVERTY IN INDIA
- HONESTY AND THE ART OF DE-JUNKING
- RAJYOGI BRAHMAKUMAR NIKUNJ JI
- THE MAGNIFICENT INCONGRUITY OF ONAM IN DECLINING KERALA - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
- FIXING LIABILITY: BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, AGAIN PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR.
- RETURN OF 'IKHWANI' CULTURE
- RISK-PRONE JAMMU AIRPORT
- WHO RUNS KASHMIR? - M. ASHRAF
- TEMPER SCARS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- SIKHS UNDER THREAT
- NIP THIS EVIL
- NECESSITY OF AFSPA - BY COL J P SINGH, RETD
- TEACHING PROFESSION LOSING ITS GLAMOUR - BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL
- FUNDING NON GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS - BY H C KATOCH
- ROAD TO JUSTICE
- FLOOD, TALIBAN & ISI SURVEY! - DR JAVID IQBAL
- HOW TO COPE WITH FEMALE ADDICTS - JEHANGIR RASHID
- MISSING IN ACTION
- FACE OF HOPE
- DEFIANT AS EVER
- ACTS OF GOD & MAN'S FOLLIES - BY B.G. VERGHESE
- THE CHEESY SIDE OF RTI - BY SANJEEV SINGH BARIANA
- PROBLEMS OF PLENTY - RAKESH LOHUMI
- CLIMATE CHANGE HITS PRODUCTIVITY
INTENT IS TO DECEIVE
NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL LOADED AGAINST INDIA
If it was not evident earlier, it should now become clear to all those who are following developments over the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill that the Union Government is doing its devious best to customise the proposed legislation in favour of foreign suppliers, more specifically, American firms. But for an alert Opposition, it may well have succeeded in its devious designs. Despite agreeing to cleanse the Bill of anything that favours suppliers and absolves them of responsibility in the event of a disaster, the Government continues to tinker with the provisions with the sole intention of somehow smuggling in a law that flies in the face of our national interest. In the latest attempt to place foreign suppliers at an advantage in the eventuality of an accident, the Government's draft Bill proposes that the operator of the plant which would be a public sector unit would have the right to seek damages only if the supplier's culpability by way of "intent to cause damage" is established. If this amendment to Clause 17 of the Bill were to pass muster, it would be virtually impossible to penalise suppliers. For, how does one prove "intent to cause damage"? Since no supplier will voluntarily admit malevolent intent, what will result is long-drawn litigation with frustrating results. As it is, the amended provision is loaded against India's interest since it says an operator can seek damages from suppliers only if it is provided in a written contract. In other words, if the operator-supplier contract does not include the provision of damages, the supplier can get away without paying even a farthing.
As with the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the Prime Minister appears to be bent upon thrusting upon the nation a patently pro-American legislation. And this is being done brazenly in an in-your-face manner. Earlier, the Government inserted an 'and' between two crucial clauses, 17 (a) and (b), thereby seeking to render the issue of damages irrelevant and thus loading the law in favour of suppliers. When that trickery was spotted, the Government insisted it was an oversight and would be corrected. While deleting the 'and', the Government slyly slipped in the caveat about "intent to cause damage". The is unacceptable, not least because this cravenly pro-US dispensation headed by a Prime Minister who strangely believes it is his responsibility to promote and protect American interest, and the Bill, unless it is further amended to remove all offensive clauses, should not be allowed to be presented in Parliament. The BJP and the CPI(M) have stoutly objected to the flawed Bill and blocked its introduction. They must now put up a joint front and ensure the Government's deceitful gameplan is defeated. As he did with the India-US nuclear nuclear deal, the Prime Minister will no doubt try to sell the Bill as something that is of over-riding importance for India, that without the law in place immediately the nation will suffer grievously. That is so much bunkum and no more. The only reason the Government is desperate to get the Bill approved by Parliament is US President Barack Obama's planned visit to India this winter. But there's a difference between the nuclear deal and the nuclear Bill: The first didn't require Parliament's approval; the second does.
NAIPAUL DOES IT AGAIN
MASQUE OF AFRICA TRIGGERS PASSIONATE DEBATE
Being politically incorrect is not the same thing as putting your foot in the mouth nor is it equivalent to an uninformed gaffe. It is simply stating the bare truth inconvenient, perhaps, to a lot of people and left unsaid for fear of its ability to embarrass. So when eminent writer and Nobel prize winner VS Naipaul remarks in his latest travelogue The Masque of Africa that the continent still has one foot in the primitive past and serves domestic pets as culinary delights, it is expectedly adequate ammunition for a raging debate in the West. One book critic has found these references 'repulsive' and 'offensively stereotypical' of the Western view of the African continent and its people. But, besides the fact that Naipaul is no representative of liberal opinion having ruffled several Left-liberal feathers in the recent past, one must take his observations for what they are instead of spicing them with racist overtones. His remarks must not be seen as a condemnation of an entire race, but an honest observation of something that shocked him enough to write so forcefully. Because the West has deep financial interests in several African nations as part of various economic packages it has extended to them and is working to keep them so engaged for some time to come, Naipaul's latest offering going by emerging reports is not something the liberal West would like the Africans to catch them with on the reading table. One can therefore expect the West to frown upon the noted author's exclamations and even condemn them. All this turmoil in literary circles and elsewhere the book is creating only goes to underline the influence of the Indian-origin author, easily the best living writer of prose.
While lasting fame came his way with A House for Mr Biswas and A Bend in the River, their celebrated author courted controversy but also earned worldwide respect and admiration for his hard-hitting travel writings. If he was bitingly honest in Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, he ridiculed the Indian mindset in An Area of Darkness and India: A Wounded Civilisation, giving the people of the country some credit only much later indeed, 25 years after he wrote the 'darkness' profile in the book India: A Million Mutinies Now. In the course of his India writing and questioning of Islamic 'rigidity', he got unjustifiably branded as a "Right-wing author". Although he has often reiterated his ideological independence, true to character Naipaul has refused to be either defensive or apologetic about his convictions, whether it is to do with his travel experiences, terming EM Forster's A Passage to India "rubbish" or describing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair a cultural philistine for championing "an aggressively plebeian culture that celebrates itself for being plebeian". He is also known to have rubbished "multiculti", or multi-culturalism. Well, more word power to you, Sir Vidia!
THE BHOPAL WHODUNIT
WHO LET WARREN ANDERSON ESCAPE FROM INDIA WITHOUT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR CARBIDE'S CRIME? NOBODY WILL TELL THE TRUTH
A SURYA PRAKASH
Ever since the court pronounced the verdict in the Bhopal gas leak case and the media exposed the fact that the Rajiv Gandhi Government had treated Warren Anderson, the chairman of Union Carbide, with kid gloves, the Congress party has been up to its old tricks of deflecting blame from the former Prime Minister and holding others responsible for his indefensible decisions. The party's favourite whipping boy is PV Narasimha Rao, who was intellectually and administratively far superior to Rajiv Gandhi.
Among those who have abetted this effort and obliged the Nehru-Gandhis on this count are Mr Arjun Singh, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and Mr MK Rasgotra, former Foreign Secretary.
According to Mr Arjun Singh, soon after the disastrous gas leak occurred in December, 1984, he was shocked to hear that Warren Anderson was coming to Bhopal ostensibly to commiserate with the victims of the disaster. He immediately ordered Mr Anderson's arrest but never discussed it with Rajiv Gandhi, who arrived in Bhopal on the same day. He met Rajiv Gandhi yet again at a public meeting the next day, but here, too, the Prime Minister made no enquiries about Anderson. Meanwhile, some anonymous official from the Union Home Ministry called the Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh and said that Anderson should be released. The Chief Secretary reported this to Mr Singh and the latter, who only a day earlier wanted Anderson put behind bars, asked the official to just do what he pleased. Mr Singh did not pick up the phone and ask the Home Minister, Narasimha Rao, if he wanted Anderson released and whether he had instructed officials in his ministry to call the Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh. Nor did he complain to the Prime Minister about the interference of the Home Ministry in the matter.
From his statement it transpires that Mr Singh meekly let off Anderson on the basis of a call from an anonymous Home Ministry official without either cross-checking with the Home Minister or the Prime Minister. Further, as is well known, despite the Chief Minister's ostensibly demonstrated firmness in arresting him, Anderson was treated like a state guest. He was not produced before a magistrate. The magistrate is produced before him! The Magistrate is taken to the guest house, so that he may release Anderson on bail. Thereafter, Mr Singh even made available the state aircraft for him to be flown to Delhi. Yet, Mr Singh wants us to believe now that the aircraft was loaned out to Anderson without his consent or knowledge even though the logbook says "Special Flight ordered by CM". Can a Chief Minister be any more irresponsible? This also gives us an idea of the extent to which leaders of the Congress party will go to distort truth and falsify history so that the image of the Nehru-Gandhis remains lily white under any circumstances.
In any case, this statement by Mr Singh is subject to a caveat. It must be read in the light of what he said in May 2008 while pledging his loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. In that statement, he said, "When I met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruji in March 1960, I pledged my total loyalty to him and his family. This was the commitment, which is an article of faith with me. For the past 48 years of my life, I have scrupulously adhered to it. I shall also do everything to maintain the loyalty and commitment to the remaining members of the family till I live."
However, leaders of the Congress party are not the only ones to spin such yarns. There are any number of bureaucrats and diplomats who, because of their loyalty to a political family or a political party, even risk incriminating themselves in order to protect the image of a politician. The former Foreign Secretary, Mr Rasgotra, who after retirement became a member of the Congress Party's Foreign Affairs Cell, would easily be one such individual. Here is an excerpt from an interview he gave Mr Karan Thapar on the events surrounding the release of Warren Anderson:
Karan Thapar: Was Rajiv Gandhi consulted?
MK Rasgotra: Rajiv Gandhi was not in Delhi.
KT: Did Reagan call Rajiv Gandhi?
MKR: Could have happened (outside his knowledge)
In response to another question, Mr Rasgotra said that Mr Gordon Streeb, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in New Delhi, had told him that Anderson was ready to come to India following the gas leak but he would come only if there was safe passage. Since, Anderson's Bhopal visit was subject to this condition, Mr Rasgotra said he got in touch with the Cabinet Secretary and the Home Minister. The Cabinet Secretary gave the go-ahead for Anderson's release. Mr Rasgotra was also in touch with the Home Ministry but, according to him, Rajiv Gandhi was not there and there was no occasion to consult the Prime Minister. "Rajiv Gandhi had nothing to do with this
He (Rajiv Gandhi) was not consulted beforehand. Obviously, he concurred with the decision."
How extraordinary! According to the man who was our Foreign Secretary in December 1984, an assurance was given to the American Deputy Chief of Mission that Anderson would have free passage and therefore, consequent to Anderson's arrest in Bhopal, he contacted the Home Minister and got Anderson released. However, he never once consulted his boss Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was holding the External Affairs portfolio! And, pray, why did our Foreign Secretary not consult his boss? Because the Prime Minister was not in Delhi. Further, it was quite possible that the US President, Ronald Reagan, spoke to our Prime Minister without the knowledge of the Foreign Secretary. So 26 years ago, we had a Foreign Secretary who did not report to his boss on a matter concerning the prime accused in a disaster of the magnitude of the gas leak in Bhopal but reported to the country's Home Minister instead. Secondly, in circa 1984, we had a Foreign Secretary who did not consult his boss, the Prime Minister of India, because the latter was out of Delhi. Finally, we had a Foreign Secretary who did not know if the President of the USA had called our Prime Minister at that time. Is this the stuff our Foreign Secretaries are made of? It is indeed a measure of the depths to which our services have sunk that someone like Mr Rasgotra seriously believes that the people of India will be taken in by this gibberish.
The charade goes on. Watch out for the next edition.
EXPLOITING A HUMAN TRAGEDY
Jihadi organisations have capitalised on the human tragedy caused by the floods in Pakistan despite an Interior Ministry ban on their activities. The resulting surge in their popularity is bound to affect the outcome of the trial of the conspirators who plotted the devastating terrorist attack on Mumbai
It has been difficult to estimate the damage suffered by Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and various Punjabi terrorist organisations as a result of the floods in Pakistan. They must have suffered damages because many of their training camps were located in areas which are now under water. North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, where the bases of Al Qaeda, TTP, Haqqani network, the 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic Jihad Union are located, is one of the affected areas.
One could see that the Afghan Taliban, which operates from the Quetta area of Balochistan, has not been affected much. It has maintained its operations in Afghanistan even after the deluge. The operational difficulties of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan could increase because the destruction of many roads and bridges could slow down the movement of logistic supplies from Karachi port.
The fact that even in the midst of the floods, the Pakistan Army has maintained a high level of air activity against the TTP in FATA's Orakzai and Kurram Agencies in retaliation to attacks by them indicates that the terrorists continue to be active in these two agencies despite the floods. According to the Associated Press of Pakistan (August 20), at least seven terrorists were killed and seven others injured when the security forces retaliated after an attack on a security checkpost in the Tapoo area of the Orakzai Agency in which one officer of the security forces was killed and another injured. The Army carried out an air strike on the hideouts of terrorists in the Wasti Kurram and Chinarak areas of the Kurram Agency.
The floods have not affected the operations of the drones of the US's Central Intelligence Agency. The success rate could, however, have come down since the floods are likely to affect the movements of human agents and their ability to communicate with their handling officers.
The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen have also joined the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jamaat-e-Islami in the collection of funds for flood relief and in organising relief. They have extended their fund collection activities to all big cities including Karachi. Taking note of international concerns over the activities of these organisations, which are all banned in the US and under decisions of the anti-terrorism monitoring committee of the UN Security Council, Mr Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, has ostensibly ordered the police and the security agencies to stop their activities, but his orders are not being complied with. Some of the large flow of funds for flood relief from Wahabi charity organisations in Saudi Arabia could go to these organisations and, ultimately, through them to Al Qaeda.
As a result of the surge in the popularity of the JuD and the LeT because of their undoubtedly energetic work in the flood-affected areas, the outcome of the trial of the seven members of the LeT for their participation in the conspiracy to carry out the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai has become uncertain. The sympathy of not only the public but also sections of the judiciary will be with these organisations.
Will the preoccupation of these organisations with flood relief work come in the way of their operations in India? Not likely. A similar preoccupation of these organisations with quake relief work in 2005 and the severe fatalities and damages suffered by the JuD and the LeT as a result of the quake in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and by the JeM in the Manshera area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did not affect their ability to plan and carry out terrorist strikes in India as was seen by the suburban train explosions in Mumbai in July 2006.
The floods have not dampened the wave of inter-ethnic and Shia-Sunni sectarian violence that has been intermittently sweeping across Karachi since the beginning of this year. On August 19, an Awami National Party office bearer, Ubaidullah Yousufzai, was gunned down along with a colleague near the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport. In the subsequent clashes between Mohajirs of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pashtuns of the ANP, 11 people were shot dead and 16 others injured. Many trucks were set on fire, including some belonging to companies engaged by the Nato to move logistic supplies to the forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port.
Non-Governmental organisations have been active in flood relief even in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as they were in quake relief in 2005. These organisations come under two categories organisations with a religious background and those with a secular background. Some Christian organisations are already active such as World Vision and the Church World Service. Many Western Christian organisations, which participated in quake relief work in Haiti, had employed media managers to publicise their contribution. In Pakistan, attempts are being made to project their assistance to the flood victims as "Christian assistance". This is unwise and could be suicidal. Their activities are likely to be misinterpreted as an attempt to exploit the human tragedy for conversion work. Recently, there was a massacre of about 10 Western humanitarian workers in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban which falsely projected them as missionaries trying to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity.
There is palpable concern among Western secular organisations engaged in flood relief regarding the security of their volunteers. This is reflected from the queries I have been getting for my assessment of the likely risks to their volunteers in Pakistan. According to the Reuters news agency, the TTP has urged the Pakistan Government to reject Western aid for victims of the floods, saying it would only be siphoned off by corrupt officials. The Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have not yet reacted to the floods and to the flow of Western assistance. The concentration of US aid efforts in the Swat valley of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province could be a cause for concern to them.
-- The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator.!
US SELLING FALSE HOPE
ISRAEL-PALESTINE TALKS ARE A KNOWN NON-STARTER
The big story of the moment is the announcement that there will soon be direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps, but for the moment Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has merely issued of an invitation to come and talk. Generally, such an invitation would only be issued when both sides have accepted and all the details are nailed down. Nowadays, however, such cannot be assumed.
On the one hand, the US Government has not been so competent in recent times. On the other hand, the PA can well find new excuses for not coming or additional demands that would have to be satisfied first. Will the Fatah barons agree to let "President" Mahmoud Abbas talk? The Quartet statement says, "Direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours."
We will see if this new round of negotiations actually happens or not. The other thing we need to see are the terms for the talks. Are they designed as a give away to whatever the PA demands? Are they well-organised in some coherent structure? Is this a set-up to allow the Obama Administration to claim credit for getting direct talks going (after messing up and contributing to their not getting started for about 16 months?).
It is amusing to see articles claiming that this is a victory for the Obama Administration. If the US Government had been doing such a good job it would have been able to announce the resumption of elections in April 2009, after the visit of Mr Abbas to Washington. The US President did indeed announce the resumption of negotiations in September 2009 and nothing has happened in a year. Moreover, it is amusing to read accounts of the resumption of talks without any mention of the fact that the sole reason it has taken so long has been the PA's resistance to negotiations. Leaving out those two facts, how can anyone possibly understand the situation or predict what will happen in future?
The same applies to two underplayed facts about the timing. Israel's one-year freeze on building inside settlements is coming to an end. For making this concession, Israel received nothing. Now it will be "rewarded" with the opportunity to renew the freeze. Of course, keeping good relations with the US makes this worthwhile but the fact that the PA received a gift and still did not fulfil its part is worth comprehending. The other issue regarding timing is the Obama Administration's desire to claim negotiations as proof of its diplomatic achievements for the November elections. Presumably, this will go along with the completion of combat troop withdrawal from Iraq also timed to bring electoral benefits as proof of how good the Government is doing. Inexplicable from the point of view of common sense is the imposition of a one-year deadline for the direct talks. Experience should have taught by now the foolishness of such artificial timetables. After all, the Oslo process failed to meet each deadline and took a total of seven years before failing. Ironically, those who in 2000 insisted that negotiations had to hurry because PA leader Yasir Arafat had to have "something to show" his people in terms of success now say that it was some terrible mistake to rush Arafat, as if that was the reason he rejected peace at Camp David and in the proposal of President Bill Clinton.
Still one more issue is dealt with in an amazingly naive way. How is there going to be a "democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours" when about half of that supposed state the Gaza Strip is based on a radical Islamist regime that seeks genocide against Israel? Is it just going to go away? Are the Palestinian masses there going to rise up in support of the negotiated agreement? More likely they will rise up in the West Bank against it.
Finally, I suggest that someone in the media and politics actually begins to talk about what Israel wants out of a negotiated agreement. We hear constantly about Palestinian demands a state, 1967 borders, east Jerusalem, return of refugees as if these were the only things on the table. Yet if Israel's demands recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, security guarantees, resettlement of refugees in Palestine, non-militarisation of a Palestinian state, end of the conflict are ignored that will sabotage the talks.
Remember, too, that even assuming there was a negotiated settlement, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhoods, among others, would try harder to wreck it. The level of terrorism and conflict would rise even more. Iran, for example, would not stop developing nuclear weapons. The ideas that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict or that resolving the conflict would bring stability and moderation to the region are simply not based on a serious consideration of the area and its politics. It would be a great thing if the two sides achieved a permanent, just, and stable peace agreement. But it is an ordeal to hear the nonsense about to be launched about peace being at hand, the Palestinian urgent desire for a state and "end to occupation," the ignoring of the Gaza/Hamas factor, the black-out on discussing Israel's demands, and much more.
As I finish this article, by coincidence I hear Fox radio news explain that both Israel and the Palestinians are eager for peace. Sigh.
Direct talks aren't going to lead to any major progress. If the US and Europeans are approaching this cynically let's do this so we can claim to be great statesmen and keep things quiet while we work on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan that isn't so bad. The danger would come if they believe their own propaganda and think that papering over real conflicts and pressing Israel is going to produce meaningful peace, enhance regional security, and serve their strategic interests.
The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.
TOO MUCH NOW, TOO LITTLE LATER
With river water supply dwindling, both Pakistan and India are headed for a crisis in the coming years: There won't be enough for both countries to share
This may not be the most tactful time to bring it up, with much of Pakistan underwater and many millions homeless, but Pakistan's real problem is not too much water. It is too little water and one day it could cause a war.
The current disastrous floods (to which the response of both the Pakistan Government and the international community has been far too slow) are due to this year's monsoon being much stronger than usual. But that is just bad weather, in the end: Every fifty or one hundred years you can expect the weather to do something really extreme. It comes in various forms blizzards, floods, hurricanes but it happens everywhere.
The long-term threat to Pakistan's well-being is that the country is gradually drying out. The Indus river system is the main year-round source of water for both Pakistan and north-western India, but the glaciers up on the Tibetan plateau that feed the system's various tributaries are melting.
While they are melting, of course, the amount of water in the system will not fall steeply but according the Chinese Academy of Sciences, some of the glaciers will be gone in as little as 20 years. Then the river levels will drop permanently, and the real problems will begin.
Fifteen or 20 years from now, the water shortage (and therefore also food scarcities) will be a permanent political obsession in Pakistan. Even now, Pakistani politicians tend to blame India for their country's water shortage (and vice versa, of course). It will get worse when the shortage grows acute.
What turns a problem into a potential conflict is the fact that five of the six tributaries that make up the Indus system cross Kashmir on their way to Pakistan. There is a treaty, dating from 1960, that divides the water between the two countries, with India getting the water from the eastern three rivers and Pakistan owning the flow from the western three. But the treaty contains a time-bomb.
India's three rivers contain only about one-fifth of the system's total flow. To boost India's share up to around 30 per cent, therefore, the World Bank arbitrators proposed that the treaty also let India extract a certain amount of water from two of Pakistan's rivers before they leave Indian territory. The proposal was reluctantly accepted by Pakistan.
The amount is not small it is, in fact, enough water to irrigate 3,20,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) and it is a fixed amount, regardless of how much water there actually is in the river. Now roll the tape forward 20 years: The glacial melt-water is coming to an end, and the total flow of the Indus system is down by half. But almost all of the loss is in Pakistan's three rivers, since the smaller Indian three do not depend heavily on glaciers.
So India is still getting as much water as ever from the eastern three rivers, and it is still taking its full treaty allocation of water from two of Pakistan's rivers, although they do depend on glacial melt-water and now have far less water in them. As a result, India's total share of the Indus waters rises sharply (and quite legally) just as Pakistanis start to starve.
In these circumstances, would an Indian Government voluntarily take less water than the treaty allows? Get real. India will be having difficulties with its food supply too, though it will not be in such grave trouble as Pakistan. Any Indian Government that "gave India's water away" would promptly be driven from power by Parliament if it was the usual fractious coalition, or by voters at the next election if it were an unusually disciplined single party.
On the other hand, no Pakistani Government, civilian or military, could just sit by as land that has been irrigated for a century goes back to desert and food rationing is imposed nationwide. Especially not if India's fields just across the border were still green. That is the nightmare confrontation that lies down the road for these two nuclear powers.
Meanwhile, the homes of millions of Pakistanis are underwater. In terms of human suffering, it is twenty times worse than Hurricane Katrina was in the US five years ago, and it needs a proportionate response now. But the future holds something much worse for Pakistan (and for India), unless they start revising this 50-year-old treaty now, before the crisis arrives.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.
DEVIANT REGIONALISM SWAMPS UPA
THOUGH ARMED WITH CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS, THE GOVERNMENT IS UNABLE TO ENSURE THAT STATE LEADERS KEEP THE NATIONAL INTEREST IN MIND AND DO NOT CONTRADICT CENTRAL POLICY, WRITES CP BHAMBHRI
Provisions of the Indian Constitution have very clearly and comprehensively provided the Centre with more than enough powers to direct, guide and supervise the State Governments in performing their duties and obligations by keeping in mind national goals and national interests. But, in the last 60 years, by taking refuge behind constitutional provisions, the Union Government has completely misused its powers, especially while dealing with State Governments ruled by Opposition parties.
Every Government at the Centre, irrespective of the party or coalition of parties in power, has engaged itself with State Governments, irrespective of the party or coalition in power on crucial issues concerning national interests. Hence the incumbent Government cannot pretend it is unable to ensure that State Governments implement national policies decided by the Parliament.
However, the Manmohan Singh Government has completely failed to deal effectively with serious political deviations by some of the State Governments and leaders of the regional parties while implementing national policies. The most important failure has been observed in implementing a coherent policy framework while dealing with the problematic Maoist issue. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has repeatedly been conveying the message that "Maoist terrorism has become a great challenge before the security forces of this country" but in spite of making every effort to arrive at a consensus with the Chief Ministers of Maoist-affected States, the Union Government has completely failed to involve them in implementing any coherent and well-coordinated all-India policy to deal with the scourge.
The Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr Nitish Kumar, has made it a point to keep himself absent from the meetings of Chief Ministers convened by the Centre to evolve a common policy to deal with Maoism. Not only this but, alongwith RJD chief Lalu Prasad, he has publicly stated that the Centre's policy of 'bullet versus bullet' is counterproductive because Maoism is a 'social and economic problem' and a 'product of the backwardness which prevails in these States'. Further, Mr Shibu Soren, a charismatic leader and former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, another State under Maoist attack, has not only been soft-pedaling the problem of Maoism but has taken full support from Maoist cadre to win seats for his party during the State Assembly elections.
The story does not end here. Manipur remained cut off for more than 60 days because national highways 39 and 53 the lifelines of the State were blocked by protesting Naga youth. The Centre remained a helpless spectator while the people of Manipur suffered hardships because trucks carrying essential supplies could not enter the State. The Union Government did not issue a clear directive that police forces of every neighbouring State Government in the North-east region should assist the Manipur Government to clear the blockade. This has encouraged Naga bodies to re-impose a 20-day blockade in the region. Sikkim has also been victim of such a blockade by Gorkhaland agitators and neither the Centre nor the State Government of West Bengal thought it fit to put in a coordinated effort to get it removed. The Union Government is completely incapable of motivating the concerned State Governments on the matter or even assure them that, if need be, the Centre will immediately dispatch security forces to assist them in their task.
This brings us to the situation in the Kashmir Valley. Groups of stone-pelters are on a rampage here and, despite the best efforts of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Mr Chidambaram, political parties which participate in the electoral process in Jammu & Kashmir have refused to evolve an all-party consensus on the issue of restoration of law and order in the Valley. It deserves to be mentioned that even Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is a separatist leader, appealed to the stone-throwing groups to stop their activity and his voice was heeded by the agitators. But Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party has refused to play any role in the matter. How can Ms Mehbooba Mufti and her father, who have enjoyed the benefits of democracy and held high offices in elected Governments such as those of Union Home Minister and Chief Minister, refuse to participate in consensus making initiatives taken by Mr Abdullah or the Prime Minister's all-party conference on August 10? Separatists like Mr Geelani or Mr Sajjad Lone are identifiable but the duplicity of the Mufti family is tolerated only by a spineless Union Government.
Political initiatives in Jammu & Kashmir led to the launch of the Samjhauta Express and the Karwan-e-Aman for 'divided families' on both sides of the border. Kashmir needs a healing touch and the Centre must adopt a stick-and-carrot policy to deal with many problems but such an approach has not been successfully implemented by the UPA Government. If Ms Mamata Banerjee, who is a Railway Minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, can openly associate with Maoists, described by her own Government as the most important threat to national security, and organise a political rally in West Bengal's Lalgarh with the active and open support of the Maoists, it is futile to expect any leadership by the Centre in the disturbed States of West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir.
ASSURE PEOPLE THAT THE MILK THEY CONSUME IS SAFE
THE supply of huge quantities of synthetic milk prepared with deadly chemicals is indicative of the greed that spurs this illegal business.
Sadly, what we know from recent raids on unauthorised dairies in Uttar Pradesh about the quantity of killer milk making its way into the markets of Delhi and other cities could be only a small part of what is a lucrative trade.
The damage to body organs from the mixing of urea, caustic soda, detergent, formalin and vegetable oil for making synthetic milk is well documented. These are also known to be lifethreatening in some circumstances.
The worrying aspect of the milk racket is it has been going on for several years. While one would have expected a clampdown on the illegal trade, the opposite has happened. It is now bigger, and better organised. It is impossible that this has happened without some sort of official and political patronage.
The Mayawati government needs to be commended for conducting repeated raids on synthetic milk suppliers across Uttar Pradesh.
Large- scale arrests have taken place. Many have been convicted, say reports. However, the capital still may not be safe. Delhi gets its milk from Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab as well. The problem is rendered more serious by the fact that there are over 3.5 lakh unregistered dairies in Delhi. The killer milk is channeled through them.
It is surprising that Delhi health minister Kiran Walia has stated her government's helplessness in dealing with the racket. The government needs to take two remedial steps: have a state- of- the- art testing facility and set up an efficient monitoring system to identify the criminals. This would help to curb the illegal business and assure people about the quality of milk they consume daily.
PROTECT INDIAN INTERESTS
THE desperate attempts of the government to dilute clause 17 of the Nuclear Liability Bill makes it evident that it is acting under American pressure.
Had the changes made by the parliamentary standing committee to the clause in the Bill been accepted, it would have placed the liability on the American nuclear supplier and provided the right to legal recourse to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd in the eventuality of an accident.
But by bringing only those accidents which are " done with the intent to cause nuclear damage" within the ambit of such liability, the government is in effect providing an escape route to the suppliers.
The argument that stricter liability for suppliers would lead to the boycott of India in the international nuclear market is baseless as a number of other countries would be more than willing to supply nuclear technology to India without such legal provisions.
Unfortunately, the government's priority seems not so much to provide safeguards against an accident and commensurate liability in case it occurs as to get the nuclear deal with the US operational at any cost. We wish the prime minister's keenness on the matter did not blind him to the fact that national interest and the well being of Indian citizens is of paramount importance here.
TAKE GOLF TO NEXT LEVEL NOW
IT took an 18- year- old Viswanathan Anand to convert chess from an esoteric mental exercise into a mass sport in India when, in 1988, he became India's first ever chess grandmaster. Currently, India has 35 men and women grandmasters. Therefore, there could be more to golfer Arjun Atwal's victory at the Wyndham Championship, a relatively significant destination on the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour is arguably the most important, and certainly the most lucrative golfing league in the world. A win here means that Indian golf could have received that elusive adrenaline shot. That's not an unremarkable feat considering India has such few golfers, and even fewer who have notched up notable international achievements.
Having said that, Atwal's win would become a landmark event for Indian golf only if the sport breaks itself from the shackles of elitism. The celebrated writer Mark Twain once referred to golf as a good walk spoiled.
If the game does not become a mass sport in India, what Twain said over a hundred years ago, would continue to hold true.
QUICKEN THE PACE OF TIES WITH JAPAN
BY KANWAL SIBAL
THE conclusion on August 21 of the fourth round of the India- Japan strategic dialogue at Foreign Minister level provides the peg to assess the current state of India- Japan relations. These relations are headed in the right direction, but it has taken time to change their compass and the pace has been tardy. Some of the factors that explain the past aloofness account for the current rapprochement.
Japan's political and security calculus has been entirely different from that of India all these decades. Japan has depended on the US for its security through a mutual defence treaty whereas nonaligned India has abjured all military alliances. The two countries have not therefore had a shared security perspective.
In foreign affairs Japan has followed the US lead, tuning its relations with India to the tenor of India- US relations.
India's political closeness with the Soviet Union may not have been a contentious element in India- Japan ties bilaterally, but it certainly impinged on Japanese view of India's role in south east Asia a primary area for Japan's post- war economic effort.
India's closed door economic policies until 1991 discouraged a pragmatic build up of mutual economic ties with an economically focused Japan, despite political divergences. When China opened up economically 12 years before us, India lost out in regional economic stakes, as Japan put its investment and trade energy in building a massive relationship with the giant next door. The nuclear question has bedevilled India- Japan relations more than it need have because of peculiar Japanese sensitivities as the only victim of the actual use of nuclear weapons.
This Japanese squeamishness has seemed politically and morally dubious as Japan has hung on tenaciously to the nuclear weapon guarantee of the very country that martyred it with nuclear devastation.
Japan has, with twisted logic, disregarded the nuclear threat to an India without any external nuclear shield from two collaborating nuclear neighbours, and irritatingly lectured India on the virtues of nuclear abstinence.
Major changes all welcome have taken place in the quality and content of India- Japan relations in recent years.
India's transformed ties with the US has prompted Japan to modulate its policies towards India. With India and the US stepping up their defence cooperation, India and Japan announced enhanced defence cooperation between them in a joint statement issued during the Indian Defence Minister's visit to Japan in May 2006. With India and US establishing a strategic partnership, the Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers also announced a Strategic and Global Partnership in December 2006. It envisages stepped- up defence and technological cooperation, annual summit meetings, dialogue between National Security Advisors, a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, working together for the security and safety of international maritime traffic, pursuit of the G- 4 agenda for Security Council reform and close collaboration in the East Asia Summit ( EAS) as well as in the East Asia Community ( EAC).
As India- US understanding has grown, so has India- Japan bonding. In December 2009, during Prime Minister Hatoyama's visit, a New Stage of Strategic and Global Partnership was announced, with agreement on an Action Plan containing specific measures to advance security cooperation, such as deepening the annual strategic dialogue between the two Foreign Ministers, holding an annual Defence Minister level dialogue, instituting a combined foreign affairs and defence 2+ 2 dialogue ( held in July this year) that Japan has only with two allies the US and Australia, and, calling, in addition, for an open and inclusive East Asian Community as distinct from China's exclusivist approach that would impair India's Look East Policy.
To put the bilateral relationship on a higher strategic footing, Japan has removed 11 Indian entities from its enduser list, sent its army, naval and air chiefs to India and participated in the trilateral India- US- Japan Malabar naval exercise and a quadrilateral exercise with Australia's addition that became politically controversial in India because of concerns about it slipping into US led defence arrangements in East Asia and China's querulousness about the intent of these exercises, which also made Japan and Australia baulk at quadrilateral initiatives involving democracies in Asia.
Japan has tried to manage China's rise constructively by creating positive economic linkages intended to blunt potential friction through interdependence, emulating US strategy. China no doubt provided a huge new market for Japanese products and investments, doubly important because of Japan's stagnant economy.
But a rising and confident China, with bulging economic, financial and military muscle, has begun to cause concern to neighbours because its political and strategic intentions remain unclear.
Japan and China have already had a faceoff in the South China sea which China now defines as its " core interest". In this background, as well as saturation limits on Japanese economic expansion in China, India's value as a strategic partner is obvious. Neither Japan nor India has any intention to antagonise China or pursue any containment policy, and the leaders of both countries have clarified publicly that their security cooperation is not China- oriented, but hedging strategies against a potential China threat even as that country is positively engaged cannot be ignored.
A third driving factor in the Japan- India relationship is, of course, the economic opportunities that Japan's stagflation ridden economy burdened by unemployment and an aging population sees in a growing and dynamic Indian economy.
India and Japan are working on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement ( CEPA), and hope to sign it when the PM goes to Tokyo this October. CEPA is intended to enhance reciprocal investments and boost the current low levels of India- Japan trade $ 13 billion in 2008- 2009 far short of the target of $ 20 billion by 2010. India could potentially serve as a global manufacturing hub for Japanese industry if projects like the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor financed by Japan are accomplished. For India hi- tech trade with Japan holds great promise in the fields of energy efficient technologies, ultra mega power generation projects based on super critical technologies, and new and renewable energy sources like clean coal, solar and nuclear.
The Indo- US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver for India has opened doors for India- Japan discussions on a nuclear pact. Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Hitachi which control GE and Westinghouse would no doubt want to capitalise on India's commitment to the US for the installation of 10,000 MWs of nuclear power in the country by its companies.
The first round of talks on the nuclear pact has followed discussions on the subject between the Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers at the June 20 Toronto G- 20 summit. The pitch has been queered by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki opposing nuclear cooperation with a non- NPT country like India, prompting Foreign Minister Okada to state publicly at New Delhi on August 21 that he expected Japan's philosophy of non- proliferation, including suspension if India tested, to figure in appropriate terminology in the agreement, to conclude which no time lines will be drawn a signal that it is unlikely to be ready by October when the PM goes to Tokyo. Ostensibly, Japan wants India to go beyond the language of the India- US nuclear deal.
One cannot see how India can.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)
LALU WON'T GO DOWN WITHOUT A GOOD FIGHT
T HE upcoming assembly elections in Bihar will witness multi- cornered contests with several parties and fronts gearing up for it in right earnest. But it will be, in all likelihood, a Nitish- versus- Lalu confrontation.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar is riding the crest of a development wave, hoping to reap the harvest of his good work in the polls. He talks about the transformation of Bihar under his regime and rattles off statistics in support of his claim. His body language exudes confidence and his supporters are optimistic of getting another term.
Lalu, therefore, is faced with a daunting task of staging a comeback. Since the Rashtriya Janata Dal's rout in last year's parliamentary polls, he has been out of power for the first time in the past two decades. The coming election will determine his political future. No wonder, he is doing everything possible to turn the tables on Nitish.
The RJD president is nowadays trying to improve his party's image. Aware of the fact that his opponents often likened his party's 15- year- old reign in Bihar to " jungle raj ( anarchy)", he is now promising that his next tenure will be different.
He has apparently learnt from his past mistakes and is trying not to repeat them.
Lalu has announced himself as the chief ministerial candidate of the RJD- Lok Janshakti Party combine to avoid any confusion in the post- poll scenario. During the 2005 polls, he had refused to accept the demand of the LJP to remove Rabri Devi as the CM and install a Muslim candidate in her place, paving the way for Nitish's electoral success. But he has made it clear that Rabri is not a candidate for CM now.
Lalu has also steered clear of his ' notorious' brothers- in- law.
He refused to give Sadhu Yadav a ticket in the Lok Sabha polls forcing him to join the Congress last year. He also declined to give another term in the Rajya Sabha to another brotherin- law Subhash Prasad Yadav . Instead, Lalu chose to nominate the hardworking Ram Kripal Yadav as well as alliance partner Ram Vilas Paswan to consolidate his alliance against Nitish.
Since the last parliamentary polls, Lalu has been touring the remotest corners of Bihar, reconnecting with the people.
After his defeat, he realised that he had lost touch with the people in general and the grassroots workers of his party in particular during his five- year tenure as the railway minister.
This is why he undertook several trips across the state. Political observers believed that this was one of the major factors for his alliance's better performance in last year's by- elections to 18 assembly seats.
Unlike in the past, Lalu makes it a point to tell the people that he too stands for development.
He is chalking out his poll strategy in a better way this time. He and Paswan had long sessions discussing the ' winnability' factor in all the 243 seats in the state assembly while discussing their pre- poll seat adjustment.
All this is in sharp contrast to the " happy- go- lucky" Lalu of yore who took victory for granted primarily because of caste and community arithmetic.
The defeat has doubtless made him circumspect. He knows that he cannot afford another debacle and a second term of Nitish may well reduce his status to that of a political has- been in Bihar
DROUGHT FAILS TO DAMPEN PEOPLE'S SPIRITS
BIHAR is facing a drought and even the month of Saawan has passed without much rainfall.
There is little greenery around but that has not prevented people from organising " Saawan Milan" events to commemorate the ' green' month. Patna has witnessed scores of colourful programmes from beauty pageants to best couple contests in the past week.
Several women's organisations have come up with innovative contests like " best mehndi", " best bangles", " best couple", " best dress," etc in keeping with the festive ambience of the month. It is one month that truly belongs to the women of Bihar who come out of their homes in droves to celebrate on their own. The rains usually accentuate the charm of this month. The lack of rain this year has not dampened the spirit of the women.
This is also the month in which scores of d meat- eaters turn vegans because of religious beliefs. This leads to a slump in the sale of mutton, chicken, eggs and fish in the state.
According to an estimate, there was a decline of about 40 per cent in the sale of non- vegetarian items in restaurants during this Saawan which come to an end on Tuesday.
ROW OVER DABANNG
THE popular item number, Munni badnaam hui from Salman Khan's forthcoming film Dabanng is the latest chart- buster in Bihar. But many people in the Bhojpuri film industry are not too happy about it.
They allege that the song is a blatant copy of an old regional hit sung by Tara Bano Faizabadi. Based in Faizabad, Tara Bano who had recorded this number about two decades ago is said to be facing hardship in life.
Her admirers are sore at the fact that nobody from the film's unit came forward to help the singer.
But now, Bhojpuri superstar Manoj Tiwari ' Mridul' has come forward to champion her cause. He has appealed to the team of Dabanng in general and Salman in particular to help Tara Bano whose family is in dire straits.
" Songs are made and remixed but all I can say that it would be magnanimous on the part of Salman if he could help her out," Tiwari said. Let us see whether Salman responds to Tiwari's suggestion!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT AT JD- U CONVENTION
THE Janata Dal- United's recent conclave at the historical town of Rajgir was noted for the speech of chief minister Nitish Kumar in which he gave a piece of his mind to his rivals and supporters alike.
But there was much more on the platter of the party workers attending the twoday introspection camp than the food for thought given by Nitish. They were treated to the best vegetarian food prepared by the cooks brought from Patna.
Popular delicacies from different regions of the state like Silao ka khaja , laai , anarsa , pidakia , daal- puri and chura- ghughni served on the occasion left the party supporters craving for more. The event managers left no stone unturned to make it a sumptuous affair, but the chief minister himself oversaw the arrangements.
He even checked the nails of the cooks to ensure cleanliness.
For the party workers who had arrived from different districts of Bihar, it turned out to be an extended picnic in the backdrop of Rajgir hills.
Nitish and his senior party colleagues also relished their stay, as they hopped on the tonga to travel across the town. This was the second time in two years when the party had organised its " chintan shivir" in the holy town.
TIME MAY BE UP FOR THE CLOCK TOWER
THE imposing clock tower in front of the main secretariat building has been a landmark monument in Patna. It was designed by a New Zealand- born architect around 1915.
Now, there are reports that the government is toying with the idea of either pulling it down or lowering its height to " save" the Jayaprakash Narayan International airport. The tower is said to be one of the obstacles along the approach funnel to the airport. There are also plans to fell or prune hundreds of trees in the Patna zoo.
After the recent plane crash in Mangalore, the Airport authority of India found Patna airport to be one of the riskiest because of the tall trees, the clock tower and the railway cabins around it.
The state government has offered an alternative airport site at Bihta, 35 kilometre away from the state capital, but it will take long to develop a new airport there. Till then, the government wants to make do with the existing airport by doing away with all the obstacles around it.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CAP AND LIP
A UK study reveals that one in 10 British companies plans to take jobs overseas in the near future. No wonder UK firms are demanding a rethink on the David Cameron-led government's decision to impose an annual immigration cap on non-EU nationals. As in the case of the US hiking H1B visa fees, the UK move affects emerging economies like India and China most. While America's erection of barriers impacts tech firms, the UK cap has a bearing on not just IT professionals but also doctors, nurses and engineers. Britain's political establishment is in fact divided on a step that, if formalised in haste, could end up denying domestic employers skilled migrants at a huge economic cost. Despite high unemployment, UK firms face a dearth of specialist workers not always easily or affordably available locally. Choking off labour supply would impact their growth prospects and efficiency.
Both the US and UK cases show why anti-business decisions usually turn out self-goals, apart from risking retaliation in countries perceiving themselves as victims. But while India's authorities and industry are justifiably concerned, there's a silver lining. The survey suggests British firms plan to export finance, IT and call-centre jobs, two-thirds outsourcing work to India, a third to China. The H1B measure too may spur jobs relocation, with US businesses hiring offshore rather than on-site. A NASSCOM study estimates that US and European firms saved $25 to $30 billion in 2009 alone by outsourcing work to India's IT-BPO sector. Clearly, the harder businesses find it to thrive locally, the more they'll tend to explore overseas. As a direct beneficiary, India must focus on skills development and diversification as well as create supportive policy frameworks to seize any opportunities headed its way.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
INTELLIGENT ENVIRONMENT IN THE OFFING
Science-fiction movies have long foretold of a future where humans are able to achieve the ultimate synergy with intelligent machines. Where people drive cars simply through voice commands or have their wardrobes pick out their outfits depending on the weather outside. That future is now at our doorstep. Scientists at Intel Corporation are developing a computer system that can actually read the human mind and process commands accordingly. In other words, if someone wants to check his e-mail or type out a text document, he would simply need to think about it and the computer would interpret his thoughts and perform the requisite function.
This interpretive thought processing technology is a huge game-changer. It firmly fuses the human operator with the computer network. Apart from operating personal laptops, the technology can be scaled up for a variety of applications. Imagine walking into a department store and thinking about your shopping list. A computer could read those thoughts and send out an order form to the storekeeper who could then have all your groceries packed for you. On a visit to the local museum your palm pilot could instantly provide you with details about that exhibit you wanted to know more about. After a hard day at work, a computer could accurately interpret your weariness and greet you with dimmed lights and soothing music as you enter your home. The possibilities are endless.
Critics of the technology are bound to term it as 'invasive' and point out security concerns. These are mere exaggerations. At the end of the day, people will decide if they want to use this technology or not. They, not computers, will be in control. But by embracing this technology we could create an intelligent environment that would certainly make our lives a whole lot easier.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE WAY TO HEALING
MUZAFFAR BHAT, SHAH FAISAL AND PREETAISH KAUL
Jammu & Kashmir simmers. Even as the 'whys and wherefores' are hotly debated, people who have known nothing but strife and unrest continue to die. The tragedy is an ongoing concern. It is in times like these that one searches for a glimmer of hope amidst the violence, corruption and mismanagement that bedevil the state.
The Right to Information (RTI) has recently given us hope. For constitutional reasons, the central RTI Act of 2005 exempted J&K, leaving it behind as RTI improved people's lives across the rest of India. With the long overdue enactment of our state's own Act 16 months ago, the RTI's influence has begun to permeate daily life in J&K. Though the state information commission remains headless, RTI training programmes have been organised across the state to raise public awareness. Success stories highlighted in the media have inspired many citizens to use the RTI to solve their problems, improve local governance and address some social wounds unique to J&K. This revolution represents a peaceful alternative to the culture of violence and protests so often identified with Kashmir.
These changes are illustrated by our unprecedented use of the RTI to address a custodial disappearance case. Muhammad Ashraf Yatoo was a 35-year-old resident of Chadoora, Budgam district. A father of four, he was an employee of the J&K government's food and supplies department. On December 13, 1990, he was arrested from the street by the Border Security Force (BSF) in front of several dozen witnesses. He has not been seen since. When approached by his pleading wife and children, the BSF denied knowledge of his fate. Later, the J&K police declared him innocent of any crimes and the government provided compassionate employment to his widow so she could raise her family with dignity.
After 17 years of uncertainty, the family learned about the RTI. With our help, they filed an RTI application with the BSF to uncover the fate of their husband and father. The BSF returned the application and we, therefore, appealed on procedural grounds. On July 2, the Central Information Commission (CIC) admonished the BSF, and directed them to provide the family all the existing information on Yatoo's fate. The decision was highlighted in the local and national media, and piqued interest in the RTI amongst many Kashmiris, who flooded us with supportive phone calls and e-mails.
Ashraf's case shows how the RTI can be used to address allegations of wrongdoing by the security forces. One former director-general of the BSF was supportive of the CIC's decision and told a journalist with a news magazine that it would make the security forces "accountable". But another former DG said that we shouldn't be "asking the authorities inconvenient questions". We believe any reform without accountability is meaningless. The latter officer and those who share his views do not fully appreciate the importance of the RTI in protecting the constitutional rights of Indian citizens.
Indeed, the RTI brings real power to the people by making the establishment accountable to them. Accountability and transparency in administration produces better governance. It also strengthens grievance redressal mechanisms. Isn't that what everyone wants?
While the civilian bureaucracy has been slowly absorbing and implementing these principles, the same cannot be said about the state and central security forces when it comes to human rights violations. The partial RTI exemptions for security forces and their entrenched culture of confidentiality have made them resistant to disclosing information on human rights violations. When they have been challenged, they've offered the arguments that disclosure would "impede ongoing investigations", "hurt morale" or "inspire the enemy".
Such reasons may be genuine in exceptional cases, but they cannot be used as blanket excuses. Isolated cases of excessive retaliation and unnecessary killings can happen in spite of institutional professionalism. The authorities should appreciate that nothing hurts the reputation of a besieged security force more than the distrust of the people it is supposed to protect.
The BSF has now been directed to provide Ashraf's family with information on his disappearance, but the same information should be automatically provided in other similar cases, past and future. Through such disclosures, the security forces would demonstrate their willingness to operate within the limitations of the law, gain the public's trust and restore normalcy in J&K.
The political and bureaucratic establishment must also embrace the RTI as an instrument of change in the state, since people's grievances stem from hardship, suffering and resentment spread by decades of mismanagement, corruption and indifference on the part of politicians and the civilian bureaucracy. Indeed, real improvements in their daily lives will not blossom from the stagnant air of fruitless debates and grand political bargains, but rather from incremental improvements in governance cultivated by real instruments of change like the RTI Act. The political, bureaucratic and security establishments must, therefore, stop neglecting the RTI in J&K as if it were a "sideshow", and must instead place it at the centre of a renewed effort in promoting peace and prosperity for all.
The writers are RTI activists with the J&K RTI Movement. Bhat is a dental surgeon; Faisal, a physician, has joined the IAS; and Kaul is a physician
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BREACHES PRIVACY AND HUMAN CONTROL
It is understandable that humans should continuously innovate and devise better ways to increase their standard of living. But technology is not universally good, which is why there's a ban on human cloning or nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, Intel Corporation's quest for computers capable of mapping and reading the human mind belongs to the category of dangerous technologies. It offers the capability of mind control and may eventually lead to disaster for humankind.
Even with existing technologies such as the internet, there are concerns about how much they breach privacy. What goes on in the human brain is the ultimate bastion of privacy, but with machines capable of reading the mind even this bastion would be breached. We might as well abolish the concept of privacy once such machines are invented. What, after all, makes the human being different from other living and non-living beings? It is the human brain, the edifice of human civilisation. Until now, if we have been able to harness technology, it is because of our superior ability to think and control the world through our brain.
