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Thursday, January 13, 2011

EDITORIAL 13.01.11

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  media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

Month january 13, edition 000728, 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. CAG STANDS UP TO SIBAL
  2. THOMAS MUST RESIGN
  3. SILENT INVASION OF INDIA - KANCHAN GUPTA
  4. IS RIAZ BHATKAL REALLY DEAD? - SHASHI SHEKHAR
  5. ZULFI'S LAB FOR 'ISLAMIC EXPERIMENTS' - NADEEM F PARACHA
  6. TAIWAN CENTENARY RUNS INTO IDENTITY PROBLEMS

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. OPEN THE DOOR
  2. SWEETENING THE DEAL
  3. NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY - SHIREEN JEJEEBHOY AND K G SANTHYA
  4. GOVERNANCE IS SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
  5. TOO MANY COALITION COOKS... - AJAY VAISHNAV
  6. BALLS. BELLES AND BAWLS - BACHI KARKARIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. FLYING IN THE FACE OF FACTS
  2. FAST AND LOOSE
  3. NO LONGER A SAFE HAVEN - SUHIT SEN
  4. TERROR HAS A RELIGION - SAMAR HALARNKAR
  5. NO LONGER A SAFE HAVEN - SUHIT SEN

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SLOGAN, STOLEN
  2. CENTRAL AND DISTRICT
  3. THE CVC'S CHOICE
  4. THE ONION'S LAYERS - ILA PATNAIK
  5. MAKING THE RULES - YOGINERKALAGH
  6. SUDAN MOVES TOWARD ITS FUTURE
  7. AUCTION REPLAY - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. TOO MANY CALCULATIONS SPOIL THE TRUTH - SURJIT S BHALLA
  9. ITALIAN WHEELER-DEALER - MANOJ C G POSTED

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. IIP VERSUS RBI
  2. PATENTLY ABSURD
  3. SIBAL'S SCINTILLATING STATISTICS - SURJIT S BHALLA
  4. IN YOUR FACEBOOK - K VAIDYA NATHAN
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. PRAILWAYS

THE HINDU

  1. HYPING UP SCIENCE
  2. OUR COTTON, THEIR ONIONS
  3. CHILLING PICTURE OF CRIME & CORRUPTION - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  4. BACK TO THE POLITICS OF RHETORIC  - SHUJAAT BUKHARI
  5. DISCONTENT IN THE ARAB WORLD  - SIMON TISDALL
  6. SLOAN DIGITAL SKY SURVEY CAPTURES UNIVERSE IN DETAIL  - ALOK JHA
  7. BUDDHA BIRTHPLACE: ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY BEGINS IN NEPAL
  8. KOREAN FACTORIES TO BECOME HAITI'S TOP EMPLOYER - JONATHAN M. KATZ

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. STOCK MARKETS HATE UNCERTAINTY
  2. THINK NEPAL, NOT MAO - SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. COLOUR-BLIND TERROR - SIDHARTH BHATIA

DNA

  1. PRITHVIRAJ CHAVAN TAKES ON THE REAL ESTATE NEXUS
  2. THE POLITICAL BLOODSPORT ROCKING WEST BENGAL - ANTARA DEV SEN
  3. DREAMS OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF VILLAGE
  4. BAD NEWS ON ECONOMY ADDS TO THE UPA'S WOES
  5. INTOLERANCE AND ILLIBERALISM ARE INCREASING IN PAKISTAN  - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. GET RID OF GUN
  2. NIP THIS EVIL
  3. A DIFFICULT YEAR AHEAD FOR UPA - BY SUNIL GATADE
  4. RURAL MIGRATION - BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA
  5. CELEBRATE LOHRI - BY O P SHARMA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. REDEEM UNIVERSITIES
  2. JAGAN'S WARNING
  3. 'NEW' CHANDIGARH
  4. DARKNESS FALLS ON PAKISTAN - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. HE TAUGHT STUDENTS, NOT SUBJECTS - BY VIRENDRA KUMAR
  6. THE PRICE OF INSANITATION - SHAKUNTALA LAVASA
  7. STAGGERING COST

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. A HOMELESS SINDHI WOMAN

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PUZZLING TRADE TRENDS
  2. THE IPL OPTION
  3. FEEDING FOOD PRICES
  4. NEW THREATS TO GROWTH - SHANKAR ACHARYA
  5. THE RAPID GROWTH OF MICRO SEGMENTS - ARVIND SINGHAL
  6. HOW ABOUT MOTHER CARE NOW? - INDICUS ANALYTICS
  7. INDIA'S OTHER BIG CAT - SANJEEV SANYAL

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. GROWTH STILL INTACT
  2. TEJAS, FINALLY
  3. OLD WINE, NEW HISTORY
  4. FARMERS AND THEIR SISYPHEAN TASK - NEERAJ KAUSHAL
  5. COVERING THE DEATH OF 'LEADER' - ULLEKH N P
  6. CALLING BENGALI/BIHARI V KURIENS - T K ARUN
  7. THREE CHEERS TO EQUALITY? - VITHAL C NADKARNI

BUSINESS LINE

  1. DITHERING ON UREA DECONTROL
  2. TAKING A LEAF OUT OF MANU - MOHAN R. LAVI
  3. DON'T OVER-REGULATE STOCK EXCHANGES - ASHIMA GOYAL
  4. FACEBOOK FACES THE BOOK - S.MURLIDHARAN
  5. AUDITING ANTI-FRAUD CONTROLS - K.P. SHASHIDHARAN
  6. NEW ERA OF COMPETITION BECKONS  - ASHOAK UPADHYAY
  7. AUDITING ANTI-FRAUD CONTROLS  - SHODDY REFERENCE

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. STOCK MARKETS HATE UNCERTAINTY
  2. THINK NEPAL, NOT MAO - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. LIGHTING UP HOMES WITH GRIT AND DREAMS - BY DAVID BORNSTEIN
  4. THE TELANGANA TINDERBOX  - BY ABANI ROY
  5. SPIRITUALITY IN THE MUNDANE  - BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
  6. INDIA & INDONESIA: A SHARED FUTURE  - BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

THE STATESMAN

  1. COALITION ALIBI
  2. HELP THE HARASSED
  3. PROMISES OF PLENTY
  4. THE PIVOTAL OFFICE - BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
  5. ZEALOTS WINNING IN PAKISTAN  
  6. FROM TREPIDATION TO EXHILARATION  - MAHASWETA CHAUDHURY
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. MORE WORK
  2. THE PAST BECKONS
  3. DANGEROUS MISSION
  4. MIXED RESULTS  - K.P. SHASHIDHARAN
  5. SEVERAL ROLES CONVERGING INTO ONE  - DATTA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY
  2. SUSTAINABLE PEACE
  3. THE HOLY VIP BY VIKRAM LIMSAY
  4. LESSONS IN HISTORY BY GIRISH ANANTH

 OHERALDO

  1. PRIVATISED HOSPITALS HURT 'AAM ADMI'
  2. DOG DAYS
  3. IT'S ACTION REPLAY - ERVELL MENEZES

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. JERUSALEM-CHELM-TA
  2. HOW HAMAS STAYS IN POWER  - BY EHUD YAARI AND EYAL OFER/THE WASHINGTON INSTITU 
  3. MOST PRO-ISRAEL CONGRESS EVER? ASK ME IN 2 YEARS  - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD 
  4. YES TO PROSECUTING SUBVERSION, NO TO MCCARTHYISM  - BY ISI LEIBLER 
  5. RATTLING THE CAGE: STILL WANT TO BOMB IRAN?  - BY LARRY DERFNER 
  6. WHEN NAPOLEON CONQUERS ACRE  - BY SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF 
  7. A CHAMPION OF TRUTH  - BY JUDEA PEARL 
  8. THE PLIGHT OF AN 'AGUNA' REACHES CAPITOL HILL  - BY RACHEL LEVMORE 

HAARETZ

  1. THE REAL RHINOS
  2. HIS LAST 100 DAYS - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. LIEBERMAN IS WRONG, LIEBERMAN IS RIGHT  - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  4. A RESPONSE FROM A 'TERRORIST COLLABORATOR'  - BY GIDEON LEVY
  5. THE VALUE OF VOLUNTEERISM - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. AS WE MOURN
  2. AUTISM FRAUD
  3. TUNISIA SEETHES
  4. HEZBOLLAH'S LATEST SUICIDE MISSION - BY THANASSIS CAMBANIS
  5. SAVE ENERGY, SAVE OUR TROOPS - BY STEVEN M. ANDERSON
  6. OBAMA BRINGS IT HOME - BY GAIL COLLINS
  7. WHY NOT REGULATE GUNS AS SERIOUSLY AS TOYS? - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  8. SAVE ENERGY, SAVE OUR TROOPS - BY STEVEN M. ANDERSON

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON OIL DRILLING: 7 YEARS TO ENSURE SAFETY?
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON OIL DRILLING: PROCEED WITH CAUTION - BY KEN SALAZAR
  3. TUCSON SHOOTING ISN'T ABOUT POLITICS

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. VW-CHATTANOOGA 'LOVE FEST'
  2. HORRIFYING RALLY AGAINST LIBERTY
  3. FORMER REP. DELAY GETS THREE YEARS
  4. 'GOLDEN STATE' TROUBLES NOT UNIQUE
  5. HORRIFYING RALLY AGAINST LIBERTY

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - SURELY, MERKEL UNDERSTANDS CYPRUS
  2. THE MOTHER TONGUE'S EUROPEAN STANDARD IN PARLIAMENT - MURAT YETKİN
  3. GOVERNMENT STUCK BETWEEN ISLAMIC TRADITIONALISTS AND ISLAMIC MODERNISTS - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. THE TECHNOPARK ISSUE
  5. WILL THE ARABS UNDERSTAND ERDOĞAN? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. TURKISH-US STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP - NAMIK TAN
  7. FORCING THE FOUNDATION - RICHARD REID
  8. MENDACIOUS MERKEL - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. THE BIDEN VISIT
  2. MURDER IN LAHORE
  3. KHOSA AS GOVERNOR
  4. WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE?  - AMEER BHUTTO
  5. THE RISING DEBT BURDEN  - DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB
  6. THE BLASPHEMY LAW - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. A CITY IN ANGUISH  - TAJ M KHATTAK
  8. FIGHTING THE RULE OF FEAR  -  KAMILA HYAT
  9. MURDER CAPITAL  - MIKE WHITNEY

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. ROUGH RIDE FOR NEW GOVERNOR
  2. TRAGIC KILLING OF JUSTICE JAVED'S PARENTS
  3. THEY ARE CRIPPLING PAK BLOSSOMING CRICKETERS
  4. HASN'T PML (N) BAILED OUT PPP GOVT? - M ASHRAF MIRZA
  5. NEW HORIZONS IN SINO-PAK TIES - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  6. LEARN FROM CHINA - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  7. POLITICS OF SANITY - MALIK M ASHRAF
  8. CHINA: A FORCE FIT FOR A SUPERPOWER - MALCOLM MOORE

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. THE POWER AND THE PITFALLS
  2. DISASTER UNITES CITY AND COUNTRY AS NEVER BEFORE
  3. A GIFT WITH QUESTIONS ATTACHED

 THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FLEXIBLE BUDGET RESPONSE REQUIRED
  2. WHERE DID THE STUDENT LIFE GO?
  3. CHINA'S MILITARY INTENTIONS REMAIN A PUZZLE
  4. JUDGE PLAYERS AND OFFICIALS ON FORM

THE GUARDIAN

  1. ARIZONA SHOOTING: WILD WEST POLITICS
  2. SHOPPING: THE FEELBAD FACTOR
  3. IN PRAISE OF … LEMMY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. BETTER VOTER VALUE
  2. NORTHERN ISLAND SCRIMMAGE
  3. CHINA'S MILITARY CHALLENGE - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
  4. THE CHAOTIC BIRTH OF SOUTH SUDAN - BY SHLOMO BEN AMI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. FROM PUNJAB TO ARIZONA
  2. THE MILITARY TEMPTATION

CHINA DAILY

  1. OLD ATTITUDE OVER NEW JET
  2. TEST FOR GRAFT BUSTERS
  3. CHANGING STATES OF MIND - BY JIN CANRONG AND KANG XIAO (CHINA DAILY)
  4. NET NO MIRROR OF PUBLIC VIEWS - BY XIAO LIXIN (CHINA DAILY)
  5. EMBRACE MARKET COMPETITION - BY LI RUOGU (CHINA DAILY)
  6. LIQUIDITY, NOT LIABILITY A RISK - BY HUANG YIPING (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. FEEDING THE HUNGRY AT THIS CRUCIAL HOUR
  2. RISING INFLATION AND A UNP LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
  3. WAR OF DENOMINATORS
  4. WIDE ANGLE  - BY SUMAIYA RIZVI
  5. REPUBLIC OF FEAR  - SAGARIKA GHOSE 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CAG STANDS UP TO SIBAL

NOT ALL CRAWL WHEN ASKED BY CONGRESS TO BEND


The Congress is so used to institutions and agencies of the state crawling before the party's high command when asked to bend that its outrage over the Comptroller and Auditor-General's office refusing to whitewash the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's watch is understandable. Ever since the 2G scandal came to light and irrevocably tarnished the image, such as it is, of the UPA Government, more so the Prime Minister, the Congress has been desperately trying to prove that no wrong was committed and no loss incurred by the nation. Mr Kapil Sibal, who took charge of the Telecom Ministry after Mr Raja had to depart in disgrace, has been relentless in his efforts to pick holes in the CAG's report on the 2G Spectrum loot. So much so, he now claims that no money has been lost and that any presumed loss is at best notional. He has also rubbished the CAG's assessment that up to Rs 1.76 lakh crore was lost by the exchequer due to Mr Raja's decision to sell 2G Spectrum at ridiculously low prices to his cronies who then went on to mint money out of the cut-price bargains they had bagged. Mr Raja stands accused of misusing his authority; the Prime Minister stands accused of presiding over the loot. The shame that Mr Raja has invited upon himself is for the DMK to deal with. But the fact that Mr Manmohan Singh's claimed honesty and integrity no longer appear to be unimpeachable cannot but bother the Congress: The party finds itself battling the same demons that caused its humiliating defeat in 1989 and tarnished the First Family's image indelibly. Corruption has returned to haunt the Congress and the party is desperately trying to claw its way out of the corner into which it has painted itself. Hence Mr Sibal's mocking dismissal of the CAG's report as so much fanciful fiction. Hence also his — and his party's — pathetic attempt to ridicule the Opposition for doing its job. Arguably, this is also the reason why the Congress is so reluctant to agree to the demand for the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the 2G Spectrum scam.


