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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

EDITORIAL 08.09.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month september 08, edition 000620, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































While the Bihar hostage crisis has once again brought to the fore the threat posed by Maoists in several States across the country, it has also served to shake Chief Minister Nitish Kumar rudely enough for him to seek additional Central security forces to fight this scourge. Despite nearly 75 per cent of its districts affected by Maoist violence of varying nature, the Government of Bihar has remained rather lukewarm to the Union Government's — more specifically, the Union Home Ministry's — initiatives for neutralising the Maoists who routinely kill innocent civilians and destroy public property. In the past it has rejected the Union Government's proposal for joint operations, to be conducted by Central forces and the State police, against the Maoists. There is also the perception that most Bihar leaders, across the political spectrum, have failed to unequivocally condemn the violence unleashed by Maoists. This, in turn, has emboldened the Red terrorists. That it does not pay to stand aloof at a time when most State Governments are cooperating with New Delhi and coordinating their anti-insurgency operations is demonstrated by the State administration being caught unawares by last week's hostage crisis; it was found to be floundering in its response. No less worrisome is the near absence of actionable intelligence collected and collated by the State's agencies. That three of the four abducted policemen were released unhurt by the Maoists has understandably come as a huge relief for their families, but the fact remains that seven policemen were killed in the encounter that preceded the abduction and one of the hostages was brutally murdered. Hopefully, Mr Nitish Kumar has learned a lesson from the crisis and will now abandon his soft approach to what is clearly a serious threat. It is also to be hoped that politicians who naively believe that Maoists are fighting for the rights of tribals will give up all notions of cold-blooded killers as romantic revolutionaries. 

At the same time, the Union Government must step in to remove glitches that are adversely impacting counter-insurgency operations on the ground in States that have agreed to joint operations. The CRPF, which is supposed to play a defining role in combating Maoist terror, is caught in bureaucratic red tape: Instead of responding with alacrity to requests by the local police, its units have to comply with lengthy and time-consuming paperwork. Such delay when quick action is the key to success completely negates the very purpose of joint operations. Of course, one can argue that having repeatedly been at the receiving end of Maoist attacks, the CRPF is justified in playing it safe and seeking as many details as it can before participating in an offensive. But then, that has not prevented it from often venturing into Maoist-infested areas without adequate preparation, sometimes doing so against the better judgement of the local police. Clearly, something is amiss in the command-and-control structure of the joint operations. It would be a pity if the counter-offensive by the State police and Central para-military forces were to be rendered ineffective by totally needless formalities that should be taken for granted. If extensive paperwork and file-pushing could solve the Maoist problem, we wouldn't need men in uniform for the task.







Every turn of the kaleidoscope reveals a new pattern; the more it turns, the more variations. It is, therefore, encouraging that the new generation of politicians, the 40-somethings, are taking the trouble to discover the variations in the patterns that make up the multiple facets of India. Born into privilege and protected from the sufferings that are quotidian, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is on a quest to discover India's hinterland. From one generation to the next, members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have found, to their seeming dismay, that what ails West Bengal is the longevity of the Left Front regime led by the CPI(M). By itself this is not a startling discovery, except that like every new currency note, a new slogan crackles. Acknowledging that there are two Indias, one of which is firmly set on the path of development and progress and the other is where the poor and deprived masses dwell, Mr Rahul Gandhi declared at his rally in Kolkata on Monday: "There are two Bengals. One is the shining Bengal of the CPI(M) leaders and cadre. The other Bengal belongs to you and me." Read together with his contention that the CPI(M)'s leaders and cadre live off the fat of the land and usurp money that belongs to the masses — an accurate description that cannot be faulted — Mr Rahul Gandhi's political message is clear: West Bengal is wallowing in misery; there is no development; and, the polity is not progressive. All because the Marxists, who have their hands in the till, are in power; redemption lies in voting out the Left and voting in the Congress along with its ally, Trinamool Congress. It's another matter that the Congress had the Left as an ally during UPA1, that it famously described today's foes as its 'natural allies' yesterday.

While there is no doubt that it is the Left which has dragged West Bengal down to its present pitiable state, it is equally true that but for the callous attitude of successive Congress Governments at the Centre the Marxists would not have prospered by feeding on popular resentments. The tumultuous decade of the 1970s were preceded by Congress chicanery of the worst order; subsequently the Congress sought to spite the Left by depriving the State of its fair share of resources and funds. Let us not forget that decades of denial resulted in West Bengal becoming a disinherited State. Decisions like the freight equalisation policy of the Nehruvian 'Socialist' era contributed to the deprivation and made the ground fertile for the Communists to prosper politically. Memories of those decades have now begun to fade; it's a new India and a new generation of voters who are not burdened with the baggage of the past. This offers an opportunity to break free of the misrule to which West Bengal has been subjected. But deliverance does not lie in pretending ignorance.







Bihar has seen a worsening of Maoist violence over the past five years. Yet Nitish Kumar is reluctant to join the war on Red terror

We will saturate the Maoist-prone areas with development," Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had grandly intoned in November 2009, outlining his 'strategy' to neutralise the Maoist insurgency, his head entirely wrapped up in clouds. Rejecting the Union Government's declared policy of dealing with the Maoists with a firm hand in 'massive and coordinated operations', and the proposal for a Unified Command (themselves poorly conceived, entirely under-resourced and far from successful initiatives), Mr Kumar argued, that "enforcement action alone" would only lead to "wider alienation" and make "heroes out of the leaders of the extremist organisations... leading to only symptomatic treatment, leaving the underlying disease to reappear in more virulent form."

The 'symptoms' that Mr Kumar chooses to wilfully ignore have, however, now delivered a resounding slap in the face to his Government, brought his administration to its knees, even as more lives among the State's beleaguered and directionless security forces have been wasted. 

On August 29, at least seven security forces personnel were killed, and another seven injured, in a 'combing operation' gone wrong, when they were attacked by cadre of the CPI (Maoist), their numbers variously estimated at between 300 and a thousand, in the Kajra Police Station area of Lakhisarai district. 'Intelligence reports' had indicated 'Maoist presence' in the forest, but had omitted any assessment of Maoist strength in the area, leading the Bihar Police 'search teams' into a lethal trap — a pattern repeated in almost every major massacre of security forces personnel by Maoists in recent years. 

The matter did not end there. The Maoists abducted four policemen — Sub-Inspectors Rupesh Kumar and Abhay Yadav, Assistant Sub-Inspector Lucas Tete, and Havildar Ehtesham Khan — after the encounter and ratcheted up the stakes by demanding the release of eight prominent Maoists in Bihar's jails: Jai Paswan, Vijay Chourasia, Prem Bhuian, Pramod Barnawal, Ramvilas Tanti, Ramesh Tirki, Arjun Koda and Rattu Koda. 

The Maoists then executed Lucas Tete in the night of September 2, after two 'deadlines' given by them had passed without response from the Government — beyond appeals for the release of the abducted policemen — and warned that the remaining hostages would also be killed unless their comrades were released. On September 6, however, the three surviving policemen were released after Mr Kumar had announced safe passage for the Maoists out of the area in which they had been substantially contained by augmented forces.

It is significant that the decision to release the remaining policemen came after the heavy redeployment of a combination of forces — Bihar Military Police, Central Reserve Police Force, the Special Task Force and the Special Action Force — from four adjoining districts in combing operations, and the virtual sealing off of the Maoists' escape routes. The seething anger in the forces suggested the possibility of sweeping vendetta killings — an outcome that the Maoists were apparently eager to escape. 

Mr Kumar has attempted to extract victory out of this present disgrace, and has emphasised that "no deal was struck with the Maoists". He concedes, nevertheless, that "there is no guarantee that such incidents will not be repeated." 

Mr Kumar has been mouthing hackneyed nonsense about the Maoists being "part of our society" and that they had been "misled into violence", for years now, even as he has presided over perhaps the most anarchic State in India. A degree of optimism had certainly asserted itself during the first years after he took over as Chief Minister in November 2005, but the natural torpor of governance in Bihar appears to have reasserted itself since.

In the interim, his Government has projected itself as conciliatory towards, and has been seen as weak by, the Maoists, who increasingly use Bihar as a favoured safe haven from the relatively worsening operational environments in the neighbouring States, particularly of West Bengal and Jharkhand (elements from Chhattisgarh have also found safety there).

It is significant that the Maoists have orchestrated at least 13 significant incidents of abduction since the formation of the CPI(Maoist) in September 2004, and before the August 29 incident. At least three of these have ended in the death of hostages:

June 17-19, 2009: Maoist cadre, who had abducted two personnel of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force, Ram Bhuwan Patel and Dhanjay Verma, from a hilly stretch in Bijapur District, Chhattisgarh, on June 17, killed them and dumped the bodies in a forested area. Police said the victims' throats were slit.

September 30, 2009: Six Maoist cadre abducted Police Inspector (Special Branch) Francis Induwar, posted in Khunti District, Jharkhand. On October 3, the Maoists demanded the release of their senior leaders Kobad Ghandy, Chhatradhar Mahato and Chandra Bhushan Yadav. On October 6, the Jharkhand Police found the decapitated dead body of Francis Induwar on the Jamshedpur-Ranchi Highway, with a note from the Maoists saying that they could expect more of the same treatment if their demands were not met. 

June 19, 2008: Three Special Police Officers were killed by the Maoists in the Banda Police Station limits of Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh. The SPOs had been abducted along with five policemen following an encounter on June 18. The SPOs were taken to a Maoist camp in the forests blind-folded where they were asked to distance themselves from the Salwa Judum and the police. Five of them were then let off and three others — Gopal, Bhadru and Lakshmaiah — were shot dead and their bodies abandoned near Banda village.

In two of the 13 incidents, the release came after Maoist demands were conceded. In the remaining eight, the abducted persons were released after various durations in captivity. None of the preceding incidents occurred in Bihar. 

Nevertheless, Bihar has seen a steady worsening of Maoist-related violence over the past five years, after an earlier peak in 2005, when 106 people (25 civilians, 29 security forces personnel and 52 Maoists) were killed. Fatalities have, since, climbed from 40 in 2006, to 49 in 2007; 71 in 2008; 78 in 2009; and, 53 in 2010 (till September 5). Crucially, the ratios of civilian and security forces to Maoist fatalities have been adverse in every year after 2005, clearly demonstrating the loss of initiative that has resulted from the Nitish Kumar Government's declared policy, and the rising threat to civilian lives and property. 

Bihar is among India's poorest States, and it takes an extraordinary capacity for delusion to believe that the cumulative developmental deficits and the sheer enormity of the population under poverty can quickly be transformed by any 'strategy' to 'saturate' affected areas with 'development', even if the most well-oiled machinery of governance was in place. 

In a remark that is both extraordinarily callous and obtuse, Mr Kumar has declared, "All's well that ends well". All has certainly not ended well for the seven policemen killed in the encounter on August 29, and for their families; or for ASI Lucas Tete and his family. 

Crucially, nothing has ended in Bihar: the Maoist rampage continues; the infirmity and ambivalence of the State and its agencies persists; endemic poverty and backwardness remain unchanged. Yet, Mr Kumar is, once again, mouthing fantastical jargon about the Maoists "joining the national mainstream" by participating in the coming State Assembly election. Such incomprehension can only bring more death.









Implementation of the Right to Education Act formally commenced from April 1 this year. This being also the year of India hosting the Commonwealth Games, it should not be a tough exercise for anyone interested in the education and well-being of children and Indian youth to appreciate the commonalities and connections between these two seemingly unrelated events. 

Each of these events had the potential to generate nationwide enthusiasm and motivation for universal access to elementary education and plans and programmes to augment facilities for sports and games right from the primary school level to colleges and universities across the country. Both should lead to higher quality in education and superior performance and proficiency levels in sports and games. 

One must admit that prior to the launch of the RTE Act, we could not create the much-needed environment for meeting the challenge. No interactive links were created between the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the States and the schools; what to say of teachers and their organisations. Formal functions were organised by the Ministry and even the Prime Minister addressed the nation on the occasion. The general expectation was that village-level functions would be organised, with total community and school participation in every school of India. There is still hope that things would improve in the future. 

As far as the Commonwealth Games are concerned, the organisers have successfully sparked a furore in the country with their efficiency in siphoning off public funds and passing on the monetary benefits to their favourites and their kin. News of corruption no longer surprises but it was the unscrupulous nature of the actions that made people sit up and take note. The media played its role along expected lines. Swindlers and fraudsters go scot-free in this country and this appears to be an unwritten rule. Those against whom startling allegations have been made accompanied by sound evidence must be smiling in the certainty that no retribution would follow. The Games 2010 will be held as per schedule. Eventually everything would be settled, and amicably. 

Even our tennis squad which has brought laurels to the country for decades had to resort to the threat of boycotting participation if their long-pending dues were not paid before the Games. This one example is sufficient to illustrate how India treats its sportspersons. Much has already appeared in the Press on how Indian athletes are practising for participation — ignored, uncared-for and taken for granted.

With one crore children below 14 years of age still languishing outside the fold of elementary education, one can say with certainty that the neglect of children begins right from the initial years when they are supposed to be in schools. For those who are in schools, the focus is on getting higher and higher percentages of marks (now grades that would be converted to marks) in the Board examinations. Hardly any attention is paid towards games and sports in schools and even in colleges. Another contributing factor that accentuates the situation is the perpetual acute shortage of teachers in Government schools as well as teacher absenteeism. 

The approval to organise Commonwealth Games was obtained in 2003. Someone could also have thought of sports and games in schools and colleges and how these — and also the very appearance of schools — could be improved at that time. If planning had begun in right earnest, Connaught Place in Delhi would not have been the exact likeness of a war-ravaged town in Iraq or Afghanistan as photographs of it taken in August vouch for. Today, one finds every road and pavement being dug up in the name of 'making them presentable to foreign guests'. One can observe a huge plantation programme being undertaken to beautify Delhi for the October jamboree. The rate of survival of these trees and plants shall be worth watching, say, after six months. Schools and colleges are nowhere on the agenda. That is the job of another Ministry — that of Human Resource Development.

And that is the point. Right to education has little meaning if not organically linked to right to play. Essentially, what young children need most is the 'right to happiness'. Those dealing with files and notes in the secure and cosy confines of their offices may not even have heard about this right. To provide facilities for sports and games, schools do need some equipment, someone to guide them and, of course, time-slot allocation. If the provision of making needed facilities available to the elementary schools in Delhi was included in the agenda of the Government as preparatory to the Games, the fruits of excellence could have been reaped by the nation in the next couple of years. But the public perception of the Games is that these fruits are meant for a select few. 

Genuine planners can always salvage positivity even from the worst of situations and circumstances. Would a couple of Honourable Members of Parliament — from among the young and enthusiastic lot — consider the following proposition? Create a sports district in each of their constituencies to mark the organisation of the Game. Each one of them can have a trust, make the initial contributions from the Member of Parliament Local Area Development fund and seek public support and cooperation. They could use their good offices with corporate houses and wealthy sports bodies like the Board of Control for Cricket in India to come forward and contribute. This fund could be then utilised to supply sports and games equipment to all the Government elementary schools in the district. Every Member of Parliament can always exercise his or her influence and, in this noble cause, one can be sure that even the manufacturers and suppliers would be willing to cut costs and be partners. If it succeeds in the face of the culture of procurement at prices a couple of times higher than the market prices set forth by the Games organisers, the faith of the people in the system would be restored to some extent.

Merely distributing equipment is not sufficient but it is essential to attract schools, children, community members and teachers to the cause. Once this action begins, the modalities of providing training, creating an environment and vitalising the school-community relationship could be worked out. Retired personnel from various sectors, particularly from the Armed Forces, will be willing to make their expertise available. Maybe, India can then hold its head high in the next Commonwealth Games meet. 








Diplomats, a British Ambassador explained several centuries ago, are gentlemen sent abroad to lie for their country. I'd add that the problems start when they start to lie on behalf of other countries, while the disaster begins when they start to lie for enemies of their country. 

Stefan Zweig, in a 1930 book, spoke of, "diplomatists, who form a little understood but extremely dangerous variety of our human kind". But diplomats and political leaders today also have real dilemmas, in some ways unresolvable ones. Here's an example of how the problem works and bedevils West Asia policy and foreign policy generally.

A year ago, Britain released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison and returned him to Libya. This was done nominally because a doctor said — the British Government had to shop around until it found the right doctor — that he was dying. The real reason, apparently, was that this move helped British Petroleum get a big contract with Libya.


Today, though, Megrahi is doing well. He isn't dying at all. In fact, Libya celebrated the anniversary of his release and he was visited by son-of-dictator (and apparent successor) Mr Saif Qadhafi. The British Government warned Libya that any such celebration would be "tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive" as well as making it really, really angry. Libya didn't care, ignored the threat, and Britain did nothing.

Let's take a step back and consider this as a case study. Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was given a 27-year prison sentence in 2001 for involvement in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, murdering 270 people, mostly US citizens. But of course Megrahi was just a scapegoat. He was acting in his capacity as a Libyan Government official and in the end he took the rap like a loyal mafia soldier. No doubt his family has been well provided for.

Still, the conclusion is obvious: The Libyan Government ordered the bombing. Mr Muammar Qadhafi and his regime are responsible for this terrorist act, just as the Iranian and Syrian Governments are responsible for directly ordering numerous terrorist attacks.

Indeed, the US attack on the Barbary pirates in the early 19th century — because they were attacking American ships and kidnapping those on board — precisely parallels the situation with Mr Qadhafi two centuries later. It is also what the US did in staging a single bombing raid on Libya in 1986 after that country sponsored a terror attack on a Berlin discotheque that killed two American soldiers and injured 200 people. That didn't stop Mr Qadhafi, but the US attack on Iraq in 2003 did frighten him into at least temporary "moderation".

So what's a victim country to do? The traditional response to such behaviour is a military attack, perhaps the seizure of part of the aggressive company or even the occupation of its capital and the overthrow of the regime. The idea is that the threat is thus removed, the malefactors punished, and an example is given to deter future imitators. 

Does this mean that the proper response to the Lockerbie attack should have been a coalition attack on Libya and the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime? And what about the Western attitude toward the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip? Compared to Iraq, removing the Hamas regime and putting the Palestinian Authority back in or bringing down Mr Qadhafi would have been far easier and more justifiable, certainly more beneficial for regional stability and enhancing the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

Can a country act unilaterally to defend itself from terrorism or even direct aggression (in Israel's case that applies to Hizbullah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008)? Must it await a UN resolution? Or can nothing be done at all, since avoiding civilian casualties or even violence altogether seems a higher priority nowadays than defending yourself or overthrowing a repressive, aggressive dictatorship. 

A military response is no simple solution. It is expensive, long in duration, and causes casualties. Things go wrong. Military campaigns fail, planes crash, friendly fire kill your own troops, and bombs go astray and kill civilians. Western news media will trumpet every misdeed or mistake. Violence cannot be used lightly.

Moreover, since deep-seated social and structural problems are at the root of what might be called the "dictator regions of the world" one does not see miraculous transformations. Also given the new kind of asymmetric warfare, radical regimes and movements welcome the death of their people and destruction of their infrastructure as a means of gaining sympathy and mobilising forces. 

Israel, at times attacked from all sides, with a supportive population (public opinion criticised the Government response to the Lebanon war in 2006 as too soft), insufficient international support, and little margin for error has understandably adopted a policy of retaliation to maintain credibility. Generally, this approach has worked. 

Nowadays, Israel taking the necessary steps to protect its security is inhibited not by domestic factors or their views but by an extremely low level of international backing, which would erode even further if Israel hit back too long or hard. In addition, Israel has no wish to retake the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or south Lebanon. And it knows that nothing it can do will end the conflict (through victory) or change the hearts of its enemies (through concessions).

That last point, by the way is generally misunderstood by, respectively, the foreign right and left, both of which entertain fantasies on these points. Neither violence nor peace-making offers a full solution, yet deterrence and credibility really do work, at least for a while. 


 The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. 








The havoc created by the recurring floods and droughts annually in India is indicative of our failure to learn from past mistakes to take corrective actions in managing the abundant water resources we have. The available option of linking the rivers to contain these disasters, the Indian River Linking Project, though recognised three decades back, and a National Plan for interlinking rivers was approved by the Government of India then, not even a single link has been constructed so far. The project is limping from prefeasibility to feasibility studies, from preliminary to detailed investigations, and the stage of construction is nowhere in sight.

The reasons for this state of affairs in the project implementation are not far to seek. The Union Government's lethargy in taking even the minimum preliminary actions needed in this regard has resulted in the tardy progress.

Presently, the States even within a basin are busy quarrelling with each other on their water rights. There are no basin-wise organisations which could provide a platform for serious discussions among the co-basin States and the Union Government, whenever approached, takes its own time to hold meetings with the disputants to sort out the issues. If there had been a River Basin Organisation in place, the problems could have been settled at the basin level itself. 

Such an institution would have been able to bring about consensus among the States regarding all water issues and would have also encouraged them to look beyond water rights to concentrate on water needs for promoting joint ventures in areas like hydropower, flood control, etc, to yield benefits for all.

The National Water Resources Council, chaired by the Prime Minister with the Chief Ministers of the States and Union Territories as members, is the only forum available now to discuss on water issues at the national level. But due to various reasons, the Council's meetings are rarely held and even at such meetings, decisions are seldom taken.

Though the existing River Board's Act (1956) has provisions for setting up RBOs, it does not give the requisite authority to the Centre to regulate the inter-State rivers through them .Interestingly, Centre has not empowered itself to set up such organisations with requisite legal backing by amending the Act. Consequently, the disputes are never settled and billions of precious fresh water flows unutilised to the sea every year resulting in the flood-drought syndrome.

The Union Government, whenever confronted with water disputes among the States, takes the usual stand that water is a State subject and Central intervention is possible only by amending the Constitution. Though many high-powered bodies had advised the Centre that 'Entry 56, List 1' gives ample powers to the Union Government to regulate inter-State rivers, it does not appear to be inclined to take action using such powers, though the rivers contribute more than 80 per cent of the annual water resources.

It is thus evident that water, which is at the centre of all development activities, is not high enough on the political agenda to promote initiatives to generate benefits.

Due to the uneven distribution of water in space and time leading to endemic and sporadic problems, interlinking of the surplus rivers with deficit ones continues to be the available option to contain the recurring miseries. But, apart from Union Government's inaction in empowering itself to meet the hurdles in implementing the project, one another constraint is the lack of consensus among States regarding the surplus water availability. Water rich States insist that they have no surplus water to spare and they do not want to negotiate away their future water uses.

To disentangle the issues that complicate the process of negotiations and to accelerate the project implementation, immediate action is needed to set up an RBO for each river basin with a broad mandate and authority for developing the concept of catchment hydro-solidarity among the co-basin States. This would provide the requisite platform for discussions relating to water needs, compensating for water spared, etc, so as to bring about the needed consensus among the partners. By fixing a cost for the water, both the donor and the done States would be encouraged to optimally use and save water through efficient use, facilitating a win-win situation for both through the transfer.

Critics with vested interests have objected to the project raising the bogey of environmental impacts while transferring water from a wet to a dry area, conveniently ignoring the facts prevailing in the existing water transfer projects in the country and abroad. Prophets of doom have condemned the project stating that the IRL canal system would prove to be an open sewer criss-crossing the country. They had earlier made similar forecasts on the Golden Quadrilateral Project, warning that the national highways would become networks of conveyor belts spreading noxious emissions! 

Self-appointed 'eco-Taliban' in their khap panchayats have also decreed — 'no dams, no river linking projects'. These critics have only one objective as proved time and again: To remain in the lime light for their continued sustenance. Hence their criticism should be ignored. 

Many studies carried out in the past by National Water Development Agency and other expert organisations had confirmed the feasibility of the project. Hence let us not waste time again carrying out too much of analysis to paralyse us into inaction. We have to remain vigilant of the vested interests and embedded activists who are interested only to sabotage the project to achieve their set goals. 

The Union Government has no option but to use the available constitutional powers and go in a big way to implement the project without further loss of time. The scene has to shift from rhetoric to action to make the IRL project a reality. 








The growth projections cannot be taken at face value. Such projections should instil confidence in the people. They haven't. The nation needs to look beyond the official statements as a slump is seen in the country's progress rate. 

Do the figures pointing to an 8.8 per cent first quarter growth suggest much? Most observers have predicted a lower growth in the coming months. Even otherwise they are only a shade better than the 8.6 per cent growth achieved in the January-March quarter. 

Growth cannot take place in isolation. The other indicators are not in sync with what is being stated. Flaunting figures for political purposes may be dangerous as that may shake public confidence in the process of governance — a mistake made by the former Soviet Union.

The major bottlenecks in the process have been headline (general) inflation coupled with 13-14 per cent food inflation, lower purchasing capacity and, according to Central Statistical Organisation, an almost flat growth graph in private consumption that makes up 58 per cent of the demand-side GDP. The Government consumption expenditure, another important factor, has actually declined. It means there is something acutely wrong with the real engine of growth. 

Private consumption that reflects the demand for non-durable goods has declined from 2.6 per cent in the last quarter of the previous financial year to 0.3 per cent. It is the lowest in a decade. The fall in capital goods production also indicates a slowdown in investment. As measured by the industrial output, the capital goods production has fallen to nine per cent in June from 37 per cent in May. The Government claims that growth had been bolstered by the manufacturing sector that grew by 12.4 per cent. But the growth was 16.3 per cent in the previous quarter. 

Industrial and manufacturing growth figures are tapering out. This is a grim indicator that might affect prospects ahead. If Mr C Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, is to be believed, "growth rate may decline in the third and fourth quarters". In other words, the first quarter growth may have been the highest witnessed this fiscal.

There are more worries. The demand number, calculated from private and Government consumption, investment and net exports, showed that the economy grew as slowly as 3.7 per cent during the first quarter in terms of constant prices. This is not surprising. High inflation is apparently the reason for a lower consumption pattern. The rupee is continuously losing its sheen. It touched its lowest mark at 47.08 after figures suggesting the fastest pace of growth were announced. The rupee is likely to lose further as trade deficit increases and capital inflows remain weak. With the US and other western growth prospects stagnating or showing little signs of improvement, sustenance of growth in the country might become an uphill task.

A major reason for low consumption trend is ascribed to high inflation. The Reserve Bank of India says that persisting high inflation could not only dampen overall growth prospects of the economy but also hamper the progress of inclusive growth. The adverse impact on growth could potentially result from inflation-induced distortion in resource allocation and possible decline in domestic savings — a trend already noticed in the annual report of the RBI. 

It is feared that uncertainty associated with inflation could complicate investment and consumption planning affecting capital accumulation and savings. Yet another danger the RBI hints at is that inflation at times could also shift the focus from production activities and productivity enhancing investment to speculation and hoarding.

The economic trend calls for a check on the food inflation. It is eroding purchasing power as a large section of the population is unable to increase their nominal income to match the inflation. In reality, it leads to decline in income. 








PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh will have to do more than just interact with newspaper editors to dispel the perception that there is a drift in the functioning of the government.


Public relations exercises can only amplify or reduce an accomplishment or a failure, and that, too, for a limited period of time. In the real world, there is no substitute for substantive and decisive action.


The list of areas of the government's infirmities are long— Kashmir, Pakistan, inflation and the Maoists. In all fairness, Dr Singh's government alone cannot be held accountable for everything that has gone wrong, but there have been acts of commission— such as the handling of the food, telecom and some other portfolios for which the PM cannot avoid responsibility.


In his effort to give his government a clean chit in the matter of rotting foodgrains, for example, Dr Singh has set up a straw man to beat. The Supreme Court has not directed the government to act, but suggested that it consider giving away the grain free, rather than let it rot. In giving us a rationale for why the government can't give away the foodgrains, the PM has ignored the issue on hand— the poor management of the food stocks by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.


The real problem is the dissonance that is visible in the relations between the party and the government. This has been manifested by the re- emergence of the National Advisory Council headed by party supremo, Sonia Gandhi as well as the sniping attacks on the Home Minister and the Human Resource Development Minister by senior party functionaries.


For obvious reasons the reports of the PM's meeting with the editors do not seem to dwell on this subject.







JAMMU and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah's proposal to dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) is nothing but a bogey.


The present crisis has been precipitated by the ham- handed management of public protests by the Central Reserve Police Force ( CRPF) and the Jammu and Kashmir police which are not covered by the AFSPA. In fact one of the few periods of relative calm since the beginning of the present turmoil was when the army conducted flag marches in Srinagar.


This is not to deny the importance of dealing with atrocities by elements within the army, which remains a reality as was seen in the case of the Machil murders. But the personnel responsible for these killings are being tried by the army and this doesn't quite make a case for the dilution of the AFPSA in Kashmir.


The chief minister's assertion seems to be an attempt to deflect attention from the poor governance under his regime, which is the root cause of the crisis.


Mr Abdullah should focus on tackling the protests politically by initiating a dialogue with the separatists, as well as engage with the people through mohalla committees or committees of elders in the troubled areas.


Furthermore, he should bring the state police to book for their trigger happy ways.








TWO recent incidents, one shocking and the other a tad amusing, go to highlight all that's wrong with policemen in this country. And it is hardly a surprise that both were reported from Uttar Pradesh.


In the first incident, three cops who had been caught taking bribe by Bareilly's woman superintendent of police dragged the official for a good 1.5 km while fleeing in a car. This underscores the fact that besides being hopelessly corrupt, criminality comes easy to our cops. When the policemen could drag their superior officer, exposing her life to danger, it can only be wondered what they were capable of doing to ordinary citizens.


In the other incident, two undertrials accused of an attempt to murder actually shepherded back two of their own police escorts who were drunk and incapacitated.


Those with a positive bent of mind might laud the honesty of the undertrials, but this is really about the callous attitude of the cops towards critical work that they are paid to do.








MY HOME town is at least 1186 years old.


It could be a few centuries older than that, but I am sticking to the Malayalam calendar that says we are in year 1186. The calendar was issued at and named after my small town, Kollam. Fortunately, it still remains small as the East India Company didn't choose to set shop or open a Presidency college there.


The antiquity of my town is immensely relevant to the raging debate on purdah.


In neighbouring Alleppey district a Christian school was recently under attack for not allowing headscarf in class. A Muslim girl from Kasargode, the northern tip of Kerala, is being harassed for wearing jeans. A teacher in a Kolkata university is being hounded by her students for not covering herself from head to toe. And a professor of minority studies in a Delhi university lifting her veil to get herself photographed for a newspaper article is defending the choice of wearing this piece of dress as " the unfolding of the recovery of the Islamic self". What Islamic self does the veil recover? My port town, a centre of international trade when Kolkata and Mumbai were not even plotted on the Asian maritime map, is supposed to have hosted all the major religions of the world at various points in history. By the 9th century, about the time the Malayalam calendar was inaugurated, Jews, Persians and Palestinians were supposed to have been granted land by a Hindu ruler.




They all had come in without the purdah! Nobody had for centuries even seen what a burqa looks like in our part of the country. Even as a child the only glimpse of the burqa I had was at the railway station or the bus stand, worn obviously by some visiting Muslim stranger.


Even in north Kerala or Malabar with its history of Tippu Sultan's invasion and organic trade links with Arabia — Arabs used to marry into local Muslim families — the burqa was a rarity and mostly worn by moneyed women who had traveled for Haj and returned with the baggage of orthodoxy. There are many who insist that, traditionally, less than five per cent of Malabar's women were hooded and wrapped up.


Malayali men, primarily Hindus, never used to cover their torsos and their women till a century ago only used a piece of cloth, not dissimilar to the mundu or dhoti, to cover their breasts.


Till the mid to late 19th century, stitched loose blouses were largely used by those who had converted to Christianity and Islam. While Christian women wore these blouses with the traditional mundu , the only addition for Muslim women was a piece of headcloth, which never ever covered the face. It was more of a headgear and never a veil.


By the 1970s this traditional attire gave way to modern sarees and like everybody else, Muslim women too

switched to the easy- to- wash polyester sarees. The only allowance for the ultra- orthodox was the length of the sleeves, which dropped a little below the elbow, and they covered their heads with the pallu of the saree, the way President Pratibha Patil does it now.


Thangal Kunju Musaliyar, a cashew exporter and one of the world's biggest individual employers of his times, had set up Kerala's first privately managed engineering college and a college for the arts and sciences in Kollam in 1958 and 1965 respectively. No Muslim student or teacher used to go to these two colleges in the burqa or hijab till the 1990s. Even in these ' Muslim' educational institutions most women teachers left their head uncovered and prayer during the holy month was an individual's choice. Interestingly, no woman in this visionary's family used to wear the alien dress till the 1990s.




The working classes were no different.


The Muslim domestic help at the Hindu upper caste Sanskrit teacher's house, or her friend who peeled nuts at the Muslim entrepreneur's cashew factory could not obviously afford to bother about the length of the sleeves of her blouse or the pallu over her head. She worked like everybody else at homes and factories that brought militant trade unionism and precious dollars to Kollam, each diluting the other.


Any woman who has travelled to Kerala would agree that the male gaze is at its worst there. But, rich home- makers, teachers, teachers, government officials, lawyers, doctors, domestic helps, cashew workers, they all dealt with it as women, and not as Muslims.


The Muslim woman was everywoman.


But no longer! The demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva goons gave the best opportunity to their Islamist counterparts to talk about ' recovering the Islamic self". Soon after the idea of India was challenged by Gandhi's killers in a murderous Rath Yatra that culminated in riots and Mumbai's serial bomb blasts, the radical Islamist cleric Abdul Nasser Madani, also from Kollam, left his stamp on my home town. Madani's Islamic Sevak Sangh rose to ' secure' the insecure Muslim man. Continuing the tradition of colonising the female mind and body, insecure men threw the purdah over Muslim women.


Religious revivalism brought in personal proselytisers like those of the Tablighi Jamaat, again a north Indian import, who, inviting women to their congregation, insisted on the dress code of the desert.


The process ended in a community stepping aside and declaring that it is different, that it is the ' other'. A new identity was being created for the orthodox Muslim, an identity that stuck out in the Malayali milieu like the black cap of the RSS volunteer. Or like the red strings Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad boys tie on each other's wrist on Raksha Bandhan day to mark the saffron brotherhood.




Muslim fundamentalists were merely continuing with their hypocrisy. After shouting the ' Pakistan or Kabristan' slogan in the run up to the Partition, none of the Muslim League leaders or cadre of Kerala migrated to Pakistan; instead they got transformed into the Indian Union Muslim League and went on to rule the state as a constituent of the Left and the Congress- led ruling fronts.


Now, Madani's village, Karunagapally, is shrouded in purdah, though he is trying desperately to shake off his radical past and be part of the political mainstream by aligning with the Left front in Kerala. Others, more deadly, have taken over from him. Now, any perceived injury to religious pride is assuaged by barbaric Taliban- like actions. The hands of a Christian college teacher who used the prophet's name in a question paper were chopped off in broad daylight, while he was on his way back from the Sunday mass. Muhammed is the most common Muslim name and all that the teacher did was to call a fictitious character by that name.


Purdah has no place in my home town and is a sign of the imposition of an alien culture and its dress code. Many young girls are being forced to wear it over their jeans and T- shirts, clearly proving what choice they have over covering their bodies. The cultural identity of the Malayali Muslim as defined by dress in all its traditional glory is the ' blouse- mundu- headgear' attire with large gold earrings. Why don't the votaries of purdah try this out? After all, the purdah is for us what the mundu would be for them.









THE INCREASING number of underage drivers — who violate traffic norms with impunity — has become a major cause of concern for the people of Chandigarh.


These drivers have become a nuisance on the roads — especially before and after the school hours in the city. The law does not permit a person under 18 years of age to drive a motor vehicle in any public place. The norms however allow a 16-year-old person to drive a vehicle with a 50 cc engine capacity.


With scant regard for legal provisions and the least concern for road safety, the students drive two wheelers, cars and even SUVs to their schools and several public places without possessing a valid driving licence.


There have been instances of underage drivers have being involved in accidents while trying to escape the cops in pursuit to nab them.


A road safety activist at NGO Arrive Safe — Harman Sidhu — observes that the problem has taken attained alarming proportions. The teenage drivers who do not hold a valid authorisation to drive a vehicle; parents who let their wards ride motor vehicles without licences and the police who fail to enforce the law are all responsible for making the roads unsafe.


The schools are also responsible since they provide parking space to the vehicles driven " illegally" to the school. The schools should allow entry to a vehicle only if itis driven by an adult, Harman suggests. The Motor Vehicle Act also holds responsible the owner or person in charge of a motor vehicle if he permits anyone to drive the vehicle without a valid licence.


The parents of these drivers should also be brought under scanner to tackle the menace.


The police have their own take on this matter. They argue that stopping so many children from violating the traffic norms is humanly impossible. The students get to know about possible check posts and drive through alternate routes or inner city lanes.


Legal experts believe that there is need for harsher punishments for offenders of the Motor Vehicle Act. Action should be taken against parents and vehicle owners for helping underage drivers to flout the norms.


The parents in Chandigarh argue that children take tuitions and need to visit various parts of the town. They cannot commute long distances without driving motor vehicles and that the law should be amended to ensure that they are granted driving licences.


A survey carried out by Arrive Safe indicates that the majority of underage drive unsafely. They even resort to speeding and competing with each other on the road. They also imitate stunt performers while driving.


They lack awareness about road signs, traffic norms and have little respect for fellow citizens commuting on the roads. Such violations go unreported or unchecked.


Most of the accidents involving underage drivers are not even brought on the record. The NGO has found out that freak accidents mostly end in a compromise between the offender and the victim.


The police also encourage them to reach a compromise to avoid tedious court proceedings.


The police initiates action only when a life is lost or a person is injured seriously.


Whatever be the arguments in favour or against the underage drivers in Chandigarh, the fact is that they violate the law and leave behind a trail of trauma in the event of an accident.



ANANDJI V Shah — the noted music director of Kalyanji- Anandji fame — has his own take on averting heart diseases. " You will live a long life and command the respect of others if you remain happy and do good deeds." Anandji was in Chandigarh recently as the chief guest at a function in the memory of the singer Mukesh. He recalled how his family had migrated from Kutch in Gujarat to Mumbai to start a provision store. Then Anandji along with brother Kalyanji began learning music. They went on to compose some of the finest Hindi film songs.


At the programme organised by the Legendary Mukesh Musical Arts and Cultural Society ( LEMACS), Anandji said that the lyricists of yore wrote simple but soul stirring songs. Composing music for them was a sheer delight for the duo.


The legendary music director revealed that Mukesh was a dedicated professional who would always put in his best to churn out musical master pieces.


He went down the memory lane and recalled his association with the lyricist Indivar.


He enthralled the audience as he sang an all time favourite ' Kasme Vade Pyar Wafa' — a song from Manoj Kumar's Upkar ( 1967). In all humility, he said that he idolised and was influenced by SD Burman.



THE introduction of biometric system to regulate teachers' presence in classes would go a long way to improve the quality of dental education in the country.


Dr SPS Sodhi — a co- opted executive member of the Dental Council of India ( DCI) — says that the initiative had drawn flak even though there was no reason why people who take classes should be afraid of it.


The central government permitted the establishment of new dental colleges in rural India. But many of them turned into " teaching shops." As the number of dental colleges increased, the institutes experienced an acute shortage of teaching staff. The clinicians became " flying dentists" who taught part- time.


He revealed that some parttime teachers on " college rolls" visited institutes only once or twice a week and they opposed the introduction of biometric monitoring.


The DCI aims at improving the standard of dental education in India and wishes to get all 290 dental colleges to adhere to international standards of teaching.


The quality of education depends on the quality of students, faculty, management of the institutes and the regulatory body. He believes that a balance between all components decides the standards of education.

DCI has embarked upon a nationwide survey on the availability of dental manpower.


The survey would help DCI to improve the dental profession and regulate paradental disciplines which have changed the face of dentistry.



WELCOME to Iraq – reads a signboard in a village near Ludhiana. Once a status symbol, the village's name now attracts raised eyebrows when it's residents go abroad.


The villagers reveal that there was never any problem before the Gulf War.


The authorities had to reconfirm the name of the village and background of the people after the war.


Muslims from this village shifted to Sialkot in Pakistan during the Partition and Sikhs migrated here from Pakistan.


No one is aware of how the village was named. It is situated about 25 km from Ludhiana. It's residents say that even the Indian security forces get amused or suspicious during security checking at official functions or visits to government offices. They always need to carry a voter's identity card to establish that the village actually exists.








The prime minister's interaction with editors turned out to be an occasion to dispel the impression that the UPA-II government is drifting and to seize the initiative for the political executive. Manmohan Singh spoke on a host of issues and made it clear that he'll complete his term as prime minister, most likely with a new team of ministers. He used the occasion to speak his mind on the big issues facing India, adopting a reasonable, middle-of-the-road position on many of them. 

The big picture he paints may be a sombre one. But a clear-sighted view of possible turbulence ahead is always better than irrational exuberance or undue optimism. Although there's plenty of scope for cooperation between India and China some of Beijing's recent actions, especially those that have a bearing on Jammu and Kashmir, could be evidence of China's new priorities in South Asia. These, according to the PM, could be the reflection of a new assertiveness among the Chinese. As a new leadership takes over in Beijing in the next two years, the contours of India-China relations could also change. The situation in J&K also begs intervention, but there are no easy solutions to a vexed problem. The government needs to work on a combination of political and administrative initiatives to cool tempers in the Valley, as well as initiate a dialogue with stakeholders in the state on complicated matters like autonomy. Talk of diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and having the security forces strike a more humanitarian posture is a step in the right direction. 

The challenges clearly are enormous. Singh and his team will need all the backing of the Congress and allies to address them. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi may now need to remind party members of collective responsibility and have them refrain from public criticism of the government. The impression that the party and the government are not on the same page on crucial public policies could negatively impact governance and erode people's confidence in the government. 

A reshuffle of the ministerial team could refurbish the government's image and energise its working. The guiding principle of this exercise ought to be reducing the mean age of the cabinet, as Singh suggested. The Congress is not short on young MPs and the party must not shy away from giving administrative responsibilities to them. A new team with a clear understanding of the nation's priorities should be able to implement the PM's vision.




                                                                                                                                                            C OMMENT



Central trade unions called for a nationwide strike yesterday to protest against price rise, disinvestment, wastage in the public distribution system, non-implementation of labour laws et al. Once again parts of India, particularly communist-ruled West Bengal and Kerala, came to a standstill within 60 days of July's 'Bharat Bandh' called by the opposition parties. As in the previous bandh, the economic costs of Tuesday's strike will run into thousands of crores of rupees. It could be even more substantial with the involvement of the nationalised banks to protest against the RBI's plan to offer new banking licences and rules allowing FDI in the sector. While it remains to be seen whether Tuesday's bandh achieves its purpose or not, it certainly raises the issue of its efficacy as a legitimate means of protest.

In a democratic age, bandhs have lost their pre-independence aura and have outlived their purpose. They violate fundamental freedoms and reek of the old style of doing politics, leading to Supreme Court strictures against them. With rising literacy and growing economic activity, modern societies search for moderate political methods such as debate, discussions or protests that do not involve public disruption. Today, bandhs evoke cynicism rather than promote any solution to the problems they invoke. They increase the common man's burdens, particularly those of the economically deprived classes. As for West Bengal and Kerala, they cannot afford the reputation of being the bandh capitals of the nation. Even if they are doing other things right, that alone is enough to frighten off investors and industry. If India has to realise its true economic potential, then bandhs must be renounced. 








Two books have been on my mind recently. The first, The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria, was published in 2003. The second, Power: Where Is It? by professor Donald Savoie, has just been published. The trigger for this preoccupation was the enemy properties ordinance, 2010, promulgated by the government on July 2, 2010, which was tabled for enactment into law in the last session of Parliament. I will have to explain the connection. First the ordinance and then the reasons for my interest in these two books. 

The Enemy Properties Act, 1968, was enacted to allow the government to take into custody properties belonging to citizens of "enemy" countries. The reason was the 1965 Indo-Pak war and the fact that there were Pakistani citizens with properties in India. The letter and spirit of the Act made clear, however, that as and when the exigent circumstances that defined an "enemy" altered, the Act's remit would lapse. Heirs to former "enemies" who were bona fide citizens of India could, in other words, reclaim their inheritance. 

This point was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2005 in a judgement that "ordered" the custodian of enemy property to return the properties acquired in 1965 from the Raja of Mehmoodabad (a Pakistani citizen) to his son Mohammed Khan (Suleiman). The judgement was based on the fact that Suleiman's father had died in London in 1973, that Suleiman was the sole heir and that he had always been and remained an Indian citizen facts earlier upheld by the lower courts. The judges wrote, "Can the property of an Indian be called Enemy Property?" The "answer", they said, was an "emphatic No". 

The July ordinance set aside this decision. It promulgated that judicial decisions pertaining to enemy property were null and void and retroactively so. Suleiman's property was, thereafter, reoccupied by the custodian. 

I am sure the government had solid reasons for promulgating the ordinance. And for doing so when it did. But i do not know these reasons and find myself, therefore, struggling with several questions. 

Why given that no government had deemed it necessary to amend the Act for 40 years did this government push through such an order? And why an ordinance? For an ordinance is an executive tool that is to be used when Parliament is not in session and only to tackle situations that demand prompt action. What is the strength of the checks and balances in our Constitution for the protection of basic human rights if an ordinance can nullify retroactively judicial decisions? And have institutions got so weakened that individuals within or outside the governmental structure can determine policy? It is the latter two questions that got me to read Fareed's book and the reviews of Savoie's publication. 

Fareed makes the point that ''democracy" must not be confused with "constitutional liberalism". He writes that democracy is a process for electing governments its essence is free and fair elections whereas "constitutional liberalism" encapsulates the "bundle of freedoms" protected by the Constitution: "the rule of law; the freedom of speech, assembly, religion and property". He further adds that "democracy is flourishing but liberty is not". The number of governments that have legitimised their rule through elections has, for instance, exploded 119 countries currently as against none in 1900, whilst examples abound increasingly of "democratic" governments violating human rights. 

The challenge ahead, he argues, is to somehow restore the balance between democracy and liberty and that, among other things, requires the executive or the legislature to not encroach upon the judiciary. Alas, that is precisely what the ordinance appears to have done. The executive crossed the judicial guardrail and, instead of bringing "democracy and liberty" closer, it has potentially pulled them further apart. 

The second question on the loci of power got me to look at Savoie's book, Power: Where Is It? Savoie studies the major western democracies America and the Westminster models in Britain, CanadaAustralia and New Zealand and his answer to his titled question is ambivalent. He concludes that it is not clear where power resides. It certainly does not with the voter, nor with the majority of the politicians or the institutions of Parliament, the political parties or civil servants. He reckons that if it does reside anywhere, it is with a small number of political leaders, businessmen, etc individuals who have filled the power vacuum created by the hollowing out of institutions. 

I looked at Savoie's book because it contained the ingredients for an explanation of the ordinance. The weight of power is shifting away from the constitutionally embedded organs of governance towards powerful individuals. If that were not so, how could this ordinance with such far-reaching ramifications have passed institutional scrutiny? 

A silver lining and a disclaimer. The ordinance was not enacted because of political reasons. It therefore lapsed. The papers, however, report that the government has a replacement ordinance and is contemplating reintroducing it for enactment in the winter session of Parliament. The disclaimer. Suleiman is my sister's husband and Fareed my wife's brother. I read the ordinance because of this personal connection. I wrote this article because of broader concerns. 

The writer is chairman, Shell Group of Companies in India.