However, with the creation of mind-reading computers, we will breach that difference. This would be the first step towards giving up human control to a machine. We would be moving towards a situation of technological singularity that's predicted to happen sometime in the 21st century. The creation of smarter-than-human intelligence would represent a breakdown in human beings' ability to model their future. The dangers posed by intelligent machines, which have inspired countless science fiction movies, now look like a real possibility. It is in the interest of humanity that we strictly ban such inventions that not only breach the human mind, the ultimate bastion and guarantor of privacy, but also potentially relinquish human control and turn it over to machines.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
K V KRISHNAN
Are Nigerians worse drivers than Zimbabweans? What about those reckless truck drivers of Rome or half-crazed French driving through Champs-Elysees? Pundits would tell you that a 30-minute tuk-tuk ride through Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok could be a life-changing experience.
Then there are the tech-savvy ones who write their autobiographies on their cellphones driving at 80 miles an hour. Some merge into expressways with their phones glued to their ears. While no one really thinks twice about sharing the roads with such lunatics, there is one species that every driver cringes from.
A hapless student with a learner's licence gets all those dirty looks and cold shoulders. Much like the matador's red cape to a charging bull, a red 'L' sign on an automobile seems to bring out the most primitive instincts in everyone around. Starting off as a learner in the crowded lanes of Mumbai over 30 years ago, i shuddered each time a lorry tailed my rear, vying to get ahead. I always worried that the next big pothole would nudge me on to the wrong side of the road, greatly hindering my ability to think.
My travel years presented more challenges. In some countries i simply couldn't convert my international driver's licence to a local one. I became a student again in London driving with my Cockney instructor and an 'L' plate strapped to the bumper. Many European nations give you restricted or probation plates after passing a driving test. These come with several limitations including curfew hours and speed limits - just stopping short of restricting calorie intake.
In some parts of the US, a high-school teen can start as early as age 14 - an unsettling thought. Moreover there are no rules requiring you to mark the car with special signs. My son simply needed to pass the multiple-choice 'Rules of the Road' test (i.e. what will you do if you come across a red traffic light? A) Stop the car B) Step on the accelerator C) Run over the nearest pedestrian). He had to then complete 50 hours of driving practice with a parent by his side before taking a road test.
After enduring a year of peer pressure, i relented, grudgingly occupying the passenger seat. I took this opportunity to impose several conditions including the need for him to obey all my road instructions and even do the laundry on practice days. To be on the safe side, i affixed a detachable 'Student Driver' sticker magnet to the back of the car.
I soon realised that this sticker was actually counterproductive - it brought out the beast in everyone. Instead of a warning honk, drivers behind us now acted as they pleased. To maintain a safe distance they zoomed ahead from the wrong side at earth-shaking speeds or just screamed past us like a banshee. If we didn't take off at 60 miles per hour nanoseconds after the light turned green, loud honking would ensue. While a teen behind a wheel was best avoided, a learner teen was undoubtedly a pariah on the road.
One day, i set out by myself to run some errands. As i was pulling out from the parking lot of a busy mall, i spotted another car waiting to occupy my spot. Since i had parked somewhat awkwardly, i needed to manoeuvre my way out, pulling in and out a couple of times.
At this point, an act of unusual compassion took place. Watching my struggle, the occupants of the car behind me got out, patiently guided me out of the spot, cheered me on, and even waved me goodbye.
This couldn't just be happening in a big bad city - i pinched myself on the drive back home. Then it struck me. The sticker wasn't always a bad thing! I had simply forgotten to take it off after our last practice.
LIABLE TO CAUSE MORE CONFUSION
RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD REST ON THE OPERATOR. THE SUPPLIER IS ACCOUNTABLE UNDER EXISTING LAWS
The Indian Parliament is showing itself in the worst possible light in the debate on the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. The language of the legislation has been debated, literally over single words, and every bogey of the old India ranging from `Foreign Hands' to `Corporate Coffers' has made an appearance. What is striking about the debate is how little the basic principles of what is being discussed is understood, either by the political parties, the media or even many supposed experts.
The most confused, and therefore most controversial, issue is that of restricting suppliers' liability. Opponents of the Bill argue that this will allow foreign firms to get away with murder in case their components are responsible for an accident. This is simply false. If a nuclear supplier is guilty of direct responsibility for such an accident it can be sued for damages on the basis of existing product liability laws and the law of tort, embodied in numerous Supreme Court judgments. This is completely separate and different from the compensation provided by nuclear liability norms.
So much so that a victim of a nuclear accident can be provided compensation under both product liability and nuclear liability.
Here is the crux. He can only be compensated under product liability if it can be proved that a supplier, operator or even plumber was directly responsible for the accident.
Nuclear liability doesn't care who is responsible for an accident. It's similar to an ex gratia payment and seeks only to provide speedy compensation to a victim. The international norm is to fix this compensation on the reactor operator.
Suppliers are not responsible because a single reactor can have thousands of component providers and, given the life cycle of a reactor, many of these suppliers may no longer exist. The present parliamentary demands for, in effect, making suppliers liable for damages even if they are not to blame for an accident will not merely scare away foreign component suppliers. Worse, they will also drive up the insurance costs for India's homegrown nuclear componentmakers, potentially driving many of them out of business.
Suppliers' liability should be -and is -part of normal product liability, which is about compensation on the basis of fault. It is not part of nuclear liability, which is about compensation regardless of fault.
A STRANGE CRUSADE
In recent days, the so-called Ground Zero Mosque has become a focus of debate in America and elsewhere. It has posited the right of a community to acquire property and build a religious-cum-cultural shrine in a free society against the phenomenon of 'national identity'. What happens when an otherwise legitimate and legal right comes into conflict with mass opinion in a democracy? As India knows only too well, there are no easy answers.
While these issues have been commented upon, insufficient space has been devoted to the selected name for the mosque and cultural centre proposed to be built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Centre. Being promoted by a Muslim group called the Cordoba Initiative, the building was initially given the working title of Cordoba House. It was subsequently clarified that the larger campus would be known as Park51, and Cordoba House would instead be the flagship "centre for multi-faith dialogue and engagement" within Park51.
What is the significance of the name? Cordoba is a city in southern Spain. Between the 8th and 11th centuries, it was the capital of Al Andalus, as the Arabs knew the Iberian Peninsula, and seat of the strongest Moorish kingdom in Spain. It had a mixed population of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and was recognised for its prosperity and learning.
The Moorish colonisation of Spain lasted seven centuries. It had its benefits, including a transmission of Arab science to a Europe just recovering from the Dark Ages. This became a stimulus for the Renaissance. The success of Cordoba led to the label 'convivencia', or living together, a Spanish idea of multiculturalism.
Was Cordoba's 'convivencia' myth or reality? Indeed, can it be called an act of enlightened design, Andrew Wheatcroft wrote in an otherwise sympathetic account in his book Infidels: The Conflict Between Christendom and Islam 638-2002, "To talk of convivencia as a fixed and settled entity is a mistake. It was a structure of concession in which there was a dramatic imbalance of power between the majority and the minorities. When that balance changed, then the former basis for co-existence vanished Non-Muslims were second-class citizens within Islamic society In practice many of the more rigorous restrictions on Jews and Christians were not enforced, but the sense of inferiority, whether enforced by law or not, did not disappear."
Jews and Christians paid a poll tax. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was an architectural marvel, but constructed on the ruins of an ancient church. Each of Cordoba's three communities considered the other two unclean. In the ninth century occurred the episode of the Martyrs of Cordoba, one of the foundational reference points of the future Catholic Spain. Over a nine-year period, 48 Christians deliberately mocked the Prophet and invited death under blasphemy laws. Eulogius, the Bishop of Cordoba, was beheaded and his body thrown to the dogs. Today, he is remembered as a Christian saint.
Cordoba's history has multiple narratives. At its height, it dazzled visitors. In the 13th century it was recaptured by Christians and its Moorish past was denounced as repression. In the 19th century, Reinhart Dozy, among Europe's earliest scholars of Arab culture, wrote in praise of Cordoba's "golden age". Interestingly, 19th century Jewish intellectuals too produced glowing accounts of Cordoba and contrasted its treatment of Jews with that of Christian kingdoms. This was an attempt by the incipient movement for a Jewish homeland to embarrass European governments. In turn, 20th century Arab writers have drawn from such Jewish accounts. Historian Bernard Lewis has a more nuanced view, pointing out Cordoba's minorities were not equal citizens.
They had 'some rights', which was better than 'no rights' but not quite 'all rights'.
What has all this got to with New York 2010? Frankly, that is the puzzling question. To laypeople in the West, the Moorish rule of Spain was simply occupation and colonisation by an alien people. That may not be the entirety of the story but it is certainly the popular one. As such which or whose Cordoba is the Cordoba Initiative invoking?
To use such a contested expression as a tool for PR and outreach to a wider Western population is rather strange. It is like naming a British Cultural Centre in Mumbai after Warren Hastings and pretending to be surprised that not everybody looks upon Hastings' administration of India and the man had his achievements as an unmixed blessing.
There is one other disquieting note. The re-conquest of Al Andalus is one of the stated goals of al-Qaeda and among the reasons it says it executed the 9/11 attacks. For both an Islamist terror group and an Islam-West peace mission to claim inspiration from the same medieval symbol of Islamic triumphalism is decidedly curious. It doesn't help perceptions of contemporary Islamic (or Arab) religio-political leaderships being over-obsessed with the past and unmindful of 21st century concerns. It is one thing to be insensitive; it is quite another to not even realise you are being insensitive.
Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
ON THE FENCE ON FENCING FOR SO LONG
PRAFULLA KUMAR MAHANTA
Twenty-five years after the signing of the Assam Accord, most people of Assam are asking, "What has been achieved in the past 25 years?' The roster of achievements will read: one IIT, three bridges over the Brahmaputra, two central universities, the relaxation of age limit for students from the North-east applying for the Public Service Commission, the cultural institution of the Shankardava Kalakshetra, the development of the religious bodies of satras, and the meeting of the long outstanding demands for the overall development of the region.
But since the nodal agency for the implementation of the Assam Accord was the Union Home Ministry, nothing substantial could be achieved in tackling the core demand of detecting and deporting illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Also, nothing much has been done to remove the legal hurdles to stop this illegal migration.
Some are passing the entire blame of these failures on to the erstwhile leaders of the All Assam Students Union (Aasu). Being the Aasu president at that time, I had discussed the issues in the executive body and with the leaders of Asom Gana Sangram Parishad thereby bringing them to the notice of the people through public meetings and the media.
The abnormal increase in the number of voters in the voters' list during the bypolls for the Lok Sabha constituency of Mangaldoi (then Darrange district) created upheavals in the minds of people. We had started working hard to strengthen the Aasu and work on the issue of this abnormal increase in population in many areas, especially those dominated by minority communities. The process of inclusion of names of illegal migrants in the voters' list of Assam had started much earlier, but it gained momentum after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Unfortunately, when the problem of Assam and some other states of the North-east started spreading to other parts of India, some sections of the media tried to misrepresent the facts and published news items to prove that the entire movement was nothing but an attempt to lead people astray. The supporters of the six-year-long movement cut across religious lines despite efforts by the Congress to turn a peaceful and democratic movement into a violent one and create a divide among the agitation's supporters. The armed forces were used against women and bullets against peaceful agitators.
We had a series of meetings first with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then her successor Rajiv Gandhi along with officials nominated by them and the PMO besides the state chief secretary. The point was to find a solution to the problem of illegal migrants and their inclusion in the voters' list of Assam. After a draft of the Assam Accord was prepared, many people advised us on the terms and conditions in it. But many of those pointing fingers at us today were among our advisors at that time.
We did not sign an accord with an enemy nation. It was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Assam Chief Secretary P.P. Trivedi, Union Home Secretary R.D. Pradhan, Biraj Sarma of the Asom Gana Sangram Parishad, Aasu General Secretary Bhrigu Phukan, and myself, then Aasu president. During our meetings and discussions with Rajiv Gandhi, we had believed that the young and dynamic prime minister, while keeping the interest of the country in mind, would not do any injustice to the people of Assam.
After the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the indifferent attitude of the central government and lack of sincerity in fulfilling the Assam Accord started becoming more evident. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was formed on October 15, 1985. Two months later, the state went to polls and the AGP was voted to power with a massive mandate. A separate department was set up in the state for the implementation of the Assam Accord. The AGP government did not get any help from the Centre in dealing with illegal migration. The biggest hurdle in dealing with illegal migrants was removed with the removal of the Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunal) Act by the Supreme Court. Since then, as a former Assam chief minister, I have made several requests to the PM and Home Minister for an early implementation of important clauses of the Assam Accord. It was only due to our sustained efforts that the Centre heeded our pleas and had to do the fencing of the international border and also change the design of the fence to make it more effective.
Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is Former Chief Minister of Assam. The views expressed by the author are personal
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ADOPTED BY ALL
In some of the debate that erupted during passage of the women's reservation bill in Rajya Sabha earlier this year, many political parties got in fact, earned some bad press for gender insensitivity. On Saturday, however, they were unanimous in clearing through Lok Sabha amendments to make the laws governing adoption and guardianship gender- neutral; the legislation had already been passed in Rajya Sabha.
The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill makes changes in the Guardian and Wards Act (1890) that now make the mother, along with the father, fit to be appointed guardian of a minor. It also changes the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956) to allow married women the same rights as married men in adopting a child or putting up a child for adoption. There is much reform needed in our adoption and guardianship procedures, but the removal of gender bias is welcome. And long overdue, as was illustrated in Gita Hariharan vs Reserve Bank of India more than a decade ago, when the writer went to court to be allowed to make investments for a minor child.
The legislation is also a reminder of how the legislature has, since Independence, pushed the envelope to bring social reform on gender-related matters of inheritance, guardianship, marriage, etc though there have been enough back-downs. Sometimes the law has been an effective enough instrument say, on banning information on the gender of a foetus, where enforcement depends on local administration. But at least the law progressively lays down the norm. On the other hand, as the unanimity in Parliament on the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill shows, in some ways the law is just catching up with changes in attitude. A thorough scrubbing down of the law books for other gender biases would be in order
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TRADE AND BALANCE
The government's annual supplement to the trade policy for 2009-14, released on Monday, extended sops worth just over Rs 1,000 crore to exporters, particularly in labour-intensive sectors like textiles, handicrafts leather goods and toys. This is in addition to the sops already being offered in the aftermath of the global economic downturn. It is hard to argue against certain limited sops as short-term palliatives. The one sector of the Indian economy that has genuinely suffered after the global economic crisis is the one oriented towards exports.
Exports showed a dramatic decline in the immediate aftermath of the crisis in the last quarter of 2008, a trend that continued well into 2009. It is only in 2010 that exports once again started picking up steam. However, exports (in value terms) continue to remain well below the peak levels achieved in the pre-crisis period. In fact, if the latest trade statistics released last week are an indicator, exports may have once again lost some steam in the month of July growing only at 13 per cent compared with the 30 per cent recorded in the previous month.
Leave aside the numbers for a moment and consider the fundamentals. The biggest markets for Indian exports continued to be the US, EU and Japan. And none of those three is in the pink of economic health, even now.
Japan has, of course, been stagnant for a long time now, but the crisis made things worse. Europe is grappling with the severe debt problems of some of its peripheral economies that are taking a toll on growth in the entire region. In the US, the expiry of the fiscal stimulus has taken some of the sheen off the expectations of a quick recovery. That sort of bleak growth scenario in the biggest markets, almost certain to persist for a number of months, isn't a pleasant one for Indian exporters.
Indian exporters must, therefore, seriously think beyond sops to boost their fortunes. Some of the initial recovery in Indian exports towards the end of 2009 was driven by exports to newer markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America. All these regions are registering impressive rates of economic growth. It's time Indian exporters formulated business strategies to penetrate these fast-growing markets
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FRONT FOR LEFT
The first few years of the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government saw India climb back to the higher growth path it had stumbled off in the late '90s; it seemed committed to deregulation and openness, friendly to the private sector selling itself as a party of the urban middle class. So why is the BJP today sounding like fellow-travellers of the Left? The duties of a responsible opposition involve tackling the government at places you differ fundamentally, or where it appears accountable not obstructing reform that you yourself have trumpeted as important.
What would a voter think is the public face of the BJP today? Coordination with the Left on noisy protests against inflation in Parliament. Coordinated carping with the Left over individual provisions of a very necessary nuclear liability bill. Coordinated nationwide bandhs with the Left over the decrease in subsidies to some petroleum products. The Congress might think that we are in the bad old days of one-party rule, in which it reigned supreme and felt no need to reach out to the opposition; but surely the BJP knows better? And if it does, why does its sole motivator on policy questions today appear to be the anti-Congressism bred by that difficult era? Some in the Congress appear soft enough on the backward-looking Left; why does the BJP give us the impression today of being even softer?
And to the extent that it is not dancing to the tune hummed by the CPM's general secretary, it has allowed all its worst, xenophobic tendencies expression. Consider the Rajya Sabha debate on amending the Foreign Trade Act recently; to a series of necessary changes was added one on the imposition of quantitative restrictions to protect "domestic industry" from an "import surge in merchandise". That's of doubtful economic value. But what was the BJP's contribution to the discussion? Endless concern that the markets were full of images of deities that had been imported from China. Meanwhile, BJP-ruled states are the ones blocking consensus on the goods and services tax. It begins to look like the BJP has abandoned the principles that made it an acceptable party of government for many. So easily, in fact, that it is willing to oppose, tooth and nail, ideas that it itself has in the past vociferously supported petrol deregulation, tax rationalisation. It's the season of mergers and acquisitions but even if Vedanta doesn't get Cairn, it looks like the Left's got the BJP.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NAVI MUMBAI, NEW MUMBAI
It is increasingly axiomatic that Mumbai desperately needs a second airport. The proposed Navi Mumbai project will be a world-class gateway airport of global standards in a safe and secure environment. The existing one is fast reaching breaking point. And there is limited room for expansion at the current location: it is, for example, nearly impossible to construct a second parallel runway.
Consider this. Air Traffic Control currently handles more than 600 flights in Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport on a daily basis. According to the Official Airlines Guide, a global authority on aviation intelligence, the Mumbai-Delhi air corridor has emerged as the sixth busiest in the world with over 50 daily flights now between the two cities. Currently, the airport runways handle over 30 flight movements in an hour, the optimum capacity being 40 flight movements that the airport is likely to touch very shortly. After Delhi, which has just recently inaugurated a massive new passenger terminal, it is the second busiest in India and will reach the 40 million saturation point in passenger handling capacity in no time.
Moreover, the circling time and its frequency for flights has also gone up to uncomfortable levels and air-traffic control is being stretched to the limit. Aircraft flying in circles over a city, we know, are environmentally unfriendly and an inefficient and costly usage of time and fuel. Measures are typically taken to limit the amount of holding necessary, but some delays are unavoidable. Moreover, once demand outstrips supply because additional flights cannot be introduced, operational costs will increase and airfares for flights to and from Mumbai will spiral.
Most worrying of all, however, is that a maxed out airport also raises critical safety concerns. Unlike other industry safety standards, it has to be understood that when it comes to aviation and the safety of the flying public, even 1 per cent controllable risk is unacceptable. Suffice to say, while inordinate delays and traffic jams on our roads are a nuisance and hindrance, the same conditions in air travel are potentially deadly. This is precisely why we must summon the necessary political will to implement the Navi Mumbai airport project without further delay.
I do understand and acknowledge that ecological considerations are important here. In fact I have consistently supported environmental conservation in both my constituency and on a national level. If there are environmental conditions for the new airport, the Forum of MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) Parliamentarians a multi-party pressure group co-convened by me and tasked with expediting Mumbai's infrastructure projects could ensure the developing authority adheres to these norms.
The challenge of sustainable development in modern societies is to strike an ideal balance between legitimate ecological concerns and rapid modernisation. As an emerging economic power striving to keep pace with the aspirations of its people, India's policies must be commensurate with the growing numbers adding value to and playing a productive role in our new economy.
Significantly, with a remarkable 60 per cent of our population below the age of 30, the potential of a massive productive young work force has far-reaching consequences for an economy in transition. But job creation, employment and urbanisation cannot thrive without equally ambitious infrastructural development and city planning. State-of-the art transportation infrastructure is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. The real power of infrastructure is that it generates productive, sustainable and inclusive long-term growth, not just short-term jobs. High-functioning global ports and transportation hubs support, rather than impede, the movement of people and goods. An infrastructural imbalance, on the other hand, results in bottlenecks, over-congestion and an inability to cope with the basic needs of an ever-increasing population.
Sadly though, infrastructure bottlenecks are becoming the key impediment to even faster growth in India.
Viewed in this context, it is easy to see the complementary nature of the proposed new airport and the proposed 22.5 km Trans-Harbour Link. Both would enable rapid access to the country's commercial centre and make communities on the periphery far more viable economically and more attractive residentially.
Infrastructure investments in faster mass transit would also contribute to increased productivity, of the workforce and of the economy as a whole. Every hour a truck driver spends stuck in traffic is a wasted hour and contributes to economic and environmental inefficiency.
The Trans-Harbour Link has transformational potential well beyond just a transport project. Once constructed, it will substantially resolve Mumbai's infrastructural bottlenecks by freeing up large tracts of land for affordable housing in a city already starved for space. It will also decongest the city on an unprecedented scale, just as the iconic Brooklyn Bridge did for New York City. Millions will be able to commute, connect and access areas in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Suffice to say, the social and economic gains projects of this magnitude bring to the city are tangible and far-reaching.
In the final analysis, we need to evolve a vision identifying strategic, infrastructure investments of critical importance to national economic competitiveness. The Navi Mumbai airport is one such project which once implemented will transform Mumbai for the better and ultimately benefit millions of ordinary citizens. Delayed for over three years now, its development is no longer a choice, but an imperative.
The writer is Lok Sabha MP for Mumbai South
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FREE THE CAPTIVES
The government has initiated policy changes that would force steel manufacturers to hive off their captive iron ore mining business as separate enterprises. This is a welcome move, as it would compel steel manufacturers to disclose their cost of production from the iron ore mines they've been allocated by the state.
The cost of producing iron ore from captive mines has been much lower than the export price of the mineral from India in recent years. This is because the cost of iron ore mining in India is not very high, working out to Rs 500 a tonne, while the export price of iron ore has gone up to as high as $100 a tonne in recent years.
Although steel manufacturers with captive iron ore mines get their raw material at a cheaper price, they are free to sell their finished products at market prices. In other words, they need not pass on the benefit of low input costs to steel consumers. This is a clear policy anomaly that cannot be justified.
Another benefit for steelmakers is that international prices of iron ore can be quite volatile. However, there is no such risk in sourcing ore from captive mines.
Significantly, oil and gas producers have to share their profits with the government in addition to payment of royalty and cess on crude oil. Besides, they have to incur expenditure on exploration, which is recoverable only when they make a discovery. Otherwise, they have no option but to write off the expenditure. In contrast, there is no such exploration risk for captive iron ore miners. And they are required to pay royalty only, because there is no concept of profit-sharing with the government.
Other sectors, too, like fertilisers and power, get key inputs like natural gas at a subsidised price. But in each other case, the pricing of their final product is regulated by government.
While power consumers directly benefit from low gas prices, the availability of cheaper natural gas to urea producers helps the government cut its fertiliser subsidy burden. So there is at least an apparent justification for subsidising input prices in these sectors.
But for steel?
Captive iron ore mines have been allocated to steel manufacturers on the grounds that it would provide them an assured supply of the raw material. There is some merit in that argument. But should only steel producers benefit from natural resources which legally belong to all Indians? All people should benefit from the harnessing of natural resources; but since steel manufacturers are selling their products at freemarket prices, only they benefit from low-cost iron ore.
The government's decision to ask steel manufacturers to hive off their captive iron ore business is a step in the right direction. However, the government needs to go far beyond that. The government is already planning to auction captive coal mines. There is no reason why it cannot adopt the same yardstick for allocation of iron ore mines.
Significantly, the government has started allocating captive coal mines to bulk consumers from sectors like power, again saying that it would ensure an "assured supply" of fuel for their generating stations. Bulk coal users have been allotted captive mines on a "nomination basis". Even though, in this sector, it is not generators but power consumers who benefit from the low cost of coal, the government is still planning to move over to the auction mode for allocation of captive coal blocks. It is because by auctioning captive coal blocks, the government expects to generate additional revenue, which it might use for the welfare of the general public.
Mining is a stressful activity, in terms of displacement and ecological damage. The benefits from it should, therefore, be properly spread. But unfortunately, in India, it is miners who get to make hefty profits at the cost of everyone else. Perhaps that is part of the reason resistance to mining is growing in the country.
While auctioning captive coal blocks would necessarily push up the cost of power generation and electricity for consumers, there is no such risk in case the government auctions captive iron ore mines to steel manufacturers. At the most, it would raise the cost of iron ore for steel producers.
In any case, steel consumers do not benefit from the availability of cheaper iron ore to producers. So they have nothing to lose if the government starts auctioning iron ore mines. On the other hand, steel companies would be forced to improve their operational efficiency if they were to face pressure on margins. That would be good for the country, and for steelmakers too.