But the Congress has terribly miscalculated while strategising its defence. It obviously believed that it could bully the CAG's office into revising its estimate or even disowning the report that is now being studied by the PAC. In the least, it had hoped that some of the mud slung at the report would stick and thus diminish its credibility if not destroy it entirely. What it had not bargained for is that the CAG's office would respond in equal measure and stand up to its bullying tactics. Now that the CAG's office has done so, the Congress has reacted predictably, slamming the institution for defending itself against unwarranted attacks on its integrity! The Congress must realise that not all bureaucrats are spineless biological wonders and every agency or institution of the state is not as pliable as the CBI or the IB whose officials are only too happy to do the bidding of their political masters. Thankfully, India has been spared the subversion of every institution and agency of the state by a party bereft of all scruples and denuded of ethics. This holds out the hope that those guilty of looting India will not go unpunished. Mr Raja will hopefully stand trial. And the Congress will have to pay for its sins of omission and commission.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

THOMAS MUST RESIGN

INDIA CAN'T AFFORD A CVC FACING TRIAL FOR GRAFT


Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the prosecution of Mr PJ Thomas, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner must shed his constitutional immunity and quit the exalted office he holds. It is incongruous for the country's principal vigilance officer, trusted with cracking cases of corruption in high places, to be himself facing similar charges. Mr Thomas has all this time dug in his heels, insisting that he had no role in the palmolein import scandal for which he faces criminal prosecution and that his appointment to various posts had been duly cleared as per rules after he moved on as Food and Civil Supplies Secretary in the Kerala Government when the palm oil import scam happened. But that defence was never satisfactory because to date he remains an accused in the case. Of course, it remains a mystery as to how he was cleared for subsequent positions despite the fact that he figures as an accused in the chargesheet filed before a Thiruvananthapuram court. The fact that the trial in the case had been stayed for three years on a petition filed by a former Kerala Chief Minister, the late K Karunakaran, who was a co-accused, too was no endorsement of his innocence but a mere legal relief secured through subterfuge. Now even that is gone. The issue here is not one of Mr Thomas's innocence or guilt — that is to be decided by the courts according to the law of the land as it applies to all — but that of propriety. Indeed, Mr Thomas, who stands vastly diminished in both Government and outside, is harming his own credibility and fetching disrepute to the CVC's office by clinging to the post despite recent developments.


It is possible that Mr Thomas's patrons in the Congress (he cannot claim he has none) are egging him on to be obstinate because his resignation would reflect poorly on the Prime Minister who backed him despite his dubious track record and his alleged involvement in the palmolein import scandal. the insisted on candidate. That the Congress has all along been shielding him is evident from the fact that when the party ruled Kerala it had sought withdrawal of prosecution against all the accused, including Mr Thomas. So, the Congress's claim of innocence does not wash either. The manner in which the Prime Minister, whose integrity and honesty are supposed to be beyond reproach, forced the selection of Mr Thomas for the CVC's job, overriding the objections of the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who had pointed out his questionable role in the palm oil import scam, makes it abundantly clear that neither he nor the Congress, nor for that matter the UPA Government, is particularly bothered about the spreading stain of taint. Hence it is unlikely that Mr Thomas will be asked to put in his papers. But if he has any sense of honour and dignity, he will do so on his own.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         THE PIONEER

COLUMN

SILENT INVASION OF INDIA

PRACTITIONERS OF CYNICAL POLITICS AND PREACHERS OF TOLERANCE HAVE CONVINCED US ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION FROM BANGLADESH IS A MYTH. IT'S A GRIM REALITY.

KANCHAN GUPTA


Those who stand to gain from the votes of India's bogus citizens as well as those who believe that there is nothing sacred about nationality, leave alone the nation, have successfully struck the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh off the agenda of public discourse. Practitioners of cynical vote-bank politics and fake secularism, who also happen to extol tolerance of the intolerable as the litmus test of liberalism, have united to erase what should have agitated every Indian from the collective consciousness of this nation. And they have succeeded in doing so. Nothing else explains why illegal immigration from Bangladesh finds no mention in either political debate or policy deliberation. Any effort, no matter how feeble, to raise the issue is met not only with fierce resistance but slander and worse.


Yet, the indisputable fact is that Assam and the other States in India's North-East, as also West Bengal and Bihar, continue to face a relentless tide of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This 'silent invasion' by millions of people over the years has been encouraged by the Congress and the CPI(M), apart from their 'natural' allies, who swear by virtuous secularism and high falutin constitutionalism only to violate it in practice. Illegal immigrants are not only encouraged by these parties to enter India they are also provided with 'documents' to help them settle on land that belongs to others. Their names are entered on voters lists, thus creating a vast vote-bank of aliens who legally have no right to vote in India. This fraud has been perpetrated over the decades and the Congress has been its beneficiary in Assam while in West Bengal the Left has used Bangladeshis to inflate its vote-share significantly. Elsewhere, others have been similarly tempted.


After the Assam Accord of 1985, the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act — popularly known as the IMDT Act — was passed with the explicit purpose of detecting and deporting Bangladeshis from Assam. However, the IMDT Act failed to serve its stated purpose due to several inherent flaws, among them placing the burden of proving a person's nationality on the state instead of the individual. In 2005, the Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act as unconstitutional, while observing, "There can be no manner of doubt that the State of Assam is facing external aggression and internal disturbance on account of large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals and it becomes the duty of the Union of India to take all measures for protection of the State of Assam because it poses a threat to the integrity and security of the North-Eastern region."


The Supreme Court directed the Government to deal with all cases of illegal immigration in accordance with the Foreigners Act as well as the procedure prescribed by the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order of 1964. And what did the UPA Government do? A year later, in 2006, it slyly amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order of 1964 so that the Foreigners Act would not apply to Assam. In other words, illegal immigrants would remain undetected and undeported. Not to be deterred by this sleight of hand by the Congress-led regime in New Delhi in collusion with the party's Government in Dispur, the Supreme Court ruled in December 2006 that "the amendment by the 2006 order has been issued just as a cover-up for non-implementation of the earlier direction of this court... We have to lament once again that there is a lack of will in the matter of ensuring that illegal immigrants are sent out of the country". The Supreme Court quashed the 2006 order and once again directed the Union Government and the Government of Assam to "forthwith implement" its 2005 direction to detect and deport illegal immigrants under the Foreigners Act.


There may not be sufficient political will to detect and deport foreigners from Indian soil, but there's tremendous will to protect illegal immigrants. In Assam, street violence was manufactured by the Congress to halt detection of Bangladeshis under the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order of 1964. Faced by a mob baying for the blood of officials, the police fired to disperse the rioters. The next day Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered a halt to the process. And thereby hangs a tale of subversion. In West Bengal, the situation is no better. The CPI(M) has not even bothered to generate violence to stop the detection and deportation of Bangladeshis; it has simply instructed its cadre to facilitate their settlement as 'Indian nationals', often at the expense of genuine citizens: Bengali farmers have woken up in the morning to find Bangladeshis squatting on their land; shops and small businesses have changed hands through distress sale engineered by the party faithful; homesteads left vacant for a day have been grabbed.


The demographic change caused by illegal immigration is irrefutable. Census reports between 1971 and 2001 reflect significant imbalance in the growth of Hindu and Muslim populations in Assam and West Bengal compared to the national average. This abnormal trend confirms that illegal immigration is both unrestricted and unabated. The demographic change caused by illegal immigration has had serious security, political, social and economic consequences. Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants live in ghettos and are prone to religious extremism, and are thus easy recruits for terrorist organisations aided and abetted by Pakistan. Those immigrants who move on to other States across India carry with them radical views and many serve as scouts and foot soldiers for ISI-backed terrorist outfits like HuJI and LeT.


The demographic disbalance that has resulted from illegal immigration has begun influencing the outcome of elections in a large number of Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies. With immigrants voting en bloc for their political patrons, the chances of other contestants are automatically reduced and even wiped out. This has created an uneven playing field and gives an unfair advantage to the Congress and the Communists. A set of statistics from Assam will demonstrate this point. In 1991 there were 1.18 crore voters in Assam. By 2001, this had increased to 1.44 crore voters; in 2010, the State had 1.79 crore voters. An increase of 61 lakh voters in two decades is by no means accounted for by natural growth of the State's population.


This phenomenon is not limited to the North-East, West Bengal and the border districts of Bihar. In cities like Delhi, Mumbai and even Jaipur, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have begun to make their presence felt at election time.


The social impact of this silent invasion is two-fold. First, there is subterranean rage against illegal immigrants and the demographic change caused by them which, in turn, often leads to conflict and violence. The rioting at Deganga in West Bengal on the eve of Durga Puja last year illustrates this trend. Second, both majority and minority communities develop a siege mentality which feeds on fear and insecurity. This is least desirable. Linked to this is the economic aspect of illegal immigration. Local wages, especially in the unskilled sector, are being undercut; farmland is being encroached upon; and urban slums are coming up at an alarming rate. In many ways, Bangladesh is turning into India's Mexico. Tragically, the Government chooses to ignore the reality; the media pretends the reality does not exist. Such are the wages of 'tolerance'.


-- Follow the writer on: http://twitter.com/KanchanGupta. Blog on this and other issues at

http://kanchangupta.blogspot.com. Write to him at kanchangupta@rocketmail.com

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         THE PIONEER

OPED

IS RIAZ BHATKAL REALLY DEAD?

SHASHI SHEKHAR


If media reports are to be believed, Riaz Bhatkal, a ring leader of Indian Mujahideen, has been killed by members of the Chota Rajan gang in Karachi. It's impossible to say whether the story is correct. But the killing, if true, will add yet another twist to the saga of jihadi terror that plagued India till the fidayeen strike on Mumbai in November 2008


Terror within the Indian heartland has been on a path of decreasing intensity ever since the deadly attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The year 2009 was relatively quiet for terror but for the separatist violence in the north-eastern States, especially Assam, and stray incidents in Jammu & Kashmir. The year 2010, however, saw a couple of high profile attacks marked more for the various claims of responsibility than for the intensity of the incidents. The year 2010 also saw the return of the trademark Indian Mujahideen e-mails delivered from hacked wi-fi networks and discarded mobile SIM cards.

Meanwhile, the terror landscape in Pakistan has undergone a relative transformation as well with increasingly sectarian targets through much of 2010. If there is a new dimension to the terror landscape, it is the mainstreaming of Islamist violence in Pakistan. It started with targeted political hits in cities like Karachi. It has since assumed a mass phenomenon with the assassination of the Governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer.

It is unclear at this time if this was the act of a lone ranger or if this had broader support, the claim of responsibility from a Taliban faction notwithstanding. It is, however, clear that a chain of events has been triggered in Pakistan which will make it increasingly difficult for the courts and for the Government of the country to take hard actions with this mainstreaming of the jihadi sentiment. The recent release of HuJI chief Qari Saifullah Akhtar from detention by Pakistani authorities must be seen in this light.


High profile assassinations in this region have, on more than one occasion, preceded high profile terror attacks elsewhere. The 9/11 terror attacks in the US were preceded by the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood by Al Qaeda. The November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai were preceded by the assassination of Gen Faisal Alvi by individuals said to be closely affiliated to Ilyas Kashmiri. It is anybody's guess whether Salman Taseer's assassination is a precursor to other events. However, news comes from Karachi of an assassination of considerable interest to India.


Unconfirmed reports in a section of the Indian media suggest that Riyaz Bhatkal, an Indian Mujahideen ring leader of sorts, has been killed in Karachi by members of the Chota Rajan underworld outfit. This hit in Karachi, if indeed true, follows the pattern of a similar hit a few years back of Shahid Bilal, a HuJI accused responsible for the Hyderabad serial bombings. In the absence of further details, it is hard to determine the circumstances of his death or the specific ramifications. Much of what we know of Riyaz Bhatkal's role in organising the Indian Mujahideen and coordinating the wave of terror between 2005 and 2008 comes from confessions. There has been speculation in the past if Riyaz Bhatkal was one of the two signatories in the Indian Mujahideen e-mails, who went by the aliases Guru-al-Hindi and Al-Arbi. It must be noted that in most recent e-mails from the Indian Mujahideen, only the alias Al-Arbi appears.


Riyaz Bhatkal's death in Karachi also signifies what has been long described as the 'Karachi Project'. The Karachi Project, as has been described by this wroter in the past, involved the coming together of jihadi elements aligned to the ISI and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba with jihadi elements aligned with Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade to recruit and operate a network of terror cells in India by leveraging the Indian origin underworld groups based in Karachi. Much of the wave of terror between 2005 and 2008 is believed to be a consequence of the Karachi Project. The local logistical support to David Headley is also believed to have been facilitated through the Karachi Project.


There have been stunningly detailed disclosures by the American digital publication Pro-Publica in recent weeks on the role played by the ISI officers who handled David Headley ahead of the 26/11 attacks and for several months after the attacks. Despite these disclosures, much remains unknown of the murky terror landscape in India.


As an example to date there has been no explanation as to why the US Government had proscribed Arif Kasmani, a former LeT-affiliated Pakistani citizen, in the 7/11 attacks on Mumbai and the subsequent blasts on the Samjhauta Express. It must be noted that while Arif Kasmani finds no mention in the 7/11 chargesheet and trial that is going on in India. The Samjhauta Express blasts case is now shrouded in political controversy with the reported 'confession' of Aseemanand. It is important to set aside politics and take a dispassionate look at the tit-for-tat cycle of terror between 2005 and 2008.


According to Aseemanand's reported 'confession', some of the anti-Muslim blasts such as the one at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah were carried out by the Sunil Joshi cell with logistical support from a few Muslim individuals. Sunil Joshi's murder, which remains unsolved, was also blamed on individuals affiliated to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. In fact, one of the reasons for the 2008 Malegaon bombing was cited as retribution for Sunil Joshi's murder by the SIMI.


The Abhinav Bharat's Lt Coll Purohit has been quoted from interrogations of plans to eliminate the RSS office-bearer Indresh, who has been at the centre of some of the anti-Muslim terror allegations. Media reports suggesting that the anti-Muslim terror attacks were planned first on October 21, 2005 in Indresh's presence fail to mention the fact that no Islamist serial bombings had occurred before that date to warrant such a conspiracy. The first Indian Mujahideen attack in Delhi occurred only a few days later on October 29, 2005.


It must be noted that Abhinav Bharat was formed by Lt Col Purohit in June 2006 just week before the 7/11 Mumbai blasts. The formation of Abhinav Bharat occurred just a few days after the failed fidayeen attack on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. During that failed fidayeen attack on the Sangh headquarters, the only national office-bearer of the RSS who was present in Nagpur was Indresh.


While correlation of events may not imply causation, the question must be posed if the Indian Mujahideen and the Abhinav Bharat had common sponsors from Pakistan as part of the Karachi Project.


There remain many gaps in our understanding of the origins, sponsorship and the execution of the tit- for-tat cycle of terror between 2005 and late 2008. It is unhelpful when inspired leaks and deliberate political grandstanding obscure facts, making it difficult to tie the several loose ends and to resolve the unanswered questions. India needs a Blue Ribbon Commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission to examine the entire spectrum of terror investigations starting with 2005. Such a Commission is critical to preserve the integrity of our investigative and intelligence agencies while insulating them from accusations of political partisanship.


Truth must prevail for the sake of India's brave men and women in uniform and undercover, who continue to put their lives on the line for the sake of the freedom we so cherish.

 

Chronology of Events

 

October 21, 2005

It is claimed that first meeting to conspire on anti-Muslim terror was held in Jaipur. Important to note the Indian Mujahideen series of blasts had not even started on this date.


