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Friday, November 19, 2010

EDITORIAL 19.11.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month november 19, edition 000682 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

THE PIONEER

  1. A POSITIVE RESPONSE
  2. CRUDE AND INSENSITIVE
  3. BUILDING NEW BRIDGES - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  4. MENACE CALLED RAGGING - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
  5. DAMS CAN BE BAD - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. CONGRESS GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. MONEY CANNOT CREATE MONEY - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BJP'S TURN NOW
  2. AIM HIGHER
  3. 'I CAN'T BE PART OF A COMPROMISED CINEMA'
  4. SHOCK THERAPY - JUG SURAIYA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. ALL DECIBELS, NO DEBATE
  2. HE'S VOCAL ABOUT IT
  3. SETTING THE BIG CATS AMONG THE PIGEONS
  4. PRERNA SINGH BINDRA
  5. LITTLE ON THE PLATE - MILIND MURUGKAR
  6. BIHAR'S MR FIX-IT - RAJDEEP SARDESAI

 THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. WUSHU EVERYWHERE
  2. POLITICS OF DISRUPTION
  3. A TENSE BALANCE
  4. LOOK, INDIA IN RUINS - BIBEK DEBROY 
  5. SEVERAL BENDS IN NEPAL - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE 
  6. ASSESSING OBAMA - SEEMA CHISHTI 
  7. LAUGHING GAS - HARNEET SINGH 
  8. ON THE SPOT WITH INDIRA - PCSHARMA 
  9. THE GREAT BRITISH SHOW

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. UNRAVELLING RAJA
  2. TIZZY WITH NUMBERS
  3. A COMPTROLLER NEEDED - BIBEK DEBROY
  4. DOES THE IMF MATTER ANY MORE? - AMITENDU PALIT
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. DEAD SEA

THE HINDU

  1. THE HOME LOAN TRAP?
  2. ISRAEL IS AS ISRAEL DOES
  3. RUSSIA AND NATO: RECASTING TIES - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  4. HOMECOMING FOR STARK RECORD OF APARTHEID - CELIA W. DUGGER
  5. NUCLEAR STAND-OFF COULD HURT IRAN'S CANCER PATIENTS - ALI AKBAR DAREINI
  6. FISHING NATIONS FORCE EU RETREAT ON BLUEFIN TUNA
  7. BATTLE TO PREVENT NEW BERLIN WALL - HARRIET SHERWOOD
  8. VIETNAM FOR MORE HELP IN DEMINING

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. REALITY SHOWS: LET THE VIEWERS DECIDE
  2. TAKE 'N' OUT OF TINA - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. MAMMARIES OF THE WELFARE STATE - SHIV VISVANATHAN
  4. LE CORBUSIER'S CHAIR - SHEKHAR BHATIA

DNA

  1. NEW DIVORCE LAW IS A TEST OF GENDER EQUALITY
  2. BJP AND CONGRESS CAUGHT IN THE SAME BIND
  3. INDIAN TELEVISION IS NOW COMING OF AGE
  4. IT'S BOOM TIME FOR INDIAN AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS - MADHU JAIN
  5. MY DRESSING GOWN INSPIRES ME TO WRITE

THE TRIBUNE

  1. COPING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
  2. NO COLLEGE FOR THEM
  3. PRIMETIME TAMASHA
  4. N-AGENDA AFTER OBAMA VISIT - BY P. R. CHARI
  5. A BLOUSE FOR INDIRA GANDHI - BY RAJ KANWAR
  6. IN HER DEFENCE
  7. WORKING, BUT NOT RECOGNIZED - KSHITIJ BANSAL
  8. PROTECTIVE PROVISIONS

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE RULE OF LAW IS NOT FOR SALE

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. BANKING ON SYNERGY
  2. EMPLOYMENT CONUNDRUM
  3. CURRENT ACCOUNT IMBALANCES - JAIMINI BHAGWATI
  4. WHAT ABOUT CORRUPTION IN CORPORATE DEALS? - BHUPESH BHANDARI
  5. EMERGING LESSONS - N CHANDRA MOHAN
  6. THE CLIMATE FOR CANCUN - NITIN DESAI

 THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. ENAMOURED, CHALLENGED
  2. DECONTROL DIESEL
  3. ZERO-SUM GAME
  4. WHY NO GST CREDIT TO ENTERTAINMENT? - SATYA PODDAR
  5. SHOULD BANKS STOP TEASER RATES? - B M BHIDE
  6. STRENGTHENING CORPORATE GOVERNANCE - K S MEHTA 
  7. THE 30% SOLUTION - MUKUL SHARMA 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. REALITY SHOWS: LET THE VIEWERS DECIDE
  2. ARE AUSTRALIA LOSING THEIR CRICKETING EDGE? - BY ED SMITH
  3. TAKE 'N' OUT OF TINA - BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. MAMMARIES OF THE WELFARE STATE - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
  5. GOD GOES GREEN - BY FRANCIS GONSALVES
  6. ALASKA SPEAKS. FINALLY - BY GAIL COLLINS

THE STATESMAN

  1. IDEA OF JUSTICE
  2. IPS VACANCIES
  3. UNITY THE ANSWER
  4. PARALLEL ECONOMY - BY DIPAK BASU
  5. THE LEGEND OF MAHMUDABAD
  6. BATTLE TO SAVE ELIOT'S VISTA
  7. 100 years ago today

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. A TROUBLEMAKER PASSES - ASHOK MITRA
  2. BEWARE OF THE CURSE - MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. DOUBTS PERSIST
  2. WELCOME TREND
  3. ASIAN GAMES IN B'LORE? - BY A RAVINDRA
  4. MUCH PROMISE FROM THE OBAMA VISIT - BY RAJIV NAYAN
  5. ECHOES FROM THE PAST - BY LAKSHMI NAIR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE GHAILANI VERDICT
  2. IT'S NOT OVER
  3. REPEAL IT. NOW.
  4. WITH ALL DISRESPECT, MR. PRESIDENT
  5. AXIS OF DEPRESSION - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. WEEKNESS AND ENDURANCE - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. THE DEBTOR OF THE WESTERN WORLD - BY JOHN BANVILLE
  8. A TERRORIST GETS WHAT HE DESERVES - BY MORRIS DAVIS

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON YOUR HEALTH: PREVENTABLE MEDICAL MISTAKES TAKE AN INTOLERABLE TOLL
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON YOUR HEALTH: HOSPITALS TAKE STEPS TO IMPROVE - BY RICH UMBDENSTOCK
  3. BURMA'S SUU KYI IS OUR 'SARAH CLINTON'
  4. PLAIN TALK BY AL NEUHARTH
  5. TEENS SHOULD TEACH ADULTS ABOUT SAFE SEX - BY JOYCE KING
  6. AIRPORT PAT-DOWNS STRIKE A NERVE

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. THE PRICE OF DEMOCRACY
  2. BLOOD: A CASE OF SUPPLY, DEMAND
  3. OUR NEW CONGRESSMEN
  4. SHUFFLING -- NOT CREATING -- GROWTH
  5. 'QUALITY CONTROL' BY THE IRS?
  6. SOLAR SPOTLIGHT SUDDENLY DIMS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. RUN THE RULER OVER BIKE PATHS
  2. DON'T GET HUNG UP ON THE POLITICS OF SAME-SEX UNION
  3. AVOIDING A WAGES BREAKOUT

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. MARK SCOTT'S UNIQUE POSITION
  2. SHED SOME LIGHT ON MPS' PAY
  3. LABOR RIGHTLY EMBARRASSED ON MENTAL HEALTH
  4. ALLOW A FREE VOTE ON GAY MARRIAGE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. WORLD CUP: FIFA'S OWN GOAL
  2. NATO SUMMIT: START MUST NOT BE STOPPED
  3. IN PRAISE OF … EMMA BRIDGEWATER

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. INUNDATED WITH HONOR - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
  2. 5 REASONS WHY RUSSIA WILL NEVER JOIN NATO - BY MICHAEL BOHM 

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THE PIONEER

EDITS

A POSITIVE RESPONSE

NOW DEAL WITH PROBLEMS OF RELOCATION


While the death of a relocated tiger in Sariska reserve is no doubt disconcerting, what comes as a whiff of hope that the issues leading to such tragedies will not go un-addressed is Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh's candid admission that administrative and governance failure were responsible for the tragedy. Had the Minister done what so many of his other colleagues usually do when faced with similar situations — passed the buck or simply refused to admit lapses — one would have been skeptical of any solution. Of course, since we do not yet know what precisely those 'administrative' or 'governance' failures were, it would be in order to await a full report on the incident. Meanwhile, it would make sense for Mr Jairam Ramesh to more closely tackle the issue of relocating tigers to reserves denuded of their big cat population, not with a view to halting the process — indeed relocation deserves to be fully encouraged — but to assess the dangers that relocated animals face. Unless these are tackled on a war footing, relocation is bound to suffer in its stated purpose of ensuring the presence of big cats across tiger reserves in the country. Experts have pointed to the dangers of relocation in regions that are notorious for poaching, large human settlements in and around reserves that result in animal-man conflicts and unchecked 'developmental' activities such as mining and highways cutting across tiger zones. Sariska, for instance, saw its entire tiger population decimated largely due to poachers who had a field day while the Union and State Governments ignored the disaster as it unfolded. It could be argued that the unfortunate tiger — ST 1 as it was named — would have lived and helped increase the country's big cat population through procreation had it remained in Ranthambore, from it was shifted. But we should look ahead. Tigers need to be protected all the time; relocated tigers even more so because they are forced into an environment they are unfamiliar with. The Minister has done well to underline, yet again, the importance of resettling human population away from tiger reserves. His decision to give Rs 30 crore as additional funds to help the Rajasthan Government hasten the process of resettling human population away from the reserve deserves applause. 


But more needs to be done since relocation of human populations away from reserves has in general shown slow progress across the country for a variety of reasons, including bureaucratic sloth. The Union Government has to work with State Governments to ensure the success of this effort and provide both funds and expertise. While it is true that the big cat is a remarkably adaptive animal — it can survive in the dense forests of the plains as well as the marshy mangroves of Sunderbans — it still needs time to adjust. The early months of relocation are a critical period for the transferred animal's survival. If a relocated tiger gets into a territorial confrontation with another tiger already living there, there is a lesser chance of it knowing where to recede when on the back foot since it is not aware of the topography. Also, since the relocated tiger is new to the place, it takes time to understand the territorial demarcation made by other tigers. It is, therefore, for the authorities to ensure that the relocated tiger does not face such confrontations. This would call for greater vigilance and monitoring by forest officials.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITS

CRUDE AND INSENSITIVE

SOME TV SHOWS ARE BEST AIRED LATE NIGHT


The recent order issued by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry asking television channels airing reality shows Bigg Boss and Rakhi ka Insaaf to telecast them only on late night slots after 11pm may be seen as a judicious decision as some shows aired on prime time slots are virtually not fit for family viewing. Both these shows are a comment on how low channels are willing to stoop to score ratings. Bigg Boss beams everything personal — from intimate moments of the inmates who share the same bedroom to on camera cat fights — all in the name of entertainment. The current season of Bigg Boss has been hogging the limelight not for its superstar host Salman Khan, but for the fist-fighting, use of abusive languages by Dolly Bindra and display of intimacy by Ashmit Patel and Veena Malik. In Rakhi ka Insaaf, Rakhi Sawant — better known for her hip-gyrating item numbers in B-grade Bollywood films and slapping her boyfriend in public to gain publicity — makes a mockery of judgement. The no-holds-barred irreverent and foul language used on the show and slapping or hitting people with footwear defy all sense of decency. To say that the content of such shows suffers from lack of aesthetic values would be an understatement. But obviously these shows cater to a certain section of the audience. And they have the right to watch whatever tickles their fancy. But that does not mean others must suffer the indignity of willy-nilly having to watch such trash. Hence, the order barring these channels from sharing any snippets or video footage of these shows with any news channel for promotion and asking them to run a disclaimer for restrictive viewing is welcome and appropriate. 


There can be no debate about the fact that reality shows have broken the monotony of saas-bahu serials with some out-of-the-box thinking and giving the audience the thrill and excitement of live, un-edited action. While talent hunt shows have propelled some untapped talents from far-flung areas to instant stardom, albeit for a few months, game shows have brought people face-to-face with celebrities. It is this interactivity that makes reality television a winner. However, that does not discount the fact that these shows indicate how bankrupt entertainment channels have become in generating ideas. Most of the reality shows aired in India are clones of reality shows aired in the West. If Kaun Banega Crorepati is a take-off on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Bigg Boss follows the Big Brother format which was first developed by Endemol in the Netherlands, while Indian Idol is an adaptation of the Pop Idol format. When adapting, the least the producers and makers of Indian reality shows can do is ponder upon whether the content clashes with the values and culture of our society.

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THE PIONEER

EDITS

BUILDING NEW BRIDGES

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


New Delhi should begin implementing India-Bangladesh agreements soon so that Sheikh Hasina can highlight the benefits of bilateral cooperation 


Official circles and media in Bangladesh are happy over the outcome of Bangladesh's Commerce Minister Faruque Khan's three-day visit to India which concluded on October 24. This is a positive development. India-Bangladesh relations had drifted into the doldrums after soaring to dizzy heights during Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to this country in January. There was a growing feeling in Bangladesh that decisions taken during her visit were not being implemented. 


Mr Khan himself was reportedly unhappy. In an article under the heading "Have Bangladesh-India relations hit a snag?" in The Daily Star, one of Bangladesh's leading newspapers, of July 24, 2010, Mr Serajul Islam, a former Bangladeshi diplomat, had quoted him as saying that an agreement on the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, arrived at between India and Bangladesh during Sheikh Hasina's state visit to India, remained unimplemented though six months had passed. Mr Islam had added that the Minister had "criticised the bureaucrats on either side for things not having moved the way they should have." 


In contrast, briefing the media in Dhaka on October 26, Mr Khan said that he was upbeat about the deals signed during his visit and hoped that India would implement the agreements without delay. One of the agreements provided for the opening of border haats (markets) at Sunamganj and Kurigram along the Meghalaya border. The haats, which are scheduled to be opened in mid-February, are meant to facilitate border trade. Currencies of both countries will be accepted. 


Welcoming the development, The Daily Star observed in an editorial, "Dhaka-Delhi deal on border trade: The move could lead to wider economic cooperation", published on October 25, "An important point about the opening of these haats is that the agreements do away with the difficulties which have traditionally been part of border trade... The two haats are thus to be considered a necessary first step in a further liberalising of trade, through an inauguration of similar haats, along the long border that Bangladesh and India happen to share." It had added, "Obviously, there are the several political issues that have over a stretch of time clouded the prospects of cooperation in the region, but with such deals as the one on India-Bangladesh open border trade, it is quite conceivable that economic exigencies will in future lead to a serious search for solutions to political issues."

Bangladesh, which meets 30 to 35 per cent of its cotton requirements through imports from India, is also happy with New Delhi's decision to export to it 11 lakh bales of cotton, over and above the 1.35 lakh bales for which Letters of Credit had been opened but supplies were thwarted by India's ban on export of cotton to contain domestic prices. Bangladesh had contracted for the import of 30 lakh bales just before the ban. Dhaka has also welcomed India's decision to import, duty free, 1.7 million pieces of textile products in the last quarter of this year. This will be in addition to the duty-free import of eight million pieces annually to which it is entitled as a member of the South-East Asia Free Trade Area.


Other decisions/agreements welcomed in Bangladesh include India exporting three lakh tonnes of rice and two lakh tonnes of wheat, acceptance of certification by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute, withdrawal of the requirement of a 'Made in Bangladesh' label on each jute bag exported to India. Besides, Mr Khan referred as a major development India's grant of transit to trucks from Nepal to Bangladesh up to Land Customs stations — a commitment made during Sheikh Hasina's visit. 


Delays in implementing the promises made to Dhaka, can, however, cause the ties to slump again. This particularly applies to New Delhi's decision to consider Bangladesh's demand of excluding 61 items from its sensitive list of 480 items, and allowing their duty-free import. Unfortunately, India's record in implementation has not been impressive. An example is the total lack of visible progress in respect of the flyover which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina had agreed to be constructed at Teen Bigha enclave.


It is not that India has not done anything. But the credit of $1 billion it has provided for developing Bangladesh's power sector will take time to show results. Its offer of providing 250 MW of power to Bangladesh will require the linking of the power grids of the two countries through the construction of a 100-km long transmission line for actualisation. The sharing of the waters of Ganga and Teesta will also take time to sort out. Unfortunately, lack of visible progress on the ground is enabling parties like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, common enemies of both Sheikh Hasina and India, to claim that she has sold out to New Delhi. 


Bangladesh's pro-active measures against terrorism have landed in India's custody militants like Arabinda Rajkhowa of the ULFA and Ranjan Daimari of the NDFB. Besides, Dhaka has cracked down on Islamist terrorists acting against India from its soil. Among those detained are Mufti Obaidullah of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, an Indian national who had fled to Bangladesh in June 1995, and LeT organiser and Indian national, Maulana Mansur Ali. Also arrested are Daud Merchant, a close associate of Daud Ibrahim, and his associate, Zahid Sheikh — both Indian nationals.


All this has made Sheikh Hasina's Government vulnerable to the charge of being pro-India to the point of giving up unconditionally elements she could have used to pressure New Delhi. She doubtless won a massive mandate in the 2008 election. The incumbency factor, which begins to operate mid-way during a Government's tenure, can undermine even the most massive mandate. India can, however, limit the impact of the factor by helping Sheikh Hasina to improve demonstrably conditions in Bangladesh and show that her India policy is fetching tangible benefits. 


Given the uncertain security environment of Central and South Asia, it is important for India that the 2014 parliamentary election in Bangladesh returns Sheikh Hasina to power. With the Americans finally quitting Afghanistan in that year, an Al Qaeda-Taliban takeover of that country may follow, as may Pakistan's launch of a fierce unconventional offensive against India. India will have to fight on two fronts if Begum Khaleda Zia, known for her intense antipathy for India and proximity to Pakistan, then rules Bangladesh.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MENACE CALLED RAGGING

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


Children from middle class families who are made to study hard by their parents simply to get into an engineering or medical college often turn out to be a frustrated lot. They indulge in the cruelty called ragging which could lead to the death of other students, as it happened with Aman Kachroo


As a child, I remember having considerable friends in school. I am sure everyone has. But my friends' circle from the very beginning had a specialty — it had only those people who were all very, very good in studies. If you are wondering how, the answer to that is in the place I used to stay, and still stay: A locality called Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi.


This was originally that locality in Delhi where all those who had been displaced from East Bengal/East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during partition were given a place to settle down. So, it used to be called the East Pakistan Displaced Persons' Colony. This locality had its very special characteristics, including the one I have referred to — it gave me, during my very early childhood, a group of friends who were all toppers.


Being a locality of mostly lower middle class displaced people, the relatively well-to-do among them — that is, those who were middle class — managed to put their children in public schools like mine — the reputed Delhi Public School — and believed the only way out of this lower middle class or middle class existence was to be exceptional in studies.


Of course, coupled with the Bengali orientation towards arts and literature, our locality produced some of the most brilliant students for our school. So, if our school had 15 buses and 150 scholar badge holders (those who excelled in studies), I believe more than a fifth of those students used to go in the bus that went through CR Park. My father being a teacher struck a friendship with parents whose children were toppers, and that's how most of my friends were exceptional in studies.


It's a different story that as I grew up in life and started making friends of my choice, I changed this very friends' circle. But for now I will stay with the story of these friends. Lower middle/middle class. Very good in studies. From timid Bengali art and culture loving families. If someone were to have told me then that these boys would go on to become murderers of the Aman Kachroos of this country, I would have shouted "impossible" at the top of my voice. But as time unfolded, I saw that happen in front of my eyes. They went on to become the topmost raggers of this country. Here is the story how. 


I remember how these boys studied like crazy. Their aim was to top in the class. And being the son of a teacher, who knew something about education, I used to be surprised at what my friends were doing. My father had always told me that it was not important in life to get high marks. So luckily, I had a relaxed childhood and grew up really loving my father. 


I remember how even after my Class 10 board examinations I couldn't find many of these friends of mine to play cricket with because their coaching for the IIT entrance tests had already started. They studied hard. They did not play hard. The reason was that they had to make it to IIT. 


They missed out on the good tournaments we had, the new films which were released and, much more than that, they lost their individuality and personality. Finally, after all that, most of them made it to some of the best engineering and medical colleges in the country. By then, most of them had become justfriends and were no longer goodfriends. 

But nevertheless I kept track of their lives. Something that interested me very much was how all these friends ditched their parents and went to stay in campus hostels even if their homes were a stone's throw from the college. Later in life, nearly all of them migrated to other cities if not countries, making CR Park what it is today: A colony for old parents basking in the reflected glory of their children while hiding the pain of being dumped. 

And what about the so-called winners who made it to IIT? Well, their early months in IIT were traumatic to say the least. They would cry in front of me. They couldn't take the humiliation of ragging. The humiliation of being stripped naked and made to run around the campus. 


But the following year these friends were doing to juniors what had been done to them. I protested. Pat came the reply, "Arindam, in this one year we have realised that ragging helps build your personality." Their personalities had become warped forever. By pushing them so much, their parents had not only lost them forever, but had also made them into raggers. 


Their frustration and lack of guidance forced them unknowingly to take to ragging as a release against years of suppression at home and forced-focus on a pathetic notion of education. Over the years, ragging has survived for this reason alone.


-- The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian. 


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THE PIONEER

OPED

DAMS CAN BE BAD

DEVELOPMENT CANNOT BE DEVOID OF THE HUMAN FACTOR

ANURADHA DUTT


There is consensus among all right-thinking people that development must have a human face. However, people displaced in large numbers by big dams never seem to be fully rehabilitated, or recover completely from the trauma. Thousands of Bhakra-Nangal oustees still complain of inadequate rehabilitation though the mammoth hydro-power project over the Sutlej, which began in 1946, was completed in the early 1970s. 


So enamoured was India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of this model of development that he is reported to have described it as a "New Temple of Resurgent India", worthy of worship. Today, human rights activists and environmentalists decry it as the precedent for ruinous projects such as Tehri dam, whose lethal potential manifested itself in late September when Ganga water over-flowed from the reservoir and devastated parts of Western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during heavy monsoon rains. 


It was seen by many as an intimation of the great deluge that periodically occurs, whether through man's own follies or Providence's design, bringing an end to a cycle of creation before another begins. The Tehri Hydro Development Corporation raised the water level in the reservoir, at 820 metres on August 28, up to 825 metres by September 13, in violation of Central Water Commission norms that water level should not have risen more than 2.4 metres in this period. It seriously endangered lives of humans and other living creatures in the vicinity, as well as upstream and downstream. Landslides were precipitated by the receding water level, adversely affecting settlements, and inducing road collapse. Houses in the villages of Chhaam and Chinyali Soud collapsed, forcing their inhabitants to move out. Dwellings and roads in the reservoir rim area have become fragile. Koteshwar dam, being constructed downstream of Tehri, also suffered the brunt of the overflow. 

People living near the dam, fearing landslides or worse, are staging dharnas in a bid to highlight the problems they face. Vimal Bhai of Matu People's Organisation, an NGO that has been working on behalf of oustees, states that three issues need to be addressed urgently. One, THDC should not be allowed to raise the water level in the reservoir above 800 metres. Two, Geological Survey of India should conduct its survey till the height of 1,300 metres in order to ascertain the dangers posed to the surroundings of the hydro-power project by landslides, etc. And, three, the GSI should state where the land is fragile so that rehabilitation measures can be worked out for people living there.


Parallels between Bhakra and Tehri are uncanny. The former, located in Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, is the second highest in Asia at 225.55 metres while the latter, at 260-5 metres, is the highest. An estimated one third of the people of Bilaspur province in Himachal Pradesh were displaced as about one-fifth of the province came under water. Traditional lifestyles, ecology, and numerous ancient temples and heritage sites were thus sacrificed on the anvil of 'progress', with power generation and supply of irrigation water, meant to benefit Himachal, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, having primacy. The magnitude of the devastation caused by Bhakra could have been mitigated to some extent had oustees been properly resettled. But the overall failure of the concerned agencies was evident when the dispossessed were crammed into a new town, apparently 10 times smaller than the old one. Their new homes, too, were a fraction of the size of their old ones. About 17,000 oustees were not even given this much, getting instead a meagre compensation. Even if policy-makers act now to redress grievances, the delay would have cost the intended beneficiaries dear. 


Tehri, located on the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana, and submerging a 43 sq km-area — Bhakra covers over 168 km, and the reservoir is about 90 km in length — , has similarly wrecked havoc. Old Tehri town and 37 villages were entirely submerged, and 88 villages were partially submerged. Many of the displaced were relocated to New Tehri town, overlooking the reservoir. Dehradun and Haridwar districts also harboured oustees. A study conducted by People's Union for Civil Liberties early this decade listed these facts. Among the affected families, 5,291 were urban and 4,278 were rural. Families, seen to be partially affected, were not to be rehabilitated but given money in exchange of their land. Tillers of land, for which there were no ownership papers, were denied compensation. Even those compensated, whether given cash or plots, complained of inadequate relief. Now, as Tehri environs become increasingly unsafe for existing settlements, policy-makers need to consider the wisdom of building small dams and run-of-the-river schemes in place of big dams. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CONGRESS GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE

BY FORCING THE DMK PATRIARCH AND TAMIL NADU CHIEF MINISTER M KARUNANIDHI TO AGREE TO A RAJA BEING DROPPED FROM THE UNION CABINET, THE CONGRESS HAS SHOWN IT'S ON A WINNING WICKET

KALYANI SHANKAR


Is the Congress getting more assertive in dealing with its allies despite the UPA's razor-thin majority in the Lok Sabha? Is it looking for a regrouping? Look at the way it is behaving with the NCP, the Trinamool Congress and the DMK in recent months. 


The sacking of Telecom Minister A Raja is a classic example of this assertion although the Opposition may claim victory. The Congress has come a long way from the days when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh abandoned his efforts at disinvestment of Neyveli Lignite Corporation when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi made a one line statement, saying he would have to reconsider his party's support to the UPA Government. 

The Raja episode shows an assertive Congress. Mr Raja's ouster is the culmination of a calculated strategy for the Congress's preparations for the Assembly election next year. The build-up to the sacking of Mr Raja was after sacrificing Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and asking Mr Suresh Kalmadi to resign from the Congress Parliamentary Party secretary's post earlier this month.


Even nominating Mr Prithviraj Chavan to replace Mr Ashok Chavan was an act of assertion by the Congress. It is well known that NCP chief Sharad Pawar is not favourably disposed towards Mr Prithviraj Chavan. As far as the Trinamool Congress is concerned, for the local Congress leaders it is a daily battle with Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee. 


While Mr Karunanidhi was protecting Mr Raja using the Dalit card, the Congress could not touch him citing "coalition compulsions". The Congress now feels it should draw a red line when, to quote a leader, "enough is enough".

Some say that the timing of AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa's statement seeking Mr Raja's ouster and her promise to provide 18 MPs, including her own eight, was significant. Ms Jayalalithaa has obviously been in touch with Mr HD Deve Gowda and leaders of other smaller parties. Mr Karunanidhi got the signal and reluctantly 'advised' Mr Raja to submit his letter of resignation. 


The Congress is looking for a revival of its fortunes in Tamil Nadu. With polling scheduled for next summer, the Congress and the DMK alliance is in trouble. Mr Raja's resignation has brought some clarity in the thinking of the Congress even as it has weakened the DMK. 


First, the Congress wants a 'clean' image so that it can take the moral high ground on corruption. Burdened with the the Commonwealth Games scam, the party is reluctant to be identified with other scandals and misdeeds by it leaders at the moment. 


Second, the decision to drop Mr Raja from the Union Cabinet is also a warning to the DMK that the Congress has other options. Ms Jayalalithaa has already sounded the bugle. Tamil Nadu's local Congress leaders are keen to go with the AIADMK and not the DMK. 

Third, if the Congress succeeds in registering an impressive show in the Bihar Assembly election, it could toughen its stand in Tamil Nadu. Weakening of the DMK means a better bargaining position for the Congress. 

There are several reasons for the Congress's ambition of coming back to power in a State where it has been on the periphery since 1967. First of all, the overall atmosphere in the country is beneficial to the Congress with a weak Opposition. The Congress is shining in contrast. 


The Congress, aware that its vote share is crucial for either the DMK or the AIADMK to win in the Assembly poll, finds itself in a position of strength. Also, Congress leaders are enthused by the large crowds Mr Rahul Gandhi and Ms Sonia Gandhi have been drawing.


Aware of the fact that the DMK cannot face the polls without the Congress as an ally, Ms Sonia Gandhi made no effort to appease her ally during a recent public meeting at Tiruchirapalli. This was a new signal that Ms Gandhi sent to the DMK and it fell in line. The DMK is also worried over the importance being accorded to former Union Minister EVKS Elangovan, a bitter critic of Mr Karunanidhi. 


The Congress has emerged as the rallying point for at least two regional parties — the PMK and the DMDK, the latter led by actor Vijaykanth. The PMK, a Vanniyar community-based party which had snapped its ties with the AIADMK after drawing a blank in the Lok Sabha election, is yet to decide its strategy for the Assembly election. It has been advocating a front headed by the Congress. Actor Vijaykanth's political future depends on his party's performance in next year's Assembly election although it has already notched up a 10 per cent vote-share. 


Ms Jayalalithaa has been dropping hints about power-sharing in an anttempt to wean the Congress away from the DMK. She has made her intentions clear at public meetings. As for Mr Karunanidhi, he is in a dilemma as to who should get the Telecom Ministry following Mr Raja's exit. The Congress wants to retain this Ministry.


If Ms Kanimozhi gets the Telecom Ministry, it will give a handle to Ms Jayalalithaa. She is already calling for an end to the "family rule" of Mr Karunanidhi. "A family is trying to fool us. A family is looting Tamil Nadu, go and see anywhere in any democratic country in the world, in which country can you see a father as Chief Minister, a son as Deputy Chief Minister, another son as a Union Minister, a grandson as a Union Minister, a daughter as Member of Parliament," she asks. 


Last though not the least is the fight for Mr Karunanidhi's political legacy which has become a family issue. Dynasty rules right down to the district secretary level of the DMK.


The Congress seems to be in a win-win situation as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned and the only thing it has to do is to stop infighting as there are as many groups as there are leaders. Depending on arithmetic rather than chemistry may help the Congress. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MONEY CANNOT CREATE MONEY

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


We must take some justifiable pride in our central banking policies which have contributed significantly to the relative safety we enjoy in these troubled times


There is clearly a need to prepare for an unpredictable future. The task is daunting. It is daunting because it is difficult to prepare for something which you do not quite know. This requires awesome abilities at forecasting. With due apologies to Winston Churchill on his definition of 'statesman', it could be said that a successful financial soothsayer is one who with the assurance of a pin-point accuracy foretells how the market or the economy or the political system is going to change and when it happens in an exactly opposite fashion, confidently, expresses why it happened the way it did. Not only that, he then briefly proceeds to make further similar forecast.


There is no dearth of techniques in forecasting. In international banking, many bankers sit with the Elliott Wave theory in technical analysis and economic forecasting in fundamental analysis before dumping all of them and going in for intuitive decisions, which more often than not proves to be more successful. 


Clearly, just as forecasting has its need so also it has its limitation. If one looks at the Q4 results for 2009-10 of 741 manufacturing and service companies, it is clear that they grew at 40.51 per cent for January to March. Over the same period in the last fiscal, this was almost double. Q3's top line growth of 24.02 per cent reversed the then shrinking sales of Q1. Incidentally, one is not looking into fiscal 2010-11 because there are still two quarterly results to come. 


Despite some contradictory or variant report we may reasonably accept that India is poised for an eight per cent GDP growth over the next couple of decades. Our agrarian economy seems to be having an overlay of a service-led economy. Our manufacturing sector also seems to be doing well. Much has been written about the 'Hindu' rate of growth, which is said to have characterised pre-1999 India, implying that accumulation of wealth was somehow incompatible with our ethos. If that was true, it would be impossible to explain the extensive sea voyages of Gujaratis or Tamils and the outstanding success of Indian gold and silver not to talk of Indian muslin and textile. 


The Western school of thought, of course, would have a variant on this interpretation or else it would be difficult to justify the uniqueness arrogated by it in the domain of wealth. 


Inadequate central bank supervisions, or the perception on the part of some Central banks that they should not engage in credit control or demand management are some commonly quoted, and plausible, reasons for nearly all crises. To quote Keynes, "Many of the greatest economic evils of our time are the fruits of risk, uncertainty and ignorance, yet the cure lies outside the operation of individuals. It may even be to the interest of the individuals to aggravate the disease. I believe the cure for these things is partly to be sought in the deliverable control of the currency and of the credit by a central institution." 


We must take some justifiable pride in our central banking policies which have contributed significantly to the relative safety we enjoy in these troubled times.


If we move away from the public domain and seek more corporate specific, psyche-driven causes for the financial crisis, the search may prove more result oriented. Those who may have read Arthur Hailey's Money Changers may recall the failure of Sunatco and with it the near downfall of the First Mercantile American Bank. Two decades ago, Michael Douglas as Gekko in Wall Street immortalised the motto 'Greed is good'. His oft-repeated words were, "It is not a question of enough pal. It's a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it is simply transferred from one to another."


To my way of thinking, few thinkers have so sharply focussed on the repeated downfall of industries. Quite simply these failures are rooted in the deliberate over-reach of the finance function in many a corporate set-up. Money by itself cannot create money, yet that is what is being attempted persistently. 

 

The writer is a management expert. 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

BJP'S TURN NOW

 

The BJP did well to up the ante on corruption and force the Congress to remove its chief minister in Maharashtra and the IT and communications minister at the Centre. Now, it's time the BJP looked within and ensured its leaders too measured up to the ethical standards the party has demanded from its political rivals. 

In this season of scams the new man in the limelight is B S Yeddyurappa, who heads the BJP's only government in south 
India. The opposition in Karnataka has just released documents that accuse chief minister Yeddyurappa of favouring his family members and associates in land deals. The alleged beneficiaries include the CM's two sons, state BJP president K S Eswarappa, home and transport minister R Ashoka and IT minister Katta Subramanya Naidu. Land meant for public projects and industry were denotified and distributed by the CM, despite bureaucrats pointing out that his orders were in violation of rules and regulations. Yeddyurappa's defence against charges of nepotism and irregularities is even more shocking. The CM said he only followed his predecessors. To back his claim and, perhaps, to silence his opponents, Yeddyurappa said the government was willing to consider a probe into all land allotments over the past 10 years. The defence is untenable. Corruption in the past can't be cited to justify current actions. By all means probe previous out-of-turn land allotments and take remedial action. That, however, should not come in the way of clearing the present mess in Karnataka. A clean-up there is urgently called for. 


The Yeddyurappa government has been under a cloud of corruption allegations since its inception 29 months ago. The powerful Reddy brothers from Bellary, who wield a lot of clout in his administration, are charged with illegal mining. Slush money from the state's mining and real estate sectors is a major factor that shapes political equations in Karnataka, including within the BJP. Recent rebellions within the party reportedly involved exchange of large sums of money. Now, just after winning a confidence vote in murky circumstances, the Yeddyurappa government is facing yet another crisis with nearly 60 MLAs launching a signature campaign to oust the chief minister. 


The BJP leadership needs to set its house in order in Karnataka. The moral register it has adopted in Parliament will sound hollow if the party persists with the current leadership in Bangalore. The Congress has at least asked Ashok Chavan to step down in Maharashtra. Where is the BJP's Prithviraj Chavan?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

AIM HIGHER

 

There is evidence of Indian athletes excelling in sporting events that traditionally haven't been our forte, at the ongoing Asian Games in Guangzhou. Ashish Kumar becoming the first Indian to win an Asiad gymnastics medal - bronze in the men's floor event. Virdhawal Khade came third in the men's 50 m butterfly - India's first Asiad swimming medal in 24 years. This was followed by silver and bronze in wushu - Chinese kickboxing - courtesy Sandhyarani Devi Wangkhem and Bimoljit Singh Mayanglambam. This is a healthy trend and points to the diversification of our sporting repertoire. However, India's overall performance has been disappointing so far. With only one gold medal compared to China's 109, our athletes haven't been able to replicate their strong performance in the Commonwealth Games. True, track and field events - disciplines where we could put up medal-winning performances - are yet to get underway. Nonetheless it is quite evident that Indian sport has a long way to go before it becomes a force to reckon with. 


It is a fact that beyond the realm of the armed forces and select corporations that prize and sponsor sporting talents, athletics is hardly recognised as a viable career option for youth in India. This translates into the lacklustre attitude of the sporting bodies, which have come to be staffed by politicians and their cronies who are solely interested in feathering their nests. We need to raise the bar higher if we are to arrive as a sporting superpower. Instead of an excuse, the lack of infrastructure must be seen as a reason for greater investment in sport. Let's remember, we don't win the silver, we lose the gold.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

Q&A

'I CAN'T BE PART OF A COMPROMISED CINEMA'

 

Actor Aamir Bashir , seen in movies such as Peepli Live, The Great Indian Butterfly and A Wednesday, recently directed Harud, which deals with the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. Bashir talks to Subhash K Jha about his film: 


Why did you turn to film direction? 

As an actor I feel frustrated. I couldn't even read through the work offered to me, let alone work in them. So I had a lot of time on hand. 


Why didn't you cast yourself in Harud? 

There was no role for me there. I cast actors who were suitable, like the Iranian actor Reza Naji. I knew him from the time I did research for Majid Majidi's Children Of Heaven. He has such a cinematic face. I had to explain everything to him on the phone. The rest of the actors in Harud are all local Kashmiris. These are completely raw actors. 


What made you take up the theme of insurgency in Kashmir? 

What we are seeing in Kashmir is the result of blunder after blunder by the Indian armed forces. They've messed up the situation to the extent that a small containable protest has become a massive insurgency in the Valley. The Indian state is responsible for this. Kashmiris were never treated as anything but the 'other'. The Kashmiris say, 'Humko thook (spit) se jod ke rakha hai.' They feel they're not treated like an integral part of India. When major insurgency happens in the Maoist areas there's a huge debate before armed forces are sent in. In Kashmir, it's different. If there's a stone-throwing incident there's a flag march the next day. Two Kashmiris speaking on the phone because they can't go out and are bored is interpreted in the Indian media as money changing hands. 


Your concern for Kashmir seems far more than cinematic? 

Kashmir knows how it's being treated. I am from Kashmir. Harud tells a story of a people and circumstances I am familiar with. My cousin's father-in-law had been shot dead. Harud is not a political film, but I couldn't escape politics in it. You can't avoid seeing the divide between Kashmiri civilians and the Indian armed forces. I was more interested in capturing the daily suffering and loss of dignity of the Kashmiris. The alienation of Kashmir and Kashmiris has, in my opinion, reached a point of no return. 


Did you make Harud to open up a political discussion on Kashmir? 

I didn't make it with any fixed purpose. It was a story I had to tell. I've just put forward the plight of Kashmiris. I could've directed a trendy and edgy film. I made Harud with a lot of sincerity and with a very small crew. Maybe I am digging my own grave. I can't be part of a compromised cinema. 


What do you think of other films on the Kashmir issue? 

I've only seen Mani Ratnam's Roja on the Kashmir issue. Mainstream cinema depends too much on lecture-baazi. Such films are condescending towards the audience. 

 

How much of your politics is influenced by your being an Indian Muslim? 

Though I was born a Muslim I can't call myself anything. I'm still trying to figure out what I am. As far as politics is concerned I consider myself left-of-centre. 

What next? 

I'd like to do a Kashmir trilogy. Harud means autumn. I've winter and spring in mind. I steered away from putting too much Kashmiri dialect into Harud. I didn't want the film to go straight to DVD. Maybe my next Kashmir film will be even more authentic.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SHOCK THERAPY

JUG SURAIYA 

 

The other day I got a dreadful electric shock. It was like that ad on TV which shows people's hair standing on end as a result of a faulty bijli connection. My hair not only stood on end but, while there, decided to do a couple ofsurya namaskars while it was at it. My hair is smart that way, and knows all about time-and-motion studies: if you're going to stand up on end, might as well get your money's worth with a few yoga asanas thrown in. 

The shock didn't come from an electrical appliance. As usual, there was no bijli in the National Media Centre in Gurgaon where I live. The shock I received came from a piece of paper: the electricity bill for the past two months. The bill was for Rs 28,453. Rs Twenty-eight WHAT! That's when my hair got into its acrobatic act. I thought it was a misprint, or what is referred to as 'computer error'. (Computers keep making so many errors - always to your disadvantage, and never to your benefit - that the real computer error was ours in handing over billing for sundry goods and services to these malevolent machines.) 


But when I phoned them, the bijli people assured me that there was no misprint, no computer error. I had indeed used up Rs 28,453 worth of electricity. I pleaded and argued. I pointed out that there were just two people in the house, Bunny and myself. And even if we, for some inexplicable reason, had kept all our electrical appliances - ACs, geysers, TV set - on 24x7 for the whole of the two months of the billing cycle we still wouldn't have been able to knock up a bill of 28 grand plus. Obviously there was something defective with our meter. It wasn't a computer error; it was a meter error. 


So the bijli people sent around a meter inspector. The meter inspector poked and prodded our electricity meter, did the equivalent of taking its temperature and making it stick out its tongue to see if it was OK. Having completed his medical check-up, the meter inspector pronounced our meter to be fit as not just a fiddle but the entire string section of the Gurgaon Philharmonic Orchestra, had Gurgaon had an Orchestra, Philharmonic or otherwise, which it doesn't. 


But what about all the power cuts? I asked the meter inspector. How could we possibly have run up this great big enormous bill when half the time there was no bijli to speak of? Aha, said the meter inspector. Despite all the power cuts you've still managed to run up such a big bijlibill, said the meter inspector. Can you imagine how much bigger a bill you'd have run up if you'd had power all the time? he asked. 


That's when I realised just how protective our sarkar is of us, and how it ensures that we do not overspend our hard-earned money and get into ruinous debt. The sarkar knows us well. It knows that if we're given an inch, we'll take a mile, or a million. Or rather, spend it. That is why the sarkar has created checks on our spending. These checks are called shortages. Thanks to the sarkar-created power shortage - which leads to power cuts - people like Bunny and me can't spend more than Rs 28,453 on bijli. Or take roads. Or rather, don't take them. Because they don't exist. Not in Gurgaon, not in most parts of India. The sarkar has thoughtfully created this road shortage so that foolish people like us find it difficult, if not impossible, to go to work, or whatever, and in the process spend a lot of money on transport. By making sure there's a road shortage, the sarkar makes sure we don't spend unnecessary money on gadding about here and there. 


To make sure that we don't spend too much on education or healthcare, the sarkar has created a shortage of schools and hospitals. Your food bills are too high? Relax. The sarkar will soon see to it that there is less and less food for you to buy, thus drastically reducing your food bill, not to mention drastically reducing your weight and your waistline through starvation. 

There is only one thing the sarkar has not created a shortage of. And that is itself. There is no shortage of the sarkar. And that's the most shocking thing about sarkari shock therapy. 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

ALL DECIBELS, NO DEBATE

 

If we had hoped for any clarity on the alleged telecom scam, it looks like we will have a long wait given the bedlam that has forced Parliament to adjourn five days in a row. The Supreme Court has now asked the Centre to file an affidavit on the prime minister's silence on Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy's petition seeking sanction to prosecute former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum issue. The apex court has asked that this be filed by Saturday.

 

The court is on the right track in seeking to fix accountability and responsibility in what could turn out to be a scam of unprecedented proportions. There is legal opinion also that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was right in maintaining his counsel, pending the Central Bureau of Investigation probe findings into the matter. The law will take its own course. But this does not preclude discussing the conduct of a Cabinet minister and his possible implication in a scam in Parliament.

 

The Opposition has not allowed anyone to put forward an explanation, least of all the PM, by stalling proceedings. It is only when the government is allowed to put forward its point of view, howsoever unacceptable, that the matter can be debated and mechanisms formulated so that if there were any loopholes, they can be plugged for the future. As of now, everyone has put in his or her two bit from a former telecom minister to sundry bureaucrats to politicians from different parties. The result has been that the taxpayer, who will ultimately pay the price for any form of financial misappropriation, is thoroughly confused.

 

The Opposition should at least be willing to listen to the reasons as to why the government is not in favour of a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the telecom issue at present. It is only then that it can counter them and make its own case. By rushing to the well of the House and bringing proceedings to a standstill, the Opposition is doing a disservice to the public that is waiting patiently to hear how the plot unravels. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report has been tabled. It has not let the minister off the hook. The next logical step would be for the Public Accounts Committee to look into the matter.

 

This may not be quick enough for the Opposition and we can understand its frustration as well as its desire to make political capital out of this. But its disruptive tactics should not divert attention from the real issue of whether or not a massive scam was perpetrated by the minister. In the interest of transparency and probity in public life, the Opposition and the government have to work together to ensure that Parliament functions, something no one seems to be any mood to allow at the moment.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

HE'S VOCAL ABOUT IT

 

Still waters run deep. Who would have ever thought that someone heading a cut-and-dry ministry like chemicals and fertiliser could spring a musical surprise or two? MK Alagiri gave the scam-tainted DMK something to cheer about on Wednesday night when he gave a sterling performance — sartorial as well as vocal — at his son's jumbo wedding.