The writer is a senior correspondent with 'The Financial Express'
'RAJIV WAS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER CONG LEADERS. HE WENT BEYOND
I am at New Delhi's Assam Bhavan on Rajiv Gandhi's birth anniversary. My guest today is somebody who is a political adversary of Rajiv Gandhi's party but remembers him fondly for a very special reason. Prafulla Mahanta, this is also the 25th anniversary of the Assam Peace Accord that you signed with Rajiv Gandhi. Take us back 25 years.
We were student leaders then and you know there was a feeling amongst the people of the Northeast region, mainly Assam, that we had become a minority in our own home due to infiltration from Bangladesh.
Or East Pakistan before that
Yes, East Pakistan before that. Therefore, we started the Assam Movement and then after six years, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi invited all of us.
Many people may not remember what a tough movement you ran. Because you blocked supply of oil to the rest of India for many years. You shut down the refinery. When the government called for a curfew, you called the whole city out.
Yes, people broke the curfew because they felt that if the government was not coming out to protect them from foreign infiltrators, then who would save them?
So, when Rajiv came to power, India faced two big challengeson two flanks. One in Punjab and one in Assam. Assam had those disastrous elections of 1983, seven thousand people were killed, the Nellie massacre. You were still a student leader and very young. How did he reach out to you and what happened? Why did you trust him (Rajiv)? You didn't trust Mrs (Indira) Gandhi.
Yes, because at that time Mrs Gandhi was the Prime Minister of our country and the discussion broke down because we requested her not to hold elections in Assam in 1983 without deleting the names of the foreigners from the electoral roll but Mrs Gandhi was adamant. She declared elections in Assam and when we returned to Assam, all our leaders were arrested. Leaders of the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the Gana Sangram Parishad were also arrested and put in jail. It entered people's mind that somebody had created this conspiracy.
Who could it be?
Generally some agents or agencies of the Congress at that time. And therefore, when we were released, we met all sections of people, held rallies, held public meetings. We built confidence among both Hindus and Muslims after 1983. And in the 1983 elections, people did not come out to cast their votes but the Congress put up their candidates. They only got 15 votes, 20 votes. And the election machinery declared that they were elected.
But why did you trust Rajiv Gandhi when you didn't trust Mrs Gandhi?
Because he was a young prime minister and probably wanted to do something for the country and especially for the Northeast. He gave his attention to solving this problem. He sent a direct invitation for negotiation with the movement's leaders. We participated in the negotiation and he came forward and told us to find a solution and that he will help us implement it. So, we trusted him. We thought he was a dynamic prime minister and would do something for the betterment of our country, for our security, sovereignty and integrity.
I remember I covered the election that resulted from your peace accord and you became a political party from being a student organisation. You swept that election but very often, the slogan was 'Congress party murdabad, Rajiv Gandhi zindabad'.
Probably, his attitude was different from other Congress leaders of that time. He signed the Assam Accord beyond his party line.
So, he did go beyond his party line?
Yes, therefore, we trusted him. At that time, that was the reason for trusting him. We believed he would do something for the security and for the unity of our country, especially in the Northeast.
While he was prime minister, you thought he made a sincere effort to deliver on it?
He tried initially. But the problem arose after the Bofors case. He wanted our support in that case. Our party decided that we were not going to support that case. The other economic development cases were different. Our clashes with with him started at that time. And after that he was not in...
...the forefront. He was not in the right frame of mind. Then you lost your faith in the Congress party after that, in Rajiv?
No, we had faith in the prime minister of our country, in Rajiv Gandhi as a young prime minister. But not in his party. Because his party colleagues were different. He (Rajiv) also invited us to join the Congress, but we decided not to join the Congress.
He asked you to join the Congress party?
Yes. We told him frankly that we were not going to join the Congress, but for the sake of the development of our country, we were going to extend our hand.
I know you are very much exercised about the state of implementation of the Assam Accord. If you look at the Assam Accord, you can see that almost everything has been implemented except onebut that is the most importantthe deportation of illegal immigrants. But yet, it's remarkable that all the other thingsfrom building an IIT to more bridges on the river, to roads, economic developmenthave been delivered. That's quite remarkable for India given the history of our accords and settlements.
Things have been implemented but the main issuedetection of foreigners and deleting their names from the electoral rolls and deporting them to their countryhas not been done until now. Because legally, we were not able to do it.
Why did that not happen? You were chief minister for a long time.
Because the state government has no power, only the Central government can have a diplomatic arrangement on this issue with Bangladesh. At that time, there was a hostile government in Bangladesh. Now there is a friendly government. Therefore, we hope that now if the government takes an initiative, it will be able to convince Dhaka to take the burden off these people. As per the clause of the Assam Accord, the Central Home Ministry is the nodal ministry to implement the Accord. Therefore, the Home Ministry should come forward. For the last few years, the Home Ministry has not come forward with sincerity. So the implementation of the Assam Accord was delayed. On the other hand, there is an insurgency problem in the Northeast, which creates a lot of trouble. In 1996, the day we took over the government, the chief secretary, the home commissioner, finance commissioner, all fled.
The big turnaround in Assam came when you decided to fight the ULFA, which is why you have to be surrounded by commandos for the rest of your life.
The insurgent groups are those who want an independent Assam, which is not possible because people in mainstream Assam want to live with India. Assam is the heart of the entire Northeast. And therefore, we oppose it.
You never had any doubt on this even when you were leading the students' movement, that you had to be a part of India?
No doubt. But probably some groups instigated insurgent groups to demand an independent Assam. We arrested five or six ISI agents, one belonged to Jammu and Kashmir. From their documents, it came to light that they were training the people of Assam and Northeast to secede from India.
You know, I'm pushing this point because when you were leading the agitation, there was a widespread feeling in many parts of the country and even the government that you were anti-national, that you were separatist people.
That it not true because people of Assam, from the time of Independence and from the time of the freedom struggle, have remained with India. And you probably have heard of that remarkable sentence of Mahatma Gandhi. He told Bordoloi (Gopinath Bordoloi, Assam's first CM) that if people of Assam want to live with India, then nobody will be able to hand you over to East Pakistan. Because at that time, somebody conspired to annex Assam with East Pakistan.
So you and your colleagues in AASU never had any doubts in your mind that you were Indian nationalists.
There is no question on it.
Because for the rest of the country, the eye-opener was when you fought ULFA, even more strongly than the Congress had fought ULFA. What happened?
We appealed to (the ULFA) to come to the negotiating table. If they thought we could not solve their problem, then let them talk with the Central government. Because we wanted to build Assam and we wanted to solve the problem permanently.
What led to the rise of ULFA? What led to the rise of a separatist movement in Assam, an armed separatist movement?
The armed separatist movement was inspired by the NSCN (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland). At that time, the NSCN was the mother organisation of all the insurgent groups of the Northeast. Later, people from other sections also joined and their thinking became different and they took help from a foreign country also.
Prafulla, you fought the ULFA hard. So, there are still stories about what is called the secret killings in Assam. That you organised the killings of ULFA leaders, family members, many of them in custody or extra-judicial killings.
No we didn't allow extra-judicial killings. If the insurgent groups attacked our forces, then they (the forces) must have the right to respond. The interesting thing is that when insurgent groups kill innocent people, then some human rights organisation creates a hue and cry, but when these insurgent groups kill the family of the forces and other innocent people, then they don't. They don't stand with them. This is very unfortunate.
You are very youngyou are in your early 50s. You have been chief minister twice. You have been in jail many times, you have been tortured, there was an attempt on your life. You've had a government dismissedby Chandrasekhar. You've allied with the BJP, you've allied with the Left. You've done many things at a very young age.
Yes, we want Assam to be developed, which can contribute to unity and to protect the sovereignty of our country.
And you've been called both anti-national and a hyper-patriot who carries out extra-judicial killings.
For the sake of our country, to safeguard the security of our country, we are ready to take any blame. But this is unjustified. We are not indulged in such type of things. To malign me, they level such charges.
You have seen the extremes. So let me take you to the last extreme. All of you were student leadersyou, Bhrigu Phukan, Digen Bora, Nagen Sarma. All of you fell apart. Many joined other parties. Some are now ministers in the Congress government, which was your arch enemy. Some of you fell by the wayside because so many of your colleagues died young. So, what went wrong?
Few of them joined other political parties because they changed their ideologies, and we lost one of our ministersNagen Sarmain a bomb blast. Many of our ministers were kidnapped.
Which one of your colleagues, your comrades, do you miss the most?
I miss Bhrigu Kumar Phukan and Lalit Rajkhowa the most.
Was there also some loss of idealism because the AGP did not run a clean government? Many of your people were corrupt.
I'm not going to believe it. Few people made allegations against our 12 ministers and demanded that they should be dropped from our ministry. Then we sat down and we dropped them. But after that, a probe proved that they were not corrupt and allegations levelled against them were not correct and we inducted them again in our ministry.
How are your successors now in AASU?
They run the organisation and I believe that they will be able to do something more for the state.
Transcribed by Ipsita Mazumdar
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CAN'T INSURE SUCCESS
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) chief's call to insurance firms to focus on rural India sounds the right thing to say given that, while over three-fourths of Indians live in rural and semi-urban India, just around a fourth of all life insurance policies are sold in these areas. In terms of the actual value of the policies, the skew will be even higher. But none of this is for want of trying. While the state-owned LIC has 3,030 branches, over two-thirds of them are in rural and semi-urban areas. In the case of the private firms, the ratio is even higher, and of the 8,800-odd branches all of them have, over 6,200 are in rural and semi-urban areas. In other words, if the sales of insurance policies are limited in non-urban areas, there's a pretty good reason for itif, according to NCAER data, 40-45% of rural households prefer to keep their money under their pillows, the chances of them wanting to buy insurance are that much lower. Theoretically, insurance firms can concentrate on developing new products for these areas, but the high expenses towards setting up operations, training costs for developing the agency force, and maintaining of solvency margins means it will be difficult for the insurers to concentrate on rural areas unless they are given some incentive.
One model is the telecom one where a Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund helps defray costs for those venturing to set up telecom services. Whether this model is easily replicated remains to be seen, but more important, it is by no means certain this is what caused the sharp surge in rural telephonyin any case, such a large proportion of the USO fund remains unspent, it is unlikely this was the driver of growth. As urban markets got saturated, and rural incomes rose, firms like Bharti went into these markets aggressively and beat even government-owned firms like BSNL. Moral of the story: markets will develop when they will, executive fiats can't do the job. Government-owned banks have not been able to crack rural markets despite all number of RBI directives. It's unlikely a directive from Irda will work any better.
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
ERRORS OF COMMISSION, AND MORE
It does not take a commission to find out that there has been illegal mining across most of the mineral rich states of India. Diligent officers, villagers and even journalists with no particular training have reported extensively over the past few months on the depredations in the hillsides brought on by illegal mining. The one line command should, therefore, be to tell the agencies to stop it. One presumes that even 18 months later, the commission will not condone the mining and still ask for the same to be stopped.
But if that is so, does this mean that for the next year and a half whatever is happening at these mines can go on until the report is placed on the table. Obviously, neither GoI nor any of its agencies are contemplating such a sequence of events. Mining by unscrupulous traders has, as a corollary, deepened the impact of the Naxalite menaceboth of which have sharply escalated the scale of violence in central and eastern India.
We, therefore, need clear indication to believe the government has become quite keen to put a stop to illegal mining and check its ominous implications. Yet, possibly because it's a political hot potato, while the same government at the Centre is pushing hard to develop a coherent mining policy, illegal mining, it hopes, will be tackled through a combination of plain-vanilla state action and a regime of sustained drop in global prices, especially of iron ore.
In other words, given the sensitivities involved, Manmohan Singh's government is basically stalling for time on illegal mining. It hopes that with the takeover of large swathes of Indian mining tracts by large companies, the room for such shenanigans will be reduced, commission or no commission.
There is little else to justify the intense dialogue going on over the draft Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act to replace the large number of contradictory amendments (seven sets since 1958) in the mining sector. This candour is not this columnist's discovery; instead it has been stated by the mines ministry on its Web site to explain why further amendment to the National Mineral Policy of 2008 is not possible and so the need for a new Act. In a way, this is inevitable. The commission set up by the PMO and the mines ministry to investigate illegal mining, therefore, promises to be a largely fruitless exercise.
The first impediment for the commission... in its exercise is to pinpoint where illegal mining has taken place. A large mine dotting a hillside belching dust with an obscure owner's name is a good way to start, but this does not lead us far enough. The miner can and will produce documents to prove he has a right over what he is extracting. Assuming the papers are not forged, there is no way to prove him wrong.
The problem is a simple but basic one. No state has a fully mapped set of land records that can be called upon to check the dimension of the mine. Since the mine is often in a jungle, the land record for the area is sparse even by weak standards.
The land record and the district mining officer's certificate, based on which a mine area is mapped out, has reference coordinates that are often as far off as several kilometres at the edge of the jungle. Their accuracy can be easily guessed.
During my visit to these parts, the mining employees of the state governments blandly told me they depend on the veracity of the claims made by the large companies and try to check only those who have no reputation to lose by taking the risk of extending the boundary of their mines. Meanwhile, if the employee can be bought over, it is the end of the checking process.
In other words, in the case of the Reddy brothers, for instance, there is no agreed set of points on the field by which to demarcate the boundary of the two states of AP and Karnataka. So, if there is a complaint of illegal mining, no action can be taken as it is virtually impossible for the local police to figure out whose jurisdiction has been violated.
There is a way to partially overcome this problem with technology. A mine boundary can be defined through the use of differential GPS. At its basic, it gives a set of latitudes and longitudes that can be plotted on the ground.
But that too needs a reference marker, which is the set of land records. So, unless the land mapping is improved drastically, the chances of pinning responsibility on any company for encroachments on land is impossible.
Since the commission has not been tasked with the responsibility to make the land record congruent with the differential GPS, it seems quite certain that at the end of 18 months, it.. will make a series of recommendations and just hope for the best.
That best will hopefully come from the new MMDR Act. The Act, all companies angling to pick up a piece of the mining action aver, is the best hope for the sector. It has to wring out the 'directive principles'-like clauses to offer free shares of up to 26% of the mining companies' equity to the land holders as starters. But once this is done, the basic principle of a rule-based mining sector will come into play. The only spoiler could be one more flareup in the global prices of some ore. Until that happens, the government's gamble could pay off.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHO SEZ EXPORTS CAN'T DO BETTER?
The last two years have been fairly turbulent for Indian exports. After six successive growth rates of over 20% per annum up to FY08, there was a slowing down to 12.3% in FY09, followed by a decline of 2.6% in FY10. The $200-bn mark has been elusive for some time now. The target for this year has been placed at $216 bn, which implies growth of 21%. Going by the first four months' performance, prima facie looks probable. The Exim Policy is in place up to 2014 and the announcements made in this regard in the Annual Policy should be viewed against this background.
There are basically three issues concerning exports from a macroeconomic standpoint. The first is its composition. Today, around 50% of our exports are traditional goods through textiles, petro & agro products, gems, ores, etc, while another 22% is in the fast growth category of engineering goods. These are the ones that have growth potential and can put exports on a higher trajectory. Chemicals are important, accounting for 10% of exports, but are a commodity that grows in a negative way as the developed countries would prefer to import them rather than produce for environmental reasons. When there was a slowdown in exports, it was the engineering sector (automobiles, machinery and metal products) that got hit the most. Exports of gems & jewellery and petro & agro products registered marginal increases as demand is typically inelastic in these sectors.
The second is the direction of exports. The US and EU account for 30% of our exports, which means that growth in this segment would be contingent on what is happening there. Africa and the Middle East account for 29% while Asia 31%. But the core of our growth will be guided by what happens in the US and EU.
The third is the exchange rate. A point often argued is that rupee depreciation is required for exports to increase. While this is theoretically true, it has been observed that between September 2008 and September 2009, exports declined on a month-on-month basis, but the rupee was weakening. This indicates that currency weakening is not a sufficient condition for the growth of exports. Demand is a critical factor that drives growth in this sector, which has to be supported internally by appropriate incentives.
If demand is the deciding factor, what are the prospects for growth in the world economy? Currently, there are mixed...]
NO WINNERS IN AUSTRALIA
Although the final tally is not in yet, the elections just held in Australia have produced no clear winners. Neither of the main political blocs the ruling Australian Labour Party and the Coalition, which comprises the Liberal and National parties has managed a majority in the 150-member House of Representatives. They are expected to finish dead-heat with 73 seats each, three short of the required number. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is still in the race to form the government, provided she can win over at least two independents. What is incontestable is that Labour is the main loser in this election. Only three years ago, the party won a decisive victory under the inspired leadership of Kevin Rudd, removing John Howard's Coalition government that had been in power since 1996. Unfortunately, the Rudd government's honeymoon was all too brief, its popularity plummeting over failure to implement a key election promise on reduction of carbon emissions. A panicked Labour removed Mr. Rudd and anointed Ms Gillard in his stead. As borne out by the election results, the internal coup, meant to repair Labour's image, contributed to the swing away from the party. Coalition leader Tony Abbott, who unexpectedly rose to the leadership of the Liberals and until recently was not seen as a dynamic enough personality, used the incident to project Labour as a party of crippling internal divisions. Ms Gillard had hoped to cash in on the public enthusiasm for the country's first woman Prime Minister. But that appears to have given way rather quickly to distaste over her perceived disloyalty to Mr. Rudd at the altar of ruthless ambition. It did not help Ms Gillard that an important Labour achievement successfully insulating the Australian economy from the global economic downturn was under Mr. Rudd's watch.
With the results of this close contest now effectively in the hands of three independent winners, both Ms Gillard and Mr. Abbott have descended into the race to woo them. This is Australia's first hung parliament in seven decades; the political class as well as voters are unused to the horse-trading and wheeling-dealing that the situation demands. Neither of the leaders wants to be seen as making a deal that goes against voter expectations; nor do the independents. The complicated system of preferential votes, which will determine the percentage of votes polled by the two parties, will also play a role. It may take days after the final results are in for a new government to fall in place. The main challenge for such a government would be its ability to take important political and economic decisions. How long it will last is a question that is bound to be asked sooner than later.
NEW LIGHT ON STONEHENGE
The recent discovery of a new henge, close to Britain's world-famous vast site, is regarded as a major find. This ceremonial monument, the first to be found over the past half-century, has opened up fresh possibilities of unravelling one of the long standing puzzles in history the purpose of 4500-year-old Stonehenge. The cutting-edge technologies that uncovered the henge hold promise for the future of archaeology. Stonehenge, with its ring of stones, is unique in architecture and remarkable in scale. It was constructed using wonderful woodworking techniques. It is one of the most researched ancient sites in the world, yet a clear understanding of its purpose remains elusive. Was it a place of worship? Was it used for calibrating a cosmic calendar? Questions like these have found no reliable answers. A recently advanced theory even suggests that it functioned as a place of healing. So far, most of the research has focussed narrowly on Stonehenge and the latest discovery could expand the scope for research. The existing henge and the new one, which appears coeval, are inter-visible and on the same orientation. This relationship between the two has drawn attention to the entire landscape; as archaeologists probe further and deeper, they may arrive at a new understanding of the whole ensemble.
Archaeology, often poorly funded, finds excavating vast sites such as Stonehenge, which is spread over 14 sq. km., difficult. The fear of damaging the site in the event of a wrong dig has also been a deterrent.
As a result, excavations tend to get less explorative, limiting the understating of the sites. On the other hand, emerging technologies are a great boon to archaeology. The international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, a collaborative effort involving seven institutions, mapped the entire site using a variety of technologies. Ground-penetrating radar, magnetic surveys, and electromagnetic studies were deployed.
Improvised and scaled-up detectors hooked to vehicles travelling at a speed of about 10 km an hour scanned the entire site in just three weeks without compromising the quality of data. This virtual excavation, using the digital information collected, pointed out the exact location of the new henge. Conventional excavation can now be precisely directed to unearth the hidden structures. There is a lesson here for the Indian archaeological establishment. Substantial investment in the application of science in archaeology is vital for improving the quality and scope of research. New technologies can help prioritise areas for immediate excavation while protecting the rest for future study.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
UNDERSTANDING THE PAKISTANI FLOODS
The floods have further exposed the regional, political and ethnic divisions in Pakistan.
One day in mid-April, Dr. Bernard Rieux spotted a dead rat in the building he lived in the Mediterranean city of Oran, Algeria. Thousands of rats staggered out of their hideouts in the following days and died on the streets gripped by violent convulsions, spitting blood. A fortnight later Michel, concierge of Rieux's building, was down with a strange illness. While the rats suddenly disappeared, Michel died within two days.
That is how the terrible arrival of the bubonic plague in Albert Camus' masterpiece is chronicled. Major catastrophes tiptoe unnoticed. Pakistan's flood too appeared from nowhere. When the plague first arrived, the Oranites seemed to take life for granted and couldn't grasp its full import but soon they understood they must face up to an extraordinary situation and decide on their attitudes to it. They were forced to think, reflect and discard their "unauthentic" existence.
The flood is described in cold figures 20 per cent of Pakistan devastated; one out of five Pakistanis' lives ruined; hundreds of thousands of electric pylons, cattle, culverts and bridges perished; farmlands inundated and crops rendered unworthy. The flood is destined to become a mathematical constant sooner or later and the residue that will endure is that the millions of human beings helplessly tossed around by it have become variables.
Pakistan, especially its elite civilian but, more importantly, the military faces an existential choice. They need to realise, as Greek philosopher Socrates once said, that the unexamined life is not worth living and they need to react in a unique way. A major catastrophe is also an opportunity to undergo transformations. However, regrettably, the discourse of the Pakistani officials and analysts has continued to turn in its old gyre. The well-known Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, typically summed it up last week as "an unparalleled national security challenge for the country, the region and the international community. It has become clear this week that, unless major aid is forthcoming immediately and international diplomatic effort is applied to improving Pakistan's relations with India, social and ethnic tensions will rise and there will be food riots."
Mr. Rashid added: "Large parts of the country that are now cut off will be taken over by the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated extremist groups, and governance will collapse. The risk is that Pakistan will become what many have long predicted a failed state with nuclear weapons All of this will dramatically loosen the state's control over outlying areas, in particular those bordering Afghanistan, which could be captured quickly by local Taliban." Mr. Rashid, of course, concludes predictably, taking a swipe at India and seeking the West's mediatory "help" in India-Pakistan relations: "India has failed to respond to the crisis and there remains bitter animosity between the two countries, particularly because India blames the current uprising in Indian Kashmir on Pakistan even though Indian commentators admit that it is more indigenous than Pakistan-instigated."
From the above we get a fair idea of the thought processes in Rawalpindi within the military establishment: Pakistan's coffers are empty and the international community should loosen its purse-strings; the military is overstretched with relief work and as Mr. Rashid put it, "the army is unlikely to be in a position even to hold the areas along the Afghan border;" Pakistan's stability which is linked to tensions with India ought to be the concern of the West whose mediation on Kashmir, therefore, is an imperative need so as "to sort out acute differences over their river systems." Fortunately, Mr. Rashid stops just short of accusing India of engineering the floods.
The shocking reality is that there has been no trace of any new thinking. The Pakistani military continues to be in a game of one-upmanship with the civilian leadership. Unsurprisingly, the military's work of rescuing flood victims is a visible act and politicians cannot match that. As a perceptive young Pakistani scholar Ahsan Butt put it: "This needs to be understood because to the extent that this is purely a logistical crisis, the military
almost has an 'unfair' advantage in that it has the better toolbox for the immediate aftermath To use a cricketing analogy, batting is a lot easier at the non-striker's end." The fact remains that the military establishment has excellent spokesmen in the mainstream media, especially the top news channels, and the media invariably apply exacting standards to the civilian leaders while, for example, the military's institutionalised corruption is simply ignored or downplayed.
Given the gigantic scale of reconstruction that lies ahead and the tardy performance standards of the civilian governments of the South Asian region, the Pakistani political elite will inevitably appear chaotic and inept in its response to the floods, while any further drain of support for the already-weak civilian government can only tighten the powerful military's grip on the power structure. This means that for the foreseeable future, the military will continue to operate with full autonomy on foreign and security policies of core concern, although the scope for conflictual relationship with the civilian leadership or the launch of a coup will not necessarily increase and may diminish in the given situation of a fundamental imbalance in the calculus of power.
To be sure, the floods have further exposed the regional, political and ethnic divisions. Most certainly, there will be nasty disputes in the coming period over the allocation of aid, especially on the part of the smaller provinces, as regards the Punjabi-dominated establishment's perceived self-aggrandisement. On the other hand, in Punjab, the main Opposition, Pakistan Muslim League (N), is in charge and it would get into a blame game with the federal government over the inevitable acts of commission and omission in relief and reconstruction. In fact, the signs are already there.
A core issue concerns the strategic impact of the floods on regional security issues devolving upon the United-States led war in Afghanistan. A mixed picture emerges. To quote an expert in the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, "The U.S. has an opportunity in this disaster to do even more to demonstrate to the people and leaders of Pakistan just how helpful the U.S. and the American people can be to move Pakistan forward. But, at the same time, the problems that Pakistan faces, in the immediate near-term as well as the longer term, have simply been compounded. Everything that the U.S. already thought was going to be very difficult."