                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA





With the opening up of Delhi's swanky 5.4 million sq metres T3 terminal, comparisons with Mumbai's congested airport are inevitable, but probably unfair. G V Sanjay Reddy, vice-chairman, GVK and MD, Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd, tells Shobha John that for the last four years he has lived a dream, a dream to leave behind a legacy and which will fructify in 2013, when the airport is refurbished completely: 

In 2006, when you won the bid for Mumbai airport, you promised the city a world-class airport. That hasn't happened. 

That's a wrong assumption. Once the airport is completed, it'll be better than any airport in the world. When we won the bid, the plans given to us were different from the reality. For example, we thought the nearby slums were 147 acres, but were actually 300 acres. Many buildings didn't even have proper papers. It took us six months to get the data in place and submit a master plan. Presently, we are building on top of existing infrastructure. This is like doing an open-heart surgery on a marathon runner who is running. 

There are plans to shift the ATC tower near the cross runway to another location close by. Will this ease congestion? 

Yes, it will, indirectly, as the new tower will have modern equipment, which could ease matters. But having one runway and a cross runway isn't the problem. UK's Gatwick airport, which is our model, has only one runway but handles up to 60 flights hourly during peak time. Mumbai handles about 35. The problem is of airline and passenger discipline. On-time performance (OTP) of departures used to be 40-45 per cent till the implementation of a DGCA circular on July 18 which said airline counters be closed 30 minutes before boarding. Now, OTP is 80 per cent. Airlines have realised OTP is good for them as it saves fuel. 

But the fact is airlines prefer Delhi's T3 now, with even AI wanting to make it a hub. Does that rankle? 
I haven't seen T3 but appreciate that it was built within the time frame. We are the underdogs now, but wait till the airport is completed. Then, we'll cater to 40 million passengers annually in 4.3 million sq metres. As for airline slots, we'll only allow as required. 

IATA lambasted Indian airports for 'crazy taxes'. ChinaSingapore and Malaysia reduced these, sometimes by 50 per cent. But in India, charges are imposed even while airports are being built. Will you emulate the above countries? 

IATA should be congratulated for good marketing. A report on airport charges among 50 airports found Mumbai at 50. We can't be like Dubai or Singapore, which are airport cities around which their economies run. They only have international traffic. Besides, i have invested Rs 10,000 cr in Mumbai. I am not running a charity and neither are airlines. We need reasonable returns on our investment after paying off our debt. Anyway, there is a regulatory authority, AERA. Airport charges will come down in 7-8 years after we recover our investment. 

There are airlines, which don't pay their dues to you. How do you tackle them? 


It's an uneasy alliance. We are both dependent on each other but we have different business models. While we invest upfront and recover our dues slowly and steadily, airlines are dependent on market forces completely. That's where the frustration comes in, but we try to be flexible with them.








The Kerala government's silence on the fate of Professor T J Joseph whose hand was chopped off by thugs from the Popular Front of India (PFI) and has now been sacked from his job shows how much the politics of opportunism has taken root in the ruling Left Democratic Front.


The college where he worked has come up with the reprehensible suggestion that he might be reinstated only if the Muslim community, which he allegedly offended with a perceived insult to the Prophet, forgave him. This puts us in the category of countries where people have to pay the price of religious intolerance with their limbs and, often, lives.


The Kerala government has been dithering over a probe into this crime and has uttered no word of censure to the educational institution that has heaped insult to injury on Professor Joseph. If the so-called custodians of the Muslim community were so exercised over Professor Joseph's actions, they could have filed a case against him. They instead took the law into their own hands.


The college had no business to arrogate to itself the task of telling him to seek forgiveness from anyone. The appalling inaction of the government could well be interpreted to mean that it is reluctant to take on these fundamentalists who claim to speak for the Muslim community. This gives them licence to act as the moral police in future. If the CPI(M) thinks that appeasing these fanatics will pay political dividends, it is sadly mistaken.


As its experience in the last Lok Sabha elections shows, flirting with the likes of fanatics like the People's Democratic Party's Abdul Nasser Madani hurt the party's secular credentials and it was humiliated in the polls.


The Achuthanandan government as well as the politburo of the CPI(M) has acquitted itself very poorly by their inability to stand up to a bunch of hooligans who do not enjoy any popular support. The price of years of inaction has already led to the creeping Talibanisation of Kerala's picturesque Malabar region. Here fundamentalists have been trying to enforce their writ through terror tactics.


It is still not too late to pull back from the brink by taking strong action against these so-called fly-by-night religious organisations as well as educational institutions which flout the rule book. The state can in no way be seen to complicit with those who consider themselves judge, jury and executioner.


A good start would be to ban the PFI and ensure that Professor Joseph gets gainful employment. Otherwise, God's own country will be seen as perpetuating dangerous and sinister deities.








The stage is set in the tribal heartland of Jharkhand for a drama that has all the twists and turns to beat even the old Hollywood super-special: the pattern of an Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton relationship. After a bitter divorce just three months ago, the BJP and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) on Tuesday staked claim to form a government in the state.


The two had split following cross-voting by JMM chief Shibu Soren in Parliament during cut motions in the Budget session in April brought by BJP and Left parties. In fact, almost everyone has joined the patch-up party: in the 81-member assembly, the BJP and JMM have 18 seats each, the All Jharkhand Students' Union has five seats and the JD(U) two legislators. Two independents have also extended support to the BJP.


The possible reunion can be put down to something very basic: passion — of course, in this case, for political power. But such baser instincts are not for public consumption. So the actors have come up with an ingenious reason to justify their reunion. JMM leader Hemant Soren, the would-be king if only his father Shibu Soren hangs up his boots, said that the severe drought in the state has necessitated this union because the people need a government that represents them. Amen to that.


But can we forget how keen Soren Junior was to salvage the marriage with the BJP? But what about the BJP? Once bitten, yet not twice shy? The takeaway from this second innings seems to be the choice of chief minister: BJP's Jamshedpur MP and former CM Arjun Munda is tipped to take over.


Albert Einstein once said that politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity. For the time being, Jharkhand proves him right. But for how long? Watch this space.



.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES





'Culture' 'DNA' and 'values' have entered the debate on the spot-fixing controversy. Several cricketers have expressed the belief that dishonesty exists not just in Pakistan cricket, but in the very DNA of the subcontinent.


Ricky Ponting believes that the values of cricket are simply not upheld in certain "cultures". Mathew Hayden remarked that it's not in the Australian DNA to cheat. Michael Atherton said that the root of all evil in cricket can be traced to India and Imran Khan stated that when a society says you can get away with all crime, what's a little no-ball?


The spot-fixing controversy is not just about Pakistan, but it's also about the growing global assumption that Pakistanis, Indians and subcontinentals in general are a cheating and corrupt people whose level of personal dishonesty is very high.


Are we, South Asians, a congenitally corrupt people? Do we have no sense of right and wrong? Is our society based on thievery and lies and personal criminality? And is our culture itself uniquely forgiving of personal dishonesty? There can't be another society today that shows such textbook characteristics of a pervasive moral and spiritual crisis.


The dishonesty on display at the Commonwealth Games has created shock, helplessness and hopelessness. The filthy money deals, the shady crony capitalism, the unabashed favours to the few, the wilful blindness of those at the top, the numbing, bewildering, indeed horrifying daily scams have left many patriotic Indians facing a sudden loss of self-belief about India.


The government seems powerless to act. Cabinet ministers are accused of systematic dishonesty and still ride around with their 'Z plus' security. Right To Information activists, acting on a legislation that is regarded as a showpiece of our democracy, are being murdered. State governments are taking over public land not for public use but to hand over to builders for windfall private profits.


As economist Raghuram Rajan writes in his excellent book Fault Lines, the License Permit raj has been replaced by the Land Mafia raj.


As institutions like health care, judiciary, media and education are in danger of destruction, the only avenue left for survival is connectivity or the ability to use connections in every situation. The ability to pick up the phone and dial a number and get things done is often the only way a service can be delivered at all 
levels of society.


If connectivity becomes the only ticket for survival, soon India will be converted into a land controlled by a gang of 2,000 super-connected warlords, or oligopolists or individuals who combine in their individual personages immense political and money power and rule their individual empires with no truck with the State or the State's arms like the judiciary or police.


This 'profusion of well connected billionaires' that Rajan alludes to is a neo-zamindari system in which ordinary Indian citizens will have to scramble to stay connected to the warlords in order to ensure delivery of services and the wherewithal of life.


Too cynical? Sample Rajan: "India is a country with the second largest number of billionaires. And the dubious wealth comes from land, natural resources and government contracts or licences, not from competitive or free entry sectors like software. Thus it is proximity to government that is still the source of enormous profitability in India."


The overwhelming bulk of big money is not a product of an open and competitive economy but is secured by government  favours which directly influence profitability. Corruption is thus embedded in the current India dream.

The degradation of religion is also one of the reasons why we have become personally dishonest. The founders of modern India were deeply secular and pluralist yet came from a society which drew strength from an un-self-consciousness religiosity.


Not religion defined by hatred of others, violence and noisy political ideology, but religion defined as an old quiet traditional faith that provided an unobtrusive moral compass. Today, multi-crore events like dahi handi show that religion is a stage-managed artificially euphoric extravaganza that is failing to create role models of passionate honesty and courage.


What can we do to create an Indian moral renaissance and a moral revolution? How can we send a shock wave through our society? Here's a suggestion from your humble columnist. It's a suggestion that begins with the prime minister because it is an initiative that must come from the very top. Manmohan Singh, call to your office ten of India's finest most upright officers.


Ask them, on the basis of the voluminous insider information that must surely exist, to prepare a list of the 100 most corrupt grandees in the country, i.e. all top ministers, high-ranking officials, tycoons, who have serious corruption charges against them.


Once the list is made, summon a press conference and in full public view, name the top offenders (however Very Very Important they may be), shame them in public and by all the powers vested in you by the Constitution, the tricolour, and the spiritual power of a land where the spirit of Brahma, Buddha and the Prophet once breathed, send the worst offenders to jail right there and right then and announce your decision to the public. Let your legacy be one, wherein the tradition of the valorous Sikhs, you sent the corrupt and the powerful to prison.


Your political career could end, Dr Singh. Your government may collapse immediately. But remember how you once risked your government for the nuclear deal? Maybe it's time to risk your government for the real deal. You will lose power, you will be ridiculed. But you will win an eternal crown: the hearts of every Indian. You would have struck a lightning blow of moral transformation down the line and you would have brought god back to our blighted land. Summon that press conference, Dr Singh, and kickstart the morality revolution.


Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal








Rural development, in the context of today's India in which 70 per cent of its population lives in villages, has to lie in the critical core of the socio-economic transformation of the country. Most rural clusters still smart under basic services and resource deficits such as healthcare, education, safe drinking water, sanitation, housing and infrastructure in contrast with semi-urban and urban areas.


The flush of at least 100 centrally-sponsored schemes, with a mammoth allocation of Rs 137,000 crore (2010-11) for anti-poverty and rural welfare programmes epitomises the initiatives towards aggressive and accelerated growth and prosperity of the rural segments. The instrumentality of flagship programmes such as the Bharat Nirman Yojana, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has the potential to unlock the capacities of the rural economy.


The National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme is the world's largest public works and rural employment generation programme. The macro- and micro-planning of rural development must now be fitted into planning from below and connect with popular participation at the tip of the decision- making process.


Participation of the stakeholders and a sense of ownership in the planning are a must of development strategy. Planning should not be imported from above but built on differential area-specific criteria that recognises local capacities, potential catalysts, resource endowment and the needs of the people.


The truth is that even with the myriad of development programmes with massive outlays in place, the benefits have not 'trickled down' fast and wide enough to produce commensurate dividends. What has inhibited the reach of services is widely recurrent complaints about corruption, siphoning off of funds, procedural hassles and political discrimination. Also, a large part of the targeted beneficiaries remain unaware of the programmes.


Keeping this in mind, it was necessary to disseminate information about development programmes extensively, along with the need for a mechanism for receiving feedback from citizens and gauging their responses to the quality and level of delivery of services coupled with robust monitoring, evaluating and corrective systems involving the Centre and the states.


A shift from bureaucratic and centralised planning to decentralised planning needs to be launched. Bureaucratic flavoured centralised planning makes popular participation cosmetic. Democracy pre-supposes a creative induction of the people and their representatives into a participating mode. The Centre and states should also widen the network of existing social audits and furnish information about allotments and utilisation of funds at all levels from the gram panchayats to the zila parishads and the impact of the schemes.


Poor book-keeping, nominal audit certifications must be corrected. This calls for a regular and rigid audit of accounts by auditors and chartered accountants.


However resolute and well-crafted the controlling and monitoring strategies may be, systemic simplifications, zero tolerance to corruption and, above all, ensuring the integrity and commitment of the executing agencies will be integral and determinate to this goal.


D N Sahaya is former Governor of Tripura and Chhattisgarh. The views expressed by the author are personal.








Like the invisible hand that must have given Adam Smith one tight revelatory slap on a sunny 18th century afternoon, knowledge came to me like a ton of recycled bricks on a grey September day. While taking a turn at a crossing near Connaught Place, I saw some workers furiously digging a footpath. If in that brief moment I caught any fury in their digging, it was on a relative scale, as 'furious digging' normally suggests  pneumatic drills and hard hats, not five gravediggers on overtime.


But in that accordian-collapsed string of moments, I not only figured out how India is such a chugging economy because of its incredibly competitive rates (read: dirt cheap labour) but also why there's that tungsten-firmness to our resolve to dispose of any innovation that could make labour more productive as well as a little more pleasurable. The workers near Connaught Place were using shovels and work was proceeding in that rush hour at, well, a shovel pace. As for the dignity of their labour...


A few minutes later at a stairwell in my office, I saw it again. Workers, wearing blue and black uniforms ("We're sanitation workers not ragpickers," the uniform-wearers seemed to say), were picking on, picking up and pushing into black plastic bags used tissues, crushed paper cups, crusty thermocol plates and lots of oozy stuff with their bare hands. Again, providing them with gloves and overalls would have been additional inputs that would seep into labour costs —  and keeping labour costs down ('Lucky China doesn't have a democracy!') is what makes India such an economic juggernaut.


In the evening, the full circle of India's economic model was on full display. I tried to put in a multi-pin plug into the bedside plugpoint so that I would be able to read Nicholas Phillipson's wonderful new biography of Adam Smith and charge my mobile phone at the same time. Only a week ago, an electrician had come to fix the wirings in the house and fix a new multi-pin plug, all for the princely sum of Rs 300, labour charges included. The multi-pin plug came apart like a Jarasandh a week later.


This article has taken me three hours to write not because I'm that dimwitted, but because the cable connecting my laptop to the office server and the mail service through which this article ultimately reached this page gets disconnected at the slightest of movements. IT engineers — pride of our economy — had told me I'll have to bear the cost of fixing the port that causes the problem. So I pray and sit very still while writing.


As we bring terror into the hearts of workers in Obamaland and other 'pampered' labour forces across the still-underworked and overpaid world, I have found the secret to India's economic success: skimping on labour costs and facilities to workers so as to provide the cheapest services for a miserly, quality-agnostic majority.


And here's the funny thing: instead of moping about as we get the rawest deal, we're proud of being dirt-cheap labour producing, as you can tell now that you've reached the end of this 'article', stuff of dire quality.








According to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, only three people have died of dengue so far this year. Indeed, only 1,370 have been diagnosed, they say. But that, as almost every resident of Delhi suspects, is a formidable under-counting. We have no clear idea what the actual incidence of the fever is. It now seems clear how this problem has arisen. The corporation reports only those cases that have been confirmed as having had dengue through the use of a particular test: IgM-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, dashingly abbreviated Elisa. The government already has Elisa tests on hand, and so they are what's offered to patients in government hospitals.


But Elisa tests have a long turnaround time, and so most private patients, who have the option, use the NS-1 antigen test instead. NS-1 gives you results in a fraction of the time that Elisa takes; nor is it completely out of reach of most patients, as it costs around Rs 400. The MCD says that it is "too late" this year to switch over to the NS-1 test in government hospitals. Presumably, the cost was a factor, too.


But that does not explain why the MCD did not adjust for the numbers of NS-1 tests in its figures. This is not simply a question of demanding truth from one's government. Nor is it merely indignation that, in the under-reporting, the MCD can somehow claim that the problem is less severe than it actually is. There is an even deeper concern: in public health scares of this sort, a quick response is frequently essential. Patterns will be buried in the reported cases: who got what where? Do some areas have more virulent cases? These are important epidemiological questions, especially when an outbreak appears to be gaining in strength, and a response needs to be nimble and light-footed. Yet the MCD appeared content to under-report. It is not certain, therefore, that the nature and scope of this spate of dengue cases was being analysed at all. Reportedly, the MCD will consider introducing the faster test for next year. That's important. But it's also important for the corporation, and for the Delhi government, to actually have that necessary data, so whatever efforts are needed to combat or contain the season's dengue are properly directed.







Television and print media have been awash with pictures of stacks of sacks of rotting foodgrain. And played in an almost infinite loop, these pictures become obviously powerful. They can become a call to urgent and revolutionary action. This perhaps accounts for the emotive appeal of the Supreme Court's recent intervention on distributing this grain, and to keep procurement commensurate with available storage facilities. It does not, however, explain the opposition's reflexive criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's comments on the case. In a media interaction on Monday, he said that while he understood the sentiment behind the court's words, he "respectfully" submitted that "the Supreme Court should not get into the government's realm of policy-making".


That something as basic as storage facilities has come to be debated in the apex court is, of course, a reminder that successive governments have failed to get the policy right on food procurement, storage and distribution. It is a mess that escapes one-shot solutions. But getting the policy right and delivering on it is the government's mandate. On the same day that the prime minister made those comments, the government said it had decided to allocate an additional 25 lakh tonnes of grain at BPL prices for six months. It also filed a 19-page affidavit in the Supreme Court explaining how its order could impact food security. Food security is, in part, a factor of availability and productivity. The food ministry pointed out in the affidavit that, were the government to limit procurement to its storage capacities, during peak harvests farmers could be left to the mercy of a buyer's market, propelling them to move away from food crops. It also put forth steps being taken to enhance storage facilities. The judges hearing the case said "they were very happy to note the government's comprehensive affidavit", but the arguments in court must also be seen in the context of a larger debate on food security.


There is legitimate concern about the economics and morality of the government, in effect, hoarding grain. In a working paper available on the finance ministry's website, Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu argues that the government needs to refine the mechanics of releasing grain in small quantities, so that offloading surpluses does not skew the market. But the larger framework of the debate is on the proposed food security legislation. Passions are raging in the National Advisory Council over universalising the availability of cheap grain, instead of primarily targeting BPL families, leading to fears of policy paralysis. Perhaps copies of that 19-page affidavit should be circulated in the NAC too.








The human resource development ministry may be sulking that a bill setting up educational tribunals did not pass Parliament. But instead of presenting itself as a victim of poor floor management, the ministry needs to introspect on the fact that most of its current reform efforts are shockingly shoddy in their execution. There is now a familiar pattern at work.


Take a few examples. A draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill was circulated. Such a draft would have been refined in the course of public discussion. But the draft was so awful, so contrary to common sense and sensible regulatory principles that it has to now be completely redone. The ministry tried to supposedly scrutinise the deemed university system by withdrawing recognition to several institutions. But the process leading up to the derecognition was so poorly executed and riddled with procedural anomalies that the Supreme Court had to intervene to superintend the process. Worse still, the ad hoc way in which the ministry intervened in the process damaged its credibility. It gave the impression that there was still a great deal of arbitrariness in the way government functions. It also reinforced the fundamental infirmity in the present system: that the HRD ministry knows best, and has the licence to bypass established process.


The Tribunals Bill that was held up in Parliament is, in its current form, a terribly drafted piece of legislation and the standing committee was right to object to it. The objectives of the bill are promiscuously unclear: it gives the impression that the tribunal will adjudicate everything from affiliation related matters to service conditions and student grievances. A plausible case could be made for a limited dispute resolution mechanism. But that mechanism has to be placed in three contexts.


First, a tribunal makes sense only against the backdrop of a larger regulatory structure. It is not clear what that structure is going to be. The draft NCHER Bill gave it tribunal-like powers, raising fears of a mass of overlapping and ill-defined jurisdictions. Second, there has to be a clear articulation of the problem you are trying to fix. Student grievances of particular kinds require better in-house mechanisms and it is not advisable to legalise them in the same way you might want to legalise other forms of regulatory issues. Third, you have to show why the new system will be better than the old one. The standing committee was right in thinking that it is better to trust courts than to trust these tribunals. The composition of these tribunals is nothing but a vast contrivance to secure more sinecures for about-to-retire civil servants. Academics are under-represented, and even the norms of judicial representation violate Supreme Court norms for such tribunals. And what signals do you send about academic values, autonomy when you insist on stuffing education tribunals with IAS officers?


There are similar issues plaguing two other reform initiatives: the Foreign Education Institutions Bill and now the newly proposed innovation universities. The ministry has been naïve about what kinds of foreign institutions are likely to come to India. But the bill does not answer one fundamental objection: how can a democracy justify special privileges for foreign institutions, while it ties the hands of domestic ones? The early drafts of the "innovation" universities bill are promising in some respects: they seem to promise greater autonomy and experimentation. But there are problems. The first is simply fairness in regulation: how do you expect other institutions to compete and excel if they are not given the same regulatory freedoms as other institutions? The proposal almost seems to stigmatise existing institutions. Second, what is the mechanism by which these "special" institutions will be selected? Why will this mechanism have any more credibility than existing mechanisms, especially since silence on this topic suggests that government wants to control the process?


The list could go on. The UGC, with full knowledge of the HRD ministry, proposes a series of absurd guidelines of teacher recruitment and promotion; and now another committee is appointed to examine those guidelines. As far as public universities are concerned, still the mainstay of our system, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. We make a song and dance about the absence of research in universities, yet all proposals still coming out of UGC are going to make the structural conditions for research more difficult, in terms of fewer sabbaticals, larger teaching loads, etc. Worse still, the focus of the ministry gives the impression that it wants to let the public system rot.


There is conflict in Delhi University over the semester system. It would be easy to present this as a conflict between a reform proposal and an obdurate union. A semester system is advisable on pedagogic grounds; but we have converted it into a formulaic calendar reform. Certainly the Delhi University Teachers Association has a history of massive obstructionism, combined with capitulation on the wrong issues. But it is raising pertinent questions about the semester system. Before we introduce reforms, have we ensured that the conditions necessary to make that reform work exist? The trouble is that no one in the education establishment wants to do the hard work that will be necessary to answer this question.


Why this arbitrary slash and burn approach to reform? Part of this is a problem of urgency. Urgency is admirable, but it should not be an unthinking haste, more intent on making a statement than solving a problem. Part of it is that the small existing network of bureaucrats and selected academics that seems to be shepherding this process cannot entirely shake off the legacy of their own past. What is remarkable about this supposedly reform-minded ministry is that exactly the same group of bureaucrats and academics who signed on the dotted line for Arjun Singh (and in some cases Murli Manohar Joshi), who created this badly regulated system in the first place, have again been pressed into service. They instinctively do not have the imaginative liberal disposition that reform needs. And the way in which they think of the relationship between education and the state subverts any reform. And their presence and actions are signalling that the ministry is not serious about reform. Finally, serious reform is not about ministerial enthusiasm; it is about the slow boring of hard boards.


The ministry's reformist sheen is coming off very fast. Rather than blaming Parliament it needs to set its own house in order. Academics may let the minister get away with a demeanour that says, "minister knows best." But it is a good thing Parliament didn't.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








The prime minister was absolutely right in saying that 37 per cent of the population cannot be given free grains without destroying all incentives for agriculture. It would have saved a lot of hassle if his economic advisers or the Planning Commission had made this clear earlier. If a large part of the population is given free or very cheap grain it reduces the market price.


Small farmers don't get a proper price and the demand for labour in agriculture goes down and wages fall. Poverty goes up.


The two-rupee rice scheme in Andhra by N.T. Rama Rao did that and paddy cultivation in the Godavari delta rice granary got a setback.


There is however a clarification. The courts, to the best of my knowledge, have not categorically said that all the poor defined by the Tendulkar Poverty Line (37 per cent) must get free grain. That line was the Official Urban Poverty Line which Professor Tendulkar recommended as the National Poverty Line and has hardly anything to do with the hungry. The courts wanted the hungry to be fed grain for free. As the author of the task force in the mid-'70s which defined the Official Poverty Line, I have for more than two decades now said that that line needs a re-look. To the best of my knowledge, the courts want the government to define the hungry and then feed them.


In fact the task force which defined the Official Poverty Line was very clear that the poverty line is not the line that separates the hungry from the others. Its report is available and it carries a fascinating debate between two Indian greats on poverty and hunger, the late V.N. Dandekar and the late P.V. Sukhatme. Sukhatme had for long argued around the fact that the human body's requirements depend on many factors including body weight, work, climate and so on. It also adjusts to the intake it takes and what it gets out of food is also determined by how efficiently it absorbs it. Deworming for example, Sukhatme showed, would reduce need substantially. The basal metabolic rate is around 1,200 calories but at around 1,800 to 2,000 most people would meet their needs. Those were somewhat sedate civilised days and the debate went on for some time. The task force finally also defined a Modified Poverty Line which was to be used to guide feeding programmes for the hungry. In fact, Sukhatme had in Pune opened Indira kitchens to prove that clean, nutritious food in smaller quantities would solve the hunger problem. The Modified Poverty Line was 25 per cent lower in calories than the recommended Average Poverty Line. Since calorie distributions are more dense than expenditure distributions (more people around the average), that would mean a lot less people.


In those days, hunger was measured in a different way. The National Sample Survey would ask all households the question that bothered Gandhiji and now Rahul Gandhi keeps on raising: do you get two square meals a day? In those days, more than a fifth of the population would say: we don't. That percentage is now less than five. It is true that the chronically poor and severely malnourished are higher, but not 37 per cent.


So the question being raised is not hunger but poverty, which is a larger issue of deprivation and entitlements. These are very important political and equity related questions, but should not be confused with abolishing hunger. This column has always rooted for abolishing hunger which can be done. As the PM has said and we have always wanted to separate hunger abolition from that trap, feeding grain to a large number of people is being with the angels and not very practical. If the NAC gives Dr Hashim the necessary vision he can do the technical work to redefine poverty. Of course, he will have to do both rural and urban poverty, since you cannot have the ludicrous position that there is a Tendulkar Poverty Line which is the Official Urban Poverty Line and a Hashim Urban Poverty Line, which are two different parallel lines which never meet.


The important thing right now is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and to solve the problem of

hunger, extreme malnutrition and chronic poverty. Done professionally and reasonably, I am confident the PM will not object to that.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand









 In a year when a succession of public sector blue-chips have huffed and puffed while filling up their retail quota, in a dim corner of the market, quite unheralded, the quota for retail investors in government bonds has filled up in every single auction. The sum invested, week after week, is comparable and more with what's on offer to retail investors in public issues. And yet, compared with the possible returns from a possible rise in the share prices, yields for government of India bonds are very low, even after accounting for the latest bout of rising yields. And when you factor in the numbers for WPI inflation currently, this anomaly seems even more odd.


But not once you also factor in the maddening policy goof-ups that flow from the distorted sense of economic realty that prevails in the government of India. Then, and only then, the flight from stocks to bonds seems sensible.


Remember: these government papers do not carry any tax incentive. Till last year, the ingrained response to the zero retail subscription to these papers was that in a market where avenues like the public provident fund offered a tax-plus-fixed income incentive, why would there be any demand for these papers? This has changed. Since there is no strong daily market for these papers, investors possibly plan to hold them to maturity.


So, even as institutional money from abroad is pouring quickly into the equity market, spurred by an economy

that has logged an 8.8 per cent growth rate for this quarter following 8.6 per cent in the last quarter, retail investors now prefer bonds. And it is not as if the small investor is not interested in the stock market per se. The number of demat accounts has climbed to over 1 crore — 1.04 crore at last count, actually, and still climbing.


The reason they have just retired to the relative safety of fixed income cannot therefore, be market-induced weakness — but a combination of somewhat lethal policies, the latest among them being the lack of progress in the new pension scheme, and therefore, a lack of execution of projects by companies.


Before anyone makes a noise about rising inequality as a reason why the middle class has less money to invest, just check out the food inflation numbers. Forget the middle class, consumption is rising even for those lower down the income ladder. Even if one assumes static food production pulling up prices, higher demand can only come from more money with consumers. And the latest quarterly survey on unemployment from the labour ministry said jobs weren't being lost — in fact 61,000 jobs were created.


So everything adds up: all sorts of company scrips, FMCG, infrastructure and banks, should attract retail investors. But they are not doing so.


Usually the retail investor, unlike the short-term institutional investor, explores a long-term growth story while investing. But these are exactly the stories that are in short supply, as a paranoid government moves in to shave off growth opportunities in several sectors.


And thus, investment avenues in the Indian stock market have dwindled so sharply for retail investors that one could be forgiven for believing this is an election year, when companies usually batten down the hatches till a new government is in power.


If these blunders do not get sorted out soon, the recovery of the stock markets from the global downturn will benefit only foreign institutional investors and high-net worth individuals — and very few retail investors.


Another classic example of a policy self-goal is land acquisition. In a recent chat, the managing director of Tata Steel, N.D. Nerurkar, said that no greenfield steel plant is likely to come up soon. Consequently, because of the politics of land acquisition, the level of steel imports has risen from 2 million tonnes per year to 7 million tonnes. The voracious Indian consumer of steel winds up creating profits for Chinese and European steel companies. The land acquisition bill is due in the next session of Parliament — but most of its substantive clauses are still up in the air.


Then there's the delay in Parliament passing the amended Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act — a delay almost socialistic. This tardiness impacted the pricing of the divestment of the government's stake in the state-owned mining behemoth NMDC — as well as that of the "ultra mega power projects" of the private sector equally well. Valuation reports by research firms for infrastructure companies have thus begun to look closely at how deeply their projects are tied to land acquisitions, and downgrading them accordingly. Infrastructure companies in India are supposed to be the vanguard of a long-term growth story; if this is what happens to their valuations, the stink is bound to be worse just about everywhere else.


To complicate the lack of demand-side factors, the government has begun to look askance at supply-side factors too. There are already enough restrictions on investment by insurance, banking and pension companies in the stockmarket. The kerfuffle on the new pension scheme brings this out in even sharper relief. The government is apparently not willing to wait for investors to make up their mind on whether they will take a long-term bet on making their pensions work through the stockmarkets. It is instead considering allowing state governments to open their budgets to provide a defined benefit-based pension to those who want it.


It has been a long, hard road to make fund managers take a leap into uncharted long-term waters, to build up an equity market-based corpus through contributions from investors. It was also expected that the funds in turn will be able to use this income stream to float more papers that could create an additional source of investment for retail investors.


And let's not even get into a discussion of what's being done to the mutual fund and insurance industry, where those retail investors shy of directly investing in stocks could get a bit of advice. No wonder the small fellows have cashed out.


The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'







The comrades feel the UPA government has developed cold feet on the ambitious food security bill, because the concept runs "against the grain" of the government and the Congress' present-day ideology of neo-liberalism. The party, it says, made a promise for electoral expediency but the concept of food security does not concur with economic liberalism.


"There is concerted and deliberate propaganda to create a myth that the Congress president is very interested in the people's welfare, and that she has been constantly pressuring the government to take up measures to ameliorate the lot of the poor, and so whatever steps seemingly pro-poor, pro-common man the government takes are attributed to her," a front page article in CPI weekly New Age says.


"Some well-meaning people in the national advisory council have put up very useful proposals and suggestions. But the proposals are anathema to the Congress president and the prime minister. So every time the NAC meets some proposals are made and then the matter is shelved," it adds.


PMO and MNCs


An article in the CPM's People's Democracy talks about reports which indicated that the prime minister's office had sought the opinion of some ministries regarding issues related to the Indian Patents Act. It says that "what makes the PMO's queries interesting is that they were in the form of a paper that was submitted to it by the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI)". OPPI, it argues, is the key representative of foreign MNCs that operate in India and it had been an unabashed critic of the act.


"So what does the PMO do when the OPPI scampers to it with its wishlist of complaints? It passes this wishlist on to concerned ministries — the ministries of commerce, health, chemicals and fertilisers and law — for their 'opinion'", it reports. "Only the naïve would believe that when the PMO sends an industry note to different ministries, it is an innocent effort to receive opinion. Press reports indicate that the PMO, in fact, forwarded the OPPI's wishlist with its own covering note that asked the concerned departments to submit their views, which would be consolidated by the department of pharmaceuticals," it says.


The PMO's action is a cause for concern because of the very high price that may have to be paid by Indian patients if the OPPI's suggestions are acted upon by the government, says the article, titled 'The PMO Dances to the tune of Pharma MNCs'.


Terror has a colour


Coming to the support of P. Chidambaram, the CPM has asked what was wrong with his use of the phrase "saffron terror" by the home minister since Hindutva terrorists have been active in different parts of the country for the last few years.


"The Nanded bomb blast killed two RSS activists when they were making bombs. The police arrested some

RSS men for it. And why were they making bombs? Because some organisations like Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sansthan were active in terrorist activities since the Malegaon blasts in 2006. At least nine blasts have occurred in this period," an article in People's Democracy says.


The article recounts the incidents of blasts at Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif and Samjhauta Express, and the lesser known ones in Parbani, Jalna, Jalgaon Mau, Nanded, Tenkasi, Tirunalveli and Kanpur and argues that those arrested in connection with these blasts are either related to the RSS or parts of the RSS-controlled Sangh Parivar.


"Since these terror organisations are related to the RSS-controlled Sangh Parivar, which is also called the saffron brigade, there is nothing unnatural if their activities are termed as 'saffron terror'." Besides, it adds, saffron is no monopoly of the BJP: "the fact is that the RSS is seeking to defend the indefensible by sentimentalising this particular colour."


But the most surprising thing, the article says, is to see how the Congress is silently distancing itself from fighting this menace. "In the past, they soft-pedalled communal issues on many occasions, and are afraid to meet the BJP's hate campaign head-on. This is so at a time when they need to rise against this new menace and firmly fight it — politically, ideologically and administratively."


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







I was in the White House a few weeks back for a pleasant chat with Denis McDonough, the National Security Council chief of staff, and was struck by the red digital clock on his wall showing times in critical spots around the globe.


Back in the 20th century, not really that long ago, you would have had the times in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, and possibly in the capital of some regional cornerstone power, say Cairo or New Delhi. McDonough's list begins with Washington and Potus (the President of the United States), followed by Stillwater (the town he's from in Minnesota), Kabul, Baghdad, the Yemeni capital of Sana, Jerusalem and Tehran.


The Stillwater reference is a joke. My ex-wife's family was also from there and I can vouch that it's a lovely place, but the strategic epicentre of precisely nothing. Another inside joke is the bracketed "Rahm" after Jerusalem — a reference to the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whose ties to Israel are strong.


The serious bit is what this list says about America's strategic priorities a decade into the 21st century. They have been transformed. Sana is a sleepy little spot that happens to be pivotal to the Obama administration's new "scalpel" approach to terrorism — picking off al-Qaeda operatives rather than applying the "hammer" of invasion. The other foreign capitals speak for themselves as hubs of war, conflict or escalating nuclear tensions.


What is striking, just two decades after the end of the Cold War, is the absence of a single European city. Europe, for the first time in hundreds of years, has become a strategic backwater. Europe is history.


Since taking office, President Obama has reached out to the Muslim world as a whole, to China, to Turkey and to Iran, but has devoted scant serious diplomatic energy to Europe. In many ways, he is the first post-Atlanticist president, drawn by temperament, upbringing and circumstance to focus elsewhere. "Europe is the object of benign US neglect," said Camille Grand, a prominent Paris-based defence analyst. "Obama has not established or re-established a strategic relationship with any single European country or with Europe as a whole."


Obama remains popular with Europeans — even if giddy infatuation has gone the way of giddy infatuations — but European political leaders feel jilted. Obama was supposed to put together the European Humpty Dumpty that President Bush shattered by favouring alliances of the willing over old alliances. He hasn't.


Central Command in Florida, running the Afghan war, rides roughshod over NATO. New Middle East peace initiatives are launched, new Afghan strategies decided, without even a nod to the Europeans who will pick up part of the tab and do part of the dying. Nowhere else has Obama's remoteness and distaste for the two-minute protocol phone call been so keenly felt as a brush-off.


France is in a quiet sulk. Nicolas Sarkozy is the most pro-American president of the Fifth Republic. He brought France back into NATO's military command, rejected the de rigueur cynicism of French political discourse on the United States, and reached out to Obama. For all of which he got nothing. He must hear de Gaulle's ghost at night whispering, "I told you so."


In London, the British are shaking their heads. Prime Minister David Cameron, knowing Obama's cool, set expectations low but is looking for a way to re-energise a special relationship shaken by the Iraq war. He has found little responsiveness in Washington. "The special relationship is in real trouble," said Julian Lindley-French, a defence expert at the Dutch Royal Military Academy.


I can understand the US attitude: Europe is at peace and reluctant to spend on defence. Some 2,000 Dutch troops are quitting Afghanistan at a critical juncture. NATO, in search of a relevant doctrine, has become an aging experts' dilemma. France and Britain are smallish countries even if they account for 43 per cent of EU defence spending. There are jihadis to fight and a broken American economy to fix.


Still, benign neglect is the wrong US approach to Europe. It's short-sighted and dangerous.


The Atlantic relationship remains the cornerstone of world stability even as new powers emerge. With its huge debt, America needs affordable influence; Western allies are the way to find it. The struggle of our age pits the state against the anti-state, with weapons of mass destruction potentially mixed in: The West embodies the values and has the institutions central to winning that fight. America needs a British-French-German defence troika alongside it and an end to NATO's strategic drift.


"Beside the EU, is there another bunch of countries anywhere willing to work as closely and permanently with the US on almost all issues of global and regional concern?" asked Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador in Washington. "I wish Obama would say just that."


Coolness can be reciprocated, the benign turn malign. Sana is not London. Heck, it's not even Stillwater. Roger Cohen








In most elections, the question is about who might win. In the case of Afghanistan, which will elect the lower house of its parliament on September 18, the focus is on whether they can be held in a credible manner across the country. The difficulties surrounding the second parliamentary elections since the ouster of the Taliban at the end of 2001 underline the growing uncertainty about the political future of Afghanistan.


Meanwhile the Taliban is making good its promise to disrupt the polls with violence. Until this weekend, at least three candidates and seven campaign workers have been killed. The numbers of dead and injured are likely to go up in the coming days. The Taliban has declared that any one affiliated with the election is a target. This includes candidates, security forces, campaigners, election workers, and voters, the Taliban has said.


About 2,500 candidates are contesting for the 249 seats of the Wolesi Jirga, as the lower house is called. Spokesmen for the Taliban have pooh-poohed the elections as "a process orchestrated by the foreign occupiers, for and in the interest of the foreign occupiers."


Even before the latest threat, it was understood that holding peaceful polls in the south and east of the country, where the Taliban has been resurgent, would be either impossible or extremely challenging. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which oversees the polls, has said that about 4 per cent of the polling centres will not open because security cannot be guaranteed. Other observers say at least 1000 of the nearly 7000 polling stations might be at risk. Women candidates and workers are special targets for the Taliban. Although more than 400 women candidates are in the fray this time — up by 25 per cent since the first parliamentary elections — they are facing much greater intimidation. About one-quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament are reserved for women, so a degree of female representation is ensured. But the hopes for women's rights won after 2001 are in danger of being traded away, as part of a "reconciliation" between the government in Kabul and the Taliban.


The international community which took an active role in the conduct of the elections have begun to inject some distance between themselves and what they call "an Afghan-led" process. The West's attempts at questioning the legitimacy of Karzai's election last year and its unsuccessful effort to hold a repoll, raised doubts about the legitimacy of the process without resolving them.


Some in the international community think it is better to postpone the elections, but others are unwilling to stop the process since Kabul wants to press ahead. An element of defeatism, and of resignation to ambiguous outcomes in Afghanistan, has begun to take hold of Western attitudes to the parliamentary election.


Peace Council


The moves for reconciliation between Kabul and the militant groups fighting the government advanced over the last weekend when President Hamid Karzai announced the formation of a High Peace Council. The list of council members will be announced at the end of Ramzan.


The council was one of the ideas approved at the peace jirga in Kabul in June and might include some former militant commanders, some women leaders, and two former Afghan presidents, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Sigbatullah Mojjadedi. American General David Petraeus said that initial approaches to sections of the Taliban have been encouraging.


Kabul wants the militants to lay down their arms and affirm support to the Afghan constitution before their integration into the main stream. The Taliban has, predictably, rejected the council and insists that the withdrawal of foreign forces is a precondition for any dialogue with Kabul.


Musharraf plots


Some old soldiers don't simply fade away. Pervez Musharraf, once lord and master of Pakistan, has put his return plans on hold. But preparations are on for the launch of his new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, probably in London next month.


According to reports from Pakistan, about 250 delegates, including political leaders, retired generals and former

cronies of Musharraf, are expected to gather. Meanwhile, he is doing a bit to be seen as helping the victims of the great Indus flood. He has announced plans to supply a month's ration to a thousand affected families in the Sindh province.








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's widely publicised interaction with a group of editors comes at a critical juncture. Voted into power with a mandate that seemed to surprise everyone last year, the UPA-2 government is widely perceived to have become caught in a quagmire since then. However much sympathisers explain the public bickering amongst its leaders in terms of the "good cop, bad cop strategy", wherein the ruling coalition actually takes over the space conventionally ceded to the Opposition, an overwhelming impression remains that there is confusion in the ranks. While the PM's personal integrity remains rock-solid in public perception, the same cannot be said of his managerial ability. It's not just that his meetings with the media are rare, he doesn't even intervene in Parliament all that much. People are willing to respect that he is cast in the subdued rather than in the gregarious mould. But when a clear position on many a public policy takes too long to emerge, then the liabilities of this style grow too significant to ignore. The PM strongly countered the notion that his government is suffering from drift. In the process, he laid out clear positions on everything from national security and foreign policy to crony capitalism and financial reforms. This was welcome but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we will have to wait and see how the PM and his team deliver.


He "respectfully" took on the Supreme Court's directive to distribute free foodgrains to the poor by saying that the court should not transgress against the policymakers' realm. But whatever the attractiveness of such assertiveness, it will not amount to much unless the agriculture ministry delivers concrete fixes for the storage crisis. Similarly, the PM spoke rationally about balancing environment concerns, poverty eradication and economic growth. He clarified that proposed solutions wouldn't take India back to the Licence Raj. He announced a joint meeting of the ministers for environment & forests, industry, coal, mining, petroleum, roads and other infrastructure to find a solution to an ongoing conundrum. He said ministerial differences must not result in a paralysis of decision-making. But the PM's words will have to be judged against actual developments on Vedanta, Posco and like fronts. The PM persuasively argued that he couldn't produce rabbits out of his hat; India's problems would be tackled via experimentation while India displayed patience. This is a charming dictum. But it gives short shrift to how long UPA-2 has let Indians down on their enduring concerns, including rotting grains.







These columns have already expressed serious reservations about the manner in which the government has tried to scuttle Vedanta's bid for a majority stake in Cairn Energy Plc's Indian arm. Now, according to a report in FE on Monday, a section of the government has expressed a strong opinion against the state-owned ONGC launching a counterbid—that will have to be more than Vedanta's $9.6 billion offer—for Cairn's Indian arm. And they have a good point. ONGC had, after all, opted not to invest in a similar stake in Cairn for a much lower price of $3 billion in 2006. It was only after ONGC had turned down the offer had the Indian arm of Cairn gone public to raise sufficient resources for the expenditure it had to undertake. Now, if it bids at a price expected to be comfortably over $10 billion, questions will be asked. For one, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which conducts the mandatory supplementary audit—this is in addition to the statutory audit—of the PSU's accounts, will raise serious queries. There could also be questions asked by other agencies like the Central Vigilance Commission. Sometimes these agencies do act as a dampener on PSU decision making because of fear of inquiries and harassment but in this case their questions would be well justified.


But ONGC's problems will extend into terrain beyond questions of propriety. ONGC needs plenty of financial resources to develop its own deep water block in the Krishna-Godavari basin where it has made nine hydrocarbon discoveries. This block is estimated to be as promising as Reliance's KG-D6 block. It makes little sense for ONGC to be paying an unreasonably high amount to buy Cairn India's existing assets when it should instead use the same resources to invest in its own KG block. So, clearly, even if ONGC officially denies it, it is being nudged into countering Vedanta's offer for Cairn India's assets against its own business interests. This once again underlines the government's continued propensity to interfere in the functioning of PSUs and force unsound business decisions upon them. It is hard not to argue forcefully in favour of privatisation when the government uses PSUs blatantly to fulfil what are political goals.









The informal sector NPS was announced a little over a year ago. The PFRDA went in armed with an unbundled, incentive compatible architecture, a large latent demand, robust administration, nation-wide outreach through roughly 4,000 branches of firms that already deliver financial services to nearly 200 million Indians, and offer attractive double-digit returns. Although most of the important ingredients for its success have been in place for many months, barely 10,000 people have opted for the NPS.


A popular view is that the NPS has failed. This has prompted a range of knee-jerk reactions aimed at 'fixing' the scheme. These include a new PFRDA committee that will review the scheme design and distribution model, a demand for an 'EEE' tax status to NPS savings, and some new thinking about guaranteed outcomes. However, a more informed assessment of the NPS clearly suggests that the scheme has done exceedingly well. Especially considering the efforts by the PFRDA, NPS Trust and intermediaries. The only reason that many more applications have not been received is that most people don't know really that the scheme exists. Or simply because POPs have successfully resisted the interest and intentions of those that do.


Although it is yet to benefit the currently excluded informal sector workers on a scale at which it is intended,

the NPS has succeeded in producing an important systemic impact on India's pension landscape. For example, it has brought into sharper focus the administrative, governance and implementation deficiencies in EPFO's schemes, including the funding gap in EPS and the suboptimal retirement outcomes of EPF. It has prompted both the EPFO and the Coal Miners' Provident Fund to break away from decades of tradition and outsource roughly $50 billion to professional fund managers. And it has served as a tool through which the central government and 25 states have replaced their unfunded civil service pensions with a fully funded DC pension scheme.


The NPS has also shown the way to a new 'micro-pension' model that is already helping over 2,00,000 head-loaders, street vendors and other daily-wage workers with modest, unpredictable incomes to save for their old age through a market-linked pension scheme managed by the UTI. More recently, it has motivated five state governments and the GoI to announce pension schemes for the poor based on conditional cash transfers.


While it is obvious that the NPS has succeeded at many levels already, the government needs to put in place necessary capacity and budgets to deliver this scheme to its target population. The gap between its success and failure in this regard can perhaps be bridged by three steps in the right direction.


The first step would be to review and fix supply-side constraints and shortcomings to produce a more receptive and knowledgeable NPS front-end. This would involve rethinking rules about minimum contribution levels, improved intermediary knowledge and sales incentives that are compatible with customer objectives. In this process, we should avoid a lazy, one-size-fits-all approach to access, market segmentation, communications and positioning.


The second step would involve fixing fundamental demand-side issues. As the concepts of 'retirement' and 'pension' don't readily ring a bell in the minds of most informal sector workers, we need a larger effort and budget (than the Rs 1 crore ad spent in 2009-10 for the NPS launch) for mass-scale publicity and broad-based public awareness. In this process, it may be useful to implement an integrated marketing strategy involving community networks, civil society organisations, direct contact outreach programmes and the use of non-traditional media.