 

The father of the groom not only gave up his spotless white veshti and shirt, which he normally wears, for a chocolate brown suit, but also sang numbers from Sivaji Ganesan films on the happy occasion. His dapper performance gave his party cadres as well as the Big Boss, M Karunanidhi, some happy moments, coming as they did on the heels of a scam. We don't know what M Karunanidhi told him after the performance, but surely the old songs had a nicer ring to them than the ones coming from Delhi.

 

The Union minister has always been a man of few words. We were also caught unawares by the minister's

sudden flashy self. On second thoughts, we, the keepers of all political sidelights, should have seen it coming. From August onwards, there were some signs that his staid persona was changing. After some false starts, he did notch up a first in Parliament when he broke his silence. He said, now hold your breath, it is not as flashy as say a Lalu or poetic as a Vajpayee: "Question number 161. A statement A to E is laid on the table of the House".

 

So his performance on Wednesday was in the works all these days. It's true that the feat in the House was in English, the one at his son's wedding was in his mother tongue. Nevertheless it was unexpected. But then genes always play a role in our lives. With one performance, he showed his father that he too has a taste for things filmy. Since Kollywood was well represented at the function, Mr Alagiri might just be doing an Amar Singh very soon. We will be watching.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

BEYOND THE BYTE

SETTING THE BIG CATS AMONG THE PIGEONS

PRERNA SINGH BINDRA

 

So history is dead - as embodied in the corpse of ST1, the 'first ever' tiger to be translocated into the Sariska Tiger Reserve from neighbouring Ranthambhore. His demise is the symbol of the failure and the mockery made of a crucial conservation exercise.

 

The idea of reviving the population of tiger reserves was sound - if only after apathy had ensured local extinction. The failure was in the execution, monitoring and required follow-up.

 

To rewind, ST1 was flown into Sariska in June 2008, first among the three tigers relocated between June 2008 and February 2009. But was the reserve ready for its VIP guests? No. None of the preconditions for the tiger reintroduction programme had been met.

 

No serious attempt was made to divert the highways that cut through the reserve, or reduce traffic to Pandupal, the temple in the heart of Sariska causing much disturbance to wildlife. Only Bhagani - the tiniest, village with the smallest footprint - of the four within the reserve was relocated.

 

Though forest officials asserted that the villagers were 'eager' to have the tigers back, a visit to the reserve at the time proved the local community was indifferent, merely wanting business as usual, to have access to roads, temples, and freedom for buffaloes to graze inside to feed the lucrative milk cake business.

 

Yet, the tiger was flown in, post haste because there was pressure to do it before the retirement of a senior bureaucrat in the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and before the state elections, since the Rajasthan government had 'lost face'.

 

Such lofty motives aside, it was hoped this would mark a new era for Sariska. This dream crashed when the tigers failed to breed, and herein lay another costly error-the tigers were genetically incompatible. Under pressure, an elaborate DNA exercise was conducted, but again, it is doubtful that the choice of ST4 was based on sound DNA.

 

Importantly, he was one of the four dominant males in Ranthambhore. His departure, and the consequent vacuum, created havoc in tiger society leading to infighting, and death in his former territory.

 

But the biggest error of both the state and the Centre was the lack of monitoring of the tigers. How effective were the protection mechanisms put in place? Was there sufficient, well-trained and equipped staff to trail the tigers? Why, even though it was repeatedly suggested, did the Centre not constitute a committee of experts to closely monitor the rehabilitated tigers in Sariska, given the sensitive nature of the initiative?

 

ST1 is suspected to have died of poisoning, ST4 is missing in action, feared dead. In spite of the series of blunders, Union minister Jairam Ramesh announced that another tiger will be brought to Sariska shortly. The question is not only the fiscal cost but the poor management of the translocation project and the neglect of other reserves with breeding tiger populations like Nagarjunasagar, Srilsailam, Similipal and Palamau.

 

Prerna Singh Bindra is a conservation journalist. Views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

LITTLE ON THE PLATE

MILIND MURUGKAR

 

Food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is being praised in some quarters for daring to take a politically incorrect position.

 

In a sharp disagreement with the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council's (NAC) proposal to supply subsidised food to 75% of the population, Pawar has pointed out two flaws in the proposal: first, that it is unaffordable and second that it is near impossible to procure and store the required food grain. On both these points, Pawar's position is problematic when viewed against the backdrop of his politics. The objections also indicate a superficial treatment of the subject.

 

The question of affordability is completely at odds with the UPA's rhetoric of inclusive growth. One wonders how often in his long political career Pawar has objected to subsidy measures, given that Maharashtra's sugar lobby, the backbone of his party, has survived on fat subsidies from the Central government. Pawar has obliged the sugar industry with assistance 'packages' every time the industry has hit a crisis. Clearly, objecting to the food subsidy bill is politically affordable as poor consumers, unlike the sugar lobby, are not organised to pose a political challenge.

 

The NAC's recommendation might appear populist, with the figure of 75% giving the impression of including the non-poor in the food subsidy ambit. Is this really so when 77% of India's population spend just about Rs 22 a day? A more exacting criterion of deciding poverty would leave out a significant number of people from that 77%. No matter where the poverty line is drawn, it would be ridiculous to claim that those who are marginally above it are not suffering the same hardship. Besides, people with low income levels hardly ever have steady incomes. Someone earning Rs 22 today could earn Rs 11 per day tomorrow.

 

The problem with the NAC's recommendations is not that they are too generous but that it does nothing to ensure that the food subsidy reaches the poor. Economists Bharat Ramswami and Shikha Jha have shown that more than 50% of grain meant for the Below Poverty Line (BPL) population leaks into the open market from the Public Distribution System (PDS). Leakage and poor targeting ensures 70% of the poor do not receive any subsidies from the PDS. Yet, the NAC believes the PDS will be a good enough conduit for transferring the subsidy. It is this assumption that deserves criticism.

 

One would have expected someone like Pawar to raise this problem endemic to the PDS. But then, what reforms in the food security system has he attempted during his six-year stint in the department? Except for a recent initiative involving food coupons, we have never heard Pawar voice the need for any reforms. In fact, the process of reform could have started in his home state which perhaps fares the worst when it comes to the PDS.

 

Pawar's apprehension about procurement and storage of additional grain is genuine but it has nothing to do with the NAC's recommendation. When market prices are high, the government has attempted to lower the cost of procurement by banning exports. Denying farmers international prices has been the hallmark of India's food policy. The NAC's proposal will only exacerbate this unfair taxation of food grain producers.

 

Understandably, the political inevitability of such measures stems from the absence of an effective food security cover to protect poor consumers from inflation. An alternative to food coupons that is indexed to food prices can get rid of this unfair taxation of food grain producers. But we haven't seen the agriculture minister endorse such reforms in the interest of farmers.

 

The NAC recommendations need to be criticised but it is important that the criticism be sound. The recommendations contain a genuine concern for the poor but it ignores the fact that the PDS is an ineffective way to achieve such a noble end.

 

Milind Murugkar is a food and agriculture policy analyst with Pragati Abhiyan. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

BIHAR'S MR FIX-IT

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

 

Predicting elections is hazardous business, and can be detrimental to a journalist's health. In the highly competitive world of Indian elections, the hawa (wind) we base our analysis on can suddenly change direction, leaving us floundering in its tail end. But with all the statutory warnings, let me bite the bullet and make a prediction based on a 48-hour whistle stop tour of Bihar: Nitish Kumar is poised to return to power with a massive majority. There is no gentle breeze blowing through Bihar in 2010, it's almost a gale storm, one that threatens to rewrite the political sociology of the state.

 

Travelling with Nitish is a revelation. There is virtually no mention of caste in his speeches, although he has carefully fashioned an alliance on the ground of extremely backward castes, Mahadalits and backward Muslims. The focus is instead on a vocabulary unheard of in the state in over two decades: roads, primary health centres, girls' education, thermal power plants. The crowds listen to him in rapt attention, despite Nitish's limitations as a public speaker. The only rhetorical flourish he permits himself is when he promises to confiscate the property of corrupt officials and set up schools instead. 

 

In alphabetical terms, Nitish has created a new 'SSS' of politics: sadak, shiksha, suraksha. The gleaming highways and pucca village roads are Bihar's new pride. The bicycles for girls studying in ninth standard have become a symbol of women's empowerment. But the biggest achievement of the last five years is undoubtedly law and order. In a state which has been lampooned in Bollywood and beyond as a land of thieves and kidnappers, Nitish Kumar has positioned himself as 'The Terminator'. The gangs have either been locked up or have disappeared. No longer do police officers have to ring up the CM's residence before arresting a gangster.

 

Little surprise then that Nitish's most enthusiastic supporters seem to be women and youth. For women, who have also been provided 50% reservation in panchayats, the ability to just move out after dusk, be it in Patna or Purnea, is liberating. For the youth, who have been desperate to look for a future outside the state, the improved security situation means that a night out at the cinema is no longer a distant fantasy. In an atmosphere of renewed hope, no one exemplifies the dark past more than Lalu Prasad, the man who once promised to make Bihar's roads as "smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks" but left them as lunar craters. Lalu's charisma is intact, he still offers the best one-liners (including a promise of Rs 2 aloo from Lalu), but somehow he is now a caricature of the rustic king he once was. You still smile at his jokes, but it's more out of a nostalgic remembrance of an old comedy film.

 

In the 1990s, Bihar perhaps needed a Lalu-like figure, someone who had the courage and the chutzpah to take on the state's upper caste establishment on his own terms. When he arrested LK Advani in 1990, he became an instant icon for fearful Muslims. Today, when he warns the Muslim voter of the 'saffron forces' returning to power, the threat doesn't seem to strike a chord: like the rest of Bihar, its large Muslim population also wants to be part of the growth story. The fact that there hasn't been a single communal incident in Bihar in the last five years makes it even more difficult for Lalu to revive his traditional Muslim-Yadav combine.

 

Indeed, the taming of the BJP's hotheads has been another Nitish achievement. This isn't the BJP of the Ram Mandir, but a political party which has, like Nitish and Lalu, grown through the womb of the JP movement and fierce anti-Congressism. By ensuring that his alliance partner stays away from the slightest identification with Hindutva politics - recall his refusal to share even poster space with Narendra Modi - Nitish Kumar has almost succeeded in doing what even a Vajpayee could not achieve at the national level: converting the Bihar BJP into a moderate political force which even Muslims seem ready to vote for.

 

It's not just Lalu, even Rahul Gandhi's Congress is being swept aside by the Nitish wave. If UP last year hinted at a revival of Congress fortunes in the Hindi heartland, Bihar 2010 might confirm the limitations of parachute politics. A handful of Rahul rallies can be no substitute for the near-absence of a political organisation on the ground. That the Congress has chosen to field Lalu's discredited relatives and the wives of mafia dons is proof of the bankruptcy of the party's Bihar unit.

 

And yet, as Nitish appears set for victory, his real challenge could well begin now in managing rising expectations. Education has received a boost, but jobs remain scarce. Security has been provided, but investments haven't come in. Crime has been controlled, but petty corruption appears to have grown. Roads have been built, but power remains a crisis. Patna's spanking new revolving restaurant is an aspirational symbol, but leapfrogging out of poverty is still tough for the majority. Nitish himself may have acquired a larger-than-life image, but the Janata Dal United he leads has shrunk, forcing him to rely on a core team of bureaucrats to implement his policies. Nitish Raj is here, but the crown of Pataliputra will never rest easily.

 

Post-script: Nitish may have refused to allow Narendra Modi to campaign in Bihar, but ironically, the two leaders have remarkably similar personalities. Shunning family ties, their austere private lives co-exist with a strong authoritarian streak. Both have focused on making personal integrity and development-plus politics their calling card. While Modi is already a Hindutva posterboy, Nitish is on his way to being seen as a new-age Mandal revolutionary. Their individual battles could well shape the future of anti-Congress politics.   

 

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WUSHU EVERYWHERE

 

A shudder reportedly runs through various teams when a sport is included in major competitions; they know it's a matter of time before their supremacy is ably challenged by Chinese competitors. China has a long and comprehensive strategy of giving state support to medal-winning possibilities; and at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and even more easily at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, the success is evident. China now tops medal tallies as a matter of habit. The result is that Chinese athletes (along with other Asian athletes in assorted disciplines) have raised their game so high that in many events the difference between the world's and Asia's best is erased. So imagine the joy of two young women, one Iranian and the other Indian, when they took gold and silver in Guangzhou in wushu, a Chinese martial art. Sandhyarani Devi, a CRPF constable hailing from Manipur, in fact soldiered while carrying an injury. And her task was not made any easier, given that Iranian Khadijeh Azadpour is the reigning world champion in the 60 kg category. Yet, in a curious way, this success of non-Chinese athletes in what's seen to be such a Chinese sport may just be the kind of thing to help China achieve its long, and thus far fruitless, quest to have wushu listed as an Olympic event.

 

Multi-sport events are always negotiating what competitions to drop and which to include. One of the criteria a new sport must meet is to show some geographic spread. So, if a very Chinese sport like wushu at some point makes it to the Olympics, do think of a woman from India and another from Iran.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POLITICS OF DISRUPTION

 

It was a curious sighting. In the short time till Parliament was adjourned for yet another day on Thursday, opposition parties, led by the BJP and AIADMK, shouted down the two Houses demanding a joint parliamentary committee investigation into irregularities in the 2G spectrum allocation. This was obviously expected. But this time Congress MPs too added their bit to the din, shouting slogans against the B.S. Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka for very questionable decisions relating to land. 2G and land denotification, respectively, have rendered the Central and Karnataka governments politically shaken, and their opponents would predictably like to drive the point home. However, the sight of ruling party MPs adding to the disruption in Parliament shows the wreckage from which this winter session must be salvaged.It's clear that the leaderships of political parties in government and in opposition have abandoned this week to a politics of obstructionism. Of course, Parliament is essentially theatre. It's the arena for disputation, for a contest between different points of view, for the opposition to show itself to be holding the government to task, and for the government to give an account of its plans and actions. But the trend for too many years now is for the opposition to use disruption alone to make a point — and for the government to too easily submit to the tactic, and cram the legislative agenda between disruptions. The argumentation that should ideally inform daily transactions in the House has been allowed to escape to other forums. Take the opposition's demand for a JPC and government's submission that the public accounts committee is equipped for the task of examining the CAG's report. Surely, even that argument and counter-argument should have taken place on the floor of the House?The worry is not that MPs are not up to the task. There are enough nooks in a Parliament session — the structured debate, a marquee bill — when they repeatedly rise to the occasion. It is, instead, that they do not choose to work out ways in which to show themselves to be consistently invested in the normal functioning of the House. The consequent disruptions may score political points, but they also feed a dangerous cynicism about politics.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A TENSE BALANCE

 

In an unusual and attention-getting move, the Supreme Court has asked why the prime minister had done nothing for over 11 months, in response to a petition sent by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, asking for action against former Telecom Minister A. Raja. That question is indeed pressing, and what the whole country wants to know. Why did the prime minister straddle the fence for so long when he was clearly aware of the rule-bending over the 2G spectrum

 

allocation? Manmohan Singh has certainly squandered some moral capital over this spectrum scandal. The image of integrity is arguably the biggest strength he has, and by letting this scam fester for so long, the prime minister and the Congress party have put that at risk. This is why it is important that the DMK does not get the telecom ministry back.

 

Even so, the Supreme Court is treading dangerous territory. The relationship between the judiciary and the executive is delicate and tremendously important. When an

 

institution as august as the apex court makes these remarks, they cannot be easily swatted away. The last thing that the court or the executive would like is the appearance of a judiciary-government faceoff. At the moment the government and the Congress party face a crisis of credibility for accommodating the telecom swindle for so long. The investigations into the full dimensions of the spectrum scam — the political actors, the civil servants, lobbyists and corporations — must be thorough, just and punishing.

 

This intense attention on the prime minister is a good thing — it has sent a powerful ripple through the political system, and will certainly drive home the point that India is more unforgiving of corruption than ever

 

before. Manmohan Singh, as the man who leads this government, cannot evade responsibility for cleaning up now. But it must still be remembered that the fight against corruption must proceed along established procedures of law, and not insinuation — to resolutely focus on the prime minister and vent all the disappointment and anger might be satisfying for the public and convenient for the opposition, but it distracts from the harder work of finding out how processes were subverted. Culpability must be assigned with care, and a sense of proportion.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LOOK, INDIA IN RUINS

BIBEK DEBROY 

 

With 2G described as the mother of all scams, it's time to take a wider look at the state of our infrastructure. Infrastructure means different things to different people. "Infra" is below or under. Therefore, anything that supports the economic structure or system from below is infrastructure. This may mean physical infrastructure, as well as social overhead capital, though more commonly, it is the former. In 1994, the World Bank's World Development Report (WDR) focused on infrastructure for development and divided physical or economic infrastructure into three heads — public utilities (power, telecommunications, piped water supply, sanitation, sewerage, solid-waste collection and disposal, piped gas), public works (roads, dams, canals) and other transport (urban transport, railways, ports, waterways, airports). To this, we can explicitly add postal services, radio, television transmission and solid-waste management. We also owe a number to that 1994 WDR. One per cent increase in infrastructure stock increases GDP by 1 per cent. Indian figures are higher. The National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council's National Strategy for Manufacturing talked about incremental GDP growth of 1.5 per cent, 1 per cent from the power sector alone. Some of the finance minister's speeches have increased this to 2 per cent. That represents opportunity cost of low growth. The most visible signs of infrastructure success are in telecom, associated with the mother of all scams. The most visible signs of infrastructure failure are in electricity. Maternity is certain. Paternity is conjecture. Is that why we are obsessed with success (scam notwithstanding) in telecom and generally ignore the father of failure in other infrastructure sectors? Policy apart, technology drove telecom. Technology doesn't work the same way for other areas of infrastructure.And infrastructure is bad in most of India. Because of administrative convenience, one often focuses on variations among states. For example, the Twelfth Finance Commission divided states into five categories, segregated according to an infrastructure index. At the upper end, we had Goa, Maharashtra and Punjab. At the lower end, we had Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Rajasthan.However, this is more than just states, since there are variations within states, with backward regions within them. Of India's 600-odd districts, 100 are backward by all physical infrastructure criteria. The phrase "inclusive growth" is a misnomer. We really mean inclusive development. Several NSSO reports show how bad it is. For example, there is a recent (November 15) report on housing conditions and amenities, with data for 2008-09. To take one example, 18 per cent of rural households had drinking water within premises, latrines and electricity. What is inclusive development? It probably means access to electricity, water (drinking and irrigation) and road transport, together with law and order. If these are ensured, social sector outcomes (schools, primary health centres) will automatically follow. These connectivities were supposed to be ensured through PURA (Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas).This has now been subsumed under Bharat Nirman (water supply, housing, telecom and IT, roads, electrification, irrigation). Is it working? Not convincingly. Every civilisation has realised the importance of infrastructure. The Romans built roads and bridges wherever they went (there were maritime routes too), and eventually introduced a legal system. Why look to the Romans for everything? Sher Shah Suri is a better example. He reformed taxation, organised mail services and police and improved law and order. He built roads (not just the Grand Trunk Road), dug wells, established hospitals and free kitchens, and without the benefit of a National Advisory Council. Interestingly, he was a governor of Bihar then. Why did it take us so many years after Independence to realise roads were important? But surely, everything has changed now. There is a Committee on Infrastructure under the PM's chairmanship, constituted in August 2004. To hammer home the point, there is a Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure, also chaired by the PM, and constituted in July 2009. There is a Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee, between the Department of Economic Affairs and the Planning Commission. There is viability gap funding and an Inter-Ministerial Empowered Committee for this. The India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited has been created. There are model concession agreements for PPP projects, model bidding agreements, guidelines and manuals. With all this concentrated attention, infrastructure should have taken off.The mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan brings us down to earth. Between the Tenth and Eleventh Plans, infrastructure investment increased from 5 per cent of GDP to 7.55 per cent. However, public investment in electricity has flagged and so have roads, despite a target of 20 km per day and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Railways have underperformed, including on PPP. Airports vary. Except for some private ones, seaports have been underachievers. Water supply, irrigation and other elements of Bharat Nirman are underperformers. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation tracks Central sector projects above a threshold (separately Rs 1,000 crore, Rs 100 crore and Rs 20 crore). Of 600-odd projects, more than 200 have had cost overruns. More than 300 have had time overruns. The mother of all scams cost us Rs 1,76,645 crore. However, the father of failure through cost overruns alone cost us Rs 1,16,724 crore. The latter is no trifling sum. The Planning Commission blames it on state governments — law and order, land acquisition, rehabilitation and settlement, obtaining environmental clearances. Asaf-ud-Daula built Bara Imambara in Lucknow as an employment guarantee measure in 1783. He had an asset at the end, though its productive nature might be disputed. NREGA doesn't provide for creation of productive assets (not even for water harvesting), isn't integrated with other elements of Bharat Nirman and doesn't provide for maintenance. Thus, the problem is also with the Central template, including for Centrally sponsored and Central sector schemes.There are two McKinsey reports (Financing and Investing in Infrastructure, Accelerating Infrastructure Projects) worth flagging. The quality of planning and engineering design is poor. It is common to tender unviable PPP projects. Inappropriate contracts are used. The pre-tendering approval process is centralised and slow. Dispute resolution processes are ineffective. Performance management is weak. There is insufficient availability of skilled and semi-skilled manpower. There are weak risk management skills. Design and engineering skills are below par. Procurement practices are not the best. Lean construction practices are not used. At one time, infrastructure was defined in terms of economies of scale and externalities, both seemingly public good arguments, since there are market failures. With unbundling opportunities and possibilities of de-linking public provisioning from public financing, that's no longer true. However, whether it is public, PPP or private, beyond land and environment, the administrative system seems incapable of delivering. If you feel depressed at this, read a book authored by Pat Choate and Susan Walter in 1981. This was titled America in Ruins and argued the US economy would collapse because of inadequate infra-structure. It may well have been translated into Chinese.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

SEVERAL BENDS IN NEPAL

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE 

 

Openness has almost become an alien feature of Nepali politics. That most crucial decisions are taken away from public glare is not an exception but the rule. The decision to extend the tenure of the constituent assembly by a year, when it failed to deliver the constitution on May 28, 2010, was taken just 28 minutes prior to the deadline's expiry. The decision to abolish the monarchy was taken when a bill was introduced at midnight by a government that had neither taken oath of office nor even secured a majority. But on both occasions, the three major parties that have led the government in rotation since 2006 — the Nepali Congress, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — claimed they actually saved the nation and democracy. But at most, these three parties, plus the United Madhesh Democratic Front that's emerged as the fourth largest, have come together just to save their honour and privileges as parliamentarians. Yet, they are a scared lot today. They have been complaining that they feel insecure going to the electorate — increasingly angry and restive — over the failure to give the country a constitution and a legitimate government. Their latest decision, in the same manner, to let the caretaker government pass the budget this week isn't a larger national game, except that a Maoist faction has won the intra-party struggle, at least for now. Why did the UCPN-M, which had questioned the caretaker government's right to present the budget, mysteriously relent? The country would be paralysed, its development halted, and government employees unable to draw their salary without a budget by November 16. A day earlier, parliament's authorisation to spend from the consolidated fund ended. The House and its members would logically be the target of mass fury.Nepal's interim constitution envisages a ridiculously idealistic equation among parliamentary parties, that they'll allow the House to run smoothly for ever, and Speaker Subhash Nembang has taken this ideal by the letter. In the past, any obstruction has led to adjournment of the House without transacting any business. The UCPN-M has other reasons to relent too. Its 19,000-strong cadre, lodged in 28 cantonments and drawing salary from government coffers, will starve. They would never forgive the Maoist leadership if the budget were blocked. Second, these combatants and 238 party parliamentarians would no longer be paying Rs 3,000 and Rs 10,000 per head monthly as levy to the party. However, it has political implications for the UCPN-M which appears on the verge of a vertical split — at least at its politburo and standing committee levels — as it readies for its "extended meeting" beginning November 21, in which around 7,000 delegates willparticipate.

 

Maoist chief Prachanda, his most ardent comrade till last year, Baburam Bhattarai, and the party's most respected ideologue, Mohan Baidya (Kiran), have presented separate reports with clarifications. Prachanda faces open charges of promoting corruption. Baidya warns that cleansing the current system is not possible, the party must go for a fresh mass revolt or "revolution" to capture power, and that India must be fought as an expansionist force — a statement that Prachanda concurs with. But Prachanda still appears to command majority and wants to teach a lesson to the

 

challengers.Bhattarai, who influenced the UCPN-M parliamentary party to support the budget initiative, has reasons to keep parliament alive and be on good terms with the parties who were part of the April 2006 movement for democracy. In the event of a kick from Prachanda, Bhattarai will need a fall-back. But the uncertainties only get deeper. A possibility of a patch-up between Prachanda and Bhattarai — in favour of a mass revolt, exposing India as an "enemy" — may be a blow to Nepal's peace process; and the self-acclaimed democratic forces, the key actors in this failure, might have to beg the president and the army to "save democracy and the nation".

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ASSESSING OBAMA

SEEMA CHISHTI 

 

Assessing Obama

 

Strong reactions to US President Barack Obama's visit have been reported by many influential papers. In a front-page commentary, Jamaat-e-Islami's bi-weekly, Daawat (November 13) writes: "there is need for giving thought to the negative aspects of the US president... Mr Obama himself spoke highly at the joint press conference about the warm welcome accorded to him by India, but he did not come up to the expectations of our country... after demonstrating the realities of the attack in Mumbai, India had hoped that he would definitely say something about it and support the Indian viewpoint. But though students in Mumbai raised this issue, the US president disappointed India." The paper further adds, "as far as the issue of permament membership of the Security Council is concerned, for which America has announced support, and which our politicians in power have been celebrating, it is not a big success. The US has been supporting a permanent membership of the UNSC for Japan for a long time but nothing has happened. It seems that nothing will come out of such verbal support to us — its only a matter of consoling oneself."

 

Hyderabad-based Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in an editorial entitled, 'Jholi Obama ki' (Obama's begging bowl) writes; "all US presidents visiting India have tried to give a particular direction to India's relations with the US, bringing an assortment of policies in their bowls... but all through Obama's visit, the strongest president in the world looked weak and India looked strong." The paper also says he demonstrated a "soft corner" for Pakistan and did not make any "stunning announcement." Expressing similar sentiments, Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on November 8, writes that Obama did not utter a word on the David Headley affair. The paper writes: "the objective of the visit was to develop trade ties with India in such a manner that it would help to reduce the impact of the crisis in the American economy."

 

The spreading smear

 

In its lead story titled 'A. Raja qusoorwaar' (A. Raja is guilty), Rashtriya Sahara on November 17 highlighted the CAG report against the former minister. Talking of the Supreme Court's observation about the PMO, the paper asks: "why the silence relating to Raja ?" The paper has described the Supreme Court's observation as a "sensational turn in the 2G spectrum scam."

 

The Raja affair and other big cases of corruption have been the subject of much discussion. Writing about the Adarsh Society scam, the daily Sahafat (published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun) in its editorial on November 7 says that the army has been hit by allegations. "These things were considered specific to Pakistan and the Pakistani army... as far as India is concerned, the armed forces had a special dignity... inspite of individual cases of spying, the character of the common armyman was considered spotless. Regrettably, that cannot be said now. The paper's editor and well-known iterary figure, Hasan Kamal, in a column entitled 'Ae Mere Watan ke Logo' writes: "In the Mumbai scam of Adarsh society, a name more prominent than that of politicians has been that of former army chief Deepak Kapoor. Remember, he is the same Kapoor whose aide, Lt Gen Avadesh Kumar, was found involved in the Sukna land deal scandal too." Kamal has also elaborated on several other aspects of the army which have been in the news recently — the pay structure as well as what he terms "caste factors in the recruitment of personnel." The cases of corruption in the management of the Commonwealth Games and the arrest of two Organising Committee members have also been discussed by several papers.

 

Runaway train

 

RASHTRIYA SAHARA on November 8 writes; "a goods train on the Gomo-Gaya stretch of the Dhanbad division of the Eastern Railway kept running for about 42 km without the brake working and then for 10 km without anyone in charge, without a driver or a guard, both of whom jumped out of the train once the brake failed and were badly injured. After great effort to keep the line clear at many stations on the way, to allow the train to pass, the OHT power was cut and the train finally crawled to a stop near a station without any collision anywhere." An inquiry has been ordered in the incident, according to the newspaper.

 

Compiled by Seema Chishti

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LAUGHING GAS

HARNEET SINGH 

 

If you make a list of top 10 film-makers of the Indian film industry, there is a high probability that Rohit Shetty's name won't be on it. Yet, going by his track record, he is currently the most successful director around. The brain behind the mindless comedy series, Golmaal, Shetty has patented a formula: loud gags, characters with speech problems, a VIBGYOR colour palette, that Goan setting and thrills disguised as a car-and-bike show. He must be doing something right because all three Golmaal movies have made money. The latest, Golmaal 3, which released with much fanfare on Diwali, is on its way to becoming a major money-spinner. Shetty's big rival in the genre of mindless comedies is Sajid Khan, of Heyy Babyy and Housefull. Khan's idea of movie smarts is to have a parrot being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and his idea of a killer climax is to have a scene where laughter gas is unleashed in the Buckingham Palace. Lame is not the word. I'm convinced this bit was not even in the script. It sounds more like an on-set joke that Khan must have cracked — "Let's have everyone laughing in the film, even the characters who are upset and angry with each other. We don't have to resolve anything. Let's just release laughter gas so that everyone starts laughing. That'll be so entertaining." Just so you know, Housefull made money at the box office too.Critics hardly ever get the jokes that Shetty, Khan and Co. crack but the audience certainly does. Trade gurus lead us to believe that these films are happily lapped up by the same audience who watches Comedy Circus religiously on primetime television. The hit ratio of these critic-proof comedies explains why Anees Bazmee of No Entry and Singh Is Kinng fame is currently helming three projects: while Anil Kapoor produces No Problem, Akshay Kumar stars in Thank You and Ready will be Salman Khan's post-Dabangg release. Once again, if you make a list of the top 10 film-makers, chances are you'll miss out on Bazmee.Then there is the prolific Priyadarshan. He is always shooting a movie. When he's not making national award-winning dramas in Malayalam and Tamil, he's directing something which invariably has a climax in which everybody is running after everybody else till the end credits roll. Those who watch his films know that Priyan (as he is fondly called) likes to end all his films with note saying "filmed by Priyadarshan." Does this mean he doesn't want to assume the responsibility of a director? Is he acknowledging that he's no longer a film-maker, but just an executive? Just for the record, Subhash Ghai has roped him to direct a comedy for his banner, Mukta Arts.The founding father of the mindless comedy club is of course, David Dhawan. Hailed as Director No. 1 in the good ol' days of khatiyas and Raja Babu, Dhawan might have lost out on awards, but not on commercial success. His Govinda-Karishma Kapoor brand of movie madness started the loud-gag trend. Dhawan's comedies filled the space left vacant by the heartwarming, feel-good comedies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Dhawan's were the 90s version: OTT, crass and pedestrian. To be fair, Govinda made most of them watchable — but saturation was inevitable. As Dhawan slowed down (2007's Partner was his last hit), Bazmee, Shetty and Khan took over. They are at full speed right now.Here's something to look forward to. Apparently the biggest gag in Bazmee's No Problem is a farting gorilla.So who's going to laugh?

 

harneet.singh@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ON THE SPOT WITH INDIRA

PCSHARMA 

 

Indira Gandhi struck up an amazing affinity with India's masses and travelled to every nook and corner of this vast land. As a police officer, I saw her on several occasions during her visits to Assam. On October 2, 1970, she came to unveil Mahatma Gandhi's statue on Sarania Hill in Guwahati. Security was arranged for the afternoon, but when she arrived it was getting dark. Sensitive to the feelings of the people waiting, she wanted to be seen by them even so. She decided to sit in the front seat of the Ambassador car, holding an electric torch. A glimpse of Indira Gandhi, made radiant by the focused light, was the reward for those waiting. Driven by persecution and hunger, millions of people from what was then East Pakistan trudged long distances for shelter and survival in Assam in 1971. She came to visit the refugee camps, which accommodated lakhs of people, men, women and children, young and old, sick and dying. The stench moved her, but did not make her flinch.Mrs Gandhi was again in Guwahati in December 1976, to preside over a Congress party session. Being in charge of the security of the venue, I watched her unfurl the party flag; her voice choked when she spoke about sacrifices made by the Indian people to win independence. She would come to the session, morning and afternoon, wearing colourful regional costumes representing the variety of the Northeast. One day she came dressed in Assamese mekhla and chadar, providing onlookers with much-wanted relief from the cacophony of politics. The security arrangements at the dais were tight and unobtrusive, but I could see that she kept surveying the entire venue frequently and intently, alert to her surroundings.In 1983, Assam was torn by unprecedented communal/ethnic violence. Thousands who fled their homes were given shelter and relief in camps. Fighting the violence was the Assam police, led by the redoubtable K.P.S. Gill; they worked days on end to quell the fury of the mob. We did not sleep for days, could not change our shoes or uniforms, had no time even to shave. It was most painful to see communal passions devastate areas where people of different groups — religious and ethnic — had been living in peace and harmony.The prime minister came to see the conditions of the victims in their camps. It was a daunting task for the police engaged in security bandobast, especially as Indira Gandhi ignored all warnings of threats and danger. She was keen to visit the people and they were eager to receive her even in the midst of their misery. I was on duty in Madhavpara, a hamlet in Nagaon district, when she came to visit. I saw her helicopter land on a helipad in a paddy field. From the helipad she walked straight to the "Namghar", a place for religious gatherings that had been converted into a temporary camp. Immediately, the people surrounded her. They were waiting to see her for they knew she was there to listen to their woes. The grateful people performed aarti, gave her "gamcha" and "jhappi", the traditional Assamese welcome. Again, she was moved, again the bonding was complete.Her visit to Nellie — a vast, difficult and forested terrain ravaged by violence — has permanently stayed in my memory. Several bigwigs made ritualistic visits to the place but the two who came to give comfort and solace were Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi. The police had mounted security arrangements when the PM's helicopter landed at Jogigopa, a small town nearby.On arrival, the PM just listened. She did not react to what she was being told — but grasped the gravity of the situation in no time. She then decided to visit the area in a jeep. The stench in the air, the dust of the unpaved road was nauseating. Covering her face with her sari, Indira Gandhi got down from the jeep and surveyed as much of the area as the topography permitted. For me it was a unique experience, being on the spot. Before leaving, Mrs Gandhi did not fail to thank us, and gave us coffee and water from her helicopter to help refresh ourselves. We felt encouraged to continue to do our duty. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion left us as the chopper soared into the sky with the prime minister on board.

 

The writer, a former director of the CBI, is a member of the National Human Rights Commission

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE GREAT BRITISH SHOW

 

I left a ramshackle, rumpled and rather gloomy Britain three decades ago and returned recently to the surveillance state. On an average day in London you can expect to be filmed by more than 300 cameras. Eight British cities, including Wigan, have more cameras than Paris. You see them everywhere — and they see you. The omnipresence of Big Brother is scarcely an upper. So I was intrigued to see that the government plans to introduce a "happiness index," a measure of the psychological wellbeing of Brits. That struck me as a bold move in a cold season of insecurity and cuts. Then — politicians need luck — a royal wedding was announced, sending everyone's felicitometer up a blip or two. Suddenly all the cameras were on Prince William, the next-but-one king of England, and his gorgeous brown-haired fiancée, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, or Kate, with her radiant smile and English-rose complexion. He calls her "Babykins." She knows him as "Big Willie." The couple, every royal analyst agrees, is on cloud nine. As a Brit once observed, "All you need is love." Love plus the British monarchy, I'd say. "Thrilled, obviously," was the response of Prince Charles, the groom's father, next king and unerring master of the felicitous phrase. "They have been practicing long enough." That was an allusion to the nine-year courtship begun at St Andrews University. You can't make this stuff up. Since I left, British Steel has gone, British Leyland too, as Britain checked out of producing things. London morphed into the capital of global capital, as the gleaming new City high-rises attest. Money and the superrich poured in, the so-called squeezed middle got squeezed out of desirable neighbourhoods and schools and eventually jobs. They became the "coping classes" — and found it harder to cope. Russians came, and Poles, and Pakistanis; the sidewalks got so crowded there's talk of introducing fast lanes. London sprawled. Tube stations got so jammed they're sometimes "exit only," which does diminish their usefulness. The new bread line is the money line, great winding queues of people waiting to get at ATM's ("cash machines"), all mysteriously located outside banks rather than inside, a devious further attempt, it seems, to sabotage pedestrian mobility. Still, nobody's bought out the monarchy yet and nobody's stopped Prince Charles putting his foot in his mouth. Continuity can seem like a consolation. Perhaps the monarchy is there precisely to make even convinced republicans wonder whether irrational symbolism on an outlandish scale, and an immutability scarcely less immense, doesn't satisfy some deep human need. Certainly, Britain betrayed buoyancy this week. Estimates of the 2011 royal-nuptial stimulus have been as high as $1 billion. That's once you factor in all the "Will 'n Kate" commemorative memorabilia (anyone for a two-handled loving cup?), wedding tourism and binge boozing and feasting for the celebration. It's really brilliant. Prime Minister David Cameron's cabinet reacted with "a great banging of tables." The United States needs this sort of fillip. Perhaps the couple could honeymoon in New Jersey. Economic stimulus is also about intangibles — morning in America and all. Nobody binges in Gloomsville, home of many Americans today. A full-circle feeling has gripped me. It was another season of economic gloom when I departed, the "winter of discontent" of early Thatcher, with British Steel on strike, unemployment headed skyward, public spending cuts rampant, social unrest brewing (the devastating Brixton and Toxteth riots were just a year away), and the Yorkshire Ripper prowling. No wonder my one-year assignment turned into three peripatetic decades. I've returned now to high unemployment, tube strikes, a riot by protesting students at Conservative party headquarters, and cuts, cuts, cuts that have not only students but generals, police chiefs, middle-class moms, actors and labor leaders protesting Cameron's balance-the-budget blitzkrieg against benefits, services and subsidies. (There's even talk of some of those surveillance cameras running out of film — a huge upside to the austerity.) Plus ça change. But things do change, really. Take the royal weddings, then and now, punctuating the moroseness at a 30-year interval. Princess Diana was a fairytale figure, plucked young from an aristocratic family to play a Cinderella role: Only love was lacking, with disastrous results.

 

By contrast, Kate's parents, once British Airways employees, started life in an apartment in downtown Slough, before making it, Thatcher-style, with an online business selling stuff for kids' parties. The bride-to-be is a "commoner" and, yes, she's been "practicing" with Flight-Lieutenant William Wales. They seem to know what love is in a more open, tolerant Britain. She surely won't have a 25-foot train like Diana, whose engagement ring is now hers. Theirs will be an austerity-conscious wedding, ostentatiously so.

 

Britain copes. That's what it does. Through soggy leaves and muddy goalmouths and drip-drip damp, it carries on, past Thatcher revolutions and all that cool Britannia froth. Some quality endures, an ability to change and manage and laugh. As another Brit observed — and the happiness index may now show — "It's getting better all the time."

 

Sort of, anyway. Turn off those cameras, turn down the surveillance society, and turn up, please, for a great British show only Brits know how to produce.

 

Roger Cohen

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

UNRAVELLING RAJA


After the CAG did its bit by highlighting the modus operandi of the Raja scandal, Trai has taken the next step, of recommending that 69 of the 131 licences issued since 2006 (122 by Raja) be cancelled, and another Rs 600 crore of penalties be levied on others. Trai's likely move was first reported by FE on October 29; with Trai deciding to wait for the latest subscriber data, the recommendation got delayed by a few weeks. Among the licences to be cancelled are all those issued to Swan Telecom, which later changed its name to Etisalat DB after it sold 45% of its equity to Etisalat of the UAE for Rs 4,200 crore—Swan came in for particular attention in the CAG report as the CAG said the ADAG group owned more than 10% in it, including preference shares of Re 1 that it bought at a whopping Rs 1,000 each, and was therefore ineligible. Nineteen of the 20 licences issued to Loop Telecom (also in the CAG report), 10 of the 20 of Videocon Group's Datacom, and 8 of the 22 of Uninor (Norway's Telenor bought 67.25% of this licence from Unitech for Rs 6,120 crore).

So it's now over to new minister Kapil Sibal to take action. While many in the ruling UPA believe Raja was doing nothing but following the practices of his predecessors—this list includes worthies like the Attorney General who defended Raja's actions, and lost, in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court—the Trai's recommendations have little to do with this. Trai is not concerning itself with first-come first-served or the valuation of the licences. Since the government has not done its job of levying penalties on those companies who failed to roll out their networks, and later cancelling those where the rollout was very poor, Trai has recommended this. While the CAG report talks of the distortions Raja caused by changing the definition of first-come first-served (he based it on the time of paying licence fees instead of the earlier time of application) and of the revenue losses to the government by not auctioning the licences, the CAG found 85 of the 122 licences were issued to companies who never even met the minimum criterion specified by Raja's own ministry. So the 85 licences flagged by the CAG, which includes most of the 69 recommended by Trai, is pretty straight forward and involves no complicated legal opinions or long-drawn examination by the telecom ministry.

 

So if Kapil Sibal wishes to act on unravelling the Raja scam, there is plenty for him to do. What he must keep in mind, though, is that several officers in his ministry are those that helped Raja give out these very licences, there are several that ignored the fact that 85 of the 122 applicants should have been disqualified, there are several who refused to levy penalties and cancel licences when it was obvious the rollout obligations were not being met. Forwarding the Trai's recommendations, and the CAG report, to these same officials will indicate Sibal is not serious about taking action.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TIZZY WITH NUMBERS

 

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) has a new report titled, The Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows from India. The period covered is 1948 to 2008 and the headline grabbing number is that India has lost $462 billion through capital flight. This is based on opportunity costs of capital lost (rates of return on short-term US treasury bills) and the actual capital flight is estimated at $213 billion. Traditional estimations of capital flight are based on trade invoicing and the prevalent wisdom is that such capital flight should have declined post-reforms, with realistic exchange rates and reasonable tax rates. GFI's report is not restricted to trade. It includes capital account also and tracks deposits in banks and offshore financial centres. It argues that 54.9% of such deposits are now (2009) in offshore financial centres, not in developed country banks. What will be of concern is the finding that $19 billion was siphoned off every year during the period 2004 to 2008 and 68% of capital flight occurred post-1991. Since returns to capital in India are high, why should this occur? GFI argues that high net worth private individuals and companies have been prime movers behind capital flight and liberalisation has provided new instruments. That's fine and Financial Action Task Force (which India joined in June) identifies drugs, human trafficking, corruption, fraud and counterfeiting as sources of money laundering.

 

GFI argues increased inequality in India has contributed to capital flight. That correlation isn't obvious and is tenuous in the report itself. Whether inequality has increased in India is debatable. The NSS data based on consumption expenditure show no sharp increase and data are till 2004-05. There are no reliable data on income distributions. More importantly, the report argues that capital flight is linked to illegal economy (stated to be 50% of GDP) and also argues that 72% of illegal GDP is held abroad. While the existence of illegal economy is acknowledged, there are no firm estimates on that either and 50% is undoubtedly on the higher side. For that matter, data on income distributions (with unaccounted income included) are also impossible to get and amount to speculation. At best, an argument like the following can be made. Post-1991, and between 2004 and 2008, corruption has increased. This has been stashed abroad. However, first, the argument remains speculative and doesn't possess academic rigour one expects of a "study". Second, it doesn't estimate returning capital through "foreign" investments routed via Mauritius, and now Singapore. It is fair to pinpoint corruption and misgovernance, and its increased incidence since 2004. It is a different proposition to go tizzy on the numbers.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

A COMPTROLLER NEEDED

BIBEK DEBROY

 

CAG's (Comptroller and Auditor General) office celebrated 150 years and a commemorative postage stamp was released. But in a pedantic sense, 150 years isn't true. On November 16, 1860, Edmund Drummond became the first Accountant General (AG), not CAG. The Website describes CAG as the "supreme audit institution of India" and this is correct. CAG audits receipts and expenditure of the central and state governments and bodies funded by the government. It undertakes external audit for PSUs and all these reports are presented to the Public Accounts Committees of Parliament and state legislatures. Plus, there is Indian Audit and Accounts Service, which CAG (the individual) heads. Relevant parts about CAG in the Constitution are in Articles 148 to 151. There is a side issue in Article 148 (4) worth flagging. CAG will not be eligible for further office, after retirement. Even when law may have been satisfied, there have been a few instances where governments haven't abided by spirit of this provision. Article 149 states pre-Constitution powers of AGs have been inherited by CAG. Whether it is the naming of service, CAG's own description on Website or constitutional provisions, we are therefore talking about an audit and account function. Therefore, what is the Comptroller bit doing there? In Hindi, CAG is "niyantrak" (comptroller) and "mahalekhaparikshak" (auditor general).

 

However, there is no comptroller function at all. Reasons are partly historical and colonial. In Britain, the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act of 1866 spliced roles of Comptroller General (who authorised expenditure) and Commissioners of Audit (who audited expenditure).