In financial terms, it means a need arises to reassess the disbursal of the $7.5-billion aid package under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation shifting attention from long-term projects to the immediate priorities. In political terms, the impact will be felt on several templates. One, there are no means of divining whether with all the King's men and all the King's horses deployed in Pakistan, Uncle Sam's image would still get burnished in the Pakistani eye. Probably, it is a long haul for the U.S.' public diplomacy even with George Sores brought into the act. A July 29 Pew Global Attitudes Project estimated that 59 per cent of Pakistanis regarded America as an enemy country. In short, the fragility of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains a fact of life.
On the contrary, USS Peleliu arrived off the coast near Karachi on August 12 along with helicopters and a thousand Marines who have since been deployed and Pakistan hasn't erupted in flames or protest marches. Not only will this "collaboration," to borrow the words of noted author Shuja Nawaz, "go a long way toward building up relationships among rank-and-file service members." It is also an extraordinary sight to see the Marines involved in relief work alongside some controversial Islamic charity organisations such as the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation linked to the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and the social welfare wings of the rabidly "anti-American" Jamaat-e-Islami.
The million-dollar question indeed is what will happen to the Pakistani military's operations in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, especially the North Waziristan area. Even the U.S. special representative for AfPak, Richard Holbrooke, wryly said, "It is an equal-opportunity disaster, and military operations have effectively faded away." The bitter truth is that the U.S. is fated to learn even if Mr. Holbrooke is loath to admit it that aid will not address the real security threats in Pakistan. The high probability is that the U.S.-led coalition will soon find itself out on a limb in Afghanistan with the Pakistani military nowhere seen cracking down on the Haqqani insurgents and their allies ensconced in FATA. The implications are, simply put, too stunning to want to think about although the flood waters may help wash away the WikiLeaks documents detailing not only how the ISI sympathises with the Taliban but they also meet to plan joint actions.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
PROPOSED RESTRICTIONS ON MEDIA CAUSE ALARM IN SOUTH AFRICA
THE OFFICIAL HOSTILITY TO JOURNALISTS IS PALPABLE.
CELIA W. DUGGER
The front pages of South Africa's newspapers are regularly splashed with articles about politicians living it up at public expense in a country blighted by poverty.
Reporters recently pounced on news that a black empowerment deal meant to benefit "previously disadvantaged" South Africans under government guidelines was enriching a company led by President Jacob Zuma's 28-year-old son, Duduzane, among others, giving them a lucrative stake in the South African arm of a steel giant, ArcelorMittal.
It was "the most nauseating business deal in recent memory," a columnist, Mondli Makhanya, wrote recently in The Sunday Times of Johannesburg.
Normally, this kind of story would inspire rolled eyes and disgusted chuckles from readers. But the adversarial
dealings of politicians and the press have taken a particularly nasty turn recently, as an infuriated governing party has sought to rein in newspapers it has come to see as determined opponents.
Business executives, civic leaders and journalists have responded with increasingly dire warnings that stringent measures being advanced by the governing African National Congress would threaten press freedom, enshroud much official activity in secrecy, potentially punish offending journalists or whistle-blowers with up to 25 years in prison and undermine the fight against corruption in the continent's largest economy.
On Friday, the South African writers Nadine Gordimer, Andre Brink, Achmat Dangor, John Kani and Njabulo Ndebele added their voices to the protests. "This is the threat of a return to the censorship under apartheid," said Gordimer, three of whose novels were banned in that era.
After spending billions of dollars to successfully host the World Cup and revelling in how the month long global coverage burnished the country's reputation as a democratic beacon the government is finding that it has created a major public relations problem.
Many at home and abroad are questioning the party's commitment to freedom of the press. On Thursday, the Cabinet tried to limit the damage, with a spokesman, Themba Maseko, suggesting that the government was open to considering changes in its proposals and calling for a cooling of tempers.
As now written, the ANC-led government's Protection of Information Bill would empower heads of government agencies to classify broad categories of information in the "national interest". It would also mandate the imprisonment of those who disclose the material for three to 25 years. National interest is defined as "all matters relating to the advancement of the public good" and "the survival and security of the state". The bill is moving through parliament, where the ANC has a nearly two-thirds majority.
The party has also stepped up its push for a tribunal, answerable to parliament, that would regulate the print media oversight that Business Leadership South Africa, which represents companies that pay 80 per cent of the corporate taxes here, said "raises the prospect of a media answerable to political bosses."
The official hostility to journalists is palpable. In a July 29 party document, the ANC described portions of the press as having an "anti-ANC stance", and accused the print media of "an astonishing degree of dishonesty".
The Cabinet acknowledged the risks this rancorous debate poses to the country's image, saying that it would meet with editors to discuss what it termed the erroneous perception that it was trying to muzzle the press.
Maseko, the government spokesman, stressed that the media tribunal was still just an issue before the party, not the government. And while the government had made no decision to withdraw the Protection of Information Bill, he said, it would consider arguments against it.
Even some in the journalistic fraternity acknowledge there are problems with the tone and precision of some reporting, but the party's harsh proposals have led to a circling of the wagons.
"Has there been a problem with accuracy?" asked Anton Harber, a former editor who heads the journalism department at the University of the Witwatersrand. "Absolutely. Has there been a reluctance to apologise timeously and appropriately? No doubt." He said that editors were having behind-the-scenes conversations about how the press can strengthen standards, but added that it was hard to pursue these aggressively when the government has mounted a frontal attack on basic freedoms.
The African National Congress has been undeniably angered by revelations in the press. Some involve complex deals, but others damage the party's image as a champion of the poor, fuelling a sense that the rules are different for people with political power. There have been stories about ministers outfitted with Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, about the president's having a child with a woman to whom he was not married, about the communications minister's staying at the five-star Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town and sipping Hennessey cognac at taxpayer expense.
The last story provoked a heated statement from a party spokesman, Jackson Mthembu. He defended the hotel stays of senior officials as being in line with the ministerial handbook and called the Mail and Guardian article about them "sensationalism of the highest order".
The clash between the press and the party of South Africa's liberation has helped fuel anxieties that the country a regional powerhouse that plays a critical stabilising role in Africa could be going the way of Zimbabwe, where those who fought for majority rule morphed into a kleptocratic elite that has used repression to hang onto power.
"They want to gag the media on corruption," Moeletsi Mbeki, a businessman and political analyst whose brother, Thabo, was formerly president, said in an interview. His opinion is one that is increasingly commonplace here.
Party leaders, including Zuma, have reacted with outrage to suggestions that the ANC is trying to control the media or cover up corruption. "All right-thinking and properly informed people know that it is the ANC democratic government that has made it fashionable to fight corruption," Zuma, who was dogged by corruption allegations for years, wrote recently in a party newsletter. He recently directed a respected investigative unit to investigate corruption in seven government agencies.
But fears about the government's motives have flared since August 4, when a Sunday Times reporter, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, was arrested on fraud charges. Days earlier, he and another reporter had written a front-page article reporting that the national police chief, Bheki Cele, had approved what the paper called a suspicious property deal with a politically connected businessman without competitive bidding.
The newspaper and wa Afrika said he was seized by officers who had no warrant for his arrest, even though he was on his way to turn himself in, and he was not provided access to his lawyer for hours. The police searched his home, he said, taking his reporting notebooks. During questioning the following morning, the police asked him if he had been trying to discredit senior ANC officials, he said. His newspaper called his arrest in a case not related to the article "a blatant attempt to intimidate him and this newspaper."
The Mail and Guardian also found wa Afrika's arrest "a powerful and terrifying message."
"We're in the fight of our lives," the paper said in an editorial. "It will be long, messy and short on moral clarity, but that won't stop us from fighting it with all we've got." © New York Times News Service
TAKING A VACATION IS NOT SIMPLE FOR THE FIRST FAMILY
DEFENSIVENESS IS PART OF THE BAGGAGE AS MEDIA COVERAGE INTENSIFIES ATTENTION.
It is a paradox of American politics: The more common vacations became after World War II a tradition for the working class and the wealthy alike the more criticism presidents have faced for taking them.
So as President Barack Obama and his family enjoy their second annual August vacation at an isolated farm on Martha's Vineyard, defensiveness is again part of the baggage.
"Whenever you talk about a presidential vacation, you ought to put the word 'vacation' in quotes because you can bet that there will still be work that he's doing every day," Bill Burton, who came along as the "vacation" press secretary, told reporters before the Obamas' 10-day visit.
That is why the President's entourage of Secret Service agents, communications specialists and military aides includes John O. Brennan, Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, who wore a suit and tie on a sunny day at Vineyard Haven, Mass. recently to take questions from more casually dressed reporters ("I don't do down time," he deadpanned). Brennan has been briefing the President daily on the latest intelligence and remains in touch with Washington when Obama spends five hours on the golf course, as he did recently.
"If there were to be some type of event that would require immediate engagement with the President," Brennan said, "I am certain I can do it as quickly as I could do back in Washington."
Yet for a modern president, far more than for average Americans, there never seems to be a good time to vacation.
Round-the-clock news coverage and the Internet have intensified attention on a president's every move, and blogging has multiplied the numbers, and the reach, of critics.
Through history, many presidents have stayed away from Washington for long periods with little notice. Abraham Lincoln, contending with a civil war, spent about a quarter of his presidency at a cottage outside the city. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not let a Depression or war keep him from fishing trips.
That changed after World War II, with the dawn of the television age. Dwight D. Eisenhower was lampooned for his frequent golfing, especially amid recession in 1958. Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were mocked for retreating to their ranches often. Bill Clinton was ridiculed for hobnobbing with the rich and famous on Martha's Vineyard for seven of his eight summer vacations (the exception was the time he took a supposedly more plebeian sojourn out West on the advice of a political adviser).
As he was last August, Obama is especially vulnerable to the critics' rap about the timing of his leisure, coming amid two wars and continued high unemployment. Earlier this month, Michelle Obama drew criticism unusual for a first lady when she took a trip to Spain with her daughter Sasha.
The First Family's visit to Mass. coincides with the official end of combat operations in Iraq. While unemployment is stuck at more than nine per cent, this time last summer it was heading upward toward a 10.2 per cent peak in October. But such progress is far too small for the administration to claim much political credit as the midterm elections approach.
Obama's job-approval rating has fallen below 50 per cent and Democrats are in danger of losing control of Congress.
"I would say the difference between last year's vacation and this year's is that since his vacation, the automotive industry is back on its feet, health care reform has passed and the economy is now moving in a different direction than it was moving in before," Burton said.
While one woman gave Obama's motorcade a two-thumbs-down salute when he arrived Thursday, the reception has been welcoming on an island that gave him about three-quarters of its vote. Many Vineyarders in shops and restaurants, on the beach and at an agricultural fair were as defensive as administration aides about his visit here.
A big sign on a hotel dominating Main Street read:
Mansion House Inn Believes Anyone Who Has
Passed Health Care Reform
Signed Economic Stimulus Bills
Recast America's Global Image
Commands Two War Zones
Won the Nobel Peace Prize
Named 2 Supreme Court Judges
Overhauled Financial Regulations
DESERVES A GREAT VACATION!
Thank You Mr. President.
Michelle Obama's visit
As with Michelle Obama's visit to Spain, criticism of the Obamas' vacation focuses on the perceived extravagance when so many Americans are out of work. The Vacation White House is a renovated Victorian on Blue Heron Farm, a 28-acre expanse with a guesthouse, pool, basketball court, golf practice tee and beach access.
Purchased for more than $20 million by a wealthy Republican donor from Mississippi, the farm is said to rent for $35,000 to $50,000 a week an expense the Obamas are covering personally, the White House said.
Details about pricey vacation rentals were a non-issue for past presidents who owned easily secured getaways John F. Kennedy's Cape Cod compound; the Johnson Ranch; Reagan's Rancho del Cielo in California's Santa Ynez Mountains; President George H.W. Bush's Kennebunkport spread on Maine's shore; and the second Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
For Obama, the criticism is as much about where he is vacationing as it is about the fact that he is vacationing. The critics, and some Democrats, have said that the President should have gone to the Gulf Coast for 10 days not just for an overnight visit, as the family recently did to make good on his own advice to come to the coast, unsullied in the wake of the BP oil spill.
The Republican National Committee, playing off the perception that Obama is always taking time off, called him "the Clark Griswold president," for the hapless character played by Chevy Chase in the "Vacation" movies.
Counting the time here, Obama will have vacationed for 48 days as president, or nearly seven weeks, according to Mark Knoller, a long-time White House correspondent for CBS News who keeps records on the vacation days of presidents.
At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush was midway through a 27-day sojourn at his Crawford ranch that would bring his time there to 115 days or more than 16 weeks. © New York Times News Service
CHINA MULLS OVER LAW AMENDMENT TO HELP WATER, SOIL CONSERVATION
Chinese lawmakers have began reviewing a draft revision of the law on water and soil conservation, which would provide comprehensive protection for land and water resources in planning, controls and monitoring.
The current law, adopted in 1991, had not kept pace with fast changing economic and social development and environmental requirements, Zhou Ying, Vice Minister of Water Resources, in a report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, has said.
China's loss of soil and water, reportedly among the worst in the world, has "posed severe threats to the
ecology, food safety and flood control," she said, citing problems in soil and water conservation, including
inadequate coordination and monitoring, a lack of measures to prevent and control water and soil loss, and increased production and construction activities.
The draft, with a new chapter on planning, specifies that water administration departments at or above county level should draw up plans for land and water conservation and oversee their implementation.
It stipulates an investigation system for cases of land and water loss.
According to the draft, forests and grasslands should not be touched in areas that suffer from severe land and water loss, and crop planting is banned on slopes of a 25° gradient.
The draft stipulates that water departments are responsible for monitoring local land and water conservation and must regularly publish the type, size and distribution of land and water losses.
More than 37 per cent of the land in China, or 3.56 million square kilometres, suffered water loss and soil
erosion, according to a survey released by the Ministry of Water Resources in 2000. Xinhua
EXPATRIATE BANGLADESHIS GET VOTING RIGHTS
The Bangladeshi cabinet has decided to allow expatriate Bangladeshis to cast their ballots in all the elections in the country from overseas. The decision was made at a cabinet meeting overseen by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said the decision will pave the way for millions of Bangladeshis, living and working in over 100 countries across the world, to participate in elections. Non-resident Bangladeshis have for long been demanding the right to exercise their voting rights. Xinhua
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
INDIA'S ATHLETES BADLY LET DOWN
With less than 40 days to go for the 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games, the deluge of bad news around the event shows no signs of abating. Even with the Prime Minister's handpicked team stepping in to take up key roles in the ahead of the October 3-14 event, skeletons continue to tumble out of the closet. It all makes for very
depressing reading. If that is the case for those who have an external or even passing interest in the Games, the state of mind of those who give their everything to represent their country can well be imagined.
After all, events like the Olympics, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games are for, and about, the participants. They and their performances are what make such sporting extravaganzas memorable Usain Bolt's magic runs will be what the Beijing Olympic Games will be best remembered for, and not the undeniably stunning facilities that were specially constructed for the 2008 Summer Games. Unfortunately, what we have here is a bunch of greedy or inept administrators and their shenanigans that are hogging the limelight. For the athlete, who would have spent years toiling to get where she or he is, it is bound to be a disheartening experience. This is after all what they have worked for, a chance of putting their best foot forward in front of their countrymen.
Instead they find themselves even now in the hands of callous officials more interested in a fast buck or a juicy appointment.
To have young people still coming forward year after year to toil away in the shadows for that one magic day they will run, box, swim or shoot before their own people is an inspiring tale in itself. From obscure villages in Haryana where boys dreams of following in the footsteps of Vijender Singh or girls in Kerala who want to become another P.T. Usha, sports is all about following one's heart. A million sacrifices go into the making of sporting careers parents with empty bank balances, teachers who will have put up patiently with long absences from classrooms and worked overtime thereafter to help their children pass those vital examinations, and so many more... Repeat this picture worldwide there will after all be 71 nations represented at this year's Commonwealth Games and one begins to get an outsider's idea of just how many dreams, hopes and aspirations will travel to New Delhi in just over a month's time. A vast majority will return home empty-handed, the glory reserved for the very few who would have won the medals, but the saga of the unknown athlete would have been no less heroic than those who will find themselves on the podium with medals hanging around their necks.
In another sense, India's limited engagement with sport as a culture makes it almost inevitable that the spotlight fixes itself firmly on the winner. That is one of the key reasons the national cricket team gets star treatment, why so much time and money is invested around them, to cash in on the successes they generate. So when the occasional winner from another sport comes along an Abhinav Bindra on the shooting range or an Arjun Atwal on the golf course they too are swallowed up in the hype and hoopla of success. What a vast majority of those celebrating such feats will miss out is what went into creating that moment. And they will wait for the next one to come along, forgetting the unknown toiler in the shadows. But it is in the shadows that tales of real heroism are to be found. And celebrated
THE ASIAN AGE
THE QUEST FOR PEACE
The separatist agitation on the streets of Srinagar must be recognised for what it actually is a new phase of the proxy war with the Pakistan Army, which is trying out a revised strategy after its earlier efforts to detach the Kashmir Valley from India by direct war, insurgency and terrorism all failed. Within a democracy, if grievances are justifiable and legitimate, demonstrations of public anger demand acceptance, acknowledgement and redressal. But if, as in this case, a violent agitation seeks to appropriate the democratic process and exploit its inbuilt soft spots to further an anti-national and separatist agenda, it must not be allowed to succeed. India is following an established democratic process to resolve the issues in the Kashmir Valley, but cannot allow it to be hijacked by extra-national elements. Indian security forces are engaged in a most unpleasant, totally thankless, but absolutely vital national task that has to be carried out under all circumstances. There is no reason to be in any way diffident or defensive about the efforts to control the situation in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley.
The street confrontations in Srinagar also draw attention to the changing dynamics of "aid to civil authority" and the traditional role of the Army in the maintenance of law and order. Lethal force for crowd control is politically unacceptable, but the Army really has few other options. Post-Independence, public attitude has also undergone transformation and has become much more confrontational. Also, it has eroded the traditional deterrence ascribed to an Army presence. Unruly mobs can defy a mobilised military with impunity, as demonstrated glaringly in Kolkata in the communally surcharged street rioting and arson instigated during the visit of controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen to the city in November 2007.
Earlier, the only two organisations for this purpose were the civil police and the Army, the primary responsibility being that of the police, with the Army in the backup mode as a deterrent, to intervene in case police action fails to have the desired effect. But now with a substantial quantum of Central police and paramilitary forces available, the basic concept of military aid for maintenance of law and order needs to be re-examined.
Police and paramilitary forces should be more than adequate for this purpose and military assistance should be sought only if there is a possibility of disturbances escalating beyond their combined resources a situation highly improbable unless conditions of a civil war prevail, involving external sponsorship or intervention.
This would require constitutional and procedural reviews to establish "internal security" as a category separate from "maintenance of law and order", the latter remaining the constitutional responsibility of state governments as at present and requisition of military assistance restricted solely to situations of internal security, and that too possibly only in contingencies requiring Central intervention under Article 356 of the Constitution.
Meanwhile certain section of the media, both domestic and foreign, are trying to project the street confrontations in the Kashmir Valley with the aura of a regional "intifada" on the lines of the Palestinian freedom struggle. The late Yasser Arafat was a distinguished friend of India and enjoyed widespread popular support and sympathy in this country. The Palestinian intifada took place in two waves, the First Intifada in 1987-93 and the Second or Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000-2005. There were dramatic images of stone-pelting Palestinians confronting Israeli tanks, but it was by no means a non-violent movement and one of its lesser-known aspects is the campaign of suicide bombing that accompanied it. The Pakistan Army is attempting to co-opt Intifada into its own jihadi playbook, as a tactic of opportunity against India in the Valley. Keeping the history of Intifada in mind it would be prudent to anticipate and prepare for possible increasing tempo of suicide bombing and fidayeen-type attacks in the country both within and outside Jammu and Kashmir.
The quest for political solutions to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been stumbling from pothole to pothole on a deeply rutted road. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initiated one such process during his first tenure itself, with three all-party Round Table meetings in 2006 and 2007, and the constitution of five working groups to deal with its various aspects, most importantly that of relations between Jammu and Kashmir and the Central government. But beyond churning up the accumulated silt from earlier pronouncements going all the way back to the original Dixon Plan of 1950, the working groups and their reports have yielded nothing of substance.
For practitioners of politics within the Valley, there are compulsions for a stridently anti-India stance and the two main political parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) both have to earn their stripes with the lumpen masses of the Kashmir votebanks by sailing as close to the edge of "azaadi" as possible in their party manifestoes.
Of the two, the NC and its perception of "greater autonomy" seems to be relatively more restrained, while there is very little to choose between the radicalised "self-rule" line of the PDP and "azaadi" of the separatists.
Deification of the Hurriyat by successive Central governments has yielded no results, beyond bestowing almost supranational status on separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and giving them an exaggerated notion of their importance, something which is unlikely to change unless political parties based in Jammu and Ladakh can agree to come together with a common nationalistic agenda on a united anti-separatist political platform, though even in that event, these will not constitute the political majority in the state Assembly. But certainly a large enough minority can put up a meaningful joint Opposition to the political agendas of the separatists. Meanwhile, as things stand in the Kashmir Valley, the tail of the Hurriyat will definitely continue to wag the Government of India and a calendar of uninterrupted confrontation seems inevitable, at least in the foreseeable future.
Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and aformer Member of Parliament
THE ASIAN AGE
A LITTLE ROMANCE IN INDO-US TANGO
U.S. President Barack Obama visits India in November 2010. While previous US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, in 2000 and 2006 respectively, came only in their second terms, Mr Obama arrives in his first. Is it a sign of a maturing relationship or an exercise high on form but low on content?
Some scepticism can be traced to Mr Obama, both as candidate and President, sending conflicting signals.
While campaigning he linked Kashmir to alienation in the AfPak region. On election he named ambassador Richard Holbrooke as his special envoy for AfPak. India sensed a re-hyphenation in relations with Pakistan that the Bush administration had banished. While he hosted PM Manmohan Singh as the first foreign leader in Washington and the US finalised the nuclear reprocessing agreement with India, Mr Obama tabled a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution, 1887, on non-proliferation, reiterating the need for non-signatories to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapon states, equating India with Israel and Pakistan. The US also asked the Nuclear Suppliers Group to approve a ban on the transfer of ENR technologies to NPT non-signatories, clearly against the spirit of the India-US civil nuclear deal. The initial US silence on China announcing the sale of two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan was deafening. Finally, the secretive endgame in Afghanistan and approaches to the Taliban are at variance with a close India-US engagement
It is generally conceded in both countries that India is unlikely to be a US ally. This was perceived even back in 1956-57, when following PM Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to Washington in December 1956, President Eisenhower, sensing an excellent personal rapport, signed a NSC document (No. 5701) stressing that India was of strategic significance despite being non-aligned as it was a non-Communist citadel in Asia, even though it may at times oppose US policies. As the Sino-Indian relations deteriorated, culminating in the 1962 war, US poured economic and military aid into India. Pakistan, of course, cried betrayal until President Nixon needed them to deliver Sino-US engagement in 1972 and the polarities reversed. India rushed into Soviet arms and Soviets into Afghanistan causing two decades of destruction and radicalisation in South Asia.
Lord Palmerston once said that "Half the wrong conclusions at which mankind arrive are reached by the abuse of metaphors". A strategic dialogue with India at the foreign minister level was attributed to PM's successful visit to Washington as it gave India parity with China and Pakistan. Of importance are the contents of the dialogue and not its nomenclature. The US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani lurking in the shadows, is an entirely different exercise from the inanities exchanged between external affairs minister S.M. Krishna and secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The post-World War II security order, with the Atlantic alliance and US allies in the Pacific, was a club of countries either belonging to the same Judeo-Christian tradition, or non-democratic small powers opportunistically joining the Western alliance, or the vanquished of the war, i.e. Japan and Germany. India is a rising power, ensconced between China, a pretender hegemon, and its surrogate Pakistan. The global hegemon, the US, still has not decided whether to contain China, though some whiff of an emerging strategy is now visible in the South China Sea and on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The US is also conflicted over Pakistan, despite the WikiLeaks revelations, on whether to tether it or humour it despite Pakistan's dissimulating actions. It is this clarity that Mr Obama must bring and perhaps partly manifest in his public discourse.
What is it that Mr Obama can do to bring a little romance to his Indian tango? Following are some items that can take the relationship to the next level.
He could announce unequivocal support to India's candidature as permanent member of the UN Security Council. But he must be prepared, as India assumes a non-permanent UNSC seat in January 2011, to live with a country that will only be selectively aligned with its global concerns, caught as the Indian government is between testy allies and questioning opponents. Till now the strategic shift has been by stealth, except the Iran vote at International Atomic Energy Agency. Now the drama shall be public.
The US must dismantle the extant technology denial regimes against India. The US maintains that India needs to act on three draft agreements: the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA); the Communication Interoperability and Security Agreement (CISMOA); and the Basic Change and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA), besides the the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. The government's stubborn attempt to slip in protection for the suppliers in the bill only heightens public concern over US arm-twisting and thus counter-productive.