October 29, 2005


Delhi serial bombings that have since been attributed to Indian Mujahideen modules.

June 1, 2006


Fidayeen attack on RSS headquarters in Nagpur


11th June 2006


Abhinav Bharat was formed in Raigadh.


July 11, 2006


Mumbai 7/11 attack.


The writer tracks terrorism and related security issues.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        THE PIONEER

OPED

ZULFI'S LAB FOR 'ISLAMIC EXPERIMENTS'

NADEEM F PARACHA


Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had once famously described Pakistan as a social lab for 'Islamic experiments'. It may have been a cynical comment. But four decades later, that's what Pakistan looks like as zealots run amok. Prophetic words?

In the 1970s former Prime Minister ZA Bhutto once described Pakistan as a social lab to conduct various 'Islamic experiments'. I don't know whether Bhutto was being cynical or enthusiastic about this, but yes, it most certainly seems that this is exactly what this unfortunate republic has been all the while.


Forget about secular societies in the West that just can't make head or tail about the way many Pakistanis behave and react in the name of religion; I have also seen people belonging to various Muslim countries sometimes scratch their heads when contemplating the behaviour of Pakistanis in this context. Are we as a Muslim majority nation really all that unique? For example, why only in Pakistan do people rise up to demand that a particular sect be declared non-Muslim — as if considering everyone else as heretics makes us feel and look more pious?


Why only in Pakistan do people remain quiet when certain man-made 'Islamic laws' are openly exploited to conduct personal vendettas against minorities?


Why only in Pakistan do people go on strike when a Government even hints at amending such laws, despite the fact that the more sober Islamic scholars have over and over again termed such laws as having few, if any, historical and theological precedents or justification? Are such laws yet another way for us to loudly mask the glaring social, political and economic hypocrisy that has become a way of life for us?


Then, why only in Pakistan do people come out to destroy their own cities and properties for an act of blasphemy taking place thousands of miles away? And anyway, in this respect, how seriously should the Almighty take a nation that won't even bother to manage its own garbage dumps or dare speak up against the many gross acts of violence and injustice that take place in their Islamic republic and for which many are ready to burn buses and shoot people?


Why only in Pakistan do many people still consider violent extremists and terrorists to be some kind of gung-ho mujahids fighting nefarious infidels and superpowers, even when on most occasions it is the common Pakistanis that are being slaughtered in their own markets, schools and mosques by these romanticised renegades? Why only in Pakistan, as more and more people now pack mosques, wear hijab, grow beards and lace their sentences with assorted Arabic vocabulary, society, instead of reaping the social and cultural benefits of this show of piety continues to tumble down the spiral as perhaps the most confused and contradictory bunch of people?

Of course, we always have a handy set of excuses for all this. We lash out at 'Islam's enemies' (most of whom exist only in our heads and in our history books); we scorn our politicians and ulema, but at the same time we are ever ready to kill, loot, plunder and go on strikes on the call of these very people. We blame western and Indian cultural influences, but have no clue what to exchange these with. So, unable (rather unwilling) to appreciate the fact that we share an ancient, rich and regal culture with the rest of the subcontinent, we look towards the West Asia.


We reject our own culture but adopt a half-baked understanding of Arabian culture as our own. No wonder a Pakistani continues to smile and keep quiet about the insults he constantly faces in various oil-rich countries, but he would make a huge hue and cry if and when he faces the same in a European or American city. After all, we are Arabs, and so what if our Arabic is not up to the mark, we're getting there. But unfortunately, that's all we're getting at.


I pity myself and my nation. Each one is now a serious causality of all the brazen experiments that have taken place on us by those who wanted to impose their own concept of Islam in our Governments, schools, streets and homes. So the next time you meet a hip, young Pakistani dude quoting a religious text, or a Pakistani who stops you from jogging at a park because he wants you to join him for prayers (you can't ask him to join you for jogging, though), or a burqa-clad woman claiming she is a better woman than the one who does not wear a burqa, or watch a cooking show host talking more about god than the biryani she is cooking, or a bearded barber advising you not to shave, just forgive them all.


Treat us as causalities of the faith which we ourselves have distorted beyond recognition. A faith that was supposed to make us a vibrant, progressive and tolerant set of people, has, instead, and due to our own warped understanding of it, turned us into a horde of very ripe looking vegetables.


The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TAIWAN CENTENARY RUNS INTO IDENTITY PROBLEMS


Their changing sense of identity has led many of Taiwan's 23 million citizens to give less than a rapturous welcome to centenary celebrations, says Peter Enav


Taiwan is celebrating the centennial of its republic's birth during a revolution in China — but a lack of interest by its own citizens shows the self-ruled island's evolving sense of identity and its changing relations with the Communist mainland.


The centennial marks the events set in motion in 1911 when revolutionaries overthrew the Qing dynasty's imperial rule on the mainland. The Republic of China was established two-and-a-half months later, but its Government fled in disarray to Taiwan in 1949 following the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in the Chinese civil war.


During the Republic of China's first 20 years on the island, many major countries outside the communist bloc viewed it as China's legitimate Government. Its own leaders encouraged the belief that they would soon return to the mainland in triumph. But those dreams evaporated amid Communist China's rising power, and over the years almost all of Taiwan's key diplomatic allies — including the US and Japan — abandoned it in favour of Beijing. Today, most Taiwanese see mainland China as a separate entity, albeit with inextricable and often-fraught links to their democratic island.


Taiwan's changing sense of identity has led many of its 23 million citizens to give the Republic of China's centenary events less than a rapturous welcome.


An inaugural fireworks display on New Year's Eve failed to inspire much enthusiasm, and most of the local Press comment on the celebrations has dealt with the appropriateness of including well-known Communist leaders in the ROC's pantheon of most important people — a controversy more reflective of domestic political rancor than true nationalist pride.


It's not that Taiwanese don't want the ROC's existence to continue indefinitely. Most do. But the organic connection to the mainland enshrined in its still existing 1947 Constitution leaves them shaking their heads.

"I don't think the ROC needs to include the mainland because that is impractical," said 31-year-old computer engineer Peric Shen. "The two sides across the (Taiwan) Strait can cooperate with each other, but they don't have to include each other." Mr Shen's sentiments — which polls show reflect some 80 per cent of Taiwanese opinion — are at odds with insistent Chinese efforts to encourage the island's formal unification into the People's Republic, the ultimate aim of its Taiwan policy for the past six decades.


"The mainland is the main body of China of which Taiwan is a part," said Ma Min, President of Huazhong Normal University in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. "As a historic issue, the two sides should absorb the wisdom and the legacy of their predecessors and gradually realise economic and political unification through dialogue."

Mr Min, an expert in modern Chinese history, acknowledged the importance of the event that gave the ROC its birth — an uprising by revolutionaries inspired by Nationalist icon Sun Yat-sen against soldiers loyal to the imperial Qing dynasty on October 10, 1911. But his listing of the key Chinese events of the last 100 years conspicuously ignored the ROC's founding and underscored the main reason why the Beijing Government is ignoring its centenary. Taiwanese themselves have mixed feelings about the Republic of China, reflecting both political tendencies and differences between the island's main communities.


So-called "mainlanders" — survivors and descendants of the two million Nationalists who followed Nationalist Gen Chiang Kai-shek across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer) wide Taiwan Strait after the civil war — tend to see more meaning in it than the majority community of native Taiwanese, whose ancestors arrived on the island from the Chinese mainland in the 17th and 18th centuries. "The Republic of China came to Taiwan in 1949 and became part of the history of this land," said Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the main Opposition Democratic Progressive Party, whose platform formally espouses independence.


"We understand and respect this historical fact, and we believe we can only change the system that has existed for over 60 years through democratic mechanisms." One of Tsai's major concerns is that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, one of Chiang's Nationalist successors, will lead the island down a path ultimately resulting in its absorption by the mainland.


While Mr Min has made major efforts to heal the historic rift between Beijing and Taipei during his two-and-a-half years in office, he insists his initiatives are purely economic and that discussions on unification with China's Communist leaders will not take place as long as he remains in office.


Still, his refusal to rule out more general political talks during a possible second term suggest to his detractors that unification may no longer a question of if, but rather one of when. That kind of outcome would clearly be unacceptable to the great majority of Taiwanese, who strongly favour an open-ended continuation of the island's self-ruled status, even while sometimes disagreeing on what precisely it should be called.


"My country is the Republic of China on Taiwan," said Stella Tsai, a 30-year-old bank employee. "The mainland is not included. It is an enemy of our republic." (AP)

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

OPEN THE DOOR

 

Keep waiting. That seems the message of an inter-ministerial group to industry bodies and overseas businesses keen on seeing FDI in multibrand retail. Set up to study the proposal and provide inputs for decision-making, the panel reportedly advocates wider debate with "more stakeholders". That's effectively asking for the matter to be shelved. Sure, this is better than a parliamentary standing committee's demand for a ban on retail FDI sometime ago. But the effect may be similar if, as recommended, the Centre shackles policy making to seeking consensus with state governments. As we know, political parties often brandish populist justifications for opposing retail liberalisation. Surely an economic rationale - based on objective analysis of retail reform's multiple gains - should guide us instead.


Constituting merely 5% of India's total retail market valued at about $435 billion, organised retail is mainly concentrated in the major metropolises. So, smaller cities, towns and villages largely get denied the commercial and job opportunities it affords. This, despite the fact that fears about big capital steamrolling small retailers are unfounded. Foreign participation in specialty retail didn't pummel Indian business but made it more competitive. Nor did domestic retail giants finish off kirana shops. No matter who enters the field, mom & pop stores will go on offering personalised service, since they build ties with specific localities and clientele in a way that supermarkets can't.


The rural sector's need to realise its potential further strengthens the case for a go-ahead. It seems lost on a government feebly struggling to beat food inflation that criminal waste of food occurs in India thanks to lack of integrated storage. As prices hugely jump from farm gate to retail outlet, consumers reel even as farmers get just a third of the final price of their produce. We urgently need modern retail infrastructure, supported by marketing rules allowing big organised retailers and food processing businesses to source farmers directly as suppliers. Funds inflow is surely key to improving supply chain and distribution logistics.


Surveys on emerging markets say that domestic demand-driven India is viewed as a good destination to invest in retail. That's been corroborated by enthusiastic investor response to reform allowing 51% FDI in single-brand retail and 100% FDI in cash-and-carry wholesale trade. But given the sector remains highly underdeveloped, we must further liberalise single-brand retail and open doors to the multibrand arena. India's retail space is ample enough and consumer profiles, needs and budgets varied enough for big and small players to share the market. For proof there's China, which opened up fully in 2004. If deep-pocketed big retail chains and corner shops can coexist and prosper there as elsewhere in the world, they'll do so here as well.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SWEETENING THE DEAL

 

It's wrong to say that our defence industry will be deterred by the ministry of defence's new offsets policy; rather it will introduce market efficiencies to an insulated sector by terminating the right of defence manufacturers to exclusively benefit from all defence offsets liabilities - the deal sweeteners offered by sellers to buyers. Industrial sectors such as aerospace and internal security may now also compete for defence offsets. With more players in the running, allocation will not be a foregone conclusion. And since distinctions between defence and civilian manufacturing are fallacious, the former may replicate the latter's success since it was opened to international competition. Tejas demonstrates why our defence-manufacturing sector requires competition. After 27 years and a ballooning budget, 40% of the aircraft's components, including its engine, remain imports. Implementing a permissive offsets policy earlier could have made all the difference and resulted in a truly indigenous fighter, and on time.


However, a competitive offsets policy will be undermined if defence negotiators continue negotiating as they have. The Gorshkov saga wasn't unique. India inexplicably did not include, in a deal for Lockheed Martin aircraft, the trainer. A component crucial to getting the aircraft airborne, which should have been included in the original deal, is now being offered as offsets. Meanwhile, dependence on a handful of suppliers leaves us open to their arbitrary post-negotiation price hikes. Russia is doing so with a 2006 multi-ship contract. Making offsets reform truly effective requires reproducing its logic throughout the defence contracting process by broadening our supplier base. Involving qualified private players in international defence negotiations, since the private sector now has a direct stake, is also worth considering. This will further offsets reform.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY

SHIREEN JEJEEBHOY AND K G SANTHYA

 

UNFPA's State of World Population 2010 and UNDP's Human Development Report 2010 were recently released and there is good and bad news for Asia. The good news is that women are giving birth to fewer children, babies born in most countries survive to celebrate their first birthday and indeed can expect to live longer than any time in history, and contraceptive use is as comparable to the developed world. With a young population, and thus a large number in the productive compared to the dependent ages, Asia is in an ideal position to reap the demographic dividend. And its economic boom is its crowning glory.


But there is bad news too. Asia's averages are misleading, and conveniently cover up the inequities that persist within countries, between regions, between rich and poor, and between men and women. Many parts of Asia have been barely touched by the economic boom, children continue to be undernourished and poorly educated; women continue to deliver babies in their homes, and when they are teenagers; motherhood continues to be a death trap for many. Three disparities drive home the inequities.


First, maternal mortality has fallen impressively, but when we know that almost all maternal deaths are preventable, 330 is hardly an acceptable maternal mortality ratio. Regional disparities are glaring: the UNFPA report highlights that 660 maternal deaths occur per 1,00,000 live births in Laos, 540 in Cambodia, and 450 in India; fewer than half report skilled attendance at delivery.


Disparities between rich and poor are just as stark. Poor women resist delivering in hospitals, fearing hidden costs, disrespectful providers and unhygienic conditions. One of the women we surveyed told us about her daughter-in-law, who died giving birth in India. Recounting the incident she said, "The doctor asked us to personally arrange for blood and some medicine, but it took time and she died before we could." Distance, limited access to blood and supplies, poverty, and physician apathy cost this woman her life. She is not the only one.

Children continue to give birth to children: for every 1,000 adolescent girls, 101 in Nepal, 72 in
Bangladesh and 68 in India have already given birth. We know that when girls become pregnant before their bodies and minds are ready to take on the tasks of adulthood, it exposes them and their babies to huge health risks.


Second, although Asia is in a position to harness the demographic dividend, this will not happen without a youth population that is educated, skilled, employed and healthy. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many settings. In Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Laos, Nepal and Pakistan, for example, just between one-third and half of girls are in secondary school, a minimum requirement for entering the workforce. Moreover, the demographic dividend does not last forever. Today's youth will be tomorrow's older, less productive dependents. Asia as a whole is simply not ready to reap the demographic dividend.


And finally, the attainment of reproductive rights is unfulfilled. The reproductive rights of women and men continue to be violated in many parts of Asia. Child marriage, outlawed by international conventions, persists in South Asia; in Bangladesh for example, almost four in 10 young women were married before they were 15.


The right to information has been repeatedly violated: sex education is provided in very few countries and, where it is provided, teachers are uncomfortable and the curriculum is so technical that it fails to educate and protect the young. A study in India found that two in five young men and women believed that a woman cannot become pregnant the first time she has sex. No knowledge equals no protection.

The huge unmet need for family planning is yet another telling indicator of how far Asia is from ensuring that couples are able to determine the number and spacing of their children. Inequity in a woman's ability to ensure that all her pregnancies are wanted persist: in Cambodia, Nepal and Pakistan, for example, almost one in three women from the poorest households had an unmet need for contraception, compared to one-fifth or fewer in better off households.