 

Indeed, in other countries, equivalent of CAG has a comptroller function. We haven't had such a role, perhaps because administrative systems wouldn't have had capacity to deliver. But with computerisation, that's now possible. Should that be part of agenda for reforming CAG? The Prime Minister's speech on occasion of 150 years has been reported widely. "The reports of the Comptroller & Auditor General are taken very seriously by the media, by the public, by the government and by our Parliament. This casts a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair. Very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bona fide genuine error and a deliberate mistake. As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between wrong-doing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision making processes."

 

Two parts of this paragraph have puzzled me. First, notice the order in which CAG's reports are taken seriously—media, public, government, Parliament. One would have expected order to be the reverse, with Parliament mentioned first and media mentioned last.

 

Given scant respect shown by governments (Centre and state) to CAG reports, is this sub-conscious at work? How many CAG reports does PAC consider? How many ministries and departments bother with action taken reports? Second, what is this business about a thin dividing line?

 

There are valid points to be made about government budgeting and accounting systems and constraints on administrative delivery. Elsewhere, the speech states, "suggesting methods of doing things better and differently should be an integral part of the evolving process of audit." Sure, we should look beyond financial irregularities, fraud and scams? There can be other forms of audit (performance, efficiency). But can such suggestions emanate from within CAG system or should they evolve outside? Public expenditure management is an issue beyond CAG. Whether it is 2G, CWG or disinvestment earlier, there are problems with valuing the future, as opposed to the present. Ex post static valuations are easy. Ex ante dynamic valuations are inherently subjective, regardless of who does it.

 

Is an argument being made that CAG lacks technical and economic expertise, or mindset, to do this? That's a fair point, though it is doubtful CAG can ever be reformed in this sense. Several other bodies also lack similar expertise. Or is an argument being made that CAG indictments have erred? This is a different argument and is difficult to substantiate, since especially in case of 2G, we have a band, not a specific value of opportunity costs. While on CAG reform, what about independent regulatory bodies like Sebi, Trai, Competition Commission, CERC and Company Law Board? They (and their decisions) are outside CAG audit, sometimes explicitly excluded in legislation. Perhaps CAG audit is not the answer. But how can these regulatory bodies be made accountable to Parliament? The simple point is this. Citizens have rights that public expenditure should be accountable. In any democracy, this oversight is Parliament's (or state legislature's) responsibility, since they are elected representatives. However, there is citizen cynicism about whether this is effectively done.

 

Thus, a few high profile instances become symbols of countervailing pressure. Perhaps CAG should indeed become a comptroller.

 

—The author is a noted economist

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DOES THE IMF MATTER ANY MORE?

AMITENDU PALIT

 

Following what the IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn called the 'biggest ever shift of influence in favour of emerging market and developing economies' in the history of the IMF, the response of developing countries to the IMF's decision to rework country quotas should have been euphoric. However, they have hardly expressed much delight.

 

The IMF has proposed quick completion of the 14th general review of quotas with an increase in the size of the quotas and also a more favourable redistribution in favour of developing and emerging market economies. There will be more than 6% shifts in quotas from the over-represented to under-represented members and from developed to emerging and developing countries. Since IMF quotas determine the voting capacities of its members, the proposed changes in quota shares will result in changes in voting shares of members. The shift in voting share towards emerging market and developing countries is expected to be around 5.3%. The voting shares of the poorest members are to be preserved. All these changes are expected to take effect after January 2013 when the 14th quota formula review will be completed.

 

There are several reasons why the recommendations have failed to excite developing countries.

 

First, arithmetically, advanced economies will continue to have the majority of quotas and voting shares in the IMF even after the reforms. The advanced countries currently have quota shares of 60.5% in the IMF's total quotas. These are proposed to be reduced to 57.7%. The corresponding reduction in voting power is expected to be from 57.9% to 55.3%. The G7's quota and vote shares are to drop to 43.4% and 41.2% from 45.3% and 43.0%, respectively. On the other hand, emerging market and developing country quota and vote shares are to increase from 39.5% to 42.3% and 42.1% to 44.7%, respectively. Thus the balance of power in the IMF—both in terms of quota and votes—will still remain with advanced countries.

 

Second, none of the proposed changes will happen immediately. It will be more than two years before the changes take effect. By that time, there might be further changes in the world economy making the recommendations less relevant. The IMF quotas are expected to reflect the dynamic realignments in the world economy, particularly in terms of increasing influence of emerging market economies. Unfortunately, they have hardly succeeded in doing so.

 

Third, the developing countries are yet to be convinced about the political neutrality of the IMF. There are two dimensions to the neutrality. The first is under-representation of developing countries. Second, and more specific, is under-representation of Asia. The Executive Board comprising 24 directors is the most important decision-making body of the IMF. The composition of the board is tilted in favour of advanced countries and is unfavourably disposed towards Asia. All the G8 members (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan Russia, the UK and the US) are part of the Board along with Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Apart from Australia, Japan, Korea, China and India, the Asian directors of the board include Iran, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Going by indicators of dynamic reflection of the changing world economy that the IMF is supposed to convey, Europe is over-represented on the Board. This might change in future as advanced European economies might reduce their combined representation by two chairs by the time the first election after quota reforms takes effect. There is also the proposal that the Board will no longer have appointed directors like it has now (e.g., the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK—the top five quota and vote holders) and all directors will be elected. However, at present, no such radical changes are in the offing.

 

Four, the IMF is probably no longer as important in global financial matters as it was earlier. Developments after the latest financial crisis has put the G20 in a far more commanding position as far as taking important decisions in global economic matters is concerned. Indeed, IMF reforms have also been largely dictated by the G20. The IMF is at a stage in its existence where it has to accept the fact that G20 will call the shots in deciding the future course of action in global finance as well as on currency and exchange rates. With the G20 accommodating concerns of emerging market and developing economies more generously, the IMF stands a good chance of becoming increasingly irrelevant in emerging market and developing country calculations.

 

—The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

It's in the mail!

 

Several letters from the Prime Minister's Office to Janata Dal President Subramanian Swamy, it appears, may have got lost in the mail. Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam told the Supreme Court, in response to Swamy's petition, that several letters had been sent to him on his petition to prosecute telecom minister A Raja. Swamy, however, told the Court he had received only one letter, in March, which said it was premature to prosecute Raja. He had also got a letter from Raja since, possibly, the PMO had forwarded his letter to the minister. The Solicitor General has been asked to file a written reply on the matter.

 

Leaking secrets

 

Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam tried to strike a lighter note when he told the court that he lived in the same flat that Subramanian Swamy had once lived in: "It has not stopped leaking since!"

 

Certificates for PM

 

The Solicitor General spent some time telling the court about how proud he was of working for a government headed by Manmohan Singh, who was a man of great integrity. The court observed, "Mr Swamy has given him a similar certificate."

 

Concentrate on Raja

 

Bharti Airtel was planning a media visit to its Zain headquarters in Africa, starting yesterday. With Raja being asked to go, and the scene hotting up with the Trai now recommending the licences be cancelled, Bharti's decided to do its bit as well. It has cancelled the trip—how can the campaign on unravelling the Raja mess be carried on if the best telecom journalists are out in Africa? Thanks, Mr Mittal.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

DEAD SEA

 

EU member countries met in Paris this week to reset quotas for bluefin tuna and sort of next door in Brussels met the Common Fisheries Policy reform committee. At the former forum, a compromise was reached in favour of a 'stable or partially reduced quota'. While demand for tuna and other fish is rising worldwide and sustaining a multi-billion dollar business, scientists say overfishing is rendering tuna an engendered species. Hence the call for a ban on bluefin tuna fishing, which most EU countries (also Japan, which consumes three-quarters of the global catch and refines it into what sushi connoisseurs celebrate as the 'black diamond') have strongly resisted. And EU's so-called compromise doesn't redress the quota mismanagement that has let overfishing live quite well so far.

 

Over in Brussels, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been campaigning on a one point agenda: It seems to me that if the public, the fishermen, the conservationists and the politicians can agree about one thing, it is that discard must be eliminated. After all, North Sea fishermen throw away around half the fish they catch every year, to meet their quota with high-grade catches. This is hugely wasteful and combined with rising extractions, it sets the EU on a sustained unsustainable course. Unless, as the chef suggests, the EU changes tracks.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE HOME LOAN TRAP?

 

The ongoing controversy over the so-called "teaser" loans in the home loan segment has many dimensions. The term 'teaser loan' is derived from the practice, adopted by some leading banks, of charging attractive, customer friendly, fixed interest rates for the first three years and thereafter setting the interest rates on more conventional floating rate basis. The pioneer and market leader in this segment, State Bank of India charges eight per cent for the first year and nine per cent for the next two years. Home loans are typically of a much longer duration and borrowers, tempted by the attractive interest rates during the initial years, are less likely to take into account either the interest rate risks or their repaying capacities during the rest of the loan period. In extreme situations some of the borrowers may well slip into a debt trap and that would not be good for the lending banks either. Recently the RBI, concerned over the excess demand being generated in the residential real estate market, among other things, sought to discourage teaser loans by asking banks to increase the provisioning for all such loans to two per cent from the existing 0.4 per cent. There have been other points of criticism as well. Some have even compared these loans, inappropriately though, to the sub-prime loans in the United States, which triggered the global financial crisis.

 

It is possible that the controversy over home loan pricing has much to do with the intense competition that has become a characteristic of the substantially deregulated financial sector. For banks, pricing of loans, deposits, and other services is a crucial component of their marketing strategies. The question is whether tactical pricing practices such as charging teaser interest rates are predatory or injurious to the health of the institution and, in an extended sense, to the entire financial sector. Some of the strongest criticism against the SBI's home loan scheme has come from the HDFC, which, along with other banks and institutions, was forced to follow suit. While the SBI and other public sector banks have access to cheap resources and can afford to charge the lower lending rates for the initial years, others are not placed well enough to compete with them in this game. The RBI, which recently introduced the base rate mechanism to make bank lending more transparent, probably needs to intervene only if competition in the home loan segment threatens to get out of hand. Even then, it ought to concern itself more with issues such as asset-liability mismatches that are very relevant in longer-term home loans than with aggressive pricing of a few products.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL IS AS ISRAEL DOES

 

Israel's announcement of plans for 1,300 new dwellings in East Jerusalem and 800 new ones in the West Bank settlement of Ariel puts a decisive end to the 10-month partial cessation of construction. It is also a clear demonstration of Israeli intentions. In fact, the installation of infrastructure never stopped. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saab Erekat, says Israel chooses settlements, not peace. The effects of the new construction will be far-reaching. The indirect talks painstakingly brokered by the United States in February and March 2010 must be seen as indefinitely suspended, as they rest on the precondition of an end to further Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. Secondly, Israel's persistent stalling of U.S. calls for a freeze shows that Israel can flout with impunity the principle in international law that all construction in occupied territory is illegal; the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognised by any other state. The expressions of concern by President Barack Obama, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the European Union foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton, are all manifestly futile gestures, which Israel disregards.

 

In the chorus of international disapproval, which is matched by strident self-justification, it is easy to lose sight of Israeli calculations. For example, the civic authorities almost never grant building permission to long standing Palestinian residents. That makes even modest extensions to Palestinian homes illegal by definition, and the authorities then move hard-line Israeli settlers into the extensions or target the Palestinians' homes for demolition. With breathtaking gall, Ariel's mayor has even petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court for a return of Value Added Tax on the grounds that his township, being across the Green Line from the rest of the West Bank, is not in Israel. If, however, Ariel is ruled to be within Israel, the colonisation spreads further. The Israeli Right also gives Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a smokescreen. The Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has free rein, despite a recent opinion poll showing that 60 per cent of Israeli voters hold him the politician most responsible for an increase in extreme nationalism and near-fascist tendencies. In March, the ultra-orthodox Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced on his own initiative that settlement construction would resume when the so-called freeze expired. Mr. Netanyahu is using Israeli extremists to carry out ethnic cleansing and future generations of Israelis will inherit the terrible legacy.

 

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

RUSSIA AND NATO: RECASTING TIES

DESPITE THEIR PERSISTING DIFFERENCES, RUSSIA AND NATO LOOK SET TO TURN A PAGE IN LISBON AND MOVE ON TO END THE DIVISION OF EUROPE INTO HOSTILE EAST AND WEST.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

Russia will mount its most determined effort so far to improve relations with its Cold War enemy, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, when President Dmitry Medvedev travels to Lisbon on Friday to attend the Alliance's summit for the first time.

 

Government leaders and heads of state of the 28 member-countries, including United States President Barack Obama, will meet in the Portuguese capital on November 19-20 to adopt NATO's new strategic concept for the 21st century and try to extend the nearly two-year-long reset between Russia and the U.S. to the entire transatlantic bloc.

 

This is not the first time Russia is attempting to recast its relations with NATO and end mutual antagonism. In 1997, Moscow and Brussels signed a NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, and the 2002 Rome Declaration for the establishment of a NATO-Russia Council to discuss each other's concerns and cooperation.

 

However, NATO continued to treat Russia as a threat, if no longer an outright enemy. It granted membership to not only former Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union but also the ex-Soviet Baltic states, breaking its promise to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that it would not expand beyond the Cold War borders. It again breached its word to President Boris Yeltsin that it would desist from deploying military forces on the territory of its new members. NATO endorsed President George W. Bush's plan to set up missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic that could target Russian strategic arsenals. America's European allies joined Washington in sponsoring "colour revolutions" in the former Soviet Union under the guise of promoting freedom and democracy. Russia saw these policies as aimed at isolating, encircling and weakening it.

 

Relations between Russia and NATO dipped to a Cold War low in 2008 when the Russian army gave a thrashing to Georgia, a NATO hopeful, after it attacked Russian peacekeepers in North Ossetia. NATO condemned the "aggression" and, under pressure from the Bush administration, froze contacts and exchanges with Russia.

 

The reset in Russian-American relations launched by President Obama last year opened the way for a patch-up between Russia and NATO. Shortly after Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, NATO resumed political dialogue with Russia and military-to-military cooperation in counter-terrorism, anti-narcotics and maritime piracy. Russia responded, stepping up its assistance to NATO in Afghanistan and allowing transit of supplies for the Alliance forces through its territory. Last month, Russia and the U.S. carried out their first joint operation in Afghanistan to destroy several narcotics laboratories.

 

"The time has come for a fresh start for NATO-Russia relations," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this month following his meeting with Mr. Medvedev in the Kremlin. He called for a strategic partnership with Russia and invited it to build joint missile defences in Europe.

 

The real game-changer in Russia-NATO relations has been the Alliance's deepening quagmire in Afghanistan. NATO badly needs Russian help for a face-saving endgame. In Lisbon, Russia and NATO are expected to sign agreements for increased Russian assistance to the U.S.-led NATO force that will include supply of gunship and transport helicopters, training of Afghan pilots and mechanics, and expansion of the overland transit arrangement to allow the so-called reverse transit of non-lethal armour and other equipment from Afghanistan. Russia will reiterate its commitment to renovate infrastructure and industrial projects it built in Afghanistan in Soviet times. Moscow said it would just stop short of sending troops to Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that under "no circumstances" would Russian soldiers return there.

 

Moscow, of course, is extending a helping hand to NATO because it has a vital stake in stopping the flow of Afghan narcotics into Russia and eliminating a terrorist threat from Afghanistan to Central Asia. For all that, it has driven a hard bargain with NATO, skilfully exploiting fissures within the alliance between "core members" such as France and Germany, which favour greater involvement of Russia in NATO affairs, and the East Europeans, who still view Russia with hostility. In return for Russian assistance, Brussels has agreed to accommodate some of Moscow's security concerns.

 

NATO has put on the back burner its plans to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia and has given the green signal for Russia's purchase of western arms: the path-breaking deal to sell Russia French Mistral amphibious assault ships is expected to be clinched shortly. NATO's new Strategic Concept to be unveiled in Lisbon will neither name Russia a potential challenge nor contain "any unpleasant surprises" for Moscow, according to Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin. The two sides are expected to present a joint review of common security challenges in the 21st century such as terrorism, piracy, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and natural and man-made disasters, and agree to enhance cooperation in these areas. Brussels has further accepted the Moscow proposal to launch an open dialogue in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council on ways of providing peace and stability in Europe.

 

]At the same time, Russia and NATO remain wide apart on key strategic issues. Russia is firmly opposed to NATO extending its global reach over the head of the United Nations as the Alliance seeks to reposition itself for new challenges. "It's not a global Alliance but it is a global actor," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said defining NATO's new role under the new Strategic Concept. "We can't agree with the concept of global policeman," Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin retorted. Russia is particularly worried over NATO's decision to declare the Arctic Ocean a zone of its responsibility. Russia's military doctrine, approved in February, says one of the "main external threats" comes from plans to assign NATO a "global role that will be played in violation of international law" and the Alliance's expansion east of Russia's borders. The new NATO doctrine is expected to reaffirm the policy of open doors.

 

The U.S. has rejected Mr. Medvedev's initiative to sign a treaty for a new transatlantic security architecture that would give Russia a voice on issues such as NATO expansion and military intervention. "We believe that the best way to achieve this [security] is by reinforcing the pillars that have supported European security for decades, not by negotiating new treaties, as Russia has suggested," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a pre-summit meeting of the Russia-NATO Council.

 

NATO's invitation to Russia to participate in a pan-European missile defence that will be given top priority in Lisbon has not allayed Moscow's concerns. Mr. Lavrov said Russia could take part "if it's cooperation on an equal basis." Moscow insists that the two sides first make a joint assessment of potential missile threats, decide what is needed to counter these threats and then proceed to jointly build the defences. However, Ambassador Daalder made it clear that the U.S. would go ahead with deploying the missile shield in Europe, irrespective of whether or when Russia joins in.

 

"We would like to cooperate with Russia but cannot make such cooperation a condition for us to develop missile defence when we see a threat," he told Russia's Interfax news agency ahead of the summit.

 

In an Op-Ed piece he contributed to the International Herald Tribune this week, Mr. Daalder said the U.S. would build missile defences in Europe in accordance with the Phased Adaptive Approach plan approved by President Obama. Under Phase 3, the U.S. will by 2020 deploy dozens of long-range missile interceptors that will have the capacity to shoot down Russian strategic missiles.

 

Russia has nevertheless agreed to undertake jointly with NATO a six-month analysis of possible cooperation areas. It has floated the idea of setting up a "missile-defence pool" in Europe, which appears to resonate with Mr. Rasmussen's proposal of linking the anti-missile systems of NATO and Russia through early warning and other data exchange arrangements.

 

Moscow and Brussels remain lock-horned on conventional military balance in Europe. Three years ago, Russia suspended its compliance with the 1999 amended Conventional Forces in Europe treaty over the refusal of NATO members to ratify the pact and in protest against the U.S. military build-up near the Russian borders. The deadlock deepened after Russia deployed its forces in Abkhazia and North Ossetia, which Moscow has recognised as independent states but NATO continues to regard as part of Georgia.

 

However, despite the persisting differences, Russia and NATO look set to turn a page in Lisbon and move on to end the division of Europe into hostile East and West. According to Mr. Lavrov's cautious expectation, the summit could mark the end of the "post-Cold War period" in Russia-NATO relations.

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

HOMECOMING FOR STARK RECORD OF APARTHEID

ERNEST COLE, A PHOTOGRAPHER, CREATED A MOVING PICTORIAL RECORD OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A BLACK IN APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA. THE LARGEST RETROSPECTIVE OF HIS WORK, ONCE BANNED, IS NOW ON DISPLAY IN JOHANNESBURG.

CELIA W. DUGGER

 

When he was only in his 20s Ernest Cole, a black photographer who stood barely five feet tall, created one of the most harrowing pictorial records of what it was like to be black in apartheid South Africa. He went into exile in 1966, and the next year his work was published in the United States in a book, "House of Bondage," but his photographs were banned in his homeland where he and his work have remained little known.

 

In exile Mr. Cole's life crumbled. For much of the late 1970s and 1980s he was homeless in New York, bereft of even his cameras. "His life had become a shadow," a friend later said. Mr. Cole died at 49 in 1990, just a week after Nelson Mandela walked free. His sister flew back to South Africa with his ashes on her lap.

 

Images that shock

 

Mr. Cole is at last having another kind of homecoming. The largest retrospective of his work ever mounted is now on display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, built in the neo-Classical style almost a century ago in an era when South Africa's great mining fortunes were being made on the backs of black labour. It is a collection of images that still possesses the power to shock and anger.

 

"How could white people do this to us?" asked Lebogang Malebana, 14, as he stood before a photograph of nude gold-mine recruits who had been herded into a grimy room for examination. "How could they put naked black men on display like that?"

 

Mr. Cole conceived the idea of his own portrait of black life after seeing Henri Cartier-Bresson's book "People of Moscow." He got this particular picture by sneaking his camera into the mine in his lunch bag, under sandwiches and an apple, Struan Robertson, who shared a studio and darkroom with Mr. Cole, recounted in an essay for the book that accompanies the exhibition, "Ernest Cole: Photographer."

 

On a recent Saturday afternoon at the museum in Johannesburg in a crime-ridden downtown that long ago emptied of white people, three visitors wandered through cavernous galleries lined with Mr. Cole's work. Lebogang, an eighth-grader, had drifted in from a nearby single-room apartment that he shares with his mother, who is a maid, and his younger brother. His father is in jail. "It's very sad," he said as he lingered over the black-and-white images.

 

Jimmy Phindi Tjege, 27, who like many young black South Africans has never held a job in a society still scarred by apartheid, had come to the exhibition with his friend, Nomthandazo Patience Chazo, 26, who works for the government and has a car. They had driven from their black township, Daveyton, about 30 miles away.

 

Ms Chazo was struck by a photograph of four hungry children scraping porridge from a single pot set on a concrete floor. Mr. Tjege singled out another picture, one of a serious boy squatting on the floor of an unfurnished schoolroom, clutching a chalkboard, with two tears of sweat running down the side of his face.

 

"I feel angry," Mr. Tjege said, as he gestured to the rest of the gallery with a sweep of his hand. "This room is full of anger."

 

Mr. Cole's captions and photographs are imbued with wrenching emotions.

 

Next to a photograph of a maid holding a white baby girl whose lips are pressed to the woman's forehead, the caption says: "Servants are not forbidden to love. Woman holding child said, 'I love this child, though she'll grow up to treat me just like her mother does.'"

 

The caption for a picture of a hospital ward where the floor was crowded with sick children reads, "New cases have their names written on adhesive tape stuck to their foreheads."

 

A series of images of tsotsis, young black gangsters, picking the pockets of white men is accompanied by a caption that reads: "Whites are angered if touched by anyone black, but a black hand under the chin is enraging. This man, distracted by his fury, does not realise his pocket is being rifled."

 

Cole's life

 

The son of a washerwoman and a tailor, Mr. Cole quit high school in 1957 at 16 as the Bantu education law meant to consign blacks to menial labour went into effect.

 

When he was 20, the apartheid authorities deemed his family's brick home and the black township where it sat as a "black spot" and bulldozed them into rubble.

 

Somehow, pretending to be an orphan, Mr. Cole had by then already managed to persuade apartheid bureaucrats to reclassify him as coloured, or mixed race, despite his dark skin. His fluency in Afrikaans, the language of most coloureds, probably helped. His ability to pass as coloured freed him from laws that required blacks always to carry a work permit when in "white areas," and this mobility proved crucial to his photography. Joseph Lelyveld, a retired executive editor of The New York Times who was the Times' correspondent in Johannesburg in the mid-1960s and worked with Mr. Cole, then a freelancer, described the young photographer as a wry, soft-spoken man.

 

"His judgments could be angry, but he had an ironic, almost furtive nature, conditioned by what he was trying to pull off," Mr. Lelyveld, who remained a friend of Mr. Cole until his death, said in a telephone interview. "It wasn't easy to be a black man walking around Johannesburg with expensive cameras. The presumption would be you stole them."

 

In the mid-1970s, when Mr. Cole was destitute and homeless in New York, Mr. Lelyveld said they went together to a cheap hotel where Mr. Cole had left his negatives and the photographs he had of his mother, only to discover they had gone to an auction of unclaimed items.

 

His prints

 

For years rumours circulated that a suitcase of Mr. Cole's prints had survived somewhere in Sweden. David Goldblatt, a renowned South African photographer, had heard they were with the Hasselblad Foundation there. When Mr. Goldblatt received the Hasselblad Award in 2006, and travelled to Gothenburg to accept it, he asked to see them. He said he was agape paging through the images, saying, "They can't lie in a vault."

 

Later, when he carefully studied scans of them at his home in Johannesburg, Mr. Goldblatt, now 80, said he began to realise that many of the photographs in "House of Bondage" had been cropped severely to enhance their impact in a powerful anti-apartheid polemic. But the full frames showed Cole's artistry.

 

"He wasn't just brave," said Mr. Goldblatt, who has been photographing South Africa for more than a half-century. "He wasn't just enterprising. He was a supremely fine photographer."For example, the picture of naked mine recruits photographed in a line from behind, their arms outstretched as if they were being held up, had a water basin on the wall at the end of the line. It was almost entirely cut out in the book.

 

"Cole was careful to include the basin, and the basin is like the full stop or exclamation mark in a sentence," Goldblatt said. "It just brings another dimension. It makes it banal. It's not just dramatic, it's banally dramatic. This is the kind of thing photographers live by, these details."

 

Next year the exhibition, organised by the Hasselblad Foundation, will travel to Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Mamelodi, the black township outside Pretoria where Mr. Cole's family still lives. The foundation is now planning a U.S. tour that probably will include San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta and New York.— © New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

NUCLEAR STAND-OFF COULD HURT IRAN'S CANCER PATIENTS

ALI AKBAR DAREINI

 

The human impact from the wrangling between Iran and the West over its nuclear programme could fall first in nuclear medicine clinics around the country, where hundreds of cancer patients a week get treatment with radioactive isotopes.

 

Iran says fuel for the Tehran research reactor that produces the isotopes will run out in September next year, leaving it without the materials needed to diagnose and treat some 8,50,000 cancer patients across the country.

 

A deal for the West to provide fuel for the reactor has all but fallen apart in the deadlock over Iran's broader nuclear programme, and Iran's drive to produce the fuel on its own has brought condemnation from the U.S. and Europe. They fear the programme could boost what they contend is the secret goal of Iran's nuclear ambitions to produce a bomb.

 

Iran denies the claim, saying its programme is only for peaceful purposes and has touted the need for medical isotopes to justify its programme.

 

Negotiators from Iran and the United States and its allies are expected to meet soon, likely later this month or early next, in their first direct nuclear talks in more than a year. A deal to provide Iran with fuel for the research reactor may be on the agenda, but U.S. officials have already expressed pessimism that one can be reached.

 

The Tehran reactor is fuelled by rods made from uranium that has been enriched to a level of 20 per cent. It has been running on fuel rods that Iran imported from Argentina more than a decade ago to produce medical isotopes like iodine-131, used to treat thyroid cancer.

 

Isotope import

 

Iran imports some ready-made isotopes, but it has faced greater restrictions under U.N. sanctions and has to pay higher prices to get them. Sanctions do not directly ban the sale to Iran of medical equipment, but they make foreign producers more reluctant to provide it, and those who will sell it do so at inflated prices.

 

Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Iran's dispute with the West. Low-enriched uranium, at around 3.5 per cent, can be used to fuel a reactor to generate electricity, which Iran says is the intention of its programme. But if uranium is further enriched to around 90 per cent purity, it can be used to develop a nuclear warhead.

 

U.N. fear

 

Iran has been producing low-enriched uranium for several years, but the United Nations has demanded that it stop enrichment for fear it will be increased to weapons-grade. The U.N. has imposed four rounds of financial sanctions on Iran for refusing the demands.

 

Last year, the United States proposed a U.N.-backed deal that it hoped would provide a confidence building measure and leave Iran at least temporarily unable to produce a bomb. It proposed that Iran ship abroad most of its stocks of low-enriched uranium, which would be further purified to 20 per cent and turned into fuel rods, which would then be sent back to Iran to power the Tehran medical reactor. Doing so would leave Tehran's stocks too low to produce enough high-enriched uranium for a bomb.

 

But Iran balked, arguing that the deal did not provide enough guarantees the West would follow through with the fuel rods. It proposed modifications that the West rejected.

 

This year, Iran reached a separate deal with Turkey and Brazil to ship 2,640 pounds (1,200 kg) of low-enriched uranium abroad in return for fuel rods. But since Iran had been continuing to produce low-enriched uranium in the meantime, the deal would still have left it enough in theory to build a bomb, so the West rejected the agreement.

 

At the same time, Iran began in February to further enrich uranium to 20 per cent, aiming to produce fuel for the Tehran reactor on its own. But it still has to turn the material into fuel rods. Iran says it has the capability to do so, but Western nuclear experts are sceptical.

 

Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran would be able to fuel the reactor on its own by next September, when the imported fuel is due to run out.

 

The American ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Glyn Davies, said the original fuel swap deal was "picture perfect" to ensure the Tehran reactor keeps running and producing isotopes. He said in March that after Iran's rejection "we can only assume they're enriching the material for other purposes."

 

U.S. officials have said Washington could agree to a new version of the fuel swap deal, but it would have to entail Iran shipping a larger amount of low-enriched uranium abroad and stopping its 20 per cent enrichment. The Americans are sceptical Iran would agree, though Iranian officials have signalled they might halt the further enrichment if fuel rods are guaranteed.

 

Iran has 120 nuclear medicine centres around the country, with some 200 patients a week getting iodine-131 treatments for thyroid cancer, according to Mohammad Ghannadi, a top nuclear official. – AP

 

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THE HINDU

FISHING NATIONS FORCE EU RETREAT ON BLUEFIN TUNA

 

France, Spain and other Mediterranean nations forced the European Union to retreat, on November 18, from an ambitious plan to save the threatened and prized bluefin tuna.

 

After drawn-out negotiations, the 27-nation EU abandoned a plan to seek cutbacks in fishing quotas based only on scientific advice and said it will now also take the interests of tuna fishermen into account. Representatives from 48 countries around the world are preparing to set fishing quotas for the Atlantic bluefin, whose tender red meat is popular in sushi in Japan.

 

Some conservationists want quotas slashed at the meeting, while others want fishing suspended entirely, saying that fraud and illegal fishing tactics are rampant in the Mediterranean. The conservation group WWF says the species is "on the brink of extinction."

 

Bluefin tuna stocks in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean have dropped 60 per cent from 1997 to 2007. This year, large European fishing boats had to stop fishing for bluefin in June because they had already used up their entire yearly quota.

 

In March, Japan and other Asian nations blocked efforts at the United Nations to declare the fish an endangered species, which would effectively have banned any international trade in it. Japan consumes about 80 per cent of the world's Atlantic bluefin tuna. — AP

 

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THE HINDU

BATTLE TO PREVENT NEW BERLIN WALL

THERE ARE FEARS THAT A BOUNDARY WILL 'DIVIDE SON AND FATHER, BROTHER AND SISTER' AFTER ISRAELI TROOPS PULL OUT OF THE NORTHERN HALF OF GHAJAR VILLAGE.

HARRIET SHERWOOD

 

At the end of a long dusty track, through an Israeli army checkpoint, beyond a slalom of massive concrete blocks, on land claimed by three countries, Ahmed Khatib stood on the spot where he fears a new Berlin wall is about to be built.

 

This is Ghajar, a small village facing a new twist in its complicated geopolitical history. Originally Syrian, it now straddles the U.N.-drawn border between Israel and Lebanon but has been occupied by Israel for most of the past 43 years.

 

On November 17, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to withdraw its troops from the northern half of the village, technically in Lebanon, while remaining in the southern half, claimed by Israel since it occupied the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day war.

 

The decision has left the residents of Ghajar fearful that families will be divided, residents will be separated from their land and that those living in the northern part will no longer be able to access the village school, mosque and cemetery located in the south.

 

"Civilised Europe destroyed the Berlin wall," said Ahmed Khatib, the deputy director of the village council. "Now it will be rebuilt in Ghajar." Other residents echoed this fear, pledging to resist any attempt to construct a physical barrier along the "Blue Line", drawn by the U.N. 10 years ago to mark the border between Lebanon and Israel. "We will stop it by all means," said Shahada Khatib, 26, who travels daily from his home in the north of the village to his job in a bakery in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shimona. "We are ready to sacrifice our souls for that." An Israeli official insisted that their fears were misplaced. "We have no intention whatsoever to build a fence or any other kind of physical obstacle through the village on the Blue Line," said Ygal Palmor, of the Israeli foreign ministry.

 

Israel was negotiating with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), which polices the Lebanese side of the border, over security arrangements, he said, "but at no point has anyone raised the possibility of a roadblock or checkpoint inside the village." However, a cabinet statement was ambiguous, saying: "Both the security of Israel's citizens and the normal life of the residents of Ghajar, which remains undivided, will continue to be maintained while the new arrangements are being put in place." Once Israeli troops have pulled back to the southern side of the Blue Line — a withdrawal expected to take about a month — the U.N. would declare Israel that was in compliance with Security Council resolution 1701, said Palmor. "We will have definitively moved out of the last inch of Lebanese territory." Israel earlier withdrew from the northern part of the village in 2000, when the border was drawn by the U.N., but reoccupied it during its war with Lebanon in 2006. It said Ghajar had become prey to Hezbollah militants and drug traffickers.

 

Identify themselves as Syrian

 

The villagers, most of whom are Israeli citizens, strongly identify themselves as Syrian. Ahmed Khatib clutched photocopied documents dated 1958 from villagers petitioning the Syrian authorities to allow the expansion of the village into agricultural land to the north, and the written approval complete with a Syrian stamp.

 

"We don't need the U.N., Israel or Lebanon," he said. "They do not have the authority to decide the destiny of Ghajar. This is Syrian territory." The relatively prosperous village is entirely surrounded by a fence, patrolled by Israeli and Unifil troops, with one checkpoint manned by the Israeli troops. According to Ahmed Khatib, food supplies are brought in by private car as deliveries by truck are not permitted. The Israeli military currently patrols throughout the village.

 

The village land — 11,500 dunams (almost 1,200 hectares) — lies to the south; two-thirds of the 2,210 residents live in the north.

 

Muheeba Khatib, 40, lives in the north; her daughter Adla, 25, and two grandchildren live in the south. "We will resist any attempt to split the village. Would you accept to be separated from your daughter?" Ahmed Khatib points to the village cafe, right on the Blue Line. You will eat falafel in the south, and hamburgers in the north, he says with bitter laughter.

 

"This will hurt us economically and socially. They will divide son and father, brother and sister. If the Israelis withdraw [from the northern half of the village], the U.N. will come here and start building a wall. We know that." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

 

VIETNAM FOR MORE HELP IN DEMINING

 

The Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung has said that Vietnam expected more international assistance in the work of mine clearance. He was speaking in Hanoi on November 18.

 

He made the appeal at a meeting with Stephen Husy, Director of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) during his working visit to Vietnam.

 

Mr. Hung added that he appreciated the GICHD's assistance to Vietnam in the past in implementing a variety of cooperation projects to overcome the consequences of war.

 

Demining is work that requires joint efforts in financial policies, human resources, technical assistance and other favourable policies, he said, and that Vietnam is in urgent need of international assistance in demining. Mr. Husy expected the GICHD to implement more projects in Vietnam to remove the remnants of war, thus helping Vietnamese return to normal life.

 

Mr. Husy highlighted Vietnam's 30 years and more of experience in demining and its efforts in rehabilitation.

 

The GICHD also looks at sustainable development so that people can use agricultural land, develop infrastructure and improve living standards. — Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

REALITY SHOWS: LET THE VIEWERS DECIDE

 

The eclipse of Doordarshan's monopoly on the small screen, and the opening of the brave new world of liberalisation and globalisation, have served several worthwhile objectives and brought to our milieu many laudable commodities and services that we were earlier missing out on. Alas, a good deal of television programming is not in

 

this category. The independent news and current affairs channels are generally second class, although enough years have passed since they first appeared. Of the fare these purvey in the name of entertainment, the less said the better. But many will probably agree — it is impossible to speak for the majority in the matter of personal tastes, and when it comes to offering a non-legal definition of decency — that the so-called entertainment channels have plumbed depths that we didn't suspect existed in our broad cultural context, although that area too is elusive of a definition that may satisfy most. So, the question is does the recent directive of the information and broadcasting ministry asking two channels that broadcast Bigg Boss and Rakhi ka Insaaf respectively to broadcast at times that will blank them out of viewers and hit their earnings hard, come to the rescue of those of us who look upon these serials as base, gross, vulgar or otherwise unacceptable?
Making the effort to be careful, the government order has not asked the channels in question to stop broadcasting the serials it finds offensive, or to televise only duly edited parts. However, the Bombay high court has, in the first instance, stayed the I&B instruction. There is every likelihood that the channels will come up with the freedom of expression argument. Of course, no freedom is absolute and reasonable restrictions do come into play in a democratic order. Probably the judges will eventually look at the question whether the broadcast material causes enmity between sections of the people, nudges viewers to violence, or outrages the sense of public modesty in the manner open pornography (whose public representation is taboo in India while it is not in some Western democracies) does. These grounds have been trodden before, needless to say. At least at the level of theoretical discussion there can be no serious disagreement that freedom of expression should apply even to those who provide lousy fare, or make a living out of choosing to be vulgar. In effect, then, the high court is likely to be ruling on whether the particular material placed before them — and this might amount to going over each episode — is deleterious to the society's health and causes internal divisions, sabotage or unrest. This is frankly quite absurd. After all these programmes have been on a long time and the government has not sought to clamp down on them before. Indeed, even now there are certain other channels which provide similar material to viewers and the government has taken their fare in its stride.


In the spirit of democracy and free expression, it might be best if the government withdrew its order (although it might find mind many takers) altogether. What the I&B ministry has done is censorship by another name. That much is clear, and that is exactly what some right-wing groups tend to do through display of open goonda force when they don't like a book, painting or film. Perhaps the choice of viewing a particular programme should be left, in the final analysis, to those who subscribe to them. If they think it is bad for the moral health of their children or is culturally unpalatable, they should quite simply stop getting them. This, in turn, might make advertisers shy away from sponsoring such programmes if the numbers of objectors attain a critical mass. Until then let us not be faint-hearted and simply agree to use the remote to flick away from channels and programmes we happen not to like.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

TAKE 'N' OUT OF TINA

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

November has been a very cruel month for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. It was bad enough that Ashok Chavan had to resign as chief minister of Maharashtra for his complicity in the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scandal and an embarrassed party had to remove the by-now infamous Suresh

 

Kalmadi from the only political post he held. Worse, the government had to succumb to relentless Opposition pressure and extract a resignation from the controversial telecommunications minister A. Raja. Even this did not contain the embarrassment of the Comptroller and Auditor General's strictures against the Prime Minister for being a mute spectator to Mr Raja's misdeeds.


Congress loyalists had hoped that the swift, sharp action against Mr Chavan and the installation of Prithviraj Chavan as the new chief minister of India's most prosperous state would redeem the party's image. The Opposition charge that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had forgotten to address the burning issue of corruption in her All India Congress Committee speech had, after all, hurt. But the foot-dragging that accompanied the CAG report on the 2G disbursements and the bargaining over the future of Mr Raja proved very damaging. The Supreme Court's harsh comments on the wilful obfuscation by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Solicitor General's curious attempts to save the beleaguered Mr Raja bolstered the impression that the Congress' priority was to bury scandals, not challenge corruption. The "coalition dharma" Congress fell back on to explain why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gandhi had to kow-tow to an insatiable Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) made sense only to a cynical political class. The popular perception was one of disgust.


The resignation of Mr Raja was one of the biggest successes of the Opposition since last year's general election. Mr Raja symbolised both brazenness and political venality. Prime Minister Singh, his handlers say, had held out for two days against having Mr Raja inducted into the Cabinet in May 2009 but had to finally wilt under sustained DMK pressure. He let expediency prevail over good sense.


A reason why the Congress procrastinated may have a lot to do with the self-serving there-is-no-alternative theory, the same TINA that misled Rajiv Gandhi into believing that the Bofors scandal was a drawing room preoccupation. This time, the Congress hasn't quite made the same mistake by persisting with Mr Chavan and Mr Raja and giving the Opposition unending political ammunition. At the same time, the UPA has insufficiently appreciated the fact that barely 16 months after it was convincingly defeated in the general election, the Opposition is back in business — not wholly but (to use a Nehruvian flourish) substantially and in good measure.


It may take the next week's results of the Bihar Assembly election for this message to sink in. If the Congress, as is now the buzz, performs indifferently and Nitish Kumar romps home convincingly, it will resume the debate on the limits of Rahul Gandhi's "magic". Many Congress leaders who have convinced themselves of the unviability of persisting with the Prime Minister for very much longer may have to reconsider the theory that anti-incumbency will not stick to the party's heir presumptive.


Actually, the Congress has reasons to worry. The expected re-election of the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine in Bihar will not be the only indicator. Assembly byelections in places as afar as Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Gujarat have demonstrated that the political confusion in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn't affected its support on the ground. Since there is always a direct correlation between Congress recovery and BJP decline, the byelection results should put question marks before the facile suggestion that the Congress is on course to recovering its dominant party status.


The extent to which the BJP can take advantage of the Congress' unwarranted smugness depends on what lessons it has drawn from both the corruption scandals and the Bihar election. The signals in this regard are very mixed. The BJP conducted itself with exemplary dignity after the pro-temple verdict of the Allahabad high court in the Ayodhya case. In Parliament, the BJP has consciously refrained from rising to the UPA's provocation on, say, the arrest of former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and the alleged association of a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary in terror attacks on Muslims. It has swallowed its famed distinctiveness on a number of occasions and prevented the UPA from dividing the Opposition. Indeed, on Jammu and Kashmir, the Maoist threat and the Nuclear Liabilities Bill, it played the textbook role of a constructive Opposition.


Unfortunately for it, some of the gains have been squandered by two visible shortcomings. First, the BJP's anti-corruption credentials have been brought into question by the conduct of some of its ministers in Karnataka. The party's inability to act decisively against those who have helped establish a moral equivalence with the Congress counts among its biggest failings. The Congress is bound to exploit this sooner or later.
Secondly, the BJP is constantly threatened by political derailment by an RSS which is neither fully in the political game nor completely outside it. The BJP, for example, has suffered acute embarrassment from the RSS decision to make an issue of its functionary Indresh Kumar's links with dubious elements championing retributive terror. It was left red faced by former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan's tasteless comments against Mrs Gandhi.


For the BJP, the future lies in re-forging the National Democratic Alliance and expanding its reach into eastern and southern India. This can only happen if it embraces a moderate, non-sectarian approach, in line with the policies of its own state governments that are doing a good job. India is yearning for a viable Opposition and a wholesome government-in-waiting. The BJP can live up to these expectations if it bases its politics on integrity and common sense, and consciously disavows divisive, fringe agendas. But to do so, it has to address a serious image problem: many of its top functionaries convey the impression of being outlanders, out of their depths in national politics.


A meaningful alternative to the Congress has to combine integrity with both modernity and competence. These attributes are not uniformly evident in the BJP leadership as yet.

 

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

MAMMARIES OF THE WELFARE STATE

SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

Yesterday night I dreamt that the ghost of M. Visvesvaraya, the great engineer, was haunting the streets of Bengaluru. The old man who lived beyond hundred was a technocrat par excellence, a part of the folklore of Karnataka. He epitomised the bureaucracy as a way of life, a normative system that separated the public and the private,which saw dam building, character building and nation building as isomorphic activities. For the people of Karnataka, this ectomorphic Diwan of Mysore was the ideal of governance, epitomising punctuality, austerity, discipline, and a vision of India constructed around the discipline of the timetable.


Visvesvaraya now suddenly appears like our equivalent of Rip Van Winkle. He is haunting the streets of Bengaluru, wondering whether privatisation is the answer to poverty.

 


As he stalks the streets like a futile Diogenes with a lantern, one summons the picture of B.S. Yeddyurappa and the entire cluster of corrupt clowns from H.D. Kumaraswamy, the Reddy brothers to the chief minister's entire family, to wonder at the stark apposition between the bureaucrat as hero and politician as fixer. One wonders why corruption is seen as normal. Even those caught, act as if there has been a misunderstanding. There is something here we must explore.


I remember when Acharya Kripalani, Paul H. Appleby and A.D. Gorwala wrote the first reports on corruption in the early Fifties.


The documents sounded like exercises in moral science. Of course, they were moments of discordance as when the Kripalani report was met in Assam with protesters asking it to go back.


One thing was clear; each of these reports saw man as central to character building. There was a feeling that character and institution building would guarantee the cleanliness of governance. One could think of a whole generation of politicians and bureaucrats who provided some semblance of honesty. Earlier when we said a government was pollution free we referred to honesty not to hydrocarbons. Where did the change come?
I think there were three reasons for it. The first was the dialect of governance. The idiom was still patriarchal, more correctly patrimonial. The politician was seen as a jajman, a provider. He was seen as patron. Government was not a rational legal system but constructed like a kinship chart. Seniority was not as important as the fact you were someone's son-in-law. The family domesticated the state. The one separation of powers that India needed was not the classic separation of the three estates but the separation between family and state. Once the state was constructed as a joint family, corruption became literally an expression of a new jajmani system.
Mr Yeddyurappa lets his family graze like hungry goats on the pasture called the state. The state had spread out like an inverted commons allocated to the family. The state became from sacred cow to a mulch cow to be milked by the members of the family. It is this tradition from Pratap Singh Kairon, to Bhajan Lal, to Sanjay Gandhi to Mr Yeddyurappa that sustains the vision of the state as a form of conspicuous corruption.
The second classificatory crime attacked the subsistence economy and sought to extract surplus from it. This was the division between the formal economy and the informal economy. Eighty per cent of Indian life and livelihoods were conducted in the informal sector, yet the irony lies in the fact that the informal economy had no official status. It was not even legal. The hawker, the nomad, the scavenger, the pastoralist, the domestic servant all operated in the informal sector. The informal sector was prey to the policeman and subject to the caprices of the local party boss and goon. Survival was something that needed continuous approval from the official and the official always needed a bribe. A bribe in the informal economy was a guarantee of survival, a promissory note for a future citizenship.