Finally, Mr Obama needs to espouse the Bush vision that an India integrated into the global nuclear regime is a gain for non-proliferation. India will not sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state; US cannot get the treaty amended to take India as a nuclear weapon state. Therefore abandon sterile argumentation and move to have India join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Group. These four do not have any written restriction on non-NPT signatory joining them. A Working Group of Indian and US experts (this writer being a member) is urging Washington and New Delhi to look at this proposal.
The Obama visit thus can be either a great opportunity for serious India-US engagement or merely a public display of bonhomie. The foreign minister of Pakistan did not want to come to India as a tourist; nor do we hope does Mr Obama.
The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
THE ASIAN AGE
MULTIDIMENSIONAL POVERTY IN INDIA
If government sources and the World Bank are to be believed, poverty in India has declined significantly in the past two decades. Even as newer assessments of income poverty emerge (as with the Report of the Tendulkar Committee on Poverty Estimates) that raise the proportion of people below the poverty line, it is still argued that this proportion may be higher than earlier thought, but has still come down a lot during the period of high economic growth.
Of course, there are many criticisms of this approach to measuring income poverty, including the argument that it has moved very far away from the original focus on minimum calorie intake that earlier served as the basis for the definition of the poverty line. But there may be other serious criticisms that question the definition of poverty based on a very limited notion of money incomes and expenditure.
To some people, this may seem a bit of a strange criticism. Isn't the link between poverty and lack of income or assets so obvious as to preclude any debate? Obviously, the poor are those who do not have income or assets, so what's the point of querying that? The answer is that a single-minded focus on income poverty may actually detract from policies that are designed to reduce poverty, and may even miss out one of the aspects that make poor people most vulnerable.
It is increasingly being realised that poverty is much more than a lack of adequate income: it is most fundamentally the deprivation of a person's ability to live as a free and dignified human being, with the full potential to achieve her or his goals in life.
The UN World Summit for Social Development of 2006 described poverty as follows: "Poverty has various manifestations, including lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill-health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by a lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life".
This approach is not dissociated from income and economic growth, especially since livelihood and income from employment play such important roles in determining whether a person or household is poor. But it does highlight three important elements of poverty that can be lost in a purely income-based approach: restrictions in opportunities, vulnerability to shocks and social exclusion.
This is why recently there have been efforts to develop broader concepts of poverty that recognise its multidimensional nature and allow for interventions that address different dimensions of poverty. The "human poverty" approach developed by Amartya Sen and Sudhir Anand talked about poverty as the absence of some basic capabilities to function, and thus brought in health and education indicators along with material standards of living.
More recently, United Nations Children's Fund introduced a multidimensional approach to child poverty, which identified seven dimensions in which children can be deprived: shelter, sanitation, safe drinking water, information, food, education and health. Threshold levels were defined for each dimension, and children who were seen to be deficient in two or more were poor while those deficient in four or more were extremely deprived.
This generated some startling information on the extent of child poverty, with much greater incidence of child poverty in most developing countries that emerges from a simple reliance on income poverty lines.
Building on such work, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have worked out a Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). This index is based on a range of deprivations at the household level, from education to health outcomes to assets and services. Education indicators include years of schooling and child enrolment; health indicators used are child mortality and nutrition; standard of living indicators include electricity and drinking water access, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and certain basic physical assets.
A person is defined as poor if s/he is deficient in at least 30 per cent of the weighted indicators. It is true that there are difficulties in getting adequate data to provide an accurate measure. To be a good measure of poverty or deprivation, the dataset must refer to the same set of households. It cannot be assumed that the different indicators overlap. However, consumer expenditure or income surveys on which income data are based do not provide data on the other indicators, which must be taken from several different sources.
Even with these limitations, the MPI provides quite different estimates of poverty. In India, the proportion of poor in MPI terms comes to 55 per cent, compared to around 30 per cent on the basis of the official poverty line and 42 per cent using the World Bank's $1.25 per day measure.
What may be even more significant from a policy point of view is the information the MPI provides on the most extensive deprivations. The most widespread deprivations are in cooking fuel (52 per cent), sanitation (49 per cent), nutrition (39 per cent) and quality of flooring (40 per cent). In rural India, nutrition, child mortality and education indicators are the greatest contributors to the overall deprivation.
For a government that is genuinely concerned with improving the lot of its citizens, this can constitute extremely important information to focus its policy interventions. But then maybe the citizenry also has to become more vocal in demanding such attention from the government.
HONESTY AND THE ART OF DE-JUNKING
RAJYOGI BRAHMAKUMAR NIKUNJ JI
The biggest junk we digest is criticism, rejection, negative self-esteem, fear, worry and stress. So we need to de-junk, start with our attitude, because we create our own reality. For this, we need to choose positively.
It is easy to bring negative emotions into our minds. Sometimes we manage to control them but if we don't do that properly, then after a while control becomes unhealthy suppression. Junk is created when we suppress. Rather, we have to learn to transform, and we can't transform unless we are non-violent. And non-violence is nothing but respect for the self, and for the other.
Our personal values help us overcome the junk people throw at us. When we are true to ourselves, no one can harm us. Others can unbalance us a little, but we can get back on our feet by staying honest, because an honest person has nothing to fear.
Dependency is junk. To think that a person, a particular role, or a position is going to make us feel better, is an illusion. The more dependent we are the less self-respect we have. We are more possessive and demanding. But we can't demand good things of others; we have to become worthy of them. Then they are given from the heart.
We have to free ourselves of hate, anger and resentment. They neither allow us to leave the past nor do they allow us to learn from it. We have to have mercy on ourselves and claim our rights to freedom and happiness. For this we need to be determined, introspective and silent.
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THE MAGNIFICENT INCONGRUITY OF ONAM IN DECLINING KERALA
The 10 days of Onam arrived with multifarious splendours: flower arrangements in courtyards, maidens resplendent in off-white, gold-bordered two-piece saris, grand multi-course vegetarian meals served on banana leaves, boat races, sensuous tiruvatira-kali dances, and new clothes, ona-kodi, for all. The skies cleared post-monsoon, the beginning of the Malayalam year with the month of Chingam/Leo and the land is green and fertile, freshly-washed.
On the tenth day, thiruvonam, August 23rd this year, everyone dressed up to greet the legendary King Mahabali, of whose splendid reign the gods themselves became jealous, so that he was consigned to the underworld, whence he visits his beloved subjects on just this one day.
That is the theory. I wish this were still true, but this native son is saddened by reality. Onam is less and less relevant with each passing year. For starters, it is a harvest festival where there is almost no rice cultivation, or harvests.
Secondly, the old gods are eclipsed. Mahabali may have been compelling in a simpler time, but the post-modern denizens of Kerala may find him naïve: who allows himself to be tricked by a dwarf?
Thirdly, the landscape itself is changing. The infinite vistas of paddy fields are gone; once-free-flowing, perennial rivers the envy of those not so blessed are now constrained ribbons in the sand in lean times. What looks like untouched wilderness in the High Ranges is a green desert of monoculture: plantation tea or rubber; it is no rainforest storehouse of genetic variation.
Fourth, despite all the talk of the Kerala model anthropologist and environmentalist Bill McKibben once wrote stirringly about how Kerala mirrors the US in various indices, at one-seventh the income the quality of life has deteriorated sharply. It now leads in suicides, alcoholism, and almost certainly in hypocrisy and crimes against women. The matrilineal joint family, a masterful social construct, has fragmented into nuclear families.
And almost all of this deterioration is man-made. While one must not, Canute-like, futilely order the waves to retreat, what has happened in Kerala in just a couple of generations is the very opposite of progress.
Let us remember this is the fabled Spice Coast, whose riches, especially black pepper, caused the Roman senator Pliny the Younger to complain imperial treasuries were being drained.
"Quinqueremes of Nineveh" used to sail to the great ports of Ophir and Muziris, modern-day Poovar and Kodungallur.
British surveyors arriving in Kerala in the 1800s were astonished at the clever use of agricultural implements and techniques such as sowing with a drill plough, crop rotation and propagation from cuttings. This tiny state, watered by 41 rivers, has some of the most fertile and well-watered land in the world.
Abandoning agriculture there is a tragedy.
The reason there is no rice cultivation in Kerala is that simple: this is one of the unintended consequences of the socialists hiking up agricultural wages. They did it to ensure laborers got a decent wage, but farming became inherently loss-making, and large acreages now lie fallow. Ironically the farm laborers became destitute as their jobs simply disappeared.
Kerala subsists on rice, vegetables andproduce trucked in from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
As for the old gods of the land, they have been superseded by just one: Mammon. Kerala people hold nothing more precious than their wallets.
Kerala is a cargo-cult, like those South Seas islands in the Pacific, which, after World War II became so dependent on US goods that they literally worshipped the ships bringing them.
Keralites worship electronic fund transfers, because that is what keeps the state afloat. There is no mysterious 'Kerala model' of development: it is a money-order economy surviving on remittances from its sons (slaving away in the deserts of West Asia) and its daughters (slaving away as nurses everywhere).
The flora and fauna are changing. The endemic thumba, celebrated symbol of purity and humility in Malayalam literature, has virtually disappeared. Flowering plants yield much less; temperatures have risen.
Traditional species of fish are disappearing from the catch both in lakes and the sea. This land has changed beyond recognition. A little ditty, originally written about my father's ancestral village, is appropriate:
Annam nasti, jalam pushti
(Kerala is a great land,
The origin of untruth.
No rice, lots of water,
Drunkenness is the big festival)
And oh, the tight-fitting two-piece sari, the set-mundu, a delight on shapely local lasses, has lost out to ill-fitting, polyester salwar-kameez. The set-mundu is only trotted out on festivals; it, like Onam, and the local culture that gave us kathakali and the Sanskrit koodiyattam, is fast becoming a museum piece.
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FIXING LIABILITY: BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, AGAIN
PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR.
The bone of contention in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, is not the liability of the operator, which is the case with similar legislations in the United States, Russia and South Korea; it's the supplier's liability. The reason is rooted not so much in safety concerns and the need to help victims promptly; it is about punishing foreign suppliers reckoned to be Americans.
The anti-American sentiment is indeed hearty and welcome but the issue at hand is something different altogether.
The rational argument should have been that as in the case of private industry operators, the onus of damages should rest on the operator. For example, British Petroleum (BP) was held responsible for the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The issue of suppliers did not arise. In the context of the nuclear liability bill, the argument hinges on the presumption of guilt, that a foreign -- especially an American -- supplier would sell defective equipment intentionally or otherwise. And therefore it should be punished. This is an irrational attitude.
At the moment, the government has made it clear that the nuclear power plant operator would be a public sector entity; private players are not in. The American legislation followed a similar trajectory on the issue. It started off as a state-controlled enterprise but was then thrown open to private players. Because of the risks involved at the time, the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 provided a certain cushioning for private players, asking the operators to raise insurance, and the state was to pay for damages above the capped amount. Insurance was not easy to raise, however.
The law has been revised many times but the principle has remained the same. The government and the operators share the financial burden through a system of an insurance pool. Evolving insurance instruments is of course complicated. This has been dealt with briefly but lucidly in the parliamentary standing committee report. No one had the time to look at it because everyone was training their guns on the suppliers, literally barking up the wrong tree.
The government has been less than transparent in explaining the problems. It would be downright stupid to believe that there are no risks involved in setting up civil nuclear reactors. What is necessary is to find solutions of indemnifying not the suppliers, as some hare-brained experts seem to believe, but of building financial wherewithal to face a crisis. The government will bear a greater responsibility if the operator happens to be a PSU, and the private players will have to chip in with financial obligations if they are involved.
It is perhaps useful to remember that the government and the private players are a part of society, and therefore everyone has to think of ways and means of dealing with possible risks. The mentality of creating an enemy will not help. Neither the government nor the insurers conjure money out of nowhere. It is the people who pay at the end of it. There is no other way. It is a collective risk.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
RETURN OF 'IKHWANI' CULTURE
STATE GOVT HAS REDUCED ITSELF TO MANIPULATED TOOL OF REPRESSION
None but the government itself has virtually pushed the ground situation in Kashmir so very close to what it
was in the 1990s when militancy was at its peak. One by one, draconian measures of the past are being resurrected to reinforce the atmosphere of fear and terror because the government has no answer to the public outcry against rampant injustice, inhuman atrocities and calculated attempt at degrading the life of ordinary human beings. The present situation has been spiralling because there is utter lack of comprehension in the establishment about its underlying motivation. That is clear from all sorts of misleading and meaningless constructions sought to be put upon the real causes of mass unrest across Kashmir Valley. For nearly three months, the state and its repressive apparatus have been stonewalling the obvious imperative of coming forth with a realistic response to the situation on the ground. It is foolishness to say that the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi do not know why the people are bent upon paying such heavy human cost to ventilate their grievances. Someone or the other must be knowing the reason; only that no one feels obliged to accept the reality and act honestly. Return to notorious crackdowns of the 1990s is a grim reminder of the forgettable past.
Such tactics negate the gains which the official machinery, dominated by the so-called security establishment, used to flaunt to claim credit for restoring 'normalcy' in the state. Not so long ago, high sounding tribute used to be paid to the role played by the people of the Valley in stabilising the process of normalisation. Now that the very same people are out on the streets to seek justice and resist atrocities and indignities being heaped upon them day in and day out the official discourse has shifted to the 'need for upholding the morale of the security forces'. In plain language, this turnabout in approach means that in the existing circumstances people and their aspirations are expendable as and when it comes to fulfilling reciprocal obligations towards the people.
Precisely, that is what has been happening. The degree of insensitivity with which unarmed protesters are being terrorised is shocking. The fig leaf of an 'inquiry commission' set up by the state government last month to probe 17 killings in police firing since June 11 has been blown off by subsequent developments. The toll has meanwhile touched 62 and the number of seriously injured persons lying in hospitals is staggering. Many of these injured persons might be disabled permanently. That a large number of them have bullet wounds in their upper-body shows that the intention to open fire was to kill them; not just restrain then from protesting or indulging in violence like stone pelting.
Under-current of simmering resentment across the Valley is being fuelled by the government's recourse to old tactics like crackdown and unleashing notorious Ikhwanis whose disappearance from the scene, though not fully, was one of the major factors facilitating normalisation of situation. Return of the hated Ikhwani culture is the ugliest feature of the present situation because it revives not-so-old frightening memories.
As of now, there has only been hollow talk of political measures to deal with the situation. Nothing of the kind has happened on the ground. Government's pre-occupation with the 'morale' of its terrorising tools has, on the other hand, been unfolding in one form or the other. CRPF and the state police force resort to firing every day shooting down unarmed people or maiming them, life has been held to ransom with imposition of blanket curfew as a means of collective punishment and houses and homes of ordinary citizens are being attacked by rampaging policemen in disregard to privacy of inmates. Loss to private property caused in this atrocious action has been mounting with each passing day.
Whether someone realises it or not, the credibility and legitimacy of the 'elected' coalition government has received a mortal blow by its abject failure to fulfil its obligations towards the people it is supposed to represent and rule over. Never has a state set-up been reduced to such a pathetic position. It has allowed itself to become-and be seen-as a manipulated tool of repression and oppression. Its irrelevance is now complete with return to the 1990s tactics defined, and recognised by the supremacy of the authoritarianism of 'security' establishment.
THE KASHMIR TIMES
RISK-PRONE JAMMU AIRPORT
CALLOUS ATTITUDE OF AAI, J&K GOVT ADDING TO OPERATIONAL DIFFICULTIES
Short runway and other general maintenance problems which have made the Jammu airport risk prone for operation of a large number of flights speaks of the callous and indifferent attitude of the Airports Authority of India (AAI). Apart from the lack of infra-structure at the Jammu airport, the day to day operational difficulties have been putting the passengers to innumerable inconveniences. The extension plan of the airport for handling the increased number of flights and passengers has been lying in the cold storage due to the lackadaisical attitude of both the AAI and the state government. The latter is responsible for notifying and clearing the acquisition of the land required for the project.
Besides this, the construction of the new airport terminal for which adequate funds allocation has also been made by the central government is hanging in fire for the past many years. The state government as well as the concerned authorities are sleeping over trivial matters on this issue risking the lives of the passengers. The carelessness has reached such a pass that the general repairs of the airport are also not carried out by the AAI on urgent basis.
The boundary wall of the airport collapsed a few weeks back and it has been lying as it is where it is with AAI officers sleeping over the matter. Stray cattle and dogs continue to enter the airport premises posing a risk to the flights and the passengers apart from being a threat to its security. The government has been dragging their feet on clearing the houses and construction on the area which has been acquired for the past many years. The government and its agencies have not been able to identify a piece of land on free hold basis for relocation of the infra-structure of the Indian Air Force.
The present airport was constructed way back in mid-eighties to cater to half a dozen flights only. At present the number of flights has increased manifold as a result of which some of the aircrafts are asked to stay in the air till the airport is empty for their landing. This has been leading to unnecessary delays and crowding of the airport on many occasions. The runway is short and could not be extended for allowing bigger aircrafts to land at Jammu airport. The authorities need to wake up from their deep slumber and initiate quick action for the convenience of passengers whose number has been on the increase during the past one decade in particular
THE KASHMIR TIMES
WHO RUNS KASHMIR?
MHA, GEELANI, OR THE ANGRY YOUTH?
For over two months now the valley of Kashmir is facing a peculiar situation as regards day to day life of the people and the running of various services and facilities. There is a tug of war going on between the Union Home Ministry operating through the state government led by Omar Abdullah on one hand and the leaders spearheading the movement for "Azadi" as well as the irreconcilable angry youth on the other. The protest calendars issued by the Hurriyat leadership from time to time are more or less adhered to by the people at large faithfully. No one is prepared to take the risk of violating these directives as these have the backing of the angry youth! In fact, whenever there is some deficiency in ensuring the adherence to these directives, the same is remedied by the panic reaction of the government which for all purposes exists in name only.
Most amusing aspect is the government honouring the weekly relaxation day fixed by the organisers of the movement regardless of the fact as to who they are? However, it is also clear that the leaders of the Hurriyat don't have the last word. This is evident from the frequent changes in the calendar. They seem to be endorsing or modifying directives thought out by someone else?
During this present period of turmoil which is now exceeds two months, entire business has remained closed. Schools and Colleges are closed. Most of the offices outside Secretariat are either closed or have very thin attendance. On curfew days these are totally closed. The number of official curfew days and hartals are almost equivalent to each other. In fact, the curfew days both declared and undeclared with the newest nomenclature of "restrictions" far exceed the hartal days. Public transport has virtually disappeared from the valley roads. There have been some unintentional plus points of the upheaval. One of the positive aspects of the present turmoil has been the lessening of pollution caused by the exhaust fumes of the vehicles. The Traffic Police too have taken an extended holiday and the mass uprising has solved all over traffic problems for the time being. However, they have lost a lucrative avenue of income! It is said that when human greed tries to destroy nature, it gives a violent back lash. This has been happening all over the world and is now called the "Climate Change!" In Kashmir, the people have been forced to give a break to the nature by involuntary stoppage of anti-nature activities. However, even in these difficult times, the forest smugglers are reported to be active. It is time, the people dealt with this menace also on their own so that at least our green gold is saved for the posterity.
Coming back to the present situation of governance there is a general feeling that this is the worst ever turmoil witnessed in Kashmir during the last two decades. No doubt the situation in early nineties in some respects was bloodier but then it was a two way conflict with guns and rockets. People were contented with the innumerable casualties suffered daily in armed encounters as well as in "collateral" damage. Nobody really complained and took everything in their stride as part of the movement for "Azadi". Even in those dark days there was a government with very active administrative and police apparatus. There were curfews longer than the present one. The longest curfew was in 1990 for 17 days when Mushir-ul-Haq, the Vice-Chancellor of Kashmir University was kidnapped and brutally murdered. During almost all the curfew days one used to get few hours of area wise relaxation. In fact, the local government would ensure that the essential supplies reached all places and people were motivated to collect rations etc for the needy. Now, apart from continuous curfews without any relaxation, the relief supplies sent by the village folk were confiscated along with the drivers of the vehicles. In fact, the banks had been reportedly issued a directive to keep all branches closed on Sundays and keep lesser cash in the Automatic Teller Machines!
The so called government seems to have taken upon itself the sole task of repressing the people by all possible means. Probably, they are frustrated because of having lost the will to govern. The most unnerving for them has been the intensity of the peaceful marches which they have tried their best to turn into violent ones by refusing to allow these to go ahead at all costs. Whenever a peaceful protest is stopped and dispersed by the use of batons, teargas, and finally live bullets, there is a reaction from the angry youth. They have nothing to retaliate with except stones. Of course, the forces do not expect these angry youth to shower them with flowers! The main change in these peaceful protests which began in 2008 is that the crowds are not scared and do not run away but retaliate with stones regardless of the consequences. People have lost the fear of death. Even the loss of more than 60 young and old lives and thousands of injured have not diminished the ferocity of the bubbling anger among the youth. The articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution giving the right to "Freedom of Expression" and the basic "Right to Life" have ceased to operate in Kashmir.
The present rulers seem to have handed over the running of the government at least in Kashmir valley to the security forces. It was amusing to watch the Chief Minister mingle freely with the people of Ladakh during the aftermath of the recent disaster. He visited many places where he freely went round and enquired about peoples' welfare. However, the only attempt to reach the aggrieved in the Medical Institute of Srinagar was not very rewarding! Another interesting aspect of the governance has been the repeated appeal from various authorities in the State and at the Centre to the angry youth for shunning the path of violence especially burning of government property. It did not have any effect. On the contrary the appeal made by Geelani Sahib which was telecast by all local and national channels including the official Doordarshan channel initially appeared to have an appreciable effect. He had advocated peaceful protests without any violence. In fact, he had instructed the youth to sit down if they were not allowed to march but not indulge in stone throwing and violence. One had expected that the government would reinforce his appeal by allowing peaceful marches. Heavens would not fall if Kashmiri youth march on the roads without any violence. Even if they shout slogans in favour of freedom, these marches would not take away Kashmir from India! However, the forces did not allow any peaceful marches and continued their atrocities even after all these appeals. As a result of this the cycle of violence restarted after a brief interval.
The government had been banking on the onset of the holy month of Ramadan known as the month of peace and forgiveness. It was probably presumed that the intensity of the protests would lessen during this month. On the contrary the reverse has happened. The Indian TV channels are as usual raising hype of renewed violence in Kashmir. No one is giving out the truth that the youth are not indulging in violence on their own. It results only when they are prevented from taking out peaceful marches. Like the earlier mantra of terrorism used to cover up the genuine struggle for basic rights, this upsurge too is being deliberately drowned in the cacophony of "violent" protests by angry youth without letting the people in India know the real truth. People outside India know it more than the Indians! None of the channels is honestly debating the fact of governance-who really runs Kashmir? They don't have the courage to admit that the Central Government is making Omar Abdullah take all the blame for their actions! For a change let them take up the topic and show where the buck stops in reality!
Comments welcome at: onlykashmir @gmail.com
THE KASHMIR TIMES
Yesterday the wife and I were talking and she asked me about somebody who, however much I tried to, never wanted to take my hand in friendship.
"Why is he like that?" she asked, "Normally you do manage to make friends easily!"
"I guess he's never really forgiven me," I said.
"For what?" she asked.
"For something I wrote about him twenty-one years ago!"
Yes, it was twenty one years ago, when I was much younger and knew that I could use the power of the pen that I'd written about this man who I'd considered a bit of a bully; I'd been harsh and could have been gentler, but had lashed out in anger, and now so many years later, the scar hadn't healed.
Which reminds me of a story:
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.
The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.
Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.
He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.
The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence and told him, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. But it won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound will still be there!"
A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.
So true isn't it?
We think that by going across and saying sorry, the next day, all is forgotten and forgiven, but it hardly works that way, does it?
Wounds heal, but the scars are there everyday for you to look at and be reminded about some incident or somebody.
I guess it's better not to leave scars, which means that even when you want to say something nasty or do something in anger, try to hold back; those scars are not worth fighting against the rest of your life..!
Indeed, it is unfortunate that the Sikh minority is the latest to feel itchy in the Valley. Anonymous quit notices are said to have been served on its members. There have been letters asking them to convert to Islam if they want to stay put in their centuries' old homes. Normally one would have dismissed such threats as being empty.
In reality, however, the past experience tells us that we have to be careful. Nothing has dented the so-called "Kashmiriyat" more than the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir region. More than anybody else they have been part and parcel of the Kashmiri ethos, their own contribution to its evolution being historic. It is a matter of deep regret for all of us that no concrete effort has been made during the last two decades for their return. Regrettably, the expressions of the best intentions in this regard have simply turned out to be lip service.
If there is a silver lining it is that there is a big difference in the situation in the early 1990s and now. A yardstick to measure this change is the supremacy gained by the security forces over armed militants. This is a significant transformation. The other is that one can notice a feeling in the majority in the Valley that something has gone amiss with the departure of the Pandits from its midst. In practical terms, however, this sentiment in itself is not enough. It needs to be translated into action to repair the fractured bonds which is what is not forthcoming in actual sense. To expect the ordinary people to play a role in this direction will not serve any useful purpose. The challenge is for leaders to take the matters into their hands.