The third step, and perhaps the most glaring missing piece in the NPS roll-out, is to put in place an institution that will be responsible for active implementation management and mass-scale coverage. This entity will require adequate capacity and budgets, clear coverage targets, full responsibility for actively promoting the scheme and for managing its operation. This may, in turn, require a segregation of the NPS promoter-cum-regulator role that the PFRDA has assumed for itself. And a clearer definition of the role and fiduciary responsibilities of the NPS Trust.


Since the number of India's rapidly growing elderly is thrice our taxpayer population, the NPS is perhaps our

best and only shot at meaningfully addressing our huge old age poverty challenge. With a target population of

30 million civil servants and nearly 400 million informal sector workers, we are clearly attempting the most important and difficult pension reform in the world today. Not surprisingly therefore, its features and underlying principles have already been the subject of much debate among global pension experts.


The government should rapidly pull out all the stops on pension reforms and arm the NPS constituents with all the fire power they will need to succeed. After all, the cost of success cannot be more than the cost of failure. The cost of failure will be much higher than we expect. And much more than our future generations can bear.


The author is director, Invest India Economic Foundation







The trade deficit statistics for July don't paint a rosy picture—it rose to almost $13 bn, rising sharply from the $10.5-11 bn in each month of the first quarter. According to official sources, management of such a widening deficit will not be much of a problem but the pace at which it is widening could be a reason for worry. India's exports are likely to suffer despite the rupee's current weakness, given the weak cues from the US, slowdown in China and likely throttled growth in Europe. These could have formed the basis of the logic behind the extension of various sops for the exporters in the recently unveiled trade policy. Imports, on the other hand, are unlikely to fall significantly due to the global slowdown. Prices of crude oil and other industrial metals can fall on the back of a weaker demand but global liquidity will continue to remain adequate or even increase and prevent commodity prices from coming off significantly.


This implies that the current account deficit could head to a region of 3.8-4% of GDP. Incidentally, from FY06, the current account deficit had been widening due to India's strong growth. In FY06, it was at 1.1% and increased in the last FY to 2.9%. But this was backed by healthy capital inflows, at 3.1% of GDP in FY06 and 9.2% in FY08. As capital inflows continued to override the current account deficit, the importance of trade and current account deficits were forgotten.


The dynamics of the global financial markets remain relevant for the capital and current account interplay, given the adequate proof from October 2008 that India is strongly meshed into the global financial system. The worst fears of a total financial meltdown in Europe are now on the back burner with the implementation of the bailout packages and with the bank stress test results not as bad as was being expected. However, in my opinion the risks have just been pushed out onto a future date. With fiscal consolidation being the precondition for availing financial packages, the austerity measures of the European countries are likely to undermine the consumption power of these economies. This is likely to exert a downward pressure on tax revenues, thereby needing further austerity to achieve the laid-out targets.


Thus, expectations remain strong that the Eurozone, which has been witnessing better economic news, would again slump back into a slowdown mode. Even the economic news out of the US has not been too good at the moment. Key housing related data has been slumping, unemployment levels remain high, and confidence indicators along with other lead economic indicators have been wilting. This has led to the Fed chairman pointing out to an "unusually uncertain" atmosphere for the US economy, restoring the size of the quantitative easing and hence pushing back the chances of any rise in the US benchmark policy interest as a distant aspiration. With all this, the probability of a global 'double-dip' recession is on the rise and one remains unsure of the extent of damage that the banking system in the US and Europe would have to endure this time around. More crucially, all this could once again culminate in an extended zone of risk-aversion, a fall in the global equity markets and a consequent outflows from India as well.


The arguments make it clear that my bias is only for rupee depreciation, a view that I have held long and even in a situation when the rupee had appreciated close to 44 to a dollar. Not too long back, most expectations were for the rupee to appreciate to around 42 to a dollar and such expectations should be tempered. There could be momentary appreciations though based on either the global risk-on/risk-off atmosphere and also due to some lumpy forex flows into India on the back of probable PSU disinvestments. But the more crucial fallout of the reduction of the gap between the current account deficit and the capital account surplus will be on domestic liquidity. This is because there is not enough of foreign currency surplus in the market for RBI to sterilise, a source of rupee liquidity.


The above changing dynamics imply that a continuation of the upward momentum of India's GDP can't be taken for granted. Liquidity has currently been kept on a tight leash by RBI to ensure that the transmission of monetary policy changes happens efficiently so that inflationary expectations are contained. However, if a scenario of global risk-aversion were to play itself out once again, leading to some outflows through the forex route, there may not be enough domestic resources (such as MSS) that can be unlocked. In this scenario, we might once again see the CRR being reduced to generate liquidity for growth, earlier than anyone could have expected.


The author is chief economist, Kotak Mahindra Bank. Views are personal








There has been an overall improvement in India's economic environment and consumer demand has increased. This has led to a definitive revival of the retail and consumer products sector. But some segments are doing better than others. While modern hypermarket formats are recovering slowly, sectors such as apparel and footwear are doing well.


Last two years have been tough for the retail sector, when most Indian retailers focused on improving their back-end operations than on continuous rollouts. Improved procurement abilities, vendor development, warehousing and logistics will serve as critical pieces for sustainable growth. So, with lower costs, greater cost consciousness and improved operations, the industry is better positioned to harness future growth.


Retailers have multiple options for fundraising. The IPO option is limited to mid- to large-sized retailers with revenues in excess of Rs 5-10 billion, due to their ability to attract the right institutional investor base, which is a function of their size. However, across the board, due to limited access to debt, retailers will surely look at PE, keeping in mind regulatory compliance. While the retail sector is attractive to PE investment, food, luxury retail and apparel are likely to see a higher level of interest. The level of profitability is expected to be the most important factor in the valuations of domestic retailers. Also, the strength of the brand offering and its leadership position in the market segment, and the quality of back-end infrastructure are also likely to play an important role.


As investment at the front end opens up, FDI and large global players are likely to enter the market. This will lead to more growth at the front end. To enable this growth, global players will bring best practices in warehousing, distribution and logistics. These factors are expected to have a positive influence on back-end infrastructure. The opening up of FDI in multi-brand retail trading will provide critical components for long-term improvements, with the impact on back-end infrastructure being just one example. Overall, any positive developments towards reducing regulatory hurdles will facilitate sustainable growth in the sector.


The author is partner, Ernst & Young. Views are personal








Cricket might be facing the worst emergency in its history — the challenge of ridding itself of the stench of cheating and corruption. The International Cricket Council (ICC), headed by Sharad Pawar, has done the right thing in finding that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir have "a really arguable case to answer," charging them with "various offences" under Article 2 of its anti-corruption code, and suspending them pending a decision on those charges. But unless cricket's administrators act resolutely to plumb the depths of the nexus between players and rogue bookmakers and betting syndicates, crack down on laxity, and hand out exemplary punishment to everyone found guilty of corruption, the game will lose its biggest asset — the trust reposed in it by millions of fans, young and old, who love it for many things but above all for its authenticity and "glorious uncertainties." There are already signs of mutiny by players as well as by fans against the betrayal of this trust. As far as we know, match-fixing, including its no-less crooked variant, spot-fixing, is of fairly recent origin. The world of cricket woke up to it a decade ago following the disgrace and downfall of Hansie Cronje and the banning of South African, Indian, and Pakistani players for varying periods. The response of the ICC was to constitute an Anti-Corruption and Security Unit to investigate and act against player-corruption.


The ICC's anti-corruption unit functions under serious limitations when it comes to policing and uncovering evidence. To be fair, it has raised the level of awareness among players, managers, and administrators of the game. Cricketers are now required, on pain of punishment, to report every instance of contact made by bookmakers and members of betting syndicates. How effective the preventive role is — how much temptation the system has helped resist — is hard to say. What is clear is that the ACSU needs more teeth. For a start, it must be allowed to strengthen its intelligence-gathering capabilities in ways not contemplated earlier. Betting syndicates and rogue bookmakers have extended their reach alarmingly. Fixers seem to have fairly easy access to players, and not just in South Asia. But these are merely symptoms of a deep-seated malignancy, what Mike Atherton, one of the best thinkers and writers on the game today, diagnoses as "the pervading culture" of "grasping, from administrators to players to commentators," a culture of greed in which conflicts of interest abound and "once money is involved, anything goes." If the disease is not tackled aggressively, root and branch, cricket lovers round the world will be hapless witnesses to the decline and fall of a wonderful game.







France's controversial crackdown on the Roma, Europe's single largest minority, spotlights a continent-wide concern and a collective failure to honour the imperatives of the European Union's eastward enlargement. Ironically, the countries that imposed stringent conditions — in relation to crime, trafficking, and the observance of human rights — ahead of the EU accession bids of Romania and Bulgaria are themselves now found wanting on some of those criteria. While most of the countries of the former Soviet Union were admitted to the EU in 2004, Bucharest and Sofia were kept in waiting until 2007. France is in the midst of a mass repatriation operation of hundreds of Roma migrants in response to recent incidents of violence in the suburbs of Paris. Even some of the partners of the ruling coalition have criticised the action as stoking anti-immigration fears in the backdrop of sluggish economic recovery and the upcoming general election. Enlightened public opinion is building up in Bucharest and elsewhere against the deportation of EU citizens of one ethnic group. More recently, the Roma populations of Italy and Hungary have been targets of accusations of abetting crime, lending substance to suspicions that their governments were playing on familiar prejudices and stereotypes against ethnic minorities to woo their right-wing constituency. The European Commission has blamed the plight of the continent's gypsies on the reluctance of member-states to utilise available funds for their effective integration. The U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has dubbed the current French deportations as racially motivated.


Freedom of movement across national borders is one of the founding principles of the EU. Therefore many EU states, including France, have sought refuge in a transitional measure to restrict (until 2014) Romanians and Bulgarians from working in their territories. President Nicolas Sarkozy, eyeing a second term, should ease the curbs on migrant workers that have proved a costly gambit morally and diplomatically and reinforce his country's traditionally liberal credentials. The region's Roma, estimated at around 10 million, have an average life expectancy that is only half of that in Europe, while their rates of illiteracy and infant mortality are far higher. These are embarrassingly dismal figures for a continent that has relatively small national populations and boasts some of the best human development indicators. The forces of violent xenophobia must be suppressed resolutely and humane and democratic values protected.










I have just finished a trip to India to help contribute to the efforts on ending malnutrition. The politicians and media were talking about the sparkling new economic growth and development figures. There was no such attention given to the "other" growth and development figures — those related to child nutrition. These figures are less than sparkling. If current rates of progress in reducing undernutrition are not improved upon, India will reach the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving undernutrition by 2043. The target date is 2015. China has already exceeded the target.


There are some glimmers of hope. The State of Karnataka has just adopted a Nutrition Mission which promises to give focus, coherence and urgency to efforts to combat undernutrition. There are some initial indications that the decline in undernutrition rates may be accelerating in one of the worst affected States, Madhya Pradesh. More and more international agencies such as the U.K.'s Department for International Development have ramped up their focus on nutrition. But there are worrying signs at both the national and State levels. It is at least 18 months since the creation of the Prime Minister's Council on Nutrition. It has not met once. The scandal of rotting food grains in the midst of hunger and undernutrition has rightly been getting a lot of media coverage. And we still don't know who in Delhi is responsible for leading efforts to reduce undernutrition.


During my stay I went to Bihar to visit some ICDS Anganwadi centres. The Anganwadi workers in charge of the centres were inspirational in their attempts to make the best out of the resources at their disposal. But the conditions in which they have to teach and feed about fifty 3-6 year olds, do home visits, and monitor child growth are testing and undermining. The centres are understaffed. Many are without toilets, washing facilities, clean drinking water, decent floors or food storage facilities. It is a miracle that the centres have any positive impact on nutrition status. I visited several AWCs in the mid 1990s. Nothing much seems to have changed. More pressure for change needs to be generated.


So how do we make more noise about undernutrition? During my visit I gave a presentation at a conference on "Nutrition: Reaching the Hard Core" organised by the Britannia Nutrition Foundation. For me, there are three key puzzles on how to overcome undernutrition: (a) how to raise the quality and expand the coverage of interventions such as ICDS; (b) how to make investments in various related sectors (such as agriculture) more pro-nutrition; and (c) how to create an environment where it is hard for anyone to neglect malnutrition.


My presentation was on the third area and was entitled "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Environments for Nutrition". The 7 habits are: (1) developing new surveillance techniques using mobile technologies to allow the government and civil society to react in real time to the changing nutrition situation, (2) the importance of creative campaigns to reset norms around what are acceptable rates of undernutrition reduction, (3) the need to support and expand the cadre of nutrition champions, (4) the need to learn from success within India (taking advantage of the federal set-up) and internationally, (5) the potential of a new class of "commitment indices" which monitor the nutrition commitments of governments, civil society and businesses, (6) the insights to be gained from adopting the new generation of economic growth diagnostics for nutrition to help prioritise and sequence the laundry list of potential nutrition actions in a given context, and (7) the value added of feedback — asking intended beneficiaries to score existing services and suggest what to do differently. Too little attention has been given to these issues.


Undernutrition is insidious — it sucks the life out of kids before clinical signs show. Undernutrition requires action on many fronts and hence it requires coordination and leveraging. Undernutrition requires scaling up of quality. All of these features — invisibility, scaling, coordination, leveraging — demand leadership. Sometimes leadership just emerges as in Mexico or Brazil or Ghana or Karnataka. But with so many lives being ended or wrecked by undernutrition, we can't afford to wait. We need to make sure nutrition is not easily neglected. And that means putting pressure on leaders throughout society to focus on nutrition. These seven habits will play a big role in doing that.


What should the private sector do?


Despite the aforementioned conference being organised by the Britannia Nutrition Foundation there was little discussion of the roles of the private sector in accelerating undernutrition reduction. Is there a role at all? The provision of nutrition is a prime public good — undernutrition generates negative spillovers for the current and next generation, is often generated through information deficits and affects the poorest — all classic features of a public good provided by the state. But that should not preclude dialogue on the question "are there any overlaps between commercial interests and sustainable and equitable improvements in nutrition?" This is a discussion that many are afraid to have — and not just in India. It seems to me that four things are being mixed up when we talk of the private sector. First, what can business do to make its core activities more supportive of nutrition? This means going beyond corporate social responsibility and making sure for example that advertising is responsible, that legal resources are directed in ways that do not only protect shareholders, that labelling is clear and gives consumers real choice, and that transparency is high on the business agenda so that civil society can hold businesses accountable.


Second, when can business act as a substitute for the state? I am not too optimistic here about the role of business — in the end, nutrition is a public good. But there might be things that the private sector can do better than the state. Would the private sector have handled the supply chain management of food grains as badly as the state seems to have done? Third, when can business be a complement to the state? For example, while fortification of salt and other widely used low cost foods is only a small part of an effective nutrition strategy, international experience has shown that the private sector is usually the best way of implementing it. The fourth and perhaps the most promising area is to work with businesses outside the traditional food and health areas to make the environment more enabling for nutrition. For example, when renewing a contract for mobile telephone operation, could the state build in requirements to set up sms services to remind health workers about childhood vaccinations? And could computing companies be engaged to help improve nutrition surveillance? I don't know the answers to these questions. They can only come through a dialogue that is sorely missing in India and elsewhere.


To be fair to the Government of India, it needs help to combat undernutrition. It is such a huge burden (43 per cent of children are malnourished) that the government cannot do it alone. Civil society, business, and the academic community have to help. International donors have an important catalytic role to play. But nutrition is a public good. Leadership has to come from the government. I still do not see it.


(Professor Lawrence Haddad is director of the U.K.-based Institute of Development Studies and president of the U.K. and Ireland's Development Studies Association.)










  1. India, as an international IT hub, needs to focus on combating the dramatic rise of virus attacks and other cyber crimes
  2. While the IT Act legislates against crimes such as identity theft and phishing, it does not contemplate the tools of modern cyber crime


In one of the most shocking and sophisticated cyber attacks to date, hackers reportedly stole at least £675,000 from 3,000 online bank accounts in the United Kingdom recently, using a "Trojan" virus that is to be considered one of the most sophisticated types of malware programs created. In an attack that is reportedly in progress, the computer virus, known as Zeus v.3, swiped the online banking identity of victims as they accessed their accounts, and robbed accounts with a balance of at least £800 while the victims viewed fake statements online. The Zeus v.3 virus renders the two-step authentication procedure of banks consisting of one-time passcodes and ID tokens useless because the malware, once downloaded from an advertisement on a website or an email, lies dormant on the victim's system and records the account number and password each time the victim logs on to his or her banking website. Reportedly, more than 100,000 personal computers in Britain have been infected with various forms of the Trojan virus. The recent acquisition of McAfee by Intel highlights that security is now a fundamental component of online computing. India, as an international IT hub, needs to focus on the issue of cyber security and combating the dramatic rise of virus attacks and other cyber crimes.


According to the latest Monthly Security Bulletin for June 2010 published by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN), the cyber security agency of the Department of Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, 690 Indian websites were defaced during the month, and CERT-IN tracked 39,600 computers that were BOT-infected. In May 2010, websites numbering 831 were defaced, and CERT-IN tracked 2,116,482 BOT-infected computers in India (as per its bulletins for May and June 2010, BOTNETS is a parasitic program that hijacks a network and makes other computers act on its instructions. The computers that are thus controlled are known as "zombies" and are key tools in cyber warfare. In other words, as of May 2010, over two million computers in India have been taken over by an external controller and are available to carry out attacks, including acts of cyber-terrorism.


As per CERT-IN monthly bulletins, during the first six months of 2010 a total of 768 security incidents were reported to CERT-IN by national and international agencies. Of these, 259 related to phishing, which is the criminally fraudulent process of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication in order to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details. Approximately 141 incidents involved a virus or worm under the malicious code category (malware such as Zeux v.3). The rest involved unauthorised scanning, spam and so on.


While these figures provide evidence the menace of cyber crime, a report titled "Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0" published by two Canadian researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, in April 2010, has revealed a sustained campaign of cyber attacks waged against India. The report, by John Markoff and David Barboza, exposes how an India-focussed spy-ring based in Chengdu, People's Republic of China, made extensive use of Internet services such as Twitter, Google Groups, Blogspot,, Baidu Blogs and Yahoo! Mail to automate the control of computers in India once they were infected. The revelation of the Shadows report is that a vast majority of the compromised computers are in India (see "Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0" Joint Report: Information Warfare Monitor, Shadowserver Foundation, April 6, 2010, Page 30.) The report analyses how attackers leveraged multiple redundant cloud computing systems, social networking platforms and free web-hosting services in order to maintain persistent control while operating the core servers located in China.


The Canadian investigators found that the Internet spies had stolen classified documents from the Indian government and reports from Indian military analysts and corporations, as well as documents from agencies of the United Nations and governments. The documents stolen were marked "Secret," "Restricted" and "Confidential." These included encrypted diplomatic correspondence. Two of the documents were marked "Secret," six as "Restricted" and five as "Confidential." According to the 'Shadows' report, the documents contained sensitive information taken from a member of the National Security Council Secretariat concerning assessments of the security situation in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, as well as concerning Naxalites and Maoists. The documents contained confidential information taken from Indian embassies regarding India's international relations with, and assessments of, activities in West Africa, Russia/Commonwealth of Independent States and West Asia, as well as visa applications, passport office circulars and diplomatic correspondence.


Outdated Act


However, despite evidence of increasing cyber crime in India, the Information Technology Act, 2000, even as amended in February 2009, remains an outdated and insufficient tool to effectively protect the nation from a cyber onslaught. The offences introduced in the 2009 amendments involve sending offensive messages through a communication service; dishonestly receiving stolen computer resources; identity theft; impersonation — phishing, and violation of privacy.


While, laudably, the amended Act legislates against the growing menace of identity theft, phishing and violation of privacy, it does not even contemplate the tools of modern cyber crime. For example, the 2009 amendments to the Act introduced two provisions concerning offences listed in Section 43. One of these ('i') concerns destroying, deleting or altering any information residing in a computer resource or diminishing its value or utility or affecting it injuriously by any means. Another ('j') concerns stealing, concealing, destroying or altering or causing any person to steal, conceal, destroy or alter any computer source code used for a computer resource with an intention to cause damage.


However, modern means of cyber warfare such as BOTNETS or key-loggers are not intended to destroy, delete or alter information residing in a computer resource or to steal computer source code. Instead, BOTNETS takes over a computer so that it can be used by an external controller. Modern cyber crime is not focussed on stealing source code or information in a computer but using the computer itself as the instrument to commit a crime.


Another major tool of cyber warfare is key-loggers, which is a software program or device designed to monitor and log all keystrokes. The key-logger software/device scans computers and their processes and data the moment a person strikes a key on the keyboard. This information is carried over to an external controller. Key-loggers are intended not to steal source code or information but to record the data input into a computer, to be used for financial fraud.


The IT Act defines "computer network" in Section 2(j) as the "interconnection of one or more computers or computer systems or communications device through the use of satellite, microwave, terrestrial line, wire, wireless or other communication media, and terminals or a complex consisting of two or more interconnected computers or communication device whether or not the interconnection is continuously maintained." The 2009 amendments added the specific reference to "wire and wireless."


Section 43 of the IT Act prohibits the introduction of a virus into a computer, computer system or computer network. However, it is unclear whether the posting of a virus on a website would attract this provision as the IT Act is still framed in the language of computer resources, based on the thinking of the 1970s and 1980s. Since the turn of the century, the Internet has become the space to be regulated, not computers. The IT Act does not even mention the Internet.


The IT Act needs to make a paradigm shift from earlier concerns regarding hacking of computers to steal source code and information to not only the modern Internet age but Web 2.0 where the weapons of cyber crime are intended to elicit information such as online banking passwords, PINs and other confidential information from consumers as and when users access their online accounts, and a Chinese cyber war against India that is already under way.









The Pope, according to a no doubt apocryphal story, maintains that there are two possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict — the realistic and the miraculous. The realistic solution involves divine intervention; the miraculous solution involves a voluntary agreement between the parties themselves. The American-sponsored peace talks that got under way in Washington last week may be viewed in this light. It will take nothing less than a miracle to produce a peaceful settlement of the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land.


The obstacles to peace are formidable. All previous attempts to clear them have ended in failure, most notably the Camp David summit of July 2000. An American-sponsored peace process of some sort has been going on intermittently since the Madrid conference of 1991, the mother of all West Asia peace conferences. So direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, with or without American peace processors, are nothing new. In the words of one American, it is deja vu all over again. The current negotiators will have to find solutions to all the deeply sensitive issues that lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the so-called permanent status issues. These include the right of return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the future of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and the borders of the Palestinian entity.


But there is an immediate stumbling block: settlements. A partial and temporary Israeli freeze on their expansion on the West Bank is due to expire at the end of the month and, if it is not renewed, the Palestinian negotiators said they will walk out. And who can blame them? If Israel persists in its bad old Zionist ways of "creating facts on the ground", the peace talks will become a charade. It would be like two men negotiating the division of a pizza with one of them continuing to swallow chunks of it.


The prospects for reaching a permanent status agreement are poor because the Israelis are too strong, the Palestinians are too weak, and the Americans mediators are utterly ineffectual. The sheer asymmetry of power between the two parties militates against a voluntary agreement. To get Israelis and Palestinians round a conference table and to tell them to hammer out an agreement is like putting a lion and a lamb in a cage and asking them to sort out their own differences. Third party intervention is clearly indispensable. To put it more simply, there can be no settlement unless America pushes Israel into a settlement. Playing the honest broker will not do the trick. In the first place, most Arabs regard the United States as a dishonest broker on account of its palpable partisanship on behalf of Israel. Moreover, honest brokerage is not enough. In order to bridge the huge gap separating the two sides, America must first redress the balance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party. The negotiations in Washington will be face to face but they will also be back to back, with each leader constantly watching his domestic constituency. President Mahmoud Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, is the most moderate partner for peace that Israel could hope for. But his domestic position is rather precarious. He is the leader of the mainstream party Fatah, a democratically elected President, and the head of the Palestinian Authority. But he faces a formidable rival in Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, and other splinter groups like Islamic Jihad. Hamas won a free and fair election in January 2006; it moderated its rejectionist stand once in power, and formed a national unity government with Fatah in March 2007. In June of that same year, however, it seized power violently in Gaza to pre-empt a Fatah coup. Since then Gaza has become a prison camp because of the brutal and illegal Israeli blockade.


Today the Palestinian camp is deeply divided between the West Bank, ruled by the Fatah-dominated PA, and the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas. Hamas is vociferously and violently opposed to the peace talks with the Jewish state. It maintains that Mr. Abbas has no mandate to represent the Palestinians. Its military wing reinforced the message by killing four Jewish settlers in Hebron on the eve of the talks. Hamas's capacity to play the spoiler should not be under-estimated. Even in the highly unlikely event of Mr. Abbas reaching a peace agreement with Israel, it is difficult to see how he would impose it on Palestinians in the teeth of such strong opposition. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister and leader of the Likud party, enjoys a more solid power base at home but he, too, is subject to severe constraints on his freedom of action. His coalition partners are the Labour party, Yisrael Beitenu, and Shas. Together they command a comfortable majority of 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel's Parliament.


Confronted with painful choices over the future of the West Bank, however, the coalition is likely to fall apart. The Likud used to regard Judea and Samaria, the Biblical names for the West Bank, as an integral part of the land of Israel. Yisrael Beitenu and Shas still do. Labour, with only 11 seats in the Knesset, carries little weight.


Mr. Netanyahu is not a dove who has fallen among hawks. On the contrary, he is a rightwing nationalist, a believer in Greater Israel and a proponent of the strategy of the iron wall, of dealing with the Palestinians from a position of unassailable military strength. He grew up in a nationalistic Jewish home. His father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, who at 100 years old is still a force to be reckoned with, was the secretary of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of the Israeli right. Netanyahu junior belongs to the hawkish wing of the Likud. He denounced the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO as incompatible either with Israel's security or with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel. The policy guidelines of his first government, when the Likud came to power in 1996, amounted to a declaration of war on the peace process. To his second term as Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu brings the same old ideological baggage and the same dogged determination to deny the Palestinian people the same right to national self-determination that Israel exercised back in 1948. His rhetoric has changed, but his policy can still be summed up in one ominous word: politicide — to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence in Palestine. This world view identifies him not as a genuine partner to President Abbas on the road to peace but as the proponent of permanent conflict.


Yet the possibility of a change of heart cannot be entirely ruled out. Maybe Mr. Netanyahu will surprise us all by moving on from the relentless rejectionism of the past to become a peacemaker.


(Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford and the author of Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations. )


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Every September, millions of parents in the United States try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).


And check out the classroom. Does junior's learning style match the new teacher's approach? Or the school's philosophy? Maybe the child is not "a good fit" for the school.


Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that does not offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.


Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.


For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.


"We have known these principles for some time, and it's intriguing that schools don't pick them up, or that people don't learn them by trial and error," said Dr. Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at UCLA. "Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken."


Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are "visual learners" and others are auditory; some are "left-brain" students, others "right-brain." In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas.


"The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing," the researchers concluded.


For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.


The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes stick to that line of thinking and routinely combine their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.


The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.


A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 per cent to 38 per cent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.


"When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem," said Dr. Rohrer. "That's like riding a bike with training wheels."


These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.


The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Dr. Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study.


"What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it's picking up what's similar and what's different about them," often subconsciously.


Cognitive scientists do not deny that cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then almost everything falls out.


When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.


No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.


That is one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.


Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people's stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call "desirable difficulty", is evident in daily life.


None of which is to suggest that these techniques — alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters. So do impressing friends, making the hockey team and finding the nerve to text the cute student in social studies.


But at the very least, the cognitive techniques give parents and students, young and old, something many did not

have before: a study plan based on evidence, not schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorising.


— New York Times News Service








At first glance, what the Supreme Court said seemed pretty much right, socially and even politically. Distribute foodgrains to the starving poor rather than let tonnes of grain rot in the FCI's warehouses, the court had told the Union government. But, in hindsight, it appears a bit jarring, as even the soft-spoken Prime Minister, Dr


Manmohan Singh, found out. At a freewheeling interaction with editors at his residence, the Prime Minister said the apex court should not get into the "realm of policy formulation", which must remain the concern of policymakers and the government of the day. While he respected the sentiments behind the Supreme Court's directive that a way must be found to ensure that the poor did not starve while foodgrain rotted, how would it be possible for the government to distribute free grain to an estimated 37 per cent of the population that lives below the poverty line? Besides, supplying free food would destroy incentives for farmers to work harder and produce more. And if that leads to a drastic fall in food production, there would be no food to distribute.
Dr Singh has argued his case well, though he might not have pleased those segments of left-wing academicians who always argue that our rich must not flinch from making any sacrifice to help feed the hungry poor. Luckily for the PM and the rest of the establishment, the court saw his reason. Within hours of that interaction, the same bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma which had issued that August 12 order to distribute free grains to the poor, said it was happy with the government's "comprehensive" response. In the affidavit filed by solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran before the bench, it was stated that the government was allocating an additional 25 lakh tonnes of wheat/rice at BPL rates — `2 and `3 per kg — to the states over and above the 469.57 lakh tonnes already earmarked under the public distribution system, where government subsidies worked out to `11.29 per kg for wheat and `14.78 per kg for rice. Which meant the government was willing to increase PDS quotas but not dole out free grain. The storm has passed, the PM has made his point, and the judges are happy with more grain in PDS shops.

Our Constitution has clearly segregated the powers in administering this large democracy. While the legislature makes the laws, the executive implements them and the judiciary interprets those laws to ensure they do not violate the Constitution in letter or in spirit. Whenever the Supreme Court has stepped in to check legislative measures that it perceived ran afoul of the Constitution, the government of the day resorted to using its majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution and circumvent the ruling. A recent example is when the Tamil Nadu government sought legitimacy for its 69 per cent quota for OBCs, SCs and STs after the apex court judgment in the Mandal case said the overall ceiling should not exceed 50 per cent. There have been times when the government has gladly allowed the courts to "interfere in policy", usually when the government can hide behind a court order to implement an unpopular scheme or project. Enforcing CNG in Delhi was done through a SC order though it was basically a policy decision for administrators. As a result, Delhi is now one of India's least polluted cities.

While it may be argued that the Supreme Court, in this case of free foodgrains, might have overstepped its powers and caused yet another instance of questionable "judicial activism", none can deny that but for the media expose of the foodgrains rotting in FCI warehouses and the court diktat that followed, Mr Sharad Pawar might not have thought it necessary to release additional PDS stocks for the poor.








Vedanta, a diversified mining company, has failed to get a green signal for mining for bauxite in Niyamgiri — the sacred mountain that upholds universal law for the Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondh and Jharania Kondh tribes.

The tribals have been resisting the mining since Vedanta set up its alumina refinery in Lanjigarh, at the base of Niyamgiri. The objective was always to mine the Niyamgiri bauxite, but seeing the resistance, Sterlite, the earlier avatar of Vedanta, denied any link between the refinery and the mine, and applied to the ministry of forests and environment for an environmental clearance for the refinery. In its application the company provided wrong information to the effect that the refinery would not require forest land, and the refinery started in 2004. The Dongria Kondh and other tribes inhabiting the Niyamgiri forests have been resisting the threat of mining of bauxite and the aluminium refinery in their sacred mountain ever since.

The tribes of Niyamgiri have a prosperous biodiversity economy based on conservation. As a result the area still boasts of more than 300 species of plants, including 112 medicinal plants. The most significant contribution of bauxite hills like Niyamgiri is provision of water. Bauxite helps retain water. One river and 32 streams originate in these bauxite hills. Niyamgiri is thus the exemplar of our rich natural and cultural heritage which PESA (Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) are supposed to protect.
Across the country, the mining lobby is violating the Constitution, and the FRA and PESA, and spreading terror and lawlessness.

Two Dongria Kondh leaders from Niyamgiri, Lado Sikaka and Sana Sikaka, were abducted in Niyamgiri while on their way to attend the policy dialogue — Niyamgiri: A test case for the Forest Rights Act — that the Navdanya Trust had organised alongwith the Save Niyamgiri Movement on August 12, 2010, at the Constitution Club in New Delhi. The intention was to get the tribals to communicate directly with experts and parliamentarians.

It is as a result of the violation of the rights of tribals as enshrined in PESA, the FRA and the human rights of tribal communities that the tribals feel alienated. This in turn has contributed to the growth of the Maoist movement in tribal areas. The "green" areas of the forests and tribals are becoming the "red" areas of armed resistance.

In early 2010, the government announced Operation Green Hunt, a violent response to the violence in tribal areas which has grown in response to the violence and terror unleashed by the corporate state in tribal areas to get access to minerals — coal, iron ore, bauxite. In response, Navdanya Trust organised the Independent People's Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab & Operation Green Hunt in New Delhi from April 9-11, 2010, to show that the corporate state was violating the Constitution and laws. This led to public hearings in Jharkhand on May 7-8, 2010, and the conference on Niyamgiri at New Delhi's Constitution Club on August 12. On August 14, the Saxena Committee submitted its report on Niyamgiri, confirming the violation of laws which led to the government withdrawing the conditional clearance that had been granted to Vedanta. It is a combination of many forces that put pressure on the government to stop the mining in Niyamgiri. While the neo-liberal paradigm was based on the assumption that resources of the poor can be freely grabbed by the corporations in violation of democracy and the Constitution, movements against land grab — from Singur and Nandigram, to Aligarh and Dadri, as well as Posco and Niyamgiri — are creating a political imperative for a shift of economic priorities to respect democratic processes, environmental laws and rights of tribals and farmers. Rahul Gandhi's entry to support Niyamgiri is indicative of the paradigm shift taking place.
While the shift to democratic protection of the rights of the earth and people has started, it is not complete. Vedanta has already started demanding alternative sites for mining bauxite, including the sacred Gandhamardan Hills.

The Niyamgiri victory needs to re-examine the model where we irreversibly destroy our natural wealth to export steel and aluminium. This is an example of what I have called the "outsourcing of pollution". Vedanta's alumina refinery and aluminium smelter are already creating massive pollution. Vedanta is illegally spreading its red mud ponds into villages and forest land in Lanjigarh. Rivers are dying, and with them the communities the rivers support. Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, in their book Out of this Earth, have said each tonne of alumina generates one tonne of waste and needs 250 kilowatt hours of electricity. And smelting one tonne of aluminium consumes 13,500 kilowatt hours of electricity, emitting an average of 13.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. To produce one tonne of aluminium, 1,300 tonnes of water is consumed. This water is being stolen from the people. Without water there is no life or livelihood. Kalahandi district, where Niyamgiri is located, is one of the worst-hit districts in the country in terms of hunger and starvation deaths. The 30 km-long Upper Indravati Dam has diverted water from the Indravati river to the Hati Tel river through a four km tunnel at Mukhiguda. Vedanta's Burkhamunda smelter in Jharsuguda is getting water from Hirakud Dam on the Mahanadi. Two-hundred kilometres of Indravati have been killed by the Upper Indravati Dam, and the diversion of water from agriculture to industry has already led to major farmers' protests. Groundwater level is falling. And double crop land is being converted to single crop land due to decline in availability of irrigation water. Thirdly, the water released by the refinery and smelter is toxic, destroying what remains of the rivers and groundwater. If the destruction of water and biodiversity are internalised, Vedanta is creating a negative economy of death and destruction. This is not development.

A cumulative impact of the entire aluminium production chain is necessary to take the Niyamgiri victory to its full conclusion of building earth democracy and living economies.

Niyamgiri is a victory for "Earth Democracy", both because it has protected the earth and because it grew as a democratic process from the ground up. Niyamgiri was a test for democracy's ability to stop corporate misrule and terror. It was a test of humanity's ability to respect the rights of Mother Earth. We have passed the test in Niyamgiri. It is now necessary to extend this victory to every place where forests and land, tribals and Mother Earth are threatened by the greed of land-grabbing and resource-grabbing corporations.

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust








One of the tragic pointers of Indian history is that more often than not Indians have themselves proved to be their worst enemies. This stands reinforced by what the negative forces in our country did in early 1990.


It should be clear from the analysis of major events connected with Kashmir's post-1947 history that there is an overwhelming need to learn from each and every lapse and evolve a new framework of thought and action. Unfortunately, no one is attending to this need. With regard to the stone-throwing mobs that are now daily appearing on the streets of most urban centres of the Valley, old attitudes rooted in superficiality and "short-termism" are once again at display. So far, about 69 persons have died. But there is no sign of a sustained crackdown on the ringleaders, financers and those who are spraying the virus of militant fanaticism in the Valley.

What is worse, another "appeasement card" is being put forward in the form of a political package and additional autonomy, without bothering to consider that in the long run such a package and such an autonomy could provide stronger muscle to the forces of subversion and separatism in the Valley. Further, no one is showing any inclination to raise certain basic and pertinent questions in this regard.

Are the Kashmiris, like the citizens of the rest of India, not already free under the Constitution of India? Do they not have all the fundamental rights which individuals in modern liberal democracies enjoy? Has their identity, culture, religion or language been undermined in any way by the constitutional arrangements that have been in operation for the last several decades? How would a common Kashmiri be benefited by changing the nomenclature of chief minister to Prime Minister or of governor to Sadar-e-Riyasat, or by ousting the jurisdiction of Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India? What would happen if the so-called pre-1952 position is restored and only defence, foreign affairs and communications are kept within the jurisdiction of the Union Parliament/government and all the remaining items are assigned exclusively to the state legislature/government? How would the state government then meet its requirements of finances which at present are provided by the Union government to the tune of 74 per cent of its needs? Could the "nuts and bolts" of objective reality and the need to have smooth and workable relationship between the state and the Union be dispensed with?

To these and allied questions, no satisfactory answers can be provided by the proponents of autonomy and the "political package". They merely harp on the promises supposed to have been made to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, forgetting that what matters is not the individual but the state government without whose concurrence nothing was done. They take advantage of the widespread ignorance that prevails in the country about the rather complex manner in which constitutional relations between Jammu and Kashmir and the Union have evolved. They hide the fact that Jammu and Kashmir already enjoys, albeit unjustifiably, far more powers than are available to other states of the Union. They also forget that at the time of the 1975 Kashmir Accord, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had made it clear that "the clock could not be put back", and that the "provisions of the Indian Constitution applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir 'without adaptation or modification' were unalterable".

The only concession made in 1975, in the spirit of bonhomie, by the Government of India was to consider changes in the "adapted and modified" provisions, if a specific proposal in this regard was received from the state government. But neither the government of Sheikh Abdullah nor that of Dr Farooq Abdullah could send any proposal, primarily because the changes earlier made were all necessitated by practical consideration.
The State Autonomy Committee Report (1999), sent to the Union government 24 years after the Kashmir Accord, is nothing but a broad repetition of what was said on behalf of the National Conference in 1975. It ignores the huge volume of water that has since flowed under the bridges of Yamuna and Jhelum, and does not indicate how the changes that are being advocated now would improve the lot of the common man and how the expenditure on the state Five-Year Plans would be met. Nor does it care to explain how certain security and other contingencies would be dealt with? What, for instance, would happen if Article 356 is not applicable and if the state refuses or fails to comply with any requirement of the Union in respect of defence, foreign affairs or communication? Would this not cause an intractable constitutional deadlokck?

The acceptance by the Union government of any of the phoney ideas contained in the aforesaid report would add another blunder to the series of blunders committed in the past, which have so far cost the nation over 50,000 lives, besides several thousand-crores of hard-earned taxpayers' money.

While it is not likely to make even a slight dent in the criticality of the present situation, it could strengthen the forces of disarray in the Valley, give rise to fresh agitations in other regions of the state and become a precedent for separatists in other part of the country to quote and demand. Even otherwise, the unfortunate history of Jammu and Kashmir in the post-1947 period warns us in no uncertain terms that the decision taken under momentary pressures and on short-term considerations have proved disastrous in the long run. Too many infections have already accumulated in the body politics of Jammu and Kashmir. If we do not have the skill or will to drain them out, let us at least not add more to them.

The need of the hour is that we should make a new beginning, educate our brothers and sisters in Kashmir about the true position in respect of their political, social and cultural freedoms and tell them that we as fellow countrymen have already helped them to the tune of `95,000 crores from 1989-90 to 2009-10, and would continue to discharge our obligations in this respect in future to make them a happy and prosperous community of the Union.


This concludes a two-part series

Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister








In my article in The Asian Age of September 21, 2009, Naxal violence is a cry to be heard, I came in full support of the Prime Minister's statement of 2009 on Naxal violence, calling it one of "gravest internal security problems" the country faces. Indeed, the Naxal problem is much more serious than the external threat of militants fromPakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. These external threats are limited to a small fraction of the country's population and in spite of all the attempts by Pakistan, external militancy has not spread to the rest of the country. What the Government of India needs to do is to keep the Kashmir problem isolated, defuse the situation by finding mutually-agreed solutions that benefit and appeal to the people of Kashmir. This may take some time especially since there have been recent cases of grievances against India which require a very sensitive approach. But problems at the local level are resolvable because they are perpetrated by sporadic senseless violence, like in Kashmir, making the people vastly amenable to solutions.

The Naxal problem, on the other hand, is serious. It has fed on the persistent putting off of grievances of the tribals, and it is not limited to isolated regions nor to any isolated attempt to solution. It covers many areas and many groups of people who are not just physically guided by an organised infrastructure of violence but also by a motivated programme of militant ideology.

This cannot be ignored because while the demands may lie dormant for quite sometime, the motivations run deep and can, and do, erupt whenever they find a favourable environment. If the Naxal problem is not tackled at its root, it will bring down the social fabric.

As it is dawning upon the administrative machinery that the Naxal problem is not only deep-rooted in the current developments but also in ideological motivations, the menace of the problem has started hurting an overwhelming majority of the people. They have to be reckoned with substantive analysis of the difficulties and well thought out programmes that attempt to isolate the Naxal rebels from the rest of the population. Because these types of incidents are different from communal violence and regional militancy, the problem will not get resolved until everybody who is against militant violence can be motivated to fight this menace.

There is often a misunderstanding that the Naxal problem will go away with the spread of education. To some extent this is true. Education opens the doors of perception of the people, they begin to understand the problems they face. Vested interests often drum up other issues to support a movement when there is not enough response coming from the social elite. But to the extent the elite responds to this specific Naxal problem, there is a dialogue and opportunity to resolve the conflict. The contribution of education to the resolution of several conflicts is undoubtedly important and the social elite can play an important role when conflicts are a result of false consciousness of the reality.

Resistance can be overcome for sustaining a programme of social development of the deprived and affected groups by arguments about the pros and cons of the situation. But unfortunately the reach of the arguments does not go far enough as they are not rooted in the objective conditions of social development that would attract all and not some sections of the population. For example, the Naxal problem is dominated by deprivation of land rights. As this affects a small fraction of the people, its consciousness as a social problem has to be properly formulated in terms of objective realities. Otherwise arguments against the Naxal position would remain flimsy, as they would not be able to translate into actions that would change the reality. Analytically the Naxal problem is amenable to peaceful solution without the use of force, provided the social elites are interested in solving it.
I am harping on this way of tackling the Naxal problem because it opens up possibilities of a peaceful resolution. It follows from the presumption that most social problems are positive sums, where solution to problems in one dimension does not detract from solutions in other directions. This aspect of the analytical structure of the Naxal problem is often forgotten when all attention is devoted to resolving them through the violent use of the state machinery. It may, of course, be necessary sometimes to use such violence. But it must be remembered that when a non-violent solution exists, it must be tried out before using force. If you accept that all Naxals are not criminals your approach to finding a peaceful solution has a greater chance of success.

I am frantically arguing for a non-violent solution to the openly violent Naxal issue that affects the country's social development because even hardcore problems such as land redistribution can be converted from a zero-sum to positive-sum games. People can be persuaded to believe in such alternative approaches if we can go far in dealing with these situations. For example, unequal distribution of land does give an initial advantage to people benefiting from land redistribution. But when redistribution is supported by investment, irrigation and water management, it may generate enough benefits to prevent people from turning violent or entering into not-so-violent acrimonious conflicts.

For example, the Naxal problem has somehow got mixed up with personal, social and ethnic conflicts. These conflicts are not germane to dealing with social development. You can solve the problems of dalits in a non-violent manner when the society expresses its willingness to do so. If a non-violent approach can resolve a problem such as discrimination against dalits, the appeal of a violent approach loses its attraction. Educated dalits, for instance, should be able to solve their problems without recourse to violence, but they cannot do so because of vested interests that do not permit non-violent but effective solutions.
This is where there is scope for the leadership to go beyond the immediate conflict situation. To expect a non-violent solution in a violent social environment may often be a pipedream. But once people are allowed to play this game, the merit of their case becomes increasingly apparent. That is the beginning of having a peaceful solution to difficult and violence-provoking social problems.

In any case, given all the options, I believe the Naxal problem has not been attended to in all seriousness.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in an interaction witheditors the other day, hinted at a cabinet reshuffle before thewinter session of parliament in November.Among other things, he also said that he would like to reduce the mean age of the cabinet. It could either mean he would want to drop some of the older folk or bring in younger blood, or both.


He excluded himself saying that he was not up for retirement. Two ministers who were born in the same decade as Singh are lightweight external affairs minister SM Krishna (born in 1932, the same year as Singh) and heavyweight finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (1935).


The next rung of seniors was born in the 1940s — agriculture, food and civil supplies minister Sharad Pawar (1940), information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni (1942), P Chidambaram (1945), minister of state for science, technology and earth sciences Prithviraj Chauhan (1946) and HRD minister Kapil Sibal (1948). The 1950s brigade includes minister for chemicals and fertilisers M Alagiri of DMK (1950), minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh (1954), civil aviation minister Praful Patel (1955), and DK Purandeswari (1959). The real youth corps includes the babyboomers of the 1970s: minister for industry Jyotiraditya Scindia (1971), minister of state for petroleum and natural gas Jitin Prasada (1973), and minister of state for telecommunications Sachin Pilot (1977).


The baby of the team is minister of state for rural development Agatha Sangma (1980).


On the face of it, it does appear that there is a reasonable age spread across the decades. At the most Singh can induct a few from those born in the 1970s, including Rahul Gandhi. And that could reduce the mean age, which is more a statistical measure than anything else. There is the perception that India is a young country led by old people and perhaps the prime minister is conscious of that. Most of the younger people are heirs-apparent, and a berth in the cabinet is seen as an entitlement. It will be difficult for Singh to change that dynamic of national politics.


While Singh's emphasis on young blood is more than politically correct, it would be futile if the young play the old game of politics and bring no new ideas to the table. Generation change has to translate into a game changer as well. What he may want to do perhaps is to bring in younger people who then can rub shoulders with the seniors and learn the ropes as it were.







DNA's quality of life survey in Mumbai has found that employees, constantly accessible as they are through smartphones and the Internet, find it hard to switch off.


Sometimes it is expected of them by the employer; at other times, this compulsion to be on the call of duty round-the-clock is self-imposed. For instance, work-hours are stretched as work spills over to home for whatever reason.


Either the work target is unreasonably high or the employee, aware that he can postpone work until 'later' as she can access work from home, goes slow at office.


There is a third reason that pretty much sums up the anxieties of the perpetually connected. It's the need to be in the loop at all times and the expectation that feedback be completed in the shortest timeframe possible — whether it is a reply to an SMS or an answer on the other side of the phone line.


An absence of feedback provokes all manner of interpretations and projections of personal anxieties — it's labelled irresponsibility (mom), lack of professionalism (boss), rudeness (college pal), whatever. Since the anxiety in universal — no one's free from it — this demand on someone else's time and space is generally justified and accepted as reasonable. That is also why an employee sees it as fair that she be allowed a week's leave on the condition that she is accessible in case something urgent comes up.