The rights of women and girls are taken away even before they are born by the practice of prenatal sex determination and abortion of female foetuses, a practice that has skewed the sex ratio of populations of many Asian countries. Within marriage and partnerships, women have little say in sexual relations and sexual and physical violence characterises many relationships. And the ability to make decisions and control money and even the freedom to move around their villages eludes many women. Asia has no doubt come a long way from the days of widespread poverty, but as the Human Development Report 2010 emphasises, human development is different from economic growth. Conversely, as we in Asia are experiencing, fast economic growth is not always accompanied by parallel achievements in human development. Asia's progress cannot be measured by its economic laurels, but by the quality of life of each its 4.2 billion citizens. Governments, donors and civil societies should not be lulled into complacency by the rosy economic picture.


Jejeebhoy and Santhya are, respectively, senior associate and associate at the Population Council, New Delhi.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

GOVERNANCE IS SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

 

Asked about the UPA's failure so far to tackle price rise and corruption, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi has insinuated that lackluster performance in both areas has to do with coalition constraints. This suggests that governance deficit arises from the pulls and pressures of power-sharing. True, politics in India has undergone a "sea change" since Indira Gandhi's days. Coalition politics seems here to stay. But parties come to power with the mandate of providing good governance. They must fulfil this obligation irrespective of the internal configuration of the government they form. The public today demands that the UPA in its entirety, not just its individual constituents, show courage and resolve in tackling graft and inflation.


Alliances are a reality every political party has to come to terms with. The Mandalisation of politics in the 1990s gave rise to regional players and increased their stakes at the Centre. So, we now have large political formations comprising parties bound together by the principle of shared responsibility. As the largest party in the UPA and an old hand at exercising power, the Congress should lay down certain parameters of governance and get its allies to adhere. Yes, smaller partners can be difficult when bargaining for key ministerial berths. But allocating portfolios judiciously so as not to compromise governance is what coalition management is all about. A good coalition should have each part working for the benefit of the whole. Instead of blaming one another, UPA allies must strive towards this ideal to refurbish their image.


Besides, the assumption that single-party rule alone can root out corruption and fight inflation is false. Congress regimes in the past oversaw rampant hoarding and black-marketeering and were dogged by scandals. Whether controlled by one party or managed by allies, it's the way a government is run that counts.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

TOO MANY COALITION COOKS...

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

It's no secret that coalition constraints have hobbled the Congress-led UPA, which otherwise might have adopted stronger policy measures to check spiralling prices and corruption. So, Rahul Gandhi has merely called a spade a spade. Agreed, coalition governments have become more of a norm than an exception. Yet it cannot be denied that they have fared poorly when it comes to providing effective governance, compared to single party-led dispensations.


India's two decades of power-sharing experiments have thrown up numerous situations demonstrating how difficult it is to govern under the weight of coalitional contradictions. This is true for both the NDA and UPA. Both have faced pressure from troublesome allies on different occasions and in varying degrees. In the NDA's case, a whimsical ally like the AIADMK not only held the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime to ransom, its withdrawal of support brought down the government in 1999. Similarly, UPA-I couldn't usher in the next generation of reforms, due to ideological opposition from the Left parties backing the coalition from outside.

UPA-II can't push reform either, especially with land acquisition, thanks to dependence on parties like the
Mamata-led Trinamool. Earlier, at the time of portfolio allocation, the Trinamool had made support conditional on getting the railways berth. Since then, India is facing the problem of an absentee minister, even as ally Mamata periodically strikes anti-UPA postures be it on the JPC or the Maoist issue. Likewise, the DMK has its own agenda. So does the NCP, whose top leader as agriculture minister is blamed by the public for the food prices mess. The biggest casualty of coalitions is performance. Perhaps it's time the people strengthened the hands of a single party for the sake of effective governance.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

BALLS. BELLES AND BAWLS

BACHI KARKARIA

 

If Antilla is the height of luxury, then the depth of humiliation surely is   being left 'unsold' at the IPL auction. We aren't talking signed bats but unsigned-up batsmen. For the erstwhile hero of Eden, there was no fig leaf at all. In a sad case of  'Going, Going, Bong', he wasn't even deemed worthy of being put back at a discounted price on Day 2 of the bidding at Bangalore.

 

 The sums paid for the other cricketers, however, were impressive enough to extend the new accounting shorthand which has been doing the sms rounds. In Sourav Ganguly's home city, 'khokha' means small boy; but in Mumbai's clandestine code, it means one crore. Since the 2G heist was worth an entire Telco shed of such 'cartons',  a new unit was born: 1 Radia = Rs 1.76 lakh crores. To this we can now add 'Gambhir' which equals Rs 11crore. It may be a comparatively poor run rate, but, remember, it is concentrated on one man, not spread over a whole spectrum of recipients, real or imagined.

 

 Thus, the IPL auction has become the new Rich List. Like this annual ritual, these obscene cricket sums have no bearing on our lives, but it is legally sanctified voyeurism, and serves a subliminal social purpose.  

 

 Not being a star cricketer or even a khokho-khokha, I can never dream of the country's wealthiest try to best each other in a bid to gain control of my body, soul and crotch guard. So to me the Bangalore weekend looked suspiciously like a flesh bazar.

 

 True, Nita-bhabhi-now-babe does not look like a slave trafficker, nor did she pull wads of grubby notes out of her Birken bag (itself worth at least an uncapped player). But the reports did conjure visions of a deodorized slave market. Oh, all right, the Dublin bloodstock sale. Or at the very least the Dubai shopping festival. It had 'Best Buys', 'Cutpiece Bin' and 'Value Picks', not that any of the loaded bidders was your Ness Wadia's Bargain Basement shopper. 'Buy one Pathan, get one free. Sorry, fee.'

 

 Men were the merchandise. The astute Ms Ambani "utilized our purse well"; she got the most VFM, and had enough chillar left to do up the dressing room. And young Sidhartha Mallya, as sleek as one of his Dad's prized fillies, excitedly crowed, "All these players came so cheap – they were a steal."  Beats the great label sale at Saks, yaa.      

 

 Pit bulls, Picassos even racing pigeons are hotly contested at auctions. Publishing rights for the yet-to-be written Rushdie go to the highest bidder as does the latest steamy offering from Padma Lakshmi's kitchen. Breeders from across the world go berserk at thoroughbred auctions. But actual people?  Corporate headhunters are discreet pygmies compared to blatant scalping of sports stars.

 

 In his heyday, did Beckham actually flash his bounty for bidders as though he were the showstopper on the Victoria's Secret ramp?  Did Cristian Ronaldo demonstrate a free kick before Real Madrid put its Rs 76.8 crore transfer fee in the net? But reading the IPL auction reports, I couldn't help imagining Gauti & Co flexing their muscles and rubbing their ball  for the Davos divas in a bid to raise their stakes.

 

 'Ladies and Gentleman, what do I hear for this epitome of fitness and form?  'Broke' Ms Shetty is going for broke, thank you. Ah, doubled by Deccan's ever-Reddy-to-charger. Surely we can better that to stock up your pace collection. Wake up Sid, do I hear your right royal challenge to her bid? Yes I do, thank you. Is that the final offer then?  Going, going, surely not?  No!! Here's the biggest stick from the lady with the carats.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

FLYING IN THE FACE OF FACTS

 

The operational flight of the Tejas, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, has been met with muted applause. New Delhi flags off the same 'Made in India' piece of defence equipment again and again. Every defence minister has declared the Arjun tank ready for deployment. The Tejas has passed its initial operational clearance and will hope to receive final operational clearance in the next 18 months. Even after that, much of its avionics and electronics will still have to be sorted out. The expectation is that it will be a pillar of the military system only a decade more from now. Another source of cynicism is the fact that chunks of the Tejas, including the engine, are imported.

 

There are many sound arguments as to why India should be spending billions to develop a Tejas fighter, an Arjun tank and a host of variously named missiles. They are not, however, the ones that are being touted in public. Self-reliance in defence, in the sense of being able to wholly manufacture all the key defence platforms, is a myth. It is simply impossible to master all the components and technologies, let alone pay for the research and development costs, of even a single fighter airplane. Even the US imports bits and pieces of its arsenal. Self-reliance in defence needs to be redefined. What it should mean is the development of homegrown manufacturing and technological abilities that ensure that India can be an essential part of various global defence supply chains. It is important that these capacities should have both civilian and defence spin-offs.

 

Self-reliance also means to be able to use diplomacy to become embedded in global security arrangements that ensure that no country will be in a position to sanction or deny India essential defence equipment. Both of these are feasible thanks to India's present economic stature. But they can only be accomplished if a mindset that treats foreign firms as a necessary evil and gives lip service to private Indian manufacturers is done away with. This will not be easy — the ministry of defence is seen as among New Delhi's more fossilised bureaucracies. India's defence equipment capability should be measured in terms of the quality of its machine tools industry, its precision engineering capability and its ability to generate the sort of software that lies at the heart of all modern defence equipment. If the best fighters around the world depend on even a single Indian component to perform, the country will have done more to ensure the safety of its arms supplies than any aircraft and tank photo opportunities.

 

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THE PUNDIT

FAST AND LOOSE

 

It's a bit too much for anyone to stomach. And it's really losing its bite as a protest weapon. So, when the Kudappa wunderkind Jaganmohan Reddy turned up in freezing Delhi to fast for a day to protest the injustice meted out to the state over the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, many found it a bit unpalatable. For we all know that the water problem was not on Jaganmohan's menu at all. It was to give the Congress a taste of things to come, if it did not listen to his political demands.

 

But what we object to is that all this fasting is making us hungry for a better way of protest. In a country where more than half the population goes to bed without two square meals, the sight of a neta giving his daily bread a miss is not going to put us off our next thali. So what they need is some new fare with which to pull the wool over our eyes. We recommend that instead of fasting, they protest by eating for a whole day, or days as the case may be, something they are known to loathe. Or which may be bad for their health. For example, if the portly BJP president Nitin Gadkari were to make his many objections to policies known, he could spend a day eating laddoos. It would make for interesting pictures and may not be terribly unappetising to Mr Gadkari. Someone like the Ram Sene's Pramod Muthalik may like to sip that alien hemlock, beer, to show how far he will go to protect Indian values.

 

We don't know Jaganmohan's tastes or distastes but a water protest should have necessitated a glass or two of that famously clear water from the Yamuna. We could go on, but all this talk of food is making us hungry. So after fortifying ourselves with a quick nibble or two, we'll think of more delicious ways of registering one's protest.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NO LONGER A SAFE HAVEN

SUHIT SEN

 

It has recently come to light that West Bengal, long considered one of the safer havens for women, now heads the list of states in the incidence of violence against women. Specifically, it's first on the list as far as domestic violence is concerned, second on the rape register and fifth in the matter of dowry deaths. So what explains this sudden masculinisation of both public culture in the state and the dynamics of the domestic sphere?

 

Let us begin with the public arena first. Why has Bengal climbed so precipitously to second place in the incidence of rape? The explanation lies, I would argue, above all in what has happened to the political culture of Bengal. For some time, especially since the last decade or so of Left Front rule in the state, political action has become increasingly violent. There is no question that this violence has been initiated by the Left Front. As especially the CPI(M)'s political style has increasingly eschewed any kind of politics of cross-party consensus, it has relied on violence and intimidation as the favoured means of enforcing its writ.

 

Wherever the CPI(M) has encountered any resistance, any challenge to its monopoly of power in an area, it has resorted to armed violence to quell opposition. The names of places devastated by violence rolls off the lips — Chhoto Angaria, Nanoor, Kespur, Garbeta and, last, but hardly the least, Nandigram. This violence has escalated over the past three years or so as the Left Front has found power slipping out of its hands and as the opposition has mounted a campaign for capturing what were the impregnable bastions of the Left. A spiral of public violence is what starkly characterises politics in West Bengal now. And most observers expect that this will continue till the elections this year and beyond.

 

In this politics of violence, the worst sufferers are, clearly, those who are most vulnerable — women. Crimes against women have, therefore, become one of the most preferred weapons in the political struggle Bengal is now witnessing. This was true, say, in Singur, where an anti-land acquisition activist, Tapasi Malik was raped and killed. It was even truer in Nandigram, where innumerable women were allegedly assaulted and raped to establish domination of the area by armed CPI(M) cadres. But as things stand, it is not just the Left that unleashes violence against women. The opposition, too, has learnt those lessons. In political conflicts all over the state, the opposition does exactly what the Left used to do and still does.

 

But what explains the increase in domestic violence and dowry deaths? I would argue first, but not foremost, that there was a large element of myth-making behind the image of the Bengali male being more considerate of the sensitivities of women in their homes. In other words, what may have happened is that the potential for violence against women in the home is increasingly being translated into actual violence. One explanation for this could  be that the brutalisation that has resulted from the endemic violence in the public sphere is now being expressed in the domestic sphere. In other words, a kind of machismo is expressing itself in many arenas: the political war zones, the streets and in the home. A more charitable explanation, one which bureaucrats will no doubt favour, is that the empowerment of women has resulted in an increase in the reporting of such violence. While this may have in it a grain of truth, it would be a marginal explanation.

 

What the National Crime Records Bureau statistics say, however, should not come as a surprise to people who

live in West Bengal. They have seen this escalation of violence against women all too visibly. And most see little hope for the future.

 

Suhit Sen is senior researcher, the Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

TERROR HAS A RELIGION

SAMAR HALARNKAR

 

More worrying than the assassination last week of Salman Taseer, the outspoken governor of Pakistan's Punjab, was the aftermath: the joy on the faces of those who showered rose petals on Taseer's radicalised and ever-smiling bodyguard (no doubt convinced of rewards in the hereafter) and the zeal with which imams warned anyone from mourning the slain governor.

 

Though there has been enough evidence of growing radicalisation on the fringes of our society, it's hard to imagine anything this extreme in modern, outwardly secular, democratic India. But the great cause for worry is a quietly accelerating religious conservatism and a spreading atmosphere of intolerance and hate. India tomorrow could be more threatened than Pakistan is today, for a mass radicalisation will consume not one religion but two.

 

To address these issues, it is important to stop the denial implicit in the slogan so beloved in India: Terror has no religion. Terrorism is almost always driven by religion. That's evident in every terror investigation since before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which, along with the Gujarat riots of 2002, set off a wave of urban, Islamist terrorism.

 

Here's part of a motivational speech — submitted as evidence by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1993 — by Dr Jalees Ansari, a Mumbai doctor sentenced to life for masterminding more than 30 bombings, most of them before the Babri turmoil of 1992: "We should pressure the government and the majority Hindu community by whatever means, even if it means destruction of life and property to any extent... we want to terrorise them and government, particularly the police."

 

The latest confession comes from Jatin Chatterjee, or Swami Aseemanand, the botany post-graduate and Hindu evangelist who on December 18, 2010, revealed to a magistrate (as opposed to dubious confessions made to police forces renowned for torture) a nationwide web of terror around the Hindu cause. His confession supposedly joins the dots between five bombings (Malegaon, Maharashtra, 2006; Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad, 2007; shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Ajmer, 2007; Samjhauta Express to Pakistan, 2007; and Malegaon, 2008) that claimed 119 lives and resulted in many young Muslims being arrested and charged with terrorism.