It took till the Arjun Sengupta Commission report for the state to even officially recognise the power and creativity of the informal economy. If the state was the inverted commons, the informal economy was seen as a mine subject to constant over-extraction.


The third confusion was what I dub the irony of democracy. for All its warts, democracy in India actually works, but the way it works is problematic. Democracy through electoral politics changes regimes and this change in regime is seen as a form of distributive justice. The dalit or the OBC (other backward classes) politician is shameless in his corruption claiming, "You had your turn, it is ours now", and adds, "your complaint is hypocrisy, in fact a form of envy".


Electoral politics becomes an icon of democracy. It is seen as creating the revolving regimes of power. But what politics does is to create an attitude that the state is a window of opportunity, that power is a legitimate opportunity to milk the state. This rationale first developed in the south and has now been fine-honed by Mayawati and the politicians of Jharkhand. The politician becomes the new middleman milking the state and the people. Yet people's faith in politician is tremendous. The latter still feel they have obstetric power to deliver the goods. And often they do so by violating the very rule of law that could have created sanity.
The three distortions have to be read as on text. For example, it is the informal economy of votes that keeps the politician in power and lets him milk the system. We talk of the family as the primary institution and yet fail to see it is this very institution that corrupts the logic of the state. These three fissures or distortions of our society make corruption a lethal vector.


I guess Visvesvaraya may not approve of such sociology. He might see it even as a rationalisation removing the values, the morality he valued. But in my fondest dreams I see him walking, bumping into A. Raja, B. Ramalinga Raju and Mr Yeddurayappa, wondering what manner of men these could be. I would love to witness that encounter.


Would the old man's moralising make any sense to these people or would they see him as an anachronism?
Yet, I guess the final irony is I can see all three of them garlanding his statue while they milk the state he sought to build for the welfare of the people.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LE CORBUSIER'S CHAIR

SHEKHAR BHATIA

 

I must confess I never noticed the manhole covers in Chandigarh when I was a student in that city many decades ago. For that matter, I didn't even notice the design of the chair in many rooms in the university, or of the streetlights in some parts of the city. I thought the chair in the classroom, the one with a handrest on which we kept our notebooks and took notes, was, well, just a chair in a classroom. What I do remember distinctly is that they were modern, and minimalist.

 

I didn't know that the manhole covers, the chairs and the streetlights were also designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier for his dream project, a brand new city in northern India, in the 1950s.
When Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned Corbusier to build Chandigarh, he wanted the famous urban planner to create a city "unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation's faith in the future". He wanted to build a monument befitting a modern nation.


Corbusier not only sketched the layout of the city and planned some of its iconic buildings such as the high court, the secretariat and the university, he and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret meticulously designed the streetlights, the interiors of the buildings, right down to diwans, chairs and tables, and the manhole covers.


If I recall, I don't think anyone in my day talked about the design of these items; we liked the imposing, modern buildings in the city, the endless parks that looked beautiful in spring (yes, the severe winter was followed by a beautiful spring and then a long, dry summer) and the wide roads, but never discussed the design of the streetlights — although in most cities in those days, the small towns of Punjab that I was familiar with, the streets weren't particularly well lit and a streetlight meant a naked bulb on a pole.


A recent report in the Independent says a manhole cover featuring Le Corbusier's "dove" emblem for Chandigarh fetched $21,000 (about `10 lakh) at a Christie's auction in New York. It also said that Western antique dealers are picking up the furniture and other items designed by Corbusier and Jeanneret literally for a pittance, and selling these pieces at auctions in London, New York and Paris for thousand of Euros.
When I visited the website of an auction house in Paris to check the design of the chair that will go under the hammer later this month, the sharply-angled legs looked vaguely familiar. It was like the chair we had in the common room of our hostel in late '60s. Also being auctioned are two pairs of bar stools from a science department in the university. I am quite sure we had them in our lab. The going price now is 7,000 to 9,000 Euros each — that's between four and five lakh rupees. For a lab stool that's less than 50 years old!
Now there's a hue and cry that our "heritage" is being plundered. The fact is by the time we woke up to it the dealers had already made a killing and the collecters had gone home happily with their bargains.
What did we do to look after our heritage? Dumped it in government warehouses? Two years ago I saw a photograph of a pile of Jeanneret chairs discarded by a government office. People who occupied these offices no longer liked the design of the furniture. They wanted something more contemporary. Heritage is not what was on their mind. A Paris dealer who started buying these pieces at government auctions told the New York Times that that furniture was being "chopped up for firewood".


I don't blame them for wanting to change the furniture in their office because a similar story plays out periodically in my home: we have a couple of pieces of furniture that I would like to get rid of but my wife says they are part of our heritage. I don't know if they are art deco or some other period, but I am constantly reminded that they are "classic Fifties design".

So there are two aspects to Le Corbusier's legacy: one is design and the other, heritage. Design is an individual issue; heritage is the concern of society as a whole. Those who dumped the chairs, desks and stools because they no longer liked the design should have also looked at them from the point of view of our combined heritage. They needn't have lived with it but they shouldn't have willingly destroyed it either. The state should have preserved some of it in a museum as part of our contemporary history.


The manhole covers and streetlights should have been left intact. This is what gives cities their historic setting. Look at Paris and how they have preserved their heritage. In Delhi, we have made a beginning by restoring Connaught Place. Let's hope we can preserve other landmarks of our colonial heritage.


I am happy many of these historic pieces designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret have been bought by collectors who will look after them. If they bought the chair as an investment, at least they realise its value. If we do not respect our heritage, perhaps it's best that it goes into the hands of people who will preserve it.

 

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at shekhar.bhatia@gmail.com

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

NEW DIVORCE LAW IS A TEST OF GENDER EQUALITY

 

A hallmark of a modern society is that its laws are fair to all, regardless of caste, community, and gender. The plan of the government of India to allow married couples to divorce on the grounds of 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' has become a battleground between the sexes. As per the proposed law, couples married under the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act will be allowed to divorce without the six-month waiting period.

 

First, it is questionable whether doing away with the mandatory waiting period is a welcome change. Couples, in moments of anger, might believe their marriage has irretrievably broken down and seek to end it, but a period of waiting does provide time for wounds to heal and for couples to decide in a calmer frame of mind whether or not to continue with the marriage. For instance, even in the US, most states require a mandatory waiting period, particularly if couples use the no-fault divorce (which is similar to the planned irretrievable breakdown) plea. Why is India doing away with this rule needs to questioned?

 

Second, some groups have claimed a bias against men as the irretrievable breakdown divorce allows women to oppose the same, but not men. Women groups have countered that such a move would make women vulnerable and in turn are demanding that divorced women should get equal division of the matrimonial property and, in case she decides to keep custody of the children, she should have the right to reside in that property.

 

Now, no one can deny that women clearly deserve a share of the matrimonial property; after all, she too has contributed to building it. But such cases should be decided on merit rather than a blanket law. Can a wife of just two months have the same claim as a wife of two decades, unless, of course, the property was purchased with her money? These queries cannot be answered easily, what matters here is not just the law but implementing the law with equity.

 

As our society modernises, our laws need to keep pace with changing times. We need to update all our laws to treat men and women equally. Thus, in divorce laws, any law that favours men over women is not acceptable. But similarly, we cannot subvert equity by creating laws that favour women over men. The irretrievable breakdown of marriage law is proving to be a testing ground for our sense of fair play.

 

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DNA

BJP AND CONGRESS CAUGHT IN THE SAME BIND

 

Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has a way of walking from one crisis into another and so far, he has managed to survive. This time round, the issue is more than inner-party squabble. It is about nepotism, where the chief minister says that land was denotified and given to his sons, and that this was done in keeping with the precedent set by the earlier Janata Dal and Congress governments. That is an indefensible argument. The fact that his predecessors had favoured their kith and kin cannot be seen as an enabling clause by Yeddyurappa to help his sons.

 

The BJP finds itself in an embarrassing situation because this comes at a time when it, as the main opposition party in Parliament, has forced the resignation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) A Raja as Union telecommunications minister for the many indiscretions he committed in allocating 2G spectrum. The party would lose much of its credibility if it fails to respond to charges of nepotism against its own chief minister in Karnataka. The party will have to show itself opposed to corruption regardless of where it is found.

 

The Congress cannot dismiss the BJP's criticism of Raja by citing Yeddyurappa's case. Each case has to be dealt in a similar manner. Raja and Yedyurappa must face the legal and moral consequences of their actions. These instances should also not be used to silence the debate on corruption in the public sphere merely because the country's two largest political parties are involved.The Congress, the BJP, and the DMK have to be criticised impartially for their acts of omission and commission.

 

We, the people, must also not say that it is impossible to fight corruption because it pervades all the parties. It has to be fought and countered at every single instance. It is, no doubt, an uphill task but the fight cannot, and must not, be abandoned.

 

While the Congress will have to do a clean-up at the Centre, the BJP will have to do a similar mop-up operation in Karnataka. They cannot get away by blaming each other. The people are going to judge them for what they do, and not for what they say about each other.

 

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DNA

INDIAN TELEVISION IS NOW COMING OF AGE

 

The current brouhaha over some reality TV shows marks how Indian television is coming of age. The decision of the government to shift Bigg Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf to late-night slots is sensible, yet it would have been better if this gesture had come from the producers of the shows themselves. It is never a good idea for the media to force the government to intervene in matters of creative expression. At the same time, TV producers must be tuned not only to the desires of society but also to propriety.

 

As for those who grumble about the low standards on reality TV, there is one easy response: do not watch it. As long as the producers and channels follow existing laws, they are well within their rights to broadcast their programmes. It is undoubtedly true that such shows pander to some of the worst excesses of human sentiment. But so what? People have as much a right to be lowbrow as they have to be snobbish or high-minded. Reality TV appeals to our atavistic desire to peep and pry into other people's private lives and this fits with the current zeitgeist, where you have to live your life in full public view to full public scrutiny. It is true for A Raja as much as it is for Rakhi Sawant.

 

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DNA

IT'S BOOM TIME FOR INDIAN AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS

MADHU JAIN

 

It was more than making Hay while the Kerala sun shines. Sure, rock legends, Sting and Bob Geldof stirred up a storm singing during the Hay- on-the-Arabian-Sea (Trivandrum) Literature Festival last week. But Hay-on-Wye, the world's most prestigious literary festival, didn't choose Kerala for those dazzling shores and coconut trees — or delectable fish curries and appam.

 

These days, India is the place to be — or to forage for talent — for those in the business of books. Literary agents now swoop down regularly, fishing for the Next Best Thing. And, there is money that goes along with the buzz that's getting louder. Moreover, writers from the Indian subcontinent, including those who live overseas, are landing on the short and long lists of prestigious literary prizes.

 

Indians may have gone missing from the Man Booker List this year, but they are popping up on many other lists of literary prizes.

 

The long list of the 2011 Impac Dublin Literary Award, the world's most valuable literary prize (£100,000) has just been announced. It includes three books from Indian publishers; Delhi- based Rana Dasgupta's novel Solo, which also won this year's Commonwealth Writers' prize. The other two are Pinki Virani's Deaf Heaven and HM Naqvi's Home Boy.

 

The Costa Book Awards' shortlist of five debut novels by writers based in the UK and Ireland has a strong desi presence this time. It has Aatish Taseer for his Delhi-based story, The Temple-Goers, Kishwar Desai for Witness the Night, and Nikesh Shukla for Coconut Unlimited. The prize is not negligible: £30,000.

 

Our diasporic desis have really done well this year. The 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award was recently won by Raghuram G Rajan for his book, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy.

 

Meanwhile, back in the homeland, our impresarios of the literary scene have begun to put their money where their mouths are. The freshly instituted DSC Literature Prize of $50,000 will be announced at the forthcoming DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.

 

DSC's mandate is to scout for the best examples of the contemporary novel set in, or about South Asia. However, the authors do not have to be from the region. The Hindu has also got into the business of awards. Manu Joseph's debut novel Serious Men, recently won the first Hindu Best Fiction award — worth Rs5 lakhs.

 

Literary prizes and festivals are partially responsible for moving Indian and South Asian writers into the mainstream. Clearly, they, as well as the diasporic Indian writers, have begun find a place in the upper reaches of the international literary pantheon. It looks like they are here to stay. "People now talk about a novel written by an Indian as a novel and not an 'Indian' novel," says VK Karthika, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India. "We are now on a level playing field."

 

The earth is becoming flat for Indian writers and publishers as well. Indian and international publishers now have separate deals for the same book: India is not necessarily an add-on, or a distribution outlet.

 

So, those of you who feel that you have a book in you, don't be shy.Beginner's luck seems to be working: Arundhati Roy and Arvind Adiga won the Booker with their debut novels. And many of the lucky strikers on the lists this time are first-time novelists.

 

— The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

 

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DNA

COLUMN

MY DRESSING GOWN INSPIRES ME TO WRITE

 

Most mornings I lounge around in my dressing gown. For years I was a victim of conditioning brought about by my Malayali roots. In fact, I have often been greeted in Kerala with a 'Kulichuyo? (Have you bathed?).

 

Whatever happened to a 'hello'? And so most days began only post a bath by which time the urge to take pen in hand would have drained with the bathwater.

 

But somewhere over the years of being a full-time writer, I learnt to slip into a dressing gown and get on with my writing. It became my working uniform till about noon. If, at times, I felt I was being Noel Coward-ish, I would shrug and go on with my work.

 

As a child I heard this name tossed by a friend's father, a dressing gown lounger himself.Just about any quip remotely wicked and witty was attributed to Noel Coward. One of my all time favourites is: I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise.

 

And so grew an image in my mind. Of a man who padded around his house in a dressing gown, cigarette dangling from his fingers and each time he opened his mouth it was to drawl, "But darling…."

 

Somewhere in my head my friend's father and Noel Coward becameintertwined. Men of sophistication.Men in their dressing gowns. Years later I found Coward's only novel Pomp and Circumstances and fell in love with him truly and properly. And so I set out to find out more about him. To my chagrin, one of the first discoveries was of an irritated Coward asking, "Why am I always expected to wear a dressing-gown, smoke cigarettes in a long holder and say 'Darling, how wonderful'?"

 

Noel Coward's dressing gown was of black and gold silk, full-length and trimmed with quilted silk collar and cuffs, the breast pocket embroidered with NC monogram. Mine is neither as grand nor custom made. Instead it came from a far eastern market and has all the oriental motifs you can think of, woven in it.

 

Nevertheless when within its silken folds, I feel congenial enough to receive yet another invite to a store opening with a 'Darling, how wonderful!'

 

— The writer is an author and novelist based in Bangalore

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

COPING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE

TIME RUNNING OUT FOR ACTION

 

FOR most people climate change fails to ring a bell. Doubters become bolder when even claims of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (headed by Rajendra K. Pachauri) concerning the Himalayan glaciers are challenged in newspapers like The Sunday Telegraph of London. To broadbase climate research the Indian Network for Climate Change (INCC) Assessment has brought together some 250 scientists from 125 institutions to gather evidence of climate change impact in India.

 

Their latest report, released on Tuesday, projects a temperature rise of 1.7-2 degrees Celsius in India by 2030. The INCC study is confined to the Himalayan region, the North-East, the Western Ghats and the coastal areas. The micro view is being taken as India is a vast country and the impact of climate change varies from place to place. The finding that apple production in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir is expected to fall by 2030 and beyond should ring the alarm bells and prompt the authorities to prepare for the change. Besides, people in the hill states will increasingly become prone to diseases like malaria which are common in the plains. Then, there will be a marginal rise in rice production in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

 

The INCC must hasten research into climate change impact on agriculture and water in Punjab, Haryana and UP to meet growing threats to food security. Two other studies — one commissioned by Greenpeace titled "Blue Alert: Climate Migrants in South Asia" and the other by the UN called "In Search of Shelter" have warned that climate impact on subsistence herding, farming and fishing will force millions of people to flee areas faced with rising seas, floods and drought with the increased melting of the Himalayan glaciers in 40 years. The climate-induced effects need not cause panic but do warrant long-term planning and action to meet the challenge.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NO COLLEGE FOR THEM

MATRICULATION IS THE GLASS CEILING FOR MOST

 

IT is a matter of deep concern that most Indian youth discontinue education after the age of 15. The debilitating result is that out of the 333 million literate youth population, only 10 per cent are graduates while a whopping 76 per cent are matriculates or below. Considering that a matriculation certificate does not guarantee one even a peon's job, most of these youth are condemned to engage in low-paid menial jobs. It is necessary to analyse the reasons behind this sorry state of affairs and apply correctives. Some drop out after school because they are  just not good enough in studies to be able to get the high marks required to get admission in a college. But in most cases the reason for dropout is sheer poverty due to which even a 16 year old has to think of earning the daily bread for the family instead of "wasting" time on an "unproductive" pursuit like education. This mindset must be changed fast.

 

The 2009 National Youth Readership Survey reveals even sadder statistics about women. Whereas 56 per cent youth males are literate, the percentage is as low as 44 per cent in the case of women. A son and a daughter are on an equal footing in the eyes of the law of the land, but as far as society is concerned, it would rather have the girls stay at home and do daily chores. The cutting edge of India 's growth will be blunted if the malady is not remedied.

 

One silver lining is that OBCs have been doing well in studies. They make up 40 per cent – the maximum – of the literate youth. However, the quest for knowledge has  not reached the Scheduled Castes (23 per cent) and the Scheduled Tribes (10 per cent) adequately. For all-round progress of the country, it is necessary to take every section along and make it grow to its maximum potential. Education is the key which can open many locks. It should be available to each and every youth of the country.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PRIMETIME TAMASHA

THE SHOW GOES ON, BUT AT A COST

 

TELEVISION audiences will continue to see the popular reality show 'Bigg Boss' at prime time, in spite of the efforts of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry which wanted the slot of the programme changed to a later hour. The Bombay High Court, acting on a petition filed by the affected channel, Colors TV, has issued a stay order on the I&B Ministry's directive till Monday. The I&B Ministry had also asked Imagine TV to change the broadcast timing of the show 'Rakhi Ka Insaaf'. The charge against both shows is of broadcasting 'objectionable' content and the ministry said it had received many complaints against the shows. This is the first time that the I&B Ministry has ordered a schedule change. Earlier, it had confined itself to suspending the telecast of offending channels like Fashion TV and AXN for a specific time.

 

Television has often been a battleground between censorship and free speech, and the I&B Ministry derives its authority from the provisions of Section 20 of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. It has been active in issuing notices and advisories for the alleged violation of the programme code, although its latest action has been seen as a knee-jerk response. To assuage the fear of the government playing the "big brother" and imposing censorship, the I&B Ministry should enforce its guidelines in a transparent and fair manner.

 

On the other hand, the TV industry too, should self-regulate, and avoid airing content that caters to baser instincts of audiences. Many who watch TV do find such programmes offensive. Yes, they do have the option to switch them off, but that is not the only answer. The industry at large and programming executives should keep in mind that society at large has certain levels of tolerance, and would do well not to promote vulgarity and obscenity, lest they attract action. Those who handle a powerful medium like television should do so with a sense of responsibility.

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

N-AGENDA AFTER OBAMA VISIT

INDIA NEEDS TO ENTER CONTROL REGIMES

BY P. R. CHARI

 

INDIA and the United States have travelled a zigzag route in their nuclear relationship. The Clinton administration pursued non-proliferation as its primary agenda with great zeal. It singled out India for being inveigled into its policy to "cap, then over time, reduce and finally eliminate" nuclear weapons and their means of delivery in South Asia. That policy became irrelevant after India, shortly thereafter followed by Pakistan, conducted its nuclear tests in 1998. India was then subjected to the full panoply of sanctions, which denied it access to high technology from the US in the nuclear, space and defence sectors. India's related organizations were also placed on an "Entities List", and prohibited from receiving allied goods and services. Indeed, employees in India's blacklisted organizations could not attend even academic meetings in the US.

 

The efflux of time, however, saw the rigours of these sanctions and their ambit being slowly eroded, especially during the Bush administration. The cornerstone of its pro-India policy, much to the distress of the non-proliferation lobby in Washington DC, was the Indo-US nuclear deal. President Bush pushed it through a skeptical US Congress and then an equally unconvinced 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna. Though signed in 2008, the nuclear deal has yet to be consummated for various legal complications that are being sorted out.

 

It is against this backdrop that the high profile Obama visit and the joint Indo-US statement issued thereafter needs to be evaluated. So, what was their nuclear agenda? It is recognizable in two parts — policy declarations or statements of intent made and the more substantive agreements reached.

 

At the declaratory level both countries pledged to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament ideals. More specifically, they identified the need to establish a meaningful dialogue among the nuclear weapon states, reduce the salience of ultimate weapons in national security doctrines, and strengthen the existing norm regarding their non-use. How these unexceptional objectives would be achieved was not mentioned. How, for instance, can the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines be reduced? A commitment to strengthen the norm against the use of nuclear weapons is too airy a precept. Incidentally, only India and China have proclaimed their adherence to a no-first-use of nuclear weapons doctrine, but all the other powers, including the US, find themselves unable to make this commitment. Consequently, an air of unreality permeates these declarations.

 

Proceeding ahead, the joint statement highlights the danger of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons or materials; hence they the need for cooperation to secure these materials.

 

Steps taken in this direction, however, should not prejudice access to nuclear energy to meet the ends of energy security. But this is the current dilemma excoriating the international system; a reiteration of this dilemma without discussing how it should be addressed is wholly egregious. There are several other statements of this genre. Both countries have pledged to ban the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials, but the elusive Fissile Materials Control Treaty (FMCT) designed for this purpose has been under discussion for years in Geneva. Further, India reiterated that it will continue its moratorium on nuclear testing, and the US has affirmed that it will ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that has been languishing in the US Senate since 1996. A two-thirds majority in the US Senate is required to ratify the CTBT. But after the recent American elections, the Democrats have a wafer thin (51 to 49) majority in the Senate, highlighting the impossibility of President Obama pushing through this measure. At this stage there is no reason for India to take a call on either the FMCT or the CTBT.

 

Coming to the substantive agreements reached, the two countries have decided "to realise the full potential of their strategic relationship" by addressing the knotty issue of high technology transfers. The US has agreed to remove all Indian organisations, except the Atomic Energy Commission, from its infamous "Entities List", which shall make it possible for them to access items needed for its high technology-related programmes. In furtherance of this modality, the US has also decided to support India's membership of four major export control regimes — the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime

 

(MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. The NSG and the MTCR are concerned with regulating the transfer of nuclear and missile technology. The Australia Group regulates the trade in biological and chemical agents and their precursors, while the Wassenaar Arrangement deals with exports of conventional weapons technology.

 

Membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is an essential criterion for entry into the NSG and the MTCR. Since India has not joined the NPT and has no intention of doing so, the US will have to do heavy lifting as it did when the Indo-US nuclear deal was brought before the NSG. The critical difference is that President Bush in 2008 was much more powerful than President Obama is at present. On the last occasion President Bush was able to steamroller his way over the opposition of several NSG members, including China.

 

Will President Obama be able to do the same? Especially when he is simultaneously opposing China's move to offer a nuclear deal to Pakistan. Apropos of this, the NPT membership is not a criterion for joining the other two export control regimes — the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. But India would need to harmonise the items listed in its present export control laws with that identified by these two regimes, which can be negotiated.

 

India needs to make a concerted diplomatic effort now to enter these export control regimes. It has managed to get a foot into the door after years of being treated as a pariah by the international nuclear regime. That opening should not be squandered away by either neglect or insouciance.

 

The writer is associated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

MIDDLE

A BLOUSE FOR INDIRA GANDHI

BY RAJ KANWAR

 

MY first meeting with Indira Gandhi happened sometime in later part of 1950s when the Gandhi boys, Sanjay and Rajiv, were in the Doon School and their mother was a frequent visitor to Dehra Dun to see them. Sometime she came alone, while on other occasions she accompanied her father, Prime Minister Nehru.

 

Indira Gandhi was my sister Neel Kamal's idol; she admired Mrs. Gandhi's dress sense and the elegant way she draped her saree. "You are a journalist and could easily meet Indira Gandhi," my sister insisted that I took her to see Mrs Gandhi. I had met Pt Nehru earlier on a couple of occasions but somehow didn't have the chance to meet Mrs Gandhi.

 

The opportunity came a week later on 19th November when both Nehru and Indira Gandhi were visiting Dehra Dun and were staying as usual in the Circuit House. My sister was quite excited and eagerly looked forward to meeting Mrs Gandhi. Unknown to me, she had knitted a blouse for Mrs Gandhi as a birthday gift. As a total stranger, I was somewhat hesitant in making this present to her but my sister reassured me that it was ok. "People do give presents on birthdays," she argued.

 

My sister and I arrived at the Circuit House around 10 a.m. Those were the balmy days when the dreaded word, "security", had not made its entry in the political jargon. If you wanted to meet a VVIP, you just went and met him or her.

 

Circuit House animate fixture Ram Prasad accosted me in the verandah. "Aap Panditji se milna chahate ho," he asked. "No, mein or meri behan Indiraji ko happy birthday karne aayen hain," was my answer. Indira Gandhi had not yet come out from her room, and no one had the permission or courage to disturb her. Ram Prasad seated us in easy cane chairs and asked us to wait for Indiraji to come out.

 

Presently, Mrs Gandhi appeared and noticed us; my sister and I stood up and went towards her. I introduced myself and my sister, and then we both said in unison "happy birthday, Indiraji". Mrs Gandhi was not a wee bit surprised; she smiled and said, "thank you". Then like a conjuror my sister took out a small packet from her big hand bag, and opened it with a flourish. Out came a beige woollen blouse, and my sister mustered courage to say that this was a birthday present that she had specially knitted for her.

 

Mrs Gandhi was somewhat surprised and perplexed. Before she could refuse, I interjected to say that my sister was very good at knitting and could knit blindfolded.

 

Mrs Gandhi smiled and graciously accepted my sister's humble gift and profusely thanked her. Ram Prasad appeared from nowhere with a tray carrying coffee. We sipped the beverage and chatted for a while before we took her leave.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

WOMEN HAVE TO CONTINUALLY LIVE WITH THE THREAT OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT. RAJESH GILL DELIBERATES WHETHER THE PASSING OF THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE BILL WILL MAKE WORKING WOMEN BREATHE EASY 

IN HER DEFENCE

 

THE Bill on Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace, which is going to be tabled in Parliament in the winter session is more than welcome in view of the large number of women having entered into employment sector in the country. Most vulnerable have been the unskilled and semi-literate women working in the unorganised sector constituting more than 90 per cent of total gainfully employed women in India.

 

Therefore the most significant feature of the proposed Bill is that it has a comprehensive coverage, which is likely to benefit all women who are in employment. Further, it is not only the women employees who can seek justice under the provision but even other women at a workplace, like students or service recipients would also benefit in case of sexual harassment at workplace. Whether in villages, towns or cities, men in a patriarchal set up that we have always had, are not used to having women around, especially surpassing them in efficiency as colleagues or using their authority at superior positions.

 

There have been numerous cases since the implementation of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in which women sarpanches and members of Panchayats, especially when they were assertive and non obliging to male members, have been "taught a lesson" by the men around by humiliating them in full public view.

 

After the Vishakha case, it was made mandatory for all public sector organisations, including universities, to have actively functional bodies known as Gender Sensitisation Committees against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH). But in reality, these have hardly been functional in most of the cases.

 

If the proposed Bill comes into force as an Act, this provision shall certainly get teeth. But there is no need to over-estimate the Act. Like most of other provisions, such as Dowry Prohibition Act, Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code, Protection of Women against Domestic Violence etc., this provision too shall be liable to misuse. In fact, this Act has already evoked a mixed response with a strong apprehension among men that women are going to misuse the provision against men in order to meet their vested interests.

 

Instead of brushing such fears under the carpet, there is need to counter them, debate them and build public opinion so that the objectives for which this Act is being formulated, can be met. These apprehensions can be effectively handled provided the "Internal Complaints Committees" the Bill talks about, are methodically and judiciously formulated. As per the proposed Bill, these committees shall have to discern the malicious complaints, and identify the genuine ones. Persons of high integrity and calibre need to be engaged for the job so that justice is not denied but delivered.

 

The most crucial aspect of the acts of sexual harassment at workplace (as elsewhere) relates to the fact that such an act is always committed in complete privacy, generally when the relationship between the person committing it and the victim is either fiduciary or that of super ordination. In such cases usually there is no witness and it is extremely difficult to produce direct evidence by the victim. Consequently, while the victim, for want of witnesses and evidence, generally chooses to remain silent (not complain) for the fear of getting stigmatised, the person committing the act gets encouraged.

 

But it is important that the proposed Bill has taken up a comprehensive definition of "sexual harassment" from Vishakha case, encompassing sexually coloured remarks, sexual advances and gestures etc., apart from actual physical acts, thus coming to the rescue of thousands of women who are persistently harassed at workplace not necessarily with physical acts but through sexually flavoured gestures or remarks, coming so naturally from men. Of course, in modern job environment, it is common for women to mix around with men, have live-in relationships, now legalised, and be comfortable with the advances of men. But the point is that no man has a right to force himself upon a woman who refuses to take it. Several judicial pronouncements in Indian courts have categorically ruled that even a prostitute has a right to privacy and no man has a right to force himself upon her against her consent.

 

The proposed Bill reminds us, especially men, that it is time we mind our language, at least at the workplace, show some professionalism and look upon women at workplace as human beings. The recent cases involving complaints of sexual harassment by women officers in defence services against their male officers have generally aroused a backlash blaming the presence of women at workplace as mind polluting. It is time our men build up strong minds along with strong bodies.

 

Let us hope that the Act giving protection to women against sexual harassment at workplace comes into force and enables women to give their best professionally, not fearing men while using elevators, or while working with them in subordination or as colleagues. But for that women, especially at the bottom of the hierarchy, shall have to be educated about the legal provisions regarding their protection. Finally, there is no need for men to fear because it is not only their women colleagues or subordinates who are going to get protection at the workplace, but more importantly their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers too.

 

The writer is Professor and Chairperson, Department of Sociology and Department of Women's Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

 

Landmark judgment

 

Bhanwari Devi, a Saathin of a development programme run by the government of Rajasthan, was fighting against child and multiple marriages in villages. She tried to stop the child marriage of Ramkaran Gujjar's infant daughter, who was less than a year old. The marriage took place nevertheless, and Bhanwari earned the ire of the Gujjar family. In September 1992, five men, including Ramkaran Gujjar, gang raped Bhanwari. Unable to get justice, women groups had filled a petition in the Supreme Court of India, under the name of 'Vishakha'. The Supreme Court judgement, which came on August 13, 1997, gave the Vishakha guidelines. This case brought harassment at the workplace into the public glare.

 

It recognised sexual harassment at workplace under Indian jurisprudence for the first time. The order also set guidelines for the prevention  and redressal of this malaise. Recently the Union Cabinet gave the nod to the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2010 for introduction in Parliament.

 

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TRIBUNE

WORKING, BUT NOT RECOGNIZED

KSHITIJ BANSAL

 

AMIDST the news that the government is contemplating a law to prevent harassment of women at workplace on the lines of Vishakha Judgment, the discussion among feminists has again shifted towards ameliorating the condition of working women.Co-incidentally Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are also being discussed. There is a need to do an analysis of how facilitating working women, affects almost all the socio-economic indicators.

 

The assumption that, in the process of socio-economic development,women increasingly enter the modern sector, permanent, full-time wage employment does not hold— at least not for the time being. Increases in labour force participation rates have so far not been matched by improvements in job quality and the working conditions of women have not led to their true socio-economic empowerment.

 

The share of women that is employed but still is unable to lift them and their family above the US $1 a day poverty line—the so-called working-poor share—is higher for women than it is for men. Out of the total number of 550 million estimated working poor, around 60 per cent or 330 million are women.

 

Women have a smaller likelihood of being in regular wage and salaried employment than men. In economies with a high share of agriculture, women work more often in this sector than men. Women's share of employment in the services sector also exceeds that of men. Additionally, women are more likely to earn less than men for the same type of work, even in traditionally female occupations.

 

The analysis of the three indicators (status, sector and wages/earnings) shows that women are more likely to find employment in the informal economy than men, outside legal and regulatory frameworks, with little, if any, social security benefits and a high degree of vulnerability. As a consequence, women have a higher share in the number of working poor in the world. Adding the 330 million female working poor to the 77.8 million women who are unemployed means that at least 400 million decent jobs would be needed to satisfy women's demand for decent work. It is probably safe to say that even this is a conservative estimate and if one were to address the issue of women who are voluntarily outside the labour force, the deficit for decent work opportunities for women would be even greater.

 

One theory which has been put forward to explain women's relatively low wage levels is the human capital theory, which relates wage levels to the levels of human capital (education, training and skill). Women are said to have a lower average level of education and training because of poor education sector prevailing in most under-developed and developing economies. Even if policies exist (as in the sub-continent and China), they are poorly targeted and do not reach the needy.

 

Creating adequate decent work for women is possible only if policy-makers not only place employment at the centre of social and economic policies but also recognise that women's problems in the world of work are even more substantial than men's. Unless progress is made to take women out of working poverty by creating employment opportunities to help them secure productive and remunerative work in conditions of freedom, security and human dignity and thereby giving them a chance to work themselves out of poverty, the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty by 2015 will not be achieved in several regions of the world.

 

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TRIBUNE

PROTECTIVE PROVISIONS

 

 The Bill recognises the promise or threat to a woman's employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as 'sexual harassment' at workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts.

 

 The Bill provides protection not only to women who are employed but also to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, and daily wageworker or in ad-hoc capacity. Students, research scholars in colleges/ university and patients in hospitals have also been covered. Further, the Bill seeks to cover workplaces in the unorganised sectors.

 

 The Bill provides for an effective complaints and redressal mechanism. Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee. Since a large number of establishments in our country have less than 10 workers for whom it may not be feasible to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), the Bill provides for setting up of Local Complaints Committee .

 

 Employers who fail to comply with the provisions of the proposed Bill will be punishable with a fine which may extend to Rs 50,000.

 

 Since there is a possibility that during the pendency of the enquiry the woman may be subject to threat and aggression, she has been given the option to seek interim relief in the form of transfer either of her own or the respondent or seek leave from work.

 

 The Complaint Committees are required to complete the enquiry within 90 days and a period of 60 days has been given to the employer/District Officer for implementation of the recommendations of the Committee.

 

 The Bill provides for safeguards in case of false or malicious complaint of sexual harassment. However, mere inability to substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof would not make the complainant liable for punishment.

 

Implementation of the Bill will be the responsibility of the Central Government in case of its own undertakings/ establishments and of the State Governments in respect of every workplace established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by it as well as of private sector establishments falling within their territory.

 

Source: www.pib.nic.in

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEWS

THE RULE OF LAW IS NOT FOR SALE

ADARSH BUILDING, AND THE PLOT ON WHICH IT STANDS, MUST NOW BE PUT TO A PURPOSE THAT ACCURATELY REFLECTS HOW WE FEEL


The Adarsh Society scam has many dimensions – illegal permissions, allotments, extra FSI, contraventions of the law, ownership of the land, and more. But there's another scandal quietly brewing and it is possibly the worst of all. On the basis that, following the Ministry of Environment and Forests' notice to the society asking it to show cause why it should not be demolished, some lobbies have started making suggestions that the building should be "auctioned" (the auction proceeds to go to the state treasury). 

 

The basis of this argument is that demolition is an expensive business – it is estimated to cost Rs 3 crores – and that a demolition is a national "loss". That argument is completely bogus. It has been canvassed repeatedly in the law courts, and repeatedly rejected. 

 

In the mid-1980's, Arun Bhatia, then Collector of Bombay, exposed a series of FSI scams. A builder-architect-BMC nexus contrived to fudge plot areas and available FSI. A series of articles in the Indian Express exposed the scam. Based on those articles, Shyam Chainani and the Bombay Environmental Action Group filed petitions challenging these constructions. Two of the buildings involved are well known to Mumbai's citizens: the empty Pratibha building, off Sophia College lane, and Arihant, opposite Cadbury House at Mahalaxmi. Arihant was demolished entirely – for many years it stood as a wreck till it was pulled down. Pratibha still stands, with its top eight floors rendered unusable. In both cases, the argument that builders now advance for Adarsh, was agitated in court. In the Pratibha case, the Supreme Court in 1992 refused to hold in favour of the society and stay further demolition, observing that illegal construction must be dealt with firmly because they are against the public interest. 

 

Three years later, in 1995, the Bombay High Court decided the Arihant case. There, the "loss argument" was specifically raised. This is what the High Court said: 

 

"Both the learned Counsel submitted that as the shell of the building has already been erected by the year 1984, the cancellation of the sanction granted by the Corporation would lead to financial loss. We are not at all impressed about the claim made about financial loss. It has repeatedly come to our notice that in the city of Bombay builders by joining hands with the officers of the Corporation openly flout every conceivable rule including Development Control Rules. The builders are under the impression that once the shell of the building is illegally constructed then the Court can be persuaded to take a sympathetic view and permit the construction even though in total breach of every legal provision. ... The time has come when everyone should realize that the rule of law is not a purchasable commodity." 

 

These are the words of Justice Pendse and Justice Jhunjhunwala of the Bombay High Court in 1995. Fifteen years later, they seem strangely prescient; and we seem to have learned nothing at all. The illegalities the judges noted with such despair still continue. The arguments to allow the continuance of those illegalities are still made. 

 

This is why the suggestion to "auction" Adarsh is so reprehensible. That building, which should have housed the veterans and families of our armed forces who fought and died in Kargil, is now a monument to corruption, one that has cost the state its Chief Minister. That is no small thing. To allow Adarsh to stand is, therefore, to accept the stench about it. There seems little chance of it being restored, legally, to its original purpose. That building, and the plot on which it stands, must now be put to a purpose that correctly reflects what we all feel, what has been achieved by the media and by the many citizens and groups who fought against it. As the judges in the Arihant case said, "it is only because of the continuous efforts of groups like the petitioners that illegalities are brought to the attention of the Court." 

 

Another space must be found for a building for Kargil veterans. The Adarsh building should be torn down. The cost of demolition is irrelevant, because it is the best investment of all, an investment in justice. The plot must be turned into a public park. In it, we need a memorial to those who fought and died in Kargil, a place to honour our valiant, a place of quiet and of reflection, one that sends a permanent message to everyone in every limb of government: no, you can't get away with it; no, we won't let you get away with it; and, no matter what you do, our city still believes that the rule of law is not for sale.

 

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

EDITORIAL

BANKING ON SYNERGY

AXIS BANK AND ENAM SECURITIES FIND A SWEET SPOT

 

For someone who used to consider acquisitions a distraction, and saw organic growth opportunities as India's "sweet spot", Axis Bank Managing Director and CEO Shikha Sharma was quick to grab an opportunity for merger when it came her way. After all, it's not often that one gets a chance to acquire the investment banking, institutional and retail equities broking business of a leading domestic player like Enam Securities. In 2010, Enam was ranked third in the Bloomberg league tables for domestic equity offerings with an 8 per cent market share. It also occupies the number one position as a banker for rights issuances in the current year with a market share of 25.4 per cent. But most importantly, it helps India's fourth-largest bank, in terms of market capitalisation, plug a big gap in its portfolio of offerings. Axis, which was topping the debt and loan league tables, was unable to break through the equity capital markets and mergers and acquisitions table. Most of Axis' peers like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and others already have a strong securities arm. In a masterstroke, Ms Sharma has also ensured continuity of management as the business will be led by Enam Director Manish Chokhani. Capital market-related businesses are different from traditional banking and continuance of the top management of Enam will make sure that the new subsidiary fires from day one without suffering any transitional problems. The two firms also share commonality with respect to client profile, and should be able to drive synergies after coming together. These are all the ingredients of a win-win deal.

 

It's a huge plus for Enam as well, and shows the maturity of the redoubtable Vallabh Bhansali. It was becoming increasingly clear that the days of pure-play investment banking are getting over and the need of the hour is huge one-stop financial shops. Globally, major stand-alone investment banks that went bankrupt have either merged with commercial banks or transformed themselves into bank holding companies. Just advice, ideas or relationships won't be enough as along with capital, client companies' debt requirements also have to be met. That is where the marriage with Axis makes maximum sense. Besides, the Enam Group will get to retain the proprietary trading and asset management business. The proprietary trading desk itself is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore.

 

 There have been some misgivings over whether the deal is expensive when compared to peers, but most analysts say that the deal is strictly not comparable as other listed broking houses like Edelweiss and India Infoline also have large fund-based business and have raised capital in the last three years. Besides, Axis, with its strong relationships in corporate banking, is well positioned to leverage strong investment banking relations and the brand of Enam to grow its revenues in the equities business. The most important point, however, is that competition in brokerages is shrinking profit margins fast as is evident from the stock market performance of pure-play brokerage and investment banks. Ms Sharma's retail broking business under the brand name Axisdirect is all set to get a cracker of a start, following the Enam deal. Surely, it must be more than just a coincidence that ICICI Bank's similar business is known as ICICIdirect!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

EMPLOYMENT CONUNDRUM

JOBS DATA WILL IMPROVE IF POLICIES IMPROVE

 

The recently published survey of employment and unemployment in India, conducted in 300 districts across the country, shows once again that without a reform of India's archaic labour laws, the share of salaried employed will continue to remain low. The employment-unemployment survey was conducted by the Labour Bureau of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment. Public attention has largely focused on the unemployment number that the survey threw up. It shows an unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent in the year 2009-10. That is 94 persons out of 1,000 in the labour force were "available" for work but not gainfully employed. In absolute terms, this rate yields a figure of approximately 40 million persons. This is a very high number. It is possible that the economic slowdown in 2009, following the global economic slowdown, and the sharp fall in production in export-oriented sectors may have contributed to this. This cannot, however, be an important part of the explanation since a substantial part of the total number unemployed comes from rural areas, with a 10 per cent rate of unemployment in rural areas and around 7.3 per cent in urban areas. However, in the absence of more detailed information, it is difficult to jump to any conclusion.

 

Indian employment data has long had conceptual and coverage problems. The "availability" criterion has its inherent definitional problems because all those "available" for work, or even "seeking" work, need not be necessarily "unemployed". No agency puts together actual data on total employment, so surveys are all we have. One reason for the poor quality of employment-unemployment data is the very structure of employment in India. For a modern economy, the share of "self-employed" and "casual employed" is inordinately high. For an economy like India's, a high share of self-employed (457/1,000) and casual labour (435/1,000) in total rural labour force is understandable. However, if even in urban areas the self-employed (439/1,000) and casual labour (393/1,000) dominate the total labour force, with salaried employed being the residual, it is because labour policy in India discourages firms from hiring full-time salaried workers and encourages casualisation of labour. The so-called "self-employed" are also potential workers since the self-employment of many is not a choice but a necessity.

 

 Apart from unemployment, the "casualisation" of labour as well as the high figure for self-employed point to persistent distortions in India's labour market. To be sure, government policy is not the only factor contributing to this, but it is probably the more important one. Labour market reforms aimed at easier entry and exit norms can encourage firms to employ full-time staff. Firms benefit from loyalty of workers. Loyalty pushes up productivity. The idea that daily wage workers, facing the constant threat of firing, work harder and that permanent employees become lazy is an idea borrowed from experience in governmental organisations. In the private sector, job security has had the effect of enhancing worker loyalty and, therefore, productivity. Policies that promote job security, without denying firms the freedom to hire and fire, can help improve employment rates and worker productivity.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

CURRENT ACCOUNT IMBALANCES

INDIA SHOULD PROMOTE FDI IN REAL SECTORS, MODERATING ACCESS TO RELATIVELY VOLATILE PORTFOLIO INFLOWS

JAIMINI BHAGWATI

 

In the past few months, there was a sense of unease in international economic circles that the high levels of current account imbalances could lead to competitive depreciation of currencies. The disquiet stems from an inchoate feeling that the probability of another economic downturn is rising. The tipping point could be one of several other imponderables, e.g. widespread home loan defaults, sovereign debt restructuring among countries on the European periphery. This article reviews the issues involved and suggests that India should anticipate and "hedge" against the growing risks to which it is exposed.

 

 The steep slide in growth, after the financial meltdown in September 2008, was arrested and demand fostered through coordinated fiscal expansion in the G20 economies. More recently, several European countries, including the UK, have embarked on belt-tightening as they try to rein in fiscal deficits and reduce their stocks of sovereign debt. This has been accompanied by uneven efforts in the US and Europe to tighten financial sector regulation and accounting standards. The Basel III solvency and liquidity requirements are not adequate and implementation is stretched too far out till 2018. Although Europe is setting up an agency to monitor credit rating agencies, starting January 2011, there has been little coordination on this subject between the US and Europe.