And the platforms to be accessed are plenty, each with varying degrees of accessibility they allow — Facebook, Twitter, emails and phones. Yet, increasingly, a number of young users are going off Facebook because they want to step out of the constant stream of information, the chain of receiving and broadcasting it.


Everyone has hop-scotched this new reality where there is always someone, somewhere a click away. It started with the cellphone, but conditioning came with the Internet. And to think that for most of young India, the exposure to the medium is only a decade old. As Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan would say, the medium is the message.







One more bandh to protest against inflation was called on Tuesday.


Since it was orchestrated by the trade unions, it met with marginal success across the country and total success (where else?) in West Bengal and Kerala.


Compounding the problem was a strike called by doctors in parts of Rajasthan and later at a major hospital in Delhi that wanted guaranteed safety against attacks by unhappy patients and their families.


Sure, inflation is an important issue. But is it still right to disrupt people's lives for it? Despite the courts taking a negative stance on it, our political parties and unions still use bandhs as legitimate tools of protest — never mind that they are often undemocratic, and forced down people's throats.


The public is too scared to give the bandh bullies a fitting reply.


Trade unions in particular do not seem to have realised how much the world has changed around them and how little impact such protests have.


The last all-India bandh hardly rattled the government at the Centre. For all that, it was deemed a success. Tuesday's bandh is not likely to change the course of history. But our unions will declare victory after disrupting life once more.








A little more than two years ago, Kashmir had burnt — and how. On May 26, 2008, the government of India and state government reached an agreement to transfer 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in the main Kashmir valley to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims.


This ld to demonstrations in the Valley against the land transfer and protests from Jammu supporting it.


Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, whose PDP was sharing power with the Congress at that time, first persuaded its political ally to revoke the


order and then withdrew support to the government even after the order had been revoked. Not one to be outdone by the PDP, the SASB, supported by the BJP, escalated its agitation to an extent that led to a virtual economic blockade of the Valley, a charge that the agitators officially denied. After 61 days of unrest, a compromise was finally worked out on August 31.


The role of the PDP throughout the crisis was not just downright callous but outrageously partisan. When Omar Abdullah became CM with Congress support in December 2008, Delhi probably heaved a sigh of relief. He made all the right noises to begin with, including some that would have raised concerns for Delhi. For instance, the decision to provide amnesty to thousands of 'misled' youths who had travelled across to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) since the 1990s and rehabilitate them, is always easier said than done. He never lost an opportunity to make his aversion to the army known, at one point even declaring "that some soldiers of the army are behaving like cowboys".


When the Centre had briefly banned pre-paid cellular service in the Valley and then banned SMS services, it goes without saying that its staunchest critics were the two Kashmiri regional parties. But despite all efforts to woo the Kashmiri youth, the recent stone-pelting agitation proves that Omar's self-projections might be in stark contrast with what the situation on the ground really is.


Assuming that the present menace is the handiwork of fringe elements and that in all likelihood it has been orchestrated by Syed Ali Shah Geelani's Tehreek-i-Hurriyat (TiH), one should expect it to die soon. However the larger Kashmir problem is unlikely to die anytime soon. It's a sordid saga of dual trust deficit: one between the people of Kashmir and its administrators even if the NC and PDP might be in denial; and two, between our Central leadership and the Kashmiri leadership. Both the NC and the PDP have created this situation, partly through their naiveté and mostly with their avarice.


It is worth recalling here that NC government had in 2000 passed a resolution in the state assembly demanding full autonomy for the state.


The demand was rejected outright by the NDA government at the Centre. While the NC has stuck to its stand, the PDP has been on song with its "self-rule" and "dual currency" tunes. For those of this generation who might think otherwise, it is also worth recalling that the demand for "autonomy" or "self-rule" is not a recent one. Omar's grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah's fixation with a "plebiscite" had him spend a good number of years in jail.


The pro-India Kashmiri leadership thus has always been a mere utopian illusion which most of us find difficult to abandon. What is more disturbing is that lately both of Kashmir's regional parties almost wait for an agitation to flare-up, so that they may subsequently drive home their demands more vigorously. What these parties in their one-upmanship fail to realise is that even if at some point in future their demands are met, their accommodative


approach towards the extremist groups will not allow an "autonomous" Kashmir to live in peace.


It is indeed amusing that the police in Kashmir are not expected to retaliate when mobs pelt stones at them. For, if police retaliation kills an agitator, then that would become the trigger point for many more agitations, reinforcing cries of torture and demands for immediate autonomy/independence.


Do the people of Kashmir want autonomy/self-rule? Or are they just fine the way they are? Do they want to go with Pakistan? Given the present credibility of the NC and PDP, one would rather not go by their judgment. The people of Kashmir have suffered as much from militancy as from the incompetent political leadership of the state, especially in the last two-and-a-half decades.


Let us not forget that Farooq Abdullah, who was no novice when the Kashmir militancy broke out in the late eighties, largely remained a mute spectator to it.


This is a critical juncture for Omar, one that needs him to come down firmly on trouble-mongers. Before pursuing his party's eternal demand, Omar would do well to get the state fully under his control. He would do well to avoid the mistakes of his father.








Tragically while the killing of innocent protestors including children and women by the trigger-happy security forces including the State police, usurping the entire civil space in Kashmir, continue unabated with more deaths reported day after day, those at the helm in New Delhi and Srinagar remain in a state of schizophrenia. Despite the unending gory dance of death and destruction with the normal life remaining totally paralyzed the Union government and its surrogate regime in J&K have failed even to realize the gravity of the situation. Betraying their total insensitivity to the loss of human lives and the agony and sufferings of the people of the troubled state they continue to live in a world of make-believe. The fields, lanes and streets of Kashmir are soaking with blood of the innocents who have been facing the bullets of the armed forces, para-militaries and the state police for their crime to raise their voice against the unabated human rights or demanding their inalienable right to determine their future. The latest is the killing of four persons by the police and CRPF men in Palhalan area of Pattan in Baramulla district on Monday in unprovoked and indiscriminate firing. According to reports the people were staging peaceful protest demonstration, rasing slogans against the human rights abuses and demanding azaadi at Palhalan on Srinagar-Baramulla road. A cavalcade of the SOG and CRPF troopers which was passing through the area was stopped by the protestors who were dispersed after the cane charges by the troopers. Eyewitnesses said that after about half-an-hour the SOG and CRPF troopers again arrived on the scene, entered the Batpora in Palahan and opened fire on the people returning from a mosque after the afternoon prayers, killing a 16-year old boy and injuring seven others. This naturally infuriated the people who came out to hold protest demonstrations against the police action. They too were fired upon killing another youth and injuring several others. Later even the people gathered for the nimaz-e-jenaza of the two killed in firing was fired upon killing two others and causing injuries to a large number of people, bringing the death toll to four. On all accounts the firing on the people and brutal force used was not only unprovoked and excessive but also premeditated. 

While the situation in the troubled state is worsening with every passing day, instead of putting an end to this unabated dance of death and destruction, the rulers in New Delhi and Srinagar continue to be the prisoners of indecision, resorting to rhetoric and living in a world of make-believe. Chief minister Omar Abdullah, who has miserably failed to deal with the situation, while shifting his stance frequently, is talking of moves for finding a political solution of the Kashmir problem. He said in Jammu that the efforts are on to break the ice and resolve the crisis. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is still thinking of convening the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for what he called a "threadbare" discussion on Kashmir. He told a group of editors in New Delhi "I cannot promise you that I will produce a rabbit out of my hat..the country must learn to be patient". How many more death are needed for New Delhi to come out of its schizophrenia, understand the reality of the situation, change its flawed mindset and come to the grips of the problem?. While pointing out that the problem has remained unresolved for 63 long years, the Prime Minister said "we are still groping for a solution". How long will the rulers at the Centre remain in a state of drift and how much more blood of the people of Kashmir will be shed before they move on the right course to find a just and democratic solution to the problem. Indeed, the immediate need is to put an end to the killings of innocents and other atrocities on the people, probe all such cases and punish the guilty, restore people's right to protest peacefully, remove curbs on the people's movements, release all political prisoners, get the civilian space vacated by the armed forces including the para-militaries and ikhwanis and scrap the draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Areas Act and the Public Safety Act. The PSA is a state law having been brought on the statute book by none other than Sheikh Abdullah in 1978 and has to be withdrawn by the State government.







The commuters, who daily traverse Jammu-Pathankot route to reach their respective destinations, are a hassled lot due to irregular bus-service being run by the private bus operators. Particularly during morning and noon hours, due to non-availability of the buses there are problems galore for all those, who are in a great hurry to reach their offices or schools. As far as the private operators are concerned, they run the bus service as per their whims to evade the nakas and subsequent punitive measures by the traffic police authorities. Nakas are set up all along this route particularly at Mansar Morh, Swankhan, Patli Morh, Bari Brahmana in Samba and at Purmandal Morh, Kunjwani, Satwari in Jammu to check overloading. They continue to be there till 1.00 PM therefore during this period, majority of the bus operators prefer not to ply buses on this route. Thus both during morning and the afternoon, which are the peak hours for office-goers or the students, the hassled commuters have no option but to change the buses at least twice which proves both the time consuming as well as an expensive affair. The office bearers of Transporters Union claim that to remove the hardships being faced by the commuters, three extra buses have been pressed into service. However, for the commuters, mainly the office-goers, teachers and the students have no respite because even those extra three buses are being run on the papers only, as per the claims of daily commuters. Given this dismal scenario, the commuters have no option but to wait for hours for a bus to reach their destination. Though as per the schedule framed by the union, the difference between the plying of two buses i.e., Superfast and non-stop buses should be only 7 minutes. The frequency of plying of Superfast buses on this route is okay but they have fixed stops to carry and drop the passengers unlike the non-stop buses. Hence Superfast buses don't serve the purpose of majority of commuters who have to get off in between the regular stops. After 7.00 PM, three Superfast buses ply on this route, but no non-stop bus plies during this period. Last non-stop bus plies at 8.00 PM and one can easily imagine the extent of overloading in that as none wants to miss the last bus. The authorities concerned, so far, have turned Nelson's eye towards this grievance of commuters although the situation demands immediate action to rein in the errant bus operators to establish the rule of law.








Aÿparticularly disturbing slogan heard in the Kashmir Valley, where its young school-goers and old patriarchs, angry women and restive youth are courageously defying Indian rule, is enough to put off any sensitive sympathiser. "Bhooka nanga Hindustan; Jaan se pyaara Pakistan." (Starving and tattered India we reject;


Pakistan - land of our dreams - we embrace.) 

This slogan conveys acute political bankruptcy in a region which has lived with naked military repression for more than 20 years. I'm sure any Pakistani with a sense of justice would also be uncomfortable with the warped mindset the slogan betrays. 

That Kashmir is reeling under Indian occupation is not a secret. That Pakistan has played a questionable role there is also well known. Yet, for Kashmiris to see their struggle as part of the many battles being waged by the poorest of the poor against the Indian state's multi-pronged injustices against its own people, would not compromise or be a contradiction in Kashmir's struggle for self-determination. The simple question for Kashmiris to ask themselves is, isn't the same state that has killed 60 young Kashmiris in three months, also responsible for tens of thousands of suicides by indebted farmers in India? Does Sharmila Irom, who is fighting to repeal the law that gives unbridled powers to security forces in her Manipur state have no relevance for the same struggle in Kashmir? 

The tribespeople of Chhatisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal are fighting for their fundamental rights. One of their demands is that they not be evicted from their homes to accommodate corporate land grab. Is this not what Kashmiri Pandits suffered at the hands of the Indian state as well as non-state actors in their homeland without any redress from successive Indian governments that claim to represent them? 

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have often cajoled dissident groups, including the banned Maoists, to come for talks within the constitutional framework. Why can't the affected groups simultaneously expose the insincerity of the Indian state? To take just one example, the preamble of the Indian constitution describes the nation as a socialist and secular republic. 

Socialism is thus the law of the land. Which Indian government, including the one led by Chidambaram-Singh duo, has come anywhere close to keeping the promise of socialism? Just the opposite. Both have callously opened the country to the depredations of private capital. 

I met a Kashmiri separatist a few days after the Babri masjid was razed in Ayodhya. He happened to be the only senior enough leader to be still dodging the police in Srinagar. The rest were in jail. He told me he didn't care for the plight of Indian Muslims in the wake of the Ayodhya outrage. "They have never helped the Kashmiris, so why should we bother with them?" 

The explanation for his aloofness was ironical. How can we forget the senior Indian minister telling journalists during the Agra summit that if Kashmir was to be given to Pakistan on the basis of religious claims, should not the Indian Muslims then be packed off in special trains to Pakistan? Kashmiris and Indian Muslims may see themselves as separate entities with separate causes. But their detractors will always see them as one headache. Check this out with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who knows Indian Muslims as children of Mian Musharraf. 
I put the question to some Kashmiri intellectuals in Delhi recently. I asked them how was it that a movement with international ramifications and wide support among a number of Muslim states could be so self-absorbed that it didn't have a policy much less a worldview about other people's sufferings. Kashmiris did speak up once for the Palestinians, but now it seems they do not have the energy for even that. On the other hand, there is no dearth of seemingly unrelated groups that lend them moral support. A recent rally in Canada of Sikhs and Kashmiri activists, who protested against India's brutality in the Valley, could be a case in point. A few weeks ago an obscure Tamil group in India issued a statement in support of Kashmiris. Do the Kashmiris want to know who the members of the Tamil group are? 

There is something about this that reminds me of an interaction I once had with Gen Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad. He had just returned from a visit to Colombo where his government was giving military and political support to the government against Tamil rebels. I said how was the Tamil struggle any different from the Kashmiri movement since both stemmed from the denial of the right to self-determination. Gen Musharraf said he didn't want to comment on another country's internal matter. So he too chose the injustice, which suited him most. 

Vidya Subrahmaniam of The Hindu has done an interesting comparison of three major pogroms in India, each fighting its own battle without getting involved with the sorrows of each other. 

The Orissa violence, in which Hindu-Adivasis targeted Dalit Christians, was undoubtedly smaller in scale compared to Gujarat 2002 and Delhi 1984. "Despite.variations, the three pogroms could have been written, produced and directed by a single satanic mind, judging by the astonishing similarity in the detail and sequence of events and the stunning brutality of the crimes committed," says Subrahmaniam. 

In his November 2002 foreword to the report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, which collected 2,094 oral and written testimonies from Gujarat's victim-survivors as well as human rights groups, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer said: "The gravamen of this pogrom-like operation was that the administration reversed its constitutional role, and by omission and commission, engineered the loot, ravishment and murder which was methodically perpetrated through planned process ." 

Eight years later, as Subrahmaniam notes, the jury at the Kandhamal Tribunal had similar words to say: "The jury records its shock and deep concern for the heinous and brutal manner in which the members of the Christian community were killed, dismembered, sexually assaulted and tortured . There was rampant and systematic looting and destruction of houses and places of worship and means of livelihood . The jury is further convinced that the communal violence in Kandhamal was the consequence of a subversion of constitutional governance in which state agents were complicit." 

"When, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's 1984 assassination, thousands of Sikhs were massacred on the streets of Delhi, the commonly-held view was that it was an aberration brought about by an extraordinary situation. Comparisons were made with the 1947 Partition riots but few could have known at that time that the clinically planned and executed anti-Sikh pogrom would serve as a model for two more episodes of mass aggression against minorities," The Hindu analysis said. 

India has spawned a coalition of injustices. For those in the Kashmiri resistance to show solidarity with those fighting the same bloated, militarised state that they are, will not compromise their goal. It would only deepen their vision and sharpen their ideas of what kind of 'azadi' they are fighting for. 

-(Courtesy: Dawn)






"Vinod Kambli's famous bald pate is turning into a social embarrassment for his gorgeous wife, former model Andrea." M. Mirror, Sept 6thThe only time Saching Tendulkar looks a little embarrassed is not when a bowler bowls a googly to him, not when he gets out for zero, but when former classmate, friend and ex-cricketer Vinod Kambli appears by his side. Kambli has tried to sport different hairstyles, flaunts flashy clothes, wears earrings, knotted his hair at one stage and now has shaved himself bald.

It's like he's trying to say, "Hey guys please notice me, I'm Kambli!"

Now, there's one thing that an exhibitionist has to be prepared for, and that is when you provoke people to notice you, you will also have to deal with jeers, giggles and laughter, which apparently his wife, Mrs Andrea Kamble couldn't handle, and when she went to a mall with Vinod, heard somebody commenting about her husband's strange looks, she got physical with the lady concerned, who complained to the authorities and had Mrs Kamble cool her heels at the local Mumbai police station, after being booked for assault.
Well Vinod before you go across to the police station and diffuse the situation or yell at your wife, here's a little incident you should hear about:

A guy who lives at Lake Conroe (50 miles north of Houston ) saw a ball bouncing around kind of strange in the lake and went to investigate. It turned out to be a flathead catfish that had apparently tried to swallow a basketball, which became stuck in its mouth!! 

The fish was totally exhausted from trying to dive, but unable to, because the inflated ball would always bring him back up to the surface. The guy tried numerous times to get the ball out, but was unsuccessful. He finally had his wife cut the ball in order to deflate it and release the hungry catfish.

Did you get the point?

Let me explain: If you've decided to look bizarre and strange, like that catfish wanting to eat a football, you should tell your wife and also your children and maybe your relatives too, not to react to the snides and comments that will be passed. If you insist on eating a football with your funny hair and clothes, then get used to hearing catcalls, wolf whistles, jeers and giggles, like what the catfish must have heard with football in its mouth.

If you want to be different, learn to handle it!

I see many Kambli's around, trying to seek attention in different ways, nothing wrong in that, but ask yourself if you are an embarrassment to friends and family with football in mouth or bald pate and pink shirt, then decide whether it's worth it..!







It is a pity that no headway has been made in the State in the direction of power reforms. A sector so crucial for our overall development largely remains neglected. The State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) had in its tariff order of April 29 this year made the following tell-tale comments: (a) "balancing of load on the phases of transformers should be checked whenever new connections are issued. Balancing of load on different phases of transformers shall also be checked at regular intervals for proper balancing of the load and to minimise burning of distribution transformer due to unequal loading;" (b) "JKPDD (Jammu Kashmir Power Development Corporation) is directed to submit quarterly reports on arrears outstanding against each category of consumers. The Commission would like to know the collection, billing and accounting of arrears of previous years in the revenue realised of a particular year. A complete detail of arrears and their realisation from 2006-07 be made available to the Commission along with the next ARR (annual revenue requirement) and tariff petition;" and (c) "the Commission directs JKPDD to undertake revision of agreements of all categories of consumers to assess the realistic connected load and also the maximum demand. A status report on the Commission may be submitted to the Commission by October 31, 2010." Of course, the SREC has been scathing in its criticism: "JKPDD is unacceptably slow" with respect to its "progress on the directives issued on such critical matters as study of T&D (transmission and distribution) losses. JKPDD is directed to get the study completed and submit its report by September 30, 2010." These are but only a few of the observations that the SERC has made. On the whole it has made a comprehensive case for overhauling of the entire existing electricity regime. 

A report in this newspaper now points out that the "balancing of load" remains a distant dream. As a result the distributing transformers cave in under pressure and burn --- in Jammu region mostly during summers and in the Kashmir province during winters. The withdrawals far exceed the availability. It is said that about 40 per cent of the total about 17000 such transformers are damaged on this side of the Pir Panjal. The condition is no better across the Jawahar Tunnel. There are about 38000 such devices in the State as a whole. The SERC at its quarterly review meeting recently has assessed the entire scenario. It is concerned because of the continuing transmission and distribution losses. Another perpetual worry is on account of mounting arrears of electricity charges. From what the PDD has told this newspaper it is obvious that it still has a lot of homework to do. 
With this background in view the SERC's suggestion for adopting a corporate approach to the power regime may be valid. Its argument is convincing: "Only when the utilities have to depend on the ARR and tariff approvals of the Commission for meeting their financial obligations, will it become critical for them to improve their efficiency levels." It has claimed support to this perception from consumers as well as stakeholders. Is it not easier said than done in our milieu? First, we are constrained to say, we have to change a dormant mindset. Then, we have to create conditions conducive enough to tempt missionary entrepreneurs. 






One scandal after the other continues to rock our public distribution system (PDS). Can there be anything more unfortunate? A highly well-intentioned scheme for the welfare of millions of poor --- perhaps the largest distribution network of its kind in the world ---- at times becomes a victim of malpractices and corruption. It is a countrywide phenomenon. Only recently a former chief minister of a north-eastern state has been arrested for his alleged role in a multi-crore PDS scandal. A few months ago a vigilance panel appointed by the Supreme Court has made telling observations about the way the entire System is being handled. It has slammed the PDS for "rampant corruption, black marketing and diversion involving a vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop owners and middlemen." According to it, "corruption is all pervasive in the entire chain involved in PDS. It continues to remain a formidable problem. It is true that most of the functionaries under them in the department are typically callous and resort to corrupt practices." The PDS involves a whopping subsidy of Rs 28000 crore in the name of poor. In order to streamline it the apex court has gone on to ask the Central Government to ensure construction of a big godown in each state besides separate godowns in different districts and divisions within the state and expedite the computerisation process of the PDS to check pilferage and corruption. It has reiterated its order to distribute grain at "no cost" or "very low cost." As concerned citizens we can't miss events in any part of the country. At the same time we have to make sure that there is no fraud in our own vicinity. This requires that we are very vigilant and well aware of the rules. This in turn is possible only if we are motivated solely by concern for weaker sections of our society. 

It is a pity that we in this State are not being sufficiently observant. At periodic intervals we do find instances of corruption in PDS. Our response is that we remember one scandal for some time and forget about it the moment another erupts --- in the last week we have come across two of them. A shortage of foodgrains worth over Rs 37 lakh has been detected in the Udhampur store of the Department of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD). The material had been supplied from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) store in this city. It was found to have been either pilfered or passed on to wrong hands. The CAPD Department has lodged a first information report with the Crime Branch in this regard. In the other happening 1383 bags of pilfered foodgrains have been seized in the Akhnoor area. In the past also the lid has been taken off numerous such fraudulent instances. Unfortunately the progress of inquiries initiated into them is not in the domain of public knowledge. The Government should consider preparing a detailed statement on the CAPD-related activities during its tenure for the benefit of the people at large. It should not hesitate to make an example of those who have made a laudable programme virtually a laughing stock. There seem be not just one but quite a few fish trying to spoil an entire pond.











The just concluded monsoon session of Parliament was a sweet and sour affair for the government. It ensured smooth passage of Civil Nuclear Bill by managing the BJP support. But was forced by the opposition to defer legislation on Education Tribunal and Enemy Property bills.

Undoubtedly the highlight was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's success in bringing BJP on board for the passage of the nuclear Bill much to the discomfiture of several non-BJP parties like RJD and SP.
In fact, an unprecedented bonhomie was witnessed between the BJP and Government over the Nuclear Bill in both Houses of Parliament. This was notwithstanding BJP claims that it made the Government dance to its tunes.
Opposition unity on price rise also did not survive for long as the Congress and its allies managed to sidestep their demand for an adjournment motion on the issue to censure the Government.

In the process, the Lok Sabha could not transact business for the first five days and the Rajya Sabha also remained disrupted over the issue. The Lok Sabha took up a discussion on the serious situation in Jammu and Kashmir but it remained inconclusive as the expected reply of Home Minister P Chidambaram did not come through.

The debate on the issue of illegal mining was also inconclusive.

The much-awaited discussion on misuse of CBI did not take place despite it being demanded off and on by the opposition.

The highlight of the debate on Bhopal gas tragedy was senior Congress leader Arjun Singh breaking his silence on the issue and seeking to put the then Home Ministry led by P V Narasimha Rao for allowing Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to leave the country.

The session's highlight was the passage of the Salary and Allowances Bill, raising the salary of MPs from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 and increasing other allowances.

The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010 was deferred with the Government saying it would bring a fresh bill in the Winter session of Parliament. The opposition had cried foul arguing that the government wanted to change the Ordinance passed earlier to benefit the Raja of Mehmoodabad.
The passage of the civil nuclear liability bill was a must for India to trade with foreign suppliers of nuclear materials and technology, which is crucial in its ambitious nuclear power programe.

The bill could not be brought in the Parliament earlier this year due to concerns by Opposition parties. After intense negotiations, the ruling party as also the main opposition were seen on the same page on the issue.
India was denied global civilian nuclear technology for more than three decades because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an agreement which New Delhi has always held as discriminatory.

The jinx was broken in 2008, when New Delhi and Washington signed a Civilian Nuclear Deal, enabling the U.S. to export civil nuclear technology and expertise to India.

Subsequently, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group granted India a waiver on restricting access to nuclear technology, enabling it to do nuclear commerce transactions with the international community.
Nuclear supplier and technology firms require the legislation before they can trade with India. U S President Barack Obama's planned visit to India is in early November at which time Washington is expected to press for granting of billions of dollars of contracts for nuclear projects.

The Left understandably has trained its guns over the passage of the bill and the "hurry" shown in view of Obama's visit, prompting a rebuke from the Congress and the government that the CPI-M and its allies were living in a fool's paradise.

The Bill to protect whistleblowers was prominent among the bills introduced in this session of Parliament. The bill is a belated but welcome move to shield those who stand up, often at great personal risk, for the sake of truth and the public interest.

The Public Interest Disclosures and the Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill 2010 is the circuitous and protracted outcome of the Supreme Court's strong pitch for a mechanism to protect whistleblowers.
This it did while hearing a public interest litigation on the murder of a whistleblower.. The pressure applied by the Court led the central government, in early 2004, to issue an order authorising the Central Vigilance Commission to receive and act on the complaints of whistleblowers and to protect their identities. 
Like other whistleblower laws around the world, the legislation has two main aims: to protect the identity of those who call attention to corruption and misuse of power in an organisation, and to safeguard them against punitive disciplinary action. It empowers the CVC, which will have the powers of a civil court, to punish those who reveal the identity of whistleblowers.


The passage of 20 bills in the Lower House and 24 in the Upper House also showed that the lawmakers worked hard in parts of the month-long session. Incidentaly, the bills also included one to raise the salary of members from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 and substantial hike in allowances. Indian lawmakers contend that they are one of the most poorly paid in the world. Government is now setting in place an independent mechanism for the purpose to do away with criticism that it was not proper for the lawmakers to raise their own salaries.
On the tax front, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee introduced the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) Bill, that will simplify direct tax laws.

The DTC, on which the Government had invited public comments twice, will replace the archaic Income Tax Act, 1961. 

The Government is in the process of drafting the legislation for the DTC,. With the Indian economy growing fast, the Government wants to present the stake holders with a taxation regime which is simple and broad-based leading to lowering of tax rates, better tax compliance and reduced litigation.

The discussion on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir saw members expressing concern over the unrest with some pointing the cause to elements across the border. A calling attention motion also saw External Affairs Minister S M Krishna speaking about China taking more than the normal interest in the Indian Ocean.
India prides itself to be the world's largest democracy. In a democracy, there is debate as also disruption in Parliament. Presiding officers of the two Houses expressed concern over the growing disruption as both Houses lost some 40 hours each on the score.

The main cause was the opposition's plans to raise a discussion on price rise in such a way that it would embarrass government. The matter was subsequently sorted out amicably.


The 'mock' Parliament held in the Lok Sabha chamber by some political parties during the session was the low mark of the session with veterans from either side dubbing the exercise as a slur on Parliament. (PTI)








Not only in India but in our oriental society as a whole it has often been discovered that the career of our students becomes slave to the unnecessary interference of their parents or the uninvited suggestions of their friends. This cult has rendered almost an irreparable damage to the talent and potential of our student's community down the decades. The choice of career is impressed upon them not in keeping with their aptitude but is always subjected either to the prerogative of their parents or to the imitation of their counterparts. At the same time the highly detrimental role played by the schools and colleges in baffling their students regarding the combinations of subjects, deserves to have an outburst here in this write-up. Most of the times the students' choice happens to be sacrificed at the altar of shortage of staff and consequently the scarcity of combinations. 
We do not have adequate infra-structure and hence it becomes difficult to satisfy the combination-choice of all the students at one time that is indeed a highly negative aspect of our educational system. The students have to bear the dire consequences of our carelessness and their future succumbs to our routine negligence and the worse than it is that we don't have even a slight sense of realization over it. I have found many a time, to my extreme surprise that the student applies for one combination of his choice but at the eleventh hour he finds to have been allotted another combination which he does not like or which is beyond the ken of his competence. Several times I have seen the students requesting and beseeching their School and College authorities for being given the subjects of their interest but all in vain. No one listens to them. Here the very purpose of education is killed. Their voice collides with the walls of the Colleges and dies in itself. Right since the day one of his admission in the College he starts wading through the quagmire of chaos and confusion. His deep concern about his future and disinterest and repulsive taste of the forcibly given subjects mar his future and he stands disturbed and divided forever. His mind is full tension, he can not think rightly; his heart is full of unsatisfied desires, he can not feel rightly; and his eyes are blinking with unfulfilled dreams, he can not see rightly. He loses his energy, time and money but gets nothing in lieu of it. The major problem which hinders the proliferation of a student's aptitude and his capability is our focus on what other people choose to do, not taking stock of what our own child wants to do. The subjects or the field of preference should not be choiced as per its demand in the society or west and style of the day but should be decided as per the chooser's own mind and his mental caliber. 
Here lies the basic difference which countless students of our country especially in Northern region of India do not reflect on and that is why we, despite having a considerable amount of potential, do not have the desirable out-come. The mismanagement of affairs pertaining to the future of our youths and imported decisions to pitchfork our generation into the areas they can't do well leave more or less crippling effect on their original and inbred inclination and faculty. We should learn something from the West and adopt it in letter and spirit. To discard the West in totality may prove to be suicidal for us because the West is far ahead of the East in many ways and choice of career being one of them. The West always remains vigilant about what the student wishes to go for, making no unwanted interference. It has been found that a big bulk of our students stand depressed and confused in regard to their future standing at a cross-road to know what to do and what not. Perhaps this is strongest reason for a colossal number of Drop-outs every year in our country. A moment's digression from the track has pushed our generation into an abyss of dilemma putting them in a state of frustration. It can nowise be under-estimated that a student's frustration will ultimately snowball into the frustration of the entire nation. 
We have to be cautious about their future course of action and I would like to impress upon all the parents to attach maximum precedence to the choice and decision of the students refraining from imposing their own viewpoint on them. It is wearer who knows where the shoe pinches. The student is more authentically aware of his worth and intelligence and he should be let free to settle his affairs on his own. The parents should execute the duty they are supposed to do i.e. to subsist and maintain their child and provide them with a healthy and formative environment from the very outset and the teachers must keep on broadening the horizon of student's knowledge and understanding, deepening their thoughts, and enlarging their ideas about day to day life in relation to the demand of the age of science and technology. Let the student be well acquainted with all the aspects of professional world with its glamour and significance and then should be let free to decide on his own. In case there emerges some inevitability of interference, then better is to consult some expert on the issue of deciding his career. Sometimes a student out of filial obedience or some psychological pressure can not speak out his mind and does what his heart and mind are not ready to accept and consequently for the whole of his life he remains under the shadow of mediocrity doing nothing worthwhile at all.

There is a particular confusion generally gripping the psyche of our youths now-a-days relating to the scope of the discipline they choose to study. Normally we attach preference to certain streams and underestimate the importance of the other streams in regard to their scope and acceptance in the society. This is something which mainly distorts the sensibility of our students. Let it be clear to all the students of my country especially of my state where they have to face many other upsets and upheavals that it is not the 'discipline or 'stream' that matters; rather is the excellence and caliber of the students that counts. I have seen the people from the 'less popular' subject background holding over-coveted and the most dignified niche in the system. It is the caliber they displayed, not the subject or area of their interest which made them important. 

We shall come across thousand and one examples of those who are from the domain of Arts and literature and enjoy the international name and fame commanding absolute respect of those who are proud to be from the science background. Sometimes by running after one particular choice, we ignore the beautiful areas of career- formation. All the disciplines have their positive peculiarity and fascination too but we must choose the one we can flourish in and bring satisfaction to our life, pride to our parents and laurels to our nation. It is the primary duty of the parents to extend practical cooperation to their children in matters of their future planning. It advisable to scan their talent and aptitude and see what suits them the most because the show ultimately has to be managed and successfully run by the students on them own, not their advisors. Under the prevailing circumstances we can afford no more to waste the potential of our generation by extending our unnecessary and discouraging intervention.








Addressing a gathering a shoe was flung from the back and luckily it missed him by a whisker. It wasn't George W. Bush this time and nor was it a journalist who threw it. At the 64th Independence Day Celebration, J&K , Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah was addressing a gathering at the Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar and minutes before he was about to unfurl the National Flag, a leather shoe came flying from behind the stands. The man, in civilian clothes, then raised a black flag and shouted slogans. He was whisked away by security personnel's immediately after he threw the shoe. Omar handled the situation very well, and said in his speech "better to throw shoes than stones".

Omar Abdullah has been lost in the valley, that valley where heaven and hell exist together, the valley that everyone calls "Heaven on Earth," has been turned into hell over the past two months and Omar Abdullah is living his worst nightmare. But is he to blame? Has he called for all this? 

The National Conference had proposed autonomy decades ago and PDP proposed self rule but what has been done? The file has just been gathering dust in New Delhi. Governments have come and gone, Prime Ministers have changed but the unrest in the valley continues. From the Shimla Agreement to the Agra Summit, the Lahore Bus Journey ....... nothing has been done. The people of the valley are fed up...... It had to flare up some day and the day has come.

It seemed to be a corner turned for hearts and minds in Kashmir when 40 years old Omar Abdullah took over as Chief Minister of the disturbed State of J&K, 18 months ago. The 2008 elections were mistaken as an indication that there was no problem. The problem has been there since 1947 and not been resolved since then. Kashmir has a long history of oppression, supression, denial of democracy, deception, unfulfilment of promises etc which has resulted in the present situation. Today 18 months later the streets are full of blood. Kashmir politics gives no one down time, not even Omar who has had a gilded decade in politics, making all the right moves. 
The past two life altering months have exposed restless rage in a state where 50 % of the 1.10 crore population is under the age of 19 and only 15 lakh people in the state are employed. The rest pick up a green flag and stones or burn tyres which gives them their daily pocket money of Rs 400/- which is more than enough to afford two square meals and much more. It's easy money and there is no need to work. It happened in 2008 (Amarnath Land Row) and is happening now again. You see women and children on the streets, which is such a shameful sight. The children should be going to school if they actually care for the state and want it to prosper. 

What is ironical is that in a state where 5, 90,000 tourists visited between January and June, I was there too, and it was 'paradise then' and now is a 'paradise lost'. Shikaras full of Gujraties, Gulmarg and Pahalgam were flooded with tourists, eight flights coming in every day from Delhi and tickets priced at 10,000 one way. The Lalit (Hotel) was selling a room at 15,000 a night and 94 out of a 100 rooms were booked. That class of tourists was back. Thanks to our young and dynamic Chief Minister, The Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) was there, he invited Filmmakers etc. Two movies "Lamha" and "Saat Khoon Maf" had been shot in the valley too. I saw all that and then came to Mumbai where I am pursuing my graduation, the city of dreams where our own Chief Minister also graduated from. Unfortunately over the past two months, approximately 50 people have been killed. My blood boils, my heart bleeds and I feel helpless about what's happening in my home state. What makes me feel worse is that the Government of India is doing nothing. The situation is out of control. Something needs to be done. The Centre cannot shut their eyes to the truth; that- it is a "Political Problem" which cannot be solved by economic, employment or development packages alone. It is time the Kashmir problem required serious Political Initiatives. This issue has to be addressed and resolved after taking the views and aspirations of the local masses. We cannot forget the fact that the democratic and political space in Kashmir has always been managed through musical chairs of Kashmir regimes, orchestrated by a command and control system by the Union Government.

Omar is not a politician of double standards who fought elections with false promises. He works like a CEO with a MAC on his desk and a Blackberry in his hand. He is on Facebook, but he doesn't Tweet. Drives his car to work himself and does not like any one carrying his briefcase. He looks young, is dynamic and straight forward unlike the rest, with little experience in the treacherous by lanes of Kashmir politics therefore is "Bearing the Brunt"

Kashmir's streets are characterised by youth with a stone in one hand and a mobile phone camera in the other. Minute to minute updates are made on social networking sites like facebook and twitter, pictures and videos are posted regularly to keep people up to date with the ground realities. Slogans like 'Go India Go Back' and 'Quit Jammu and Kashmir' are common. It's a rather modern Kashmiri youth where everyone is showing solidarity by keeping their profile pictures and status on face book as "I-protest against India".

Self Rule one day, Common Currency the second day and Greater Autonomy the third day. Fed on empty theoretic of the politicians, the youth of Kashmir who has only seen conflict wants solutions not just sops. Announcing a 6000 crore budget and starting a railway service won't help. The Government of India needs to understand that neither can they buy their way out of Kashmir and nor can they shoot their way out of Kashmir as they have been trying to do over the past 64 years. "Kashmir is a Political Problem and needs a Political Solution".

In 1989 it was the gun; in 2010 it is the stone and next time god forbid anything of the sought happens, all we can hope is that it will be satyagrah.

I hope the Government of India can resolve the Kashmir problem and help get the people of J&K State out of the present turmoil and crisis, May peace prevails in the valley of Sufis and Saints.









PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh's observations at an interaction with newspaper editors in New Delhi on Monday that the Supreme Court should not go into matters relating to policymaking — which is the exclusive domain of the executive — has once again brought to the fore the question of judicial overreach. While issuing a directive to the Centre to distribute foodgrains among the poor on August 31, the court was perhaps guided by the fact that it was its duty to protect the citizens' right to livelihood as mandated by the Constitution. Even as the hearings have started on the Centre's affidavit in response to the order, Dr Singh's remarks have added a new twist to the controversy.


Of course, the Prime Minister shares the apex court's concern over the huge stocks of foodgrains rotting and the need to distribute them among the poor. At the same time, he has expressed difficulty in implementing the court directive because of the huge magnitude of the problem. When, according to the Suresh Tendulkar committee, 37 per cent of the country's population lives below the poverty line, how would it be possible for the Centre to distribute foodgrains free to such a large number of people?, he legitimately asked. He also referred to its adverse effect on the farmers who, he said, would lose the incentive to produce more food.


The Prime Minister's comments reinforce the cardinal principle that the judiciary should not be seen as interfering in the executive's legitimate role in policy formulation and day-to-day governance. In the constitutional scheme of things, the tasks of each organ of the state — be it the legislature (making laws), the executive (policymaking and execution) or the judiciary (dispensation of justice) — are cut out. They should function in conformity with this basic spirit of the Constitution and in accordance with its provisions. This relationship has been clearly defined and demarcated in purpose, intent and areas of activities. The centrality and supremacy of the Constitution should prevail at all times to help the system work smoothly and efficiently. If any one organ encroaches upon the other's domain, the delicate constitutional balance would be disturbed leading to avoidable friction. Clearly, judicial overreach in the sphere of policymaking will not be in the interest of parliamentary democracy.









THE Election Commission has exercised abundant caution while announcing the dates for the next Assembly election in Bihar. Although the last election was relatively free from violence, at least by Bihar's standards, the Commission has chosen to err on the side of caution by deciding to hold the election in six phases and that too spread over almost a month. Renewed Maoist activity in the state and political fortunes of a large number of political heavyweights being at stake, both mark it as one of the toughest elections conducted by the Commission in recent times. After losing out in the last election, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party ( LJP) had found in the Election Commission a convenient scapegoat, blaming it for preventing their supporters from casting their votes. Over the years , however, the Commission has steadily devised better ways of preventing poll-related irregularities and protect itself from allegations of bias.


The election will be a referendum of sorts on the claims of development by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and determine the level of his dependence on the BJP. While Kumar would be hoping to secure a majority on his own, which would require a virtual landslide in favour of the JD(U), BJP's unspoken compulsion is to ensure his continued reliance on it. It remains to be seen how the contradiction in the coalition plays out in the election. The Bihar Chief Minister is credited with restoring the rule of the law in state. Infrastructural developments in the state, speedy trial of criminal cases and ensuring a bicycle for every school-going girl. are some of his achievements that emboldened him to predict that the election would be contested on the plank of 'Development' and not on 'Caste'. But then the left-leaning socialist has also done his bit of social engineering by stitching a coalition of the Extremely Backward Castes ( EBCs) and the Pasmanda or Backward Muslims.


Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan's regional parties had fared poorly in the general election also last year and, therefore, next month's Assembly poll will be a battle for their political survival in the state. The Congress, which along with the mainstream Left, has been reduced to a marginal political force, would be content to increase its tally of 10 in the House of 240 members. Bihar appears headed for a two-horse race, with Congress bringing up the rear.








IF young people have to make their presence felt in Indian politics, perhaps there is no better training ground than student council elections. In fact the culture of debate and discussions prevalent in many universities has often given birth to political leaders. Closer home, for years Panjab University, Chandigarh, has been a hotbed of politics. While there is nothing wrong in students nursing political ambitions they must realise that as representatives, their first and foremost responsibility is honing of academic skills and ironing out academic roadblocks if any. Not only should the platform provided by students' elections be used for furthering the interests of students, student leaders must learn to abide by rules.


Unfortunately, the election campaigning has in recent times come to be ruled by money power and all too often students violate Lyngdoh Committee rules, especially with regard to the campaign expense cap. The recently held Panjab University elections were not only marred by minor clashes but also threw Lyngdoh norms to the winds. While rules about taking out rallies were blatantly ignored, printed material like posters and pamphlets were openly used. Besides, there were reports of parties being organised by student union bodies cancelled at the last minute for fear of police reprisal. The Lyngdoh committee regulations may have brought about a change in the way student politics is being practised today, but the student community needs to look within and make the election process more transparent and fair. Besides the unions could play a more constructive role rather than being preoccupied with trivial issues.


In fact, they could take a cue from student unions across the world. Among the achievements listed in the Oxford University Student Union's website are representation of students voice on the University Fees Committee, an accommodation workshop to ensure that students can deal with landlords and a safer Oxford. Instead of being mired in petty politics, student unions across India could become an effective voice of the student community and a significant bridge between students, universities and society at large.

















THE mess that the organisers of the 10th Commonwealth Games have made of it has sullied the honour and image of India. Unfortunately, while the Organising Committee (OC) has been in the eye of the storm, the mess is not confined to it. Here is a world class event, bid for by the country, for which ample time was available to the OC as well as to the entire Delhi Administration, and yet we find ourselves in such dire straits that neither the Games venues nor the infrastructure facilities in Delhi are ready. One should also not forget that the worthies of the Central government, who were supposedly keeping a close watch, continued to be somnolent till they were jolted by revelations in the media.


The media needs to be congratulated for bringing to the public domain how officials associated with organising the Games have misappropriated government funds and lined their own pockets. There is no end to such revelations, hoodwinking and passing the buck, but the culprits are either posturing or in a permanent state of denial while delays continue in all fields of activity, from infrastructure to what are euphemistically called "overlays".


The latest are the gag orders issued to the coaches after the chief hockey coach, a Spaniard, in great anguish commented lucidly on the systemic failures of the nation in the field of sports, saying, "I have lost; your 'system' has won. I tried my best to change it; I pleaded, I cried, I did everything; but it won't budge." What a monumental shame!


The mess is not confined to the so-called world class infrastructure relating to the Games, but even in getting Delhi organised for the purpose. Let me mention just a few — the road communications within Delhi and the Metro extension; the grossly incomplete beautification drive undertaken by various agencies and not meeting even the targets of hotel rooms and other accommodation; all at such monumental costs. There can only be two reasons for this state of affairs — officials sitting over sanctions till their personal "demands" are met, and an abysmal lack of pride in the nation's achievements. With every new revelation, the nation comes down another notch in the eyes of the world as well as our own people. It is not corruption per se that bothers the citizens, but the rampant loot of their hard-earned money, for public funds are after all created by numerous taxes which we all pay. Apparently, corruption no longer bothers us because it has now become a way of life in our country. There is no facet of India that is corruption-free.


In areas where a particular action may not be described as corruption, there is filching of public funds, again by both the high and the mighty as well as the officials who occupy the lower rungs of the bureaucracy, the police, etc. We seem to be so completely affected by our proverbial fatalistic outlook to life that we continue to withstand this onslaught of government officials and elected representatives without any major and collective backlash.


Reverting to the Games, once the media had exposed the skulduggery of the OC and the grossly inadequate preparations, it is to the credit of the Prime Minister that he moved fast, set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) as well as a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) to oversee all aspects of the preparations of the Games. A number of senior-level bureaucrats were also coopted to oversee each venue and expedite completion. It may well be a case of "too little too late", but at least attempts are being made to retrieve a dismal situation.


At the same time, we have fallen into the trap of having "too many cooks.…". So, there is a great danger of not meeting the aims and objectives.


In the Army, we cater for contingencies when the officer in command may become unavailable; his deputy takes over automatically and continues with his task. The advantages are obvious, but our political leaders as well as bureaucrats are loath to learn from the Army. So, we have a situation where the man in charge of the Games must be replaced, but we are unable to do so either on political grounds or because such a contingency was not planned for, and control could not change seamlessly.


There are also other major disadvantages. Besides diluting responsibility, we have managed to reduce accountability too. Resultantly, though the powers at the highest level have promised a full enquiry after the Games and severe punishment for those responsible, no one seems to believe it. Such is the loss of confidence of the "aam aadmi" in our leadership. Undoubtedly, a tragic situation! However, that is still in the future and such speculations at this time are unlikely to help in conducting the Games with a view to retrieving at least some of our image.


A few years back, the Army had conducted the World Military Games at Hyderabad, which were at a grand scale, with participation by over 70 nations. These Games were conducted flawlessly and earned kudos for the country. Luckily, some senior military officers who had played major roles in organising the military games have been coopted in the present games. They will undoubtedly do a stupendous job. One of them could have been made the deputy and we could have avoided the pitiable situation we are in. While on the subject of the military, how churlish it is on the part of the organisers to ask the serving personnel of the military who have been coopted for the most important tasks to do so gratis. Is this being suggested as a desperate measure to balance their books, although the paltry honorarium asked by the military is so minuscule that for the OC and the GoM to even suggest it is shameless, to say the least? It is only these military personnel who with their dedication and discipline will pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the OC and in doing so restore some of our lost image. Do pay them well.


At the end, it must be said that enough dirty linen has been washed in public. We need to end this now and concentrate on making the Games a grand success despite what has happened till now. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for recriminations and bringing the culprits to book after the Games. For the present, let us strive to put up a good show, for the sake of the country's honour and reputation. In the long term, the nation will benefit. Once the Games are over, the media can go hammer and tongs after all the guilty and set examples for the future.


The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Indian Army.







FORTIES have a way of announcing their arrival. Before you realise it, you find yourself saying pardon at least once a day. Nah, that has nothing to do with etiquette, just the first sign of hearing loss! Then, the eyes that you took for granted suddenly lose sight of the 6/6 claim you held so dear. What goes inside the shampoo bottle or that pasta sauce was once an easy read, now no more!


Coming to the knees, you continue to be proud of them but with 40 years of wisdom behind you, you couldn't agree more with that health expert that walking is a better bet than whatever little jogging you struggle to do with those piling-up pounds. And, that brings you to the perpetual problem called weight!


You can hardly open the door to Forties with a welcoming smile when you realise they are walking into your life hand-in-hand with a monster called 'expanding middle'. Just as the forties are impossible to dislodge from your life so are the inches that get quilted on your waist.