 

Of the 14 Hindu men arrested or absconding over the last two years, nine were members of the RSS, whose chief Mohan Bhagwat on Monday said the organisation has always asked members with "extremist views" to leave. Even so, the RSS and the BJP find it hard to accept that its members could ever cross over to the dark side. Instead of recognising the cancer within, they belligerently allege conspiracies. This is not too different from the denial practised in the past by the Sunni Ahl-e-hadees sect that spawned Dr Ansari and some other Muslim bombers.

 

Whether Islamist or Hindu, terrorists rise from denial, regarding themselves not as attackers but defenders of a faith they see as being under siege. They believe God is with them, that their cause is right and just and cannot fail.

 

Terrorism in India is yet a fringe phenomenon. Intelligence and police officials estimate there may be fewer than 200 individuals — they know of — both Hindu and Muslim, committed to being terrorists. But there is no count of sympathisers who might cross the line in an atmosphere of intolerance — something that is spreading through mainstream India.

 

A leading doctor in Mumbai tells me how some of his friends (almost all Gujarati Hindus, he notes) abhor the 'M' word, refusing to give jobs to Muslims. A young Muslim from the Mumbai ghetto of Nagpada tells me how some of his friends think it's unIslamic to befriend idolators.

 

Hindus and Muslims find it harder than ever to live in areas inhabited by the other. Young people often grow up with no friends from another religion. As prosperity and education grow, so do ambition and competition, and so, consequently, does the influence of religion as a life anchor. Few blink at the creeping invasion of religiousness into public life.

 

"It's true, most of our patrol vans and police stations have idols mounted on the dashboard, and gods on the wall," says one senior Mumbai police officer when I discuss my observations. "Can minorities possibly feel confident in such an atmosphere? Are we not going the way of Pakistan where police pray in their uniform?"

One uniformed man who succumbed to a general anti-Muslim feeling was Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, alleged supplier of explosives for the 2008 Malegaon bombings. The first Indian army officer accused of terrorism, he also tried but failed to recruit fellow officers into the shadowy Hindu outfit Abhinav Bharat.

 

The modern Indian terrorist is — unlike the semi-literate Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani captured during the 2008 attack on Mumbai — often well-educated, rational and as a person, usually quite pleasant. Mirza Himayat Baig, the 29-year-old prime suspect in the February 13 bombing of Pune's German bakery, was a good student in the Maharashtra town of Beed. He allegedly became a jihadi after attending meetings where young Islamists spoke angrily of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. Among those arrested this decade include dentists, engineers and traders.

 

Terrorist actions, a British professor called John Hull once noted, represent the rational mind at the end of its tether in a troubled world, searching for a coherence that rationality can no longer offer. So, religion takes over. "The rationality of religion," says Hull, "produces the irrationality of terror."

 

Could Indians, one day, become irrational enough to shower rose petals on terrorists and murderers? It is a good idea to think about the unthinkable.

 

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NO LONGER A SAFE HAVEN

SUHIT SEN

 

It has recently come to light that West Bengal, long considered one of the safer havens for women, now heads the list of states in the incidence of violence against women. Specifically, it's first on the list as far as domestic violence is concerned, second on the rape register and fifth in the matter of dowry deaths. So what explains this sudden masculinisation of both public culture in the state and the dynamics of the domestic sphere?

 

Let us begin with the public arena first. Why has Bengal climbed so precipitously to second place in the incidence of rape? The explanation lies, I would argue, above all in what has happened to the political culture of Bengal. For some time, especially since the last decade or so of Left Front rule in the state, political action has become increasingly violent. There is no question that this violence has been initiated by the Left Front. As especially the CPI(M)'s political style has increasingly eschewed any kind of politics of cross-party consensus, it has relied on violence and intimidation as the favoured means of enforcing its writ.

 

Wherever the CPI(M) has encountered any resistance, any challenge to its monopoly of power in an area, it has resorted to armed violence to quell opposition. The names of places devastated by violence rolls off the lips — Chhoto Angaria, Nanoor, Kespur, Garbeta and, last, but hardly the least, Nandigram. This violence has escalated over the past three years or so as the Left Front has found power slipping out of its hands and as the opposition has mounted a campaign for capturing what were the impregnable bastions of the Left. A spiral of public violence is what starkly characterises politics in West Bengal now. And most observers expect that this will continue till the elections this year and beyond.

 

In this politics of violence, the worst sufferers are, clearly, those who are most vulnerable — women. Crimes against women have, therefore, become one of the most preferred weapons in the political struggle Bengal is now witnessing. This was true, say, in Singur, where an anti-land acquisition activist, Tapasi Malik was raped and killed. It was even truer in Nandigram, where innumerable women were allegedly assaulted and raped to establish domination of the area by armed CPI(M) cadres. But as things stand, it is not just the Left that unleashes violence against women. The opposition, too, has learnt those lessons. In political conflicts all over the state, the opposition does exactly what the Left used to do and still does.

 

But what explains the increase in domestic violence and dowry deaths? I would argue first, but not foremost, that there was a large element of myth-making behind the image of the Bengali male being more considerate of the sensitivities of women in their homes. In other words, what may have happened is that the potential for violence against women in the home is increasingly being translated into actual violence. One explanation for this could  be that the brutalisation that has resulted from the endemic violence in the public sphere is now being expressed in the domestic sphere. In other words, a kind of machismo is expressing itself in many arenas: the political war zones, the streets and in the home. A more charitable explanation, one which bureaucrats will no doubt favour, is that the empowerment of women has resulted in an increase in the reporting of such violence. While this may have in it a grain of truth, it would be a marginal explanation.

 

What the National Crime Records Bureau statistics say, however, should not come as a surprise to people who live in West Bengal. They have seen this escalation of violence against women all too visibly. And most see little hope for the future.

 

Suhit Sen is senior researcher, the Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SLOGAN, STOLEN

 

Humankind scores above the rest of the animal kingdom because it's been blessed with the gift of speech. And the gift of coining words?

 

A near-perfect demonstration of the absoluteness of human intelligence. That's how man gave names to all the animals. If we refined it further, focusing on the streets and coffee houses and university canteens of Kolkata (sorry, Calcutta, since this goes long back and has a very complex historicity all its own), we witness a still-persisting obsession with the written and spoken word that should gather all ye linguists and littérateurs of the world in this haven of the word. They even got prominent academics and writers to engage in unending, earnest debates to pronounce their disapproval of the perversion of the word "harmad" by the Trinamool and the CPM.

 

In keeping with politics not altogether Bengal-style, but definitely with eccentricities of the variety, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool has embossed its newly minted slogan "Agriculture is our inspiration, industry is our perception" (perception of what kingdom cometh?) on a railway ad carried across newspapers. This is a violation of protocol and the railway minister knows it. But then, she's already themed so much to do with the railways green, and even used the railway police for personal security.

 

The CPM, unsurprisingly, is rightly accusing the Trinamool of using the railways as a campaign tool for the assembly polls. So far, so bad. Yet, wasn't it the CPM that originally mastered the art of painting buses and trams in party colours and slogans, especially before giant Brigade Parade Grounds rallies? What's more, Mamata's slogan too is a rip-off — on urban hoardings, pre- and post-Singur, you could spot a Bengal government slogan that literally translated as: "Agriculture is our foundation, industry is our future." In our sloganeering polity, do we still remember the joke about dropping the second "i" from Indira Gandhi's "Garibi hatao"?

 

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EDITORIAL

CENTRAL AND DISTRICT

 

The government has obviously decided that the restoration of the writ of the state in the districts of Central India overrun by Naxalites must be accompanied with the expansion of state services. Yet these are areas which have, for decades, seen little investment and institution-building, which would make the welfarist approach of the UPA difficult to implement even in non-conflict conditions. Unsurprisingly, Central allocations to the affected areas remain unspent: of the moneys handed over for the rural electrification scheme, for example, Chhattisgarh has spent a mere 43.8 per cent, Orissa 51.5 per cent, and Madhya Pradesh 38.81 per cent. Bihar spent merely 26.53 per cent of funds available under the rural roads programme.

 

The Centre has, meanwhile, decided to intensify its spending in these areas. An "integrated action plan" was cleared last year that puts aside Rs 25 crore for each affected district a year, totalling over Rs 3,000 crore; this will be stepped up in subsequent years to a total near Rs 15,000 crore. But how will the government avoid the problems that have bedevilled previous attempts to ramp up state spending on infrastructure and the social sector? The IAP's answer was simple, to trust the Centre's officials to know what they're doing: the implementation is in the hands of the district collector, superintendent of police and district forest officer. The states have been doing badly in spending Central money, the UPA thinks, so the Centre and its officials should step in.

 

It's certainly the case that Naxal-district governance across states has been shockingly uneven, and there's a case for change, and for improving the monitoring mechanism. Yet the Planning Commission, in a letter to the prime minister's office that has been reported in this newspaper, has correctly pointed out that this also harks back to an earlier, bureaucratic, vision of the state that has its own problems — and one that cannot be absolved of all responsibility for these areas' backwardness, either. The problems of security should always be central. But the IAP doesn't address that. The era of decentralisation is upon us and, surely, empowerment of local delivery mechanisms, and the spread of aspiration, is a crucial weapon in the Centre's arsenal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE CVC'S CHOICE

 

The nation's top anti-corruption watchdog should have unimpeachable integrity, or else the very purpose of the institution gets undermined. Now with the Supreme Court allowing the resumption of trial in a 19-year-old palmolein import case, in which Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas is an accused, we are facing an unprecedented situation: the very real and disturbing possibility of the CVC being prosecuted in a criminal case. It's a matter of regret that it has been allowed to come to this pass, with Thomas apparently unwilling to quit and the Centre more than willing to back its decision to choose him, even when the SC raised questions about his suitability to oversee the CBI investigation in the 2G spectrum case.

 

Even in the best of times, an episode like this doesn't bode well for a government. For the UPA, hemmed in by the opposition's allegations of wrongdoing, it has been particularly damaging. This is the time when the government should be coming down on corruption; not seen to be in any way indulgent of it. It erred when it appointed Thomas in spite of the reservations expressed by the leader of the opposition. The CVC is a constitutional post for which the consensus of the prime minister, home minister and the leader of the opposition is required to reinforce its bipartisan character; but the government went ahead with the appointment and then split hairs by saying that consensus didn't imply unanimity. The time has come for the UPA to cease defending that decision, and remove its protective shield from Thomas.

 

There's absolutely no presumption that Thomas is guilty. But even he must acknowledge that his past is coming in the way of his present job. Not just the palmolein case: the CVC having to recuse from a boldfaced case like that of the 2G spectrum is not in any way fitting. But Thomas, whose career included a tenure as telecom secretary in A. Raja's ministry, had to do that as well. The CVC's independence and credibility has been hard-won, over many years. We are entering a period where the office will see a great deal of visible work, where its stature will be crucial. Thomas will win many plaudits if, recognising he is hobbled in his task, and for the sake of the office's credibility, he chooses to resign.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE ONION'S LAYERS

ILA PATNAIK

 

The government is grappling with the problem of inflation. The solution to persistent, moderate inflation is not straightforward. It needs a multi-pronged approach. Agricultural reform and stabilising macroeconomic policy need to be two important elements of this strategy.

 

Today's problem is onion prices. Last month, the discussion on inflation focused on dal and meat. A while ago, it centred on sugar prices. Each time we face high food prices, traders and speculators are blamed and income tax raids are conducted. Sometimes exports are banned. At other times, imports are permitted. Often, forward

trading in the product is banned. Either drought or excess rain is said to be the source of inflation. Rising incomes leading to higher demand, and supply bottlenecks in an unreformed agriculture, are seen to be ultimately responsible.

 

The debate over agri-reform to fix supply bottlenecks has been about improvements in cold storage chains; changes in the mandi system; reform of the agricultural marketing system; research support for high value crops; liberalisation of trade in agricultural products; opening up the sector to organised retailing and FDI; moving away from price support for cereals; and so forth. Over the last five or six years, as problems in food prices have surfaced again and again, we have discussed the solutions endlessly. However, very little has moved on the reform agenda. And when prices increase sharply, instead of a commitment to reform, we hear statements by the government on how it plans to clamp down on speculators, or stop hoarding, or ban derivatives trading.

 

The present food inflation could become another episode where the government takes a few visible and meaningless steps to show that it is solving the problem, and then essentially heaves a sigh of relief when prices come down. Instead it should move forward on the reform agenda. To the extent that the reform agenda is politically difficult, it will be tough. Also, since there are few short-term gains, as many of the changes would take a few years to yield results, the government has to resist the temptation to put its focus on

 

fire-fighting, and should steadfastly implement a long-term agenda of reform.

 

Political support for the reform agenda is likely to be limited, as opposition parties tend to focus on undermining the government to make political capital. But without reform the problem of food inflation will surface again. Curbing speculation is not a viable alternative to reforming the sector.

 

The second element of government policy to address the inflation issue must be a focus on stabilising macroeconomic policy. Fiscal expansion, it appears, might have overshot the needs of the economy. The fiscal deficit of the Central government increased sharply between 2007-08 and 2008-09, from 3.1 per cent to 7.5 per cent of GDP. This was due to increased expenditure such as the Sixth Pay Commission, higher subsidies, and lower taxes during the global financial crisis. However, the stimulus continued in the following year, and it remained at 6.8 per cent of GDP in 2009-10. In the current year, the fiscal deficit of the Central government is projected to be at

 

6.6 per cent of GDP. The total deficit of the Centre and the states combined also rose sharply during the crisis. Before the crisis it stood at 4.4 per cent of GDP in 2007-08 and in the current year it is projected to be 9.6 per cent of GDP. The fine-tuning of the stimulus to the needs of the economy is not an easy job. However, stabilising macroeconomic policy requires that the government should undertake fiscal consolidation. This would pull down aggregate demand and curb some of the demand-side push to food prices.

Another element of stabilising macroeconomic policy needs

 

to be contractionary monetary policy. Here the question is: should monetary policy respond to rising food inflation? Interest rates are normally seen as an instrument that will hurt investment, but have no effect on food supply, which is where the problems are supposed to lie. This argument is used to say that monetary policy need not respond to food inflation.

 

The issue to examine is whether food price inflation feeds into the general level of inflation. If spending on food is a large share of the consumption expenditure basket, as it is in India, for real wages to stay constant, nominal wages must rise significantly. Higher nominal wages can result either in lower profits or higher selling prices. In services, which are often more labour-intensive — especially in the informal sector, which

 

constitutes the bulk of the Indian economy — it is often easy to perceive. But it is exactly here that data is hard to come by. Anecdotal evidence does suggest that higher food prices result in the workers in the informal sector getting paid higher nominal wages.

 

The relationship between food prices and interest rates is not straightforward. The simplistic logic that tries to draw a direct link between interest rates and food prices misses out the role of food prices on inflationary expectations and in wage negotiations. Even though wage bargaining in India is not like in Latin America, where indexation played a major role in causing inflation, in India too the dearness allowance of public sector workers, or trade-union negotiations on the basis of which wages are fixed, refer to inflation in consumer prices.