 

On November 3, 2010, the US Federal Reserve announced that it had started on a second round of quantitative easing (QE2) amounting to $600 billion. In the first phase of quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve bought medium- to long-term US Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, mostly issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and its balance sheet increased in size from $800 billion in September 2008 to $2.3 trillion in October 2010.

 

Countries such as Japan, Brazil, Thailand and South Korea had intervened in foreign exchange markets or raised barriers to capital inflows even before QE2. China, Germany, Japan and South Korea (current account-surplus countries) are likely to take steps to maintain their export competitiveness if the dollar were to depreciate significantly from current levels.

 

A number of economists, including one of the members of the Federal Reserve, have suggested that QE2 will not be effective since businesses and individuals are reducing their debt levels and even if medium- to long-term dollar interest rates come down, credit off-take will not increase commensurately. Clearly, there are structural issues in developed economies which need to be addressed directly. For example, shortfalls between unemployment/pension outflows and corresponding sources of revenues in some European countries, and the overweening primacy and distorted incentive structures of the financial sector in the US.

 

The US has suggested that current account surpluses/deficits be capped/limited to 4 per cent of GDP. It is impossible to compress the differing causalities and challenges that the G20 economies face into one current account number. Consequently, there are differences on whether surplus or deficit countries should bear most of the burden of adjustment. Inevitably, the G20 summit meeting in Seoul on November 11-12 did not arrive at a consensus on current account imbalances. It is unfortunate that the spotlight was not on how best to improve upon and implement the Financial Stability Board's mixed bag of recommendations on strengthening financial sector regulation.

 

As of November 2010, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), from short-dated to five-year maturities, were trading at negative interest rates. Apparently, investors in TIPS are convinced that the US is headed towards higher inflation levels and this could result in significantly higher commodity prices, including oil. The US has sailed into uncharted waters with QE2 and the risk that asset bubbles will spread globally has increased.

 

India runs a chronic trade deficit and for fiscal year 2010-11 the current account deficit could be around 3.5 per cent of GDP. In this context, it has been argued by many that the rupee is overvalued. Others maintain that infrastructure inadequacies are more to blame for India's lack of export competitiveness and the rupee's real effective exchange rate has not appreciated much against a basket of 36 currencies. Instead of a basket of currencies, it would be more accurate to track the rupee's movements against the currencies of our principal export competitors on an item-by-item basis.

 

What are the implications for India? To an extent, the recent steep increase in Indian stock market valuations has been fuelled by low interest rates in the US, Japan and Europe. With the QE2-induced increase in dollar liquidity, additional forex inflows can be expected, beyond what is needed to meet our current account deficit, which would tend to push up the rupee and boost the carry trade in Indian stocks. Nominal Indian 10-year sovereign interest rates are about 6-7 per cent higher than comparable interest rates in the US, Europe and Japan. Forwards and futures markets in exchange rates are determined by nominal spot exchange rates and nominal interest rates, and based on interest rate parity, the nominal rupee should depreciate consistently against the dollar, yen or euro. In contrast, the nominal rupee has been appreciating over the last 12 months. It follows that India needs to "manage" the rupee exchange rate and we should hasten slowly towards capital account convertibility.

 

India is capital-deficient and should welcome foreign capital. Evidently, greater competition in the Indian financial services sector will enhance efficiency in credit intermediation and bring benefits to customers. Ideally, the caps on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the financial sector, including insurance, should be raised. However, we are not in a position to open up the financial sector much further without addressing the bottlenecks which prevent the absorption of forex inflows in real sectors. On balance, Indian banking should continue to be boring and capital markets stripped of irrational exuberance.

 

In response to slow growth and high levels of unemployment, the home countries of John Keynes and Milton Friedman have decided that one size does not fit all. Namely, the UK has decided to tighten fiscally while the US has taken the unorthodox QE2 route. This should convince the ideologically committed in India to be pragmatic and to promote FDI in real sectors while moderating access to relatively volatile portfolio inflows. We have to be alert to minimise the impact on India of what currently appears to be an inexorable march towards another financial sector crisis within the next five-to-seven years.

 

j.bhagwati@gmail.com

 

The author is India's ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. The views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WHAT ABOUT CORRUPTION IN CORPORATE DEALS?

THERE IS NOTHING TO SUGGEST THAT CORRUPTION IS ON THE DECLINE. IT IS JUST A WAY OF LIFE IN INDIA

BHUPESH BHANDARI

 

Around the time allegations poured thick and fast at A Raja for selling spectrum cheap to a horde of telecom companies, Ratan Tata created quite a stir at Dehra Dun when he alleged that he was asked to pay a bribe of Rs 15 crore to a minister some years ago when he wanted to set up an airline. In short, corruption thrives in India. The Licence Raj may have been dismantled but there is still a lot of clout that ministers and bureaucrats wield — and there's a price attached to it.

 

 What is perhaps not reported in the media is the corruption that happens when corporations deal with each other. Contracts are handed out, orders are placed, purchases are made, and money often changes hands here as well. In the past, most promoters kept the "purchase" function with themselves — either a family member or a confidante. Why? The reason is obvious. Punitive tax rates, combined with low shareholding, meant there was not much money to be made legally. The real rewards, though in black, came from kickbacks. Little, it seems, has changed.

 

How deep does the rot run? In January 2008, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) had come out with a report called Confronting Corruption. As many as 390 senior executives across the world were surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the report, and this was supplemented with in-depth interviews with 36 senior executives and anti-corruption experts from 14 countries. It was an eye-opener. Sixty-three per cent indicated that they had experienced some form of actual or attempted corruption; 39 per cent said they had lost a bid because of corrupt officials; 45 per cent said they have not entered a market or pursued an opportunity because of corruption risks; and 52 per cent believed their rivals bribe their way to business.

 

]Clearly, people were aware that unethical practices are not uncommon in the world of business. If it comes to light, any incident of corruption can blow a company's reputation to smithereens. Still, corporations pay only lip service to curb such practices. The PwC report said while 80 per cent respondents said that they have some sort of an anti-corruption programme in place, only 22 per cent were confident of their effectiveness; less than half said these programmes are clearly communicated to all and rigorously enforced; and only 40 per cent said the current controls are effective at identifying high-risk business partners or suspect disbursements.

 

This, mind you, was a global report. The situation in India, if the country's score in the various corruption indices is anything to go by, could be far worse. KPMG, earlier this year, had come out with the India Fraud Survey 2010. It spoke to CEOs, CFOs, heads of audit and compliance, fraud risk managers and other senior managers across industry verticals. "The mistrust of employees towards their senior management is unmistakable," it concluded. "Despite this, control mechanisms are not in place in most organisations, and hence the need for risk-mitigating strategies is unquestionable. It is time that India Inc stood up and ended its tolerance of unethical behaviour, bribery and corruption."

 

Seventy-five per cent of the respondents said that fraud in the corporate world is on the rise; 54 per cent said fraud is on the rise in their industry; and 45 per cent said fraud (actual or suspected) has risen in their organisation. Eighty-one per cent said fraud in financial statements is a huge issue; 63 per cent said the desire to meet or exceed market expectations is the main factor behind such frauds; and 62 per cent disagreed that strict action is taken when such a fraud comes to light. Prepare yourself for more alarming stuff: 41 per cent said they do not have in place a formal fraud-risk management framework; 60 per cent said usage of technology in detecting trends and anomalies in data is average to poor; and 58 per cent said data analytics are either not used or used partially.

 

Some bits of the survey didn't come as a surprise. Thus, the supply chain (procurement, distribution and revenue leakage) is the function most exposed to fraud, internal controls are weak, ethical values have eroded and line managers are reluctant to take action against perpetrators. This, in turn, encourages fraudsters. The link between the financial earnings of the company and the remuneration of the senior management has its own perils. Precious little is done to encourage and protect whistleblowers. And few companies have the forensic skills to detect frauds. Nothing shows it better than the Satyam fraud. Till Ramalinga Raju confessed to his monumental fraud in early 2009, nobody was aware that he had been cooking the books of the company for seven long years! The company had over 50,000 employees, topnotch people on its board of directors and high-profile auditors. Evidence that has been collected so far shows that apart from a handful of people nobody had a clue of what Raju was up to. There may have been some tightening of controls and screening of business partners, especially of clients by auditors, since the scam broke out, but there is nothing to suggest that corruption is on the decline. It is just a way of life in India.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

EMERGING LESSONS

MANY DEVELOPING COUNTRIES HAVE LESSONS IN FINANCIAL CRISIS MANAGEMENT RELEVANT TO DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

N CHANDRA MOHAN

 

When this writer was doing his research at the Centre for Development Studies in the late 1970s, Professor Kazushi Ohkawa of Hitotsubashi University gave a talk on Japan's successful economic development and the lessons it held for developing economies. In the early 1990s, the East Asian miracle economies were exemplars of rapid growth. With the global crisis of 2008-09, developing economies are now believed to have lessons for crisis-ridden advanced countries.

 

As rapidly growing countries like China, India and Brazil are becoming engines of the global economy, the importance of highlighting their experiences is being increasingly felt in the academic world to help advanced countries move from short-term crisis management to a new growth paradigm. To this end, a workshop was organised by the Department of International Development, UK; the National Council for Applied Economics Research, New Delhi; the World Bank and New York University's Stern School of Business on October 7-8.

 

 A couple of contributions captured the flavour of the workshop. Indira Rajaraman, honorary visiting professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, presented a paper titled "Lessons for advanced economies from developing countries' experience of the last few decades". The focus was on India's monetary policy that ensured there was minimal damage to the economy from the crisis. This example was cited earlier by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz when he argued that if America had a central bank chief like India's Dr Y V Reddy (former RBI Governor), the US economy would not have been in such a mess.

 

Prior to the 2008-09 crisis, standards for greater monetary policy transparency were frequently addressed to developing countries. According to a widely cited assessment of 100 central banks over the period 1998-2006 by Nergiz Dincer and Barry Eichengreen in an NBER working paper published last year, India's central bank scored a lowly two out of 15. Yet, this hopelessly non-transparent Reserve Bank of India (RBI) effectively faced an unprecedented surge in capital inflows and kept a tight lid on appreciation pressure on the Indian rupee.

 

Flouting standards that required it to focus solely on inflation, the RBI acted quite flexibly to ensure macroeconomic stability. The central bank did this through "sterilised purchases of dollars during the unprecedented quadrupling of capital inflows over the four years preceding the crash. By so doing, the RBI effectively protected the economy from the disastrous financial instability that would have been the consequence of an unconstrained appreciation of the India rupee," argued Professor Rajaraman.

 

The RBI also acted flexibly to contain the build-up of a real estate bubble by raising risk weights on commercial real estate loans in stages from July 2005. Though asset markets are not recommended by conventional wisdom to be on the watch list of a central bank for monetary or regulatory purposes, the RBI went against these conventions, demonstrating the advantages of flexibility in responding to unforeseen eventualities that threaten macroeconomic stability.

 

Besides, developing countries' experiences are relevant for advanced countries' fiscal policies. Professor Jeffrey Frankel of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, argued in his paper titled "What lessons do developing countries have for fiscal policy in the US and other advanced countries?" that American policy over the last decade has been pro-cyclical instead of being counter-cyclical. Policy makers wasted the opportunity of a boom in running large budget deficits when a more desirable course of action should have been to register surpluses to enable the economy to ride out a recession as in 2008-09. Thanks to limited fiscal headroom, US policy makers feel constrained with less ambitious stimulus measures when the process of recovery from the global crisis is still fragile.

 

In sharp contrast, during the last decade, a range of developing countries from China to Chile, learned to take advantage of a boom to achieve high budgetary surpluses, which allows some fiscal ease in response to a bust. Thanks to a stronger fiscal position, China could afford to undertake a much more ambitious fiscal stimulus in response to the 2008-09 crisis. Brazil and Indonesia "also found themselves freed of the need to cut spending in recession and were better able to sail through than the industrialised countries," argued Professor Frankel. Advanced countries like the US and the UK wasted the preceding expansion and became heavily constrained by their debt burdens in 2010.

 

Chile's example is even more relevant since its fiscal policy has been governed by a structural budget rule that enabled it to implement a counter-cyclical fiscal policy. Thanks to the 2003-2008 upswing in copper prices, it registered a substantial increase in national savings, some of it dedicated to funding the government's pension-related liabilities. As the computation of a structural budget requires an estimate whether the boom is permanent or temporary, this task has been given to a panel of independent experts and insulated from the wishful thinking of politicians who act as if the boom will continue indefinitely and spend irresponsibly and regret later. Clearly, this workshop threw up interesting developing country experiences that can better inform policy discussions in advanced countries.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE CLIMATE FOR CANCUN

THE WORST RISKS OF CLIMATE CHANGE CAN ONLY BE AVOIDED BY THE ACCEPTANCE THAT WE ARE IN ONE LIFEBOAT

NITIN DESAI

 

About 10 days from today, the parties to the UN climate convention will have another bash at hammering out an agreement to avert what they all agree is one of the gravest threats that the world faces in the decades ahead. Is there any chance that they will do better there than at Copenhagen about a year go?

 

The elements of an international agreement needed to address the threat of climate change are basically as follows:

 

The acceptable limit for the likely temperature increase.

 

The implied time profile of global carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions.

 

The distribution of allowable global emissions among countries.

 

The commitments to programmes and policies that contain emissions to the agreed level.

 

The mechanisms that would allow flexibility in fulfilling commitments.

 

The mechanisms that would support adaptation actions.

 

The financial and technology transfer arrangements for compensating countries which take on more than their fair share of obligations.

 

 The Copenhagen Accord includes a commitment to the goal of containing the likely average global temperature increase to 2º C. The time profile of global emissions needed to meet this goal is not uniquely defined as what matters are cumulative emissions. A path where emission reductions are low initially but accelerate later may have the same cumulative impact over decades as a path that paces the emission reductions more evenly. Be that as it may, a rough summary of the results of a variety of modelling studies is that:

 

Global emissions must peak sometime between 2015 and 2021.

 

Global emissions in 2020 should be approximately 40.0 to 48.3 Gt CO2 eq/yr.

 

By 2050 global emissions should decrease by 48 to 72 per cent relative to 2000.

 

Moving from these global goals to national action is the core of the negotiating agenda and we are nowhere near an agreement on this. The pledges and commitments associated with the Copenhagen Accord add up to emissions of 48.8 to 51.2 Gt CO2 eq/yr in 2020 and in the words of a UNEP brief, "there is low confidence that the two-degree limit will be met"*. The US pledge is a little up in the air as the Bill to give effect to it has not been passed. The main plus point is that the process has led to the announcement of goals for emission containment in the form of carbon intensity reductions by countries like China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico. There are a whole slew of issues like the legal form of the commitments and the monitoring, reporting and verification requirements that complicate the negotiations even further.

 

The central issue is that of equity in the sharing of scarce environmental space. Unfortunately, there is no agreed interpretation of fairness. The UNFCCC recognises the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility", the historical culpability of industrial countries which account for the bulk of the increase in ambient GHGs since the industrial revolution and the primacy of development for developing countries. But all this needs to be spelt out in terms of emission goals for countries. One concept under discussion in seminars, if not in the negotiations, is convergence to equal per capita emissions by a target date, say 2050, at a level consistent with containing emissions to ensure a 50 per cent chance of keeping the average global temperature increase to 2º C. India has already offered that it would ensure that its per capita emissions never exceeded the average for the developed countries, so that any action by them to reduce their emissions very substantially would act as a brake on India's emission growth. Another concept that has received some attention lately is that of carbon budgeting where the available room for carbon emissions, given agreed goals on temperature increase risks, would be shared as a stock on the basis of population. A more contentious proposal would do this but also take account of cumulative use from past emissions.

 

Announced goals for emission reduction or containment are just aspirations and what matters is the translation of these into action. In the next decade, the main source of reductions will be energy efficiency and carbon sequestration through forest protection and reforestation. On forestry, the negotiations seem to be making good progress and there is also some real money in sight from Norway and others. If this is pursued separately and if an agreement on energy efficiency is stitched together at Cancun as part of some advance action even before a full agreement is reached, then we may well be back on the two-degree track.

 

Flexibility mechanisms that allow companies and countries to "buy compliance" by financing carbon saving actions by others are an attempt that purists frown upon and Pareto optimising economists love. At present, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is the main such avenue and its future beyond 2012 is in doubt because of the failure to agree on the next phase of commitments under the protocol. But the carbon market in a broader sense may still survive as long as there is some quantitative compliance obligation, even if it is nationally determined, that can be met by buying carbon credits.

 

On adaptation, financing of mitigation actions by developing countries and technology transfer, the Copenhagen Accord signalled some advance. But the subsequent processes, including the high level panel set up by the UN secretary general, have not brought us any closer to an agreement.

 

The prospects for closure at Cancun are not at all bright and everyone assumes that the game will go on at least for another year if not more. The world has become a victim of the normal framework of reciprocal concessions that dominates international negotiations and the "nothing is agreed till everything is agreed" rule. A mindset that starts from the ethical premise that national interest trumps all other considerations can never deliver an effective environmental agreement. We need sovereignty bargains in which each state surrenders some autonomy of action in order to acquire some influence on the policies of other states.

 

In the final analysis, the worst risks of climate change can only be avoided by the acceptance that we are in one lifeboat and that steering it to safety requires that those who are most able put in a greater effort and those who are less able do what they can to avoid destabilising the boat.

 

nitin-desai@hotmail.com

 

*UNEP, How close are we to the two-degree limit?, Information Note, UNEP, Nairobi, February 2010

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ENAMOURED, CHALLENGED

REGULATING FINANCIAL CONGLOMERATES


WITH the country's equity markets booming, it is but natural that Axis Bank should want a bigger role in this space. And when its closest private sector rivals, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank, already lead bigger financial conglomerates, it makes perfect sense for Axis Bank to merge a wholly-owned investment banking arm with a major chunk of financial services firm, Enam Securities. The all-share deal that gives Enam shareholders 5.7 shares of Axis for every Enam share values the company at . 2,067 crore (around $450 million). For Enam, faced with the challenge of low brokerages and tough competition from global investment banks that are more savvy, especially in areas like fund-raising in global capital markets, the move makes eminent sense. The demand for financial and advisory services is bound to grow as the Indian economy becomes increasingly globalised and Indian corporates become more aggressive. Enam is only the latest of the domestic brokerages to be wooed. In December 2005, Merrill Lynch spent $500 million to buy control of its Indian venture DSP-Merrill Lynch from its local partners, valuing the business at $1 billion (though Merrill Lynch has itself been bought by Bank of America). In February 2007, Morgan Stanley paid $445 million for JM Financial's stake in a business that traded in stocks for local and foreign institutions. 

 

For Axis Bank, the merger should provide scope to grow its low-risk fee-based income. However, the pressure on fees is bound to be intense and only time will tell whether the merger was worth the price. Standalone investment banks have serious limitations, as the recent financial crisis has shown, as compared to commercial banks with their access to retail deposits. But it is precisely for this reason that financial conglomerates that club commercial banking and investment banking need to be carefully regulated. Commercial banks, even private ones, enjoy the benefit of an implicit sovereign guarantee. It is, therefore, critical that the relatively lighter regulation of investment subsidiaries is not allowed to jeopardise the safety of the parent bank. Much greater thought needs to be given to regulation of financial conglomerates than at present.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DECONTROL DIESEL

BEYOND SUVS AND BIG CARS


THE incongruity referred to by environment minister Jairam Ramesh — about big, fuel-thirsty automobiles of the rich running on subsidised diesel — is not exactly new. Even as the rich owners of such vehicles enjoy subsidy, relatively less well-off two-wheeler riders pay additional tax on the petrol they use. While the less well-off subsidising the rich is morally offensive, the amounts involved are not huge. But the total amount of under-recoveries on diesel, kerosene and cooking gas run to something like . 50,000 crore. This is a wholly-unjustified burden on the exchequer. The subsidy on fossil fuel consumption results in diversion of resources that could have gone into investment to a consumption subsidy, depressing overall economic growth. Keeping fuel prices lower than what they ought to be is not just climate-unfriendly but also a drag on the economy's competitiveness — low fuel prices are a disincentive for energy efficiency, and energy inefficiency is a recipe for higher costs and lower consumer acceptance in the global market. A higher-thanwarranted fiscal deficit represents inflationary potential as well. Whichever way you look at it, persisting with subsidy on diesel is not justified. If the diesel subsidy is removed, will it not penalise farmers, who depend on diesel to pump water in the absence of reliable electric power? The cost of diesel is a small portion of a farmer's total costs and, besides, viable mechanical alternatives have been demonstrated that can be used to lift water without using diesel. The case for subsidising kerosene rests on its centrality in rural lighting, in the absence of electricity in a large proportion of rural homes. The solution here is to accelerate the pace of rural electrification and to increase the supply of solar lanterns, which call for a one-time subsidy. 

 

There is no legitimate justification for subsidising an imported fossil fuel for cooking. But it will call for far more political courage than our leaders have customarily demonstrated to withdraw all fuel subsidies at one go. But surely, the biggest item of undeserved and inefficient subsidy can be knocked off? Decontrol diesel, without delay.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ZERO-SUM GAME

NUMERACY TO BOOST GDP?


ZAPPING the brain with a minuscule electrical current to galvanise dormant mathematically-orientated cells sounds uncomfortably like an experiment worthy of Dr Frankenstein's mad laboratory. But the western world's perceived apprehensions about nations like China, Japan and India beating them in the numeracy stakes is clearly leading to some dramatic searches for remedies. That anxiety has probably been further aggravated by the report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stating that a nation's maths proficiency impacts GDP growth. In other words, beautiful minds beget beautiful numbers. Cognitive neuropsychologist Prof Brian Butterworth has gone a step further by averring that if a phalanx of maths wizards are to do an abracadabra on flagging economic impulses, more people have to become numerate — specifically, those who consistently tank their maths scores. As calibrating curricula and cajoling stragglers have not done the needful fast enough, the idea of passing a current through the brain to cure dyscalculia, or number-blindness, could actually find desperate takers. Of course, the danger is that a zap in the wrong place could leave quite a few unfortunate people with no head for numbers at all, that too in a world that is increasingly dependent on them. 

 

Curiously, the existence of that state of mind is contested by the very same Prof Butterworth, who had averred in a 1999 book that normal human brains have neural circuits that involuntarily recognise how many things there are, just as we automatically perceive colour. Logically, however, the leap from counting sheep to book-keeping is a long one. Using an electrical prod to achieve that jump may not be entirely wise. How about simply demystifying maths and making it interesting enough to stimulate those number modules in young minds without drastic laboratory-induced solutions?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WHY NO GST CREDIT TO ENTERTAINMENT?

IF LEVIES SUCH AS ENTERTAINMENT TAX CONTINUE, THE BASIC OBJECTIVE OF GST, VIZ, REPLACING DIVERSE, COMPLEX AND AD-HOC TAXES BY A SINGLE COMPREHENSIVE ONE ON ALL GOODS AND SERVICES, WILL BE DEFEATED, SAYS SATYA PODDAR


YET another dialogue among the state finance ministers in the balmy climes of Goa failed to create a consensus on the goods and services tax (GST) design, including the constitutional amendment for its introduction. The worrisome aspect is that the various political bargains being made would undermine the basic objectives of GST. One such bargain is the continuation of the entertainment tax (currently levied on movie admissions and cable and DTH subscriptions) in addition to the GST. This is a matter of deep concern as it would give rise to significant distortions and be highly discriminatory to the film and television sector. 

 

Supplementary taxes under GST are normally levied on sin products like alcohol and tobacco or polluting products. Such a tax on films is not justified. Indian films are one of the finest expressions of our art and culture and have been instrumental in showcasing India across geographical boundaries. They need to be nurtured and encouraged. 

 

Internationally, entertainment is included in the VAT or GST base and is taxable like any other good or service. There are no examples of a supplementary tax being imposed in any of the countries reviewed. In fact, the film industry is recognised as a priority industry and is subjected to reduced GST/VAT rates, and granted significant fiscal incentives. France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, for instance, charge super reduced VAT/ GST rates, which provide a reduction of more than 50% of the standard rates. 

 

In India, the current entertainment tax structure is seriously flawed. It is a patchwork of many taxes being levied at punitive rates. For example, movie admissions in Uttar Pradesh attract tax at a rate as high as 67%. Cable and DTH subscriptions attract the central service tax of 10.3%, as well as state or local taxes which could be as high as . 45 per month (in Mumbai). 

 

Further, entertainment activities are inter senot treated at par and each activity attracts a different tax rate. Entertainment includes a variety of activities including art exhibitions, performance, game, sport or race, cinematographic exhibitions, amusement parks, video game parlours, bowling alleys and billiards/ pool joints, to name a few. Some of these are taxable, but others exempt. Where the tax applies, there is no uniformity in the tax design or the rate. 

 

There is variation in the tax rates on the same entertainment source, but acquired at different places. For example, the tax on movie tickets can depend on the category of the city/town or its population. Many states grant exemption or apply subsidised tax rate on movies produced in regional or state languages. Some states exempt newly set up theatres/ multiplexes, creating discrimination against old theatres. Separate tax on entertainment poses significant practical difficulties in the present times of fast-paced technological advancements and resultant mobility of entertainment avenues. 

 

 With the advent of modern technology, entertainment has taken more diverse forms and has become highly mobile. For instance, movies and films can be watched not just through cinema halls, cable or DTH connections but also on computers, mobile phones and media players. Given this diversity, it is difficult to apply a separate tax on entertainment in a fair and equitable manner. Currently, cinema tickets and DTH and cable connections are subject to entertainment tax, which can be avoided if you watch a programme or movie at home on a DVD.
    INCREASINGLY, entertainment services are being bundled with non-entertainment services. Mobile phones can be loaded with movies. The 3G technology would open doors for entertainment to be blended with telecom goods and services. In such cases, any attempt to apply a separate tax on entertainment would only lead to disputes and litigation. 

 

The Centre has proposed that the entertainment tax be fully subsumed in the GST. However, the states are of the view that the entertainment tax levied by municipalities, or by the states for the benefit of municipalities, should be retained in the present form, supplementary to GST. These demands are myopic. The basic objective of GST is to replace diverse, ad-hoc and complex taxes by a single comprehensive levy on all goods and services. This objective is defeated if levies such as entertainment tax continue. 

 

The states have argued that, since municipalities do not participate in the GST, taxes levied by them should continue. However, the entertainment taxes going to municipalities are a minuscule fraction (< 0.26%) of state indirect taxes. GST at the proposed rate of 16% would more than double the revenue take of the states from the film and television sector (from . 10.29 billion to . 21.84 billion). Why can't the states use this increase to fully compensate the municipalities for any revenue loss from discontinuation of entertainment tax? 

 

While entertainment taxes are a minuscule portion of government revenues, they impose a serious burden on the industry. Their burden ultimately impacts the end-users which, in turn, impacts the bottom line and growth of the industry. 

 

Moreover, entertainment, being mobile and available in diverse forms is not a suitable base for municipal taxation. Historically, entertainment was predominantly in the form of admissions to movie theatres, the sites of which could readily be determined to be within the geographical boundaries of a municipality. The advent of modern technology has entirely transformed the entertainment space. Entertainment signals could be beamed from a satellite and received/ consumed anywhere within the footprint of the signals. At any given point of time, it would be difficult to determine whether the film is being watched within the geography of a municipality. It has become difficult to apply a separate entertainment tax at the state or national level, let alone at the smaller geography of a municipal or local government     It behoves the states to re-examine these issues and not let the GST be a story of missed opportunities to simplify and rationalise our tax system. Entertainment taxes, whether at state or local level, should be fully subsumed in the GST. It would be a win-win for both industry and governments. 


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

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FAC E - O F F

SHOULD BANKS STOP TEASER RATES?

B M BHIDE


Former Deputy MD, State Bank of India We are reducing borrower's burden 

 

THE country's middle class is facing an acute shortage of housing. The demand is unlikely to be met in the next couple of decades and, hence, there is not much of risk of a drop in prices. Teaser rates reduce the initial burden on the borrowers, who pay higher interest rates after the lock-in period. The rising income levels will enable most home loan borrowers to absorb higher interest costs. Even at the current teaser interest rates of 8.5%, banks are not losing money because their average cost offunds is less than 7%, whereas the average cost of funds is higher for non-banking institutions offering home loans. 

 

This makes it tough for non-banking institutions to compete with banks. As the tenure of teaser loans is over 10 years, the initial lower margins will not impact long-term profitability of banks. Moreover, banks will not lower their standards of appraisal for customers who are offered teaser rates. 

 

However, volatility in prices cannot be ruled out for customers taking loans of over . 1 crore to invest in high-end housing. Such borrowers have the capacity to absorb unforeseen losses. Moreover, the chances of default in such loans are low due to underdeclaration in the value of high-end houses as the difference is paid through unaccounted money in many cases. As a regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is rightly concerned about the rapid pace of growth in home loans in banks' portfolio. It has done well to increase the requirements for provisioning on housing loans. This will help curb the tendency for banks to lend recklessly. 

 

In any case, the proportion of home loans to banks' total loan portfolio is not very large. No bank can predict the actual interest rate in future. It can only give an idea of the likely interest rate after the lock-in period. This is true even for normal loans. So, it is not right to say that customers are being hoodwinked by banks. The RBI has already directed banks to be transparent to customers on teaser loans. Hence, there is no case to stop teaser loans.

 

JEHANGIR GAI 

Joint Honorary Secretary, CWA* Yes, this is an unfair trade practice 

TEASER rates are offered to the lower-income strata that would normally consider regular home loan interest rates beyond their means. People from this strata feel that the attractively-low interest rates will help them fulfil their dream of owing a house. Unfortunately, the ground reality is different. In an economy driven by market forces, it is not possible to offer unrealistically-low interest rates. The catch is that after the initial years of low interest, the rates are escalated for the remaining tenure of the loan to compensate the financer for the initial low rate. 
 

A consumer availing of the loan on such teaser rates does not bargain for the subsequent higher interest rate. Most often, representatives of the financial institutions want to meet their marketing targets and are interested in luring customers. They are not bothered about the loan repayment since the asset (house) is mortgaged to the financial institution. The focus is on ensnaring gullible consumers by resorting to suppresio veri and suggestio falsi, highlighting what is favourable and suppressing what is inconvenient. 

 

When the interest rate is increased after a few years, it becomes difficult for the borrower to repay the loan, resulting in defaults in repayment. Even if the borrower tries to shift his loan account to another financial institution offering a better interest rate, he may not be able to do so if his income is lower than his repaying capacity at normal interest rates. Consequently, the borrower loses his money as well as his dream house that is mortgaged. 

 

To be informed about the price of a service so as to be protected against unfair trade practices is a recognised consumer right. Offering loans with teaser rates without explaining to the consumer its long-term implications would thus constitute an unfair trade practice. To conclude, while it may theoretically be good to offer teaser interest rates, in reality, it is actually against consumer interests. That is why some financial experts are also voicing their concern in this regard. 

 

(*Consumers Welfare Association)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

STRENGTHENING CORPORATE GOVERNANCE

K S MEHTA 

 

STRENGTHENING the company board is the best bulwark against inadequate governance, it is universally agreed. This requires a careful balance of adequate information to directors, accountability, competence and activism from promoters to co-opt people with relevant experience. Both institutional and retail shareholders should play a greater role. The Companies Bill, 2009 should prescribe measures to improve governance, including accounting and auditing. 

 

Strengthening the audit profession is a major challenge. Business and accounting scandals have led to changes around the world. Satyam is the only large scandal in India, while in three decades, the developed world has suffered many more repeatedly. The developed economies have recognised the dangers of oligopolistic trends in the audit profession, as the Big Six became the Big Four and after the scandal could have become Big Three. The UK, EEC and China took effective steps to promote mid-tier firms (other than Big Four) which are now auditors to many AIM-listed companies. China is officially ordering the merger of audit firms to achieve critical size in the mid-tier firms. The EEC has officially proposed joint auditors for all listed companies so as to strengthen the mid-size audit firms. It is already made part of the law in France. Canada has brought in inspection of audit firms with rotation of partners. Peer review has been strengthened. 

 

Developed countries, even with much larger company scandals, held substantive discussions between stock exchange regulators, company law regulators and professional institutes. They desisted from recommending rotation of auditors, but called for an oversight board, rotation of partners, audit firm inspections and strengthened peer reviews with clear policy thrust to strengthen the mid-tier firms. In New York and the London stock exchanges, not one company was audited by any other than the Big Four. Is that what we want in India or do you want a strong, broadbased profession? If the latter, then joint auditors for large companies, and not rotation of audit firms, are the answer. The developed world is promoting mid-tier firms. The London Alternative Investment Market listed companies now has mid-tier firms as auditors. 

 

Our own Companies Bill, 2008 and 2009 (after Satyam) did not provide for rotation, but the select parliamentary consultative committee (SPCC) has recommended rotation of audit firms entirely as a reaction to Satyam (see para 10.4 of Chapter X of the SPCC report). One needs to reconsider its efficacy. 

 

The Big Four audit over 70% of aggregate revenue of listed companies in India, followed by about 50 mid-tier Indian firms and also a huge number of small firms. Proper audit of multi-business/unit companies requires in-depth knowledge of business risks and IT systems. Every firm rotation will mean reinventing the wheel. The large Indian companies will be forced by private equity investors and international bankers to move to Big Four. The mid-tier Indian firms will be left with companies the international banks don't touch. They will have to devote more time to marketing than technical work to make up for lost audits. 

 

An unequal battle exists for talent between Big Four and good mid-size firms; and the uncertainty in work will further drive away talent to the Big Four. Loss of quality audits, talent and technical skills in mid-tier firms will be the unfortunate result of this. While the world is encouraging the growth of mid-tier firms, the Big Four are no insurance for good audits. 

 

More fundamentally, it will destroy the independence of auditors. Research has shown that out of around 300 listed company balance sheets studied, over 80 accounts had qualified audit reports, thus testifying to the independence of auditors. If one large audit is lost to rotation, from whom will the mid-tier CA firm get another one? Only from the same group of promoters, for total strangers will not call you for audit work, and canvassing for work is prohibited by the Institute of CAs. Can you then afford to qualify audit reports? 
    The answer lies in compulsory rotation of audit partners and not of firms , stronger peer review, an audit oversight board and inspection of firms doing listed company audits by ICAI, joint auditors in companies having more than . 1,000 crore turnover, thus promoting small and medium firms. The objective should be to strengthen the audit profession and its quality; and enliven company inspection system by the Company Law Board with trained staff with better pay. Rotation will only convert auditors into marketing strategists, making them lose talent and quality work and destroy their ability to put up red flags to recalcitrant managements. 

 

(The author is managing partner     of S S Kothari Mehta & Co)

 

Business and accounting scams around the world call for strengthening of the audit profession 
Joint auditors for large companies, and not rotation of audit firms, will ensure a robust, broadbased auditing profession 


Rotation will convert auditors into marketing strategists, making them lose focus for quality work

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

THE 30% SOLUTION

MUKUL SHARMA 


SOME things shouldn't work, but they do. Homeopathy is a classic example. One of the things that its originator, Dr Samuel Hahnemann, claimed was that the more a medication was diluted, the more effective it would be since the dilution process apparently 'potentised' the drug's ability and enhanced its 'spiritlike medicinal power'. But even a normal dilution of, say, 30C — one followed by 60 zeroes — means having only one molecule of the substance in a sphere of water with a diameter of 150 million kilometres. At higher dilutions that are supposed to be much more effective, there are no molecules of themedication left at all! 
 

Now Hahnemann, who was not a fool, knew this could sound like poppycock. So he devised a further theory maintaining that the absent molecules were irrelevant to the treatment process because the water they had originally been dissolved in retained a 'memory' of the substance. However, this too is bilge because if water has memory then all the water in the world should by now remember everything that has ever been dissolved in it and be the ultimate panacea for all diseases. 

 

Be that as it may, the fact still remains that homeopathy works about 30% of the time. Scientists attribute this to the placebo effect — the beneficial effect in a patient following a particular treatment with an ineffectual substance such as a sugar pill that arises from the patient's faith in the intervention rather than from the intervention itself. But here's another irony: no one knows how placebos work 30% of the time, either. It's another thing, like homeopathy, that shouldn't work but does. Yet, placebos are so important in the allopathic drug manufacturing process (for conducting double blind trials in which the identity of those receiving a test treatment is concealed from both administrators and subjects until after the study is completed) that without it no real drugs could ever be made. 

 

Nevertheless, the one thing that becomes clear is that expectation or belief in getting results works. In other words, faith works. It's sort of official, too. A meta-analysis of previous studies done by the National Institute for Healthcare Research in the US, which analysed nearly 126,000 people and was published by the American Psychological Association, found that regular churchgoers were more likely to live longer by — you guessed it! — a margin of 30%.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

REALITY SHOWS: LET THE VIEWERS DECIDE

 

The eclipse of Doordarshan's monopoly on the small screen, and the opening of the brave new world of liberalisation and globalisation, have served several worthwhile objectives and brought to our milieu many laudable commodities and services that we were earlier missing out on. Alas, a good deal of television programming is not in this category. The independent news and current affairs channels are generally second class, although enough years have passed since they first appeared. Of the fare these purvey in the name of entertainment, the less said the better. But many will probably agree — it is impossible to speak for the majority in the matter of personal tastes, and when it comes to offering a non-legal definition of decency — that the so-called entertainment channels have plumbed depths that we didn't suspect existed in our broad cultural context, although that area too is elusive of a definition that may satisfy most. So, the question is does the recent directive of the information and broadcasting ministry asking two channels that broadcast Bigg Boss and Rakhi ka Insaaf respectively to broadcast at times that will blank them out of viewers and hit their earnings hard, come to the rescue of those of us who look upon these serials as base, gross, vulgar or otherwise unacceptable? Making the effort to be careful, the government order has not asked the channels in question to stop broadcasting the serials it finds offensive, or to televise only duly edited parts. However, the Bombay HC has stayed the I&B instruction. There is every likelihood that the channels will come up with the freedom of expression argument. Of course, no freedom is absolute and reasonable restrictions do come into play in a democratic order. Probably the judges will eventually look at the question whether the broadcast material causes enmity between sections of the people, nudges viewers to violence, or outrages the sense of public modesty in the manner open pornography (whose public representation is taboo in India while it is not in some Western democracies) does. These grounds have been trodden before, needless to say. At least at the level of theoretical discussion there can be no serious disagreement that freedom of expression should apply even to those who provide lousy fare, or make a living out of choosing to be vulgar. In effect, then, the HC is likely to be ruling on whether the particular material placed before them — and this might amount to going over each episode — is deleterious to the society's health and causes internal divisions, sabotage or unrest. This is frankly quite absurd. After all these programmes have been on a long time and the government has not sought to clamp down on them before. In the spirit of democracy and free expression, it might be best if the government withdrew its order (although it might find many takers) altogether. What the I&B ministry has done is censorship by another name. That much is clear, and that is exactly what some right-wing groups tend to do through display of open goonda force. Perhaps the choice of viewing a particular programme should be left, in the final analysis, to those who subscribe to them.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ARE AUSTRALIA LOSING THEIR CRICKETING EDGE?

BY ED SMITH

 

This is not wise. In fact, it is madness. For me, as a former professional cricketer, it is a hostage to fortune. For England, with the Ashes fast approaching, it could be worse: I am tempting fate and inviting revenge. It would be risky to whisper it at dinner, let alone spell it out in print. The timing is abysmal and I am not even sure I am right. But the idea will not leave me alone. A sneaking question keeps coming into my head: are Australia losing their cricketing edge? And I don't just mean the Ashes. I mean the whole legend of the Aussie battler that has been constructed over decades of flinty toughness.

 

Australia have lost their past four series. But it's deeper than that. At home, they face accusations that they have softened. Australia has been told for decades that their cricketing culture is the envy of the world. Has glory made them lose their edge? Do England now have the opportunity to push them into decline?

 

I don't want to gloat. I owe my love of cricket as much to Australians as to Englishmen. It was an Australian Test cricketer, John Inverarity, who gave me my first cricket bat. Aged five, I was taken to meet Don Bradman in Adelaide. Later, I learnt more from a drink or two with Rodney Marsh than I did from countless hours in the nets.

 

Australia has an astonishing sporting culture. Where Aussie rugby is intuitive and free-spirited (thanks to the influence of Aussie Rules), their cricketers are hard as nails. There is a great tradition — a bloodline — of hardened champions. These men did not play at cricket. They dealt in elimination, especially of Englishmen. It began, of course, with Bradman.

 

In recent decades, there has always been a keeper of the flame. Greg Chappell (7,110 Test runs) retired five years into Allan Border's career; Border (11,174) retired nine years into Steve Waugh's; and Waugh (10,927) retired nine years into the career of Ricky Ponting (12,250 and counting). But to whom will Ponting pass the mantle? Is the great tradition petering out?

 

Australian cricket has always been defined by toughness. About five years ago, I innocently walked round an Adelaide corner and found myself face to face with the great Aussie batsman Ian Chappell. His face conveyed the following message for my immediate understanding: "If I'm not mistaken, you're a Pom. I can smell 'em. So give me one good reason why I shouldn't punch you on the nose, before this goes any further". He turned out to be great company. But I never forgot that introductory expression.

 

As a young South Australian batsman, Chappell sliced off his finger shortly before a game. The doctor who sewed the finger back on told him he couldn't play cricket for months because he'd lose the finger if he was hit on it. Chappell replied that he'd be playing that Saturday — it was a flat wicket, he said; no chance of him missing the ball with his bat.

 

Self-reliance was as central as toughness. Rod Marsh's coaching advice was simple: "Sort it out for yourself". That spirit ran through the great tradition. Bradman taught himself to bat by hitting a golf ball against a wall with a stick. Learning to bat was another form of looking after yourself, like pitching a tent in the outback. That resilience was compounded by the sense that Australians had a point to prove, that the world too often underestimated them. Cricket was a means of getting even.

 

The feeling is growing that the next generation is different, that they aren't driven by the same cussedness. Michael Clarke, Australia's captain-in-waiting, can play off drives so elegant that they make you weep. But former captains — and there have only been 42 Australian captains in 130 years — are now questioning his durability and toughness. Clarke had to leave a tour to New Zealand due to personal problems in his relationship with the actress and model Lara Bingle.

 

To a generation of cricketers who remember the births of their children by how many runs they got for their state that week, to abandon smashing the Kiwis for a sheila back in Sydney was a worrying sign.

 

The hard-bitten and brilliant Ricky Ponting has faced criticism over his captaincy. In truth, I suspect it isn't Ponting that the keepers of the flame are worried about. It is transferred anxiety about what is likely to follow him. They recognise Ponting as one of their own. But they want him to resolve a shift in cricketing culture that runs far deeper than one captain.

 

I was brought up on the received wisdom that it was the Australian system that made them so tough — the strong club cricket, the fierce inter-state rivalries. Each has now declined, at least to some extent. And the culture that created those institutions has changed: Australia has grown used to success, in life as well as in cricket. Sydney is a capital of laid-back cool, and Australia is one of the most envied countries in the world.

 

England haven't won down under for 24 years. But now they have the team, the coach, the form and the momentum to do so. It may be a very long time indeed — a full turn of the dynastic wheel — before Australia will again be able to boast such a record of dominance.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TAKE 'N' OUT OF TINA

BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

November has been a very cruel month for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. It was bad enough that Ashok Chavan had to resign as chief minister of Maharashtra for his complicity in the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scandal and an embarrassed party had to remove the by-now infamous Suresh Kalmadi from the only political post he held. Worse, the government had to succumb to relentless Opposition pressure and extract a resignation from the controversial telecommunications minister A. Raja. Even this did not contain the embarrassment of the Comptroller and Auditor General's strictures against the Prime Minister for being a mute spectator to Mr Raja's misdeeds.

 

Congress loyalists had hoped that the swift, sharp action against Mr Chavan and the installation of Prithviraj Chavan as the new chief minister of India's most prosperous state would redeem the party's image. The Opposition charge that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had forgotten to address the burning issue of corruption in her All India Congress Committee speech had, after all, hurt. But the foot-dragging that accompanied the CAG report on the 2G disbursements and the bargaining over the future of Mr Raja proved very damaging. The Supreme Court's harsh comments on the wilful obfuscation by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Solicitor General's curious attempts to save the beleaguered Mr Raja bolstered the impression that the Congress' priority was to bury scandals, not challenge corruption. The "coalition dharma" Congress fell back on to explain why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gandhi had to kow-tow to an insatiable Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) made sense only to a cynical political class. The popular perception was one of disgust.

 

The resignation of Mr Raja was one of the biggest successes of the Opposition since last year's general election. Mr Raja symbolised both brazenness and political venality. Prime Minister Singh, his handlers say, had held out for two days against having Mr Raja inducted into the Cabinet in May 2009 but had to finally wilt under sustained DMK pressure. He let expediency prevail over good sense.

 

A reason why the Congress procrastinated may have a lot to do with the self-serving there-is-no-alternative theory, the same TINA that misled Rajiv Gandhi into believing that the Bofors scandal was a drawing room preoccupation. This time, the Congress hasn't quite made the same mistake by persisting with Mr Chavan and Mr Raja and giving the Opposition unending political ammunition. At the same time, the UPA has insufficiently appreciated the fact that barely 16 months after it was convincingly defeated in the general election, the Opposition is back in business — not wholly but (to use a Nehruvian flourish) substantially and in good measure.