The forever-optimistic health experts may promise a trick to undo the damage, but their to-do list is rather long, intimidating and, simply put, hard to do: Have six to seven small meals; banish colas and sweets; quit fried stuff; don't go near burgers; give up tea and coffee; abstain from alcohol; avoid red meat; reduce quantity of carbs; and on it goes.


By surviving on water and half a dozen miniscule meals, you may succeed in driving out 'expanding middle' from your house but it will call for the will of a supermodel or the stubbornness of a mule. And, unfortunately or fortunately, you are neither.


Physical failings apart, the emotional quotient too takes a serious dip upon kissing goodbye to the thirties. When the first time you are addressed as aunty or uncle, it hits you hard. But now when even a thirty plus call you such and that too with a dose of reverence thrown in, it pierces deep, smashing your fragile 40-year-old ego to smithereens.


Forty, our socio experts may claim, are the new twenties. And, their assessment may not be off the mark if you go by the exuberance levels, jetsetting lifestyles, gym visits and almost teenage-ish wardrobes maintained by 40-somethings. The vigour and enthusiasm they display for their health, career and relationships could undoubtedly put to shame the youth of twenties. But at the end of the day, yoga or no yoga, botox or no botox, Viagra or no Viagra, forty remains forty. If men are known to turn naughty and women bold and daring at forty, it is more for a cover-up — to mask insecurities that come with age.


Fun begins at forty! Does it? It surely does when you accept there is no getting away from Forties. They'll land up at your doorstep when they have to. They may be an uninvited guest for many, but they'll come and, God willing, they will even stay for a decade. Forties will only leave when the room has to be aired for Fifties. And, I can lay a wager that the day Forties beg leave of you, you wouldn't want to part company with them – and fun!









A recent newspaper report suggested that from next year there will be a common all-India entrance test for MBBS and postgraduation (PG) as well. This news comes as a relief to lakhs of medical aspirants but it does not solve the whole problem.


Of the 32,000 MBBS seats in India, less than half are in government colleges. The rest are in private colleges affiliated to state universities or deemed universities. The fees in most private colleges which are run by trusts headed by politicians are 1000-1500 times higher than in the government colleges.


In the private institutions some seats are allotted by the governments on the basis of the state level entrance test. The rest are under management quota and NRI quota which are priced higher. This year's MBBS admissions in private colleges in Kerala have been mired in a controversy which sums up everything that is still wrong. The private colleges admitted students on 50 per cent seats on merit but the state government had allowed the colleges to fill the rest of the seats as management quota, with no specified fees. The matter is with the state high court.


Some years ago the apex court had tried to rationalise fee structure in private colleges but with no countercheck, it's back to the old days. It is noteworthy that whatever regulatory procedures are in place, they have been forced down the throat of private colleges by the judiciary. They are followed not because of any respect for the philosophy or logic behind them, but under the threat of litigation. The private institutions make every attempt to subvert the norms imposed by the government or judiciary.


Over 7000 medical seats have been created in the country during the last five years with 75 per cent in private colleges. A medical college affiliated to a state university, has some semblance of state control but a college under a deemed university, has a free hand at admission or fixing its fees. About the faculty the less said the better. The arrest of MCI head, Dr Ketan Desai, and some MCI inspectors from New Delhi recently is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.


Over the past decades we have devalued education in humanities, science and in engineering. Now it is the turn of medical. It is partly due to the poor infrastructure in most of the private colleges, especially the ones started in the last decade. They get recognition from the MCI despite lack of adequate faculty and equipment. The Tribune has recently exposed how a college can hire medical faculty just for the duration of the high powered shut-eye inspection team.


The government colleges also do not have enough faculty because of poor infrastructure and poor remuneration. A state health service allopathic/ ayurvedic/dental doctor, a medical teacher in a medical college and a superspecialist who trains DM and MCh students get the same salary. The government could form an all-India health services cadre with a three tier system to compensate the extra training and inputs of medical teachers.


Most medical colleges in the country, both in government and private sector, have failed to keep abreast of technological advancements and new teaching methods. A train-the-teachers programme at the AIIMS or the PGI or other similar institutes would help the teachers.


Lack of faculty in some government colleges has forced the MCI to cut down on MD/MS and even MCh seats allocated to them. Medical students in such colleges are never exposed to specialities like neurosurgery or cardiac surgery because there are no such posts in them. Many colleges do not have even have echo-cardiography or endoscopy equipment. A large proportion of students thus do their MBBS and even MD/MS without ever seeing coronary angiography or bypass surgery.


On the other hand private and corporate hospitals have the latest equipment and expertise. For example, no government teaching institution has a successful liver transplant programme in the country whereas a number of private hospitals are offering this treatment to the needy.


To make matters worse there is a talk of public-private partnership to provide services in government institutions. Some government colleges, including Chandigarh Medical College and SMS Medical College, Jaipur have gone in for installation of CAT scan/MRI scan by private entrepreneurs thus denying postgraduate students hands-on training on the one hand and preventing generation of revenue on the other hand.


The newly constituted board of governors of the MCI has suggested that India needs 100 more medical colleges instead of improving the basic infrastructure and enticing more faculty with better remuneration. The MCI has for years been far removed from ground reality with. Constitution of the new board of MCI had generated some hope but even the new board does not have representation from state medical colleges; it is top heavy with experts from institutes and private sector; some are long retired.


If the scene at the graduate level is scandalous, the one at the post-graduate level is pathetic. There are only 30 PG seats for every 100 students doing MBBS. More than half of these PG seats are in private colleges. While the government college fees is a few thousand rupees, the private colleges charge 3 to 7 lakh rupees per year. The capitation fee ranges from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 2 crore depending on the specialisation.


The Health Ministry, some years ago, had started a DNB course parallel to MD/MS to compensate for shortage of PG seats. Private hospitals, private imaging centers/labs and even nursing homes have been allowed to run the course. However, there is virtually no teaching and no training as the consultants have no time from their practice. The MCI does not seem to be doing anything in this regard.


We had learnt at some cost how detrimental license, permit and quota-raj can be to economy. Its role in medical education can only be worse. There is an urgent need to revamp medical education in the country with uniform infrastructure, uniform minimum standards,uniform fee structure, a common all-India entrance test for the MBBS and PG, and re-evaluation of both the private and government colleges.


The writer is Professor of Gastroenterology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh








THE recent reprimanding of the Union Government by the Supreme Court on denial of jobs to two disabled candidates has sparked off a wider national debate on the pace of implementation of employment-related provisions of the existing Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. These judgments delivered by the Supreme Court with regard to providing jobs to Ms Pritilata Nanda (a physically disabled woman of Orissa, suffering from paralysis of lower limbs) against Class III post under South Eastern Railway (SER) and Ravi Prakash Gupta (a visually impaired candidate) as an IAS Officer are, indeed, quite historic in disability rights movement in India.


Significantly, despite clearing a written test conducted by the railways 21 years ago, Pritilata was denied job by the railways on flimsy ground that her candidature was not sponsored by employment exchange. The Supreme Court has directed the South Eastern Railway to appoint Ms Nanda on a Class III post within two weeks with the entitlement to the actual monetary benefits retrospectively with effect from August 5, 2008 as also a sum of Rs 3 lakh as compensation for harassment by the SER.


The same illogical ground was adopted by the UPSC in denying job to Ravi Prakash Gupta, notwithstanding his qualifying the Civil Services examination and fulfilling the eligibility conditions. The contention given was quite vague--that there was only one post meant for disabled persons, which included persons with other physical disabilities.


Finally, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to grant him posting in eight weeks. Both the judgments of the apex court are historic and like a slap on those defiant administrators/officials who, though are entrusted with the responsibility of implementing and ensuring the provisions of the existing Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995; they stoop to any means to nullify the implementation of job-related statutory provisions, especially in central and state universities, public sector undertakings and autonomous bodies (which normally skip away by citing technical reasons under the excuse of autonomy and excellence. Hence, these trendsetting judgments must be an eyeopener to all such errant officials who deliberately violate the statutory provisions meant for the disabled and disadvantaged sections.


While in the case of Ms Pritilata Nanda, despite her being on the merit list, the authorities showed callousness and dereliction of duty in not issuing her the appointment letter, the appointment of Ravi Prakash Gupta was kept blocked unduly for three years despite his qualifying the civil services examinations.


There could be innumerable such cases where, despite clear- cut provision of 3% job in all government establishments ranging from Class I and II to Class III and IV posts, the employment rights of disabled candidates are brazenly violated routinely because of insensitivity and deep- seated prejudice on the part of those babus who are legally mandated to ensure justice to the actual beneficiaries. Such victimisation of the disabled candidates in depriving job avenues has become the order of the day.


Hence, there is greater imperativeness of amending or reshaping the job related provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, so as to extend the reservation facility to all category posts. Some strict and punitive provisions for overhauling misuse in selection/recruitment process must be put in place to deal with cases of victimisation of the persons with disabilities in selection/ appointment process.


Given the scope for such discriminations, it is necessary that at every selection committee, there should be one member/expert from among the disability sector (preference be given to the expert who himself or herself is afflicted with disability) with vast knowledge and experience as representative of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (in case of Central establishments) and state disability Commissioners in case of state establishments. Especially with regard to selection of the candidate(s) against the reserved posts/vacancies, these designated representative should have the authority to submit a dissenting note to the Chairman of the Selection/Appointment Committee as also his/her immediate boss; which could be deterrent to flagrant violators.


The recently constituted Committee for Drafting New Legislation for Persons with Disabilities (by the nodal Ministry of Social Justice & Employment/Government of India) must take special note of these pro-active historic judgements delivered by the judiciary while finalising the draft legislation.


Dr Karna, Honorary President of the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, is also a Member of the Committee for Drafting New Legislation for Persons with Disabilities








Vijay Anand's rollicking 1966 murder mystery, Teesri Manzil, returns to selected theatres this Friday, and the Shammi Kapoor-Asha Parekh-Helen starrer is a timeless piece of Bollywood history, a taut, engaging thriller with a gorgeous soundtrack, a film that stays entertaining even decades after the curtains fell open on who actually dun it. And while it's all very well to look nostalgically at Shammi twisting those effeminate lips into a screen-conquering pout, goddess Helen in full, peacocked groove, R D Burman's killer songs and Nassir Hussain's wonderfully plotted script, it seems equally apt to lament the death of the thriller in Hindi cinema.


They don't make 'em like they used to, true, but they don't even seem to really try anymore. 

    We haven't had a serviceable whodunnit in ages. The murder mystery has always been a genre that has enjoyed immediate appeal, so it isn't as if box office prospects are limited. Tell a story right, hinge it all on a final reveal, and audiences go back gleeful, knowing they have been asked to think, to wonder, to decipher, and are eventually going home with the best kind of bang for their buck, the unexpected kind. 

Start with a body, throw in a slew of suspects with winked-at motives and dubious alibis and let the truth come eventually to light: If that sounds simple, it's not; making a good film never is. But if we keep mucking up various genres – horror, for example, which we persist with despite being laughable year after year – why on earth have we given up on movies that genuinely surprise, on such a basic, beautiful cinematic archetype? A good mystery never fails, and yet we don't take enough cracks at it. 

 Sure, our resident Men In White throw something together every few years, but the only true conundrum in Abbas-Mastan films is how they get seemingly intelligent actors to come aboard. Sriram Raghavan's striking thrillers, meanwhile, are whydunnits more occupied with comeuppance than clues, even if elaborately plotted backwards, as the genre demands. Back in 1997, driving past Delhi's Savitri theatre, a bunch of us screamed out the killer's identity to an infuriated audience queued up to watch Rajiv Rai's Gupt, and several decades ago, a friend's father watching Jewel Thief was pestered to buy snacks during the interval. He didn't give in, and the popcorn-man vindictively hissed the villain's identity, ruining everything in one fell swoop. 


Can you remember the last time a Hindi film had an effective spoiler audiences needed to be shielded from? Nowadays, it's all the same: boy gets girl, friends fall in love, lovers commit suicide, the father's acquiesce, rich kidlearns to do dishes, hockey team wins… We might occasionally be making some films that work, but we aren't really working that hard on the surprise. The closest thing to a spoiler our current cinema has is the identity of an actor making a surprise cameo, and somehow the popcorn-man revealing that Shah Rukh Khan pops up for a little jig at the end isn't quite as dramatic. 

As mentioned, it's excruciatingly difficult crafting a bona fide whodunnit. It's hard to get away from the basic template – most of which was monopolised by Aunt Agatha – and immensely laborious to craft a story the other way around, setting up a crime and criminal and working backwards misleadingly. But it isn't as if our filmmakers are short on scripting ambition; just watch Vidhu Vinod Chopra's early films for evidence and inspiration. But that was then. Today, the genre lies stone dead – and the butler, like the audience, is blameless.


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Over fifteen months after being re-elected prime minister, Manmohan Singh participated in a conversation with representatives of the print media to reassure the nation that he was not just in charge but also in control of the government. While Dr Singh did address a national press conference after completing the first year of his second term in office, he has been remarkably reticent to engage the media in a conversation. Indeed, he has so far not given a one-on-one interview, to either print or television media at home. Such interviews enable the interlocutor not just to draw the interviewee out, but also cross-examine and understand the thinking behind publicly stated views. But Dr Singh has chosen to remain shy, perhaps for good reasons best known to him. He has developed the skill of a smart politician of making non-controversial and standard statements. At Monday's interaction with the print media, the prime minister did a lot of that, without getting into any great detail, not revealing his mind fully on many issues and steering clear from controversy. Indeed, the only statement that sounded even half controversial was his comment on judicial activism. Even on this, his is now a widely shared view. The judiciary has been overstepping its bounds.


Dr Singh was entirely right to claim that his government is no less cohesive, in terms of internal differences on policy issues, than earlier ones, including the Cabinets of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. It was only during the ignominious months of the infamous Emergency that even Union ministers were afraid to express dissent. Some may regard the prime minister's view that the economy is doing reasonably well, apart from the persistent problem of inflation, and that his real challenges are on the political front — like communal tensions, casteism, Naxalism and extremism — as complacent, given incipient threats to high growth. However, in underscoring the importance of industrialisation and placing issues regarding the environment, rights of forest dwellers and equity in perspective, the prime minister has helped restore balance to a debate on economic policy that has been hijacked by social activists.


The press interaction showed once again that on foreign policy Dr Singh is a visionary in the Nehruvian mould, but pragmatic like Atal Behari Vajpayee. He has an understanding of India's long-term interests and needs, and is able to place day-to-day events within a larger perspective. Asia is going through turbulent times and the rise of China, on the one hand, and religious extremism, on the other, pose a challenge that India must be able to deal with to ensure the sustainability of its own rise. That he is aware of these challenges and has a clear vision about how India must march forward as an emerging economy and a rising power came through clearly once again. To this extent, the nation remains reassured that the country is in the hands of a wise man.


Now that Dr Singh has reassured the nation and the markets that he is minding the store, he should devote some time to improving the quality of his manpower. He need not be obsessed about inducting younger ministers, given that in his present team the older ones seem to be performing better than the younger ones, but he should certainly bring more rounded personalities to handle more difficult ministries. Having demonstrated that he is still in charge, Dr Singh should function as a prime minister without fear or favour. His party needs him more than he or the party are willing to acknowledge.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was right when he maintained in his meeting with the media that the judiciary should not stray into the realm of policy formulation for food management. But the same plea cannot apply to the media which brought the issue of rotting of foodgrain to public attention and virtually put the government in the dock for criminal wastage of grains in its warehouses. Policy deficiencies are clearly in evidence for the mess on the food front which has led to amassing more grains than the government can manage. This, predictably, has resulted in rotting of substantial quantities of precious food, which the Supreme Court has objected to. More worrisome is the likelihood of further accumulation of grain surpluses, thanks to an anticipated bumper harvest from the current kharif season. In a few weeks from now, the government will have to again buy and stock foodgrain under its open-ended procurement policy. It is almost certain that there will be shortage of shelter for fresh grain accruals. But then, the country does not have to stock more than the existing storage capacity of around 42.5 million tonnes. This amounts to a full year's grain requirement for the public distribution system (PDS).


Excess capacity creation and storage may make the government feel more secure, but this is likely to keep food prices needlessly high. Foodgrain procurement is essential to ensure remunerative prices for farmers but in the absence of adequate government outlets for distribution, the case for mere accumulation of stock is weak. It only results in wastage and rotting stocks, which provoked the Supreme Court to make its remarks last week. As the government's chief economic advisor, Kaushik Basu, correctly noted last week, the practice of mopping up most of the market arrivals of grains amounts to "creeping nationalisation of grain trade". He is also right in suggesting that it was better to export grains rather than let them rot due to shortage of storage space and inadequacy of distribution channels. His proposal of selling extra grains through swap deals with other countries, with provision for return of the grains after two to three years, sounds good in theory. It may not always be possible to find such buyers today who may be willing to bail India out tomorrow, if there is a global shortage. The export option is presently attractive with international wheat prices ruling high, due to the poor outlook for global grain output and the supply constraints imposed by the exit of two major wheat exporters, Russia and Ukraine, from the export market. Furthermore, it may be a better idea to offload foodgrain in the open market rather than through the inefficient and highly porous PDS. That will have a salutary impact on foodgrain prices, bringing some respite to hard-pressed consumers. But the government has to act on this front without much delay.








As our cities have expanded over the years, they have absorbed the surrounding agricultural lands. In some cases, the old villages too have been swept away. However, in most cases, the old villages survive despite being engulfed by the expanding urban sprawl. Scattered across modern Indian cities, there remain enclaves where the contours of the old villages can be clearly discerned decades after the surrounding farmlands were converted into offices, roads, houses and shops. In some ways, this is a distinctive aspect of Indian civilisation — the ability to allow the past to live in the present. Yet, these urban villages have dramatically changed with the times. Despite being ignored by civic authorities, they play an important role in the evolving social and economic life of Indian cities.



There are urban villages in most Indian cities, often tucked away behind a modern building complex. They make their presence felt in many different ways — as the source of vagrant cattle, as homes to armies of informal workers, as the place to visit if one wants to buy bathroom tiles or electricals. Many of these villages have been newly absorbed into the urban fabric but some are old and have been embedded in the city for generations. In Mumbai, the old villages of Bandra and Walkeshwar retain strong vestiges of their origins despite being located at the heart of a throbbing megalopolis.


For the purposes of this article, I will limit myself to Delhi's experience, although the story can be easily generalised. According to architect Ranjit Sabikhi, there are 106 villages within the city-state. They are many more in the wider metropolitan area if one includes Noida and Gurgaon. My studies suggest that, in general, these villages go through the following cycle:


The farmers sell their land to the government or to a developer. Some of them fritter away their newly acquired wealth but most redeploy it in businesses that leverage the emerging urban landscape — transportation, labour contracting, supply of construction material and so on. Some of the more prosperous villagers buy themselves new homes and move out. However, they all usually retain their houses in the old village settlement. This settlement, dubbed as a lal dora area, is exempt from usual municipal and building codes. The former farmers use the exemption to build a mishmash of buildings with little regard for safety or ventilation. These become home to construction workers and other service providers who move into the area. Thus, the village turns into a slum with the old villagers as slum-lords. 


After about a decade, construction work in that particular area begins to wind down. The construction workers drift away to other sites. New migrants move in — security guards, maids, drivers and other people who work in the newly built urban space. The commercial establishments too go through a parallel transformation. The shops selling construction material and hardware are steadily replaced by shops selling mobile phones, street food, car parts and so on. For the first time, we see private and, occasionally public, investment in amenities such as common toilets. As the migrants become more permanent, they bring in their families from their ancestral villages. This leads to an interesting supply-side response — the "English Medium" school! In my experience, language is seen by the poor as the single most important tool for social climbing. Nathupur in Gurgaon is example of a village that is currently moving from the first stage to the second stage. Next door, the village of Sikandarpur is slowly shifting to the next stage. 


After another 10 to 15 years, the village goes through yet another transformation. By this time, the surrounding area is well-settled and open agricultural fields are a distant memory. We now see students, salesmen and small businessmen move into the village. Some of them may be the newly educated children of migrants but they are now a higher social class. The old villagers still continue to be the dominant owners of the land but they now begin to invest in improving their individual properties in order to elicit higher rents (after all, they now have a location advantage in the middle of the growing city). In many instances, the owners have become politically important enough to lobby for public investment in basic drainage and sanitation. In my experience, public transport connections have a strong positive effect on the economic dynamism of the slum. The shops upgrade themselves and the old street-food sellers become cheap restaurants. An "Aggarwal Sweets" is almost obligatory in the larger settlements. 


The final stage in the process of transformation is that the old village gentrifies. This can happen in a number of ways. Since the early nineties, Hauz Khas village has become a warren of boutique shops, art galleries and trendy restaurants. Mahipalpur, near the international airport, has seen an explosion of cheap hotels in the last decade. Similarly, Shahpur Jat has become home to a numerous small offices and designer workshops. In many cases, the old villagers have encashed their real estate and the ownership pattern has become much more mixed. The areas now grapple with the problems of prosperity such as inadequate parking.


What can we learn?

The evolution of urban villages reminds us that Indian slums are not places of hopelessness but are often industrious and changing ecosystems. The process of evolution has a big positive impact on the economic and social development of both the old villagers as well as new migrants. However, there are two important learnings. First, public investment in the "commons" speeds up the development process. Amenities such as common toilets, public transport and drainage can have an important impact on the quality of life of residents as well as attract new economic opportunities. Second, the process of adaptation depends on decades of steady investment by the owners. This is only possible because private property rights are clear. This is why the same process of evolution does not easily take root in squatter slums. Policy-makers must take these into account as they plan interventions aimed at making India "slum-free".

The author is president of The Sustainable Planet Institute









Now that Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to embark on her maiden foreign tour after becoming a minister in the United Progressive Alliance government, her advisors may like to do some homework on what she can tell her English hosts on how the Indian Railways has performed under her charge in the last 16 months. She will, of course, prefer to talk about Singur, Nandigram and her "Three-M" slogan — Maa, Maati and Maanush (roughly translated, they mean Mother, Mother Earth and Man!). But she also needs to be prepared to face some hard questions during her tour on the performance of the Indian Railways. She may wonder why, but her advisors should know the reasons. The Indian Railways has a lot to worry about these days.


 Take, for instance, the Indian Railways' latest performance numbers during the first four months of the current financial year. Its freight traffic grew less than 3 per cent and earnings from freight went up by only 8 per cent. Indeed, the Indian Railways' earnings from goods traffic grew at a lower rate of 7 per cent for the four-and-a-half month period of 2010-11. This is certainly better than the 6 per cent growth target set for the full financial year and the railway minister may well start celebrating what she will describe as her triumph.


That, however, is not the real story. The more important question Banerjee must answer is whether the Indian Railways has managed to grow as much as it should have in an economy that revived in the first quarter of 2009-10 with the gross domestic product for the period growing by 8.8 per cent. The Indian Railways acknowledges that the nation's largest transporter of goods and passengers should ideally grow by 25 per cent more than the rate at which the GDP increases.


In other words, if the economy grew by 8.8 per cent in the first three months of the financial year, the Indian Railways' revenue from freight should have grown by 11 per cent. If it grew by only 7 or 8 per cent, then the Indian Railways' performance was below its potential and worse, it must have lost traffic business to road transportation. This diversion has other adverse implications as well. The Indian Railways offers a more energy-efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport. If it starts losing business to trucks, then it is bad news for both the Indian Railways and the country which aspires for achieving sustainable economic growth.


Not that Banerjee's predecessor Lalu Prasad had exploited the full potential of the Indian Railways by growing 25 per cent more than the Indian economy. In his five-year tenure ending in 2009, he managed to clock a little over 7 per cent freight growth, compared to the average GDP growth of around 8.5 per cent in this period. In terms of the Railways' potential, the freight earnings growth should have been over 10.6 per cent. Yet, Lalu Prasad's big achievement lay in the fact that he had not allowed the growth in freight traffic to lag far behind its potential. In the five-year period preceding Lalu Prasad's tenure as the railway minister, the freight traffic growth was about 4 per cent, while the average GDP growth was 5.8 per cent.


Indeed, the Lalu impetus was largely responsible for the remarkable show of the Indian Railways in the first year of Banerjee's tenure in Rail Bhavan. For the first time in recent years, the Railways' freight revenue grew higher than its potential. In 2009-10, the GDP rose by 7.2 per cent, indicating a potential for the Railways' freight growth at 9 per cent. The freight growth the Indian Railways achieved that year was 9.89 per cent.


The story since then has been dismal. While the economy is picking up, the Indian Railways' performance is slipping. This is evident from the freight numbers for the first four months of the current financial year. The Indian Railways has many other problems, but the biggest one today is its inability to raise its capacity to carry more goods. The widening gap between its potential growth and the actual freight growth is a symptom of this serious capacity constraint.


Just around 16 per cent of the Indian Railways network carries more than 50 per cent of its traffic. Mamata Banerjee is no stranger to this fact. In a document she presented to the nation last year, The Indian Railways Vision 2020, the minister noted that the trunk routes on most stretches have already reached "over-saturated" levels of capacity utilisation. The need of the hour is to augment capacity by doubling or quadrupling those tracks. A dedicated freight corridor project is also under execution, but land acquisition problems have created fresh troubles for it. Nobody knows by when the project will be completed and in what shape.


If Mamata Banerjee wishes to raise the Indian Railways' freight performance to a level closer to its potential, she must create a mechanism to expedite fresh investments to augment its capacity to carry more traffic. Other problems too need attention, but easing the Indian Railways' capacity constraint is a priority that brooks no delay.










Banks' non-performing assets are reported to be rising and are anywhere within range of Rs 31,400 crore. There are a number of laws with jaw-breaking names to enable lenders to recover the loans — the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act 1993, the Interest on Delayed Payments to Small Scale and Ancillary Industrial Undertakings Act 1993 and the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act 2002.


However, the ingenuity of wayward borrowers, assisted by counsel adept at finding loopholes, often surpasses the provisions of law. Earlier, when the only remedy was through civil courts, the financial institutions could be stymied by delays and repeated appeals. In 1993, two laws were passed to fast-track loan recovery and the debt tribunals were set up.


 With time, as the Supreme Court observed, the proceedings before the tribunals became "synonymous with those of the regular courts and the lawyers representing the borrowers and defaulters used every possible mechanism and dilatory tactic to impede the expeditious adjudication of such cases" (United Bank of India vs Satyawati Tondon).


The court, in this recent judgment, also blamed the government's "flawed appointment procedure" for the impasse.


Then came the Securitisation Act of 2002. After long litigation in the Supreme Court, the Act became operative in 2004. Even then, the high courts interfered with its functioning by passing injunctions and interim orders. This prompted the Supreme Court to remark that "it is a matter of serious concern that despite repeated pronouncements of this court, the high courts continue to ignore the availability of statutory remedies under the Debt Recovery Act and the Securitisation Act and exercise writ jurisdiction for passing orders which have serious adverse impact on the right of banks and other financial institutions to recover the dues. We hope and trust that the high courts will exercise their discretion in such matters with greater caution, care and circumspection."


In this case, the bank proceeded against a guarantor of a term loan under the Securitisation Act. She moved the Allahabad High Court pleading that the bank should have taken action against the borrower first before moving to take over her mortgaged property. The bank countered it arguing that she could not move the high court straightaway without approaching the special forums set up for loan recovery.


The high court agreed with the guarantor and restrained the bank from taking over her property. According to the high court, the bank should have proceeded against the borrower and exhausted all the remedies against him and only then could it have proceeded against the guarantor. Therefore, the bank appealed to the Supreme Court and succeeded in vacating the injunction.


It is well-known that the liability of the guarantor and principal debtor is co-extensive and the creditor has the right to proceed against either for recovery of dues. Therefore, the Supreme Court stated that the high court had "completely misdirected itself" by asking the bank to recover the dues from the borrower instead of the surety. The Securitisation Act also gives the creditor this choice.


Secondly, the high court should not ordinarily entertain petitions for injunction when other remedies are available for the aggrieved parties. This rule, said the Supreme Court, applied "with greater rigour" in matters involving recovery of taxes, cess, fees, other types of public money and the dues of banks and other financial institutions. "In our view," the court added, "while dealing with the petitions involving challenge to the action taken for recovery of public dues, the high court must keep in mind that the legislation enacted by Parliament and legislatures for recovery of such dues are a code unto themselves inasmuch as they not only contain comprehensive procedure for recovery of the dues but also envisage constitution of quasi-judicial bodies for redressal of the grievance of any aggrieved person. Therefore, in all such cases, the high court must insist that before approaching it, a person must exhaust the remedies available under the relevant statute."


In another recent judgment involving the Foreign Exchange Management Act, the Supreme Court emphasised this view saying that "when a statutory forum is created by law for redressal of grievance and that too in a fiscal statute, a writ petition should not be entertained ignoring the statutory dispensation." (Raj Kumar vs Directorate of Enforcement). It admonished the high court again in Modern Industries vs SAIL.


It was these repeated errors made by the high courts that prompted the Supreme Court to warn them that stay orders granted would have "serious adverse impact on the financial health of such institutions and prove detrimental to the economy of the nation".







No, the savings as a result of preferential taxation are marginal but a concession would acknowledge the significant contribution of women to economic growth





Preferential taxation to encourage women to work is less relevant today as they have the requisite qualifications and skills to rise to the highest echelons of a company


India is one of the few countries where taxes have been used as an affirmative action policy for women — in India, women are explicitly advantaged by some aspects of the tax system and reforms. The question, however, that remains unanswered is whether a differential tax treatment has been effective and if this really benefits women.


The income tax regime in India provides preferential tax treatment to women by providing them with a higher basic exemption limit of Rs 1.9 lakh under the Income Tax Act, 1961 compared to a limit of Rs 1.6 lakh for men. Although this leads to a reduced tax cost for women, the point that everybody seems to be missing is that the saving in tax cost is marginal.


To illustrate, let us take the case of Ankita and Bhuvan with similar qualifications who work as consultants for a given employer at an annual package of Rs 8 lakh. Given the current slab rates under the Income Tax Act, 1961, Ankita pays an annual tax of Rs 91,000 and Bhuvan pays Rs 94,000. Thus, a higher basic exemption limit saves Ankita only Rs 3,000 in taxes annually. This marginal saving may not make a significant impact on her savings or other decisions.


It may be true that a differential taxation regime is warranted in the formative years of an economy to encourage

women to take up employment, but such a rationale is of less significance today because women have the requisite qualifications and skills to rise to the highest echelons of a company.


In today's equitable times, the criteria for women joining the workforce are driven by far more competitive factors and lifestyle requirements. Tax is a consequence of such a decision and earnings from income. The factors of substantive relevance may include the urge to achieve a specific standard of living and the availability of other on-the-job benefits such as flexible working hours, child-care centres in offices, liberty to work from home and so on. Thus, differential taxation as a policy initiative to encourage women to enter the workforce may not be as relevant today as it was a few years ago.


It is interesting to note that currently in India, around 11 per cent of 240 large companies — Indian-owned as well as multinational, private and state-owned companies — have women CEOs across industries based on their qualifications and skill set.


One wonders whether the debate around the "gender parity" thus achieved is really critical. The fact that women are establishing a strong business presence across industries based on their capabilities indicates that a differential taxation regime is not required for promoting employment among women. Horizontal equity in personal taxation makes more sense today compared to earlier times and parity in taxation between men and women in the Direct Taxes Code Bill is an initiative in the right direction.


There is still room for more women in India's workforce. Given this, there is a need to structure incentives in a manner that they meet a woman's requirements. The incentives that may significantly influence a woman's working decision have to do more with attaining a work-life balance. It is time to invest in realistic reforms like higher education benefits and a conducive work environment that can enable women to take charge of their lives.


In view of this, the government could consider including women-centric incentives like a deduction on medical expenses related to maternity from income, tax benefits of educating the girl child, sponsorship for further education for married women and so on. There is no confusion regarding the capability or willingness of women to work in today's work environment. It is only the availability of relevant and facilitating opportunities that will enable her to convert those opportunities into a reality.


Views expressed are personal




Preferential taxation treatment is not so much about the monetary benefits as it is about the support and encouragement to working women of a growing economy

The financial year 2000-01 saw the introduction of a small but important section in the Income Tax Act, 1961: Section 88C provided for a tax rebate of Rs 5,000 for women taxpayers in India. The rebate was small but the statement behind it was significant. The then finance minister said the rebate was being given "as a token of appreciation and recognition of women as productive contributors to the economy".


The rebate continued in the following tax years. In 2005-06, it was omitted, only to be replaced by an increase in the tax exemption threshold limit for women taxpayers, a benefit that remains in our tax statutes to date. These rebates and exemptions, along with the various other initiatives taken by the government for its women citizens, send a clear message to India and the rest of the world: we are behind our working women, and we will do everything we can, financially and in other ways, to ensure a conducive and encouraging work environment for them.


The Direct Taxes Code of 2009 carried on with this tradition — the proposed tax exemption limit continued to remain higher for women assessee. Although the amount was not significant, the message was indeed inspiring. As the country was hopefully moving towards a simplified tax system, it was heartening to have the government rooting for its women citizens.


And then the Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010 was introduced in Parliament in August. Quietly and unobtrusively, all mention of any preferential treatment for women taxpayers was wiped out.


What led to such a momentous change? Were women not to be appreciated or recognised any more? Was the government sending a new message to us: no more tax concessions for the ladies; we have done our bit and you are on your own now? Was this removal justified? Other countries like the UK, the US and notably China do not treat their women taxpayers differently. Should India do the same? And the biggest question of all is: do we really need this preferential treatment in the first place?


As expected, the exclusion led to vociferous opposition from various parties and equally strong support from other quarters. Lost in this cacophony of differing viewpoints is the simple fact that the so-called "preferential treatment" was not so much about the monetary benefits or tax savings — a trifling Rs 3,000 a year in the highest tax bracket or a measly Rs 250 a month — as it is about a much bigger issue. It was about the loss of support, encouragement and backing of a government for its working women. The Indian woman may not need the token amount of concession, but she certainly needs the comfort and reassurance of a supportive regime.


It is for the first time in our history that such a huge population of women is part of the workforce and a significant contributor to the 8 or 9 per cent growth — and this number shows every sign of growing exponentially. It is clear that India needs its women to sustain the high growth rate.


Policymakers appear to be at a crossroads. On the one hand, we have a woman president, a separate ministry for women welfare and we celebrate the "girl child". On the other hand, a token tax benefit to women is callously thrown out without any discussion.


There is still time before the tax code is finalised for better sense to prevail. More than the financial gains that this measure would bring to women, it would be an affirmation of the intention of the lawmakers to continue to stand by this very important and critical section of the economy's workforce. And tomorrow, India may set the global trend for other countries, teaching them how to empower their working women.


Priyambada Sen, Senior Manager, assisted with this article









 DISSEMBLING is not something that our prime minister does well. While this would be a disqualification for the typical politician, it works the other way for Dr Singh, who is anything but the typical politician. Therefore, his interaction with editors on Monday should suffice to clear doubts about his continuity in office or about the government's resolve to tackle the country's many problems rather than mark time. Insurgency in the northeast and the northwest, a troubled and troublesome Pakistan, a provocative China, religion based extremism of the majority and minority kinds, left-wing extremism, endemic corruption, the need to find a new balance between protecting the environment and economic growth and between meeting the ever expanding demand for commercial land and the landholders' reluctance to part with their property — the list of the country's problems is long. Sections of the media would like the PM to add one more: a mismatch between a young nation and an ageing government leadership. This would be the easiest one to solve. But the PM should resist the temptation to equate youth with enthusiasm and freshness of thought. Just think of young Omar Abdullah's contribution to undoing whatever gains had been made in Kashmir over the five years prior to his taking over as chief minister. Competence and integrity should be the guiding criteria, not the absence of grey hair or hair dye. Yes, there is a case for replacing some relatively less competent ministers with more competent ones, and for weeding out those who fail the integrity test. 


Dr Singh struck the right note on why a democratic polity should not put its ministers under any gag order. Debate on policy issues within official fora and outside is fine. What is not fine is the impression of a ruling party that trails, rather than guides, the government on vital policy, such as on external affairs, and of some government functionaries substituting administration for the needed political engagement to achieve inclusive growth. The problem lies in the failure to mobilise the ruling party as a cohesive bridge between the people and the government. That failure is not Dr Singh's, obviously enough.






 MALNUTRITION is a problem that is more ignored than acted on. A third of the over 180 million chronically malnourished children in the world live in India and 55% of pre-school children are underweight. These children also suffer from protein and iron deficiency. Clearly, the health of the under-five population is a huge concern for a country that wants to reap its demographic dividend. Malnutrition and undernourishment in infancy affect both the physical development and mental growth of a child. Research shows that the levels of nutrition and mental stimulation received in the first three years of a child's life impact her performance in school and later as well. A malnourished child cannot be part of a creative workforce. Fighting malnutrition is, therefore, a pre-requisite to build human capital. Nor does it make sense to leave the battle either to the inevitable rise, over time, of living standards as India's growth trickles down to its poor sections, or to the government. Companies can make a signal contribution to this vital task. Britannia, under Ms Vinita Bali's charge, has been making a significant effort in this direction, not just tailoring the company's output to be part of the solution, fortifying low-cost biscuits with vital nutrition supplements, but also setting up a Nutrition Foundation, and attracting the right talent to it, to create awareness on the problem and to promote solutions. The Britannia Nutrition Foundation, for instance, provides iron-fortified biscuits to over 1,50,000 poor children in Hyderabad in their mid-day meal. Interventions such as the mid-day meal scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services can make a huge positive impact, if properly run. Public private partnership should step in to ensure that government outlays meant for building India's human capital do not go the usual way of such outlays. More companies should take up the challenge, in their own, and the nation's interest. 


While improvement in governance and participative growth are the long-term, sustainable cures for the malady of malnutrition, failure to intervene proactively would jeopardise the future of millions of young children and, in the process, impair the quality of India's workforce.







LONDON," said the wisecracking Oscar Wilde, "is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy". Well, perhaps that's a wee bit outdated. It has, indeed, been quite a few years since the time Wilde made that statement. And, perchance, if the case of the British MP and his wife's activities are any indication, London's streets might be full of men wandering around, bemoaning their wives. This particular Tory MP (though being conservative probably has nothing much to do with has happened), found out through a sting operation carried out by a local newspaper that his wife was, sort of parttime, working as a lady of the night. The sense of shock the chap felt, obviously, was anything but polite. This begs the question: can men and women ever really know each other? Now, that's an issue that's preoccupied many a wit. And the general consensus, as a Wilde or Woody Allen might aver, is that it's a perpetual riddle, a continual game ridden with unease, heartburn and a certain neurosis. The likes of Allen have even made veritable careers out of it. 


For some then, women will always remain mysterious creatures. The gendered equivalent of the Joseph Conradian 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. That can, verily, be a tough thing to come to grips with. Of course, some would loudly protest such an understanding. Or debunk it as another version of, to use a bit of techno-speak, the essentialising aspect of the patriarchal male gaze. But others can counter by saying even mothers, as women, can also be unfathomable. Think of poor Hamlet and his "Frailty, thy name is woman!" conclusion about his own mom. As regards married couples, well, as some other wit said, "Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realise you're really strangers."








MOST governments seem to believe that global warming threatens to become catastrophic, and so are looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. However, given the weak global recovery from the 2007-09 recession, no government wants to impose tough additional carbon taxes or other such measures that might tip their economies back into recession. 

Whatever governments might say at international climate meetings, they will end up risking climate change dangers rather than deliberately engineer recessions. They will happily set targets but not implement these if it means committing political suicide. 

They will implement deep emission cuts only if new technologies produce breakthroughs that make it possible to reduce emissions without causing recessions. Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg has, very sensibly, suggested focusing on R&D rather than carbon reductions: only when R&D produces breakthroughs will carbon cuts become politically feasible. 

Meanwhile, various environmental groups have started pushing a separate agenda to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. This is to eat locally-grown food, and not eat food transported over long distances. Some have coined the word 'locavore' (a la carnivore or herbivore) to describe green heroes who eat only locally-grown food in order to reduce their carbon footprints. The same greens have coined the word food-miles, to measure how local a locavore can be. 


This is an ecofad parading as environmentalism. It has no sound scientific or economic basis. The public must be educated on how the locavore ideal is not only bad science and economics but bad environmentalism too. 

Those wanting to reduce carbon emissions would be on stronger ground arguing for a stiff carbon tax. To the extent a carbon tax simply replaces other indirect taxes (like sales tax) it will be politically doable. It will change the composition of indirect taxes without increasing their overall burden. This will not be recessionary. Even those sceptical of climate change will agree that replacing part of sales tax by a carbon tax will induce higher energy efficiency. 


 Once a carbon tax is in place, prices will automatically adjust to tell you where crops are best grown and to where they should best be transported. In some cases it may make sense to grow and eat produce locally. In Punjab, it makes sense to eat locally-grown wheat. In Kerala, it makes sense to eat locally-grown coconuts. 

It makes no sense at all for Keralites to grow their own wheat or Punjabis to grow coconuts. That will condemn them to low yields and correspondingly high prices. Worse, growing inappropriate crops will crowd out acreage of appropriate crops, driving up shortages and prices. If locavorism is implemented on a large scale, it will soon oblige a country to import food. Unwittingly, this will hugely increase food miles! 


Stephen Budiansky has sarcastically remarked in the New York Times, "it is sinful in New York to buy a tomato grown in California because of the energy spent to truck it across the country: it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson valley." 

LOCAVORE arguments on transport costs can be false or highly misleading. They say, for instance, that it takes 36-97 calories of fossil fuel to transport one calorie of lettuce from California to New York. But this simply reflects the fact that lettuce contains very few calories, and ignores the fact that growing lettuce takes a lot more energy. Modern transport has steadily become more and more energy-efficient. It takes around 11,000 calories to grow one kg of lettuce, while transporting the vegetable across the US can take just 2-6% of that. 


Budiansky calculates that one tablespoon of diesel (around 100 calories of fuel) is enough to move one pound of freight over 3,000 miles. Truck transport takes thrice as much, 300 calories, for the same job. Still, that's peanuts compared with energy used in cultivation. The US moves agricultural produce right across the continent, yet transportation accounts for only 14% of the total energy consumed by the US food system. 


You might think that modern agriculture is too energy intensive, and uses too much fertiliser and chemicals. Wrong again. Budiansky calculates that these account for only 8% of energy in the total food system. 


What, then, is the main culprit? Home storage, preparation and appliances. These account for no less than 32% of food system energy, the largest component by far. Just running a refrigerator for a week can consume 9,000 calories. Cooking, dishwashers, freezers and additional appliances all soak up energy. In India, appliance use is far lower but rising fast. 


Locavores think they save energy by driving 10 miles to a local farmers' market. But a single round-trip will consume 14,000 calories of fuel! Personal transport is terribly inefficient compared with bulk commercial transport by rail or truck-trailer. 


Food apart, Budiansky calculates that households account for 22% of total energy use in the US. By contrast US agriculture uses only 2% of total energy, for all its farm machinery, fertilisers and chemical use. This is a tiny energy investment that feeds the whole country and leaves a large surplus for export. 


Separate research by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development shows that 40% of global energy use is accounted for by buildings. These offer huge scope for saving energy. Locavorism does not. 


The best use we can make of our limited land, water and agroclimatic conditions is for each area to specialise in what it produces best, and to then spend the very modest amounts of energy to transport it to consumers. This specialisation raises yields and reduces shortages. It saves huge areas of forest and grasslands from having to be diverted to agriculture to feed the population. It raises farm incomes, increases labour demand and wages, and reduces poverty. 


That represents not only good science and good economics, but good environmentalism too. So, let's say boo to food miles and locavores. We have more than enough genuine problems, and don't need to get diverted by bogus ones.










THE Direct Taxes Code (DTC) Bill tabled in Parliament represents amixed bag for the IT-BPO sector. The origin of DTC was to provide simplified tax rules that replace decades of amendments and related case laws, but the Bill seems to be a much diluted version. 


The DTC has provided a partial reprieve for the special economic zone (SEZ) scheme by extending the profit-linked tax exemption for units that commence operations to March 2014. However, the clause on grandfathering of these exemptions, imposition of a 20% minimum alternate tax (MAT), limiting new SEZs till 2012 could curb the growth of this sector. Hopefully, the standing committee, while examining this Bill, will bring in a 'sunset' clause rather than the current provisions on grandfathering to encourage more investments and help retain India's attractiveness. MAT will also be a deterrent for small and medium enterprises as their cash flow will be impacted. 


Currently, operational SEZs are largely located in Tier-1 cities and if it is the government's intention to decongest these cities, it needs a separate focus for Tier-2 and -3 cities. The exemptions will have to be available for a longer lead time and stronger 'pull' factors are needed for their development. Also, the intent of the DTC is to have 'investment linked' benefits. While this works well for the capital-intensive sector, where as IT–BPO sector is human capital development and employment. For India to reap advantages of its demographic dividend, it needs policies that provide equitable benefits for employment creation. 


Today, competition is intense among developed and developing countries to attract IT investments. Countries have announced policies that range from tax incentives, training support, reduction of infrastructure costs, as well as an opportunity to participate in local IT projects. While we may not mirror all these sops, we cannot afford to become uncompetitive. Also, the IT sector has set itself an ambitious targets for the year 2020, one that will create a transformational impact on India and global businesses. This calls for continuing an effective and globally competitive policy framework.



Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax It is time to end the largesse 

WHEN you earn profits, you pay taxes. When you do not earn any profit, you do not pay any tax. In case the business suffers loss in a particular year, the new code is overgenerous to propose indefinite carry forward of such loss as against the existing limit of eight years. True, the government has been giving tax sops to various sectors to achieve disparate objectives but over the years such constituencies have acquired so much bargaining power that the government of the day finds it very difficult to withdraw them even when the desired objectives have been achieved. 


Considering its potential for earning foreign exchange, the government gave liberal tax sops, both direct and indirect to the IT sector. Section 10A benefits were available right from 1981, STPI from 1994. However, tax concessions cannot continue in perpetuity. But, whenever the government tried to curtail the benefits to this sector, there was a hue and cry in the name of the need for continuing with the sops for some more time (usually 10 years) for this 'fledgling' industry. 


In the meantime, the tax sacrifice for this sector has ballooned. The Budget papers for 2010-11 indicate that only direct taxes foregone for the STPI units alone would be . 14,651 crore for the year 2009-10. When the country is sitting on foreign exchange reserves of over $280 billion, is there any logic in continuing with tax sops for earning foreign exchange? The effort of the government seems to be to restrict tax concessions to the minimum and allow them only to those industries that have long gestation periods and require huge investment. IT no longer fits the bill. 


The truth (Satyam?) is that tax sops are distorting and inequitable in nature and spawn serious litigations and scams. For an industry that is estimated at more than $70 billion and that has been receiving largesse from the government for decades, it is time to move on so that the revenue thus saved can be used by the government for meeting more pressing needs, alleviation of abject poverty of millions not being the least of them.







NOW that the operators have paid more than . 100,000 crore for new spectrum, Indians can hope for plenty of action in the 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) services. For those technically inclined, there will be two 3G technologies (CDMA-EVDO, WCDMA) and two BWA technologies (WiMax and TD-LTE, often referred to as 4G technologies) that will be competing with each other in the market place. In this changed context, the question that must be on everyone's mind is whether this will trigger disruptive change to the industry similar to what we witnessed in 2001. If we recall, the changes in 2001 were triggered by the entry of Reliance with CDMA. Reliance Industries has once again entered by acquiring 95% stake in Infotel Broadband (that bagged pan-India spectrum for BWA services). 