It is for the National Conference (NC), the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the separatist outfits like both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to lead the Kashmiri Pandits' homecoming from the front if they truly mean business. They can do it singly or jointly. Undoubtedly many of their leaders are secular in their personal lives. It is their assertion at a wider level that is found wanting. History not only of the State but our sub-continent as a whole is a great teacher. It speaks volumes about how a few persons hell bent on creating mischief are able to hijack the agenda by sheer poison in their utterances and brutality of their actions. They are able to have the last word because the well-intentioned majority is lulled into silence. Neighbours are frozen in their homes apparently concerned about their own safety as the people next door, with whom they have shared ups and down of life for decades, are looted, kicked out or killed. Can we ever forget the pain and anguish of 1947 which has strained relations down the generations? It is precisely for such moments that someone has written that the centuries pay for the momentary mistakes.
Let this not happen in the case of the Sikhs in the Valley. Let them not be haunted by the trauma of Chattisinghpora of 2008. If they feel threatened in any way it will be a sad reflection on all of us driving home a bitter truth that we don't learn from previous follies.
The arrest of seven impersonators including two girls in the entrance examinations of the prestigious Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences and Hospital (ASCOMS) in this city is an eye-opener.
What is this if not confirmation that the corrupt practice has assumed far more serious dimensions of late? In the past also we have come across quite a few such incidents in various examinations. Apparently, the action taken so far has not served as a deterrent. What do we need to do more to eliminate this evil for good? Clearly it is a well-organised racket. What is alarming is that it has inter-state operations? In the present case, for instance, all seven con artists are from outside Jammu and Kashmir --- to be precise, from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Three of their intended beneficiaries are also outsiders. The kingpin again is from Bihar.
Of the four candidates from the State two are children of politicians, one of them currently a minister in the State and the other a former minister. Prima facie one can't believe that the parents are not involved in perpetuating this malpractice. Who else will part with a hefty sum for ensuring the success of children albeit through blatantly unfair means? The amount involved is said to be Rs one lakh for each student to be evenly divided between imitators and their ringmaster. Since a serious doubt does arise it will be in order if the minister resigns on his own or his party sends him on a holiday till his name is in the clear. The political class has to set an example if it wants the education system to be truly professional. Why should genuine hard-working students suffer just because they don't belong to well-off or influential families? Of course, there is an equally serious question. What will be the state of our health if we are to be treated by doctors who owe their jobs to falsehood? The issue of impersonation goes beyond just one or two individuals and for our sake we must address it with all seriousness. The invigilation should be further strengthened.
There are certain other measures which have also been discussed and implemented elsewhere: (a) publication of names and photographs of candidates and their impersonators; (b) the ban on appearing in subsequent examinations for two to five years; and (c) a jail term for all of them. We owe it to ourselves to be really strict.
The purity of education dispensation is the key to our physical development and mental emancipation. Let there be no doubt about this. Sadly, in our State it has time after time come under fire. We have come across leakage and theft of question-papers and tampering of not only mark-lists but also answer-sheets. Of course, we have caught fake candidates off and on, the latest occurrence being perhaps the most serious by far. A thinker has said that instinct to mimic produces the actor; the desire to provide pleasure by impersonations produces the playwright; the desire to provide this pleasure with adequate characterisation and dialogue memorable in itself produces dramatic literature. By no yardstick can any such instinct or desire be at all made applicable or justified in the field of education
BY COL J P SINGH, RETD
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was passed by Parliament on 11 September 1958 to provide special powers to Army during counter insurgency operations (CI ops). Of late it is being called as a draconian law and there is a demand for its repeal by the C M of J&K, senior bureaucrats as well as opposition PDP. It is therefore essential to know thread bare as to what this law is all about. It gives precisely the following powers the army :-
(i) arrest of a person without warrant who has committed an offence or is suspected of having done so.
(ii) search of premises of any person to make such arrests.
(iii) destroy illegal arms, ammunition and explosive dumps likely to be used against the govt / public.
(iv) fire or use any other force when necessary against any person, even if it may cause death; who is acting in contravention of law or is in illegal possession of deadly weapon or against an unlawful assembly if it does not disperse on such warning. The policy of the govt is that before a state calls army for CI ops, it must declare the area as disturbed and invoke AFSPA. In J&K the AFSPA was invoked in 1990.
However there is no blanket impunity from the law of the land because of a caveat that the army personnel can be prosecuted with the sanction of central govt if their actions warrant it. Moreover a person arrested by the army has to be handed over to civil police earliest possible.
When Omar became CM, Hurriyat & PDP raised voices for the withdrawal of army and repeal of AFSPA. To out do the political rivals, Omar went a step ahead and started criticising security forces for committing excesses. Lodging of FIRs and arrest of army and para military officials became agenda of the govt which appeared politically motivated. The issue is under consideration of the cabinet committee on security (CCS) despite disagreement of Defence Minister and Army Chief. On 12 August PM told all parties meet "we understand prevailing public sentiment on the issue of AFSPA. Eventually the J&K police has to take on the burden of normal law and order duties. They do not require special powers to discharge their function. We will help to accelerate the process of strengthening and expanding J&K Police so that they can function independently and effectively within the shortest possible time" Earlier it happens the better it is.
The insurgents today are heavily armed with most sophisticated weapons, rockets and missiles. They are well trained, in certain cases better than our forces. Their motivation is very high. They attack speedily and swiftly, commit heinous crimes and disappear to resurface else where to commit similar crimes. They intimidate locals, commit extortions, use their premises to hide and operate, exploit them religiously, use them as human shields, distribute drugs and counterfeit currency and commit most heinous crimes against women. To counter this, security forces too have to act cunningly, stealthily and swiftly without fear or frenzy. The fact remains, as personally experienced in CI ops in NE and Sri Lanka that human rights do get trampled unintended in swift CI ops. On the contrary police forces which deal with routine law and order problems have been granted legal safe guards. Since the Army was organized to fight the external enemies, it was not given such safe guards. Hence a law was enacted.
When militancy engulfed valley in 1990s; army was called for CI ops and the act was invoked. Slowly and steadily entire state became victim of militancy and additional army and Rashtriya Rifles were deployed. Entire state was declared disturbed and AFSPA invoked progressively as the militancy kept spreading. The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that police power and civil administration had become defunct in places away from District HQs. That is why army was requisitioned by the State govt. Army did not come to civil areas of its own and does not wish to be employed in policing the civil areas in the valley. Army in any case does not operate independent of civil authorities wherever it may be. A magistrate and police personnel accompany the army in all operations.
Present stand off is to the extent that any use of force even in self defence is not only frowned at but is publicly criticised by saying that the security forces have gone out of control. Govt and media have started seeing security forces as villains of peace and responsible for all the ills in the valley. There are certain hot beds of terrorism in the valley where even when a terrorist is killed, the locals rise in protest, fight to retaliate and shout anti India slogans, forcing authorities to impose curfews. They violate curfews, pelt stones, put govt property on fire inviting retaliation and the vicious circle continues. The critics of AFSPA must be feeling elated over PM's assurances that the law will be revisited.
Even those opposed to repeal must know that even a small unintentional mistake causing death of an innocent person may cause unprecedented harm to the process of restoration of normalcy and credibility of the army.
Many innocent lives have been lost in the past and are regrettable. Strict disciplinary actions have been taken and severe punishments given by the army; some culprits even handed over to civil authorities for trial.
Whatever be the security compulsions draconian laws cannot be justified in a democracy / decent society but luckily AFSPA is not a draconian law like TADA. It is a normal act giving only a few special powers to the army to enable it to operate speedily to restore a situation. Any step in the national interest, i e, repealing or retaining AFSPA must be clarified soon to avoid confusion in the minds of public and security forces. General feeling of the public is that Status Quo must be maintained so long as threat of terrorism from across the borders remains and armed militants prevail among agitators. Sri Lanka did not repeal, dilute or modify their Acts or powers to achieve their aim to keep the country together. Great American President Abraham Lincoln is known for what he did for the unification of America.
The worst sufferer in this agitation is ordinary Kashmiri. He is virtually living under the shadow of the gun. He is unnecessarily involved in love hate relationship.
He can't fight the militants hence submits. He sees govt appeasing them and his leaders heavily protected round the clock and alienated. No industrialist / multinational company / hotelier or tour operator will like to invest where riots erupt at the drop of a hat. Tourists also don't visit such places. Poverty prevails forcing youths to act as mercenaries. Even if the civil unrest dies down and infiltration decreases, (unlikely till at least the visit of US President in Nov) the security forces will have to remain vigilant to protect civilians and public property as well as to take on the terrorists, infiltrators and anti national elements whenever they resurface. Hence repealing AFSPA will only please enemies across the borders and may lead to situations as it was in1990s.
Therefore any decision on repealing the law should be based on ground realities and not on political / emotional considerations. It is a stark reality that if we do not learn from history, we suffer the consequences.
BY PROF. JAVED MUGHAL
Socrates groomed Plato; Plato was guru of the great Aristotle and Aristotle taught Alexander-the Great. What an amazing and great sequence of teacher-taught relationship. Great were the gurus and equally great were the disciples as well. Once upon a time a teacher used to be a role model for his students to follow. Teacher used to be the builder of nation and whenever the nation was in need of some reliable shoulders to support, the teacher came forward to provide the same.
Generally speaking all those who are laden with the responsibility of safe-guarding the interest of a country-may it be Doctors, Engineers, Scientists, Economists, Statesmen or you can switch off from the big things like kings and emperors to a small employee of the system-all have been directly or indirectly shaped and moulded by a teacher. If we happen to have a look in the West, we shall positively be surprised to find a teacher the most respected citizen and highly paid employee in the system.
It is said about the status of a teacher in the western block that if a teacher, as an accused, enters the court of law for being prosecuted, the honorable judge has to rise a little from the chair as a token of respect. It is primarily done in view of the moral and ethical standard of the teacher and the sublimity of his character and also for the fact that a teacher is supposed to be the most intelligent and judicious one in the social set up.
Actually the exemplary honour is accorded not to the teacher as an employee or a person but to the sanctity and austerity of the job he accomplishes and the character he displays in the society. We are unfortunate enough not to find more than a scanty number of teachers of this stuff and caliber in our country now-a-days.
Yes, we have some nice and scholarly teachers even now in this Educational-Commercialization-Era but their number is almost ignorable and hence they can not prevail upon their counterparts. Teacher has lost his conscience and become a money minter being least bothered about the status he holds in his surrounding.
A biggest host of even college Professors are visible standing outside the coaching institutes and tuition centers waiting for their VVIP students who often come late being sure that their teachers must be waiting, of-course, not for them but for some currency notes at the end of the month. So much so that many college teachers show little dedication in teaching their students in the colleges and instigate them to have private tuitions at stipulated and easily affordable rates. They operate as the agents of the Coaching Colleges in their parental institutions.
So far as the school teachers are concerned, they have transcended all barriers of duty-dereliction for satisfying their insatiable seduction of money and most of them especially posted in far-flung areas don't go to school for months together and sublet their services to others for a certain amount of money to teach in their place.
This recently-created culture of sub-let services, particularly during this RET era, has shaken the very foundation of the basic educational system casting a paralyzing impact on the future of our innocent generation but no solid check is visible at all. The authorities are in deep slumber. It is perceived, although with a heavy heart, that the modern teacher has turned into a 'Mendicant Friar' with exception to the few whom I ever respected.
This practice of the teachers has led the students into the world of assumption that the teachers depend on them for their survival and have lost a sense of respect for them. Somewhere the flaw lies in the selection process adopted by the PSC and SSRB now-a-days who do not scan the capabilities of the candidates for being put in schools and colleges. The recommendations and influences work a lot in impacting the process of recruitment.
There goes a saying in one of Shakespeare's drama, "It is the curse of service where the up-gradation goes by the letters of recommendation" and same is happening in Jammu and Kashmir Public Services Commission these days.
The greatest tragedy to the department of education at present is that an increasing lot of incompetent minds are being thrust upon it and in current system this department particularly the school education remains the last resort to most of the people for survival as away of compromise when there is no ray of hope for them at all.
I have seen countless people preferring JKCSE to the post of even an Assistant Professor for the petty considerations despite knowing that a College teacher stands one with an IAS officer at the moment. Such stuff that is not alive with the teaching aptitude and capabilities should be kept away from this pious profession which is a mission as a matter of fact. Here one needs to have an ingrained adherence to the inner conscience and moral values and refinement of character.
Those who entrench into the field of teaching and learning affairs on the strength of back-door influences, certain other concessions or as a matter of compromise with the circumstances, become an unbearable disgrace to this segment of nation. Some where in the deep down, they are dominated by the lust for money which they satiate by knocking at the doors of their students in private hours or the tuition centers relegating all their dignity into the soak-pit of degradation and bringing an insult to this profession of saints and prophets.
One gets astonished to see that the reverse is happening in the modern age of ethical degradation i.e. in olden times the pupils used to touch upon the feet of their Gurus for Shiksha whereas now the Gurus can clearly be seen touching upon the feet of their pupils for Bhiksha. How funny and painful at the same time. The habit of tuting the taughts at their door steps for some money has snowballed into the emergence of total erosion of teacher's respect in the society.
Teaching has ceased to be a royal and pious profession and come up as a money-minting source instead. This is how money accumulates and honour and talent decay. Teachers don't teach in schools; exploit their poor students from the far-off villages; receive forced gifts sometimes in the shape of local produce; get into examination fixing; encourage copy culture; adopt spoon feeding knacks in the classes to avoid being questioned; even work as touts in Board and Universities; have no command over their subject and inertest in their profession-without regularity and punctuality and the worst of all is they don't have even a slight compunction of conscience.
This is all that has laid a degrading effect on the respect of a teacher in the social set up since more than the last three decades. If a fair and fool examination of their caliber is conducted and the efficiency of today's teacher is tested on the touch-stone conversational skill as well as depth in the subject he teaches, it is surprised to find that more than 80 percent lecturers and professors are quite unable to converse effectively and talk to their students in a convincing way.
A professor can not justify his position nor can a lecturer do nor even a teacher at the primary level. They happen as a big tragedy to the generation of an age of knowledge explosion. In the yore wherever a teacher stood, there used to be a locus of learning and whatever he said that used to be the education. But today the educators are there in the system but all is not well with education.
It needs an immediate concern of the people sitting at the helm of affairs lest we should reach the point of no return. The system should get vigilant about it letting not these bad habits of the teaching community transform into their character and seep into their blood because the moment it happens, it will be impossible to go for their blood transfusion to purify them. In keeping with the Associationist Psychology by S.T Coleridge "the experiences convert into ideas; ideas into habits; habits into culture and culture shapes the character." Hence much is lost but hope is there as yet. The Responsible Powers should stem the tide of all that is happening to the educational system and refrain from inflicting the responsibility of shaping and grooming our posterity, on the sick shoulders.
The present gloomy picture of a great dissonance in between what a teacher is supposed to do and what he is doing has brought him to the low level of existence, staining his reputation in the society
Outsourcing of Government sponsored schemes of different natures especially of social upliftment by way of capacity building, income generation and self employment etc. to organisations that are called NGOs which enjoy the legal status that of the Government for incurring expenditure on the welfare schemes. There is flexibility during implementation with regard to the spending and financial discipline is more of result oriented approach than to follow the Government framed rules to check misuse of funds.
In common parlance, the NGOs are considered to be a body of individuals who are philanthropists dedicated to the cause of the welfare of the society and making efforts tirelessly as compared to the Government machinery who are working during office hours and have the holidays etc. Both the Government and people expect them to do wonders which the Government machinery cannot do due to procedural hassles. To great extent it is true that there is flexibility in functioning and there is no tough control over the implementation procedure. But the testing time for the NGO is the delivery of results. If these are not achieved, the NGO is at fault and it indicates that either the NGO is not experienced or the functionaries are not well equipped with the expertise. The other part relates to the common culture of greed that has played its part. Here comes the role of the funding agency to intervene and this has happened in some cases where the NGOs were blacklisted.
Experience tells that the liberty given for spending is welcome, but why such organisation default or misappropriate funds.
There is tremendous difference between the allocations made for implementation of the same scheme between the Government machinery and the NGO. It should not be forgotten that the individuals working in the NGO are part of the same society and need the same treatment as the Government machinery of the same status. The project implementing authority whether project coordination or principal Coordinator needs the same facilities as the Government functionary, if the project or the scheme is to be properly implemented and monitored. Thus the provision is to be made accordingly both for physical and financial allocations. I have seen the difference of provisions varying to huge degree in case of financial allocations/provisions for NGOs as compared to the similar task assigned to the Government machinery. Different funding agencies fix training period for the same objective ranging from 2 months to 6 months. This is case of apparent subjectivity as a result of little field knowledge and market demand.
The Government machinery has many limitations when a scheme is implemented to bring it to the logical conclusion. They cannot go beyond a particular point to take initiatives as the rules permit only to a particular level say for example they impart trainings, but fail to provide assured marketing support. The trained community members or the stakeholders are left to their destiny. Here the NGO has the flexibility to make efforts for the marketing outlets with initiatives that are not covered under Government rules. This is the most important aspect the NGO does. We trained computer operators and provided them with editing work arranged through internet surfing. Likewise we took certain initiatives purely from our own efforts which the Government machinery cannot do. Involvement of NGOs for spending or implementation of social welfare schemes was conceived after a great thought and visualising the limitations of the functioning of the Government machinery.
There is no mechanism with the Government for effective monitoring, but ad hoc unscientific field visits based on subjective analysis are conducted. The area of operation is vast and resources are limited. Thus the welfare schemes by the government are generally not yielding the desired results. Here also comes the role for involvement of representatives of the reputed NGOs with successful track record of their achievements. The apex body of the NGOs can assist the funding agency in evolving a strategy for viewing the outcome of the inputs.
The suggestion to the funding agencies whether it is State Government, Central Government Ministries or other Organisations like NABARD etc is that they need to involve representatives of the Non Government Organisations while framing schemes both for fixing physical targets and financial allocations.
NGOs are partners in Government spending and to keep them aloof at the formulation stage of schemes creates a gap between the funding agency and field NGOs who are in close contact with the stake holders and share with them the innermost concerns which the Government functionaries cannot do that. The involvement of NGOs view point will lead to the success of the schemes to the desired extent.
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
ROAD TO JUSTICE
Omar Abdullah should take the route of justice to reach out to the people; roads fatten contractors not people
The black-topping of Srinagar roads is in full swing but the government should not count on this while reaching out to the people. A genuine package of justice should be conceived while re-establishing the lost rapport with masses.
Certain quarters have hailed the government for initiating the road repairs but the irony is that road construction strictly revolves round the officer-contractor-minister circuit. How will a road help calm the anger, which is rooted in injustice. The injustice, as is widely believed, can only be addressed through justice. Or, one can at least lessen the injustice to the levels of tolerance. That is the least Omar Abdullah-led government can do. Well paved roads around the city will please Police, Army, bureaucrats and the elites of our society because most of the vehicles belong to this section. They will be spared of bumps when they choose to go round the city.
But those angry with the government don't afford a bicycle, let alone a car. They cannot be won over in lieu of a good road. They want justice and the return of their political consent. Development is a good cause.
This should not be abused by linking it to peace. In order to rediscover his political strength, Omar should waste no time to devise a justice plan. The situation is different than it was in 2009, when he assumed office of chief minister. Now, people on streets chant slogans for freedom from India. Unarmed protesters clash with cops and receive bullets on head, chest and abdomen. They die, sustain injuries and get jailed. People religiously follow protest calendars issued by Geelani-led Hurriyat and the parallel faction seems supporting it.
Logically, the state government is face to face with a virtual vote of no confidence. If 62 percent people voted it to power, at least 100 percent in Valley have rebutted it by giving out 62 lives. Going by the technical mandate of the government, people should be provided what they want. If it is impossible people should at least feel that justice within status quo is a reality not a ruse. Despite the mounting anger against the state police, one can sense a brewing urge for justice and an untold expectation of the same from the Omar Abdullah-led coalition government. It is, therefore, the constitutional responsibility of the government to deliver justice.
People are now too sharp to be calmed by roads and buildings, which only fatten the kitties of politicians and contractors, and paltry allowances and petty jobs. If the government really wants to deliver justice let there be a truth commission headed by some respectable jurist. This commission should comprise an investigative team that would include civilian representatives from amongst the victim families and also Police.
Such an inquiry should be time-bound. In fact, the involvement of families in the justice system would allow at least a semblance of credibility to the exercise. This idea is just a food for thought. The government has enough resources to develop it further. One thing is certain, no commission that sans public participation would fetch results. It would further fuel the anger. The government must realise the cost of hollow propaganda. Roads are fine, but the real road to peace goes via justice
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
FLOOD, TALIBAN & ISI SURVEY!
INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVASTATION CAUSED BY FLOOD COULD BE CAPITALIZED BY THE INSURGENTS AND MIGHT NEGATE THE GAINS PAKISTANI SECURITY FORCES HAVE MADE OF LATE
DR JAVID IQBAL
Former Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, once commented on natural disasters hitting the subcontinent more often than the world cares to take notice of.
Whether the world takes note or not, in the neighbouring country, as per news reports fears have been expressed by Pakistani officials that the unprecedented devastation caused by the worst floods in the country's history could open the doors for a Taliban resurgence. Infrastructural devastation could be capitalized by the insurgents and might negate the gains Pakistani security forces have made of late. In the past too the militants have capitalized on the government's failure to provide basic services. The fear is particularly strong in South Wazirstan and the Swat Valley-strongholds of Taliban in the past.
Washington Post reports quote Rahim Dad Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Planning Minister as saying "Officials believe that the situation can only be thwarted if infrastructure is quickly rebuilt-undertakings that will cost billions of dollars and will probably take years. It will take us months just to get the electricity back in Swat. For now, people are living in darkness." Even with international community coming to aid; the task appears to be gigantic. It is indeed a race against time and could be done only by proper planning and swift implementation. Naturally the infrastructural build-up in the areas deviated by floods would take precedence to the developmental works in hand, as Rahim Dad Khan admitted by saying that "all plans for development in the northwest have been cancelled, and the money diverted to help flood affected people," ruing "We thought we would build roads, hospitals and schools. But now, everything we were planning is ruined."
Pakistan's army concurs with the civilian administration fears of Taliban resurgence, the confirmation coming from Brigadier General Tipu Karim, who is overseeing relief efforts for Swat and other north-western areas. He has however sounded a note of optimism that they would not allow this to happen, making out reconstruction the top priority. Over 1,600 people have been killed and 20 million affected, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, washing away crops and livestock-mostly affecting NWFP. As per UN estimates Pakistan will need billions of dollars to recover from the worst floods in the last 80 years. Apart from natural response of international community to flood devastation, regrouping of insurgents will remain the major international concern.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's apex intelligence agency, as per America's 'Wall Street Journal' has come up with an interesting assessment of security concerns in future. The assessment places 'home-grown' militants as the greatest threat to national security. This is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn't been viewed as the top threat. The assessment allocates a 'two-thirds' likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere.
Geo-strategically Pakistan has to balance its eastern concern-vigil on the border with India, where it places about 350,000 of its armed forces with the western concern-the restive NWFP and Pak/Afghan border, burdened with bulk of militancy, where Pakistan has around 150,000 of its forces actively engaged. This works approximately to two third to one third proportion of placement of forces at present. The latest assessment reverses the perception and workout of security concerns on ground. It might release the bulk of forces and ease their shift from eastern to western front-international theatre of concern. In addition to the ones mentioned, Pakistan has about 100,000 men in reserve, which could be mobilized to either of theatres of concern, though lately there has been a tendency towards to western front, obviously because of American prodding, partly out of Pakistan's own concerns.
American jubilation is understandable, as put forth by Bruce Hoffman-counter-terrorism specialist and professor at Georgetown University. Hoffman says 'it is earth shattering. That's a remarkable change,' adding that 'it's yet another racketing up of the Pakistanis' recognition of not only their own internal problems but cooperation in the war on terrorism.' However Americans would be interested in reading the finer print of ISI's assessment report, in order to know which of the organizations it would prefer to focus on. Their concern remains the Haqqani network and they would like their concern looped in, Hoffman pointed to that too, while reacting to the report. Given the state of Pakistani economy, the country cannot afford to stay on the wrong side of Americans, as the US gives around $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan annually.
In spite of ISI assessment the perception generally in Pakistan of India being a major threat has not changed and it might be a hard sell for the government to change it, given the fact that some of these militant organizations run a large network of schools, of social activist to address public concerns. This might be a part of their activity, but that is what stays in public perception, added to that is the curriculum pursued in their schools, which gives them a large band of hardcore supporters-committed and dedicated to the cause, as they see it.
ISI's fresh assessment might upset even their own take of the security scenario in the past, which as alleged made use of these militant organizations to pursue Pakistan's strategic interests in Afghanistan and Indian administered Kashmir. If the Indian allegations on this count, Afghanistan's too occasionally, as well as stray notes from concern in US, some European and Middle Eastern countries are held as wholly or partially too; ISI might be in for a house cleaning exercise on a considerable scale. This might be easier said than done; hence the organization could face difficulty in actualising and putting into operation its latest security assessment.
The same is true of armed forces, fed so far on a different line of thinking vis-a-vis the security needs of the country. Major Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman of the Pakistani military, said he wasn't aware of the assessment and added that India remained a threat. He, however, conceded that it was the ISI's role to draw up security assessments in the country. For the armed forces as well as the nodal intelligence agency fed log on 'A' being the main enemy getting the word that it is not 'A' now but 'B' would be difficulty to digest. Moreover, so far politicians and the media have regularly held India as working to undermine Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan, while some have concerns of India taking more than its share of water, in violation of Indus water treaty. The official projection of India funding separatist insurgency in Balochistan province too has many takers in Pakistan. India has, however, denied all charges, the ISI report added.