 

Indeed, even the NREGA wage is now being indexed to inflation to prevent NREGA real wages from falling. Rising food prices and wages feed into expectations of higher inflation. The role of monetary policy is to indicate that it will raise rates to curb the growth in aggregate demand so that the shock to food prices does not translate into a wage-price spiral. No one step will be able to bring inflation under control. The government must adopt a multi-pronged strategy to inflation.

 

Agricultural reform must go hand in hand with contractionary fiscal and monetary policy.

 

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAKING THE RULES

YOGINERKALAGH

 

An interesting part of the recent occurrences — we have lived from one scandal to another — has been a fascinating avoidance of anything remotely resembling a reliance on rules, or even a positive statement of acceptable behaviour in order to castigate impropriety. Given our very low level of civic consciousness, a tax demand, or an audit objection, or even a casual conversation with persons of dubious integrity is not treated differently from large-scale criminal fraud, bribery or corruption. In this Kafkaesque world the border line between fact, insinuation and fiction becomes blurred.

 

Going very infrequently to the capital — anyway fogged out — we got an opportunity to reflect on the shenanigans reported there with friends of ours, other law-abiding people from regional centres and elsewhere, some of whom were holding so-called "responsible positions". The first question we posed them was whether it was true that the entire system, or even a large part of it, was corrupt. I wondered about that; for, as a much younger man, during one of my stints in government, it was thought that perhaps less than a tenth of my secretary-level colleagues were of doubtful integrity. They would frequent embassy and corporate parties, but were kept out of the loop of serious work. The general reaction to my question was that this was still true. Some felt the percentage may be higher; some contested that. These were senior civil servants, jurists, journalists and academics; but they were reasonably alert persons, and it is likely that they have a reasonable perspective on reality. So if everybody, or even a large majority, is not for sale we can avoid thinking of ourselves as a banana republic.

 

There was however a persistent feeling, though, that while corruption was still a minority practice, more and more persons in authority would passively ignore wrongdoing rather than confront it as they did earlier. This was attributed to earlier a gradual, and later an accelerated, erosion of Central authority — and therefore a condoning of wrongdoing by default. Coalition regimes, it was argued, tended to acquiesce to wrongdoing. Also, the need for political funds was greater when there was a multiplicity of parties; once the process is underway, there's no way of knowing where the individual siphoned away largesse collected originally for party purposes.

 

I was not too happy with this argument. There was nothing in principle that suggested that centralised regimes were less corrupt. I felt there was considerable merit in the Rajiv-era argument that decentralisation would in fact reduce corruption in the long run, since it would be more visible as a leakage from commitments made at the local level.

 

The question then becomes: can we develop rules for coalition regimes?

 

The development of rule-based systems for a polity with an ever-expanding empowerment of groups and individuals becomes a challenge. Sometimes the quest itself degenerates into formalisms. The first rule has to be, of course, zero tolerance for corruption. Having said that, is the elite — which includes all of us — willing to share the largesse society provides to each one of us with an expanding political elite, legally? In my own experience, when I switched from academia to being a minister, my salary went down by around 40 per cent. Through the time I was an MP, our personal savings went down by a lot of money — nearly Rs 80,000. By now MPs and ministers are paid better, but most of us are paid better too, and we resent any largesse to the political class. It is rubbish to think that they are inferior beings. But by doing so we force corruption even for those who may want to be honest.

 

There are other rules. In the second half of the '80s, Raja Chelliah's work showed that around two-thirds of industry was shifted from controls to fiscal and financial rule-based regulation. In the Bureau of Industrial Controls and Prices, I supervised this transition, with dual-pricing, tariff regulation and other financial rule-based policies. The transition was contested, but the courts upheld them, given the transparency with which it was done. In only two cases did a powerful corporate group scuttle the reform and it was postponed.

 

But when you have weak regulators — retired bureaucrats, who tend to defend their earlier bailiwick and work in a non-transparent manner or, worse still, pass off everything

 

to a political process, an EGoM — problems are invited in design. More rules for coalition regimes are needed. We need a positive debate. A nation on the move can ill afford procrastination.

 

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, express@expressindia.com

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SUDAN MOVES TOWARD ITS FUTURE

 

The referendum currently taking place in southern Sudan will end a protracted period of deadly conflict in the country. During its first half-century of independence Sudan was at war with itself for 38 years. This situation could not continue forever. Sooner or later the Sudanese had to answer the question: What should they do to achieve peace?

 

Throughout the war years the answer was clear. It had been communicated by the southern rebellion which broke out in 1955, initiating the first civil war. Colonial Britain had governed the north and the south as two different entities. The policies it pursued resulted in the relative development of the north and the absolute underdevelopment of the south. Accordingly, the south feared that its integration in an independent Sudan would result in its domination by the north. It therefore took up arms demanding such autonomy as would allow the people of southern Sudan to exercise their right to self-determination, without this extending to independence.

 

The rebellion sought to make the simple point that for Sudan to exist as a united country, it would have to construct a constitutional order and a political economy that would respect its manifest diversity. The north elected to reject this demand and suppress it by force of arms. Like colonial Britain, the northern Sudanese post-colonial ruling group implemented policies which discriminated against the south and used force to perpetuate the resultant gross inequality.

 

The sustained pursuit of this double-pronged strategy intended to maintain the unity of Sudan, but under the control of a dominant northern minority, persuaded the southern Sudanese that they had to go beyond the demand advanced in 1955 and fight for independence. The force of the latter position proved so strong that it prevailed over the alternative perspective advanced especially by the eminent, long-time leader of the second north-south war, the late John Garang.

 

Garang argued that the objective of the southern armed struggle should be the creation of a New Sudan. This would be a united, democratic Sudan governed according to the constitutional order and political economy which would respect its diversity, as the southern rebels had demanded in 1955. However that vision died with Garang, when, unfortunately, he perished in a helicopter crash in 2005, early in the life of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement he had negotiated.

 

With the demise of that vision it seems inevitable that the votes cast during the south Sudan referendum which began on Sunday will result in the division of Sudan into two countries, with effect from July 9. Sudan is now preparing for this eventuality. President Omar al-Bashir visited Juba, the capital of south Sudan, five days before the referendum and assured the southerners that he would join them in their celebrations if they chose to secede. Later he said the north, in its own interest, would assist the new state to get on its feet.

 

For some time now the Sudanese leaders have been involved in negotiations to reach an agreement on various post-referendum arrangements which would define the relations between the possible two states. They have agreed that the north and the south would work together to establish two viable states, based on acceptance of their interdependence and therefore the absolute imperative to cultivate mutually beneficial cooperation between themselves, directed at promoting their integration as equals.

 

Further agreements are being negotiated relating to such important matters as citizenship, the national debt, the sharing of the oil revenues, currency arrangements, relations among the communities along the north-south border, and security arrangements. These negotiations will also determine the institutions that should be created to manage the relations between the two states in the event of the secession of the south. At the same time negotiations will continue, to resolve the outstanding matters of Abyei and the demarcation of the north-south border.

 

Some commentators have persisted in projecting the view that Sudan may slide back into war. However the situation facing both the north and the south, and their fundamental respective interests, oblige them to sustain the peace ushered in by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

 

The reality is that there will be no war. The option of war has had its day. The exciting possibility is that exactly because of its painful history, Sudan may very well teach the whole of Africa how to respond to the challenge of diversity which has informed many of Africa's conflicts, including those currently affecting the Ivory Coast and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

In time Africa will therefore celebrate both the peaceful resolution of the protracted conflict in Sudan, and the accumulation of new practical experience which would stand the continent in good stead as it strives to construct peaceful and democratic societies based on the perspective of unity in diversity.

 

THABO MBEKI, the writer is a former president of South Africa and chairman of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan, The New York Times

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AUCTION REPLAY

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

The bidding had become interesting: Rs 300 crore, Rs 350 crore, Rs 420 crore. To and fro, a man and a woman on a money seesaw. Finally, Rs 550 crore, once, twice, thrice. Sold to the man in a grey suit. No, his name was not Mallya or Ambani but I.M. (I am?) Virani and no, he wasn't buying a juicy morsel of human cricketing talent but a piece of Mumbai at a grossly inflated rate.

 

This was a scene from the new serial Mukti Bandhan (Colors), loosely based, we are told, on the life of the Ambanis. Odd that it should come a day after "The Great Indian Tamasha" as NDTV 24x7 called the IPL auction: 10 team owners, 349 players on the waiting list and one Mr Richard Madley as the umpire. "Cricket ka Big Bazaar" (IBN-7) was so gargantuan there was no other news for two days. Breaking News was Dada and Brian Lara "UNSOLD" at the IPL auction — not alleged Hindu terror, corruption, inflation, an assassination in Pakistan or even a freezing north India.

 

And then there was the chatter. Men and at least one woman (on CNN-IBN) gathered around a TV studio table and talked incessantly. They tried to outguess the bidders: the way Anil Kumble is reacting, what Vijay Mallya is saying, someone called Kochi and told it to bid.

 

Former cricketers Sanjay Manjrekar and Ajay Jadeja, and experts like Boria Majumdar and Harsha Bhogle analysed each bid, the strengths and weaknesses of Rip Van Winkle, sorry, Johan van der Wath, whom none of us knows nor cares about — at least not yet. And so it went on: I'm guessing Mumbai will bid for Dwayne Bravo, I think the Hussey brothers will be hot picks, I believe.... The grand Indian cricket auction had become another talking bazaar.

 

This was primarily because news channels were not allowed into the den of money in Bangalore where the bidding was in progress. That right belonged to Sony Max. Deprived of live footage, IBN-7 did the next best thing, a blow-by-blow commentary: now Vijay Mallya is talking to Kumble... Kumble is hiding his mouth behind his hand so we cannot read his lips (!). Preity Zinta is upping the bidding, Siddharth Mallya is giving her a darkling look that says, see you outside — or some such. What with keeping an eye on the TV monitor, analysing the players, tracking the bids and the composition of each team, it was chaos: the Great Indian Tamasha indeed.

 

And when cricket is a tamasha, can Navjot Singh Sidhu be far behind? He was on Sony Max alongside Ayaz Memon and Samir Kochhar, the channel's man for all cricket. Words flowed off his tongue like runs off Sachin Tendulkar's bat. His eyes were dollar signs: "It's the money, my friend, it's the money... always marry for money...." By turns eloquent and obscure, you wondered what he'd been reading recently: "[The IPL is] cricket in a Ferrari (nice) ... This is like Aladdin's lamps, you can do anything with it." Huh? Poor Memon and Arun Lal (at the auction with a visibly overawed Gaurav Kapur) didn't know what had hit them.

 

The most striking part of the IPL auction telecast was how bad it was. A good telecast would have done the following: clearly identified team owners at each table instead of making us squint to read the ID cards on the table; given us the names of the bidders with the amount being bid, the winning bid, the team composition after a successful bid, and told us how much money a team was left with to spend and who was left in the kitty. Graphics with all the teams and their buys should have been periodically shown. As it was, at no stage did we get the big picture. It was like watching a cricket match between teams you had never heard of and that too without a scorecard.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

TOO MANY CALCULATIONS SPOIL THE TRUTH

SURJIT S BHALLA

 

The 2G scam story is going the poverty way. Or going the way of the Chinese yuan. Let me explain the connection.

 

For quite some time now, the policy among the povertywallahs is to obfuscate the issue. Throw in as many numbers of poverty that even the authors will be confused, never mind the public. At last count, there are three official estimates of poverty in India, ranging from a low of 21 per cent to a high of 37 per cent for 2004-05. In addition, there are two estimates from the sanctum sanctorum of the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi — these estimates have political authority but not economic sense. These two high-priest estimates suggest that absolute poverty in India ranges from 50 to 78 per cent of the population. Are you sufficiently confused about the state of poverty in India? Yes, and that is precisely the effect desired.

 

For more than a decade, the Chinese yuan has been deeply undervalued. So much so that many contend that this undervaluation was at least partly responsible for the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09. Today, policymakers around the world and including the IMF (but excluding many Western investment banks, coincidentally speaking the communist party line) forcefully state that the Chinese yuan is deeply undervalued. However, an IMF study in 2005 showed that there was a very high variance in the estimates ranging from 0 per cent undervalued to -50 per cent undervalued. So what did the IMF conclude? That one could not say anything about whether the Chinese yuan was undervalued or not, that is, it was not undervalued at all!

 

The UPA government and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal seem to have taken a leaf out of this IMF book. Sprinkle the landscape with so many estimates that no one is able to believe a single figure. Before dissecting Sibal's innovative analysis, it is important to identify the seeds of the confusion. For this, the UPA owes heartfelt thanks to the CAG report on the 2G scam and its outlandish claims that the loss to the Indian public from the shenanigans of the telecom ministry could have been as high as Rs 1,76,000 crore. The first elementary lesson for all reports claiming to break new ground is to see if the estimates pass the smell or duck test — do the estimates sound (smell) right and/ or if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck. The upper bound estimate of the CAG report is more than 3 per cent of India's GDP. Could this have been possible? Of course not. The calculations below shows that this outlandish estimate used out-of-the-box assumptions and landed in outer space.

 

The fact that the upper bound was a soft target probably enthused Sibal to go for overkill. Enthusiastically, he set about demolishing the basis for the Rs 1,76,000 crore estimate. The CAG method used 3G new technology auction results and 700 million subscribers to estimate the fair price for an old 2G technology and 500 million less subscribers. By chipping away at each wrong assumption, Sibal soon arrived at a zero loss figure for the government. In the next edition, Sibal is sure to inform us that the government took away too much money from the auction and that the UPA is soon to organise refund cheques to the firms accused of scam, fraud and worse! It is not clear which estimate — the CAG's Rs 1,76,000 crore loss or Sibal's zero or negative loss — is more laughable, though the facts suggest that the vote should go to the latter.

 

So what was the fair price for the 2G auction held in 2008 by the then telecom minister, A. Raja? Many have emphasised procedural lapses on Raja's part, and Sibal assures us that the matter is being looked into. But who will or can justify punishment for procedural lapses if the exchequer did not lose any money? This is where the minister gives the game away. His elaborate attempt at showing that there was no loss and only procedural lapses is really a too-clever-by-half attempt to exonerate his own government from any wrongdoing. If there are 15 different estimates for the loss, ranging from Rs 0 to Rs 1,76,000 crore, he can justifiably conclude, like the prestigious IMF, that the best estimate is that there was no loss.

 

It is correct to assume that the "fair" price for anything that can be auctioned is the auction price. But in 2G allocation there was no auction. Yet, unfortunately for the UPA and Sibal, there were strong elements of an auction within the allocation. For at least two such allocations, there was an auction! Licences were given to two shell companies, Swan Telecom and Unitech telecom subsidiary Uninor. Both companies transferred part of the equity to other firms within a short period of time, short enough not to make a material difference to the market price. Raja allocated licences for 122 circles and received Rs 1,651 crore for the government or Rs. 13.5 crore per licence. Both Uninor and Swan offloaded equity in their shell firms: Uninor's 22 licences were valued at Rs 9,100 crore and Swan's 26 licences were valued at Rs 7,773 crore. The synthetic auction price per circle: Rs 352 crore. Loss to the government on each circle: Rs 338.5 crore. Total loss for 122 circles: 338.5x122 or Rs 41,300 crore. (Important note: an "equivalent" calculation is present in the CAG report).