When CDMA was introduced in 2001, ending the monopoly of GSM, it caused disruptions due to very low prepaid subscription schemes and heavily subsidised handsets. These schemes attracted as many as six million subscribers in the first two years, captured 25% of the market share and caused a steep decline in average air-time rates. These also increased competition and the Herfindahl Hirschman Index (the lower the HHI, the more the competition) dropped from 0.67 to 0.34. Can such disruption recur today, with teledensity as high as 50%? 
    The average revenue per user (ARPU) from voice is now at an all-time low of . 150. The paisa-fication phenomenon has reduced tariffs to rock bottom levels. Some say the 2G spectrum-starved incumbents will use their 3G spectrum to enhance their voice offerings. BWA operators have received unpaired spectrum blocks of 20 MHz each, twice that given for 3G. Moreover, spectral efficiency is much higher for BWA technologies than for 3G technologies. BWA operators paid only 60% of what 3G operators did their spectrum. Thus the cost of creating voice capacity could be significantly lower for BWA than for 3G. Can BWA operators leverage this to drop prices and drive the existing operators up the wall? 


 Not really. WiMax phones come at a hefty price tag (HTC's EVO 4G launched in the US at $600 plus), while 3G WCDMA phones have started selling at as low as . 5,000, and the price is expected to fall even more due to the 'Micromax' effect (low-cost phones based on Taiwanese Mediatek platforms). WiMax phones offer voice support only through Voice Over IP which is still restricted for non-Unified Access Service Licensees. WiMax is also not inter-operable with the ubiquitous GSM and CDMA networks and hence are roaming incapable. Some BWA spectrum holders are pursuing another promising technology, called TD-LTE, which is still far from commercialisation, with handsets and equipment not yet fully developed for mass markets. These factors are most likely to deter the BWA operators from trying to capture the voice market through a price war. 


More likely, BWA licensees would provide broadband data and Internet services, starting primarily with enterprise users. Broadband penetration, at nine million, is rudimentary. With WiMax data cards and dongles for computers available at .12,000 it is possible for the BWA operators to attract enterprise users as is being done currently by one operator. It is imperative for the BWA operators to provide these quality (and not so much price) conscious subscribers satisfactory coverage and bandwidth and accumulate a critical mass of adopters. Innovative pricing schemes such as Europe's flatrate data plans are essential to expedite adoption, especially in the initial stages when network capacity is plentiful. If the required critical mass of broadband users is attained and adequate network effect created, say in a couple of years, BWA operators will find themselves in the exponential growth phase. If the prices of handsets and equipment start falling, they could enter the voice market. While the firstmover advantage of 3G technologies will still rule the roost in terms of market share (much like GSM over CDMA in 2G services), BWA operators would be able to cherry-pick high ARPU 3G voice and data users. 

Can 3G operators compete successfully with BWA operators in data services? With just 2×5 MHz spectrum holding, the bare minimum for providing broadband services, 3G operators are unlikely to offer any disruptive schemes for data users. Trends in the US indicate that the operators are likely to restrict bandwidth intensive applications on smartphones so as not to clog out voice users from the network. However, if 3G operators continue to provide mainly voice services, then this is certainly not in the interest of smartphone users, numbering four million and growing. 'Net neutrality' proponents and the regulator should carefully watch out for operators' moves to control what applications can be provided through their network. 


The decision to introduce both 3G and 4G simultaneously has increased the complexity of the Indian telecom market. It appears that 3G and 4G will serve different customers segments at least in the beginning. Disruption is possible in the long term in broadband data services if the spectrum holders play their cards appropriately.







CLOSE encounters of any kind with intensive care units are designed to humble. Of course they don't always highlight the 'deficiencies' of one as a medically challenged person. It's worse when one doesn't know what's going on — right or wrong — with one's body electric, hooked as it is, to all sorts of literally alarming medical apparatus. 


 And of course the less said about the state of 'medical ignorance' of the patient's relative the better. At least that is what comes across when the interventionist on duty pointedly asks your columnist to refrain from using medical terms and making 'helpful guesses/diagnoses' while taking the summary of his parent's state of health. 

Better leave that to us, trained experts, is the message, never mind the decades you have spent in covering frontiers of medicine and science. Needless to say, your columnist is quick to retreat. He is content enough to offer what he thinks is 'spinless (but not spineless) content' for the benefit of these masters of medicine who soar high above us lesser mortals. 


Like witches and wizards from Harry Potter, they ride on healing rods of Ascleipus entwined with serpents. The crucial difference is that the 'brooms' of these white wizards are meant to sweep away germs and disease. 

To be fair, the interventionist listens intently while making copious notes and then reproduces a summary with admirable brevity and clarity. Then he also repeatedly asks your columnist to go back in memory to recall anything he may have missed in the history. That's the first sign of a good healer: "Listening (is) the great healer," writes Daniel Gottlieb, psychologist and talk show host in his best-selling Learning from the Heart. His most powerful lesson about listening came during the early stage of his accident (which converted him from an athletic go-getterinto a quadriplegic in a jiffy). 


Gottlieb noticed that the more he simply listened, the more people spoke to him. "And the more people opened their hearts, the more deeply I cared," he adds. "I listened with an open heart, and people spoke with an open heart. How did this happen? 


"Well, in addition to losing many functions in my body, I 'lost' all of my personal pronouns. It was always about them — that is, other people — and their humanity. I had no responsibility to change anyone, only to listen and learn. And in the process, I discovered how to care deeply."



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




At first glance, what the Supreme Court said seemed pretty much right, socially and even politically. Distribute foodgrains to the starving poor rather than let tonnes of grain rot in the FCI's warehouses, the court had told the Union government. But, in hindsight, it appears a bit jarring, as even the soft-spoken Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, found out. At a freewheeling interaction with editors at his residence, the Prime Minister said the apex court should not get into the "realm of policy formulation", which must remain the concern of policymakers and the government of the day. While he respected the sentiments behind the Supreme Court's directive that a way must be found to ensure that the poor did not starve while foodgrain rotted, how would it be possible for the government to distribute free grain to an estimated 37 per cent of the population that lives below the poverty line? Besides, supplying free food would destroy incentives for farmers to work harder and produce more. And if that leads to a drastic fall in food production, there would be no food to distribute. Dr Singh has argued his case well, though he might not have pleased those segments of left-wing academicians who always argue that our rich must not flinch from making any sacrifice to help feed the hungry poor. Luckily for the PM and the rest of the establishment, the court saw his reason. Within hours of that interaction, the same bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma which had issued that August 12 order to distribute free grains to the poor, said it was happy with the government's "comprehensive" response. In the affidavit filed by the solicitor-general, Mr Mohan Parasaran, before the bench, it was stated that the government was allocating an additional 25 lakh tonnes of wheat/rice at BPL rates — `2 and `3 per kg — to the states over and above the 469.57 lakh tonnes already earmarked under the public distribution system, where government subsidies worked out to `11.29 per kg for wheat and `14.78 per kg for rice. Which meant the government was willing to increase PDS quotas but not dole out free grain. The storm has passed, the PM has made his point, and the judges are happy with more grain in PDS shops. Our Constitution has clearly segregated the powers in administering this large democracy. While the legislature makes the laws, the executive implements them and the judiciary interprets those laws to ensure they do not violate the Constitution in letter or in spirit. Whenever the Supreme Court has stepped in to check legislative measures that it perceived ran afoul of the Constitution, the government of the day resorted to using its majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution and circumvent the ruling. A recent example is when the Tamil Nadu government sought legitimacy for its 69 per cent quota for OBCs, SCs and STs after the apex court judgment in the Mandal case said the overall ceiling should not exceed 50 per cent. There have been times when the government has gladly allowed the courts to "interfere in policy", usually when the government can hide behind a court order to implement an unpopular scheme or project. Enforcing CNG in Delhi was done through a SC order though it was basically a policy decision for administrators. As a result, Delhi is now one of India's least polluted cities.








Vedanta, a diversified mining company, has failed to get a green signal for mining for bauxite in Niyamgiri — the sacred mountain that upholds universal law for the Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondh and Jharania Kondh tribes.


The tribals have been resisting the mining since Vedanta set up its alumina refinery in Lanjigarh, at the base of Niyamgiri. The objective was always to mine the Niyamgiri bauxite, but seeing the resistance, Sterlite, the earlier avatar of Vedanta, denied any link between the refinery and the mine, and applied to the ministry of forests and environment for an environmental clearance for the refinery. In its application the company provided wrong information to the effect that the refinery would not require forest land, and the refinery started in 2004. The Dongria Kondh and other tribes inhabiting the Niyamgiri forests have been resisting the threat of mining of bauxite and the aluminium refinery in their sacred mountain ever since.


The tribes of Niyamgiri have a prosperous biodiversity economy based on conservation. As a result the area still boasts of more than 300 species of plants, including 112 medicinal plants. The most significant contribution of bauxite hills like Niyamgiri is provision of water. Bauxite helps retain water. One river and 32 streams originate in these bauxite hills. Niyamgiri is thus the exemplar of our rich natural and cultural heritage which PESA (Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) are supposed to protect.


Across the country, the mining lobby is violating the Constitution, and the FRA and PESA, and spreading terror and lawlessness.


Two Dongria Kondh leaders from Niyamgiri, Lado Sikaka and Sana Sikaka, were abducted in Niyamgiri while on their way to attend the policy dialogue — Niyamgiri: A test case for the Forest Rights Act — that the Navdanya Trust had organised alongwith the Save Niyamgiri Movement on August 12, 2010, at the Constitution Club in New Delhi. The intention was to get the tribals to communicate directly with experts and parliamentarians.


It is as a result of the violation of the rights of tribals as enshrined in PESA, the FRA and the human rights of tribal communities that the tribals feel alienated. This in turn has contributed to the growth of the Maoist movement in tribal areas. The "green" areas of the forests and tribals are becoming the "red" areas of armed resistance.


In early 2010, the government announced Operation Green Hunt, a violent response to the violence in tribal areas which has grown in response to the violence and terror unleashed by the corporate state in tribal areas to get access to minerals — coal, iron ore, bauxite. In response, Navdanya Trust organised the Independent People's Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab & Operation Green Hunt in New Delhi from April 9-11, 2010, to show that the corporate state was violating the Constitution and laws. This led to public hearings in Jharkhand on May 7-8, 2010, and the conference on Niyamgiri at New Delhi's Constitution Club on August 12. On August 14, the Saxena Committee submitted its report on Niyamgiri, confirming the violation of laws which led to the government withdrawing the conditional clearance that had been granted to Vedanta. It is a combination of many forces that put pressure on the government to stop the mining in Niyamgiri. While the neo-liberal paradigm was based on the assumption that resources of the poor can be freely grabbed by the corporations in violation of democracy and the Constitution, movements against land grab — from Singur and Nandigram, to Aligarh and Dadri, as well as Posco and Niyamgiri — are creating a political imperative for a shift of economic priorities to respect democratic processes, environmental laws and rights of tribals and farmers. Rahul Gandhi's entry to support Niyamgiri is indicative of the paradigm shift taking place.


While the shift to democratic protection of the rights of the earth and people has started, it is not complete. Vedanta has already started demanding alternative sites for mining bauxite, including the sacred Gandhamardan Hills.


The Niyamgiri victory needs to re-examine the model where we irreversibly destroy our natural wealth to export steel and aluminium. This is an example of what I have called the "outsourcing of pollution". Vedanta's alumina refinery and aluminium smelter are already creating massive pollution. Vedanta is illegally spreading its red mud ponds into villages and forest land in Lanjigarh. Rivers are dying, and with them the communities the rivers support. Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, in their book Out of this Earth, have said each tonne of alumina generates one tonne of waste and needs 250 kilowatt hours of electricity. And smelting one tonne of aluminium consumes 13,500 kilowatt hours of electricity, emitting an average of 13.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. To produce one tonne of aluminium, 1,300 tonnes of water is consumed. This water is being stolen from the people. Without water there is no life or livelihood. Kalahandi district, where Niyamgiri is located, is one of the worst-hit districts in the country in terms of hunger and starvation deaths. The 30 km-long Upper Indravati Dam has diverted water from the Indravati river to the Hati Tel river through a four km tunnel at Mukhiguda. Vedanta's Burkhamunda smelter in Jharsuguda is getting water from Hirakud Dam on the Mahanadi. Two-hundred kilometres of Indravati have been killed by the Upper Indravati Dam, and the diversion of water from agriculture to industry has already led to major farmers' protests. Groundwater level is falling. And double crop land is being converted to single crop land due to decline in availability of irrigation water. Thirdly, the water released by the refinery and smelter is toxic, destroying what remains of the rivers and groundwater. If the destruction of water and biodiversity are internalised, Vedanta is creating a negative economy of death and destruction. This is not development.


A cumulative impact of the entire aluminium production chain is necessary to take the Niyamgiri victory to its full conclusion of building earth democracy and living economies.


Niyamgiri is a victory for "Earth Democracy", both because it has protected the earth and because it grew as a democratic process from the ground up. Niyamgiri was a test for democracy's ability to stop corporate misrule and terror. It was a test of humanity's ability to respect the rights of Mother Earth. We have passed the test in Niyamgiri. It is now necessary to extend this victory to every place where forests and land, tribals and Mother Earth are threatened by the greed of land-grabbing and resource-grabbing corporations.


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








Maybe the first decade of the 21st century will come to be known as the great age of headroom. During those years, new houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.


People bought bulbous vehicles like Hummers and Suburbans. The rule was, The Smaller the Woman, the Bigger the Car — so you would see a 90-pound lady in tennis whites driving a four-tonne truck with enough headroom to allow her to drive with her doubles partner perched atop her shoulders. When future archaeologists dig up the remains of that epoch, they will likely conclude that sometime around 1996, the US was afflicted by a plague of claustrophobia and drove itself bankrupt in search of relief.


But that economy went poof, and social norms have since changed. The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous. Values have changed as well.


Today, savings rates are climbing and smart advertisers emphasise small-town restraint and respectability. The Tea Party movement is militantly bourgeois. It uses Abbie Hoffman means to get back to Norman Rockwell ends.


In the coming years of slow growth, people are bound to establish new norms and seek non-economic ways to find meaning. One of the interesting figures in this recalibration effort is David Platt.


Platt earned two master's degrees and a doctorate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At age 26, he was hired to lead a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Alabama, and became known as the youngest megachurch leader in America. Platt grew uneasy with the role he had fallen into and wrote about it in a recent book called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. It encapsulates many of the themes that have been floating around 20-something evangelical circles the past several years.


Platt's first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centres, child-care programmes, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.


Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. "When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves".


Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God's plan for humanity could be realised here, and that they could get really rich while helping Him do it. This perception evolved into the notion that we have two interdependent callings: to build in this world and prepare for the next. The tension between good and plenty, God and mammon, became the central tension in American life, propelling ferocious energies and explaining why the US is at once so religious and so materialist. Americans are moral materialists, spiritualists working on matter.


Platt is in the tradition of those who don't believe these two spheres can be reconciled. The material world is too soul-destroying. "The American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the Gospel", he argues. The American dream emphasises self-development and personal growth. Our own abilities are our greatest assets.


But the Gospel rejects the focus on self: "God actually delights in exalting our inability". The American dream emphasises upward mobility, but "success in the kingdom of God involves moving down, not up".


Platt calls on readers to cap their lifestyle. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away. Take a year to surrender yourself. Move to Africa or some poverty-stricken part of the world. Evangelise.


Platt's arguments are old, but they emerge at a post-excess moment, when attitudes toward material life are up for grabs. His book has struck a chord. His renunciation tome is selling like hotcakes. Reviews are warm. Leaders at places like the Southern Baptist Convention are calling on citizens to surrender the American dream. I doubt that we're about to see a surge of iPod shakers. Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity. But the country is clearly redefining what sort of lifestyle is socially and morally acceptable and what is not. People like Platt are central to that process.


The United States once had a Gospel of Wealth: a code of restraint shaped by everybody from Jonathan Edwards to Benjamin Franklin to Andrew Carnegie. The code was designed to help the nation cope with its own affluence. It eroded, and over the next few years, it will be redefined.








One of the tragic pointers of Indian history is that more often than not Indians have themselves proved to be their worst enemies. This stands reinforced by what the negative forces in our country did in early 1990.


It should be clear from the analysis of major events connected with Kashmir's post-1947 history that there is an overwhelming need to learn from each and every lapse and evolve a new framework of thought and action. Unfortunately, no one is attending to this need. With regard to the stone-throwing mobs that are now daily appearing on the streets of most urban centres of the Valley, old attitudes rooted in superficiality and "short-termism" are once again at display. So far, about 69 persons have died. But there is no sign of a sustained crackdown on the ringleaders, financers and those who are spraying the virus of militant fanaticism in the Valley.


What is worse, another "appeasement card" is being put forward in the form of a political package and additional autonomy, without bothering to consider that in the long run such a package and such an autonomy could provide stronger muscle to the forces of subversion and separatism in the Valley. Further, no one is showing any inclination to raise certain basic and pertinent questions in this regard.


Are the Kashmiris, like the citizens of the rest of India, not already free under the Constitution of India? Do they not have all the fundamental rights which individuals in modern liberal democracies enjoy? Has their identity, culture, religion or language been undermined in any way by the constitutional arrangements that have been in operation for the last several decades? How would a common Kashmiri be benefited by changing the nomenclature of chief minister to Prime Minister or of governor to Sadar-e-Riyasat, or by ousting the jurisdiction of Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India? What would happen if the so-called pre-1952 position is restored and only defence, foreign affairs and communications are kept within the jurisdiction of the Union Parliament/government and all the remaining items are assigned exclusively to the state legislature/government? How would the state government then meet its requirements of finances which at present are provided by the Union government to the tune of 74 per cent of its needs? Could the "nuts and bolts" of objective reality and the need to have smooth and workable relationship between the state and the Union be dispensed with?


To these and allied questions, no satisfactory answers can be provided by the proponents of autonomy and the

"political package". They merely harp on the promises supposed to have been made to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, forgetting that what matters is not the individual but the state government without whose concurrence nothing was done. They take advantage of the widespread ignorance that prevails in the country about the rather complex manner in which constitutional relations between Jammu and Kashmir and the Union have evolved. They hide the fact that Jammu and Kashmir already enjoys, albeit unjustifiably, far more powers than are available to other states of the Union. They also forget that at the time of the 1975 Kashmir Accord, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had made it clear that "the clock could not be put back", and that the "provisions of the Indian Constitution applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir 'without adaptation or modification' were unalterable".


The only concession made in 1975, in the spirit of bonhomie, by the Government of India was to consider changes in the "adapted and modified" provisions, if a specific proposal in this regard was received from the state government. But neither the government of Sheikh Abdullah nor that of Dr Farooq Abdullah could send any proposal, primarily because the changes earlier made were all necessitated by practical consideration.


The State Autonomy Committee Report (1999), sent to the Union government 24 years after the Kashmir Accord, is nothing but a broad repetition of what was said on behalf of the National Conference in 1975. It ignores the huge volume of water that has since flowed under the bridges of Yamuna and Jhelum, and does not indicate how the changes that are being advocated now would improve the lot of the common man and how the expenditure on the state Five-Year Plans would be met. Nor does it care to explain how certain security and other contingencies would be dealt with? What, for instance, would happen if Article 356 is not applicable and if the state refuses or fails to comply with any requirement of the Union in respect of defence, foreign affairs or communication? Would this not cause an intractable constitutional deadlokck?


The acceptance by the Union government of any of the phoney ideas contained in the aforesaid report would add another blunder to the series of blunders committed in the past, which have so far cost the nation over 50,000 lives, besides several thousand-crores of hard-earned taxpayers' money.


While it is not likely to make even a slight dent in the criticality of the present situation, it could strengthen the forces of disarray in the Valley, give rise to fresh agitations in other regions of the state and become a precedent for separatists in other part of the country to quote and demand. Even otherwise, the unfortunate history of Jammu and Kashmir in the post-1947 period warns us in no uncertain terms that the decision taken under momentary pressures and on short-term considerations have proved disastrous in the long run. Too many infections have already accumulated in the body politics of Jammu and Kashmir. If we do not have the skill or will to drain them out, let us at least not add more to them.


The need of the hour is that we should make a new beginning, educate our brothers and sisters in Kashmir about the true position in respect of their political, social and cultural freedoms and tell them that we as fellow countrymen have already helped them to the tune of `95,000 crores from 1989-90 to 2009-10, and would continue to discharge our obligations in this respect in future to make them a happy and prosperous community of the Union.


- This concludes a two-part series


- Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister








Bandra — Mumbai's "Queen of the Suburbs" — celebrates life ever so often at myriad festivals. The weeklong "Bandra Fair" that begins on the Sunday following September 8 conjures up a heady, hearty dose of faith, fun and fanfare for many Mumbaikars.


Irrespective of class, creed or caste, they congregate to celebrate the birthday of one of Bandra's mothers, Mary, implored by the title: Mother of God.


We imbibe faith with our mother's milk. I was born and bred in Bandra. My Goenkar mother narrated how Saibinn Mai, Mary, miraculously and meticulously ministered to all her children, worldwide. And being enshrined atop "Mount Mary's" nearby, her maternal mantle more selectively and securely embraced Bandraites. How lucky, I mused!


Mum explained that some fisherman found the miraculous statue of Mary and her infant, Jesus, some 300 years ago on the frothy Arabian Sea that washes the feet of Mount Mary. "We've celebrated Mary's Feast and Bandra Fair ever since", she concluded.


Family visits to Mary's Basilica are unforgettable. Come September, we'd faithfully do the "novena" prayers before the feast, my bouncy boyish steps racing to Mount Mary's. Swamped in a sea of sweaty Marian bhaktas I'd prod and push for a darshan of Mother Mary. Armed with candles, rosaries and malas, thousands thronged Mary's shrine. I'd struggle to touch her feet and shower her with flying kisses.


Catholics are often accused of adoring Mary who is but a human being, even if perfect.


The veneration of Mary mystifies many. Why is Mary so globally loved? When a woman who's not a Christian was asked, "Why do you pray to Mary?" she replied: "Because Mary has child Jesus in her arms; so, she understands the ups and downs that I, her child, face!"


Mata cults are immensely popular in India. Durga, Kali, Parvati and glorious village goddesses adorn the Hindu pantheon. Each of them, like Mary, symbolises a dimension of the Divine that we desire to possess, but which is — at least, here and now — beyond our reach. Thus, like the up and down of Mount Mary, or the ebb and flow of the Arabian Sea hemming it, we journey "godward" assisted by spiritual symbols, godly guideposts and mystical maps that illumine our pilgrim pathways. Mary is one such that reveals the tender, comforting, reassuring "feminine face" of God.


Mata fare and Bandra Fair marry heaven with earth. Indeed, matas and melas go hand-in-glove. Interestingly, Mount Mary sees pilgrims stopping along its gentle slope to admire the residences of Bollywood's Rekha and Shah Rukh Khan — demigods of yesterday and today. Though stardust entices one to remain rooted downhill, the prudent pilgrim will trudge uphill to venerate the "Star of the Sea", Mary.


Mary's litany of titles embraces coincidenta oppositorum, the "combination of opposites". How is Mary both, mother and virgin? How come she is Mother of God and humankind's mother? Mary is mother because even though unmarried she said, "Yes, Lord!" when told: "God's Spirit will overshadow you… and the child to be born will be called Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Unwaveringly obedient to God's will, she ever remained virgin with her undivided attention firmly focused on God: "I am God's servant", said she, "Let it be with me according to God's word" (Luke 1:38).


Mary does not point to herself, but to God. "Do as Jesus tells you!" (John 2:5) she once instructed waiters when wine had run out at a wedding feast at Cana and her son, Jesus, worked his first miracle. It's unlikely that the wine will run out in Bandra during this September Fest. But, faith, hope and love might.


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







In my article of September 21, 2009, Naxal violence is a cry to be heard, I came in full support of the Prime Minister's statement of 2009 on Naxal violence, calling it one of "gravest internal security problems" the country faces. Indeed, the Naxal problem is much more serious than the external threat of militants from Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. These external threats are limited to a small fraction of the country's population and in spite of all the attempts by Pakistan, external militancy has not spread to the rest of the country. What the Government of India needs to do is to keep the Kashmir problem isolated, defuse the situation by finding mutually-agreed solutions that benefit and appeal to the people of Kashmir. This may take some time especially since there have been recent cases of grievances against India which require a very sensitive approach. But problems at the local level are resolvable because they are perpetrated by sporadic senseless violence, like in Kashmir, making the people vastly amenable to solutions.


The Naxal problem, on the other hand, is serious. It has fed on the persistent putting off of grievances of the tribals, and it is not limited to isolated regions nor to any isolated attempt to solution. It covers many areas and many groups of people who are not just physically guided by an organised infrastructure of violence but also by a motivated programme of militant ideology.


This cannot be ignored because while the demands may lie dormant for quite sometime, the motivations run deep and can, and do, erupt whenever they find a favourable environment. If the Naxal problem is not tackled at its root, it will bring down the social fabric.


As it is dawning upon the administrative machinery that the Naxal problem is not only deep-rooted in the current developments but also in ideological motivations, the menace of the problem has started hurting an overwhelming majority of the people. They have to be reckoned with substantive analysis of the difficulties and well thought out programmes that attempt to isolate the Naxal rebels from the rest of the population. Because these types of incidents are different from communal violence and regional militancy, the problem will not get resolved until everybody who is against militant violence can be motivated to fight this menace.


There is often a misunderstanding that the Naxal problem will go away with the spread of education. To some extent this is true. Education opens the doors of perception of the people, they begin to understand the problems they face. Vested interests often drum up other issues to support a movement when there is not enough response coming from the social elite. But to the extent the elite responds to this specific Naxal problem, there is a dialogue and opportunity to resolve the conflict. The contribution of education to the resolution of several conflicts is undoubtedly important and the social elite can play an important role when conflicts are a result of false consciousness of the reality.


Resistance can be overcome for sustaining a programme of social development of the deprived and affected groups by arguments about the pros and cons of the situation. But unfortunately the reach of the arguments does not go far enough as they are not rooted in the objective conditions of social development that would attract all and not some sections of the population. For example, the Naxal problem is dominated by deprivation of land rights. As this affects a small fraction of the people, its consciousness as a social problem has to be properly formulated in terms of objective realities. Otherwise arguments against the Naxal position would remain flimsy, as they would not be able to translate into actions that would change the reality. Analytically the Naxal problem is amenable to peaceful solution without the use of force, provided the social elites are interested in solving it.


I am harping on this way of tackling the Naxal problem because it opens up possibilities of a peaceful resolution. It follows from the presumption that most social problems are positive sums, where solution to problems in one dimension does not detract from solutions in other directions. This aspect of the analytical structure of the Naxal problem is often forgotten when all attention is devoted to resolving them through the violent use of the state machinery. It may, of course, be necessary sometimes to use such violence. But it must be remembered that when a non-violent solution exists, it must be tried out before using force. If you accept that all Naxals are not criminals your approach to finding a peaceful solution has a greater chance of success.


I am frantically arguing for a non-violent solution to the openly violent Naxal issue that affects the country's social development because even hardcore problems such as land redistribution can be converted from a zero-sum to positive-sum games. People can be persuaded to believe in such alternative approaches if we can go far in dealing with these situations. For example, unequal distribution of land does give an initial advantage to people benefiting from land redistribution. But when redistribution is supported by investment, irrigation and water management, it may generate enough benefits to prevent people from turning violent or entering into not-so-violent acrimonious conflicts.


For example, the Naxal problem has somehow got mixed up with personal, social and ethnic conflicts. These conflicts are not germane to dealing with social development. You can solve the problems of dalits in a non-violent manner when the society expresses its willingness to do so. If a non-violent approach can resolve a problem such as discrimination against dalits, the appeal of a violent approach loses its attraction. Educated dalits, for instance, should be able to solve their problems without recourse to violence, but they cannot do so because of vested interests that do not permit non-violent but effective solutions.


This is where there is scope for the leadership to go beyond the immediate conflict situation. To expect a non-violent solution in a violent social environment may often be a pipedream. But once people are allowed to play this game, the merit of their case becomes increasingly apparent. That is the beginning of having a peaceful solution to difficult and violence-provoking social problems.


In any case, given all the options, I believe the Naxal problem has not been attended to in all seriousness.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a member of Parliamentand former economic adviser to Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi










THE weeklong nerve-wracking Maoist drama in Bihar has come to a merciful end with Monday's release of three policemen. The  abductions and the killing of Lucas Tete confirm that Nitish Kumar's policy on the Maoists is perilously skewed. This is the stark message for the Chief Minister and, if to a lesser degree, the Centre as well. The policy of smugness as an electoral strategy is in tatters. The Chief Minister will have to be more decisive than he has been thus far. Most importantly, he will have to coordinate with the Centre in the manner of the other states along the Red Corridor. Palpably, the soft line has come a cropper. The latest crisis has, above all, thrown up a larger question on the established certitudes of federalism. P Chidambaram's inadequate, almost perfunctory response is rooted in the state's attempt to give short shrift to the Centre. There has been little or no coordination in the face of a crisis that called for a joint endeavour. In parallel with Nitish's bumbling administration, has been the studied silence of the Union Home Minister, one that gave way to a decidedly negative response last weekend ~ "The Centre will not get involved in negotiations between Bihar and the Maoist abductors." If the Home ministry conveyed the impression of a hands-off policy, it was arguably because Nitish had stayed away from a conference of Chief Ministers to review the Maoist insurgency. Indeed, Maoism has been a major irritant in Bihar's equations with the Centre. The Chief Minister has consistently been against Delhi's hardline policy, the impending Assembly elections being the primary consideration. Developments over the past few days illustrate that this policy has misfired and with mortal effect. It will almost certainly impair the JD (U)'s electoral prospects. Well and truly was Nitish left to fight his own battles and disastrous indeed has been the state's handling of the crisis. 
The challenge of the Left radical is much too forbidding in a socially divisive state like Bihar where the land question is a cause celebre, the symbol of a struggle. And rather than go on the defensive in the manner of Nitish Kumar, the response has to be effective to the extent possible. Not least because a spurt in Maoist upsurge in Bihar is bound to impact the neighbouring states. There is no scope for an ego trip that can have dangerous implications for both the Centre and the state. Lucas Tete's epitaph can be as stark as that. 


MAMATA Banerjee must be enormously pleased that although Rahul Gandhi never mentioned her party by name at the Shahid Minar, the AICC general secretary played his cards to perfection. The scathing attack on the Left was not only meant to be a response to complaints that the Centre has been depriving the state of its legitimate dues under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act but was a clear signal that the Opposition alliance is on the right track. It is a different matter that he spoke behind closed doors about the Pradesh Congress upholding its dignity and self-respect. The public statements mattered more than the advice to party functionaries; the latter in any case is open to interpretation. That the whirlwind tour has shaken the Left is evident from the spate of defensive reactions. It is now up to the state government to prove that funds allotted under NREGA have indeed not been diverted. With thousands waiting to avail of assured jobs for 100 days and many more deprived of BPL cards, the onus is on the government to demonstrate that its hands are clean. Mr Gandhi arrived with the advantage of being able to claim that an alternative has been found and that West Bengal can look at new initiatives. On the other hand, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's colleagues are left to harp on the old story of deprivation that sounds far less convincing than it did in the early years of Left rule. 
But Mr Gandhi had no reason to view the turnout as a mark of the exciting possibilities of rejuvenating his party in Bengal. It is one thing to cash in on anti-incumbency, something else to put in place a party machinery that will work cohesively. He must have realised by now that the alliance headed by Mamata Banerjee is the best he can hope for when PCC leaders are scrambling for space with elections less than six months away. The references to self-respect may have been aimed equally at dissident leaders who are not convinced about the methods adopted to dislodge the Left. They should have found an answer in Mr Gandhi's calculated silence on Trinamul. It is still an open question whether the squabbling factions will close ranks ~ not to speak of strengthening the Youth Congress in the manner that has fetched results in UP. What it means is that, for all his pep-talk at the PCC, he had come as his party's most influential campaigner speaking in just the language that Trinamul would have wanted. 



BUDDHADEB Bhattacharjee could have spared himself that contrived exercise in self-delusion on Teachers' Day. The Chief Minister perhaps fought shy of asserting that attendance in schools had attained the 100 per cent mark. In his reckoning, the schools have managed to retain 99 per cent of the students. The numerical jugglery would suggest that the dropout rate ~ one major factor that plagues primary education ~ is now one per cent. So far, so comforting. This would strain the credulity of children ~ many gainfully engaged as labourers ~ let alone those who frame public policy. Last year's  Sarva Siksha Abhiyan report reveals that 30.15 per cent of the students drop out at the primary level; at the elementary stage, the rate soars to 61.37 per cent. There was no call for the Chief Minister to explicitly imagine so perfect a scenario. The captive audience of teachers, assembled at Rabindra Sadan, must have been aghast. On closer reflection, his script-writers ought to have provided him with the actual figures, if indeed he needed to make a statement on dropouts. The indices of progress in the education segment ~ from the primaries to the universities ~ need to be substantiated with statistical data.  There is no scope for unconvincing subjective reflection, assuming that he had to play to the teachers' gallery. 
What the Chief Minister chose to ignore was the seamy side of the segment, specifically the protests during the day by students of the Primary Teachers Training Institutes.  There was no reference either to the predicament of those teachers whose diplomas have not been recognised, a crisis of the school education department's creation. A mis-statement on dropouts obfuscated the core of the crisis ~ the unworkable teacher-student ratio, the absence of blackboards, the midday meal scam, the lack of gender-specific sanitation and also, of course, the visually appalling schools without walls. Not to mention the increasing instances of that barbarism called corporal punishment. The Chief Minister ought to have focussed on the red herrings along the trail to learning. His presentation has deluded none.








THE Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007, which was drafted by the UPA government to reform the colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894, will  reportedly be introduced in the next session of Parliament. This Bill along with the companion legislation on resettlement and rehabilitation was examined in June 2007 by an expert group formed by the Standing Committee on Rural Development. It was chaired by Mr Kalyan Singh, with Mr Hannan Mollah as the deputy chairman.  

It could not be placed in the Lok Sabha in the face of the opposition from the Trinamul leader and the Railway minister, Mamata Banerjee.  She is opposed to a clause which empowers private companies to acquire up to 70 per cent land directly from farmers and land owners. The remaining 30 per cent  can be acquired by the state government. Miss Banerjee wants private companies to buy 100 per cent of the land, according to a report in The Statesman on 26 July 2009. 

Trinamul Congress and its think-tanks comprising perceived intellectuals are yet to bring out a white paper, publicly spelling out their stand on land acquisition by private companies. Nor has the party mentioned the other weaknesses of the amended Bills. It is an irony that Trinamul has been demanding a white paper on land acquisition from West Bengal's Left Front government since the time Singur and Nandigram flared up. 
It seems that Miss Banerjee will allow the amended Bill to  be passed if the Lok Sabha agrees to modify the 70/30 proportion to 100 per cent purchase by the companies under the elusive principle of willing buyer and willing seller. 

I had the opportunity to hear out the MPs as an expert appointed by the Standing Committee on Rural Development to offer suggestions on the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007. The proceedings were held in Parliament's L:ibrary Building on 17 June 2008. My suggestions focussed on basic issues involved in the definition of 'public purpose' and 'appropriate government'. The first aspect should be determined by the elected panchayats because they represent those likely to be affected. This suggestion is based on the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Right To Information Act. These laws empower the citizens with (i) the right to decide on whether their land should at all be acquired and (ii) to obtain the correct information regarding every aspect of acquisition, including alternative sites that will minimise the adverse effects. 

The members of the Standing Committee seemed to agree with the basic issues. But these were skirted. Instead, the panel provided examples of purchase of agricultural land by the private companies mostly through their agents. All the MPs seemed to be united on this issue. Nobody supported me. I was requested to send concrete suggestions in the light of the discussions. The hint was clear, i.e. that one should forget about the 73rd Amendment, panchayats and the Right To Information Act. One should think in terms of sale and purchase of land. 

Miss Banerjee's objection to the 70:30 proportion for private players vis-a-vis the government is only a bargaining point in favour of private companies who, according to the Standing Committee, are already buying huge tracts of land directly from farmers. 

Why are the political parties and their think-tanks not raising the issue of the complete absence of the local self-government entities in the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill? The answer is not very difficult to explore. No political party in India wants to decentralise power at the lowest level of the government. On the other hand, in every case of land acquisition, the protests are invariably organised at the local level and the land losers may sometimes go against the political masters. The protest by farmers in Nandigram ~ once a solid base of the Left parties ~ is one of the best examples of this political process.  If the panchayats are empowered to have the final say on land acquisition for private companies, it will only embolden the locals and the under-privileged classes to protect their source of livelihood. This may endanger corporate interest in land acquisition. 
Incidentally in Nandigram, the panchayats have been won over by the Trinamul Congress. But they have not been empowered to act legally against future acquisition. If the Trinamul Congress comes to power in 2011 and if a major corporate wants land in Nandigram, the state government will allow the company to buy 100 per cent of the land for their project. The panchayats will have no legal role to play and the bargain between the poor farmers and the corporate will take place at the individual level. The constitutional body, which is empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice, will have no role under the amended Land Acquisition Bill. The silence of the think-tanks of the Congress, the Left, the BJP and the Trinamul Congress on the incorporation of the panchayats in the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill is a mockery of the Constitution, indeed the people at the grassroots. 

The proponents of the acquisition of land for private companies through a willing buyer/ willing seller mechanism believe that the market will take care of economic justice. This scheme overlooks the question of social responsibility of the corporates. Corporate Social Responsibility is not simply a package of environment-friendly measures and rehabilitation options which a government may expect from the industrialists. CSR should also cover the basic changes in law and policy. And the task must be undertaken jointly by all the stakeholders in the game of development. 

 The absence of a clause on Corporate Social Responsibility is testament to the bias in favour of private companies that is inherent in the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill.  Since the land will be acquired for "public purpose", does the entire responsibility rest with  the farmer?  The corporates that buy the land must also play a major role in the overall development of the area. After all, when a farmer parts with his land for an industry, he should be deemed as one of the investors in the project. The builders of the project should also finance the development of the area where the farmer lives. CSR may take many other forms. For example, if a private company develops uncultivable land sacrificing business advantage ~ this could have been done in Singur ~ then the company should be given tax relief by the government. Instead of raising slogans for introducing an outright ban on acquiring fertile land, the amendment Bill should have contained the provision for giving rewards in terms of tax relief/rebate etc. The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill is also deficient in the sense that it overlooks the adverse impact on sharecroppers, tribals, users of common property resources and the land reform beneficiaries. It will be a  corporate-friendly legislation that is scheduled to be passed by the Lok Sabha Politicians, cutting across party lines, have been impervious to the Constitution. 


The writer teaches Anthropology at Vidyasagar University and was invited by the Standing Committee on Rural Development, Lok Sabha, to offer suggestions on the amendment to Land Acquisition (Amendment) and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bills 2007







I have wondered over the past fortnight why Altaf Hussain, chief of Pakistan's Muttahida Quam Mahaz, MQM for short, should have chosen this time to urge the Pakistan Army to create a martial-law like situation in his country. This is more surprising, since MQM, the principal voice of the 3.5 crore muhajirs (refugees) who shifted to Pakistan at the time of Partition, is a partner in the Zardari-Gilani dispensation both in Islamabad and in Sindh which is home to the majority of migrant Muslims.

What is more surprising is that Hussain, who lives in exile in London, has in the past been at the receiving end of the Generals' wrath. He himself has accused some of them of having double-crossed him even with the help of the civilian "shagird'' (pupil) of General Zia-ul Haq who ruled Pakistan for eleven years after ensuring that his ward Nawaz Sharif fared well.

It couldn't be just that Altaf was currying favour with the Army when it was fully stretched, fighting domestic and natural disaster. While the River Sindh had spread its grasp to nearly one-fifth of the country, it was desperately trying to tame internal terrorism, most importantly along its border with Afghanistan. The Army has successfully changed the course of the initially warming up relationship with India by reining in the over-enthusiastic Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

General Pervez Kayani has brought the Chinese even closer to Pakistan at no cost to himself or his country by virtually handing over charge of large chunks of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir to Bejing to help it extend its land links via road and rail to Gawadar port in Baluchistan. General Kayani would seem to be having the very best of the all the worlds.

With a hopelessly weak government at the helm, it did not take him more than a wink to force the Zardari-Gilani combine to get himself a three-year extension as Chief of the Army Staff. In fact, he surpassed both General Zia and Musharraf in getting himself an extension without assuming power by staging a coup. Kayani, of course, knew that Zardari was no Sharif or Bhutto to resist him.

But many political observers continue to wonder why Altaf Hussain chose this time to call for a military takeover of the country. No one was talking of the military as an option for governance. "The Army has been brought into the discourse," says political analyst Harris Khalique, "and that is where I see a design of sorts. He doesn't say so himself but others point out that the military is overstretched and an attempt to impose military rule would demolish the Army's image". And it is the Army's image that General Kayani has adroitly put above that of other organs of the State. The Musharraf era had seen the Army's image at a low when the hardliners within the Army saw him working towards a solution of the Kashmir tangle, the last straw on the camel's back being the Army assault on Islamabad's Lal Masjid to end its siege by Pakistani militants.

It was Kayani, well-infomred Pakistani sources say, who tightened the screws on the government yet again when the Indo-Pakistan dialogue took place. The General, meanwhile, is busy pursuing his twin objectives in Afghanistan - gaining control by proxy (Taliban) over the country and simultaneously destroying whatever leverage India has in that country.

Following the withdrawal by Western troops from Iraq and with Obama promising to do the same in Afghanistan, Taliban spirits are soaring as are those of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the men deployed by it to secure Pakistani interest. 

The capitulation of Afghanistan is seen as a major gain by Pakistan largely because it gives the country greater strategic depth in the Indian context and it also makes it a potent force in the region. Kayani and his men do not see much advantage in their country pursuing objectives through nuanced diplomacy. Comfortably as he is placed, Kayani and his Army are happy to be seen as finishing the unfinished fight against the terrorist groups along the Pakistani border. Many in the Pakistani civil society will disagree that the war against terrorists on the Afghan border is of any great domestic value – apart from keeping the American paymasters happy.
The average Pakistani may be worried by home terrorism and it is only growing in intensity. Factional fights are increasing; suicide attacks are becoming routine. And on top it, the ruling class is showing no interest in bringing about stability. It's painful for most Pakistanis to see Punjab emerging as a substantial terrorist centre. They also wonder when the two top leaders of the country will ever think in terms of a strong unified Pakistan. To the outsider it may sound curious that Mian Nawaz Sharif, leader of the foremost provincial party, the Muslim League (Punjab accounts for 65 per cent of the country's population) should be supporting Asif Ali Zardari's PPP at the federal level and yet trying to undermine him by any means.

Shah Nawaz's brother, of course, is the Punjab chief minister. Initially Nawaz did name party men to the federal government as well but walked away in a huff more than a year ago. Incidentally, Altaf Hussain of the MQM, whose party is part of the federal government in Islamabad, has no special reason to be seeking the Army's return to power. His troubles in Karachi, where he is acknowledged as the unquestioned king of the migrant Muslims, peaked during the days of General Zia-ul Haq. He was used and abused, as he himself has said.
Later, Zia's protégé, Nawaz Sharif, too, was to pursue his military mentor's view. This, when the two even entered into a coalition in Sindh: a marriage of convenience with Altaf Hussain keeping in touch from London with his flock in Karachi via tele-conferencing or by even crudely speaking to crowds running into thousand by a combination of ordinary telephone in London linked to the public address system in Karachi. As is not unknown to us in India, being partners or stakeholders in one state and enemies in another is not really unusual. But it takes decades for partners in governance to become stakeholders in democracy.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi








In 1955, as a probationary assistant superintendent of police, I was posted in Darjeeling for district training. One day in the month of July, I came down from Darjeeling to a soaking Siliguri and reported to the thana. The officer-in-charge, who was expecting me, said that he had arranged for my stay at the District Board bungalow which was within walking distance from the thana.

On reaching the bungalow, I settled down in one of the rooms. The officer-in-charge came in the evening and we talked about my training. He said that I should normally arrive at the thana every day at 7.45 am and write the closing entry of the previous day and the opening entry of the current day of the general diary of the police station and also remain in charge of the general diary upto about 1.30 pm. This, according to him, was absolutely necessary for learning thana work. 

The road from the bungalow to the thana connected the Siliguri Municipality building. While crossing, I often saw a lean extremely fair-complexioned middle-aged gentleman sometimes on the verandah, sometimes on the compound talking to some "Bahe" or Rajbangshis. On inquiring, I learnt that he belonged to a very rich jotedar family owning more than a hundred bighas in Phansidewa, Kharibari and other places. I also learnt that he was a prominent member of the Darjeeling District Committee of the Communist Party of India, was always fighting for the cause of the poor "Bahe" people and was married to someone from the community.

I was reminded of Verrier Elwin. Then one day, an ASI told me that his name was Charu Mazumdar. I did not remember the name after I had left Siliguri on completion of my training.

By about a decade and a half, that name had become, if not a household word, at least known to the majority of police officers of West Bengal. He later became the father of Naxalism in modern India. I was by then Superintendent of police, Howrah. We started getting vague information on a new party and occasionally saw copies of Deshabrati, its mouthpiece. After some time, we noticed on the walls of the city, posters urging revolutionaries to liquidate class enemies with the assurance that such liquidation did not mean killing but only a deep expression of class hatred.

It was at this time that the spate of killings of police officers and men started all over the state. One of the first constables in Howrah who fell to a Naxalite knife lived near Chatterjeehat. When the DIG Presidency Range and I took his body to his house, his wife who had fainted and was being consoled by neighbours rose like a woman possessed and rushed towards us. She held up her baby son before the DIG and asked how she would bring him up now that her husband was gone. Both of us consoled her as best as we could referring to the government grant of money to such people, employment for her son in our department when he grew up and so on, knowing that these were no compensations for the loss she had just suffered.

I visited many such families as long as the spate of Naxalite killings continued. But the most heart-wrenching scene etched in my memory was in the house of a sub-inspector of Hooghly Police. I was there when he was leaving to take up duty and nobody could be sure whether he would be able to reach Chinsurah, his place of duty safely or be liquidated on the way. I found both the SI and his father repeatedly offering pronam before a picture of Shri Ramkrishna near the front door prior to leaving. Soon his wife, bravely fighting her tears, also came before the same picture and started offering prayers.

The scene was very pathetic. I instructed the OC Bally PS to take the SI to Bally Rail Station in his jeep. When the SI left the house, his wife started weeping loudly. I could understand her fears since for about four or five hours she would not know whether her husband was dead or alive. Cell phones had not arrived in those days.
While returning, I continued to think of the SI and his family and hoped that he would reach his duty place safely. I also thought of Charu Mazumdar whom I had seen about 15 years ago talking to Rajbangshis about their problems in the compound of Siliguri Municipality and who now was underground conducting a movement which regularly took lives of so many members of our department. I recalled Illusion and Reality by Christopher Caudwell, which I had read during my under-graduate days in Presidency College. The title summed up my impressions of the man.