ISI report withstanding, Pakistan's military bureaucratic complex continues to ask questions on Indian take of 26/11 Mumbai attack case. Fresh crop of 47 questions on Headley dwell on additional information on alleged LeT operative's activities in India, including the ones on Rahul Bhat S/o Mahesh Bhat, asking questions on Headley's interaction with the film maker. There are questions on his multiple visits in the note verbale of Pakistan's Home Ministry seeking all the "credible evidence". The evidence refers to the information New Delhi claims to have collected against the masterminds and operatives of the 2008 and is based on the interrogation of Headley by a team of the National Investigation Agency in the United States. Headley is reported to have made nine visits to India between 2006 and 2009 and is believed to have revealed his contacts. The information has been shared with Pakistan, as per Indian sources. Pakistan in the new questionnaire is seeking additional information on that. India considers the questionnaire an evasive tactic, while Pakistan continues to harp on insufficient evidence failing to stand the judicial scrutiny.
The zero sum game continues, as India continues to link a comprehensive dialogue on conflict resolution in Kashmir or other matters of mutual concern to booking, prosecuting and getting a judicial verdict on those involved in 26/11 Mumbai militant attack, while Pakistan pleads its inability to push the case through the maze of its judiciary. There is no middle ground in sight, as Kashmir continues to bleed!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi
[Reunion is subordinate to survival]
Feedback on:Iqbal_drji6217@yahoo.co.in or firstname.lastname@example.org
THE DAILY RISING KASHMIR
HOW TO COPE WITH FEMALE ADDICTS
GUIDANCE, COUNSELLING AND MOTIVATION HOLD KEY TO THE REHABILITATION
It is important to guide the female drug addict in the right direction and at the same time she must be motivated to enjoy her life afresh.
In other words we can say that guidance, counselling and motivation are inter-dependent and hold a pivotal position as far as rehabilitation of drug addicts more so female drug addicts is concerned.
Dr Ghulam Nabi Wani, an old hand in drug de-addiction and founder of HNSS de-addiction centre, Khanyar, impresses upon the need to treat the female drug addict symptomatically. This he says would develop self-confidence among a female drug addict.
"Treat her symptomatically so that she develops self-confidence and her withdrawals are reduced to minimum possible level. This would mean health problems on account of generalized severe pain, cough like symptoms and convulsions are reduced drastically," says Dr. Wani. He adds that the aim and objective of every conscious health worker working in the field of drug de-addiction is to ensure that the withdrawal systems are to the minimum possible level.
The HNSS founder says that a drug addict (male or female) loses interest in life and he or she is concerned as how to get the dose. He adds that female drug addict loses charm in her life and most of the times she is considered to be a burden by her family.
"The drug addiction of a female is bound to give bad name to a particular family and as such cases of female drug addiction do not come to the forefront as they should. Confidentiality is very important while treating a drug addict and need for same is more in case of female drug addicts. As such families should come forward and divulge details about drug addiction of the female members if any," said Dr Wani.
The HNSS founder says that this would solve problems for the female drug addicts and a plan of their rehabilitation can be drawn only when they and their parents cooperate with authorities of de-addiction centres.
"One has to accept the reality and one who shies away from same is at loss. Nothing is lost and one has to try up to the last moment. The family should report immediately to a drug de-addiction centre as and when they notice that one of their female members has fallen prey to drug addiction. If they hide this reality then there are chances that the concerned female member would suffer on account of multiple fronts with her health being the main casualty," said Dr Wani.
The HNSS founder says that there is loss of appetite in respect of female drug addicts and the general health of the female drug addict gets affected due to drug addiction. He adds that the female drug addict would not devote attention to her own personality and as such people would always like to maintain distance from her.
"There are many things involved with the overall personality of a female and all these turn topsy-turvy as soon as a female turns into a drug addict. She loses interest in all activities and would take one fourth of her normal diet. Generally, she becomes weak and is not able to concentrate on her area of specialization," said Dr Wani.
The HNSS founder is upset over lack of follow-ups and says drug addicts need to be regular in this respect. He says that same is necessary before a drug addicts once again becomes normal and lives a normal person's life.
"We have observed that drug addicts more so the female drug addicts do not turn up for follow-up and regular check-ups. These are very important since they deal with important components like health, hygiene, food and education of a female drug addict. We urge female drug addicts to be regular with follow-ups, but more often than not they would not listen to us," he says.
It would be in place to mention here that HNSS had been treating, counselling, motivating and rehabilitating drug addicts for many years. Many drug addicts were motivated by Dr Wani, his wife Dr. Hameeda and his team to give up drug addiction and live a normal life.
However, the de-addiction centre has stopped functioning over the past two years now as the funds were not released in their favour by the concerned ministry of Government of India.
"I believe we were discharging a social duty at this centre and there was no justification in stopping the funds. We don't have the resources to run the centre of their own and as such we decided to call it a day. But even today if some drug addict wants help from us, we readily provide that and perform our job," says Dr Wani.
(This is the 10th and last article published in connection with the fellowship offered to the writer by National Foundation for India (NFI), New Delhi on the topic, 'Drug addiction among females in Kashmir valley'.)
MISSING IN ACTION
LEADERS MUST ALSO BE SEEN TO BE LEADING
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan will have to blame himself more than anyone else if during the next elections his party suffers a crushing defeat. His popularity has gone down considerably and so has that of the ruling PPP. Why should people vote for a party when its top leader leaves the shores of the country not bothering about the fate of the millions of Pakistanis uprooted by unprecedented floods? People expressed their displeasure at the President of Pakistan being in London when more than 1000 men, women and children lost their lives due to flood fury. There were protests outside the venues wherever he addressed any meeting in the UK, but Mr Zardari remained unmoved. At one meeting he was even greeted with a shoe thrown at him. Only a thick-skinned politician can behave in the manner Pakistan's head of state has done. While in London he must have persuaded world leaders to send enough aid for his country's flood victims, but an ideal leader must be seen in the midst of his disaster-hit people.
Mr Zardari is, however, not alone in showing the least concern for his country's vast population in distress. The most unfortunate behaviour was that of Dr Farooq Abdullah when he was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. He was often seen missing from Kashmir when the state was faced with crisis after crisis. In December 2001 Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was forced to send an SOS to Dr Abdullah holidaying in London when the valley was virtually burning. There was uncertainty and fear stalking Jammu and Kashmir and a large number of people had left their homes in the border areas. The Chief Minister, however, had no time to even express sympathy for them.
People look for their leader to come to their rescue more than anyone else in times of crisis. The victims of flash floods in Leh must have felt reassured of all kinds of help coming to them when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh landed there to announce a relief package of Rs 125 crore. He could have done it sitting in his office in Delhi, too, but that would amount to setting a bad precedent. The reaction of the Ladakhis could have been entirely different.
FACE OF HOPE
WHEN TRAGEDY BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN US
LIFE will never be the same again for 11-year-old Skalzang Angmo of Choglamsar village in Leh. Her sister, Denchen Paldon, a Class VIII topper at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Chandigarh, had got washed away in the cloudburst, and their mother despaired about facing a bleak future alone, as reported in the columns of this paper. Now, Skalzang will be able to study in a Chandigarh school due to the initiative by the Central government and the Union Human Resource Development Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal. Hope for the future will slowly eclipse the darkness of the immediate tragedy that befell the family.
The human face of any calamity brings it home to us. It also tells us that every individual can make a difference, like the hundreds who have contributed generously to The Tribune Ladakh Relief Fund. Similar measures by other organisations have also been taken to collected funds. When it comes to providing relief on the ground, unfortunately, there is often duplicity of efforts. There is an urgent need for focused, coordinated aid that will enable the victims to withstand the rigours of winter. The requirement is to provide proper and adequate housing along with food, and rebuild the infrastructure that has been damaged due to the cloudburst. In any case, life in Ladakh is tough in winter; for those who are not properly equipped, it will become more so.
There are many young children in Leh who need help, and Mr Sibal's gesture is an example which would be widely emulated, both by individuals and organisations. The flip side of any tragedy is the outpouring of love and generosity towards the victims that often follows it, and thus gives an opportunity to the fortunate human beings to provide assistance. There are many school children and schools in Leh that also need help. We must do our bit to provide them with the means so that their dreams are not buried in the mudslide that the Leh cloudburst caused.
DEFIANT AS EVER
WILL CONGRESS TAKE ACTION AGAINST JAGAN?
Kadapa MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy's decision to go ahead with his odarpu (consolation in Telugu) yatra in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh from September 3 despite the party high command's warning of disciplinary action against him if he flouted its directive suggests that he is heading for a showdown with the party leadership. The fact that he has announced his tour programme a day after Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's warning proves that he has dared the party leadership to take action against him. The high command sees Jagan's yatra as an attempt by him to mobilise support from both the party and the public to destabilise the K. Rosaiah government. It is worried that a couple of legislators in Kadapa district, buckling under pressure from the party cadres, have also decided to accompany Jagan in his ensuing tour.
The Congress party's troubles have increased after its rout in the recent byelections in the Telangana region. Jagan's antics have exacerbated its problems. If he walks out of the party with about 25 legislators, it could even lead to the fall of the Rosaiah government, notwithstanding Praja Rajyam Party leader Chiranjeevi's support. The party doesn't seem to believe that Jagan's tour has nothing to do with politics. For, during his earlier tours, he not only spoke against Chief Minister K. Rosaiah but also held parleys with legislators close to him in an attempt to destabilise the government.
The Jagan camp feels that it is now or never for their leader. Jagan is himself aware that the Telangana issue will be a crucial factor after December 31, 2010, when the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee submits its report to the Centre recommending either the state's bifurcation or an alternative plan. The report could push the state into political turmoil again, thereby putting his fight for the Chief Minister's post on the backburner. But the party high command is in no mood to hand over the mantle of state leadership to Jagan, who is not only a green horn in politics but also embroiled in several controversial real estate, cement, construction industry and other business deals. On top of all this is his questionable links with Karnataka's Bellary brothers and their mining interests. Jagan is a big headache for the Congress and how the party will wriggle itself out of the current situation remains to be seen.
ACTS OF GOD & MAN'S FOLLIES
A PERVERSION OF PRIORITIES
BY B.G. VERGHESE
I had read about Mayawati's monumental extravaganzas in sandstone and marble, but it took a recent visit to Lucknow to realise the enormity of her folly, affecting the aesthetics of the city and the state's exchequer: statues, elephants, colonnades and fountains galore, enclosed within endless walls. Some works have been executed and demolished twice or even thrice to satisfy the caprice of the now self-anointed Iron Lady. There is bitter laughter in the streets.
Uttar Pradesh's impoverished millions ask for bread. They have been given stone. Eastern UP and Bundelkhand face drought. Funds that could have gone towards the resuscitation of their blighted farm economy have been wasted in self-glorification. Of course, Dalits are still oppressed and Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram merit befitting memorials, especially the former, that others have begrudged building. But education and economic uplift of the downtrodden would be for them and the nation a far greater blessing. What a perversion of priorities!
All of Bihar and Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal have been declared drought affected. Emergency relief and cropping-cum-livelihood strategies must be put in place to avert distress. Yet, why should Bihar or Eastern UP suffer drought? They are not short of groundwater and irrigation systems though shortage of power could be a handicap. Both regions suffer from long-standing agricultural depressors and structural deficiencies related to inequitable land relations, availability of extension services and credit. Nitesh Kumar set up an agrarian reform commission in Bihar under D.R. Bandopadhyay and an education commission under Muchkund Dubey, which recommended common schools. Both reports have been tragically shelved in response to feudal and caste pressures.
A huge freshwater aquifer in seven layers from 1000 to 3000 metres deep, underlying the north Ganga plains between Faizabad and Purnea, was hypothesised as far back as 1967, lent confirmation by the ONGC's petro-geological deep-drilling core samples, but has been left unexplored despite World Bank offers of assistance through the 1980s. This layered deep aquifer was said to have been formed by Himalayan snow-melt and overlain by debris over successive glacial ages. It is believed to be even now replenished by Himalayan recharge and under artesian pressure, which would obviate any energy to lift the water to the surface.
Rather than undertake trial drilling to confirm the hypothesis and establish its parameters whether recharged, fresh and not mineralised water, under artesian pressure and without the risk of causing land subsidence if extracted - the Union Government and the Planning Commission have been supine. Earlier, it was feared that if such a rich deep aquifer was established, India would have to make concessions to Bangladesh on sharing Ganga waters below Farakka! Leading Indian groundwater experts have privately admitted that the evidence of the deep aquifer is sufficiently strong to merit testing. Years have been lost dithering.
Meanwhile, the Centre has scrapped a third hydro-project on the Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand, above Tehri, in deference to "religious and cultural sentiment". Environmental concerns relate to high seismicity and the danger of rivers running dry between project sites along run-of-river cascades. The first can and has been taken care of by additional defensive measures incorporated in dam designs while the latter can be made good by stipulating a given ecological release of water below each RoR dam.
The scrapping of the 600 MW Loharinag Pala project, on which Rs 650 crore has already been invested, in the wake of cancellation of the Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati projects, has been coupled with a decision to declare the 135-km stretch from Goumukh to Uttarkashi an eco-sensitive, no-dam zone. This seems a populist decision at a time when aberrant weather and cloudbursts, aggravated by climate change coupled with potential discharge depletion on account of glacial melt, call for both greater water conservation and flood and erosive silt detention traps as a means of disaster management. The clean energy generated would be a low-carbon bonus.
Similar backsliding on water conservation and hydro-power is evident in Sikkim on grounds of religious and cultural sentiment. But which river or mountain in India is not sacred? Maintain the site but why sacrifice the human benefit? Assam, in turn, fears dam-breaks in Arunachal and consequential disabilities in the plains, but is singularly without any defence against annual floods that have kept its people and economy in thrall for generations. Lamenting the disease and fighting the cure is folly.
The cloudburst in Leh has taken a grievous toll as have the unprecedented rain storms that have devastated Khyber-Pakhtunwa, Balochistan and Sind in Pakistan. Both Pakistan and Northwestern India are joined at the hip by their common lifeline, the Indus, which is already feeling the effects of climate change. This calls for cooperation, not futile stand-offs. Pakistan's civil government fiddled while furious floods took their toll. As at the time of the Muzaffarbad earthquake some years ago, the jihadis were first off the mark, gaining kudos by organising rescue and relief, followed by the Army which, as a Dawn columnist writes, has labelled its relief packages as "From the Pakistan Army" or "From the Corps Commander" as though the Army represents another country! This, while Mr Zardari was busily jaunting abroad and his government hesitated to accept a first $ 5 million installment of Indian aid in a repeat exhibition of a self-defeating hate-India policy. Yet, the latest ISI threat assessment, that appears to have leaked, puts the jihadis, not India, as "Pakistan's main worry".
Meanwhile, in J&K, new generation youth "leaders" such as Musarrat Alam and Asiya Andrabi draw up week-to-month-long calendars for mindless stone-pelting protests while in Delhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Gopinath Munde think nothing of clowning in a "mock parliament". They only mock themselves.
THE CHEESY SIDE OF RTI
BY SANJEEV SINGH BARIANA
The Right to Information Act (2001) has opened up for public scrutiny the dark alleys of the procedural wrangling by the public authorities that confuse a common man. Even our Supreme Court has come out strongly in favour of the "whistleblowers".
I have taken up writing this piece not because I witnessed any great scandal of suppressed information, unfolding. I saw the shabby side of the RTI coin. I saw a university professor being threatened, by a parent, to make an admission failing which the teacher would have to face the RTI, as if it would have meant some punishment.
It happened, recently, when I thought about meeting a favourite teacher in the English department of Panjab University. As I entered his room, my teacher was engaged in an animate discussion with an elderly gentleman. I thought I was intruding in the middle of a serious deliberation. So, I excused myself. My teacher asked me to sit down.
The gentleman was gesticulating wildly with his hands: "I know you are loved by all your students. In fact, my daughter worships you. You know, she has been college as well as the university topper. She is under a shock these days because she has not been given admission in PhD. I am sure you will work out a way to admit her".
My teacher began politely: "I have explained earlier that being a topper does not show a candidate's flair for research. The department's committee, including experts, did not find her fit to begin her specialised study."
The tone of the father changed slightly: "I have seen all the students you have selected for the research. All of them are below average. I used my connections in right places to know the politics of admission".
He paused and his tone changed, again: "Sir, my daughter got married, recently. Her husband is a top IT professional and expects his wife to be at least a PhD".
My teacher replied: "I have told you she can always try again. She is not yet prepared." The nostrils of the father flared, a little. He said: "I am left with no choice but to resort to the RTI. I will now come with her admission slip".
After he had delivered his last blow, my teacher said: "you have been trying to cajole me for the past more than six months. You also attempted to arm-twist me with names of high-ups and now you are threatening me with the RTI. Let me tell you, the RTI is a process of seeking information and not a trial. The information about reasons for not selecting her might be more shocking."
The gentleman got up and walked out of the door. He returned, in a flash and this time he caught the palm of my teacher. "Sir, you should not get angry. RTI was a slip of my tongue. We cannot challenge your judgement. Sir, please don't refuse to meet me when I come the next time.
PROBLEMS OF PLENTY
EXCESSIVE APPLE PRODUCTION HAS FAILED TO CHEER THE GROWERS. DUE TO POOR TRANSPORTATION, STORAGE AND PROCESSING FACILITIES, APPLE ARRIVAL IN THE MARKET IS NOT REGULATED. THIS LEAVES GROWERS AT THE MERCY OF MIDDLEMEN
Himachal Pradesh's apple growers have learnt a lesson the hard way: a bumper crop does not always mean bumper returns. Apart from an unpredictable weather, the growers are faced with a volatile market and lack post-harvest handling capacity.
The Rs 2,200-crore apple industry, which is the mainstay of the hill state, has grown despite hurdles. The failure to regulate apple arrivals in the market makes consumers pay more while growers get lower returns. Inadequate processing and storage facilities increase the growers' dependence on traders. The situation worsens during a glut when prices crash. The growers are vulnerable to exploitation by commission agents and wholesalers in Delhi's Azadpur, Asia's biggest fruit market, where almost 70 per cent of the state's total apple produce is disposed of.
The apple production in Himachal fluctuates between one crore standard boxes in 2002 and three crore boxes this year. However, returns to growers are uneven. The crop in the lower hill ranges, which reaches the market early, fetches higher returns than that from the middle and upper hills. This is a regular feature during bumper crops when a shortage of trucks and packaging material adds to the woes of growers. During the peak-harvest season from August 15 to September 15 around 900 to 1,000 trucks of apple are sent out to various markets. This year the figure has crossed 1,200 trucks due to a record production of over 3 crore standard boxes. It is not easy to arrange so many vehicles. Moreso because truck operators hesitate to ply vehicles on narrow hill roads, which are frequently blocked due to landslips triggered by heavy rain.
The conditions of roads in the apple belt is always a matter of concern for both the administration and the growers as prolonged blockage delays the transportation of fruit to the market, which affects quality and, in turn, returns to the growers. This season the problem has been compounded by the ongoing work of widening the Theog-Hatkoti state highway passing through the apple belt. Almost 50 per cent of the total produce is transported thorough the road which is in bad shape. A Chinese company assigned the widening work has not been able to execute the project as per schedule due to visa problems and lack of funds. The entire stretch has become prone to landslips due to excavation work being carried out on the hillside. The work is not likely to be completed before 2013.
Apple is grown mainly in the three hill states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The country contributes just 15 lakh tonnes of apples to the global production of about 58 million tonnes, which is negligible compared to 21 million tonnes produced by China. Globally, 71 per cent of the produce is consumed fresh and 20 per cent is processed to make apple butter, baking mixes, syrups and granolas. Nine per cent of the produce goes into making other products like packed natural juice, cider and jams. However, in India apple processing is only 0.64 per cent. Lack of controlled-atmosphere storage along with poor distribution infrastructure reduces farmers' returns.
The Chairman of the Himalayan Apple Growers' Society, Rajeev Chauhan, points out that cartels of middlemen hammer down prices for growers and escalate them for consumers. Apple is sold largely through commission agents in the country.
The average returns to the growers range between Rs 20 and Rs 30 per kg for the good quality fruit which is retailed at Rs 80-120 per kg. The huge differential is pocketed by middlemen. Since the grower cannot hold back the produce, he has no option but to send the fruit to the market where a strong nexus of commission agents and wholesalers hammers down the price. To add to the problem the market is flooded by low-grade fruit procured under the market intervention scheme, severely affecting the price of the high quality produce. This season the government agencies will procure 65,000 tonnes of apple, an all-time high, of which 80 per cent will be sold in the market.
The failure of the government to create the requisite post-harvest infrastructure and under-utilisation of the available facilities for processing apples has also complicated the situation. The state-owned Horticulture Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation (HPMC) has a capacity to process 20,500 tonnes apple annually but the average capacity utilisation is low. It has been as low as 27.84 per cent for the past six years in case of its biggest processing plant at Parwanoo, having a capacity of 19,400 tonnes. In a good year the state produces around five lakh tonnes of apple of which only 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes are processed.
The main reason for the low capacity utilisation is that almost 95 per cent of the apple produced is the table fruit (sweetened varieties) and the processing grade fruit, which requires a higher acid content, accounts for only 5 per cent. In fact, the high-acid varieties like Golden, Kali Devi and Tideman are only those which are planted to serve as pollinators. The corporation faces problems in selling the apple juice concentrate (AJC) with a low-acid content as the bulk users require a high-acid content. The apple varieties being grown in the state have only 2.5 to 3 per cent acid whereas the processing grade fruit must have at least 3.5 per cent acid content.
The country's requirement for the AJC is over 7,000 tonnes but the production is only 2,500 tonnes. The rest of the demand is met through imports, mainly from China. The corporation at times procures the high-acid fruit from Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. In 2008 almost one lakh bags of apple procured under the MIS rotted by the roadside as these could not be transported to the processing plant.
The government now proposes to set up a new 20,000-tonne capacity plant at Pragatinagar in Kotkhai which will double the state's processing capacity. As the new plant will be located in the heart of the apple belt, it will not only reduce the transportation cost but also save time and help maintain the quality of the fruit. It will also bring down the cost of production of the juice concentrate from Rs 70 to Rs 45 per kg making it competitive with the Chinese product.
The government must encourage the production of the high-acid content fruit required for processing. It must be selective in providing the imported rootstock of the high-yielding varieties to the growers to ensure a proper mix of high acid and pollinating varieties. This could be achieved by making an approval of the orchard plans, particularly under the proposed Rs 85-crore rejuvenation project, from the Horticulture Department mandatory.
Of late big companies like the Adani group, Reliance, ITC and Fresh and Healthy have entered the apple marketing business. Some of these companies have also set up controlled-atmosphere stores in the state where the high quality fruit procured from growers is kept and sold round the year. These companies together procure about 25 lakh boxes in a good year.
A permanent solution to the marketing problem can be found if the government procurement agencies also set up cold stores and market the fresh high quality fruit like the private companies in a big way. The best thing about apple is that it can be kept in stores for as long as six months without any deterioration in quality. The stored apple can be marketed towards the end of December after apples from Kashmir are sold out.
There is need to organise growers through cooperative societies for setting up more processing plants, cold stores and cold chain facilities to effectively regulate arrivals in the market. At present 14 per cent of the apple produce is lost because of inadequate post-harvest handling facilities.
CLIMATE CHANGE HITS PRODUCTIVITY
Apple productivity is declining due to climate change. Dry spells are increasing, while snowfall is getting scarce. Ageing plantations are not being replaced
THE apple revolution started after Independence but gained momentum only in the seventies. The area under the fruit shot up from 26,000 hectares in 1970 to 92,820 hectares in 2001. The increase in the area under apple continues as the fruit is now grown in non-traditional areas like the cold desert of Spiti, thanks to climate change.
However, productivity, which ranged between 9 and 10 tonnes per hectare three decades ago, has declined to 6 tonnes per hectare. In fact, the average yield for the past five years of the current decade has been even lower at around 5 tonnes per hectare.
An indiscriminate use of fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides, inadequate pollination, failure to contain diseases and lack of irrigation facilities are responsible for the decline in productivity. Small growers neglect the orchards as returns have dwindled.
Another reason for low productivity is that the ageing plantations are not being replaced. The productive life of an apple plant is 45 years and, as such, the plantations that came up in the 1950s should have been replaced a decade ago as new plants take seven years to come to fruit. At present more than 30 per cent of the plantations have completed their productive life. The rejuvenation project being launched is likely to improve the situation but the real impact will be seen only after a decade when new plantations start bearing fruit.
The changing weather pattern is also affecting production. The average temperature has increased over the years. The monsoon has become erratic. Snow, considered 'white manure' for orchards, is becoming scarce, denying the plants the "chilling hours" necessary for maintaining dormancy. An average 1,200 to 1,800 chilling hours are required during which the average temperature should not exceed 7`degree Celsius which is not happening in the low and middle hills due to the receding snowline. Dry spells have become a regular feature during winter. RL
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