 

No amount of obfuscation, or appealing to the public good or other creative calculations, can hide the simple

fact that this was money lost with no gain to the public good, competition, public welfare or anything else the UPA or Sibal can imagine. Equally, there is no way to reach Rs 1,76,000 crore. The CAG can be wronged for giving a range of estimates — but not for documenting that there was a minimum loss to the government of at least Rs 40,000 crore or more than one-third of India's personal income tax in 2007-08.

 

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund-management firm

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ITALIAN WHEELER-DEALER

MANOJ C G POSTED

 

Italian wheeler-dealer

Ever since the return of the Bofors payoffs scandal, the BJP has been consistently targeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, trying to link her directly to Ottavio Quattrocchi. The RSS — in what seems to be a counter-attack on the government at a time when its name is being linked to saffron terror — has now gone a step further, bringing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into the line of fire. A front-page report in Organiser argues that while Gandhi has been hugely embarrassed by the resurrection of the Bofors scandal, she is not the only one who has reason to worry, as the PM should also take the blame for having exonerated the "Italian wheeler-dealer" even while the CBI's closure report was pending in court. "Since it is no longer a mere allegation levelled by the opposition but an official agency that has found the Italian guilty, a public apology from the PM would be in order. The government can't be absolved of the responsibility of messing up the case and later asserting that no case was made out against the Italian wheeler-dealer," it says.

It says the CBI's credibility has reached its nadir: in cases involving powerful politicians, an inquiry by the agency would not carry conviction. "The Congress-led government would go to any length to prevent a revival of the corruption case, because the prestige of the late prime minister and the present Congress president is involved," it alleges.

Coddling Kasab, persecuting Hindus

That the RSS wants to hit back at the government becomes clear as Organiser's lead editorial in the same issue refers to the release of top ULFA leaders and of Parliament attack convict Shaukat Hussain to accuse the UPA of being soft on terrorists. On the other hand, it argues, the government is "fabricating" evidence against selected Hindu leaders in bomb blast cases. "How can Arabinda Rajkhowa, who has the blood of hundreds of innocent Assamese on his hands, including 13 children who died in bomb explosions in Dhemaji in August 2004, be released and invited for talks? Who will answer and pay for the mayhem he created? ... Why catch them, feed them and free them? ... It defies the logic of crime and punishment to release murderers and secessionists," it says.

After referring to the release of Shaukat Hussain, it says the nation is watching in bewilderment at the way Ajmal Kasab is being "mollycoddled" by the government — serving him the food of his choice, and providing him the best medical and legal aid possible, with his tantrums taken in reverential silence. "On the other hand, the investigative agencies, under pressure from the government, are going about fabricating evidence against a few Hindu leaders in bomb blast cases, which were till recently held as handiwork of the mushrooming Muslim terrorist groups... The only common thread running through the Hindu leaders arrested is that they were soldiers fighting conversions by evangelists," it says.

The conquest of Kerala

Assembly elections are around the corner in Kerala. Having put up a good show in the recent local body elections, the BJP hopes to open its account for the first time. An article in Organiser lavishing praise on Mannathu Padmanabhan — the founder of the influential Nair Service Society — on his birth anniversary should be seen against this backdrop.

What is interesting is that another article in the same issue notes that, as a New Year hope and gift for the Hindus of Kerala, both the NSS and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), which claim to represent almost 75 per cent of the 15 crore Hindu population of the state, have attacked the "vote-bank and minority appeasement" politics of the CPM and Congress.

It gladly laps up and reproduces the recent statements of SNDP and NSS leaders criticising the political class for the "neglect of Hindus" in Kerala. It points out that an NSS resolution marking the birth anniversary of Padmanabhan warned of massive agitations and joining Hindu like-minded forces to resist the "onslaught" on the Hindus, and notes that perhaps as a silver lining, the BJP leaders attended the meet and offered floral tributes in the presence of NSS leaders.

The article on Mannam — as Mannathu Padmanabhan is fondly called — meanwhile points out that NSS is a synonym for selfless service and social commitment. The outfit, it said, came into being at a crucial stage in the history of the Nair community which was facing a crisis brought about by disunity and blind adherence to outmoded customs, beliefs and practices.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IIP VERSUS RBI

The sharp deceleration in IIP in November, to just 2.7%, cannot be wished away by invoking a statistical base effect of a high growth; there is none, with the IIP growth in November 2009 having increased to just 11.3% from 10.1% in October. Some part of the slowdown, as analysts have pointed out, might have been due to a slack in factory output to clear the pre-Diwali inventory buildups and factory closures for a few days during the festival holidays, as also the fact that Diwali was in November in 2010 while it was in October in 2009. But keep in mind that November's slowdown was the second manifestation of low growth in the past three months. Unlike in September 2010, when the low 4.4% growth could had been mostly attributed to a low capital goods segment growth (which is a volatile segment), November's slowdown seems to be more broadbased, but centred on the 6% fall in consumer non-durables. It doesn't require rocket science to figure out the impact of the unusually high food and commodities prices in causing a significant demand compression. As if this were not bad enough, industrial activity growth over the next few months is likely to be persistently low, due to the statistical base effect of the very high growth rates in the second half of FY10. It will also probably be the case that a sustained industrial slowdown will have an adverse effect on the peripheral service activities near industrial hubs.

 

Capex was shaping up as a major growth impulse, driving construction activity emanating from infrastructure, industrial capacity expansion and real estate. This appears in danger of significant weakening as tight liquidity has already pushed up short-term interest rates to levels that must have begun to squeeze the commercial viability of projects. A large proportion of these unviable activities, more worryingly, will be among small and medium enterprises (SMEs), precisely the segment that is being considered as the fount of sustained economic growth in India.

 

All of this places RBI in a difficult spot at the forthcoming monetary policy review. As this newspaper has consistently argued, inflation and high prices are doing the job of monetary policy, evidently causing a fair bit of demand destruction. A blunt instrument like policy interest rates, which affects all borrowers indiscriminately, will only serve to choke off credit flows to productive sectors, hindering the gradual increase in capacities that would have eased the structural bottlenecks as an output response to high prices. A more targeted approach, which seeks to constrain credit to segments of concern, might achieve a better outcome in the growth-inflation tradeoff.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PATENTLY ABSURD

 

The Prime Minister's Office, FE reported on Wednesday, has taken a favourable view of the European Union's demand, proposed in the context of the proposed Indo-EU trade and investment pact, that India's patent regime be eased. The EU wants two major changes. One, Section 3(d) of the Patents Act, last amended in 2005, be changed. Right now, Section 3(d) allows incremental changes in drugs to be patented only if they substantially increase their efficacy. Two, the EU wants India to adopt the practice of data exclusivity. If India has data exclusivity, the drug controller cannot use this data while judging any generic drugs—this makes it more difficult for rival firms to get patents for generic drugs. The ministry has resisted both demands so far, made over the years by a variety of interest groups. The biggest rationale is that the high patenting standards ensure India gets new drugs, and not just some minor form of evergreened ones. A similar view has been taken by the ministry of health since its main concern is to stimulate the growth of India's generic drug industry, as it is this that has ensured medicine prices remain reasonable. In any case, since the Indian patent system has not run foul of the multilateral Trips agreement, the rationale for the PMO's move doesn't make much sense. It's also worth keeping in mind that of the 3,600-odd patents granted since 2005 in India, just 10-15% have been granted to Indians.

 

Also, over the last decade, countries like China and Brazil boast of the steepest hikes in global patent filings (with growth rate of over 10%) while the US stagnates, and Japan and the UK show a decline in both the number and quality of filings—so what's the need for India to be defensive? It must be noted, of course, that the US, EU and Japan continue to have a very substantial share of both the global filings and awards. India has a long way to go before it turns a net IPR-producer and needs to first work on fixing this.

 

Only then would a liberal patenting regime of the type being recommended be a strategic fit for the country.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SIBAL'S SCINTILLATING STATISTICS
SURJIT S BHALLA


The 2G scam story is going the poverty way. Or going the way of the Chinese yuan. Let me explain the connection. For quite some time now, the policy among the povertywallahs is to obfuscate the issue. Throw in as many numbers of poverty as possible so even the authors will be confused, never mind the public. At last count, there are three official estimates of poverty in India ranging from a low of 21% to a high of 37% for 2004-05. In addition, there are two estimates from the sanctorum of the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi—these estimates have political authority but not economic sense. These two high priest estimates suggest that absolute poverty in India ranges from 50% to 78% of the population. Are you sufficiently confused about what the state of poverty in India is? Yes, and that is precisely the effect desired.

 

For more than a decade, the Chinese yuan has been deeply undervalued. So much so that many contend that this undervaluation was at least partly responsible for the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09. Today, almost all the policymakers around the world, including the IMF (but excluding many western investment banks coincidentally speaking the Communist party line), forcefully state that the Chinese yuan is deeply undervalued. However, an IMF study in 2005 showed that there was a very high variance in the estimates ranging from 0% undervalued to minus 50% undervalued. So what did the IMF conclude? That one could not say anything about whether the Chinese yuan was undervalued or not, i.e., it was not undervalued at all!

 

The UPA government and the telecom minister Kapil Sibal seem to have taken a leaf from this IMF book. Sprinkle the landscape with so many estimates that no one is able to believe a single figure. Before dissecting Sibal's innovative analysis, it is important to identify the seeds of confusion. For this, the UPA owes heartfelt thanks to the CAG report on the 2G scam and its outlandish claims that the loss to the Indian public from the shenanigans of the telecom ministry could have been as high as Rs 1,76,000 crore. The first elementary lesson for all reports claiming to break new ground is to see if the estimates pass the smell or duck test, e.g., do the estimates sound (smell) right and/or if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck. The upper bound estimate of the CAG report is more than 3% of India's GDP. Could this have been possible? Of course not. The calculations below show that this outlandish estimate used out-of-the-box assumptions and landed in outer space.

 

The fact that the upper bound was a soft target probably enthused Sibal to go for an overkill. Enthusiastically, he set about demolishing the basis for the Rs 1,76,000 crore estimate. The CAG method used new 3G technology auction results and 700 million subscribers to estimate the fair price for an old 2G technology and 500 million less subscribers. By chipping away at each wrong assumption, Sibal soon arrived at a zero loss figure for the government. In the next edition, Sibal is sure to inform us that the government took away too much money from the auction and that the UPA is soon to organise refund checks to the firms accused of scam, fraud and worse! It is not clear which estimate—the CAG's Rs 1,76,000 crore loss or Sibal's zero or negative loss—is more laughable, though the facts suggest that the vote should go to the latter.

 

So what was the fair price for the 2G auction held in 2008 by the then telecom minister A Raja? Many have emphasised procedural lapses on Raja's part and Sibal assures us that the matter is being looked into. But who will or can justify punishment for procedural lapses if the exchequer did not lose any money? This is where the minister gives the game away. His elaborate attempt at showing that there was no loss and only procedural lapses is really a too-clever-by-half attempt to exonerate his own government from any wrongdoing. If there are 15 different estimates for the loss, ranging from Rs 0 to Rs 1,76,000 crore, he can justifiably conclude, like the prestigious IMF, that the best estimate is that there was no loss.

 

It is correct to assume that the 'fair' price for anything that can be auctioned is the auction price. But in 2G allocation there was no auction. But unfortunately for the UPA, and Sibal, there were strong elements of an auction within the allocation. For at least two such allocations, there was an auction! Licences were given to two shell companies, Swan Telecom and a Unitech telecom subsidiary, Uninor. Both companies transferred part of the equity to other firms within a short period of time, short enough not to make a material difference to the market price. Raja allocated licences for 122 circles and received Rs 1,651 crore for the government or Rs 13.5 crore per licence. Both Uninor and Swan offloaded equity in their shell firms—Uninor's 22 licences were valued at Rs 9,100 crore and Swan's 26 licences were valued at Rs 7,773 crore. The synthetic auction price per circle—Rs 352 crore. Loss to the government on each circle—Rs 338.5 crore. Total loss for 122 circles: (338.5 x 122) or Rs 41,300 crore. (Important note—an 'equivalent' calculation is present in the CAG report).

 

No amount of obfuscation, or appealing to the public good or other creative calculations can hide the simple fact that this was money lost with no gain to the public good, competition, public welfare or anything else the UPA or Sibal can imagine. Equally, there is no way to reach Rs 1,76,000 crore. The CAG can be wronged for giving a range of estimates—but not for documenting that there was a minimum loss to the government of at least Rs 40,000 crore, or more than one-third of India's personal income tax in 2007-08.

 

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IN YOUR FACEBOOK

K VAIDYA NATHAN


Facebook has been in the news recently as it has raised $500 million from Goldman Sachs for a 1% stake, at a $50 billion valuation. In addition, it intends to raise another $1.5 billion by selling 3% stake to an SPV that Goldman Sachs will be setting up to allow some of its clients to invest indirectly in Facebook.

The social networking site wants $2 billion in fresh resources to be able to keep up with the kind of growth it has seen in 2010. Last year, Facebook became the most visited site globally, crowding out Google from the top perch. The social network service has seen very rapid growth in the last six years, since its casual beginning in February 2004.

 

The Facebook site was started by Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommates at Harvard as an equivalent of a book with face-pictures of students that is normally given by university offices to facilitate interaction among students. The Facebook site, which tried to replicate the book, became so instantaneously popular that it attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours of existence. Within the first month, more than half the undergraduate population at Harvard had registered on the site. The founders obviously realised that they had a sweepstake worth potentially billions of dollars in their hands and rapidly scaled up the site's reach. The service was expanded to Stanford, Columbia and Yale within a month of its beginning. It soon spread out to all universities' students and then to all high-school students. Currently, Facebook is open to anyone aged 13 and over. It has about 1,700 employees and offices in 12 countries, with more than 500 million active users globally. Obviously, such a rapid rise in less than seven years has meant that it needed large doses of investment. In October 2007, Facebook got an investment from Microsoft of $240 million for a 1.6% stake at an implied valuation of $15 billion. Last week, Goldman Sachs invested $500 mn of its own and another $1.5 billion through the SPV.

 

There have been a lot of questions about the Facebook SPV since the news broke. For instance, why is Facebook getting equity investment through an SPV? Well, there is an SEC regulation that requires companies with 500 or more shareholders to disclose their earnings to the public. It is apparent that Facebook doesn't want the pains of enhanced disclosures and audits. But the site still wants the additional $1.5 billion of investment, so Facebook and Goldman Sachs have come up with a very clever workaround. Instead of having thousands of individual investors, Goldman Sachs will represent them all and invest on their behalf. To put it bluntly, Goldman Sachs is helping Facebook circumvent SEC regulation.