The writer is former DGP, West Bengal, and Commissioner, Kolkata Police







Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's departure three months ago left a diplomatic black hole in one of the world's most dynamic countries. For the past three years, Rudd had made Australia a household name - a key reference in coffee-table political discussions throughout the region. But suddenly nobody seems to comment now on Australia and its regional vision and ambition. Without Rudd, Australian diplomacy seems rudderless. 
With the recent poll's outcome, sensible Australian politicians would certainly not dare to venture far away from home turf as Rudd did. After all, he showed that a grand diplomatic blueprint from Australia, while widely debated and praised in some quarters, had many undesirable side-effects. The worst was the weakening of the government's home support. Rudd was sidelined because his party feared damage caused by his continued leadership in a general election. Throughout the past three decades, since former prime minister Bob Hawke, successive Australian governments adopted distinctive diplomatic platforms towards the region but none of them suffered as much as Rudd's premiership. 

Truth be told, the Australian elite and public are familiar with the diplomatic engagements with the West, especially with the US and on major issues such as climate change, international peace and security and nonproliferation. They are often excited and sometimes perplexed when Canberra tries to woo Asia, which is now synonymous with rising China. It used to be Japan, the US alliance and the world's No. 2 economic power. In this case, the pu-tong-hua speaking Rudd did not help ease the anxiety. Moreover, the Asian diaspora in Australia is not keen to push for cosier ties with their former home countries either. 

For the time being, Australia has temporarily dropped off the radar screen just as a new strategic environment is shaping up in the region - ironically similar to what Rudd envisaged both in scope and purpose. Australia along with Russia, will be inducted into the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Brussels early next month when the European and Asean leaders meet for their eighth summit. 

What can Australia now bring to Asem? Australia, Asia's fourth largest economy, is a leading member of G20 and Rudd's contributions to the previous meetings in London and Pittsburgh were enormous. Canberra can be a bridge between Asia and Europe. Whoever succeeds Rudd must display the same level of competence. If the Labour Party retains the power, there is a possibility that Rudd could again join the new government as foreign minister in order to retain Australia's diplomatic leverage. 

Regionally, thanks to Rudd's proposal for an Asia Pacific community and its relentless pursuit, Asean leaders were obliged to do some soul-searching among themselves. Exactly two years later, they responded to the initiative with an expanded East Asia Summit (EAS), the premier leaders' forum started by Asean in 2005. The US and Russia will now join EAS next year. India is becoming a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting in Yokohama in November. The first Asean-Australia summit will take place in Hanoi during the Asean Summit at the end of October. All the missing links that Rudd alluded to are coming together. 

Therefore, it is imperative the incoming government continues to pursue what Rudd left behind, perhaps in part. The idea of creating a strong and comprehensive community in Asia is still valid and worth pursuing through different channels. 

For instance, evolving medium powers including Japan, India, South Korea and New Zealand are pivotal for a power balancing act with heavyweight powers like the US and Russia. After former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama's resignation, Japan also has suffered from a similar diplomatic vacuum. Tokyo is currently contemplating new regional strategies that would intensify cooperation in science and technologies as well as security areas. 

Unlike other powers in the region, Australia has to craft carefully its diplomatic role to befit its haunting dual identities - an Asian nation or a Western country in Asia. Canberra has to constantly manifest its foreign policy independence, which serves its own national interest and the region. However, the intimate Australia-US relations during the John Howard government reinforced the widespread regional perception that any diplomatic move, involving security and economic realm, from Down Under is done on behalf of the US. 
As debates continued on Rudd's new regional architecture, Asean leaders were hopeful they would be able to work together with Australia in engaging China. For the past two years, their close consultation on the future of Asia yielded a strong message that together they could constructively handle the complexities of China's rise. 
Apart from Australia, no other country in the region, or perhaps in the world, has such extensive and cordial relations with China and the US simultaneously. Australia is unique with its ability to position itself within the US-China rivalry. 

That is the type of tip-toe balance that Asean needs. The grouping prefers to engage the two powers and does not want to choose sides. It wants to be friends to all powers - a win-win proposition. 

The Nation (Thailand)/Ann









Reality and perception are two terms linked in a complex and often ambiguous relationship. In an ideal world, perception should always mirror reality. Unfortunately, in actuality, perception can be far away from reality or can even be a distortion of it. Most prejudiced critics of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, believe that he is not on top of things as India's head of government. They point to the general perception of him as weak and dithering, not firm and articulate enough. The reality, however, is completely different. Mr Singh, both as finance minister and as prime minister, has taken some of the most significant and courageous decisions in the history of independent India. At the level of policy, he masterminded the liberalization of the Indian economy; he steered the Indo-US nuclear deal and thus put India's relationship with the world's most powerful nation on a different register. At the level of tactics, he chose to break with the left parties. All these are important pieces of evidence to show that Mr Singh's performance is far removed from the common perception of him. In fact, the perception is a distortion of the reality. One factor in the distortion is the insufficient attention drawn by the prime minister's office to his achievements. To be fair, this is related to Mr Singh's personality. He prefers to work than to seek publicity. But he must accept that he is in the political arena and, in politics, perception is a critical factor. This is the reality of a political career from which he cannot afford to shy away. It is thus to be welcomed that Mr Singh met members of the media on Monday to answer their queries and to clarify their doubts. The common perceptions about him were forced to retreat when faced with the clarity and firmness of Mr Singh's mind.


This meeting could begin the process of enhancing the prime minister's image as a leader and thus changing the perceptions about him. But to speed up the process, the prime minister must be seen to act swiftly and decisively on crucial matters. The corruption and inefficiency that shroud the Commonwealth Games demand that those accountable be made responsible. Similarly, many issues in education and environment need Mr Singh's steering hand. The more proactive Mr Singh is seen to be, the quicker will be the convergence between the reality of his premiership and perceptions of it.








It always happens only in Bengal. Several central trade unions called an industrial strike across the country on Tuesday to protest against the rise in prices. But only in Bengal did it turn out to be another bandh or general shutdown, having little to do with the issue on which the strike was called. The reason why Bengal presents such a different picture from the rest of the country on such days has everything to do with the state's politics. A party's power and popularity have come to be measured in terms of its ability to bring things to a halt. The leftists were the original sinners who used this politics as the principal strategy in their quest for power. And they saw no reason to change even after seizing power. Thus, Bengal remains the only state where the government itself helps the organizers of a bandh to paralyse life. The frequency of these strikes has made them utterly irrelevant as forms of protest, whatever the issues. All they evoke are feelings of anger at the irresponsibility of the state's politicians and frustration over the effect of such politics on its economy. This state of affairs has had crippling effects on Bengal's social progress.


Whether this political culture will change with another party or coalition taking over in Writers' Buildings is uncertain. Mamata Banerjee, who hopes to wrest power from the leftists next year, opposed Tuesday's strike. But that seems to be more a political ploy than a serious attempt to end the politics of bandhs. Her party, the Trinamul Congress, had organized so many of these shutdowns in the past that it is difficult to take her new position as a real change of heart. She had been no different from the ruling Marxists when it came to a show of street power. Even more unfortunately, society in Bengal has given this brand of politics enough legitimacy for it to become the touchstone of popularity with the masses. There have been saner voices that cried foul and pleaded for all this to change. It is also possible that large sections of the people who hated this politics had to submit to the politics of coercion and intimidation. But the enormous damage this political culture has wrought ruined the common people's hopes for a better life. A cynical submission to this politics is no answer. It is not enough to say that the people deserve the politicians they get. If the people cannot change their leaders' ways, they perhaps do not deserve any better.








The common factor that unites the Gujarat and Maharashtra governments' actions against the books of Jaswant Singh on Jinnah and James Laine on Shivaji respectively, the fatwas against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, Pramod Muthalik's hoodlums assaulting women in Mangalore pubs, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's campaign against the painter, Hussain, is the habitual testing of the boundaries of individual personal liberty and human rights. Democratic societies today are overwhelmed by the complex variety of conflicting claims to personal liberty.


Personal liberties are under pressure in many parts of the world and from many quarters. Nation states that are supposed to be the protectors and custodians of human rights are often the worst offenders. Israel, which sees itself as fighting for the liberty of its people, arrogates to itself the right to curtail the freedom of the media, uses disproportionate and random violence against civilians, and is pauperizing the whole population of Gaza, whereas the Palestinian population sees itself as fighting for the freedom of the Palestinian people from a foreign and oppressive military occupation. Does the right of Israelis to live safely within their own borders, which are presently undefined, justify the outrageous violations of human rights law for over half a century? Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned in Myanmar for 21 years, solely because she threatens the perpetual military regime through the democratic process. Nelson Mandela was in a South African jail for 27 years in similar circumstances.


The concept of intellectual freedom is one that concerns us because it is assumed that a person is more fulfilled under conditions of liberty. The only limitations in theory should be the self- imposed ones necessitated by forms of collaboration, where tensions may arise between the personal freedom to think and work at one's own rhythm, and the common good of attaining a higher level of social harmony. Even the closest chosen social interactions could constrain liberty when the freedom of the individual comes into conflict with that of others, a feature typical in any community life. Therefore, society has perforce to make a choice between countervailing liberties. Civilized societies emphasize the importance of freedom for education, science, the arts and democracy itself. The basic sources of international human rights law are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the various United Nations covenants approved thereafter.


In the Netherlands there is a 'Party for Freedom' that carries out a campaign against immigrants, in Austria a 'Freedom Party' that is part of the federal government, and in Hungary the Jobbik Party that opposes foreigners, Jews and gypsies. Most countries in the European Union have similar political formations. These reflect the diffuse feelings of fear because of the growing number and visibility of immigrant Muslims, exacerbated inevitably by the association of fundamentalist Islam with international terrorism, and on a more structural level, the still only partial integration of these immigrants with society owing to social, religious and ethnic factors. Immigrants from less developed countries to Europe, who have not been exposed to successive emancipation movements, have problems adjusting to the cultural gap, which only supplements the challenge of different linguistic and religious traditions. Aspects of discrimination against immigrants have led to aggressive reaction. The percentage of unemployed young migrants with weak educational skills is high, and gangs and criminal acts have resulted. The forces of law and order are not always free of racial reflexes, which add to the mutual divide and the reciprocal image of an enemy.


The Belgian parliament has forbidden the veil in public spaces for the sake of security, and the French are close to similar legislation. The Danish premier has declared that "there is no place for the burqa and niqaab in our society". The debate, however, centres on who is discriminating against whom and on what grounds — in France, some 2,000 women are believed to wear such clothes, a percentage so low that one may wonder why there should be a problem. Two-thirds of this number are French citizens and 90 per cent are younger than 40. Are European societies now obsessively fixated on symbols through which small minorities are marking their collective identities, when these emblems are not shared by the vast majority of their own ethnic and religious group? Why should the building of minarets for mosques damage the beautiful Swiss landscape more than traditional Christian bell- towers?


Yet, it is entirely understandable that societies wish to protect their own value-systems — which may include the security of persons and property, tolerance, and freedom of expression — from a minority that chooses to repudiate everything but the material advantages gained from migration to another cultural environment. But how far can such protection go without abuse of individual liberty of expression in an absolute sense?


Since the dress code of Muslim women has been pushed to the political agendas of European countries, defendants of the hijab, burqa and niqaab are inclined to claim that the Quran prescribes this kind of attire. This argument brings the issue under the protection of the fundamental freedom to practise religious or philosophical faith enshrined by the Universal Declaration and the Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. But the Universal Declaration itself has come to be marginalized in some Muslim countries as a product of Western culture and therefore inapplicable to Islamic societies. In 1990, the Organization of Islamic Conference, which now counts 56 nations, subjected all the rights and freedoms in the Universal Declaration to the Islamic shariah.


In the course of its history, the Muslim world did not develop the idea of separation of religious and secular authority. Nor did it develop any clerical hierarchy that was empowered to prescribe a unique orthodox interpretation of the holy book. Religious prescriptions have thus been interpreted through the centuries in different ways in different countries. In consequence, the reference to the shariah is equally open to a variety of interpretations. The scarce references in the Quran about proper dress only concern the female gender, and without attempting any contestable exegesis, it may, however, be confidently stated that such prescriptions as there are have enjoyed a heterodox observance.


It was perhaps the Iranian revolution of 1979 that launched a fundamentalist reaction to women who had been laying aside the veil since the early 20th century, and the donning of the chador and the hijab to make a religious statement became the marker of a new order, which reinvented an opaque tradition that had never been observed throughout the entire Islamic world.


Some Islamic fundamentalist groups outside the Islamic world, especially in the United Kingdom, are seeking to impose the shariah within their segregated communities. The imposition of a traditional female dress code is, for them, an expression of the rejection of the Western cultural environment in which they choose to live. From these circles there are calls for sexual segregation that counter the gradual and welcome evolution towards gender equality which has taken place in the last century, typified by universal suffrage, equal rights and pay and equal participation and benefits in education, professions, sports, medical care, birth control and the right of abortion.


These are deeply felt achievements relatively recently attained in democratic societies, and attempts to reject or retract from them will touch a highly sensitive nerve. Indeed, feminists will rightly point out that we still have a huge way to go before women in countries like India achieve justice and equality in the distribution of social roles.


In India, as in other democracies, society must be on guard against fundamentalist actions that seek to contest the gains in human rights which have been made over the last hundred years. Obscurantists see no irony and feel no shame in sheltering under the very laws of human rights they seek to subvert. Speaking of liberty, Charles de Montesquieu in his De l'esprit des lois of 1748 wrote that "no concept has been used in a greater variety of meanings, and stuck in the minds in so many ways". How true, even 260 years later.


The author is former foreign secretary of India







A British professor of human rights law at King's College, London, and a British cabinet minister have criticized the Indo-British visa policy. The professor is deeply "concerned" about his fellow citizens of Pakistani origin who are reportedly facing "discrimination" from the London mission of India that is "processing applications... for 7/8 weeks". For the professor, this delay is an instance of racial discrimination. The British minister, on the other hand, is candid enough to state that racial profiling is a reality when it comes to issuing visas to Indians wishing to travel to the United Kingdom.


Visa policies are based on reciprocity when bilateral relations are cordial. They become retaliatory if the relations turn sour. Traditionally, Indo-British relations have been friendly. But the ex-rulers of the Empire have also intermittently exhibited a condescending attitude towards their former subjects.


Of all the pieces of information one needs to provide to make a general visa application to the UK, perhaps the most offensive are to be found in "Part 5 — Finances and Employment". The first question in this section is: "Have you ever worked for any organization of a type (state or non-state) listed below?"— "Armed Forces, Government, Judiciary, Media, Public or Civil Administration and Security". If the answer is 'Yes', one has to "provide details of every organization" one has worked for and "include name of organization, job title or rank and dates (year to year)". And these are only some of the requirements of the UK visa office from an Indian planning to travel to the UK as a "tourist/general visitor". Compared to this, an Englishman can avail of a simple "visa application form for all applicants" at London's India House at Aldwych.


Ideal state


Today, India's fears about attacks launched by Pakistan-based terror groups using people of Pakistani origin, including those living far away from Pakistan, are real. The episode concerning Dawood Gilani (or David Headley) is too fresh to be forgotten. The Indian visa office's delay in issuing visas to British nationals of Pakistani origin can be understood in this light. But the British anxiety to keep away the indigent and invite only the most intelligent or the well-heeled from South Asia can perhaps only be explained by the UK's insecurities about its potential decline in the hands of the ex-subjects of the Empire.


The barrage of offensive questions to Indian nationals from the UK visa office continues like this — "What is your total monthly income from all sources of employment or occupation after tax? Do you have savings, property or other income (for example from stocks and shares)? How much of your total monthly income is given to your family members and other dependants? Who will pay for your travel to the UK? Who will pay for your expenses such as accommodation and food?" and so on. Londoners wishing to visit India need not answer any of such personal questions jeopardizing or offending their privacy. One wishes to see how the British aspirant for an Indian visa would react to the same questions by Indian officers.


Thus, this is a tale of two cities. Delhi is criticized for taking seven to eight weeks for issuing visas to British nationals of Pakistani origin, notwithstanding the fact that the delay is for the sake of India's security. Had the UK been geographically positioned next to Pakistan — home to many dreaded terrorists — could the UK government have always been able to act in accordance with the human rights law syllabus of King's College? Human rights law, unfortunately, cannot be the ultimate reality in the life of a nation. Safety, security and integrity of a nation override the idealistic laws of university classrooms at times.



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





Prime minister Manmohan Singh's fire-fighting exercise on Monday, in which he tried to remove the growing perception of drift in his government, has neither helped to improve his image nor that of the government. The very fact that the prime minister went in for a high-profile meeting with the media, rare in his tenure, was a sign of the concern in the government leadership over its falling stock. But he gave no convincing answers, and the explanations he proffered only confirmed the doubts about the efficacy of the government and its inability to address the rising tide of problems confronting the country. He did not go beyond generalised answers on most issues and was unable to present clear and specific solutions for any of them. Manmohan Singh, either because of his age or the realisation that he does not really call the shots, really comes across as a helpless prime minister.

There was no new light on the worsening situation in Kashmir, except the announcement of a committee meeting later this week "to discuss it threadbare"(!) and nothing on the increasing challenge posed by Maoists other than the well-known nugget of wisdom that Naxalism called for a two-pronged strategy combining development and law and order approaches. There will again be another meeting of ministries to find a 'new balance between environment and industry.' There was also a reiteration of the need for 'a peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues' with both Pakistan and China and a commitment to 'continuous engagement.' The sentiment is unexceptionable but there should also be a clear policy response to the recurring provocations and the banding together of the two countries against India's interests. Waiting for a leadership change in China for improvement of the situation is facile hope, especially when the prime minister himself feels it is difficult to tell which way it will go.

Dismissing the confusion of voices that emanate from the government, the party and the UPA on policy matters as free expression of views in a democracy is a sign of loss of control. A cabinet reshuffle and bringing down of the mean age of the cabinet will not help if control, supervision and a sense of direction and purpose are lost. There is no need to retire too, when the prime minister seems to have already retired in the real sense of the word.







The protests in the Kashmir Valley have exacted an enormous cost of ordinary Kashmiris. Besides the loss of around 70 lives and injuries to hundreds of others, the endless stone-pelting, hartals and bundhs have upset daily routines, disrupted education and paralysed the economy. According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, protests over the past three months have caused financial losses of around Rs 21,000 crore. This is the tourist season in the Valley, a time when business would have been booming for hotels, houseboat owners and handicraft shops. Years of militancy had crippled the Kashmiri economy and it is only over the past 3-4 years that it seemed to be recovering. That recovery has now been stalled. The protests have brought business to a halt. The stone-pelting mobs have frightened tourists away and hotels are empty and shops closed. Taxi drivers and travel agencies as well as pony owners have also been hit badly. Srinagar has borne the brunt of the bundhs and violence. When protests first began in early June, it did seem that industrial units situated in government industrial belts would escape their impact. However, workers — many of them from outside the state — are said to have fled in fear of the mobs. More recently, masked men have forced industrial units to shut down, forcing tens of thousands of Kashmiris out of their jobs. Even education of children is suffering because of closure of schools.

Those masterminding the stone pelting and mass violence claim that their agitation against the state is aimed at furthering the 'Kashmiri cause.'  Which cause of the ordinary Kashmiris has been served by this violence? Can the protestors define more clearly what interest of the Kashmiris has been furthered by the endless agitations? It is only those who've received payment for engaging in violence and those who've based their political fortunes on separatist politics that have gained from the shutdowns and violence.

That ordinary Kashmiris are now protesting against the protestors — shop owners in Budgam and Pulwama hurled stones at those forcing them to shut their businesses — is a telling sign of the true nature of the agitation. It is losing mass support. Ordinary Kashmiris are unhappy with the ongoing protests. They must join hands and publicly oppose the machinations of the separatists and those who are making a living out of protesting.







Our legislators do everything except focusing on legislation. There is hardly any meaningful discussion on any bills in the House.


It seems that our MPs are avid readers of Ivor Jennings who wrote that democracy is an expensive business, and they are desperate to prove it. They must be paid handsomely and be also given astronomical amount as local area development funds to serve their constituencies better.

India is a unique country where MPs decide their own salaries and allowances and judges appoint judges. It does not happen anywhere in the world. So MPs have decided and their salary has been hiked three-fold and so have been pension, allowances and perks. 

However, socialist leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad were livid that the government had disregarded the parliamentary committee's recommendation to hike the MP's salary five times. They emerged champions of the cause of 'poor' MPs who, cutting across party lines, stood solidly behind them in disrupting parliament.

MPs argue in stentorian tones that they are the lowest paid in the world. Besides, they serve large constituencies and each MP has several hundred visitors every day and serving them even a cup of tea means incurring an expenditure of over a Rs 1,000 per day. If the number of visitors is in hundreds every day, it only proves how dysfunctional the system has become where nothing moves without a VIP's reference.

Besides, they have acquired illegal powers in their hands like doling out admissions to Kendriya Vidyalayas and had power to give gas and telephone connections when one had to wait for years for them. Now, people also queue up before MP/MLA seeking funds for the development of their areas from their local area development funds which is totally unconstitutional notwithstanding the fact that the supreme court has upheld it.

Thus, our legislators do everything except focusing on legislation. There is hardly any debate on any bills in the House and seldom any private member's bill is introduced. The last time that a private member's bill was made into an Act was in 1970. After the coming into force of the Anti-defection Act, their role in law making and debates has been further curtailed as they are forced to behave like nodding automatons as per the diktat of the party high command.

They also feel that salaries should be linked to the protocol. The argument is factually wrong, meretricious and misleading. In France and Japan, salaries of MPs are determined in relation to the salaries of the highest paid bureaucrats. In Germany, Article 48 (3) of the Basic Law says that the members of Bundestag will get remuneration adequate enough to ensure their independence. But these are instances of developed countries.


In Mexico, MPs are paid handsomely, but they cannot do any business or practise any profession. They cannot even be office bearers of any political party. In the USA, members of the Congress cannot earn more than 15 per cent from outside of their Congressional salary.

There is no such bar on the MPs or MLAs in India though government employees are debarred.
A government employee, like an MP, cannot do any business or practice law or medicine. There are several countries where MPs are paid less than their Indian counterpart. In Switzerland, parliamentarians do not get any salary or allowance. They just get paid leave from their employers on the days of session.

Further, no government employee gets pension just by serving one day as an Indian MP gets and the amount has been enhanced to Rs 20,000 per month. Till the fourth Lok Sabha, MPs did not get any pension. There are MPs who did not get any pension during their lifetime but their families are now getting.

What is really exceptionable is that MPs and MLAs decide their own salaries, perks and allowances. In 2006, Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee had mooted the proposal to have a broad-based commission to decide on it and the government had also accepted it. But it was later shelved for reasons best known to the government.

However, this time the all-round criticism of MPs' behaviour in uniting to aggrandise their salary and perks seems to have cut some ice and all parties have agreed in principle to have a separate body to decide it. MPs argue that bureaucrats are members of the pay commissions which decide their salary structure, but nobody takes exception and also that they reap all amenities and facilities by passing just one exam at the entry level.

The argument is incontrovertible but it only reflects on the calibre of our legislators and ministers who cannot enforce accountability in bureaucracy. In the central sixth pay commission, Sushma Nath was the member secretary and she was also the Union revenue secretary. Thus, she implemented as revenue secretary what she recommended as member secretary of the CSPC.

It was a conflict of interest and the CSPC made a most arbitrary recommendation in which there is a gap of about Rs 30,000 between Pay Band III and pay Band IV. Such a huge gap is blatantly discriminatory but then the question arises why did parliament accept it?

In the UK, in 1971, parliament established by law the Review Body on Top Salaries to advise the prime minister on the pay and pensions of MPs, ministers, judges, defence personnel, senior civil officers and other such high posts. It was rechristened Review Body on Senior Salaries in 1993. It is an independent body consisting of non-MPs who have served in high positions in the judicial and managerial offices with distinction.








Nobel's prize has been used to serve Norwegian political and commercial interests.


There never was a greater gift to the world. None of Nobel's five prizes could have conferred more to 'the greatest benefit of mankind.' It is the world's most prestigious and coveted award. And yet, the Nobel peace prize today has little to do with the deep reform of international relations that Alfred Nobel intended it to bring about.

Today the prize is Nobel's in name only. In reality it is the peace prize of the Norwegian parliament. Nobel's vision was to support the peace movement's struggle to break a vicious circle and to replace distrust, arms races, and military power games with cooperation, justice, and international law.

The sad truth is that despite the impressive roll call of recipients, Nobel's prize has been sadly mismanaged. The more the cash award grows, the more famous and pompous the winners are, the less the prize will accomplish to stop militarism and prevent wars. The Peace Prize no longer seeks to change the world.

In my book 'The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel really wanted', I have interpreted Nobel's will. My conclusion is that the intent of the will was to support the pro-peace ideas that were powerful in European politics at the time, with Norway leading the way. To Nobel, the Norwegian parliamentarians must have seemed like the best allies he could find. How wrong he was!


To construe a will is not a matter of literal reading and legal quibbling over words. In a contract between two parties the words are all-important. Wills, however, are one-party instruments where all that matters is the intent of the testator. If the words conflict with the testator's demonstrable intention, the latter wins. Amazingly, the Nobel Committee has never heeded even the most elementary principles of interpretation.

Most Norwegian politicians are defence-friendly and Nato-loyal and supremely unsuited to award a prize for peace activists, having spent their entire lives fighting for the opposite side. Rather than having a beneficial influence on Norwegian foreign policy, Nobel's prize has been used to serve Norwegian political and, since the 1990s, commercial interests.

Nobel used the expression 'champions of peace' to indicate the intended recipients. The Nobel Committee has thus committed a major blunder by awarding the prize for 'peace' in general. Both the Swedish word  that Nobel used for peace (fredsforfaktare) and the three other expressions he chose — "the confraternisation of nations, the reduction or abolition of standing armies, and the promotion of peace congresses" — clearly point in the direction of members of the peace movement as the legitimate recipients of the award.

Like this movement, of which he was a member, Nobel wished to attack the core of the problem by cutting the heart out of the war machine. His prize was meant to curtail and end militarism. Nobel's idea may seem utopian in today's world, in which all live beneath the scourge of one massively-armed and belligerent superpower, but we do not have to go far back to find a time when Nobel's dream was still alive.

The fact that the majority of Norwegian politicians denied the peace movement and misdirected the money and honour that Nobel intended to give them is a serious matter. If the executors of any ordinary will did this, they would be either sued or prosecuted, Bruce Kent, a British champion of peace, said.

This is a matter of democracy. The new book analyses the battle over the peace prize as a case study of the chances of a struggling minority (pro-peace) to prevail against an overwhelming political power (pro-military).

For a democracy under the rule of law it is vital that those elected to office listen and respond to criticism. Democracy cannot function without a certain level of truth-seeking and honest debate, based on facts, fair argument, and a will to draw necessary conclusions and to act upon them.

If we allow the political debate to be distorted by manipulation and spin, democracy is finished. One of the first things I learned as a law student was that in ancient Rome, one of primary demands of the people was written laws in order to prevent arbitrariness and abuse. Today we have all sorts of written law, but when politicians develop a flexible attitude to it, the result is arbitrariness and the denial of justice.

The present chair of the Nobel committee, Norwegian Thorbjorn Jagland, is also the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, where his main function is to promote democracy and the rule of law. He should be the first to understand how irreconcilable his management of the Nobel Peace prize is with principles of fair governance.







We all have lives and we lead them in the way god has designed for us.


There used to be a woman, old, dirty and draped her sari to carry her belongings. Her torso looked bulked with paltry possessions, her emaciated legs visible, and spoke for her penury. She wandered not seeking alms, but her disposition made people generous. She was constantly in the neighbourhood, bantering inanities. Anyone could clearly see she was disappointed in life and turned to insanity for peace of mind.

Ponderous adults sensitive to her state of being, and curious, gave her money. They watched in amusement that the monetary gesture held no significance for her. She would accept the money with vacant appreciation, but smile from the fact that there was some sort of interaction between her and the donor. Human contact was all that was important.

She haunted the neighbourhood temple by day. Devotees gave her alms, but were amazed by the god and his ways with the mind; a woman, who seemed obviously mad, did chores of keeping the sanctuary of faith clean. She constantly swept its precincts. She would now and again enter the sanctum whilst the purohit did the aarati, bringing with her malodour and would partake in the pooja with vivid eyes and pure devotion.

The poojari understood, the woman and so did we. The kind Brahmin would once a week hose her down, much to her chagrin. After which, Gangamma the municipal sweeper woman, would push her into a utility room in the temple. A volley of verbal assault could be heard, the harassed Gangamma would emerge wiping away the trauma of her chore! The woman would follow out, looking indignantly spruced!

One morning at 7.30 am, driving through Jayamahal road, I saw she was yet asleep; a mound under her canvas blanket. A chill ran through me, she ought to have been up and about by then. I couldn't halt; my daughters were due in school. On return, I stopped by her place of night's rest. The corporation van was already there. I saw the men just as I arrived, heave the bundle of what she was into the van. There was another canvas one she used to spread on the ground, the men lifted it, and there was so much money there!

I turned away and drove home. I cannot say why, but I cried. We all have lives and we lead them in the way god has designed for us. How else do I explain the life and death of that beggar woman or of those who occupy the pages in the newspapers of late?










This column, like others, follows the custom of choosing a Person of the Year; to show that faith in mankind has not been lost, and that there are people in places where no one seems human.


Last year, Avi Toibin was chosen. You may have forgotten him, but I have not. He is the person who fulfilled his civic and humanitarian duty while others looked on from the sidelines. The water was stagnant and people, too, did not move. He was the person who jumped into the murky waters of the Yarkon River and saved the life of Yasmin Feingold, the rower whose kayak had capsized and was about to drown.


During the year, I search for such people and I find them. There are a great many worthy candidates, and the choice is difficult. As the Jewish year drew to a close, there were more and more people for whom standing on the sidelines became unbearable, people who were fed up with nastiness and decided to act.


It is not only the world that has lost its patience after 43 years of complaints and responses; patience is being lost here at home, too. For how long can one show understanding for all the self-righteous pretexts and sinful excuses, all of which have been purified in the ritual bath of self-pity? Is it surprising that goodwill is running out and that there are signs of impatience and revulsion even among the Israel-lovers? No nation can enjoy excessive rights and permanent status as the one and only victim.


Who would have believed that the Six-Day War would continue to this very day and that Israel would neither

swallow nor throw up but would choke? Two generations have been occupied with this one matter - yes, territories; no, territories - and they have bequeathed dead areas to the coming generations. From the lookout one sees nothing but past and present while the future is hidden from the eye, even if it is close. The people of the past no longer have the strength or the time today to worry about tomorrow. They are going to Washington once again and they know the way and the speeches by heart. How many times have we taken this same route - we went out to seek peace and we returned in peace to another war? My Lord, it will never end, the bereavement and the blood!


More and more Israelis are beginning to understand at long last that we shall neither profit nor be saved by another place but only by this place here. Foreigners will not set us free from the prison that we entered with our own free will, and only we can set ourselves free. Therefore, as the Jewish year wanes, people shake themselves free and say - thus far, and from here we shall not go with you in the caravan, we prefer to be dogs that do not make do with barking but instead begin to bite.


Is this the start of a civic revolt? Will it intensify in the new year that is starting? The demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah and Bil'in, the women at the checkpoints, the people of the New Israel Fund, the lecturers at the universities, the writers and artists, all those who have broken the silence and are joining forces to defy the government and say "enough, this is too much already" - all of them are my People of the Year. The betrayal of the intellectuals has come to an end.


Someone has to represent them and to symbolize them, and the choice fell on Ilana Hammerman, who at her own initiative decided to translate words into action. She invited three young Palestinian women for a day of fun in Tel Aviv, overcoming the roadblocks on the way and in the mind. Her inner voice called on her to break the barrier of sound. Meanwhile, she has been joined by other Israeli women and hundreds more will soon join them.


Hammerman refuses to "flow" with the stream. You will not find her and her friends at the estuary near the sea with the dead fish that have been swept away there. She swims at the ascent of the stream and against the stream.


The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel complained about her to the attorney general and demanded a criminal probe. For some reason, the Justice Ministry sent the complaint to the police for investigation. It will be interesting to open the file of "The State vs. Ilana," that same criminal state that has not managed to evacuate Beit Yonatan in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, uproot an illegal outpost, investigate a rabbi who incites and agitates and bring to trial someone who "collects a price tag."


What kind of state is this, where there is a competition about who will represent its image, between Ilana Hammerman and the former soldier Eden Abergil who published pictures of herself smiling with blindfolded Palestinian prisoners? And some people still remain on the sidelines and have not yet chosen sides.


At the last minute, another excellent candidate has appeared for the Person of the Year, and I shall keep his name for next year. He is Rabbi Amiel Keinan whose son, Ran, began first grade this week. He will be the only white child among 289 children of Ethiopian origin at the Ner Etzion school in Petah Tikva.










The direct talks that were launched at the Washington summit should have one aim - to fix the border between Israel and the Palestinian state that will be set up in the West Bank. Israel needs a border that will delineate its borders, normalize its international status, end the dissent over the settlements and solidify the national consensus. This is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mission in life. If he succeeds, he will have justified his return to power and go down in history as a formative leader.


Netanyahu is now concentrating on the Palestinian track. Over a year ago, he devoted almost all his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama to the Iranian threat. The Palestinians were mentioned merely in passing. In their two most recent meetings, the agenda was turned upside down, according to American sources. Most of the time was devoted to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and Iran was pushed to the side.


From Netanyahu's point of view, the arrangement he is working on with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is designed to create a balance between two Israeli interests - its desire not to include the West Bank Palestinians within its borders and not to rule over them, and maintaining its ability to defend itself. The Palestinians will get sovereignty and give Israel security. This is the deal Netanyahu is proposing, wrapped up in declarations of "putting an end to the conflict."


Ending the conflict is a lofty goal, but Netanyahu and Abbas will not be able to achieve it. Not because they are bad leaders or because they want the conflict to continue, but because its conclusion does not depend on them. No signature can do away with the conflicting narratives of the two peoples, each considering itself the victim and seeing its rival as an unwanted invader. It is impossible to compromise on a national ethos with the stroke of a pen, and there is no chance today of formulating a joint Israeli-Palestinian narrative. If the negotiations focus on who is right and who is wrong, and who was here first, we can forget about them in advance.


The question of narratives must be left to historians, educators and creators of culture. The statesmen must focus on life's practical aspects and agree on the border in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as security arrangements that will ensure stability. The border must make clear where Israel ends and Palestine begins, where we are and where they are.


Israel has recognized two kinds of border - the peace borders with Egypt and Jordan, and the deterrence borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. There is no clear border in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, only local separation arrangements - walls and fences, checkpoints and separate roads - and a nonstop attempt to establish facts on the ground and push aside the other side.


In many ways, Israel's relations with "Hamastan" in Gaza are more orderly than with the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, where the two sides cooperate on security and economic arrangements under the shadow of diplomatic rivalry. The disengagement from Gaza created a clear border, and everyone knows where Israeli control ends and Hamas' sovereignty begins. Anyone who tries to cross the line is risking his life, and the side that fires across the border is aware that it will be fired on as well. That's a simple version of "sovereignty in return for security."


The border itself does not ensure quiet. Israel has been attacked from across its agreed-on borders and has invaded all the neighboring countries. But the border works wonders for internal consensus. During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, the army returned to areas that Israel had vacated through unilateral withdrawals. But it then left, once again. No serious discussion was held about re-occupying the security zone in southern Lebanon or setting up Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip once more.


It will be like that if a new border is established in the east: Every Israeli will know where he lives and where not, and the attempt to snatch another dunam, another hill and another alleyway will stop.


Netanyahu is talking about "new ideas" that will replace the total separation and the evacuation of every settler from the area handed over to Palestine. These are illusions. Any agreement that is not hermetically sealed and leaves openings for fights over control and land will merely lead to another confrontation. That's what happened with the demilitarized areas in the north before the Six-Day War, and it's what is happening today in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has to achieve the best arrangement possible and then stop there. It will be painful, but it will bring order to our lives.








A radical Jewish leftist who supported the steps that led to the legislation turned to a head of an Arab organization and asked: "We did what you wanted, and you still aren't satisfied. What should we call the country so you'll really feel equal?" With a broad smile the head of the Arab association replied: "What's the problem? The real name was and always will be: Falastin."


By Shlomo Avineri


It won't happen. But if it does happen, it will probably happen like this.


One day, after many years of arguments and discussions, the Knesset, out of consideration for Israel's Arab citizens and a desire to promote full and equal citizenship, decided to omit any reference to Israel's Jewish identity. "We're all Israelis, equal citizens in our common homeland," declared the Knesset speaker. "Just as in France there are only Frenchmen, from now on in Israel there are only Israelis. Each community will of course be able to develop a separate identity for itself, but that will be a private matter without public standing." It was decided that the listing for "nationality" on our ID cards would be "Israeli" only.


At the first Knesset session after the festive decision was made, an Arab MK demanded that Theodor Herzl's picture be taken down from the wall of the chamber. He announced that if his proposal were not accepted he would turn to the High Court of Justice, "because the picture of the founder of Zionism in the legislature shared by us all hurts the feelings of the Arab citizens and perpetuates the discrimination against them. There is no place in the Knesset for this Austro-Hungarian journalist who never lived in the country."


At the same time, another Arab MK proposed a bill to change the state's symbol, flag and anthem. "These are outright Jewish and Zionist symbols, and they no longer have a place in the country. The seven-branched candelabra, which did or did not stand in the Jewish Temple that did or did not exist, cannot express the equal citizenship of us all." There was also a proposal to change the name of the Knesset, because of its origin in the term beit knesset (synagogue ) and Knesset Hagdola (the Great Assembly ), but it was rejected for the time being.


In advance of the Hebrew month of Tishri, the Israel Broadcasting Authority aired several reports about preparations for the holidays, and as usual pointed out that "the multitudes of Am Yisrael [the People of Israel] are preparing for the holiday" and that "masses of Beit Yisrael [the House of Israel] will flood the beaches of Turkey on the Sukkot holiday." An Arab human rights organization petitioned the High Court demanding that it order the IBA not to use the expression Am Yisrael in this connection. "The expression Am Yisrael may not refer in a public broadcast to the holidays of one religious group or another. There is only one Am Yisrael and it includes us all - Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of no religion. Any other use of the term is racist and discriminatory." A panel of seven justices was appointed to hear the case.


A group from the northern branch of the Islamic Movement petitioned the High Court demanding that it abolish the name of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. "It may be the chief rabbinate of the Jews, but not of Israel." There was also talk of abolishing the Keren Kayameth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and transferring it to the Finance Ministry.


Arab spokesmen proposed in the media, and were joined by several Jews from the radical left as well as a veteran of the Canaanite Movement, that to avoid hurting the feelings of Arab citizens, the concept "the God of Israel" (Elohei Yisrael ) should no longer be mentioned in Jewish prayers. "In no way do we intend to limit the freedom of worship of the members of the Jewish religious community, but it's clear that the use of 'the God of Israel' in connection with a specific Jewish prayer contravenes the spirit of the laws passed recently." Use of the concept "the Land of Israel" (Eretz Yisrael ) referring to the Jewish history of the country was also criticized.


A radical Jewish leftist who supported the steps that led to the legislation turned to a head of an Arab organization and asked: "We did what you wanted, and you still aren't satisfied. What should we call the country so you'll really feel equal?" With a broad smile the head of the Arab association replied: "What's the problem? The real name was and always will be: Falastin."









An entire world lies behind the statement by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that we should pray for the death of the "Ishmaelite-Palestinians" and, above all, for the death of Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas ). Over 52 percent of the excited children who marched off to first grade this week and are defined in Israel as Jews were sent to ultra-Orthodox and religious schools where boys and girls are separated. Even the minority among those defined as Jews who went to a non-religious first grade are subject to a system in which the religious chief scientist expresses reactionary opinions on matters of science and religion, and as in the affair of the Im Tirtzu movement, and the weak objections of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar only exacerbate the situation. At the same time, the number-two person in the ministry, the head of the Pedagogic Secretariat, is busy censoring non-religious textbooks, replacing civics lessons with "Judaism" and chooses to send his children to religious schools.


What will we teach in this religious autonomy which, with government funding, is gradually swallowing up the majority of Israeli children and constructing their world view? The words of Rabbi Yosef senior, and even more the hypocritical investigation of the book "The King's Torah" (Torat Hamelekh) which deals with "Laws of life and death between Israel and the nations" provide an important part of the answer. Not only is the government reacting with silent assent to the rebellion of rabbis Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef (the son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ), who refused to be questioned about their support for the book, in effect the education that most of the children defined as Jews will receive in first grade is close to the spirit of this book.


The authors of "The laws of killing Gentiles" did not invent a thing, and the government-financed education received by most first-graders continues a very specific halakhic (relating to Jewish law ) and kabbalist outlook. Unfortunately, according to the Orthodox interpretation of halakha, the commandment "Thou shalt not murder" does, in fact, apply to Jews only. Anyone who kills a non-Jew (the murder of a Gentile is not called "murder" ), according to halakha and Maimonides, is not supposed to be punished by human beings. The act is not permitted, but there is no punishment. For desecrating the Shabbat and "consensual sex with a married woman" the punishment is death. There is no real punishment for killing a non-Jew.


Rabbi Yehuda Halevi maintained that there are four levels in nature: inanimate, vegetable, animal, speaker. The speaker is the talking animal, the Gentile. Above them is the fifth and highest level, the Jew, the only one defined as a human being and human rights exist for him alone.


"The laws of killing Gentiles" is characterized by a practical discussion of the obligation of the individual in our time to carry out the edict that "the best among the Gentiles should be killed." But in principle the problem has existed in the Orthodox canon for many years. And this is what the children learn in the language of the Talmud: "You are called man and the nations of the world are not called man;" and in Maimonides: "Someone who sees a non-Jew drowning should not save him."


The historical background to these things is clear. The long, harsh persecutions experienced by the Jews provoked many reactions. Many of them transferred Jewish culture to symbolic and metaphorical worlds, others tried to create life at any price. But a central reaction was to take revenge in a written, downplayed and unrealistic way to the racist persecutions in the real world.


The downplayed texts could be called "the writings of a weak and battered child to his pillow." Like a child who suffers from his friends' abuse, who can "take revenge" only by whispering at night to his pillow that his "friends" are not human beings and about the horrible punishments awaiting them, in the same way many of Israel's great minds created writings of revenge - concealed and unrealistic in their time - in which non-Jews are described as inferior and Satanic "non-humans." Non-humans whom one is permitted to harm. But in a context in which no Jew was able to harm a non-Jew, the practical significance of the words was a dead letter.


When Judaism returned to the stage of concrete history and to political sovereignty, it was supposed to shelve the underground writings of the revenge literature and to concentrate on universal and humanist morality, both Jewish and non-Jewish. That was the main effort before the Holocaust and in the early days of Zionism, although even moderate Orthodoxy did not bring about a halakhic revolution, which became crucial with the dramatic change in the balance of power.


And so at present the absolute majority of the established Orthodox world is going in an opposite direction. Most Israeli rabbis, and the government in their wake, are following the path of Rabbi Lior and turning what was written as a cry of pain for the pillow into a violent call for action. A call with a gun attached.


The scorn for the law on the part of inciting rabbis must be stopped, and they must stand trial. But there is no real meaning to that without upheaval in the world of education that is financed and subsidized in Israel, and which by implication preaches precisely those things.


Even a peace process, which may attempt to achieve somewhat more than the creation of the necessary diplomatic conditions for an attack against Iran, will not save a nation most of whose first-graders are abandoned to such violent racism.







On the eve of 5771, the need to disengage from the stigma of the "occupation state" is already seen by many, even within the ranks of the realistic right, not as a luxury but as an emergency lifesaving operation.


"Hope is the thing with feathers," wrote the American poet Emily Dickinson. In Israel, the hope for peace is today like a plucked, limp-winged bird that many people, including the foreign minister, believe is not even fit for the pre-Yom Kippur kapparot sacrifice.


Nevertheless, if there is any hope for the peace process at the dawn of the Jewish Year of 5771, it is pinned primarily on the historical irony that occasionally results in our region when the extremist turns conciliatory or the peacenik gets caught up in war, and occasionally forced the parties into doing the unavoidable.


Over the past year, however, it has been hinted that our future will be determined not by declarations and diplomatic evasiveness but rather by deep tectonic shifts. Last year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah Israel received a holiday gift, bitter as wormwood, in the form of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead. The United Nations report on the Gaza aid flotilla incident is scheduled for release next week.


These two reports, problematic as they are, symbolize the shocking erosion of Israel's international image over the past year: an erosion that is gradually expanding from a performers' boycott to a popular consumer boycott and even to loathing on the part of leaders, and which sometimes no longer distinguishes between the settlements and the Green Line, between the "occupation" and Israel's very right to exist.


One can dismiss this as an atavistic wave of hatred that is linked to the latest incarnation of anti-Semitism, and to respond, as various ultranationalist groups that have cropped up in Israel this year propose, by going on the offensive in support of an inert "Zionism" that is centered around the settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, in an effort to annihilate freedom of speech in the media, academia and the Supreme Court.


One can also, on the other hand, try to break down the walls that are closing in on Israel by shaking off the foreign-policy status quo that is strangling our existence and our future.


On the eve of 5771, the need to disengage from the stigma of the "occupation state" is already seen by many, even within the ranks of the realistic right, not as a luxury but as an emergency lifesaving operation. We can only hope that it's not too late to wish that Israel, dynamic and vibrant, will once again extend its wings fully within the family of nations.











The Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel sounds like a lovely idea: a charitable foundation that sends inner-city high school students from Baltimore to Israel to learn about the country and develop leadership skills. The program has undoubtedly been of benefit to many teenagers, but deeper pockets have benefited as well. Comcast, the cable company, has given generously to the foundation, prompting Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, to urge the Federal Communications Commission to approve Comcast's proposed merger with NBC. His charity even wrote its own letter to the F.C.C., saying it supports the merger in part because Comcast gives it money.


As Eric Lipton reported in The Times on Monday, charities set up by a score of lawmakers from both parties have become an important — and completely unregulated — way for corporations and lobbyists to get their voices heard and to curry favor on Capitol Hill. While both donors and recipients claim that the millions of dollars pouring into these foundations are good for communities, the real purpose is to make lawmakers look good while skirting limits on campaign contributions and open another door to Washington's pay-to-play culture.


Take, for example, the Utah Families Foundation, a charity that the state's Republican senior senator, Orrin Hatch, helped establish. While the foundation distributes money to food pantries and women's shelters, the big companies that gave at least $20,000 got to meet with Mr. Hatch at a foundation golf tournament. Fifteen companies did so, and not for the "executive tee bag" that was also a perk for those high donors. Nine of them were drug companies that have won the senator's help in reducing federal demands for low-cost generics.


Or consider the dozen or so nuclear energy companies that were suddenly interested in financing scholarships for needy South Carolina students once Representative James Clyburn set up a charity to do so. The foundation holds an annual golf tournament and dinner at whichcorporate givers can hang around Mr. Clyburn, the Democratic whip, and donate to his favorite charity. Nuclear companies said openly they were happy to reward Mr. Clyburn for his support of their industry.


Congressional rules require corporate lobbyists to disclose donations to lawmakers' charities, but many fail to do so with no consequence. The charities themselves are not required to disclose their donors, and there are no limits to the amount a donor can give. The Office of Congressional Ethics looked into a few of these foundations last year, but was stymied when the House granted several congressmen the right to solicit donations even when the donors had business before their committees.


The art of currying favor in Washington is an ancient one, and both lawmakers and corporations have become exceptionally creative at finding ways around every legal obstacle reducing the influence of big money. But these "donations" need to be fully disclosed and strictly limited like the campaign contributions they resemble. Members of Congress should pay heed to the rising tide of anti-incumbent disgust this year and stop acting like greedy chiselers of corporate largess.