 

It may take the next week's results of the Bihar Assembly election for this message to sink in. If the Congress, as is now the buzz, performs indifferently and Nitish Kumar romps home convincingly, it will resume the debate on the limits of Rahul Gandhi's "magic". Many Congress leaders who have convinced themselves of the unviability of persisting with the Prime Minister for very much longer may have to reconsider the theory that anti-incumbency will not stick to the party's heir presumptive.

 

Actually, the Congress has reasons to worry. The expected re-election of the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine in Bihar will not be the only indicator. Assembly byelections in places as afar as Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Gujarat have demonstrated that the political confusion in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn't affected its support on the ground. Since there is always a direct correlation between Congress recovery and BJP decline, the byelection results should put question marks before the facile suggestion that the Congress is on course to recovering its dominant party status.

 

The extent to which the BJP can take advantage of the Congress' unwarranted smugness depends on what lessons it has drawn from both the corruption scandals and the Bihar election. The signals in this regard are very mixed. The BJP conducted itself with exemplary dignity after the pro-temple verdict of the Allahabad high court in the Ayodhya case. In Parliament, the BJP has consciously refrained from rising to the UPA's provocation on, say, the arrest of former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and the alleged association of a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary in terror attacks on Muslims. It has swallowed its famed distinctiveness on a number of occasions and prevented the UPA from dividing the Opposition. Indeed, on Jammu and Kashmir, the Maoist threat and the Nuclear Liabilities Bill, it played the textbook role of a constructive Opposition.

 

Unfortunately for it, some of the gains have been squandered by two visible shortcomings. First, the BJP's anti-corruption credentials have been brought into question by the conduct of some of its ministers in Karnataka. The party's inability to act decisively against those who have helped establish a moral equivalence with the Congress counts among its biggest failings. The Congress is bound to exploit this sooner or later.

 

Secondly, the BJP is constantly threatened by political derailment by an RSS which is neither fully in the political game nor completely outside it. The BJP, for example, has suffered acute embarrassment from the RSS decision to make an issue of its functionary Indresh Kumar's links with dubious elements championing retributive terror. It was left red faced by former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan's tasteless comments against Mrs Gandhi.

 

For the BJP, the future lies in re-forging the National Democratic Alliance and expanding its reach into eastern and southern India. This can only happen if it embraces a moderate, non-sectarian approach, in line with the policies of its own state governments that are doing a good job. India is yearning for a viable Opposition and a wholesome government-in-waiting. The BJP can live up to these expectations if it bases its politics on integrity and common sense, and consciously disavows divisive, fringe agendas. But to do so, it has to address a serious image problem: many of its top functionaries convey the impression of being outlanders, out of their depths in national politics.

 

A meaningful alternative to the Congress has to combine integrity with both modernity and competence. These attributes are not uniformly evident in the BJP leadership as yet.

 

- Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MAMMARIES OF THE WELFARE STATE

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

Yesterday night I dreamt that the ghost of M. Visvesvaraya, the great engineer, was haunting the streets of Bengaluru. The old man who lived beyond hundred was a technocrat par excellence, a part of the folklore of Karnataka. He epitomised the bureaucracy as a way of life, a normative system that separated the public and the private, which saw dam building, character building and nation building as isomorphic activities. For the people of Karnataka, this ectomorphic Diwan of Mysore was the ideal of governance, epitomising punctuality, austerity, discipline, and a vision of India constructed around the discipline of the timetable.

 

Visvesvaraya now suddenly appears like our equivalent of Rip Van Winkle. He is haunting the streets of Bengaluru, wondering whether privatisation is the answer to poverty.

 

As he stalks the streets like a futile Diogenes with a lantern, one summons the picture of B.S. Yeddyurappa and the entire cluster of corrupt clowns from H.D. Kumaraswamy, the Reddy brothers to the chief minister's entire family, to wonder at the stark apposition between the bureaucrat as hero and politician as fixer. One wonders why corruption is seen as normal. Even those caught, act as if there has been a misunderstanding. There is something here we must explore.

 

I remember when Acharya Kripalani, Paul H. Appleby and A.D. Gorwala wrote the first reports on corruption in the early Fifties.

 

The documents sounded like exercises in moral science. Of course, they were moments of discordance as when the Kripalani report was met in Assam with protesters asking it to go back.

 

One thing was clear; each of these reports saw man as central to character building. There was a feeling that character and institution building would guarantee the cleanliness of governance. One could think of a whole generation of politicians and bureaucrats who provided some semblance of honesty. Earlier when we said a government was pollution free we referred to honesty not to hydrocarbons. Where did the change come?

 

I think there were three reasons for it. The first was the dialect of governance. The idiom was still patriarchal, more correctly patrimonial. The politician was seen as a jajman, a provider. He was seen as patron. Government was not a rational legal system but constructed like a kinship chart. Seniority was not as important as the fact you were someone's son-in-law. The family domesticated the state. The one separation of powers that India needed was not the classic separation of the three estates but the separation between family and state. Once the state was constructed as a joint family, corruption became literally an expression of a new jajmani system.

 

Mr Yeddyurappa lets his family graze like hungry goats on the pasture called the state. The state had spread out like an inverted commons allocated to the family. The state became from sacred cow to a mulch cow to be milked by the members of the family. It is this tradition from Pratap Singh Kairon, to Bhajan Lal, to Sanjay Gandhi to Mr Yeddyurappa that sustains the vision of the state as a form of conspicuous corruption.

 

The second classificatory crime attacked the subsistence economy and sought to extract surplus from it. This was the division between the formal economy and the informal economy. Eighty per cent of Indian life and livelihoods were conducted in the informal sector, yet the irony lies in the fact that the informal economy had no official status. It was not even legal. The hawker, the nomad, the scavenger, the pastoralist, the domestic servant all operated in the informal sector. The informal sector was prey to the policeman and subject to the caprices of the local party boss and goon. Survival was something that needed continuous approval from the official and the official always needed a bribe. A bribe in the informal economy was a guarantee of survival, a promissory note for a future citizenship.

 

It took till the Arjun Sengupta Commission report for the state to even officially recognise the power and creativity of the informal economy. If the state was the inverted commons, the informal economy was seen as a mine subject to constant over-extraction.

 

The third confusion was what I dub the irony of democracy. for All its warts, democracy in India actually works, but the way it works is problematic. Democracy through electoral politics changes regimes and this change in regime is seen as a form of distributive justice. The dalit or the OBC (other backward classes) politician is shameless in his corruption claiming, "You had your turn, it is ours now", and adds, "your complaint is hypocrisy, in fact a form of envy".

 

Electoral politics becomes an icon of democracy. It is seen as creating the revolving regimes of power. But what politics does is to create an attitude that the state is a window of opportunity, that power is a legitimate opportunity to milk the state. This rationale first developed in the south and has now been fine-honed by Mayawati and the politicians of Jharkhand. The politician becomes the new middleman milking the state and the people. Yet people's faith in politician is tremendous. The latter still feel they have obstetric power to deliver the goods. And often they do so by violating the very rule of law that could have created sanity.

 

The three distortions have to be read as on text. For example, it is the informal economy of votes that keeps the politician in power and lets him milk the system. We talk of the family as the primary institution and yet fail to see it is this very institution that corrupts the logic of the state. These three fissures or distortions of our society make corruption a lethal vector.

 

I guess Visvesvaraya may not approve of such sociology. He might see it even as a rationalisation removing the values, the morality he valued. But in my fondest dreams I see him walking, bumping into A. Raja, B. Ramalinga Raju and Mr Yeddurayappa, wondering what manner of men these could be. I would love to witness that encounter.

 

Would the old man's moralising make any sense to these people or would they see him as an anachronism?

 

Yet, I guess the final irony is I can see all three of them garlanding his statue while they milk the state he sought to build for the welfare of the people.

 

- Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GOD GOES GREEN

BY FRANCIS GONSALVES

 

What colour is God's skin? is the opening line of a song we sang in childhood. Perturbed by people's prejudices about skin colour, a little kid asks his father this question. His dad replies: "It's black, brown, yellow, it is red, it is white — everyone's the same in the good Lord's sight!" True, God is Mother and Father of all peoples; and so, were we to imagine what colour is God's skin, surely it'd be all these, and more? Shyam — referring to dark blue or black — is one of the titles and colours associated with Lord Krishna. And, I imagine that God is also green; or, certainly, green are God's fingers.

 

In the Bible's very first chapter, God is pictured as creating plants and trees on the third day (Genesis 1:11-12). Moreover, God is depicted as a gardener who "planted a garden in Eden". God also gives "every green plant for food" to all the animals. After the Flood, God reminds Noah: "I gave you the green plants (for food)". Green, therefore, is a sign of God's favour, Mother Nature's fecundity and human fulfilment.

 

Appearing 36 times in the Bible, the colour green is upheld as a vibrant image since it denotes the ideal towards which the natural world tends in its positive condition. It connotes mother nature at her bountiful best — simultaneously signifying security, serenity, sustenance and sustainability. Like a caring shepherdess guiding her sheep to pasture in verdant meadows, God "makes me lie down in green pastures and restores my spirit" (Psalm 23:2).

 

Biblical poetry — with images that are sometimes scandalously sensual — draws upon the evocative green colour to express God's intimate love for people. The Song of Songs reads: "My beloved, truly lovely, our couch is green" (1:16). Tribal communities in western India customarily carry the bridal couple in a marriage bower made of bamboo and laced with green leaves; for, what better colour than green can symbolise that budding betrothal bond soon to beget new life?

 

Much as the Bible celebrates the greenness connected with life, it condemns the greenness associated with sexual promiscuity. Ancient fertility religions practised sacred prostitution among groves of trees. Hence, using the stereotyped expression "under every green tree" about a dozen times, the Bible condemns such practices (1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Chronicles 28:4; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20; 17:2; Ezekiel 6:13 and so on).

 

In common parlance, the word "green" has a positive as well as a negative connotation. To be green-eyed is to be jealous, but to have green fingers indicates a love for nature and skill in gardening. In positive vein, the Biblical prophets tell the people to trust in God that they might be like "a tree planted by the water whose leaves stay green, never ceasing to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8). Moreover, since God provides food even in the desert, Prophet Joel calls for fearlessness since "the pastures of the wilderness are green" (2:22).

 

As a symbol, the colour green harmonises the polarities of prosperity as well as poverty, of life, and death. Thus, the good person is "like a green olive tree in the house of God" (Psalm 52:8) and fruitful in old age "ever green and full of sap" (Psalm 92:14). By contrast, just as green vegetation can dry up suddenly, the evil one is "green before the sun" (Job 8:16), on the verge of being scorched and will "wither like the green herb" (Psalm 37:2).

 

In the Quran, greenness is suggestive of paradise, wherein the righteous will "recline on green cushions and beautiful carpets" (Surah Al Rahman: 76) and "their garments will be of fine green silk" (Surah Al Insan: 21). During this "Year of Biodiversity", couldn't we concertedly go green and plant paradise onto planet earth?

 

Diwali-eve, my students staged a magnificent multimedia programme, Cosmic Bandhuta. Symbolising Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, they entwined their bodies into the shape of a huge tree with four colours: saffron, mauve, white and blue. Singing and dancing to rhythmic religious ragas, they creatively conveyed what it means to be delightfully diverse, yet, inseparably one.

 

Relishing this kaleidoscope of colours, I thought of God as a rainbow embracing all human hues. Aren't God's garments saffron, mauve, white and blue? Isn't God's skin black, brown, yellow and red? And, certainly, green too?

 

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ALASKA SPEAKS. FINALLY

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

I know you've been asking yourselves: What does the United States Senate election in Alaska mean to me? Really, I know it.

 

Senator Lisa Murkowski has just claimed a historic write-in victory against Joe Miller, the Tea Party champion who beat her in the Republican primary. The first thing you will want to know is that this will make Sarah Palin miserable.

 

Murkowski's father, the former senator and governor, was one of Palin's archenemies back in the days of yore when Palin was all about attacking Big Oil and corrupt politics. Her interests have changed, but her antipathy toward the Murkowskis lives on. She threw one of her superpowerful Facebook posts Miller's way, delivering both attention and money in his direction.

 

As soon as she saw the write-in vote count was looking good, Murkowski did an interview on CBS News with Katie Couric. Take that, Sarah! Murkowski took the opportunity to offer her opinion about Palin as presidential timber: "I just do not think that she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity, that allows for building good and great policies". And that!

 

All of these developments make the Senate results in Alaska important for those Americans who find sunshine in any day that goes badly for the former Republican vice-presidential candidate. Many of these same people feel an equal amount of pain when things run in the other direction, and it is important to keep these reactions under control.

 

I am thinking of Steven Cowan from the town of Vermont, Wisconsin. According to a police report posted on the Smoking Gun website, Cowan became so upset by the political implications of Bristol Palin's continuing victories on Dancing With the Stars that he shot the family television, precipitating a 15-hour standoff with local police. The complaint notes that Cowan did not think that Bristol "was a good dancer". Also, he had been drinking.

 

]Since Murkowski made it crystal clear all along that she would stick with the Republican caucus, her victory is not going to have any particular effect on the makeup of the next Senate. But Democrats and independents saved her political hide. Perhaps in the future she will occasionally pull a Joe Lieberman and do something to drive the party that dumped her in the primary crazy.

 

Thanks to Alaska, there are still going to be 17 women in the United States Senate. That's a pathetic number, but not quite as disheartening as it would have been if it had dropped to 16, courtesy of Joe Miller, whose primary win was mainly because of the anti-abortion rights movement.

 

Murkowski, however, took this thought into overkill, portraying herself as a beleaguered victim of male chauvinism. She sent out a flier with a picture of a noble-looking woman being screamed at by a mean guy with a bullhorn.

 

"For all the times you have been overruled — when you know you had the right ideas and solutions", it read. "For all the times your accomplishments have been ignored while others who scream and yell get the credit... This vote for Lisa Murkowski is a vote for you, too". It then described attack ads that called Murkowski "a princess" as "what women have been dealing with for centuries".

 

Actually, a United States senator who ends a debate by saying "I have been leading this state for eight years" is not really a person who seems to have much trouble with being ignored. And the "princess" line referred to the fact that Murkowski got her Senate seat because her father gave it to her, appointing her to fill his unexpired term when he became governor. Which is not the sort of thing most of us can count on.

 

Miller would constantly point out that he, in contrast, had been raised without "a silver spoon", a comparison that might have had an impact if he had not turned out to be one of the worst candidates in the history of candidates.

 

The Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams, who also was not born with a silver spoon, got only about a quarter of the vote. "Our momentum continued to grow, but we ran out of time", he said. "I have no regrets".

 

He also had no money, or at least a lot less than his competition. As of the last reporting date in October, McAdams had $861,000 in contributions, compared with $1.9 million for Miller and $4 million for Murkowski. "She's about as entrenched with special interests as anyone, at least from a campaign finance standpoint", said Dave Levinthal of the Centre for Responsive Politics. Unlike her opponents, Murkowski got most of her money from political action committees, many of them in the energy field.

 

Murkowski's first step upon returning to Washington will be to lobby to retain her post as the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

 

So not exactly a victory for oppressed womanhood. However, a definite defeat for Sarah Palin. Let's take our little pleasures where we can get them.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

IDEA OF JUSTICE

AND THE SUBVERSION IN BENGAL

 

West Bengal's image of a progressive and libertarian state even under a fading Marxist regime is in tatters. In the subversion of justice, it comes through as no different from the backwaters of the cow belt. A 30-year-old man has been lynched on the orders of a kangaroo or shalishi court in East Midnapore for refusing to pay a fine. The shalishi crime of handing down a death sentence is no less hideous than the ones perpetrated by khap panchayats over marriages within the same gotra. The common strand is intriguing; the establishment ~ whether in Bengal or Haryana ~ can be equally impervious to the outrage. Seventy-two hours after the mayhem, the culprits are yet to be tracked down though the victim, Sukhdeb Goswami's mother has named 29 people in the FIR. If it is a societal crime in northern India, the bizarre expression of parallel justice in Bengal and in the reported presence of a CPI-M and Trinamul panchayat member in the shalishi court only deepens suspicions of political involvement. 


  The fact of the matter is that panchayat administration is generally lumpenised, irrespective of the party in control. The district SP need not have laboured the obvious by condemning the court as "illegal". That the administration is aware of the illegality is itself a damning indictment of governance, almost a conscious subversion of justice. Rather shockingly, the administration has been a mute witness to this sinister exercise in parallel justice and death. The case against Sukdeb ~ assault on a villager ~ is before the trial court and he was out on bail after 70 days in jail. The kangaroo court, in the manner of the khaps, has had its way with the death sentence.


The government, that seemingly goes through its wrapping-up motions, must now unambiguously spell out its stand on shalishi courts. It bears recall that in 2004, it had tabled the West Bengal Block-level Pre-Litigation Reconciliation Bill to sort out local disputes and reduce the burden and the backlog of the courts. As a matter of policy, it was as disingenuous as it was dangerous not least because it envisaged the setting up of politicised village courts. The proposed legislation was dropped in 2005 when the administration realised that it would be too hot a potato to handle. The tragedy in Tamluk must now prompt the government to crack down on the shalishi courts that might well exist in rural Bengal. There is no scope for rough-and-ready justice by the "kangaroo" or the khap.

 

IPS VACANCIES

POT CALLED THE KETTLE BLACK

SOON after assuming charge as home minister, P Chidambaram took a political pot-shot at an NDA predecessor. Who was LK Advani to talk about neglected policing, Chidambaram asked, when he had permitted severe shortages to arise in the Indian Police Service cadre? Now the facts have backfired. Information just furnished to Parliament indicates that there has been little improvement during the UPA regime ~ the IPS is 630 short of its desired strength and despite induction being increased by 60 per year there appears no early end in sight of the worrisome "blank files". It would, however, be pointless keeping the debate down to the petty level at which Chidambaram opened it: the shortage of officers required at the executive and supervisory levels assumes grave importance in the context of increasing extremist violence across vast swathes of the country and the valid reluctance of the Army to get involved in operations against its "own people". Though perhaps not "visible" in such alarming proportions, that shortage also impinges upon basic police duties such as crime prevention and detection, protecting life and property. Sadly, as has been the experience with the defence forces too (which also face huge gaps in the officer ranks) enhancing the role of non-IPS personnel and non-commissioned officers has not worked out. While the defence services kicked up a fuss over an unfavourable award of the VI Pay Commission, the IPS reflected similar discontent: the number of resignations substantially increased. Money apart, IPS personnel were dissatisfied with their service conditions: some found postings in the North-east too difficult, others spoke of frequent transfers. While Bihar and Orissa did provide a considerable quantum of the "feedstock", few were happy serving there. Driven away by the Maoists? An "unpublished" reason for resignations and lack of suitable candidates, being the manner in which police officers have become political playthings.


The government has indicated it is considering a limited competitive examination for IPS recruitment alone. It might boost numbers, but quality policing calls for more than numbers. Retaining good officers in the force, keeping them motivated is also more than a matter of enhanced compensation. Unless the political masters extend due respect to the police, (without which the public will not do so) and create conditions in which dedication and professionalism are "recognised" the leadership will be found wanting ~ and the rest of the cops will wallow in inefficiency and corruption.

 

UNITY THE ANSWER

LEADERSHIP TUSSLE BODES ILL FOR BODO REGION

AFTER signing the 2003 Bodo Accord, overseeing the formation of the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Council and elections to it in 2005, the Assam government felt it had no further obligations except, of course, to maintain law and order. It was during NDA rule that Union home minister LK Advani persuaded leaders of the little known Bodo Liberation Tigers, active then, to sign a ceasefire. At that time, the oldest and most dreaded National Democratic Front of Boroland (formerly Bodo Security Force) was camping in Bhutan. The NDA little realised that a piecemeal settlement was no answer, its motive ostensibly was to build an image in the North-east as a peace-maker. So it was only to be expected that after the NDFB was flushed out of Bhutan in December 2003 it would assert itself. The May 2005 truce with it continues but only with the pro-talk faction which gave up the demand for sovereignty. The anti-talk group led by former leader of the undivided NDFB, Ranjan Daimary ~ in Assam's custody after he was handed over by Bangladesh in May this year ~ is the one that is creating havoc in the region.


The recent killing of 22 people, mostly Hindi-speaking, by the NDFB is a clear message that it cannot be ignored. After the outrage, Union home minister P Chidambaram was in Assam to review law and order but he did not visit the affected areas. Nor has chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Chidambaram's call for "all-out action" against Bodo rebels is all very well but military action has yielded nothing so far. What is happening in the Bodo region is a struggle for power between leaders of the BTC and NDFB. Unless these groups make a common cause, it is naive to think of peace ever returning to the region.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PARALLEL ECONOMY

INFLATION THE OUTCOME OF WRONG MONETARY POLICIES

BY DIPAK BASU


THE recent increase in fuel prices in India will only fuel inflation. The Reserve Bank of India is contemplating measures to curb the  money supply. This should convey a message to those who are blaming the neglect of agriculture, a long-term factor, for the rising prices in recent months, a short-term phenomenon. The rate of inflation, including the cost of food and energy, is still rising. And yet  farmers are leaving their potato and tomato harvests on the fields due to the low prices of their products. This in turn has been attributed to over-production. The fact of the matter is that inflation in India is the outcome of  wrong monetary policies. Excessive money has fuelled  speculative tendencies.


Three major monetary sources have aggravated inflation ~ (a) money from the parallel economy; (b) money from abroad through short-term borrowing and investments; and (c) foreign multinational companies.
The parallel economy is just as large as the visible economy. According to some estimates, the government could not collect Rs 120,000 crore of taxes. The banks could not collect Rs 150,000 crore of unpaid loans from defaulters. A significant factor behind the spiralling of price of real estate and the hoarding of commodities for speculative gain can be attributed to this parallel economy.


The country is witnessing an unprecedented surge in short-term capital inflows. The net capital flows increased from an already high $23.4 billion in 2006 to $44.9 billion in 2007, whereas between 2003 and 2006, only $8.8 billion a year was received on an average. Indian companies have been exploiting the RBI's liberalised external commercial borrowing policy, and huge amounts are being borrowed from abroad. Figures for the January-May period indicate that borrowings totalled $15.3 billion in 2007, with $10.8 billion and $3.4 billion during the corresponding periods in 2006 and 2005 respectively.


As a result, RBI has lost control over the supply of money. It has initiated a programme to sell government bonds to draw out some money from the system, but the measure is too late and too little.


There is no crisis in terms of food production. As the government is not interested in maintaining the public distribution system, it is not willing to give proper prices to farmers. This has resulted in a procurement shortfall and increased imports by a country where enough is available if the government is prepared to raise the procurement prices for farmers.


The government's decision to allow private multinational firms to speculate in futures trading has wrought havoc on the price front. Private companies such as ITC, Cargill, AWB India, Britannia, Agricore, Delhi Flour Mills and Adani Enterprises procured about 20 lakh tonnes of wheat during the rabi marketing season (April-July) in 2007. That impeded the government's effort to procure supplies and supplement its reserves for the benefit of the PDS.


The "futures market" pushed up prices. It intensified speculative activity. Speculators stand to gain through betting on the prices of several commodities, including rice and wheat. The Food and Agricultural Organisation has argued that market-oriented policies are creating financial opportunities in agricultural markets. To quote from its report, "abundance of liquidity has paved the way for massive amounts of cash becoming available for investment (by equity investors, funds, etc) in markets that use financial instruments linked to the functioning of agricultural commodity markets (eg future and option markets)."

India has witnessed more than a decade of portfolio flows. With every passing year, portfolio flows have played a key role in the overall economy. The Union Budget 2003 announced that dividends would be exempted from taxation in the hands of a shareholder. Further, long-term capital gains arising from transfer of equity shares held at least for one year in a listed company, acquired between 1 March 2003 and 28 February 2004 would enjoy tax exemption. These incentives were specifically targeted at attracting portfolio investments.
In February 2005, the government liberalised the law relating to FDI. Non-Resident Indians and overseas corporate bodies can invest up to 100 per cent in the real estate sector. FDI in real estate is now possible without the need for approval by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. The liberalised FDI regime and the strong potential of the industry will pump money into the sector. Sustained flows of foreign money, thanks to the excessive global liquidity,  has facilitated the rise of the stock markets and real estate prices to unprecedented levels.


The inflation is the direct result of money flow through short-term borrowings and speculative activity. The entry of multinational companies in the commodities market has spurred speculative activity and reduced the ability of the government to procure enough essential foodgrain to sustain the public distribution system. Short-term borrowings are a risky proposition in the financial system. They tend to create a speculative bubble which can burst ~ leading to recession,  even bankruptcy.


It is not necessary to increase fuel prices in view of the projection that the price of crude will fall in the wake of global recession. Further, the countries of  Europe have decided to reduce public spending. In India, petroleum products are expensive because of the high rate of taxation. This can be reduced. Instead, direct taxes on wealth, inherited earnings, and income from agriculture can be introduced. The income-tax rate can be raised for the higher income groups. However, it is essential to introduce taxes on both speculative short-term investments from abroad and short-term borrowing from abroad by business enterprises. The higher interest rate is bound to encourage speculative short-term foreign investments and encourage Indian companies to borrow from abroad.
The experience of Thailand and South Korea in 1978 revealed the damage that the short-term flow of foreign currency can cause. It pushes up domestic prices so that export prices also go up, leading to increased balance of payments deficits. As a result, the value of the rupee will start falling, resulting in an outflow of short-term money. This in turn can lead to a further fall in the rupee value, and the government may not be in a position to repay the foreign debt. Thailand and South Korea have had to struggle with such a crisis. India may be heading towards a similar catastrophe.

 

The writer is Professor in International Economics, Nagasaki University, Japan

 

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THE STATESMAN

 

THE LEGEND OF MAHMUDABAD


Amir Mohammad Khan of Mahmudabad, also known as Suleiman Mian, has been  embroiled in a controversy over his ancestral property. The Union government, on the other hand, needs a consensus on the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill because of the imminent prospect of an Ordinance lapsing which has a direct bearing on his inheritance valued several hundred, if not thousand, crores. However, the Union government has approved amendments to the Evacuee Property Act of 1968 ensuring, among other things, that such property can only divest to the lawful heir.


Amir Mohammad Khan's father and grandfather contributed significantly to the struggle against the British and his father had a special role in the  creation of Pakistan. In the decade preceding India's partition, two bright young people were considered close to Jinnah. One was the Khan of Kalat and the other Raja Amir Ahmad Khan of Mahmudabad (the present incumbent's father). Mahmudabad was the highest donor to the Muslim League. He held three offices ~ member of the League's working committee, its treasurer and president of the All India Muslim League Students Federation. He retained all three offices till the creation of Pakistan after which he retired from politics. He did not accept any post in the newly created dominion.                                                                  

  
When Jinnah married Ruttie Petit in 1918 at his South Court house atop Malabar Hill in Bombay, she had just been converted to Islam. She had fled her parents palatial "prison", less than a mile away, on the day she turned 18 to be mourned as dead by Sir Dinshaw Petit, her father. The ring which Jinnah gave his wife was a gift from the Maharaja of Mahmudabad. The nikah was performed in accordance with the Islamic shariat in presence of the Maharaja who also signed the marriage contract on Jinnah's behalf. The Jinnahs spent their honeymoon at the Mahmudabad bungalow in Nainital. Like Jinnah, the Maharaja received early national recognition when he, along with a few others, founded the All India Muslim League on 30 December, 1906 in Dacca.


After Aga Khan's resignation as president of the League in 1912, the Maharaja assumed charge and continued to hold the post till 1918 when he resigned owing to ill-health. He was later appointed Home Member of United Provinces in 1921 and in 1925, conferred the title of "Maharaja". Besides holding the post of President of the Muslim League for six years, the Maharaja of Mahmudabad also presided over its three annual sessions. His contribution helped the evolution of Mohammadan Anglo-Indian College, Aligarh. His efforts bore fruit in 1920 when the college was granted the status of university, of which he was elected the first vice-chancellor. He was also responsible for the establishment of yet another university at Lucknow, as also for the shifting of the provincial capital of United Provinces from Allahabad to Lucknow. In 1910, the Muslim League office moved from Aligarh to Lucknow and remained there till 1927. It finally came to be established in Delhi. 


The Maharaja was a great admirer of Allama Iqbal. In 1929 when Iqbal's name came up for presiding over the annual League session, Mahmudabad was keen to have him elected president. The Allahabad session in 1930 proved historic, for Allama Iqbal for the first time spoke of setting up a separate Muslim state in north-west India. Paying tributes to the Maharaja of Mahmudabad who died in 1931, Chaudhury Kaliquzzaman wrote in his book Pathway to Pakistan: "Mr Jinnah was brought into the League by him. Wazir Hasan owed much of his political career to his help… Lucknow University and King Edward Medial College were both his handiwork".
When Mahmudabad died on 23 May,1931, Raja Amir Ahmad Khan, Sulaiman Mian's father, was a minor. A Board of Trustees was constituted according to the  Maharaja's will. It had the name of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had earlier served as Maharaja's legal adviser. 


Sulaiman Mian's father, Amir Ahmad Khan was born on 5 November, 1914 and was the eldest of the Maharaja's sons. When he got married in 1927, Jinnah travelled all the way from Bombay to Mahmudabad, bringing valuable wedding gifts amongst which were a gold embroidered Achkan made of pure silk, a set of gold cuff links and a walking stick with gold carvings. In 1936 when Amir Ahmed Khan wanted to go to Santiniketan because Tagore had agreed to take him, Jinnah prevailed on him to opt for the Muslim League. The general election of 1937 proved a turning point because the League gained considerable prominence. 1937 was also the year when the League held its annual session in Lucknow. Slated initially for Lahore, Jinnah decided that the session be held in the Congress-dominated home province of Jawaharlal Nehru. Raja Amir Ahmad Khan of Mahmudabad toured the United Provinces to make the Lucknow session a success. It thrilled people to see the Raja walk like an ordinary volunteer in front of Jinnah. The procession took four hours to cover the distance of three miles from Charbagh railway station to the place where Jinnah was to stay. The Lucknow session, as we all know, led to the revival of the Muslim League. 


Amir Ahmad Khan had very cordial relations with Subhas Chandra Bose. Primarily because of Subhas Babu's support, the Muslim League candidate Abdur Rahman Siddique was elected Mayor of Calcutta Corporation. When Bose was arrested by the Bengal Government in July 1940, the Raja protested. He believed that Subhas Bose was the only person who had striven hard for a Congress-Muslim League rapprochement. The Raja had then demanded Netaji's unconditional release in the larger interest of the two communities of India.
 When the Pakistan Resolution was adopted at Lahore in 1940, the League High Command constituted a high-power delegation with the Raja as its chief. In the years 1941-45, the Raja came under the influence of "Islamic Jamaat'' which advocated the creation of Pakistan as an Islamic state. The Raja was very enthusiastic about the idea. Jinnah disapproved lest people thought he too shared the Raja's views. Not wanting to compromise Jinnah's position, the Raja cut himself away from the Quaid for nearly two years, meeting him only during formal occasions.
Motilal Nehru was also close to Mahmudabad. More a member of the family than a friendly visitor, a room was always reserved for him in Mahmudabad House in Lucknow where no other guest was allowed. Sarojini Naidu and Rajkumari  Amrit Kaur were also close to Amir Ahmad Khan's father. 


Raja Amir Ahmad Khan died in London on 14 October, 1973. It was ironical that when the High Commissioner of Pakistan (in London) was informed of the Raja's death, he did not consider the news of much significance. It was the Indian High Commissioner who rushed to offer condolences. When the news of Raja's death was published in newspapers, a small group assembled in the Pakistan High Commission to pass a formal condolence resolution. And this for a person whose name was inseparable from Quaid's in the period leading up to India's partition. 


After Partition, when the Raja arrived in Pakistan, he had lost most of his material possessions. All he could acquire with the money he had were two ordinary houses in Karachi. He lacked an adequate source of income. Disappointed, he left Pakistan for Iraq. Unable to settle there, he returned to Pakistan but quit the country again for England where he found employment on a modest salary. He passed away at the age of 59. During his illness in a London Hospital, he was alone and in financially dire straits. Princess Abida Sultana of Bhopal, who happened to visit him, described the "absence of both material and emotional comfort'' in Raja's case. Strange, because he was the person who proved a "Hatim Tai'' to the Muslim League whenever it needed money.


 The writer is a member of the Indian Administrative Service

 

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THE STATESMAN

 

BATTLE TO SAVE ELIOT'S VISTA

 

The wide horizons, leafy views and idyllic isolation of George Eliot's former Wandsworth home were the backdrop to the 19th-century author's great semi-autobiographical work The Mill on the Floss. But that might not be enough to save the building's pristine views from the development pressures of the modern world. 
Despite the work of increasingly vocal local campaigners, the views from Eliot's former abode are threatened by a south London developer's plans to build a five-storey block of flats opposite Grade II-listed Holly Lodge, where Eliot lived. The proposals, for 22 dwellings, would destroy previously unspoilt views across a section of south London known for its uninterrupted vistas. 


A Wandsworth Council spokesperson confirmed there was permission in place to build on the site of a garage opposite Holly Lodge, saying: "It remains to be seen whether or not this permission will be implemented before it expires."


Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss at Holly Lodge in 1859. She lived there with her common-law husband, George Henry Lewes, to whom she dedicated the book. From its first page, the classic work describes the "wide plains" along with "green banks" and a "loving tide". The story is about Tom and Maggie Tulliver, a brother and sister growing up near the river Floss near the fictional village of St Ogg's in the early 19th century. 
According to the house's custodian and owner, Sarah Roberts, the author would have had undisturbed views that couldn't help but influence the author's writing style during her time living there. "It's no coincidence that she chose to live here and found the inspiration that she did," she said.


Holly Lodge was the first building in south London to receive an English Heritage blue plaque, honouring Eliot, and the first to be dedicated to a woman.


The novelist, whose real name was Mary Anne Evans, once entertained Charles Dickens at Holly Lodge, and wrote of her love of the house in published correspondence. The listed property sits in the West Hill conservation area of Wandsworth, home to a slew of period properties. None of the homes is taller than three storeys high, with builders obliged to pay attention to the "character" of the area. Views can be enjoyed from every stair and room in Eliot's former home, including the conservatory.


"Our home is very comfortable, with far more of vulgar indulgences in it than I ever expected to have again," writes Eliot of the Lodge in a letter in 1859. "But you must not imagine it a snug place, just peeping above the holly bushes. Imagine it rather as a tall cake, with a low garnish of holly and laurel. As it is, we are very well off, with glorious breezy walks, and wide horizons, well-ventilated rooms, and abundant water."
A number of high-profile houses with links to authors are currently under threat. In July, the authors Julian Barnes, Ian Rankin and Stephen Fry backed a campaign to overturn planning permission to carve up for new development the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Hindhead, Surrey. Earlier this month Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis added their weight to a campaign to save the DH Lawrence heritage centre at Durban House, Eastwood. 


"There is still, amazingly, an incredible uninterrupted horizon view, east to west from Clapham's ridge to Wimbledon Hill and north to south from West Hill and Wimbledon Hill to Crystal Palace and the North Downs," added Sarah Roberts. "No high rise buildings break the skyline other than Crystal Palace radio tower. This is Eliot's view and we want to keep it that way." 


A local petition has now amassed more than 120 signatures on behalf of 430 residents complaining against the development plans. The campaign has also written to seek the support ofthe Prince of Wales, who declined to added his support. 


An application for an extension to the original scheme was rejected by Wandsworth Council in September on the grounds that it did not provide sufficient levels of affordable housing.


the independent

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THE STATESMAN

100 years ago today

A mad peon 

 

Savage Attack Upon A Policeman 


At the Waterloo Police Station on Sunday night a peon employed at Government House, who was in custody, made a brutal attack upon a constable. The peon had apparently gone out of his mind and had been taken to the police station for the night. Whilst the constables were busy cleaning their uniforms buttons and boots for the purpose of going on special duty for the reception of Lord Hardinge the man lay on a bed apparently asleep. Suddenly he sprang up and attacked the constable on guard duty over him, and before the latter could save himself he had seized him and completely bitten off his nose. Other constables came to the rescue and after a sharp scuffle the madman was overpowered and handcuffed. The injured  policeman was removed to hospital where he remained under treatment on Monday. The peon was produced at the office of the Commissioner of Police. While being led before the Hon Mr Halliday the peon although handcuffed, pushed the police officer who held him and attempted to twist and break one of his arms, but Inspector Rae who was more than a match for him, soon had him under control. Mr Halliday directed the police to find out if any of his relatives would take charge of him and if so to make him over to them. Failing this he will doubtless be sent to a Lunatic Asylum. 
 
THE KING AND QUEEN TO VISIT INDIA 

Coronation Durbar At Delhi 

The following communique was issued by the Private Secretary to the Viceroy on Wednesday night 16th instant:- "The King hopes to visit India, accompanied by the Queen, to hold the Coronation Darbar at Delhi on January 1, 1912."

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THE TELEGRAPH

 

CENSOR THYSELF

 

The 21st century may not have a problem with Lady Chatterley, but it is not that unbothered by Lady Gaga. There is no permanent and universal solution to the problem of censorship. The best that a modern democracy can do is to regard it as precisely that, a problem, and like all such issues, open to public discussion and debate. But when a modern State takes its role as censor for granted in an untroubled way, it is time for adult citizens to wake up to what is being done to them. So, when the Centre makes private television channels broadcast some of their shows late at night with a warning scroll, so that children may not be adversely affected by their adult content, it should be an occasion for mixed feelings. On the one hand, this is censorship, an imposition of restrictions by the State on the viewer's freedom of choice. On the other hand, this might also mean that a space is being created on Indian TV — late at night and in the early hours of the morning — for the broadcasting of adult content, although the government's guidelines about this are still vague and unformed. Watching TV at home confounds the private and the public, and so the censor's responsibility is shared by the family and the State. But the State does not fully trust the family in this matter. So, parental guidance must be overseen by the State's paternalism. And that, together with the question of who makes the rules of decency, is the core of the problem, often leaving adult citizens furious at being treated like children by a specially empowered group of their peers.

 

This problem is by no means confined to India or the subcontinent. The permissiveness of European TV channels with regard to nudity, sex and violence, compared to American TV, continues to be discussed threadbare on the internet by both pro- and anti-censorship groups. In China, political censorship overrides restrictions over other kinds of content. The internet, with its ability always to elude censorship (sometimes with dangerous consequences, as with paedophilic content), becomes an ungovernable space in which the problems of censorship and control are endlessly stood on their heads. All modern States, India included, must exercise their critical intelligence to the utmost and never leave their own knee-jerk puritanisms unexamined. Censors must learn to be their own best censors.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

COME CLEAN

 

The B.S. Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka is the new standard-bearer for political morality. In the course of two successive confidence motions in the assembly recently, it defended horse-trading on the grounds that it was a lesser sin than the Opposition's attempt to bring the government down. It has extended this comparison to assess the recent charges of nepotism against the chief minister. The chief minister, Mr Yeddyurappa, has himself volunteered to weigh these charges in relation to what, he insists, were similar deeds committed by his predecessors. He has argued that the denotification of government land and their sale or transfer to his family members and associates do not amount to any serious crime since those in government before him did the same. The chief minister neither attempts to ignore the allegations of nepotism nor deny them. He is brazen enough to defend them on the grounds that they are the perquisites of power available to the holders of political office, who, as expected, make full use of them. He has, therefore, exonerated himself from these charges and sent the ball back to the Opposition's court. The bottom line is that if the Opposition is unable to prove itself any holier than Mr Yeddyurappa, he cannot be touched.

 

There is an undeniable core of truth in Mr Yeddyurappa's defence, no matter how ridiculous and dangerous it is. What Karnataka is witnessing is institutionalized corruption, to which the Yeddyurappa government may have contributed rather generously, but which is not entirely of its making. For his crime to be proven, Mr Yeddyurappa wants the Opposition to come spotlessly clean. That, unfortunately, is unlikely to happen, and that knowledge is what gives the Bharatiya Janata Party government the confidence to hedge its bet on the continuation of public support. Unfortunately, it may be getting the timing wrong. The Congress, following the successive resignations of the scandal-tainted in the Central government, has somewhat reclaimed the moral high ground. Unlike before, the Congress may now be able to build up sustained pressure on the BJP government in the state and even capitalize on the eagerness of the Janata Dal (Secular) to see Mr Yeddyurappa go. Perhaps the BJP should follow the Congress in going for a change of face in Karnataka and attempt a makeover in its image.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A TROUBLEMAKER PASSES

- S.R. SANKARAN BROKE AWAY FROM THE MOULD OF THE IAS OFFICER

CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA

 

The problem is in the nomenclature itself. It is an administrative service. If the prime thrust is on administration, a respectable distance has to be there between the administrator and those who are at the receiving end of administration. The Indian Administrative Service, after all, was patterned after the Indian Civil Service. The national leadership which took charge of governance in 1947, in their heart of hearts nurtured a tremendous admiration mixed with awe for the ICS clan, whose members, despite being so few in number, performed so efficiently the chores assigned to them by the imperium. With Independence and the dawn of the post-colonial era, colonialism actually came to a fuller bloom. The recruits to the IAS were expected to do the bidding of the new masters with the same aplomb and effectiveness as the ICS retinue did for the raj.

 

One essential point was, however, missed. The British had planned the ICS as the core of civil administration to operate in tandem with, and as complementary to, military administration. The natives forced into subjugation must always be kept under the heels. With this end in view, it was so arranged that the assertion of military was echoed in the way civil administration was dispensed. You could not afford to be chummy with those who were supposed to be treated as slaves. Indians inducted into this so-called heaven-born service had to emulate their expatriate colleagues in mores and manners and were inculcated with the belief that, as occupants of a superior stratosphere, they must keep commoners at more than arm's length. Young ICS recruits with an enquiring mind, who had read classics or history or anthropology at Oxford or Cambridge, would now and then break ranks: while perfunctorily going through the motions of carrying out their normal administrative responsibilities, they would spend more time roaming the countryside and develop an appreciation of the native arts and architecture or undertake an intensive study of the pattern of existence of this or that tribe. One or two ICS district officers would even master the local language and translate its poetry and fiction for presentation to a global clientele. A few junior native colleagues of theirs would take courage in both hands and plunge into activities which narrowed their social distance from the masses. Higher authorities would frown upon these proclivities, and sometimes stop the promotion of the offending officers or transfer them to dreary outposts, where they were expected to rue their folly.

 

The IAS was made a carbon copy of the ICS, and things went off on the wrong rails. Those who led the freedom movement had made certain promises to their countrymen, particularly to the disadvantaged amongst them, such as providing the minimum amenities of life along with the dignity of living. The IAS, it was the popular assumption, would constitute the delivery system towards the furtherance of these objectives; the accent in its functioning would be more on rendering service and less on issues of administration. Ruling politicians had other intentions; they clung to the colonial model of administration with the same tenacity as was exhibited, for example, in defending the McMahon Line; they contrived to make the IAS a carbon copy of the ICS. An unwritten social contract was entered into between them and the upper layer of the bureaucracy. Enforcement of law and order emerged as the primary responsibility of the IAS. The exercise of authority and retention of the hierarchical structure of administration overshadowed the agenda of rendering public service. The sense of power the wielding of authority bequeaths obliterated every other consideration. Politicians still talked of socialism, but that was only a variant of oral eroticism, not to be taken seriously.

 

A hundred different glitches have besmirched the Indian polity in the 60-odd years since Independence. Perhaps the most grievous is the disappearance of the notion of service from the concept of administration. The paraphernalia of the Constitution, with its load of fundamental rights and directive principles, meant nothing. And the late introduction of the 73rd and 74th amendments, too, have only led to a downward dispersal of the hierarchical pattern of governance. The chasm between ordinary men and women and those who handle the administration at the rural level has remained what it always was. Administrators in general have got accustomed to treating the immiserized masses as an inferior category. The latter have returned the compliment and consider the administration as an alien and hostile entity. Politicians, the innocent ones had once nourished the thought, would step in and do some bridge-building. Instead, in most instances, they have been active protagonists of the colonial paradigm. Given the compulsions of competitive, multi-party democracy, members of the administrative services have also often been pushed to join the game of dividing the people along caste or some other sectarian lines.

 

S.R. Sankaran, who died last month, had tried to break away from the mould. He was an unusual member of the administrative service: he took it for granted the focal point of functioning of the cadre he belonged to was to establish communion with those sections which have been prevented from availing themselves of the fundamental rights the Constitution has granted to each citizen. There was possibly a streak of insanity in him, the insanity which impels one to sap the moorings of convention. Otherwise a quiet, extraordinarily humble man, he could be indescribably strong and obstinate where issues of principle were concerned. His colleagues might stick to the rules and modalities of behaviour a senior civil servant was expected to adhere to. Sankaran would not. He would rather get lost among the dispossessed and the exploited, the Dalits, the tribals, the unorganized construction workers, the hapless women from the nether regions of society badly in need of succour and advice. He would explore the nooks and corners of administrative capabilities so that these wretched specimens could begin to appreciate that they too could claim a stake in this seemingly-far-gone-to-seeds republic.

 

One recalls that astonishing spectacle eventuating in the 1980s. The remote little state of Tripura had a communist who was also an ascetic, Nripen Chakraborty, as its chief minister who picked — few know how — S.R. Sankaran as his chief secretary. Both lived out of a battered suitcase. They trudged through Tripura's countryside for days on end, communing with the tribal people, sharing their food, spending the night in their ramshackle huts, listening, all the while, to their woes. And the duo took measures, concrete measures, that could heal at least some of these woes. That there is currently little or no tribal insurgency in Tripura might well be the enduring sequel of the magic healing touch applied by that strange combination of a most unusual chief minister and his equally unusual chief secretary.