Early in the last century, the federal government tried to create competition in the meatpacking industry by breaking up the five corporations that controlled it. The result is that four big corporations control it now: JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill and National Beef Packing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to try again, and we fully support him. In fact, we'd like to see him go much further.


New rules proposed by Mr. Vilsack aim to restore the balance between independent livestock producers and the industrial behemoths. The behemoths have screamed, a sign of how entrenched they really are.


The rules seek more transparency in pricing and less collusion. Right now, it's all too easy for packers to offer premium prices to favored producers and discounted prices to everyone else. The rules would make this harder, partly by allowing lawsuits by producers who feel they're the victim of anticompetitive practices.


An even bigger problem is increasing concentration and vertical control. The number of hog farms in the country has declined by 89 percent in the past 30 years, the number of cattle ranches by 40 percent. Just as alarming is the decline in open, cash markets for livestock. Only 4 percent of the hogs in this country were sold in an open market in 2009, down from 62 percent in 1994. The rest were sold under advance contracts to the major meatpackers, making the meatpackers the owners. The cattle market is headed in the same direction.


As a result, livestock is increasingly traded from packer to packer, not farm to packer, giving packers more control of the total market — in the pasture, in the barns, in the feedlots and on the killing floor. This, in turn, makes price collusion and manipulation much too easy. Mr. Vilsack's rules aim to address this, making it illegal for packers to sell livestock to other packers.


By themselves, these changes will only modestly reduce the concentration in the industry today. Packers argue that a tightly integrated system results in high quality meat. In fact, the current system guarantees only a steady flow of animals, at the lowest possible prices, through the nation's slaughterhouses, while doing little to address the issues of industrial production: overuse of antibiotics, groundwater pollution, toxic manure waste.


We hope Mr. Vilsack will be able to make his modest rule changes stick. But we also think it's time for a larger initiative in preparation for the next farm bill — which could reach Congress in 2012 — to prevent packers from owning animals before they're ready for slaughter, restore open markets and let small farmers back into the game.







This is an era in which many devices are watching us. We carry about wireless phones that tell our service providers exactly where we are. Surveillance cameras blink down from corners and storefronts. Advertisers follow us effortlessly around the Internet. Still, plans in Contra Costa County, Calif., to tag preschoolers with radio frequency identification chips to keep track of their whereabouts at school seem to go too far.


The concern that school officials would use the ID chips to keep tabs on children's behavior — and tag them perhaps as hyperactive or excessively passive — seems overwrought. County officials point out that the tags will save money and allow teachers to devote less time to attendance paperwork and more time to their students. And the chips, which will be randomly assigned to different children every day, according to a county representative, will not carry personal information that could be intercepted by others.


We just worry that we are all becoming a little too blasé about our scrutinized lives. Americans' enthusiasm for technological solutions typically has been balanced by a mistrust of technology taking over our lives. The demons of "I, Robot" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" always lurked somewhere beneath the surface of our dreams of high-tech futures.


Part of the reason we now accept the continual observation of our lives is that we are at best only vaguely aware it is happening. Surveys have found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that many common techniques used by corporations to keep track of their online activity are illegal. Though it may seem innocuous to attach a chip to our preschoolers' clothes, do we really want to raise a generation of kids that are accustomed to being tracked, like cattle or warehouse inventory?







A conspiracy indictment was brought last week against a Los Angeles company, alleging forced labor on a chilling scale. Six contractors are accused of a scheme to hold 400 workers from Thailand in virtual slavery on farms in Hawaii and Washington State. The Justice Department says it is the largest human-trafficking case ever brought by the federal government. Just as disturbing is how familiar the accusations are.


The company, Global Horizons Manpower, is accused of abusing the federal guest worker program, known as H-2A, in 2004 and 2005 and luring workers with false promises of steady work at decent pay. The workers, poor men from the Thai countryside, took on crushing debt to pay exorbitant recruiting fees, about $9,500 to $21,000. After they arrived in America, according to the indictment, their passports were taken and they were set up in shoddy housing and told that if they complained or fled they would be fired, arrested or deported.


The case, brought in Honolulu, coincides with the sentencing on Thursday of two Hawaii farmers, Mike and Alec Sou, who pleaded guilty in January to a forced-labor scheme involving 44 Thai workers. The Sous worked with Global Horizons before but are linked to the latest case only by the methods they admitted to using.


In the abuse of legal foreign workers, the numbers vary but the methods are the same. It is slavery without shackles. Its perpetrators seldom have to resort to violence or even threats of violence. Since workers are buried in debt before they even leave their home countries, the threat of being fired and deported is enough.


To lose a guest-worker job means irreparable harm: destitution, unpayable debt, the loss of mortgaged family land. Under those conditions, a worker will accept any abuse, live and work in squalor and do what he is told. Everyone else — the middlemen; the companies that get "cheap, compliant labor," in the words of the Global Horizons indictment; and the grocery buyers who eat cheap, fresh produce, subsidized by suffering — is satisfied.


American history is full of examples of large-scale abuses of farmworkers, from the Bracero program for Mexicans in the 1940s to the present day. The Bush administration, which was in charge of the H-2A program at the time Global Horizons is accused of doing its worst, generally turned a blind eye to wage-and-hour enforcement. In its waning days, it issued new rules that gutted worker pay and labor protections in the program.


The Obama administration has taken a somewhat stronger line in protecting workers. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis overturned the Bush-era H-2A rules changes and started programs to help low-wage workers know their rights and report abuses. The government has been issuing special visas to workers who were victims of trafficking, notably in the case of Indian workers exploited in Mississippi shipyards after Hurricane Katrina.


But a vast enforcement gap persists. A bill that would strengthen immigrant guest workers' rights languishes with the rest of immigration reform. Thousands in the undocumented work force toil unprotected. The Global Horizons case is only the beginning.








GIVEN the weather of late, extremes seem to have become the norm.


New York City just had its hottest June-to-August stretch on record. Moscow, suffering from a once-in-a-millennium heat wave, tallied thousands of deaths, a toll that included hundreds of inebriated, overheated citizens who stumbled into rivers and lakes and didn't come out. Pakistan is reeling from flooding that inundated close to a fifth of the country.


For decades, scientists have predicted that disastrous weather, including heat, drought and deluges, would occur with increasing frequency in a world heated by the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. While some may be tempted to label this summer's extremes the manifestation of our climate meddling, there's just not a clear-cut link — yet.


Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist who investigates extreme weather for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls any such impression "subjective validation." He and other climate scientists insist there's still no way to point to any particular meteorological calamity and firmly finger human-caused global warming, despite high confidence that such warming is already well under way.


One reason is that extreme weather, while by definition rare, is almost never truly unprecedented. Oklahoma City and Nashville had astonishing downpours this year, but a large area of Vermont was devastated by a 36-hour deluge in November 1927. The late-season tropical storm killed more than 80 people, including the state's lieutenant governor, drowned thousands of dairy cows and destroyed 1,200 bridges.


A 2002 study of lake sediments in and around Vermont found that the 1927 flood was mild compared with some in the pre-Columbian past. In fact, since the end of the last ice age, there were four periods — each about 1,000 years long and peaking roughly every 3,000 years — that saw a substantial number of much more intense, scouring floods. (The researchers found hints in the mud that a fifth such period is beginning.)


Many scientists believe that sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly vulnerable in the coming decades to climate-related dangers like heat waves and flash-flooding. But global warming is the murkiest of the factors increasing the risks there. Persistent poverty, a lack of governance and high rates of population growth have left African countries with scant capacity to manage too much or too little water.


As in Vermont, the climate history of Africa's tropical belt also makes it incredibly difficult to attribute shifts in extreme weather to any one cause. A recent study of layered sediment in a Ghanaian lake revealed that the region has been periodically beset by centuries-long super-droughts, more potent and prolonged than any in modern times. The most recent lasted from 1400 to 1750.


Though today's extremes can't be reliably attributed to the greenhouse effect, they do give us the feel, sweat and all, of what's to come if emissions are not reined in. Martin Hoerling told me that by the end of the century, this summer's heat may be the status quo in parts of Russia, not a devastating fluke. Similar projections exist for Washington, the American Southwest, much of India and many other spots.


With the global population cresting in the coming decades, our exposure to extreme events will only worsen. So whatever nations decide to do about greenhouse gas emissions, there is an urgent need to "climate proof" human endeavors. That means building roads in Pakistan and reservoirs in Malawi that can withstand flooding. And it means no longer encouraging construction in flood plains, as we have been doing in areas around St. Louis that were submerged in the great 1993 Mississippi deluge.


In the end, there are two climate threats: one created by increasing human vulnerability to calamitous weather, the other by human actions, particularly emissions of warming gases, that relentlessly shift the odds toward making today's weather extremes tomorrow's norm. Without addressing both dangers, there'll be lots of regrets. But conflating them is likely to add to confusion, not produce solutions.


Andrew C. Revkin, a former environment reporter for The Times, writes the blog Dot Earth for








AS my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan.I have been away from home for two months, speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.


We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become. The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.


Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad. It would be better if I addressed these issues once I returned home to America, and after I could confer with leaders of other faiths who have been deliberating with us over this project. My life's work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups and never has that been as important as it is now.


We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons.


Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.


Our broader mission — to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology — lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarized relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort.


From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community center in Lower Manhattan, Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.


At Cordoba House, we envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths. The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.


I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing.


Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.


I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet.) I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers.


Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention,

specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.


President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.


The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.


From those who recognize our rights, from grassroots organizers to heads of state, I sense a global desire to build on this positive momentum and to be part of a global movement to heal relations and bring peace. This is an opportunity we must grasp.


I therefore call upon all Americans to rise to this challenge. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends' belief in our values.


The very word "islam" comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. The Koran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Koran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, "Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord."


How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?


Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan.









Today's Straight, our daily column that seeks to reflect the consensus of the editors at the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, will be our last before Sunday's referendum on proposed constitutional reform. Our Thursday paper will be a "Bayram edition," which means we will use our Weekend format, in which the Straight does not appear. The edition you hold in your hands is also the last before we return to the stands after the holiday, and after the vote has been decided: "yes" or "no."


So this is our last opportunity to share our views before this sad and tawdry election. Given the often supercilious tone taken in this campaign toward those organizations not deigning to declare themselves firmly in one camp or the other, a bit of space to amplify our own views is in order. For we do indeed have strongly held views.


In short, some of us will vote "yes," our reasoning boiling down to the view that any reform is to be embraced and then we will resume the struggle for more. Those of us in the "no" camp have reasons somewhat more complex. For some of us, it is the deeply felt concern that the sacrosanct concept of the separation of powers will be irreparably damaged in Turkey. For others among us, the motives are more weighted toward a desire to deny the ruling party an endorsement in what has in effect become a plebiscite on its general rule.


In that sense, our mixed views, we believe, are in fact a mirror of the sentiments harbored by most voters. There is great ambiguity over this vote. We know that readers appreciate our sincere efforts to constrain our personal views in our news pages and we hope our diverse coverage in recent weeks has been fair, accurate and equidistant from the actors in this drama. With a margin of error of 4-5 percent on some days, we are confident we have done so.


But while our views on the simple question of "yes" or "no" are mixed, we are in complete accord that this initiative, from its drafting last spring to its debate in recent months, has been almost completely devoid of candor, statesmanship and commitment to democratic principles. The ruling party has cynically packed a ballot with diverse elements that should not be decided in sum; the same party's message has been disingenuous to the point of blatant manipulation. The opposition parties have callously turned the campaign into a tactical dry run in advance of next year's general election, and in some cases a street bazaar of bargaining attempts and base deal-making on the most unrelated of issues.


We do not know what the result will be Sunday evening. But we do note that on Monday Turkey will still have a Constitution lacking in legitimacy and credibility. It has been a campaign devoid of true leadership. It has been a campaign that in the end has diminished rather than enhanced Turkish democracy. Come next Monday, there will be no winners.








There was a good reason why Muslim communal leaders viewed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as "a stone in their shoe," why they allied with non-Muslim occupation forces against Kemal or why they declared him the "Dajjal." At the time of modern Turkey's foundation, the Islamic clergy (which, according to the Quran, should not exist) believed that Kemal was an enemy of Islam. Now their sons and grandsons are waving their Green Flag to fight Kemal's soul.


Atatürk's founding principles, his personality or the way his successors enforced his ideas can always be criticized. Like any other human being he cannot be flawless – nor his ideology perfect. I, for example, criticize him for tailoring a dress for Turks that was not perfectly compatible with their body. The creeping counter-revolution is all about tearing apart that outfit and getting a new one cut from fine Ottoman cloth.


I perfectly understand the sons and grandsons of Kemal's enemies who preferred the fez to the hat and dogmatic faith to reason. They could not get rid of the infidel's outfit "by force." The enemy was protected by too many guns and tanks and artillery. Forget conventional warfare, it does not work. Thus they smartly chose "demographic warfare."


Therefore, the only viable option in an increasingly "democratic world" was to scrap the unwanted attire by "popular vote." Hence Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's famous remarks that "Democracy is like a streetcar: When you come to your stop, you get off." In this "democratic" fight the sons and grandsons of the sheikhs, ulema, imams, mullahs and muftis made a holy alliance with the liberal, leftist and (sometimes) Kurdish victims of the regime Kemal's successors oppressed for decades. Once again, politics made strange bedfellows.


Criticism of Kemalism is fine. Childish Kemal-bashing is amusing – anachronism often comes in abundance. I laughed when I read a recent critique that "Atatürk had a zillion sayings about nationalism, secularism or 'republicanism,' but hardly anything on democracy." That's right. On top of it, Atatürk was a techno-peasant who never used the Internet. Also, if it has escaped your attention, sirs, Atatürk never talked about environmentally friendly government policies, the danger of global warming or animal rights either (there were also rumors that Atatürk used unlicensed software on his personal computer).


The heart of the matter is about the first four articles of the Constitution – the articles which cannot be amended. Recently, the vice chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, the judicial panel the government passionately wants to control through constitutional amendments, put it in plain language: "The Turkish judiciary has an ideology," said Kadir Özbek. "That ideology is written in Article 2 of the Constitution… [it's about] the requirements of a democratic, secular, social state of law in compliance with Atatürk's principles. If there is [an opposite ideology] we surely can be viewed as the counter-ideology." That explains the dynamics of a nearly 90-year-old fight.


Under more sane circumstances it would be perfectly normal if the judiciary in a country sides with the ideology representing that country's unchangeable constitutional principles. Not in Turkey, where defending the constitutional ideology is almost a crime and unconstitutional thinking is the rising trend of our times. Yes, we have to cherish unconstitutionalism since it represents the popular will.


But do we really have to? Is democracy all about the number of votes cast in this or that direction? Which Western democracy would allow, say, racial discrimination when it comes in the form of popular vote? Why did the Turkish "liberal" Muslims jump off their chairs when a democratic and popular Swiss vote banned minarets? What happens when the popular vote dictates an unconstitutional rule? What happens if the popular vote wants to change the untouchable articles of the Constitution?


We must respect the popular vote in whichever way it comes – and goes. But worshipping the popular vote is a dangerous thing. Presenting the popular vote as the sole prerequisite for democracy is malevolence. Reverence to malevolence in the name of autocratic liberalism is distasteful buffoonery.









When Dr. Hawking posits "natural laws" that created the universe, he is speaking of faith, not science. He, in fact, just renames what people traditionally have called 'God'


Stephen Hawking, probably the most famous scientist in our world, made the global headlines last week with his upcoming book, "The Grand Design." Here, as the media reported, he has proposed a new theory about the origin of the universe – a theory that makes God "unnecessary."


This argument, in fact, is not that new. We have continued to hear it from the time of Laplace, who famously noted to Napoleon that he had no need for "the God hypothesis" to explain the origin of the solar system. Since then, many scientists have embarked on a mission to find natural explanations for the natural world and push the divine out of the picture. The more we understand the natural laws that govern the universe, according to this view, the less room remains for supernatural agents such as God.


The God hypothesis


Needless to say, this whole Laplacean paradigm delighted the atheists and made them believe that science was on their side against theism – which they saw as an irrational, if not delusional, belief in the unknown. But there was a crucial point that they often missed: The scientific effort to make God "unnecessary" would work only if the theists were trying to "prove" God by finding "gaps" in the natural world that look inexplicable through natural phenomena.


That argument is indeed a risky one, for what looks inexplicable today might be explained tomorrow. As the "gaps" in our knowledge are filled, in other words, "the God of the gaps" argument, as it is known, can lose face.


Consider, for example, thunderstorms. If a theist argues, "God brings down the lightning from the sky," and means this as a supernatural intervention into nature, then he is in trouble. The scientist will soon show him how electricity works in the atmosphere and how the sudden bolt of light comes down just naturally.


However, "the God of the gaps" argument is not the only way to see the world through a theistic lens. The theist can rather see the whole natural world as a manifestation of God's creativity and majesty. In this view, God is the creator of the whole natural world but not a supernatural interferer. He is not in competition with natural laws; he acts through them.


When theism takes such a naturalism-friendly view, it has nothing to fear from natural explanations for natural phenomena. Science does what it does, and atheism and theism becomes just two different ways of interpreting it.


But this is all about how the universe works. When we start to discuss how the universe came to be, we enter into a different zone. Here, theism is much stronger than atheism, thanks to two major arguments.


The first one is "the cosmological argument." It comes from the Big Bang theory, which indicates that the universe came into existence some 13.7 billion years ago. This ultimate "beginning" has led some scientists to conclude that the Abrahamic doctrine of "creation ex nihilo" is quite plausible.


The second argument for theism is "the design argument." It comes from the Anthropic Principle, which reveals that the universe that we live in is amazingly "fine-tuned" for intelligent life. The chance of having such an incredibly hospitable universe by accident is so low, that it compelled ex-atheists such as Anthony Flew, British philosopher, to accept an "Aristotelian God."


The laws of the gaps


Now, let's go back to Dr. Hawking. Apparently, what he tries to do in his new book is to refute the cosmological argument – that the beginning of the universe points to a Beginner.


And he does it in a most interesting way: by presuming that natural laws preceded the universe and brought it into being. "Because there are laws such as gravity," he confidently says, "the Universe can and will create itself out of nothing."


But there is a crucial problem here. We know gravity's existence thanks to the scientific method: We can test and observe it. Yet there is no way to test and observe (and even to calculate) the "time" before the universe. (We can't even calculate the very first moment of the universe, called "Planck time.")


In other words, when Hawking posits "laws such as gravity" that existed before the universe, he is speaking of faith, not science. He, in a sense, is filling the gaps in our knowledge with the metaphysical laws that he believes in.


Those laws, he seems to believe, have existed since eternity, created both matter and time out of nothing and designed the fine-tuned universe that we know – just like what "God the Creator," according to traditional monotheism, has done.


What Hawking does, then, is really just rename what most other people call "God." You can do this in a million ways. "I don't believe in God," you can say. "I rather believe in a giant universe-creating machine, which itself is uncreated." You can even fantasize about a "flying spaghetti monster," as some smart alecks have mockingly done.


For my part, I stick to tradition, and revelation, and keep on calling the creator of the universe "God."


As for Dr. Hawking's "theory," I have respect. Every faith, after all, deserves some.








According to some pollsters, the "yes" and the "no" votes are so close at the moment that the outcome of the Sept. 12 referendum could be decided by the people who respond positively to boycott calls from parts of the left and especially from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.


But here, let me give you five arguments against boycotting the referendum.


1. Most of the reasons for the left to call for a boycott are similar to the arguments used by the BDP. A specific leftist justification is based on the claim that by not voting, the boycotters will make it clear that there is a so-called "third front" in Turkey, consisting of people who do not accept the dominance of the two big parties. Stop fooling yourselves. The boycotters will not be visible at all because they will be swept together into one pile with those who never vote. In the last national elections in 2007, 16 percent of the population did not go to the ballot box. They could be anarchists or, most probably, people not interested in politics at all. The Sept. 12 boycotters will not appear as the real alternative, they will disappear into anonymity.


2. The line used most often by BDP representatives when discussing the constitutional amendments package is: "There is nothing in it for us, so why should we bother?" Readers of my column know that I have always supported the legitimate claims of the Kurds for cultural freedom, more regional autonomy and sustainable social and economic development. But this kind of reasoning really makes me wonder what the BDP is up to. Are the Kurds not citizens of the Turkish state who would profit, maybe even more than other Turkish citizens, from the proposed changes to the present Constitution? Are Kurds indifferent to diminishing the powers of military courts? Are Kurds not in favor of a better functioning judiciary? Stop making objections based on an extremely narrow understanding of what constitutes Kurdish interests.


3. I support the wish to have a totally new constitution and I agree that many necessary reforms are not included in this package. But I am also convinced that only a "yes" vote will be a boost to the pro-reform forces in Turkey. Forget about a new constitution or, for that matter, the Kurdish or Alevi initiatives, if and when the naysayers win on Sept. 12. Further reforms will be shelved by all parties and those who have never offered real alternatives to the present Constitution will feel emboldened.


4. It is clear from all opinion polls that most people who are considering a boycott would normally vote in favor of the proposed amendments if they were tabled by a party other than the AKP. Few boycotters dispute the progress, be it limited, that the changes would bring. Most cite tactical or strategic reasons not to go out and vote. That means that a successful boycott campaign strengthens the "no" camp because it diminishes the number of "yes" votes. Pro-boycott supporters keep on denying this negative effect. Again, stop fooling yourself and the rest of the Turkish population. Staying away on Sept. 12 does have an impact on the result; it is not a nice, symbolic gesture without consequences. Boycotting plays into the hands of the status quo defenders. Is that what the Kurds and the left want?


5. We know that the influence of the CHP and the MHP in the Southeast is minimal. The fight for Kurdish votes is between the AKP and the BDP. Thus, for most Kurds there are only two options: vote yes or boycott. That means in fact that there will not be secret voting in predominantly Kurdish areas. Everybody knows that people who show up on Sept. 12 will overwhelmingly vote "yes." What will BDP supporters do that day, knowing that Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir has already announced that he might resign if less than 51 percent of his town supports the boycott? Will they sit at home or at the coffee house and wait for the results? Or will they go out on the streets and hang around polling stations, registering who is defying their call to boycott? If they do the latter, the effect will be a grave and undemocratic intimidation of voters.


For all these reasons, forget about the boycott and show your true colors on Sept. 12.








Democracy is not at all a perfect government system. In fact, no system is perfect. Democracy is only a regime with the least amount of errors and deficiencies among political regimes in history.


Even the most developed democracies still have an abundance of problems which haven't be solved yet. One of the main troubles of democracy is that a government granted with the authority by the people can delude this power although it is able to remove the power of a single administrator and transfer it to the willpower of the people.


Power degenerates! Absolute power degenerates absolutely!


The rule of law concept was introduced to minimize the possible contradiction of people's choice, the negligence of minority rights and tyranny against the minority after winning their votes.


The rule of law limits authority of a government having parliamentary majority, in order for the government not to have the power to make laws, to administer the country at its own discretion.


For instance, U.S. Constitution, to the contrary of our Constitution, describes people's rights not the limits against a government and describes not the rights but the limits of a government.


Limits of a government!


Democracy guarantees the independence of powers giving body to the administration of a country, in order to defend the rule of law against the rule of a government.


However, flaws are unavoidable in practice.


In parliamentary democracies, the majority constitutes government; therefore, power of the executive body comes from the majority in the legislative body (Parliament). Consequently, the leader of a political party having the majority becomes prime minister and controls both the executive and the legislative.


In our country, the rejection of a law by the legislative body is not considered if the executive wants to pass the law.


In order to protect the rule of law against a government which naturally and systematically controls both execution and legislation, protection of the judiciary is required.


At that point, we see the spirit of "no"!


However, we should underline how the judicial independence is understood in Turkey.


In our country which has suffered military tutelage for years, civilian bureaucracy under the wings of military bureaucracy has never hesitated to interpret independence of the judiciary as a separate power.


Judicial independence in Turkey at times transforms into a separate, alternative power against the power of executive and legislative bodies.


For instance, if the judiciary believes Parliament and government do not take national interests into consideration, it squashes privatizations, intervenes in public procurements in order to protect national interests.


The judiciary can resort to the "367 quorum madness."


The Constitutional Court is entitled to decide for "propriety" for laws passed in Parliament and can overrule after "political considerations."


And the final exam: No one wanted to hear Yekta Güngör Özden and the Liberal Democracy Party, or LDP, leader Cem Toker. However, we will not vote constitutional amendment text but the one amended and approved by the Constitutional Court!


I am against independence of judiciary's emerging as an alternative power in its current state. However, in the light of the Democratic Party, or DP, experience during the period 1957-1960, I will discuss that constitutional amendments of the date are requested for not to solve this problem but to transform military tutelage into civilian tutelage.









In the "enhanced democracy" provided by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government Turkey is celebrating the Islamic Eid ul-Fitr, Şeker (Sugar) Holiday or simply Ramadan Bayram. The last day of the religious holiday might as well turn into a civil holiday depending on the result of the referendum and of course depending on which side of the divide one is.


According to Islamic culture, religious holidays must be periods during which people should put aside their old enmities, hatred and anger and embrace each other in peace and friendship.


I wish all Muslim readers of the Daily News a happy bayram.


A message to imprisoned colleagues


It has become a tradition to send congratulatory messages on such important religious holidays to loved ones if for some reason visiting and personally congratulating their holiday is not possible.


This year, I would like to send a bayram congratulation message to a set of colleagues who for this or that reason are compelled to mark the religious holiday in their prison cells, either in "detained" or "convict" status. After all, as I recently reported in this column, almost 60 percent of the inmates in Turkish prisons are "detained," some of them waiting to see a court, many of them hoping their endless trials will come to an end one day and they will be released by the courts. Believe it or not, there are court cases continuing for the past 10 years and people who might be sentenced to a far lesser period in prison are being deprived of their freedom and compelled to spend their youth in prison cells.


The political authority cares less of such problems and does not feel the need for a judicial reform. Instead, it has been trying to achieve an "enhanced democracy reform" through a sugarcoated set of constitutional amendments to enhance its sphere of influence – if not direct control – over the high judiciary.


In a message sent by the "Solidarity Platform with Detained [imprisoned] Journalists," a list of the names of 38 journalists and writers who will be spending the bayram period in prison was provided. Most of the people listed were writers, executives or journalists of publications supporting views that I would never ever subscribe to, yet always try to respect. I join the wishes expressed by the executives of the Solidarity Platform with Detained (imprisoned) Journalists that hopefully Ahmet Birsin, Ali Buluş, Ali Konar, Barış Açıkel, Bayram Namaz, Bayram Parlak, Bedri Adanır, Behdin Tunç, Deniz Doğruer, Dilek Keskin, Doğan Akhanlı, Erdal Güler, Erdal Süsem, Erol Zavar, Faysal Tunç, Füsun Erdoğan, Gurbet Çakar, Hamdiye Çiftçi, Hasan Coşar, Hatice Duman, Hatice Özhan, İbrahim Çiçek, Kenan Karavil, Mahmut Güleycan, Mahmut Tutal, Mehmet Karaaslan, Mehmet Yeşiltepe, Metin Bulut, Mustafa Gök, Nuri Yeşil, Ozan Kılınç, Sedat Şenoğlu, Seyithan Akyüz, Suzan Zengin, Şahin Baydağı, Şeyhmus Bilgin, Vedat Kurşun and Ziya Ulusoy will be able to join their beloved ones soon.


The list provided by the Solidarity Platform with Detained (imprisoned) Journalists was unfortunately deficient. It has become an unfortunate tradition in this country to become self-catering democrats, self-catering human rights advocates and such. Why list people close to your political view and express solidarity with them and omit those whose views you do not share? If Turkey is to become a real democracy one day, that day will come only after, rather than becoming self-catering democrats, irrespective of their political inclinations intellectuals of this country learn to become true democrats supporting ideals and norms rather than slogans and empty rhetoric.


Unfortunately, the list was deficient as it did not include the journalist inmates of the Silivri Concentration Camp, such as Deniz Yıldırım, Emcet Olcaytu, Doğu Perinçek, Ergün Poyraz, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan.


Probably there are many other journalists serving in prisons somewhere in Turkey for this or that reason in full compliance with the "enhanced freedom of speech" provided by the AKP government. I am so sorry to not have their names and details.


Yet I want to express my hope that perhaps all colleagues serving at the Silivri Concentration Center as well as elsewhere just because they insisted to defend freedom of expression, freedom of media and remained critical of the AKP government may find the chance to celebrate the next religious holiday together with their beloved ones.


After all, I wish everyone a happy bayram.








As Beirut, formerly a city of pain, returns to life, a woman at a nightclub sings: "I look forward to the future now / What's the use of remembering the past?"


Indeed, nobody wishes to remember what the city has gone through, but bombed buildings and walls full of bullet holes remain standing.


The new Beirut is being born in the city center, sprouting brand new shopping centers, modern buildings bearing the marks of famous designers, small sculptures that reach out to the future while keeping a blind eye to the past, night life…


Beirut also offers nice restaurants, food in line with Turkish tastes and most importantly, excellent service.


Recently I spent a few days in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, thanks to Turkey's Pegasus Airlines launching it's first key flight hub in the Middle East.


The private airline already maintains many intelligent flight hubs in Turkey, as well key cities in Europe, within its portfolio. Now, it has reached Beirut. Pegasus links to many destinations from here, such as Paris and London. It also aims further, as far as the United States.


I flew with Sertaç Haybat, Pegasus' managing director. Even in their first flight on this route, the jet had a sufficient rate of occupancy and pilot İlhan Aksoy commanded a perfect landing in Beirut.


Haybat was accompanied by Güliz Öztürk, the deputy managing director responsible for trade. Haybat and Öztürk, working together, created a different idea of comfort in the cabin and they have higher targets today: growing with Boeing jets, Pegasus is reaching out to new destinations.


The maiden Beirut flight was really an experience; with pre-flight safety precautions enacted by the children of employees, fresh treats, wide seat spacing, the cleanliness of the cabin and the kindness of the cabin crew, all of which testify to how high Pegasus has climbed in civil aviation.


Beirut is waiting to immerse you in its mystery. Pegasus flies from Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen International Airport to Beirut six days a week. After Oct. 31, the number of weekly flights will be raised to seven. A flight between Istanbul and Beirut costs $99.99, taxes included.








We are entering a new period. Where do we stand in the crisis that started before the summer? It catches our attention.


The prime minister, for a long period of time, did not mention anything in respect to Israel. The brisk words, aggression and threats ended a few months ago. The same is true for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who does not respond unless something weird is being said by the other party.


I was curious as to whether or not the situation had been leveled out or whether tension continues?


As we enter a new season, I had a detailed conversation with the leaders who devise Turkey's foreign politics. I asked them about what kind of situation we need to expect in foreign politics this winter.


The foremost developments and expectations in issues pertaining to Israel, Iran and northern Iraq I will share with you in days to come.


The main reason I give importance to this subject is the influence of Turkish relations with Israel and Iran on relations between Turkey and the United States.


Let's briefly remember the Mavi Marmara event and the Teheran agreement, which was signed in the same period and made the Western world say, "That just topped it off, paved the way to accuse the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of shifting the axis away from traditional Turkish foreign politics.


Many of us think that relations with Israel are limited to Tel Aviv. But whenever we touch Israel or Iran, Washington responds.


That is why the latest crisis was very important.


"We couldn't prevent the Mavi Marmara, but the armed attack was a surprise."


Let's start, if you like.


One high-level authority I talked to answered my question, "Looking back would you say you wish the Mavi Marmara incident didn't happen?" with, "Of course I wish it didn't happen. It hurt us badly… Some developments you may control but some are not under our control and Mavi Marmara was one of them."


Then you can't help but ask the following question:


"Why weren't you able to prevent it?"


"We knew about the preparations. But we could have not prevented it. When we found out, 32 countries had already received invitations and people had started to come. For the sake of internal politics we could not prevent it. But they promised that it would not go beyond a peaceful protest. We told the Israelis about it. The ship was to unload either in Egypt or a place that Israel would confirm. But this is what happened. It was in international waters and heading for Egypt. We had three options. We expected Israel to stop the ship or pull it ashore. And we agreed with the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH, that in such a case no one should resist. No one expected an armed attack. We were shocked. With nine of our people dead the situation changed. Now it was not only the IHH but Turkey whose prestige was at stake. And that is why we responded briskly."


I think what would have been more appropriate would've been the Turkish government – if it really wanted to – stopping the ship. It didn't because of vote concerns. It was afraid of propaganda by the National View and the Felicity Party, or SP.


What a pity. The rest we all know about. Ankara was increasingly upset. The prime minister became angry.


About the same time the famous agreement with Teheran about Iran's nuclear program came up. The Turkish prime minister posing with Ahmadinejad in Tehran as Washington was preparing to punish Iran made the Jewish lobby in the United States protest. These two events happening at the same time was a mere coincidence but it wasn't perceived that way.


The general perception was that Turkey was splitting from the West and approaching the Islamic world.


You may deny it as much as you want but this was how it looked like from the outside. And as lobbies started to take action, the recidivist AKP was labeled.


Now slowly steps are taken backwards. Turkey's reaction hit its target soon.


Washington stepped in and made the Netanyahu administration take steps in the direction of Turkey's expectations.


- All passengers were released.


- No one was prosecuted.


- The ships were returned.


- An international investigation commission was formed in the United Nations.


- The Gaza blockade was loosened.


What's left is Turkey's apology and compensation expectations. What will happen now? Will Turkey continue its brisk attitude?


The answer is as follows:


"No, we will wait for the report by the investigation commission. Then we will decide what kind of attitude to take on. Our prime minister does not say a word. If Israel does not behave adversely, we won't."


Will relations go back to normal?


It all depends on the Gaza embargo and the attitude of the Netanyahu administration.


It does not seem likely that relations will be as intimate as they used to be in the past. Israel won't encounter the former Turkey. But Ankara will definitely not take on a hostile attitude against Israel. Of course, all these assumptions are made based on the present situation. If tomorrow other events take place or a dispute arises during the commission work we may just go back to the bad old days.


But no matter what, Washington is spending a lot of effort to fix relations between the two countries and implies that it will suffice with this much as well.








Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government recently levied a record fine against the country's largest media conglomerate, the Doğan Media Group, in what has been termed an assault on the freedom of the press by the international community. Now, a similar situation is unfolding in a battle in Argentina. On one side is the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and, on the other, the country's largest media group and critic of the government, Grupo Clarín. The following column, including two merged editorial pieces written at the end of August by Ricardo Kirshbaum, Clarín's editor-in-chief, was translated into English by the Daily News staff


Mrs. President did not ignore the quota system on the suppliers of newsprint, carried out in other times to debilitate critical voices and favor friendlier ones, a tool implemented by the state that could be used arbitrarily. And the import of newsprint from abroad, in the absence of national factories that produced it, has become a heavy burden on the budgets of newspapers and dailies, assaulted by the political control of trade tariffs.


An Argentine newsprint-producing factory was the answer in order for the power of political manipulation to diminish. Also, it was a contribution to the autonomy from the state in one strategic move.


The control of the newsprint factory by the state opens the certain possibility to influence passively or aggressively the media contents that need to be printed to reflect their opinions and news.


President Cristina Fernandez has been talking about the existence of another newsprint factory – Papel del Tucumán – ever since the flop. Also, Mrs. President should not ignore the fact that the directors of the Argentine newsprint producing factory, Papel Prensa, including the ones approved by the president and her husband, the former president, approved all their balances and commercial policies.


The concept that media groups can economically resist the pressure from officials creates a supra-constitutional power of great concern, said the president.


This notion moves the government, through all its shortcuts, to discipline those who believe that a democracy guards free media outlets of any threat of censorship.


"We'll go for absolute power"


In one move, Carlos Zannini, legal secretary and the most influential advisor for former President Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has shown his real intentions. He has made a statement that after this presidential period, which he characterized as "the fight against corporations," another will begin after an electoral win, in which "we'll go for absolute power." The official is convinced about what he says: he paid with jail time as a communist group member in the past and later found in the Kirchner administrations fertile land for advice that has been applied with pragmatism and in accordance to their political interests.


His words illustrate the determination that secretary Zannini has – and to a certain extend the administration he advises – on institutions and democracy. This notion grows with the government's attitudes and practices that by the day become more authoritarian. 


This approach leads to the struggle to gain control over all other aspects that do not comply with their agenda. The gross distortion of history which molds reality for political objectives is one of the methods that have been implemented to a certain extend that their official claim over Grupo Clarín and the newsprint debate, seems almost unquestionable.


"Taking absolute power" necessitates distortions and accomplices and explains why the arrogant response on the prosecutor's "never again" remark on the historic accusation on the tutelage of the military junta are praised by an auditorium filled with fanatics.









 When Prime Minister Gilani said at the Council of Common Interest (CCI) meeting on Monday that aid was not coming to his government he was being, intentionally or otherwise, somewhat misleading. Perhaps what the PM meant to say was that 'cash' was not coming to his government; in which case he would be largely correct. A total of 177 nations have made a contribution to the various funds that have been set up to receive relief. But the big money, the commitments made by major donors, are being converted into donations in kind rather than in cash channeled through our government. The British have converted their entire contribution to 'in kind' and all of the aid coming from the UK will be delivered by local partners – which may be provincial governments – but no cash will be placed in the hands of the federal government. The EU has backtracked on its initial commitment and reduced the ratio of cash in total pledges from 61 per cent to less than 35 per cent. Figures available through the Economic Affairs Division indicate that cash pledges have dropped significantly from an original high of $618.5 million to $363.2 million as of September 2. Commitments to aid by the international community have risen to $1.05 billion, a very substantial sum, but of that about 71 per cent or $748 million are going to come through the United Nations and other international agencies. Nobody, it seems, wants to give us money.

This could have a very serious knock-on effect in the medium term, when we have passed the initial stages of recovery. As things stand today, the donor nations may have decided that giving goods, real practical help, is going to be more use than money when government systems for reception and effective disbursal of large sums of money may not be in the best of shape. Nevertheless, there is the inescapable impression that donor nations do not trust our government to handle their money effectively. Such is our reputation for corruption that even at a time like this, when our needs are gravest and the suffering of millions at its most acute, donors are not willing to give cash. The UN has said that Pakistan has an 'image deficit' that has now fed through to mistrust, and the implications for rehabilitation are deeply worrying, because that will need hard cash, not 'kind'. Moving from the macro to the micro the PM said that the CCI had agreed to give every affected family Rs20,000 – and this before Eid if at all possible. The sentiment may be admirable, the logistics impossible. How billions of rupees are to be got to millions of families, many of them without any form of documentation, between now and Eid has not been explained and it is yet another example of politicians making promises that they are never going to keep. With promises like that being thrown around can we wonder at the reluctance of the international community to put cash in our hands?






 This time it was the turn of Lakki Marwat. Six-hundred pounds of explosives were driven into the residential rooms of the police station there and detonated. As many as twenty may have died, over fifty are injured and some of them may also die. There was extensive damage to civic infrastructure buildings but, saddest of all, at least six schoolchildren were killed. The Taliban were quick to own the attack saying it was in retaliation for the security forces' attacks on their own positions and the killing of several of their senior figures in the local area. Threats had been made to the police and security personnel since May, and the government had delivered security fencing but it had not been erected. Had it been, the bomber may not have been able to penetrate the police compound so deeply. To this extent the loss of life may be viewed as being caused by a security lapse – if you have the means to protect and then fail to install it then you fail the population you are there to protect.
Yet again a suicide bomber has caused loss of life and severe damage to a range of property – the hospital was also badly damaged in the blast – demonstrating the difficulty of having effective countermeasures against a bomb with a brain. Thinking bombs are the primary weapon of the terrorists, but somebody has to teach them to think the way they do. It is often said, both by our own thinkers and academics as well as those who observe us from the outside, that education is the key to the solution of so many of our troubles. Invest in education they cry, stem the rot that allows the minds of our young people to be so polluted and perverted that they believe it to be a right and righteous thing to blow themselves and as many others as they can to shreds. 'You are right and we will' say successive governments and then invest as little in education as every government before them. Whatever the lapse in security that led to the deaths of people in Lakki Marwat, it is nothing compared to the failure of every government we have ever had to invest in the education that is likely, in the long run, to be the best prevention.






It's impossible not to be moved by the great human misery and devastation of lives caused by the floods in Pakistan. An area the size of England was submerged. Twenty million people have been affected--even more than those displaced by the 2004 tsunami in Asia.

The economic damage is staggering even from a subcontinental perspective: one-fifth of all homes, 7,000 schools, and 8,000 kilometres of roads and railways destroyed. Lacs worth of factories, bridges, and culverts wiped out, and millions of hectares of land with standing crops submerged.
It will take Pakistan many years to rebuild its infrastructure. Only half of the international aid needed for immediate relief has arrived.

Even worse than the economic devastation is the human tragedy. Pakistan's poor are the greatest victims--as happens in natural disasters everywhere. The social impact of calamities is always unevenly distributed. The poor live in inferior habitats in vulnerable and insecure areas. Their reach to relief-administrations and the bureaucracy is far weaker than that of the middle class.

It's heart-rending to see Pakistan's already battered people being attacked by water-borne pathogens amidst horrendously unhygienic conditions. Equally distressing is the plight of children. They account for two-fifths of the victims, and are especially vulnerable to dysentery, cholera and malaria.

Elementary ethical considerations--and common bonds of humanity--demand that the world respond to Pakistan's crisis with urgency, sincere concern and generosity--as it did to the Asian tsunami.

This also applies to India. This disaster could well have occurred in India. India and Pakistan belong to the same geographical region, agro-climatic zones and ecosystem. They share the waters of the Indus river system, and more.
Both are more vulnerable to long-term climate change and short-term erratic weather patterns than much of the world--which too has experienced extreme conditions this year. The western hemisphere suffered a harsh winter and now faces one of the hottest summers in living memory.

Indian and Pakistani administrative structures are inherited from the same colonial bureaucracy, notorious for its hostility towards people and for treating them as subjects, not citizens. That's another reason why India's government and citizens must express solidarity with Pakistanis. But there are other reasons too--social, political, strategic, regional and international.

This calamity's effect on Pakistan's society and state will shape South Asia's evolution and India-Pakistan relations for many years. Pakistan is critical to the fate of Afghanistan, itself part of the crucible in which world history is being remade.

Without Islamabad's cooperation, the United States cannot prosecute (or even securely end) its nightmarishly fraught war against the al-Qaeda-Taliban. Afghanistan will remain pivotal to relations between the west and Islam, with momentous consequences for global security and terrorism.

The floods will intensify all the factors behind strife-ridden Pakistan's fragility, which meet many standard western criteria of a failing (if not failed) state. Pakistan's failure is in nobody's interest, least of all India's. It will disgorge serious problems (and their carriers), including religion-based extremism, on India's borders, with consequences too horrifying to contemplate.

The global public must hope and work for the opposite outcome in Pakistan, where democracy is stabilised, jehadi extremism quelled, and the army confined to its legitimate role under civilian supremacy, while power distribution across ethnic groups and provinces is balanced out.

Seen from India, this crisis will probably heighten social distress and discontent, weaken Pakistan's unity, and change the civil-military balance. The floods have destroyed numerous physical links that bind Pakistan, including roads, electricity and telecommunications. Large-scale flight of people from inundated areas is creating new tensions. If Pakistan doesn't receive enough aid quickly, there could be food riots.

The civilian government's performance on relief provision and rehabilitation will determine its credibility.


Already, there are protests against corruption in relief -distribution. If the civilian leadership cannot control this, the army and, worse, the Islamic extremists will gain.

Like the RSS in India, jehadi groups, from the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammed to the Harkatul Mujahideen and Sipah-e-Sahaba, have mobilised themselves in full strength to give shelter and deliver aid to people. They are exploiting the crisis to build their bases.

The army's rescue and relief operation--fairly efficient, like in most countries--cannot justify support for martial law, as demanded by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Altaf Hussain. The public is angry at the displacement of 2 million people from the northwest in the army's major offensive against militants since 2009, and their agonizingly slow resettlement.

Hussain's startling demand is probably meant to curry favour with the army and unlikely to broaden his appeal.

The Army's engagement in relief and rehabilitation will limit its role in the Afghanistan war as the US's principal fighting ally. This could enormously complicate matters for the US. Its plan to fight the al-Qaeda-Taliban in Afghanistan and North Waziristan centres on Pakistan.

Washington has no strategy to deal with the emerging situation. It reckons that donating aid to Pakistan will prevent it from collapsing and earn itself some goodwill. This won't be easy. Most Pakistanis regard the US as an "enemy country," more than many do India.

I tend to agree with commentators like Ahmed Rashid that "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. … All this will dramatically loosen the state's control over outlying areas, in particular those bordering Afghanistan, which could be captured quickly by local Taliban. Pakistan will become … a failed state with nuclear weapons …."
While this hasn't happened yet, the Taliban's influence is likely to grow if the status quo continues. To help prevent this, the international community must offer Pakistan generous material and logistical assistance, and personnel support. And Pakistan's rulers must ensure that the aid won't be routed through Islamic radicals and that it will provide a moderate secular alternative to extremist-run relief operations.

Besides a humanitarian obligation, India has a high stake in such an outcome. India is uniquely placed to quickly deliver foodgrains, clothes, tents, rubber-dinghies and other material to Pakistan.

Yet, India has only offered a paltry $25 million. And Pakistan hesitated for weeks before saying--under US pressure--it will take the aid only if it's routed through the United Nations.

Neither has the government shown any moral clarity, maturity or grace in behaving thus. India, which is far better off than Pakistan, diminished itself with its paltry offer.

Pakistan's rulers have no moral right to refuse humanitarian aid for their citizens whom they can't help enough. The people come first. Narrow political considerations of "sovereignty," which detach it from the people, are irrelevant.

India must redeem itself by raising its offer to the hundreds-of-millions level. India can afford it. It is India's neighbourly duty to help the Pakistani people. In the process, India could earn Pakistan's goodwill, or at least temper Pakistani hostility towards itself.

Whether this happens or not, India must show a generosity of spirit and solidarity with the Pakistani people--regardless of poor bilateral relations, Islamabad's covert support to extremists in Afghanistan and in its own northwestern areas and elsewhere, and the recent breakdown of foreign minister-level talks.
Solidarity with the people is never wasted.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:






 The Saudi rulers' appeals to their people to help in flood-relief efforts in Pakistan have won them accolades across this country. Our friends China and Iran have for the first time proved to be unconcerned. Foreigners who left their comfortable homes to join the flood relief-and-rescue efforts have won the love of our people. 
On the other hand, those Pakistanis who impede, embezzle, or steal the relief money or goods, or officials who have turned a blind eye to the tribulations of the millions, have proved to be the real enemies of this nation. Philanthropists like Edhi, Naimatullah Khan and Shahzad Roy and other countless and anonymous individuals and groups engaged in relief work are the real heroes. The Jamaat-e-Islami, the PTI and the Jamaat-ud-Daawah flood-relief workers and others spent sleepless nights to relieve the woes of the affected people. Media persons visited far-flung areas to bring home the pictures of devastation. Similarly, thousands of Pakistani solders and officers have won accolades for their rescue-and-relief operations. 

Local and international figures have called the devastation unprecedented. Those who have themselves been victims of such tragedies can understand the woes and pains of the affected people. People's views about the state, the enemies and friends of this nation and the power relations among the elites and the affected people will definitely take a new shape. This reality has turned the calamity into a trial for the politicians, rulers, religious leaders, intellectuals, the media, the army, the neighbouring countries and the world community. Social divisions along ethnic, religious, political, ideological and class lines have taken a backseat now.
In this scenario, whoever comes to the rescue