 

Sankaran insisted on playing the same role when serving in his own state, Andhra Pradesh, and at the Centre. He sought out the impoverished and the disabled, and was determined that the apparat of this supposedly democratic State is pushed into delivering to citizens existing at the margin what they could rightly claim as their prerogative in terms of at least Article 14 of the Constitution.

 

There are in fact many others among the serving officers who think along the same wavelength as Sankaran did, but hold back because they feel they could not afford to annoy the powers that be. Sankaran felt no such constraints. He was once selected to head the academy in Mussoorie which trains fresh recruits to the all-Indian services. His appointment was, however, cancelled at the last moment; wise counsel prevailed with the authorities. He could not quite be trusted. He, it was feared, would be indoctrinating the trainee officers into accepting his interpretation of the raison de'être of their service. Nothing was reckoned to be more dangerous than that.

Did not Sankaran's fault lie in the fact that he was a fiercely patriotic officer? Patriotism reflects ardour for the nation. Ardour for the nation should be synonymous with love for the people who constitute the nation's majority. Sankaran, therefore, had impeccable logic on his side. That was the trouble with him; he set a bad example. Now that he is gone, there is a sigh of relief in some quarters.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BEWARE OF THE CURSE

MALVIKA SINGH

 

The tragedy of the fast- extinction of the tiger, under the aegis of various departments of the Central and state governments, has reached unimaginable proportions, much like all else in this country, because of faulty, failed and inappropriate policies created and operated by 'little' babus. These are opportunistic men who know little and whose minds are limited and closed, but who are mandated by the government to manage a corrupt and corroded delivery system. They firmly believe that private entrepreneurs and experts have vested interests and therefore need to be listened to but not heard. They are guilty of initiating and condoning the wholesale murder of our national animal as they play out their absurd and mindless policies. It is these men in charge, both at the Project Tiger office in New Delhi and in the ministry of environment and forests in Jaipur, who need to be 'relocated' with immediate effect for presiding over the brutal, mindless and careless killing of Durga's vahan. The curse of the Devi will be on them.

 

Ranthambhore was a national treasure. Forest officers with limited knowledge — something far more dangerous than no knowledge at all — initiated a criminal relocation plan to populate Sariska, which had become a vast hunting ground for poachers because of unacceptable management techniques and malgovernance. The reasons to relocate this animal were totally wrong. The new home was a killing field where the reform of a broken-down, corrupt system had not begun, let alone been completed, to handle this 'experiment'. Some of us cried hoarse but our appeals fell on deaf ears. Officials smirked every time we revolted against their madness, particularly in Delhi. Lies were communicated to political bosses, some of whom did not want to enter the fray. The babu running Project Tiger went about doing all that was wrong and destructive. He needs to be made accountable. These people must be put to pasture before they do more damage.

 

Crazy scheme

 

A healthy, gorgeous male tiger, relocated from Ranthambhore to Sariska, has been poisoned. The forest department has put out all kinds of false stories, but the truth is that the animal was poisoned, he was not responding to signals that were being sent to his collar, and the complacent, criminal authorities paid no heed. The head of the Rajasthan forest department must be dismissed for this killing just as drivers are arrested for hit-and-run cases or builders for faulty buildings. Political protection of blatant mismanagement is no longer acceptable. We were right and will be right over and over again till the government is willing to change gear.

 

Sadly, the same officer heading Project Tiger in Delhi who has violated his oath of office by not protecting and conserving the area under his jurisdiction has another crazy scheme up his sleeves. He now wants to close the core areas to tourism — which is his flippant idea of protection. Why not start by cordoning off the Taj Mahal? Why not cover the Eiffel Tower in a shroud with naphthalene balls? Start with the correction of rules, norms and delivery systems, and thereafter address issues of relocation and suchlike, using international expertise, not the average and limited intelligence of the inexperienced and backward Indian babu.

 

India cannot respect its bureaucracy because we see how that single institution has destroyed our ethics and values, our civil society and cultural conglomerate — the natural environment, the manmade habitats and the great skills of this subcontinent — all of which have been shunned and abused by the babu. The curse of the devi will have to be averted by sacrificing those who are at the helm of tiger conservation at present.

 

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

FIRST EDIT

DOUBTS PERSIST

'PASSENGER SAFETY STILL NOT GIVEN ENOUGH ATTENTION.'

 

 

Failure, deliberate or otherwise, to make public the inquiry report on the tragic crash of the Air India airplane in Mangalore last May will surely raise questions that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has much information to suppress. 


Conspiracy theories must not be given any credence, but reports that the findings of the Court of Inquiry (CoI) might not be tabled in parliament leave a lingering doubt on why the government would prefer keeping them under wraps. The pilot-in-command, of Serbian origin, slept through the flight and woke up at the last minute, by which time the aircraft, carrying 166 people, was doomed. Holding only the chief pilot responsible obviously helps prevent India's air safety standards from being downgraded by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).


Globally, over the past 15 years, more than a dozen fatal crashes and numerous close calls have been blamed on pilot fatigue, a silent killer that was the key cause of one of the deadliest accidents in aviation history in 1997, when a Korean Air Boeing 747 headed to Guam plowed into a hillside and killed 228 people. Studies have shown that exhaustion can impair a pilot's judgment in much the same way alcohol does. It is not uncommon for overtired pilots to focus on a conversation or a single chore and miss other things going on around them, including critical flight information. In a few cases, they have just fallen asleep, as did Captain Zlatko Glusica who was commandeering the Air India flight. The report also suggests that Glusica followed a wrong flight path. But the CoI report is silent on what the co-pilot was up to when his chief was fast asleep. He could have brought Glusica to his senses long before it was too late, and the two, along with assistance from Mangalore's air traffic control, could have averted the deadly crash. And yet, the inquiry's entire focus appeared to be on the flight commander.


Given the patchwork of international organisations monitoring air safety, doubts on how strictly air carriers are regulated and disturbing questions on whether the DGCA has the expertise, trained personnel and procedures to enforce regulations, it is difficult, if not impossible, to judge a particular country's commitment to safety standards. The country's civil aviation authority has for long irresponsibly sidetracked the question: What is happening to passenger safety? It must be buttonholed into satisfactorily answering that question.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

WELCOME TREND

'THE DECLINE IN BIRTH AND DEATH RATES IS HEARTENING.'

 

India's galloping population growth has started slowing down, if the figures available from the annual Sample Registration System survey are an indicator. The census operations are under way and only the results of that exercise will give a final and more reliable picture. That is months away but there are clear signs that the pace of growth is not as fast as it used to be. The survey shows that the birth rate has fallen by about 14 per cent in the 10 years from 1998 to 2008. This, and the decline in death rate which is also substantial at 18 per cent, sets a welcome trend. And it is of special importance that the new trend is accounted for by not just the performance of states which had produced results in curbing population growth, but by the strides made by the laggards in the BIMARU category.


In terms of birth rate Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have seen decline of 23 per cent and Bihar and UP a fall of 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. The dip in birth rate was caused by the improvement in social indicators like female literacy, maternal health and child mortality rate. The rise in the age of marriage was another factor. The increase in income levels of people has also helped. This does not mean that these indicators are satisfactory. On the contrary, they are much less than the world standards and in some cases as bad as those in the poorest and most backward countries. But all states have improved their positions from the past and that had an impact on the birth rate. The decline in death rate is a result of greater access to health care, though again this too is far from satisfactory.


The point is that the fight against population growth may have started showing results. It also shows that  the accent on education, health and income growth and giving women the central role in the strategy will ensure that the numbers will come down without recourse to coercion and too many disincentives. India will stand to gain from its demographic strength in the coming years, but too high a population will sap the resources and nullify the gains of economic growth. Even at the falling pace of population growth the country will have an advantage over others. It is for the governments to ensure that the welcome trend is sustained.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

ASIAN GAMES IN B'LORE?

BY A RAVINDRA


India is a vast and diverse country, and equity considerations demand that the benefits of a global event be shared by different states.

 

China seems to be excelling itself in the conduct of international games. The spectacular opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, has been rated better than even that of the Beijing Olympics held two years ago.


The purpose of this article is not to make any comparison with the Commonwealth Games held earlier in Delhi but to raise an entirely different issue about the venue of the games. India has till now hosted two Asian and one Commonwealth games and all of them in Delhi. The question is whether all such events should be held in the national capital. There is no doubt that as of now, Delhi is the best equipped city in the country to host such international events. It has the necessary infrastructure in terms of stadia, accommodation and other facilities. No wonder, it is eyeing the prospect of bidding for Olympics at a future date.


Notwithstanding the superior advantages of Delhi, it is time we give serious consideration to holding some of the future international games in some other Indian city. There are good reasons for doing so. First, India is a vast and diverse country and equity considerations demand the benefits of such a global event be shared by different states.


Secondly, there are at least another five cities spread across the country capable of hosting such games — Mumbai in the west, Kolkota in the east, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad in the south. The existing infrastructure in these cities will of course not meet the requirements to conduct world class games. However, a big sporting event will, apart from giving a fillip to sports in the region, provide an opportunity to upgrade the infrastructure and other facilities in the city where it is held.


If the powers that be could spend an astronomical sum of Rs 70,000 crore towards the CWG (how much of it was misspent or misused is another matter), why not make a similar or appropriate investment in another city?


Let us look at some examples in other countries. In the United States, all the Olympic games till now have been held outside its national capital, Washington, which, of course, is not such a large city. Nor was the megacity, the premier international urban centre, New York, the automatic choice. In fact, each time, a new venue was chosen.

It was St Louis in 1904, Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996. In Germany, the Olympics were first held in Berlin in 1936 and then shifted to Munich in 1972. 


Similarly, in Australia, the choice was Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000. In China, while the Olympics were held in capital city of Beijing in 2008, the authorities opted for Guangzhou for the Asian games this year. So also in South Korea, a much smaller country, while its capital city of Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988, the Asian games in 2002 were held in Busan and the next one in 2014 is proposed at Incheon.


A pampered city


In India, for some reason or the other, Delhi seems to be the favoured city, not only for sporting events, but in other respects too; it is indeed a pampered city. The munificence of the Central government on the capital is all too evident in the huge investments made on its infrastructure.


The first phase of the much acclaimed Delhi Metro has been built at a staggering cost of Rs 10,500 crore and the latest showpiece, the international airport has consumed another Rs 12,700 crore. Don't be under the impression that the citizens of Delhi are burdened with high taxes for all such blessings. In fact, they pay much less for services than their counterparts in other cities.


Take the case of petrol and diesel. Their prices are the lowest in Delhi compared to other metros. This highly subsidised city has also ensured that the country's governing class, the ministers, the MPs and senior bureaucrats enjoy the luxury of living in sprawling bungalows and the babus of all grades comfortably reside in government quarters, all paying a pittance of their salaries as rent.


And behold the benefits heaped on Delhi by the CWG, to give the city a new look. A new games village to accommodate 8,000 athletes and officials was built at a cost of Rs 2,000 crore. Another Rs 8,000 crore were spent in improving the city's infrastructure — roads, bridges, flyovers and five new stadia, apart from upgrading the existing ones.


A 2.2 km underground tunnel was constructed between Lodhi Road and Trans Yamuna. The bus fleet was augmented by adding 2,276 extra buses and the Metro network was extended. The power plant capacity was enhanced from 4,500 to 7,000 mw to ensure adequate and continuous power supply. Terminal 3 of the new international airport was got ready with 130 check-in counters and 55 aerobridges.


Imagine all such benefits flowing to Bangalore! To realise this, I suggest that the Asian Games in 2018 should be held in India's IT capital. It may appear a long wait, but mind you, the preparations have to start right now. It's one sure way of making the civic authorities wake up to the tremendous task ahead and work with vision and zeal to make the city what it should be for a big international event. It will galvanise all the stakeholders and the citizens to work for a common cause. And a substantial amount of money will come from the Central government.

Above all, it would be a great opportunity to transform Bangalore into a truly world class city. 


(The writer is an advisor to the chief minister of Karnataka)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

MUCH PROMISE FROM THE OBAMA VISIT

BY RAJIV NAYAN


India would benefit from partnering with the US in evergreen revolution, clean energy and education.

 

The three-day India visit of the US President Barack Obama ended after much high voltage activity from interaction with children to addressing the parliament and the business community. Did the visit yield any substantive gains for India and the Indo-US relationship?


The president's speech in parliament and its reiteration in the joint statement clearly endorse India's candidature for the permanent UNSC membership. To that extent, the US endorsement amounts to a first step in this politically and diplomatically uphill objective.


Another plus pertains to issue of export controls as a number of Indian organisations were on the Entity List of the US Export Administration Regulation (EAR) which controls exports of dual use technologies. The placement of various Indian atomic energy, defence and space agencies on the Entity List makes it difficult for them to acquire dual use technologies which delayed many projects till now.


Clear list

Though the joint statement gives an impression that all the Indian organisations have been lifted from the List, a US government fact sheet specified the organisations which are to become beneficiaries of Washington's largesse.


These include various state owned organisations. However, several nuclear energy related agencies like the department of atomic energy appear to be retained on the Entity List.


Significantly the US has also supported India's membership of multilateral export control regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls commerce of nuclear items, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that regulates space-related goods with implications for missiles development, the Australia Group that controls nuclear and biological agents and the Wassenaar Arrangement that controls conventional weapons and dual use technology.


However, the membership of these consensus-based regimes would require time.


Considering the US remains the sole superpower in the existing global security architecture for India to promote its national security and foreign policy interests without Washington's supports proves almost impossible.


The membership of the NSG and the MTCR could be strategically very advantageous for India because it will provide New Delhi an opportunity to participate in global nuclear energy and space governance. The Indian entry into these informal bodies would help India into grasping the real dynamics of controls of nuclear and space related technologies. Besides, India will emerge an equal partner in shaping decisions on these technologies.

The two countries also decided to work on several science and technology areas that draw on expertise from both countries. Many of these areas are not in the sensitive technology domain; so, it does not attract similar attention as do export controls, the multilateral export control regimes, or for that matter, civil space and defence cooperation.

But India and its relationship with the US would be immensely benefited by the partnership for evergreen revolution, clean energy and other educational collaborations. These developments could create a silent revolution for the Indian economy and provides bedrock for the relationship.


However, there are some disappointments as the US policy on Pakistan sustains its status quoist approach, considering the Muslim state has proved to be a global liability that needs to be sorted out. Without properly settling the Pakistan question, the symbolic US approach to counter-terrorism proves meaningless. The refusal to acknowledge the harsh reality that terrorism emanates primarily from Pakistan rather than Afghanistan is the crux of the issue.


On the nuclear issue, Obama knows that the new Senate and his administration's security policy establishment would not allow it to ratify the Test Ban Treaty. Similarly, the President knew that nuclear disarmament would not happen. Yet, he gave these issues unnecessary space in the joint statement. Instead of non-issues, he should have focused on more relevant issues.


Apart from some economic deals and science and technology agreements the visit was strong on symbolism. Even all the big ticket announcements still remain only an oral assurance. The Indian government may have to keep reminding the US Administration to formalise these assurances and eventually translate words into deeds.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

ECHOES FROM THE PAST

BY LAKSHMI NAIR


The whole place had been magically transformed with bright and colourful lights.

 

It was a cold November evening towards the end of Ramzan and we were strolling along the dew drenched lawns bounding the Al Buhaira Corniche in Sharjah. The whole place had been magically transformed with bright and colourful lights and resembled a scene straight out of a children's fairytale story.


Every year during Ramzan, Buhaira Corniche wore a festive air. After following a rigorous fasting regimen throughout the day, the faithful liked to break their fast and have their 'iftar' meals on the lawns edging Corniche. Towards evening just before the 'Maghreb' prayers whole families used to spill out of large SUVs, unfurling reed mats out on the emerald green lawns and unpacking large baskets overflowing with food.

Soon lawn chairs and BBQ grills would to be set up along the spots which promised the best views of the fireworks' display slotted for the night. After settling down on their little patch of lawn, the men would roll out their prayer mats and offer Maghreb prayers. The ladies meanwhile were busy laying out the iftar meal. Children could be seen playing tag with each other, or roller skating along the cement pathways next to the lawns.

Soon the lone thread of a muezzins call for prayer (azan) could be heard above the general din. This was soon followed by a chorus of prayer calls from the surrounding mosques. Once the Maghreb prayers were completed the fast was broken with a couple of dates. This was followed by watermelon juice after which people tucked into a sumptuous feast replete with mezzeh, hareez, rice and meat dishes and sweets like baklawa and kunafa.

After their iftar meals people could be seen milling around gaily decorated ice cream vans parked at regular intervals throughout the Corniche. Walking under the date palms festooned with green and blue fairy light people would stop by cloth tents selling jewellry, knick knacks and toys. Balloon sellers dotted the lawns with their vivid helium balloons.

 

Finally a spectacular fireworks display would lit up the heavens marking the end of another wonderful evening spent on the Corniche lawns enjoying an iftar meal with our global family.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GHAILANI VERDICT

 

The verdict in the first federal trial of a former Guantánamo detainee has unleashed the usual chest-thumping and fear-mongering from the usual politicians. They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence.

 

That clearly wasn't enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He showed a shocking disdain for the 12 jurors, who deliberated more than four days. He described their verdict as a "total miscarriage of justice."

 

Senator John McCain proclaimed on the "Imus in the Morning" program that the verdict proved that all terrorism cases should be tried in military commissions, which he said were set up to "get the job done."

 

It's not clear what job Mr. McCain had in mind, unless he meant guaranteeing guilty verdicts, on all counts, all of the time, no matter what the facts are in a case. President George W. Bush created such a system. The Supreme Court rightly declared it unconstitutional.

 

Let's pause to consider some facts:

 

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted of a major crime and will pay a high price. The military tribunals have generated four minor guilty verdicts. Not one of the really dangerous men at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of Sept. 11, has been brought to trial. It's never been clear why the tribunals can't manage to try an important case. Perhaps it is because those cases are so tainted by torture and illegal detention. But it's clear the tribunals are not working.

 

Despite predictions of security problems — an argument that Mr. King, Mr. McCain and others often make against civilian terrorism trials — the courthouse near ground zero in Lower Manhattan, the judge, the jury, all of New York City, got safely through the trial.

 

The prosecution was not as robust, perhaps, as it might have been, but the problem was not the civilian courts. It was the years of abuse that preceded the trial.

 

Mr. Ghailani was held for five years in outlaw C.I.A. prisons and at Guantánamo and was abused and likely tortured. The prosecution chose not to use his interrogation records because of that and could not introduce testimony by another witness because interrogators learned his name from Mr. Ghailani's coerced testimony.

 

That severely tainted evidence most likely would also have been excluded in a military trial. The military tribunals act bars coerced evidence. Mr. McCain knows that because he was a driving force behind the 2006 law and its 2009 amendments. Mr. King voted for both bills.

 

The problem was never the choice of a court. The 12 civilian jurors were not too weak-minded, as Mr. King seems to think. The judge was not coddling terrorists. He was respecting the Constitution and the law.

 

The problem with this case was President George W. Bush's authorizing the illegal detention, abuse and torture of detainees. Susan Hirsch, whose husband was killed in the Tanzania attack, understood that. "I can't help but feel that the evidence in the case would have been stronger had Ghailani been brought to trial when he was captured in 2004," she said.

 

Instead, Mr. Ghailani was kept in illegal detention and was abused and likely tortured.

 

Some politicians want to keep terrorism trials in military courts because it makes them look tough. Unfortunately, this sort of bluster has led the White House to back off of its pledge to try Mr. Mohammed and other high-profile prisoners in the federal courts.

 

What really makes this country strong is that it is based on laws not bluster. The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S NOT OVER

 

The recession that began in late 2007 ended officially in June 2009, but much of the country is still suffering.

 

The Times's Sabrina Tavernise recently reported on new Census data showing that in 2010, the number of children living with a grandparent rose sharply for the second year in a row, to 7.5 million. That is 10 percent of children under 18, up from about 8 percent from the years before the recession.

 

Experts attribute the increase to out-of-work parents needing help. But it is also a sign of families fracturing under economic stress. More than a fifth of children living with a grandparent did not have a parent living in the house. The pain and costs aren't temporary. Long-term parental unemployment profoundly affects children, even lowering their lifelong earnings potential.

 

Children aren't the only ones suffering. Even without additional caretaking duties, many senior citizens have been hit hard by the downturn and rising unemployment. One sign of that is the jump in the number of people who resort to early Social Security retirement benefits after they lose a job and cannot find another.

 

The Urban Institute has found that in 2009, even after controlling for population growth, roughly 150,000 more men and 90,000 more women took early Social Security benefits than would have been expected based on historical rates.

 

Taking benefits early helps beneficiaries in the near term, but it also means they will receive smaller benefit checks for the rest of their lives. Together with losses on investments and near-zero interest rates on savings, smaller benefits increase the chances that they won't have enough to support themselves in advanced old age.

 

The recession's fallout doesn't even stop there. A slack labor market deprives high school and college graduates of early work experience on which careers — and earnings potential — are built. It also limits the upward mobility, and lifetime earnings, of current workers. Foreclosures wreck the credit of borrowers for many years; some defaulted borrowers will never re-establish credit. Tight lending puts some otherwise viable small businesses out of business.

 

As the lame-duck Congress debates whether to extend expiring unemployment benefits, these problems show again why Washington needs to do more to strengthen the safety net and create jobs. The recession may be over, but it is not going away.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

REPEAL IT. NOW.

 

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, made the right call this week in pledging to push for repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy during the lame-duck session of Congress. The odds of ridding the country of the destructive ban on gay soldiers serving openly will diminish greatly in the next Congress when Republicans take over the House and gain strength in the Senate.

 

The House has approved a bill authorizing repeal, pending completion of a Pentagon review, and the Senate tried to do the same in September only to be blocked by the threat of a Republican-led filibuster. Now it is urgent for the Obama administration and Senate Democrats to try again in the brief lame-duck session.

 

Senator Reid will need to rally a few Republican senators to the cause; we can only hope that some have the courage to ignore their colleagues and heed instead the advice of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of whom favor ending the ban on openly gay soldiers.

 

The Obama administration, which professes to want the policy repealed, should expedite completion and immediate release of the Pentagon's review. Draft versions conclude that most active-duty soldiers and their families don't care if gay men and lesbians serve openly and that repealing the policy would not harm military readiness. Indeed, there is a wealth of evidence that the policy is actually harming military readiness by forcing out of the service people who have critical skills in interpretation, battlefield medicine, counterterrorism and other vital subjects.

 

The Pentagon's report is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 1, but we see no good reason why it could not be released almost immediately. The Democrats plan to hold hearings on the report, so the earlier they have it, the better. There is little time left to jettison this unjust and counterproductive policy.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WITH ALL DISRESPECT, MR. PRESIDENT

 

There was supposed to be a bipartisan summit at the White House on Thursday, but only the Democrats showed up. The Republican leadership of the House and Senate somehow couldn't find any time in their schedules to meet with the president of the United States. If this is what cooperation and mutual respect is going to look like over the next two years, then settle in for more trench warfare and far less progress.

 

It has been more than two weeks since President Obama issued a postelection invitation for Congressional leaders to join him for dinner on Nov. 18 to discuss "how we can move the American people's agenda forward." Republicans left him hanging, refusing to commit to a date even as the office of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said he was encouraged that the president wanted to discuss areas of agreement.

 

On Wednesday, the Republicans, led by Mr. McConnell, said they just didn't have the time. They had discovered there was so much to do — new members to welcome and lots of other unspecified details. Besides, they said, the president should have asked for a mutually agreeable date instead of just inviting them. So the meeting was pushed back until Nov. 30.

 

As the Republicans know, that means less time to work out important compromises in the remaining lame-duck session on crucial issues like taxes, the nuclear arms treaty with Russia and extending unemployment insurance. So far, in fact, there has been zero interest in actual compromise on any of those issues, despite extended hands from the White House. On Thursday, House Republicans blocked a bill that would extend long-term unemployment insurance past the holidays.

 

Beyond the practical implications of this rudeness, there is an increasingly obvious lack of respect for the president and the presidency, with Republicans interpreting their electoral victory as a mandate to act with hubris. Steny Hoyer, the outgoing House majority leader, noted Thursday that he couldn't remember a single instance when Democrats did not change their schedule to accommodate a request to meet with President George W. Bush. Mr. McConnell has already made it clear that defeating Mr. Obama is more important than negotiating on legislation. Apparently, that also goes for snubbing Mr. Obama.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

AXIS OF DEPRESSION

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

What do the government of China, the government of Germany and the Republican Party have in common? They're all trying to bully the Federal Reserve into calling off its efforts to create jobs. And the motives of all three are highly suspect.

 

It's not as if the Fed is doing anything radical. It's true that the Fed normally conducts monetary policy by buying short-term U.S. government debt, whereas now, under the unhelpful name of "quantitative easing," it's buying longer-term debt. (Buying more short-term debt is pointless because the interest rate on that debt is near zero.) But Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, had it right when he protested that this is "just monetary policy." The Fed is trying to reduce interest rates, as it always does when unemployment is high and inflation is low.

 

And inflation is indeed low. Core inflation — a measure that excludes volatile food and energy prices, and is widely considered a better gauge of underlying trends than the headline number — is running at just 0.6 percent, the lowest level ever recorded. Meanwhile, unemployment is almost 10 percent, and long-term unemployment is worse than it has been since the Great Depression.

 

So the case for Fed action is overwhelming. In fact, the main concern reasonable people have about the Fed's plans — a concern that I share — is that they are likely to prove too weak, too ineffective.

 

But there are reasonable people — and then there's the China-Germany-G.O.P. axis of depression.

 

It's no mystery why China and Germany are on the warpath against the Fed. Both nations are accustomed to running huge trade surpluses. But for some countries to run trade surpluses, others must run trade deficits — and, for years, that has meant us. The Fed's expansionary policies, however, have the side effect of somewhat weakening the dollar, making U.S. goods more competitive, and paving the way for a smaller U.S. deficit. And the Chinese and Germans don't want to see that happen.

 

For the Chinese government, by the way, attacking the Fed has the additional benefit of shifting attention away from its own currency manipulation, which keeps China's currency artificially weak — precisely the sin China falsely accuses America of committing.

 

But why are Republicans joining in this attack?

 

Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues seem stunned to find themselves in the cross hairs. They thought they were acting in the spirit of none other than Milton Friedman, who blamed the Fed for not acting more forcefully during the Great Depression — and who, in 1998, called on the Bank of Japan to "buy government bonds on the open market," exactly what the Fed is now doing.

 

Republicans, however, will have none of it, raising objections that range from the odd to the incoherent.

 

The odd: on Monday, a somewhat strange group of Republican figures — who knew that William Kristol was an expert on monetary policy? — released an open letter to the Fed warning that its policies "risk currency debasement and inflation." These concerns were echoed in a letter the top four Republicans in Congress sent Mr. Bernanke on Wednesday. Neither letter explained why we should fear inflation when the reality is that inflation keeps hitting record lows.

 

And about dollar debasement: leaving aside the fact that a weaker dollar actually helps U.S. manufacturing, where were these people during the previous administration? The dollar slid steadily through most of the Bush years, a decline that dwarfs the recent downtick. Why weren't there similar letters demanding that Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman at the time, tighten policy?

 

Meanwhile, the incoherent: Two Republicans, Mike Pence in the House and Bob Corker in the Senate, have called on the Fed to abandon all efforts to achieve full employment and focus solely on price stability. Why? Because unemployment remains so high. No, I don't understand the logic either.

 

So what's really motivating the G.O.P. attack on the Fed? Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues were clearly caught by surprise, but the budget expert Stan Collender predicted it all. Back in August, he warned Mr. Bernanke that "with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory," they would be "opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better." In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed.

 

Hence the axis of depression. No doubt some of Mr. Bernanke's critics are motivated by sincere intellectual conviction, but the core reason for the attack on the Fed is self-interest, pure and simple. China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there's a Democrat in the White House.

 

]And if Mr. Bernanke gives in to their bullying, they may all get their wish.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WEEKNESS AND ENDURANCE

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Just over a week ago, Newsweek announced that it is going to merge with the online magazine The Daily Beast. Since then, cyberspace has echoed with pessimistic commentary about the future of this new entity. After all, why should anyone think that two money-losing organizations will start making money simply because they have banded together?

 

It's a fair question, but I wouldn't be so gloomy. The pessimists are underestimating how much American culture is changing right now and how these changes will open up fresh opportunities for Newsweek and old-line general-interest print magazines like it. These magazines didn't thrive for so many decades for no reason. They tapped into a deep strain in American culture.

 

If you want to get highfalutin about it, this strain started in the 19th century when Ralph Waldo Emerson and other lesser lights offered audiences recipes for self-improvement. The man and woman of character, they said, must possess a well-furnished mind. You may be a salesman or a farmer or a housewife, but you have a responsibility to be familiar with the best that has been thought and said.

 

To be respectable, it is necessary to spend your leisure time sampling the great masterworks of culture. To fight off the grubby materialism of American culture, it is necessary to be conversant in philosophy, theology and the great political events of the wider world.

 

This ethos shaped the American news media for more than a century. Poor families scratched together their dollars to buy an encyclopedia, to join the Book of the Month Club, to buy Will and Ariel Durant's "Civilization" series or the Robert Maynard Hutchins's Great Books.

 

Magazines like Harper's, Saturday Review, Time and Newsweek arose to satisfy this tide of cultural aspiration. For decades, Time and Newsweek devoted more space to opera and art and theology than to Hollywood or health. You may never have visited New York City, but to be a respectable figure in your town in Wisconsin or Arizona, it was helpful to know what operas were playing or what people were reading in Paris. The magazines supplied this knowledge.

 

These magazines also inflamed a million imaginations. Smart boys and girls got a glimpse of a wider world. The implication was that their current lives were insufficient, but they could read about John Foster Dulles or Georgia O'Keeffe and gain access to a higher realm that they might someday join.

 

About a generation ago, this earnest self-improvement ethic came under attack. People no longer believed that there was such a thing as a common culture that all educated Americans should study and know. The new ethos valued hipness, not class.

 

Moreover, the self-esteem hurricanes blew across the landscape. You don't have to read or listen to boring stuff to possess character. You are wonderful just the way you are. General-interest magazines paid less attention to the lofty world people hoped to enter and started covering the readers themselves. The media segmented as each lifestyle niche got its own treatment. Attention narrowed. Technology accelerated everything.

 

In the middle of all this, the middlebrow general-interest magazines have tried to adapt. But events shock nations and cultures shift. The United States has just endured a financial crisis and a recession. Already one can see a new sobriety in the air. The savings rate is up. Consumption is down. The political world is focused on deficits and austerity. Hummers look kind of silly now. The polls show that Americans are deeply worried about the long-term fate of their nation.

 

A verdict has been reached about the bubble age: people got shortsighted. There is now a countervailing desire to be a little more serious, to think about the long term more, to return to fundamentals. There's been a broadening of the national attention span.

 

In this climate, there should be room for a general-interest magazine to reinvent the old middlebrow formula. There should be room for a magazine that counterprograms against the ceaseless ephemera of much of the online world and offers things you will remember, a magazine that doesn't endlessly chase buzz, that isn't coastal urban journalists writing ceaselessly for each other, that doesn't aim for insider-ish horserace gossip when covering politics, that doesn't chase the same upscale liberal audience that every other media outlet is chasing.

 

There must be room for a magazine that offers an aspirational ideal to the middle manager in the suburban office park, that offers a respite from the deluge of vapid social network chatter, that transmits the country's cultural inheritance and its shared way of life, that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren't.

 

In the media business, as in politics, it's important to know what year it is. It's 2010, not 1998 or 1986. There is an anxious seriousness in the air, waiting for an outlet.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE DEBTOR OF THE WESTERN WORLD

BY JOHN BANVILLE

 

Dublin

 

THIS year there were no fireworks. Throughout most of the past decade, for weeks before and after Halloween, the night skies over Ireland were filled with the crack and crash of bursting rockets and fountains of multicolored flame. Since fireworks are illegal here they had to be bought in Northern Ireland and smuggled across the border — quite a turnabout from the days when the I.R.A. smuggled tons of explosives the other direction, during the Thirty Years' War it waged on the Protestants and the British Army garrison in the North from the 1960s to the 1990s.

 

Throughout the 2000s there was a lot of cross-border shopping, almost all of it one-way, since usually in those years the euro was strong and the British pound weak. Newly rich middle-class couples from the Republic, riding the broad back of the Celtic Tiger, would travel north on Saturday mornings, have a leisurely lunch at one of Belfast's fine new restaurants, spend the afternoon in the supermarkets and return at evening happy as Visigoths with their booty — liquor, cigarettes, electrical goods, designer-label clothes and, as the autumn set in, boxes and boxes of fireworks. Those were the sparkling years.

 

Now, with the Tiger dead and buried under a mound of ever-increasing debt, a silence is falling over the land. This year, the eve of All Saints passed in a deathly hush, save for a few damp squibs. There seemed little left to celebrate, with nothing to be seen in the skies save, in the murky distance but approaching ever nearer, the Four Horsemen of our particular Apocalypse: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, Brussels and the Iron Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The shopping trips of yesteryear are gone with the snows; indeed, many of the S.U.V.'s that carried the merry marauders northward have been sold off at a loss, or repossessed.

 

The wildest urban legends are readily believed. There is said to be a two-month backlog at the abattoirs, as families abandon the expensive pets, including Thoroughbred racehorses, that they bought in the fat years and now can no longer afford to feed. One hears stories of the return of bartering: a yacht swapped for a mobile phone, a Harley-Davidson exchanged for a bicycle. There are moments of giddiness and breathless panic when it feels as it must have in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

 

At first, when the poor beast began to sicken, we Tiger cubs set up a great roaring and ranting. Who is to blame for our sudden travails? we demanded — somebody must be to blame. The bankers? Them, certainly. The politicians? Well, the politicians are always to blame, so nothing new there. The markets, those shadowy entities that seem to operate by whim? Ourselves, perhaps? — now, there was a sobering possibility.

 

Pundits in those early days used to urge us to think of the country as being at war and to fire ourselves up with the same plucky spirit that saved civilization when it was threatened by German and Japanese warmongers. But how is it possible to be at war when the enemy cannot be identified, and when those who raided our coffers and beggared us are by now beggars themselves? One Irish building firm, owned by a decent and well-meaning man, is said to have debts of a billion and a half euros, about $2.1 billion. Imagine that poor fellow's nights.

 

It is the figures, mainly, that cow us into silence. It is estimated that the banking debt of this nation, which has a population of only 4.6 million, may be substantially more than 100 billion euros. That is 100,000 millions and rising. When we were at school it amused our science teachers to dazzle us with astronomical statistics — so many myriads of light years, so many zillions of stars — but the numbers that we are being forced to count on our too-few fingers now have nothing to do with the fanciful dimensions of outer space. They represent precisely the breadth and depth of the financial hole into which we have toppled headlong.

 

In the months after September 2008, when the Irish government, after a night-long crisis meeting, was forced to give a guarantee of some 400 billion euros — money we had no hope of ever having — to save the Irish banks from collapse, we used to say that it would fall to our children to pay for our financial folly. Now we know that it will be our children and our children's children and our children's children's children, unto the nth generation, who will bear the burden of our debts, including the "substantial loan" from international lenders that officials now acknowledge is necessary.

 

There used to be a nice acronym that neatly expressed how the Irish people conceive of themselves: MOPE, that is, Most Oppressed People Ever. For a decade or so, when the Tiger was at its fiercest, we threw off the mantle of oppression, as once we had thrown off what used to be called "the yoke of British rule." On Wednesday, the British chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced in Brussels that his government stood ready to help Ireland in its hour of need. Oh, bitter day.

 

All the same, life goes on, somehow. We are learning a new resilience. Humbled as we are, we might even begin to learn social responsibility, a quality in which we have been singularly lacking up to now. Who knows, we may at last recognize the irreplaceable value of public and private honesty. But let us not light the firecrackers just yet.

 

John Banville is the author of "The Sea," and most recently, "The Infinities."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A TERRORIST GETS WHAT HE DESERVES

BY MORRIS DAVIS

 

Washington

CRITICS of President Obama's decision to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees in federal courts have seized on the verdict in the Ahmed Ghailani case as proof that federal trials are a disastrous failure. After the jury on Wednesday found Mr. Ghailani guilty of only one charge in the 1998 African embassy bombings, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, called on the administration to "admit it was wrong and assure us just as confidently that terrorists will be tried from now on in the military commission system."

 

The verdict — in which Mr. Ghailani was found guilty of conspiring to blow up United States government buildings and not guilty on 284 other counts — came as a surprise to many, but the outcome does not justify allowing political rhetoric like Senator McConnell's to trump reality.

 

True, prosecutors suffered a major setback when Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan refused to permit the testimony of the only witness who could connect Mr. Ghailani to the explosives used in the bombings. The judge did so because Mr. Ghailani claimed that he revealed the identity of this witness after being tortured by the C.I.A. The prosecution did not contest his claim, arguing instead that the identificationof this "giant witness for the government" was only remotely linked to Mr. Ghailani's interrogation.

 

Judge Kaplan disagreed, saying that Americans cannot afford to let fear "overcome principles upon which our nation rests." He said that, given the same circumstances, a military commission judge might have reached the same conclusion and barred the testimony.

 

Many have scoffed at this claim. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, insists that Judge Kaplan "doomed" the case. Yet a look at the record shows that Judge Kaplan's assessment of what a military commission judge might have decided was well founded.

 

Consider Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager who was charged with attempted murder for throwing a grenade at an American vehicle in Kabul in 2002. In 2008 a military judge, Col. Stephen Henley, suppressed incriminating statements Mr. Jawad had made after he was beaten and his family threatened while he was in Afghan custody. The military commission charges were later dropped and last year the United States sent Mr. Jawad home to Afghanistan.

 

We don't know for certain whether a military judge would have reached the same conclusion as Judge Kaplan, but given the Jawad precedent it seems very possible. Those who claim to know that the government would have gotten a more favorable ruling in a military commission are ignoring the record.

 

In any case, Mr. Ghailani now faces a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets the minimum, his sentence will be greater than those of four of the five detainees so far convicted in military commissions. Only one defendant, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, has been sentenced to life, and this was after he boycotted his tribunal and presented no defense.

 

Of the four detainees who participated in their military commissions, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when arrested, is serving the longest sentence after pleading guilty to murder. Yet he will serve no more than eight years behind bars, less than half of Mr. Ghailani's minimum incarceration. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, was sentenced to five and half years in 2008 but given credit for time served; five months later he was free. There is no reason to assume that a military commission sentence will be more severe than one from a federal court.

 

In addition, Mr. Ghailani may well serve his sentence at the "supermax" federal prison in Florence, Colo., where others convicted in the embassy bombings are confined. If so, he will spend more time in solitary and enjoy fewer privileges than those under the most restrictive measures at Guantánamo.

 

]President Obama is in a no-win situation when it comes to trying detainees — any forum he chooses will set off critics on one side of the debate or the other. I hope he pauses to reflect on what he said at the National Archives in May 2009: "Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough enough to convict terrorists."

 

The Ghailani trial delivered justice. It did so safely and securely, while upholding the values that have defined America. Now Mr. Obama should stand up to the fear-mongers who want to take us back to the wrong side of history.

 

Morris Davis, a former Air Force colonel, was the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007. He is the director of the Crimes of War Project.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

 

OUR VIEW ON YOUR HEALTH: PREVENTABLE MEDICAL MISTAKES TAKE AN INTOLERABLE TOLL

 

If a 747 jetliner crashed every day, killing all 500 people aboard, there would be a national uproar over aviation safety and an all-out mobilization to fix the problem. In the nation's hospitals, though, about the same number of people die on average every day from medical "adverse events," many of them preventable errors such as infections or incorrect medications. Where's the outrage?

 

Obviously, patients who die one-by-one don't attract attention the way a fiery air crash does, and the problem isn't new. A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 people a year died in hospitals from medical errors. Now, 11 years later, a new survey from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services finds that about 1 in every 7 Medicare patients in hospitals suffers a serious medical mishap.

 

The report says these adverse events contribute to the deaths of an estimated 180,000 patients a year. Of those, roughly 80,000 are caused by errors that could be caught and prevented, such as letting infections develop, giving the patient the wrong medication or administering an excess dose of the right drug. Aside from the human toll, the extra medical care required to correct for these mistakes costs taxpayers more than $4 billion a year.

 

It's a problem crying out for a fix, and here are three remedies already being used but worth expanding:

 

•Checklists. No airline pilot would dream of taking off without using a checklist, and increasingly, medical personnel are being encouraged to use them, too. Studies show that forcing surgeons and nurses to follow simple steps they sometimes skip —donning sterile gowns before inserting a "central line," for example — can dramatically lower infection rates and save lives.

 

•Transparency. Until recently there was little beyond word of mouth to help people decide which hospital they wanted to go to. Now, the government runs an increasingly robust Hospital Compare website to allow patients to evaluate their local hospitals. (USA TODAY.com and HealthGrades.com also carry comparisons.) There's nothing like pressure from consumers and competitors to force a business to do better.

 

•Financial incentives. Medicare won't pay for the extra care required to treat patients whose conditions worsen as a result of hospital-acquired conditions that are "reasonably preventable," such as giving a patient a transfusion of the wrong blood type. And the new health law penalizes hospitals with the worst error rates. In both cases, the principle is the same: Hospitals shouldn't profit from failure.

 

These and other remedies — increased use of electronic prescriptions and medical records, for example — should help chip away at health care's stubbornly high error rate.

It has taken decades of aggressive effort to reduce aviation accidents. While medicine is far more complex, the same sort of single-mindedness is needed to decrease the unacceptable level of medical "crashes."

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON YOUR HEALTH: HOSPITALS TAKE STEPS TO IMPROVE

BY RICH UMBDENSTOCK

 

Every hospital is committed to providing patients with the right care at the right time in the right setting. Their mission is to build healthy communities, both one patient at a time and through communitywide initiatives. Through the American Hospital Association, they work to share knowledge and put in place procedures that will prevent any practice that could lead to a bad outcome for a patient. But a misguided mechanism in the new health reform law that would financially penalize a flat percentage of hospitals every year will discourage the crucial practice of reporting, and learning from, unfortunate events.

 

OUR VIEW: Preventable medical mistakes take an intolerable toll

 

Hospitals should not be paid when a preventable medical error occurs. Two years ago, we urged hospitals to implement ways to identify when that happens, and to avoid billing the patient. But many situations that lead to unwanted patient outcomes are not so simple. Some result not from an error, but from a series of human actions and inactions, equipment and timing that come together in a perfect storm.

 

There is no magic solution to this challenge; if there were practices that would avoid every bad outcome, hospitals and clinicians would adopt them. They are taking steps that are helping.

 

Hospitals willingly report performance data on key measures that demonstrate how care provided is affecting patient outcomes. These data are readily accessible on the Hospital Compare website (www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov), which hospitals helped create. This transparency helps identify where performance is better so that all can learn from those better results. Hospitals are collaborating to develop, test and implement new protocols to eliminate hospital-associated conditions or events. They also report adverse events to patient safety organizations, where they are analyzed by safety experts so everyone can learn from what occurred at a single hospital.

 

Yet no matter how much hospitals improve, the new law calls for penalizing 25% of them each year — those that report the highest proportion of hospital-associated conditions, no matter how small that number may be. This percentage-based penalty is counterproductive. Even if every hospital improves, a quarter of them will be penalized. Rather than punishing hospitals for their efforts to improve, we should encourage them to continue to work together to develop new and better tools to deliver the safest possible care.

 

Rich Umbdenstock is the president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

 

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USA TODAY

COLUMNISTS' VOICES

BURMA'S SUU KYI IS OUR 'SARAH CLINTON'

PLAIN TALK BY AL NEUHARTH

 

Most of you have some interest in what happens in Burma (also known asMyanmar) to its longtime political dissidentAung San Suu Kyi, now that she has beenreleased from house arrest. She had been confined by the military for 15 of the last 21 years.

 

She became world-famous largely because of her non-violent but very aggressive opposition to Burma's dictatorship. That won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

 

Suu Kyi has some interesting comparisons with these two noted U.S. political women:

 

Hillary Clinton.

 

Sarah Palin.

 

She has many of the astute political instincts of Clinton and has pulled some shrewd political stunts like Palin.

 

To help understand, let me share with you a few highlights of a fascinating four-hour afternoon with her in her modern, if fairly modest, four-bedroom canal-front family home in Rangoon in 2003.

 

The visit was not approved nor interfered with by the Burmese government. The purpose was to officially advise her of a $1 million Free Spirit Award from the Freedom Forum, a not-for-profit organization I helped found. It has as its slogan "Free Press. Free Speech. Free Spirit." With me were Charles L. Overby, Freedom Forum chairman and Chris Wells, its foreign affairs specialist.

 

Suu Kyi was grateful and gracious. But she firmly said she couldn't properly make use of such a gift under her house arrest circumstances and asked us to "put it away safely" until she could properly receive it. We have.

 

Highlights of her hopes then for the future: "I want people of Burma to be able to hold their heads high as free human beings."

 

Even at her age of 65, I would not be surprised if she combines her Clinton-like and Palin-like qualities to still achieve that goal.

 

Feedback: Other views on release of political dissident

 

"Suu Kyi's release has given a ray of hope to Burma's people, but the junta has done this before only to re-arrest her. Their aim this time is to distract the international community from the Nov. 7 sham election."

 

— Michael Green, senior adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies

 

"Let us hope Suu Kyi has many years ahead of her fighting for a democratic Burma. Democracy in Burma is not only morally important, it is strategically vital."

 

— Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies, American Enterprise Institute

 

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USA TODAY

COLUMNISTS' VOICES

TEENS SHOULD TEACH ADULTS ABOUT SAFE SEX

BY JOYCE KING

 

Many Baby Boomers probably sound like broken records when advising teenagers about the dangers of risky behavior and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Too bad a lot of those same adults are not heeding their own warnings. An Indiana University study published last month in TheJournal of Sexual Medicine examined the habits of almost 6,000 people ages 14 to 94. Forget the "teens gone wild" stereotypical thinking. The statistics that give pause are unmarried adults:

 

•91% of men older than 50 do not use condoms for sex with a date or casual acquaintance.

 

•70% of men over 50 do not use condoms when having sex with someone they just met.

 

•Some men and women over 50 didn't use condoms even when they knew that they or their partner had an STD. By comparison, 80% of sexually active teen boys and 69% of teen girls' partners used condoms during their most recent encounters. Researchers say this proves kids are getting the "safe sex" message.

 

Why such reckless behavior among older people? According to Debra Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, Boomers didn't come of age with pervasive messages about condoms. "It's important for individuals of all ages, particularly if they don't know their own or their partner's status," Herbenick says.

 

Public campaigns on condom use and safe sex should begin to target older folks. But Herbenick says health care providers can also play a role by asking patients about all aspects of their sexual lives.

 

University of Texas psychologists David Buss and Cindy Meston have conducted several studies, including "Why Women Have Sex," which looked at the habits of more than 1,000 women ages 18-86 from every racial group. With women older than 30 expressing a greater desire for sex, Buss noted it's possible that the onus for increased condom use, as with birth control in the past, may fall disproportionately to women. In other words, women may be in the best position to encourage their male partners to use condoms.

 

Whatever reasons men and women give for having sexual intercourse, there are concerns that a lot of middle-age people aren't coming to the party with condoms. As hard as I've preached to my 18-year-old son Brandon about behavior, condoms, abstinence and the stigmas associated with STDs, it's a tad awkward these days as he somewhat jokingly returns the advice to his post-divorce mom. Turnabout is fair play — especially when adults aren't taking their own advice.

 

Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.

 

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USA TODAY

COLUMNISTS' VOICES

AIRPORT PAT-DOWNS STRIKE A NERVE

 

The Washington Times, in an editorial: "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has crossed the line (by) subjecting millions of Americans to X-rated X-ray scans and public groping sessions. ... No matter how invasive TSA searches become, there's no guarantee anything the agency does will prevent a terrorist attack. A balance must be struck between reasonable security measures and the maintenance of a free society. These decisions cannot be made by Obama administration officials without involving the public in the discussions. Many Tea Party candidates standing for election earlier this month promised they were going to 'take our country back.' Stopping TSA would be a good first step."

Los Angeles Times, in an editorial: "We're not wild about the new methods, but they're a necessary evil in the era of suicide bombers who board planes with chemical explosives in their underwear. ... There's no bright line to indicate where our quest for security becomes intolerably invasive of our privacy, but we're still pretty sure the TSA hasn't yet crossed it. Although the pat-downs are ... embarrassing, they're also usually voluntary — to avoid them, you just have to go through the scanner. And fears about the scanners have been overblown. ... The new scans might not be foolproof, but they'll spot more dangerous materials than the old detectors and keep passengers safer. If you can't handle such a minor inconvenience, perhaps you should stay on the ground."

 

K.T. McFarland, analyst, on Fox News: "Why don't we start profiling for terrorists and stop trying to put everyone from toddlers to granny through the same security procedures at airports? We're wasting money, time and the people's patience in an effort to be politically correct. In the end, it's not keeping us any safer; if anything, it's making us less safe since it's diverting resources that could otherwise be used on better intelligence gathering, or developing screening devices for cargo on commercial and civilian aircraft, or checking containers before they enter U.S. ports. Ultimately, though, the debate over whether to use the new scanners or not isn't a choice between privacy and security — because we're not getting security where we need it — we're reacting to the last type of terrorist threat, not the current one or the next one."

 

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, in an editorial: "Clearly, in light of all the misgivings, the message about the body scanners was not disseminated effectively enough to make a dent or even an impression on many people who fly. The Department of Homeland Security and TSA should make it their immediate mission to do so. ... Certainly there are legitimate health questions for those — such as pilots and flight attendants — who might face the scanners every day, and those questions should be answered. But those who fly occasionally should acknowledge the new layer of security is a sign of the times, even if they don't welcome their roles in the 'Invasion of the Body Scanners.' "

 

The Christian Science Monitor, in an editorial: "Privacy issues, of course, should always be of concern. Congress is right to ask TSA to keep looking for ways to reduce invasive screening. ... Intrusive screening is indeed a challenge to social norms — but then terrorism is an even bigger and abnormal challenge to society. Airline security is thus a shared responsibility, one that requires all citizens and the government to work together as threats change, as new screening technology emerges, and as more fliers see that their own sacrifice at checkpoints can help all fliers feel safe — and be safe."

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

THE PRICE OF DEMOCRACY

 

Many Americans take freedom for granted. They are aware, of course, that freedom does not come without cost, and they have willingly paid the price to sustain it over and over again since the nation's founding. Their appreciation, though, is more abstract that concrete. For a first-hand lesson in the toll that democracy can exact directly from those who fight for it against all odds, Americans should look to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate from Myanmar.

 

Myanmar's ruling military junta, which governs the nation formerly known as Burma, released Suu Kyi from seven years of house arrest over the weekend. The generals kept her under lock and key because they feared her unflinching demand for free elections and democratic government would undermine their rule. Their concern is legitimate.

 

Even though her personal movement and ability to communicate were limited by her detention, Suu Kyi managed to inspire her countrymen and freedom-loving people round the globe. Indeed, there is general agreement that the generals lifted her arrest order only because rising pressure from governments, organizations and individuals seeking her release became too hard to ignore. That does not mean that she will remain free.

 

Myanmar's generals are not afraid to take unpopular actions. When unrest about the lack of elections rose to what they viewed as an alarming level a couple of years ago, the government put a bloody end to it. No one is sure how many died or were injured in the process, but the number was considerable. Thousands were jailed in the aftermath. Many are still in custody. The government did agree to hold elections, but only on terms it set forth.

 

The result was predictable. Government candidates recently took about 80 percent of the overall vote. In some places, junta favorites won 90 percent approval. The results, still not officially announced, are so one-sided that observers inside and outside Myanmar reasonably say Suu Kyi's release could be part of an orchestrated campaign to deflect attention from what are generally agreed to be rigged elections.

 

In the short term, that tactic seems to have worked. Suu Kyi, not the elections, currently is the major topic of conversation related to Myanmar. In the long term, that's likely to change. Suu Kyi has made it clear since her release that she will continue the fight to have her pro-democracy party reinstated and to publicly advocate for freedom and democracy -- regardless of what the generals say or do.

 

Suu Kyi clearly is willing to take risks that few others are to promote freedom. She knows from experience that she might have to pay for that decision. She's been detained in one way or the other for 15 of the last 21 years. As a result she was unable to see her husband before he died of cancer in 1999. She's not seen her sons who live overseas for years. She's never met her two grandchildren. She could see them if she left Myanmar, but she refuses. She believes, probably correctly, that the generals would not let her return to Myanmar if she leaves.

 

Still, she says, her goals are unchanged. "If you do nothing, you get nothing," she told the throngs who greeted her after her release from house arrest. Her willingness to risk all to promote democracy through peaceful resistance is a lesson freedom-loving people in Myanmar and the world over should take to heart.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

BLOOD: A CASE OF SUPPLY, DEMAND

 

Public service campaigns that remind Americans that donated blood is the gift of life are on target. Every day, tens of thousands of men, women and children across the country receive transfusions that help them recover from surgery, fight cancer and other diseases and recover from wounds or injuries. It is no exaggeration to say that the practice of 21st century medicine depends heavily on a stable and safe supply of donated blood.

 

For decades, the supply of donated blood matched or exceeded the need. There were occasional glitches in the supply system, to be sure, but they were generally transient and often related to seasonal shortages. Typically, though, supply and demand remained in balance. Unfortunately, that's no longer true.

 

The need for blood now often outstrips available supplies. The reason is elementary. The country's demand for donated blood continues to grow while the number of individuals willing to donate is static or in decline. Consequently, there is growing concern about the nation's blood supply in coming years.

 

Chattanooga is typical. A Blood Assurance spokesman says there was a small decrease in the number of donors last year while the demand for blood remained generally steady or increased slightly. The situation is not critical yet, but it could be soon if the number of donors and the number of those needing transfusions continue to move in opposite directions.

 

Blood Assurance -- which supplies donated blood to 52 hospitals in 32 area counties -- collected almost 100,000 donations last year. That signals a gratifying willingness from area residents to donate, but even so Blood Assurance did not meet its goal for the year. The goal for this year remains unchanged from last. The agency, the spokesman said, currently is on schedule to meet or slightly exceed that goal.

 

Maintaining a stable blood donor base here and elsewhere is becoming more difficult. Many donations now

]come from one-time donors. The number of donors accustomed to giving two or more times a year is in decline. That's because many frequent donors are older men and women who are no longer able to donate. Blood banks must replace them.

 

That is difficult, but agencies like Blood Assurance have attracted new donors with resolute and ingenious campaigns. More than 10 percent of donations at the local Blood Assurance, for example, now come from high school students, who can begin donating at 16 if they have parental permission. That's certainly welcome, but more volunteers are needed to keep pace with the area's need for blood.

 

Blood Assurance here needs about 400 donations daily to meet demand. To date, the need has been met, but there is no assurance that will continue to be the case. Without an increase in the number of donors, especially regular ones, fears of shortages in the blood supply could become a reality. That's a prospect that should concern us all.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

OUR NEW CONGRESSMEN

 

When the 112th Congress convenes in January, two fine new Tennessee members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Chattanooga area will be sworn in. They are Republican Rep.-elect Chuck Fleischmann, from our 3rd District, and Republican Rep.-elect Scott DesJarlais, from the adjoining 4th District.

 

They will join 1st District Republican Rep. Phil Roe, 2nd District Republican Rep. John Duncan, 5th District Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper, 6th District Republican Rep.-elect Diane Black, 7th District Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, 8th District Republican Rep.-elect Stephen Fincher and 9th District Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen.

 

Fleischmann said, "The liberal leadership in the House has taken this country in the wrong direction since 2006, and starting now we are working hard every day to turn this country around."

 

Still representing Tennesseans in the United States Senate will be our outstanding Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander.

 

Tennesseans surely will have great interest in how our new congressional delegation performs.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SHUFFLING -- NOT CREATING -- GROWTH

 

The big $8,000 tax credit that the federal government bestowed on first-time homebuyers up until earlier this year was supposed to persuade lots of people to buy homes and get the deflated housing market moving.

 

But the tax credit really didn't "create" lots of new home sales. It just shuffled around the timing of many home sales that were going to happen even if there had been no federal subsidy.

 

Here is how Randy Durham, president of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, explained it recently in the Times Free Press:

 

"What the first-time homebuyers tax credit did was cause people to move up their home purchases that they would normally have bought at other times during the year."

 

In other words, they were going to buy anyway. They just rearranged the timing of the purchase to take advantage of the "free" $8,000 credit -- courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

 

We don't blame homebuyers for taking that money. But we do blame the federal government for making it available in the first place. It forced taxpayers who did not buy a home to subsidize the purchase price for those who did, and it saddled the nation with billions more dollars in debt -- as if our current $13.7 trillion national debt were not big enough!

 

This is the danger of government thinking it "knows best" and substituting its economic schemes and subsidies for the much more efficient free-market choices that the American people make every day.

 

Government-planned economies don't work. Even the smartest lawmakers and government bureaucrats cannot possibly take into account all the factors that millions of consumers consider when they make purchasing decisions. With history showing that again and again, it is appalling that many in Congress have not yet learned that lesson.

 

Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************


TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

'QUALITY CONTROL' BY THE IRS?

 

It is hugely ironic that the IRS now plans to require private, professional tax preparers to register with the government and to be tested by the IRS.

 

We certainly believe that paid tax preparers should be knowledgeable and competent to fill out tax forms on customers' behalf. But is the IRS really capable of providing that oversight?

 

We can't help but recall Money magazine's study some years back of the accuracy of information provided to taxpayers when they called the IRS "help line" for advice on filling out their forms. The magazine also tested the agency's efficiency.

 

Here were some findings:

 

* Almost a third of the time, no one capable of answering questions even picked up the phone. Callers often were put on hold for long periods of time.

 

* More than a fifth of the questions posed by those who did manage to get through were answered either incorrectly or not at all. (And Money made sure to ask common questions that ordinary taxpayers would be likely to have. So try to imagine the accuracy rate if you asked more difficult questions about obscure parts of the massive tax code.)

 

What's really alarming is that things got even worse when IRS "helpers" were asked for tax preparation assistance face to face at IRS offices. They answered the questions incorrectly about 40 percent of the time in those situations.

 

Doesn't it seem strange to you that the IRS now presumes to say which private tax preparers are competent and which ones are not?

 

What makes these new rules even worse is that the IRS plans to charge each tax preparer a $64 fee for a tax identification number that the preparers will include with the returns they complete. That extra government expense will no doubt be passed on to customers.

 

Our country should be moving toward simplifying our enormous tax code, not toward adding new bureaucracy and costs.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SOLAR SPOTLIGHT SUDDENLY DIMS

 

Great pomp and circumstance greeted plans last year for a big new solar-panel production site in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the groundbreaking in Fremont, Calif., and President Barack Obama put in an appearance this past May to celebrate this latest venture in "alternative energy."

 

The Obama administration considers solar power to be a big part of the effort to replace fossil fuels and reduce the "greenhouse gases" that the administration blames for "global warming." Plants such as the one in Fremont, built by the company Solyndra, are supposed to help usher in a new, jobs-rich era of green energy. To that end, Solyndra got a half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee -- courtesy of taxpayers -- to build its high-tech robotic factory to make solar panels.

 

But it appears the era of green energy will have to wait a little while longer.

 

Solyndra recently announced it was shutting down one of its plants. About 40 workers will be laid off outright, and contracts for 150 more employees will not be renewed. In addition, it has slashed its estimated production capacity by more than half.

 

The New York Times reported: "The cost-cutting move ... is a sign of the notable shift in the prospects for cutting-edge American solar companies, which now face intense price competition from Chinese manufacturers that use more established photovoltaic technologies. ... [The Fremont plant] was supposed to be the first phase of a rapid expansion of the company. Instead, Solyndra has decided to shutter the old plant and postpone plans to expand [the new plant], which was built with a $535 million federal loan guarantee."

 

Not surprisingly, the president isn't making a trip to Solyndra's facilities now to mark the bad news that it will be closing one of its plants, slashing production capacity and laying off workers.

 

The gloomy news would be bad enough under any circumstances, of course. But what makes it worse is that U.S. taxpayers are partially on the hook for this big solar power project.

 

Isn't it past time the U.S. government got out of the business of trying to "guide" the energy market with subsidies, loan guarantees, excessive regulations and other meddling?

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

RUN THE RULER OVER BIKE PATHS

 

WE are losing count of the good ideas that have been turned into lost causes by the proselytising zeal of the nation's do-gooders.

 

Until Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore embarked on her romantic mission to turn the narrow streets of Australia's busiest city into an Arcadian paradise, there seemed to be a perfectly sound case for encouraging commuters back on to bicycles. Bicycles are healthier, less polluting and take up less space on the roads, which means fewer have to be built, thus saving taxpayers' money. It ought to be a win-win, but when a bike path goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong.

 

Ms Moore's cycleways now under construction across the Sydney CBD, are a case in point. They have increased traffic congestion and prompted complaints from retailers, who claim business has dropped off because poor design has kept customers away. They have eaten up scarce parking spaces around the city and in some cases seem to be more about generating a feel-good, environmentally correct look for Sydney than actually improving the lives of bikers. Indeed, today we report on the potential safety hazards of cycle paths when they are wrongly sited and engineered. The backlash demonstrates the need for proper cost-benefit analysis of projects that seem benign but can have unintended consequences. The warm green glow that comes with cycleways should not quarantine them from rigorous planning and analysis.

 

The bad press for bikes in Sydney is a pity. Cycleways work well in cities such as Brisbane and Perth, where they have been effectively integrated into more forgiving urban landscapes, especially along the cities' respective rivers. Savvy cyclists have lobbied hard for their rights in recent years, not only politically but in direct encounters with motorists, not to mention pedestrians. But Sydney's Lord Mayor may have underestimated the passions that bike paths can arouse on the other side of the street, so to speak. She needs to listen up -- and learn.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

DON'T GET HUNG UP ON THE POLITICS OF SAME-SEX UNION

 

THE eponymous hero of the Australian movie Kenny has a sceptical view of marriage -- cut out the middle man, find someone you hate and give them a house. We're reminded of the gag as politicians grapple with same-sex marriage.

The value of stable families cannot be overestimated, but it is hard to avoid the downside that divorce and unhappy relationships can cause partners and progeny alike. Indeed some might wonder why there's such enthusiasm among some gays (and straights) for same-sex nuptials.

 

The Australian upholds the rights of individuals to choose how they want to live within the bounds of social responsibility. We also note Australia would not be the first nation to go down this path. Canada, South Africa, Spain and Argentina, as well as several jurisdictions in the US, already recognise same-sex unions.

 

But the debate reveals some interesting priorities. Some independents who could not see the need to send the $43 billion National Broadband Network to the Productivity Commission, were happy to fall in on gay marriage. The Greens, whose economic policies are wildly out of step with mainstream Australia (an end to uranium mining, free trade and the US alliance; big increases in welfare and a reintroduction of death taxes) led the charge on what is scarcely a first-order issue for most voters. The Greens are suckers for such boutique policy, having made euthanasia an early priority while remaining blind to the real national challenges. Not for them action to lock in the benefits of the boom: they're far too busy de-stigmatising the bedroom, bashing the banks or complaining about executive pay threatening to turn the "can do" Australia into a nation of low-growth Malthusians.

 

The politics are clear enough: lower house Green MP Adam Bandt and his boss, Bob Brown, are trying to peel off voters from the Left of Labor with their idiosyncratic progressive agenda. They have forced Labor's hand with MPs now empowered to seek the views of constituents ahead of the party conference, which has been brought forward to December next year to review the policy. That takes the heat out of the issue and buys time for the government but it also makes sense for politicians to test opinion and learn where, if at all, there are votes to be won or lost. Just as with a republic or constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, same-sex marriage will need support from conservative sectors of society if it is not to become divisive. Given the mischief the Greens could cause on this, there is an argument for Labor and the opposition to call a conscience vote and undercut Senator Brown's tactics.

 

There is evidence that support for same-sex marriage divides by gender and age, with female and younger gays most likely to back an institution that earlier generations dismissed as the bourgeois and repressive preoccupation of heterosexuals. Now that it is back as a rights issue, we understand that strong views are legitimately held on both sides of the debate. We can't help feeling that the energy of our politicians would be better deployed on the really big issues affecting the nation -- growing the economy and building prosperity and closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

AVOIDING A WAGES BREAKOUT

 

ONE of the many benefits of 25 years of labour market reforms by the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments is that Australia's last mining boom unfolded without a damaging wages breakout.

 

Current wage pressures are no surprise given the strong demand for workers in the West Australian and Queensland mining industries and the Gillard government's reluctance to increase immigration. But it is vital for Australia's competitiveness that the higher pay rates needed to attract workers to the Pilbara and Queensland minefields do not drive up wages and undermine profits in other sectors.

 

The fact that wages increased in the September quarter by 1.2 per cent in the private sector, the fastest rate for two years, should serve as a caveat to the Gillard government, business and also the unions if they care about maintaining their members' jobs. Labor's reversal of not only Work Choices but previous reforms dating back to the Hawke-Keating years handed trade unions their strongest influence for decades, both within the ALP and the wider economy. Australia is not experiencing a wages breakout, although it is of concern that some wage settlements are running ahead of inflation and productivity growth. Should extravagant ambit claims such as the three-year, 16 per cent being sought by the Transport Workers Union come close to succeeding, however, the economic impact would be dire. As the OECD report on Australia's economy warned, a close eye must be kept on Labor's industrial relations system to ensure wages growth is kept in check.

 

Anybody who doubts the potential impact of a wages breakout need only dust off the history of the early 1980s, when the militant Amalgamated Metal Workers Union prevailed on the then-Arbitration Commission to ratify a collective agreement that provided an average rise in hourly wages of 24 per cent for 400,000 metalworkers. The bonanza cost 100,000 jobs as profits collapsed. Inflation and unemployment soared. A similar scenario would see the Gillard government judged harshly for destroying 25 years of consensus that a more decentralised system serves the national interest and that of disparate workplaces through improved productivity.

 

Wage pressures will intensify next year as mining construction ramps up and key industry wage agreements

expire. Conscious of such factors, Treasury's Red Book warned the government to keep a "close watch" on the "risk" to labour market flexibility as the economy "pushes up against full-employment limits" and "upside inflation risks". It advised that disadvantaged jobseekers would be helped by "appropriate flexibility" to encourage employers to hire unskilled labour. The government should take note.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MARK SCOTT'S UNIQUE POSITION

 

MARK SCOTT, the managing director of the ABC, has let a rather large cat out of the bag with his remarks about lobbying for funds for his organisation from the federal government. It was not, he told a conference of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, through crying poor to Canberra and telling the government what a great job the ABC was doing that the corporation had won an increase in its budget allocation. Rather, it was through aligning the aims of the ABC with those of the government. Or, as he put it: ''You've got to couch the arguments in terms of what we are in a unique position to deliver that is in the interests of the government of the day.''

 

The example he cited was of the switch from analog to digital television. ''We got money when we said to the government … 'The analog switch-off is a major, major policy change that affects every household in the country. Let us help you do that.' ''

 

This particular cat had been wriggling strenuously in the bag that Scott has been holding for some time now. In a series of speeches over the past 12 months Scott has been stressing the importance of soft diplomacy - the spread of Australian ideas and cultural norms through our region as a way of co-opting, rather than coercing, neighbouring peoples into accepting this country and its policies. The ABC, as Scott would put it, is uniquely placed to provide the means - broadcast media - through which this soft diplomacy can be exercised.

 

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The speeches show Scott has been engaged in a little soft diplomacy of his own. This would only mark him out as a clever chief executive - one well able to win the bureaucratic battles with Treasury which enable the ABC to prosper - if it were not for the idea that his tactical cleverness involves aligning his organisation in some way with the government of the day. The strategy may work while Labor is in power, but political circumstances change. What does such self-interested alignment do to the ABC's independence?

 

As Scott has said in one of his many speeches: ''The Australian model of international broadcasting has not been state broadcasting, the mindless chanting of government propaganda. It has been believable, credible, truthful. It has been scrupulously independent.'' Has been, yes. But is it still, now that Scott's large feline is out and roaming free?

 

Australia needs to tell its story and explain its values to our region. But those values, which include independent media, are not the monopoly of one body - particularly not a government organisation so expressly keen to align its interests with those of every passing administration to increase its budget allocation.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SHED SOME LIGHT ON MPS' PAY

 

WHENEVER the subject of parliamentarians' pay is mentioned, the response from sections of the public is swift and predictably negative. So it has been to the suggestion from Gary Gray, the Special Minister of State, that MPs are underpaid, and that the various perks to which MPs are entitled should be abolished and their value paid out to them in cash. The knee-jerk cynicism which the idea has elicited from some quarters does nothing to solve a genuine problem: how to encourage the ablest people in society to stand for public office when the reward for doing so is poor compared with what equally able and motivated people can earn outside. As we have said before, we believe politicians' salaries should reflect the important and often arduous function they perform.

 

Politicians shrink before popular anger about their pay, however baseless and self-defeating it is. They have devised ways to keep decisions about it at arm's length. The Remuneration Tribunal is supposed to be an impartial setter of pay scales for MPs, judges and others, so that politicians have no say in the matter. But MPs must legislate for the tribunal's recommendations to take effect, and they shy away from even that. Instead - and this is the more corrosive and dangerous part of the process - they try to keep their income up with salaries outside politics using various allowances, including travel and electoral allowances, and the famous gold pass, offering free travel when an MP retires. The over-generous superannuation scheme, abolished by the Howard government at Mark Latham's prompting, was another means to the same end.

 

These entitlements and concessions go some way to compensating MPs for the precarious nature of a political career, as well as for the expenses involved. But the parliamentary expenses scandals in Britain earlier this year showed how dangerous any lack of transparency in these matters can become.

 

A panel has reviewed the issue of MPs' salaries. It is believed to have recommended that many of these entitlements be cashed out. That would bring back transparency, and would have the advantage of costing the taxpayer nothing. But we believe that MPs should go further than simply maintaining the status quo and eliminating the subterfuges. A pay rise is needed to return them to parity with positions which carry comparable responsibilities.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

LABOR RIGHTLY EMBARRASSED ON MENTAL HEALTH

 

Untreated illness is creating problems across society.

ALL governments decide their priorities and put off issues that others see as urgent. Once an election is won, voting along party lines helps keep such issues off the parliamentary agenda. Labor treated mental health as a secondary election issue, promising an extra $277 million over four years. That deservedly attracted unflattering comparisons with the Coalition's $1.5 billion package. Julia Gillard's minority government scraped back into office in August, but this time the issue will not go away. In this Parliament, the usual rules do not apply. Labor is at risk of a humbling parliamentary defeat on a motion calling for a big expansion of mental health services for young people.

 

For a change, Parliament can hold government to account for serious policy neglect. No longer can a problem be quietly left in the too-hard basket. Independent MPs may back Labor in votes of no confidence, but they see the public interest in having this debate. Mental Health Minister Mark Butler acknowledges decades of under-funding. With Labor seeing an early return to a budget surplus as politically essential, mental health still misses out.

 

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This is not good enough, as leaders in the field, such as Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry and former government adviser John Mendoza, have long insisted. They went to Canberra to lobby for the Coalition motion. Yesterday, only a rare casting vote by the Speaker stopped it being listed for a vote. Hailing the motion as a ''game-changer'', Professor McGorry said: ''It is about turning off the tap of preventable disability from mental illness, particularly in young people … those people on the threshold of the most productive years of life.'' He estimates that two-thirds of the people who suffer mental ill health each year - about 4 million in all - won't get prompt access to effective care, compared to one in 10 people with physical ill health.

 

The odds of neglect are so high that many people become seriously ill, even though early treatment is often highly effective. Professor McGorry's focus is on treating people aged 15 to 24, as 75 per cent of mental illness emerges by the age of 25. Others advocate intervention in childhood, before serious disorders develop in adolescence. As the government's National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission found, much greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention in all areas of health is long overdue; failure to meet initial needs ends in hospitalisation.

 

If the cost of fixing mental health services seems daunting, this is only because the neglect has been so great. In the COAG health agreement, about 3 per cent of $5.4 billion in new funding was for mental health, half of its 6 per cent share of the health budget. Yet mental health accounts for 14.2 per cent of Australia's health burden and almost no family or workplace is left untouched.

 

The costs are often not fully considered. When one in five people suffers mental illness to varying degrees in any year, the effect on productivity is almost incalculable. Consider the vast social fallout: homelessness, drug abuse and crime (up to 80 per cent of prisoners have mental illness or alcohol and drug problems), family violence and the trauma of having friends and family battle mental demons without proper support. Professional care becomes available only when the illness reaches crisis point and acute-care hospital wards and emergency departments come into play - and hospital beds are in short supply. Early intervention costs would be offset by savings on acute care and long-term support services. Helping more people to recover from mental illness, or manage it in the same way as other diseases, can enable them to lead full and productive lives.

 

The public's mental health needs are much more urgent than the government appears to accept. The Gillard government should be embarrassed by the parliamentary motion, but even more so by its neglect of millions of Australians for whom mental health is an urgent issue. It must rethink its priorities and get serious about mental health reform.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ALLOW A FREE VOTE ON GAY MARRIAGE

 

SOME issues will never be resolved through the community reaching near-unanimous agreement. Abortion, for example. Or euthanasia. Or, to cite the most recent such matter of contention to come before Federal Parliament, same-sex marriage. Yesterday the House of Representatives passed, by the narrowest of majorities, a motion by Greens MP Adam Bandt urging MPs to consult their constituents on same-sex marriage.

 

Mr Bandt's original motion noted that there was widespread support for gay marriage in the Australian community, and that it was already legal in at least six countries. But those comments were deleted from the the motion that was eventually put, on the proposal of Labor MP Stephen Jones. Mr Jones's amendment called on MPs ''to gauge their constituents' views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples, including marriage'' and this less tendentiously phrased motion was carried 73-72, with the support of the government and independents Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie.

 

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already introduced into the upper house a private member's bill that would give same-sex couples the right to marry. If MPs do as the Bandt-Jones motion bids them, will it make passage of Senator Hanson-Young's bill more or less likely?

 

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As things stand the bill is unlikely even to make it to the House. Both Labor and the Coalition support the existing legal definition of marriage as a relationship between man and woman, and neither will allow a free vote. The puzzle is why the major parties are making it so hard for themselves when they could, and should, allow a conscience vote.

 

The issue has become most divisive in the Labor Party, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicating that even if next year's ALP conference resolves to change party policy and support same-sex marriage the caucus may not follow suit. Legalising same-sex marriage would indeed antagonise sections of Labor's traditional base, especially among working-class, outer-suburban voters. Continuing to block change, however, would increase the disaffection with Labor among middle-class voters in the inner suburbs. Either way the party loses, and the only way to minimise damage would be to do what has been done with abortion and euthanasia and release caucus members from party discipline. The Coalition should do the same.

 

The issue is about recognition of a minority's rights, and MPs should not be prevented from treating it as such.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

WORLD CUP: FIFA'S OWN GOAL

FIFA IS ACKNOWLEDGING CORRUPTION IN ITS RANKS ON THE ONE HAND, AND DENYING IT ON THE OTHER

 

As befits an organisation that brands itself "For the game, for the world",Fifa doesn't bear its responsibilities lightly. Its own code of ethics bestows a special responsibility of safeguarding the integrity and reputation of the game, to strive constantly to protect football from immoral or unethical practices. And for a while yesterday in Zurich those promises seemed to be holding good. Two members of the key World Cup-awarding executive committee were banned in the wake of a Sunday Times investigation into corruption; another four officials were also booted out. If not quite an Augean stables moment, it was justice delivered swiftly, and openly. But then the twist: the journalism that prompted the findings was sensationalist, wrenched out of context, intolerable. The allegations that prompted the sackings bizarrely became, in the words of Fifa, rumours propagated to sell more newspapers. Questions on the paradox of how it came to the conclusion that its own top-level officials were guilty if the allegations were abject distortions were evaded. And there was similar ducking over the claims that Qatar, bidding for the 2022 World Cup, had colluded with the Spain-Portugal 2018 bid to exchange a bloc of votes – something strictly forbidden and which could scupper England's own attempt to host 2018. The investigation seemed to have gone on the lines of: we asked them if they did anything wrong, they said no, so case unproven.

 

Fifa is acutely embarrassed by the affair, particularly as it is only two weeks from decision day for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Those driving England's claim to host the tournament share the same feelings – that the mischief-raking British media are an impediment to our chances of staging glorious games that deliver a commercial bonanza. That nervousness is compounded by the imminent prospect of a Panorama special on the same subject, although in this case the BBC programme needs to deliver fresh evidence to escape criticism of opportunistic rehashing. What Fifa performed yesterday was a damage-limitation exercise, expelling the guilty while casting confusion on the extent of culpability, proclaiming its own decisiveness while ignoring structural inadequacies. After the International Olympic Committee found itself mired in corruption after the Salt Lake City fiasco, it embraced reform, including a ban on informal visits to bid cities – where promises would be sought and given – and exacting conflict-of-interest rules. This is where Fifa should be focused after 2 December when the winners are named. Meanwhile, we can only wish David Beckham, Prince William, David Cameron, Gary Lineker, Fabio Capello and the rest of England's bid team good luck.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

NATO SUMMIT: START MUST NOT BE STOPPED

 

Republican efforts to undermine the Start treaty threaten to destroy the rapprochement between Russia and the west

 

Barack Obama's decision to overturn the neoconservative policy of containing Russia has become the major foreign policy achievement of his presidency. It was meant to be only the start of a series of moves to cool international tensions – including direct talks with Iran, and starting final status talks on Israel-Palestine. As fate had it, pressing the reset button with Moscow produced real dividends.

 

They are worth listing, because they stretch beyond Europe's borders. It transformed Poland's fraught relations with Russia. It produced a new strategic arms reduction treaty (Start), cutting the number of deployed strategic warheads by one-third; it secured Russia's (reluctant) backing for sanctions on Iran and stopped it delivering S-300 air defence missiles to Tehran. It helped non-proliferation efforts as Russia shut down its last remaining weapons-grade plutonium-producing power plant. Russia became a vital route for supplies and troops heading for Afghanistan, and provided one-third of the fuel US troops use. When ethnic violence broke out in Osh and Jalal-Abad in Kyrgyzstan, Russia and the US sang from the same hymn sheet. It could have been a repeat of Georgia, a proxy war in the middle of volatile central Asia. Both Russia and US have airbases there. It turned out to be anything but.

 

All of this progress and more has now been put in jeopardy by Republican threats to put a stop to Start. Two-thirds of the Senate are needed to ratify the treaty, which means nine Republican votes in the current lame-duck session (an outside possibility) or 14 votes in the new Senate that comes into session in the new year (an impossibility). The Republicans are stalling to extract more concessions. Mr Obama has already tossed them a juicy bone – an extra $84bn to modernise nuclear arsenals, which is more than that George Bush committed. That was not enough, and this week the influential Republican senator Jon Kyl warned that there was not enough time to push the treaty through the lame-duck session. This despite the fact that Start is an extension of the arms-control legacy of Ronald Reagan, that the entire military establishment backs the treaty, and that the treaty itself has been through seven months of deliberations and 20 hearings in the Senate, and been the subject of more than 700 submitted questions.

 

It is time for the concessions to stop and for the tables to be turned on the Republicans, who have a nauseating habit of wrapping themselves in the national flag and calling their stands patriotic. Yesterday Mr Obama said ratifying Start without delay was no longer a party political matter but an issue of national security. America would be weakened without it. And he was not exaggerating. Without the ability to deliver the deals he makes with foreign leaders, not just Russian ones, this US president will become window dressing on the international stage. No one, least of all Europe, will benefit from that.

The reset button has not transformed Russia into a liberal democracy, but it has started to change attitudes. A Pew poll published two weeks ago found that the proportion of Russians who viewed Nato favourably had risen from 24% to 40%. This helps the liberal wing of advisers under President Dmitry Medvedev's protection when they argue that Nato is not plotting to encircle Russia. Mr Medvedev will be attending the Nato summit that opens in Lisbon today more as a potential participant than as a reluctant neighbour. A paper published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies outlines how such participation might work – by initiating Russian co-operation on missile defence, upgrading the level of interoperability between Nato and Russia, and reforming the Nato-Russia Council. All Europe would benefit from this, and the cold war that still rages in the minds of some senators could at long last be consigned to the annals of history.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … EMMA BRIDGEWATER

 

More than one Stoke pottery factory is now expanding and leading the way is Bridgewater's company

 

Once news of a royal engagement would have sent the potters of Stoke-on-Trent hurrying towards their kilns to produce commemorative mugs: today there are fewer factories in a town that is still proud to call itself the ceramics capital of the world. Many famous names have vanished or shrunk to a fraction of their former size: Wedgwood, Spode and Minton among them. Manufacturing, conventional wisdom says, is done more cheaply and efficiently abroad. But more than one Stoke factory is now expanding. Leading the way is a company created 25 years ago by the designer Emma Bridgewater. Her polka-dot earthenware mugs and plates are made in a restored 19th-century factory by the Caldon canal which once carried the city's trade. The company now employs 240 people, and increased its profits by 40% last year. It is one of the largest ceramics firms left in a city which still had around 200 factories in 1970. The story of Stoke's decline is described in a new book by Emma Bridgewater's husband, and fellow designer, Matthew Rice. The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent records a collapse of confidence which brought the demolition of much of Stoke's industrial heritage. Fine old buildings and bottle kilns have been flattened. Emma Bridgewater's business has shown that Stoke's past can also be part of its future: skilled manufacturing can still support good jobs in Britain. Last night an event in Stoke marked the book's publication, and perhaps the revival of pottery-making in the potteries.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

INUNDATED WITH HONOR

BY MICHELE A. BERDY

 

Честь имею: I have the honor of; goodbye

 

Awhile back, when everyone was debating the fate of Mayor Yury Luzhkov, I remembered a phrase in Luzhkov's letter to President Dmitry Medvedev. The letter, posted online, ended with: Честь имею (literally, "I have honor"). Some Russian speakers thought it was a polite closing. Others thought it was meant as an insult. After wishing for the nth time that Russian speakers could come to a consensus about their language, I decided to do some research. When all else fails, check a dictionary.

 

Dictionaries are helpful here — up to a point. They make it clear that честь имею was once part of Russia's polite daily lexicon, similar to what "I have the honor of … " is among English speakers. Честь имею поздравить вас с праздником Рождества Христова (I have the honor of wishing you a merry Christmas). Честь имею проводить вас в магазин (I have the honor of escorting you to the store).

 

In correspondence and communication with state dignitaries, stressing honor was always de rigueur. Some of it was a little over the top: Честь имею доложить вашему превосходительству: поезд идёт через сорок минут! (I have the honor of informing Your Excellency that the train leaves in 40 minutes!) Some of it was way over the top, like the way Alexander Pushkin signed a letter to the tsar (via Count Alexander von Benckendorff): С глубочайшим почтением и совершенной преданностию честь имею быть, милостивый государь, Вашего превосходительства покорнейшим слугою (With the deepest respect and absolute devotion, I have the honor, kind Sir, of being Your Excellency's most humble servant).

 

Honor was a key concept among pre-revolutionary officers. When reporting to a superior, an officer might have said: Честь имею явиться (I have the honor of reporting for duty). When departing, an officer said simply: Честь имею. The verb откланяться (to take your leave) was left out but understood. A friend who is a descendent of a White and Red Army officers recalls that her father and grandfather always ended telephone conversations with Честь имею — a respectful, proper way to say "goodbye."

 

With all this honor being bandied about, exactly who is honoring whom gets a bit confusing. On the one hand, the person who utters a "честь имею + verb" phrase is showing deference and respect to another person. On the other hand, uttering the phrase indicates a certain dignity and allegiance to a code of behavior and honor. So both the honorer and the honoree are seen to be, well, honorable people.

 

Lately however, some Russian speakers seem to have forgotten about this elaborate dance of honor and the verb — implied or explicit — after the phrase имею честь. They understand the bare phrase честь имею to be one of assertion: I am an honorable person. Or they understand it as a kind of challenge, as if the next phrase might be a call to a duel.

 

So what did Luzhkov have in mind when he ended his letter to Medvedev, Честь имею? Was it an old-fashioned form of goodbye, an assertion of personal honor or a challenge? Or was it meant to be ambiguous?

 

Judging by the tone of the letter as a whole, I'd vote for a mix of personal promotion with a dash of challenge: "I have the honor to remain … Yury Luzhkov."

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

5 REASONS WHY RUSSIA WILL NEVER JOIN NATO

BY MICHAEL BOHM

 

On Sept. 22 in New York, the NATO-Russia Council met for the first time after ties were severed in the aftermath of the Russia-

 

Georgia war of 2008. On the eve of the meeting, Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO, dropped a hint about future NATO membership for Russia. While referring to Article 10 of the alliance's charter, which says NATO membership is open to any European country, he stressed that this article certainly applies to Russia — as long as it meets the alliance's requirements. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, head of a panel working on a new mission statement for NATO, and former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson have also supported the idea of working toward NATO membership for Russia. In addition, Igor Yurgens, head of the liberal Institute for Contemporary Development think tank, has said repeatedly that NATO membership is in Russia's best interests.

 

Unfortunately, this is all wishful thinking. There are five main reasons why Russia will never become a NATO member.

 

1. NATO requires that its members have civilian and democratic control over their armed forces. This is a fundamental principal that allows for military integration and inter-operability among members. Although NATO countries have different political systems — some are presidential republics, others are parliamentary — they all have transparent defense budgets and public and legislative oversight over their countries' military affairs. This includes independent investigations into military failures and abuses, parliamentary control over how funds are allocating — or not allocated — for weapons programs and constitutional checks and balances on a leader's ability to send troops to fight in foreign military operations.

 

In Russia, however, civil control over the military is anathema to the basic principles of Prime MinisterVladimir Putin's vertical power structure, which has effectively folded all three branches of power into one huge executive branch. Any autocratic power, by definition, rejects public accountability in all spheres of government — and this is particularly true for its armed forces. In Russia, a lack of public and parliamentary accountability allows the Defense Ministry to cover up the true scope of its inefficiencies, blunders and overall backwardness. In addition, a closed military structure also allows rampant corruption at all levels of the military to continue unchecked. As long as the vertical power structure is in place — whether it be headed by Putin or his successor — there will never be civilian control over the military.

 

Another reason why Russia will fiercely resist NATO's requirement for transparency in military affairs is that it is hypersensitive about sharing its "military secrets" with NATO — particularly concerning its nuclear forces — even when its so-called secrets are well-known in the West. Nonetheless, a commitment to transparency is a basis for cooperation among NATO members.

 

2. Russia needs NATO as an "enemy," not as an alliance partner. NATO is seen by conservative and nationalist forces that dominate the defense and security establishment as an inherently anti-Russian alliance. All the talk about NATO's revised strategy and focus on new threats — terrorism, sea piracy, narcotics or cyberattacks — is a sham, we are told. The alliance's real target remains Russia, just as it was during the Cold War. Even Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, wrote on Twitter in March that NATO's top brass to this day are developing military strategies and plans aimed against Russia.

 

This fear was reflected in Russia's latest military strategy, published in February, in which NATO was listed as the country's No.1 danger. Hardened NATO opponents within the political, military and government-controlled media elite are against any cooperation (including joint projects in Afghanistan) with the alliance, which they view as a tool for U.S. imperialist aggression and military expansion — "an iron leviathan that crushes all humanity," as Maxim Shevchenko, host of Channel One's "Sudite Sami" political talk show, described NATO in a September 2009 interview on Ekho Moskvy radio. As soon as Daalder and Yurgens floated the idea of possible NATO membership for Russia, the first thing we heard from many of these opponents was: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. This is another NATO trick."

 

3. China. If Russia ever became a NATO member, it would extend the alliance's territory to China, which has a 4,000-kilometer border with Russia. This would upset the tripolar global security balance between NATO, Russia and China, and it would cause China — which is just as suspicious of enemy conspiracy theories as Russia is — to believe that Russia and NATO are joining forces to "contain," or even weaken, China. It is clearly not in the interests of Russia or the United States, which both have deep economic ties with China, to heighten tensions or provoke China, even if Beijing's fears are exaggerated.

 

Moreover, we are told, the possibility that the United States' or NATO's next reckless military venture will be aimed at China (or Iran) should not be excluded. If this happens, Russia, as a NATO member, would automatically become a target for a Chinese (or Iranian) counterattack. To avoid this scenario, the argument goes, Russia should insist on strict military neutrality from NATO.

 

4. The Collective Security Treaty Organization. NATO membership would effectively mean the end of the CSTO, which Russia has worked so hard on since its creation in 2002 to compete with NATO for influence in the global security arena. "I believe it [Russia's membership in NATO] is absurd," said CSTO chief Nikolai Bordyuzha on Sept. 16. "What is the sense of NATO membership if Russia has created its own security framework with its allies and this system of collective security functions well?"

 

Rogozin, for his part, in an April 2009 interview with European-Asian News service, said: "We can handle our security problems independently. … We don't need NATO."

 

5. Russia's global ambitions. Most important, Russian membership in NATO would all but mean the end of Russia's dream of restoring its former superpower status. By joining NATO, Russia would effectively become "just another large European country" on the same level as Germany, Britain or France — a "sacrilege" for the derzhavniki, or great-power nationalists, who remember when the Soviet Union was larger and more powerful than these three countries combined.

 

It would also be an admission that Russia is de facto subordinate to the United States in the world's largest and most influential security organization, which is unacceptable even to moderate members of the political and military establishment. Although the Kremlin no longer has messianic ambitions to create a Third Rome or Third International, at the very least it will want to preserve its sovereignty and independence as a regional and global power. That will be impossible to accomplish if it becomes a member of NATO with the United States at the helm of the alliance.

 

The United States' disingenuous peace feelers to Russia about NATO membership was clearly more PR and provocation than anything else. As President Dmitry Medvedev attends a NATO-

 

Russia Council meeting in Lisbon on Saturday, it would be much better if both sides focus on smaller, more realistic NATO-Russian partnership projects — such as regional missile defense or fighting terrorism together — and forget once and for all about Russia ever becoming a member of NATO.

 

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EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.

 

 

 

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