 

That begs the question—will the SEC allow it? I tried to dig up the Securities Exchange Act, which clearly states that if a company creates a vessel for holding securities of record primarily to circumvent this Act, then it will deem beneficial owners as 'record owners'. In other words, the SEC could reckon that Facebook is circumventing regulation and thus consider all of the investors in the SPV to be 'record owners' of Facebook. That would mean that the social network would have to comply with SEC decree, sooner than never. The SEC is already investigating the private secondary markets for potentially violating regulation. It wouldn't be much of a jump for the SEC to tell Facebook that its investment vehicle doesn't preclude it from being deemed a public company.

 

Now here's where it gets interesting. Facebook is setting up this SPV to raise money that it desperately needs. To me, it looks unlikely that Facebook is so naïve to think that the SEC will be pleased with this arrangement. It probably knows that the SEC will step in and ask it to comply with the disclosure requirements. So that begs the question, why would Facebook go through all this trouble when the SEC is likely to shoot them down anyway?

 

The reason is that this move buys Facebook more time to grow after it has taken this $2 billion investment. The SEC regulation wouldn't take effect until May 2012 because the commission requires private companies to start reporting financial information only four months after the end of its current fiscal year. So if Facebook violates the 500 shareholder rule in the first week of January, then it won't have to start complying with SEC norms until May 1, 2012, four months after the end of the US's financial year on December 31. If this SPV was formed in, say, November 2011, the deadline for compliance would have been May 2012 still. Doing this in the first week of the year buys Facebook precious time. A key lesson that Facebook would have learnt from its competitor—Google—is that, other things remaining equal, the more you delay the IPO, the greater valuation you command. Hence, time is of essence in a different sense—the more time you buy, the more moolah you rake in. At least that seems to be Facebook's game-plan, given the pains it has taken to go the SPV way, and the near-perfect timing of the SPV at the start of the calendar year. For investors marking their calendars for a Facebook IPO, it could be a bit later than they think and a lot pricier than they expect.

 

The author, formerly with JPMorgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

Bofors booms again!

 

Pity the poor Congress party, it just can't seem to get rid of the Bofors taint. After losing an election and living with the taint for decades, when it looked as if it would finally bury the ghost of the past, the income tax tribunal breathed fresh life into the case. The 2G scam that the government is reeling under, it now appears, also has a Bofors angle. The last time a government truly trashed a CAG report like Kapil Sibal did the other day, we're told, was in the 1980s, and it was the one on Bofors. Will the similarity between 2G and Bofors be limited to just the CAG reports on them being trashed, or will it extend to the government's fate? That, depending on how you look at it, is the Rs 1,76,000 crore question.

 

When machines help men

 

The support staff in the corporate affairs ministry has got an extended New Year week. Due to a serious technical failure, more than 75% of the computers weren't working, giving the officials a well-earned rest. When a staffer was asked why at least some work couldn't be done, he was quick to reply, "We are very tech savvy now. Working without computers is inconceivable."

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PRAILWAYS

 

Mamata Banerjee defends an indefensible use of her central ministry to campaign in her state

 

She now spells her name Mamataa. We suspect the influence of Bollywood numerologists. She says, nothing doing. She has always spelt her name with a double A. It was the officials who had been getting it wrong all this time. Her party's new slogan has turned up in Eastern Railways' advertisements published in newspapers across Kolkata. Her minister calls it a mere coincidence. Agriculture is our inspiration, industry is our perception—this is what railways communications officials coincidentally have on their mind these days. Astonishing. CPM is up in arms, calling this a blatantly brazen deployment of the Railways as a Trinamool campaign tool ahead of the Assembly elections in West Bengal. There is merit in the charge.

 

Even when she was presenting the Union Railways Budget back in February last year, the minister was

suspected of carrying on a proxy election campaign in her home state. And earlier just this week, we have had occasion to comment on how her continued focus on West Bengal may be at the expense of her Cabinet charge, what with the railways teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and looking like it's going to default on paying its annual dividend to the government. Not only is this a big and bad turnaround since the days of Lalu Prasad, the odds are short that the current minister would have been kind if the lantern had turned up in railway advertisements before she took charge. She would have wasted no time before rubbishing claims of coincidence.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HYPING UP SCIENCE

 

Science when hyped loses credibility. Two separate incidents in a span of three weeks show how scientists who hype up and sensationalise their work end up diluting the significance of their discovery. In a paper published online in the Science journal in the first week of December ("A bacterium that can grow by using arsenic instead of phosphorus" by Felisa Wolfe-Simon, et al), authors from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other institutions report that a particular bacterium isolated from California's Mono Lake was capable of substituting arsenic for a small percentage of phosphorus and still sustain its growth. This is a most surprising finding considering that arsenic is a toxic element and is not one of the six elements — carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus — that make up most of the organic molecules in living matter. Days before publication of the paper, the worldwide web went wild with speculation about extra-terrestrial life. The reason: a media advisory sent out by NASA on a press briefing "to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for extra-terrestrial life." In consequence, most media reports following the publication of the paper dwelt on the issue of extra-terrestrial life. It turned out that the paper did not discuss the possibility of life outside Earth; nor did the accompanying news item published in the journal propose anything of the kind.

 

The second instance of hyping up science relates to a press release from Tel Aviv University. According to this, the earliest evidence of existence of modern humans has been found in Israel, predating evidence found in Africa by about 200,000 years. The conclusion contradicts the prevailing view of human evolution and migration out of Africa. What followed was sensationalist media coverage of an otherwise stodgy work of purely academic interest. The paper, which reports the morphological analysis of human teeth recovered from Israel's Qesem Cave, was recently published online in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology ("Middle Pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave [Israel]" by Israel Hershkovitz et al). The paper says the teeth cannot be conclusively identified as belonging to modern humans ( Homo sapiens) or to Neanderthals or to other human species. While the journalists can be faulted for oversimplifying and hyping up the findings of science, the deliberate misleading of the media and the public by some scientists and their institutions must be condemned. Such acts by a few take a heavy toll on the credibility of science.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

OUR COTTON, THEIR ONIONS

 

India's reported willingness to relax its ceiling on cotton exports to accommodate the Pakistani demand for the commodity if Pakistan will permit the overland export of onions is a welcome development. The floods in Pakistan affected some portion of its cotton crop, and the country is now short of the commodity for its domestic textile and yarn industry, the mainstay of its fragile economy; heavy and unseasonal rains have caused an onion shortage in India, pushing its price up and out of reach of the ordinary pocket. Onions are in good supply in Pakistan; India's cotton harvest is better than in previous years. It takes nothing more than common sense to see that the two countries can alleviate each other's shortages. The Indian government's decision to restrict the export of cotton to 5.5 million bales in 2010-11 was taken keeping in view the demand of the domestic textile and yarn industry and the estimated production this year. There was no country-specific quota. But amid rising world prices and high demand, Indian traders evidently found it more advantageous to prioritise shipments to China and Indonesia, and the orders for one million bales from Pakistan went unheeded. Also, traders were given an extremely short calendar to register orders. A small upward revision by the Cotton Advisory Board in the projected cotton harvest has evidently enabled the Indian Commerce Ministry to consider raising the export ceiling as a reciprocal measure to Pakistan agreeing to exporting onions to India through the Wagah border.

 

The Pakistani government has frozen the trade on this route to keep domestic prices in check. It has allowed onions to be exported only by sea, but this long and expensive alternative defeats the purpose for which India wants Pakistani onions. Islamabad must consider New Delhi's proposal with an open mind. An agreement on this may not translate into a paradigm shift in India-Pakistan relations, but in these times of embittered relations, even a small step towards good neighbourliness can go some way in altering the mood of mutual hostility. It now appears that both the countries are tentatively preparing for another round of engagement in March, most likely between the Foreign Secretaries on the sidelines of the SAARC standing committee meeting at Thimpu. The Foreign Ministers may hold talks later in New Delhi, although the date for the meeting has not been decided yet. Cotton and onions are unlikely drivers of India-Pakistan diplomacy, but they could help smoothen the stage for the forthcoming rounds of talks.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

CHILLING PICTURE OF CRIME & CORRUPTION

CRIME SYNDICATES BORN OUT OF THE CORRUPTION-RIDDEN PRIVATISATION OF THE 1990S HAVE NOT ONLY SURVIVED BUT ALSO DEVELOPED CLOSE TIES WITH THE LAW-ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES IN RUSSIA.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia is still struggling to overcome the consequences of the chaotic and crime-ridden transition from Communism to free market. The year 2010 gave shocking evidence of how deeply organised crime is entrenched in Russia. In November, the country was shaken by the brutal massacre of 12 people, including four children, at a farmer's home in Kushchevskaya town in Krasnodar Territory, Russia's bread basket region in the south. A federal-level investigation ordered by President Dmitry Medvedev — the killers did not spare even a nine-month-old baby — revealed a chilling picture of crime and corruption. A 100-men gang, led by a local legislator, had terrorised the town of 35,000 for more than a decade. The band committed hundreds of rapes, murders, and land-grabs. It was officially registered as a private security company working for the region's one of the largest and most profitable farms owned by the gangsters.

 

The Kushchevskaya tragedy came as a shock. It was widely believed that the time in the 1990s when President Boris Yeltsin called Russia the "biggest mafia state in the world" and "superpower of crime" was long gone, and that freewheeling banditry came to an end after Vladimir Putin replaced the weak and ailing Yeltsin as President in 2000 and rebuilt the state machine. It has, however, turned out that the crime syndicates born out of the corruption-ridden privatisation of the 1990s have not only survived but also developed close ties with the law-enforcement agencies.

 

The Kushchevskaya gangsters acted with absolute impunity thanks to collusion with the local police, prosecutors and government officials who covered up their crimes. As investigation progressed, several law-enforcement officials in the Krasnodar region lost their jobs and at least one senior police officer was arrested on charges of extortion.

 

Mr. Medvedev said the massacre revealed "systematic corruption" in the law-enforcement agencies, while Prime Minister Putin spoke of the "failure of the entire system of law enforcement." Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachev made a shocking admission: "Similar gangs are active in every district of the region," he said adding they "enjoy support in the regional centre."

 

It soon emerged that mafia groups are just as active in other parts of Russia too. Emboldened by the Kushchevskaya investigation, small business owners in Gus-Khrustalny, 250 km from Moscow, addressed an open letter to Mr. Putin complaining of organised crime and police cover-up in their town, famous for its crystal ware industry. After Moscow ordered a sweeping review of all grave crime cases across the country, a number of senior regional officials were arrested on charges of running criminal rings.

 

The media are sceptical of the current crackdown breaking the stranglehold of organised crime on Russian provinces. Rossiiskaya Gazeta, central mouthpiece of the federal government published from Moscow, recalled that it had exposed mass rapes and terror in Kushchevskaya five years ago, but no action was taken at the time. The independent Novaya Gazeta daily, co-owned by the former President, Mikhail Gorbachev, told the story of Volgodonsk, a town with a population of 1,70,000 in the south that has been under mafia control for the past two decades. Seven years ago, 60 local businessmen driven to despair by racketing, intimidation and assaults wrote to President Putin. His intervention led to the firing of a regional police chief and the sentencing of seven gangsters to suspended prison terms, but the criminal grip of the town has only tightened since.

 

Mr. Medvedev, in last year's state of the nation address, said the impotence of the law-enforcement agencies was the result of "their direct merger with criminals." This merger came to light in both Kushchevskaya and Volgodonsk, where local gang leaders were members of municipal councils elected on the ticket of the ruling United Russia party. Criminals also infiltrated the government in Novosibirsk, a city with a population of 1.5 million called Russia's Siberian capital — where a Deputy Mayor doubled up as a gang leader masterminding contract murders and other crimes — and Saratov, another million-strong city where the head of a municipal district ran a band of killers, and many other regions.

 

After the Kushchevskaya massacre, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin issued a stunning warning that the country was in the danger of becoming a criminal state and suffering complete collapse. "One has to admit, honestly, that the organised crime disease has too deeply infected our country," he wrote in Rossiyskya Gazeta. "Crime is undermining the foundations of our fragile legal system … [and] corroding the fabric of our still immature civil society."

 

The judge noted that a "fusion of authorities and criminals" had taken place in many parts where it was becoming impossible to distinguish between local government and mafia operations. If the mafia isn't pushed back, "it will raise the question whether Russia can survive beyond the next 10 years."

 

It is for the first time since the 1990s that anyone, let alone the head of Russia's apex court, has spoken about the crime scenario in such apocalyptic terms. Mr. Zorkin also questioned the main achievement of Mr. Putin's eight-year presidency — economic and political stability. "What stability are we talking about? Stability for whom? For the people or for criminal communities that are terrorising the people?" The Constitutional Court Chairman urged the government to study and apply the radical methods of fighting the mafia the United States resorted to in the 1930s and again in the 1960s.

 

The Kremlin appears to be waking up to the need to take urgent action against organised crime. On New Year's Eve, Mr. Medvedev signed the law on the establishment of an independent Investigation Committee, a Russian analogue of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which will report directly to the President, who will also have exclusive powers to appoint and dismiss its head.

 

Parliament will soon consider a new law aimed at overhauling Russia's notoriously violent and corrupt police. Mr. Medvedev said the bill should close all loopholes for potential abuse of police power. The law would step up centralisation of the police force, which today reports to both the Federal Interior Ministry and regional government bodies. In a symbolic break with the past, the Communist-era name for the force, "militsia," will be replaced with "politsia" or police.

 

A majority of Russians, however, do not believe that the effort to overhaul law enforcement will improve its ability to fight crime. Fifty-two per cent of Russians in a recent poll said the police reform would boil down to a cosmetic name change and personnel reshuffling. Public scepticism stems from abominable corruption that has plagued the state machine, including all law-enforcement agencies. The Berlin-based Transparency International estimates the Russian corruption market at around $300 billion, which is close to a quarter of the Gross Domestic Product; other calculations are much higher.

 

After becoming President in 2008, Mr. Medvedev declared war on corruption but had to admit last summer that the effort brought few palpable results so far. "It is obvious that no one is satisfied with how corruption is being fought — neither our citizens, who consider corruption one of our country's most serious problems and challenges, nor our officials," he said. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, Russia slid to 154th among 178 countries surveyed in 2010 — next to Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Tajikistan.

 

Lack of progress in fighting the evil is blamed on entrusting the effort to officials most likely involved in corruption schemes themselves. As one analyst put it, "The corrupt system is trying to fight itself." None of Mr. Medvedev's anti-graft initiatives has empowered public groups, the media or Parliament to exercise effective oversight over corrupt officials or provided them with tools to stop corrupt practices.

 

A growing chorus of experts and politicians says Russia's problems with fighting crime and corruption are rooted in the absence of a working democracy, where there is no political competition, no checks and balances and where is a docile legislature.

 

"We need a democratic, competitive environment, sources of initiative at all levels, activity of civic society, and real public control," Mr. Gorbachev wrote in an article last month. He called on Mr. Medvedev to formulate a new democratic agenda for Russia in 2011.

 

"The present-day elite do not want to or cannot solve this problem [of corruption]. A presidential initiative is needed, supported by civil society and brave new political forces, in order to achieve a real breakthrough."

 

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THE HINDU

BACK TO THE POLITICS OF RHETORIC

THE BJP HAS MADE AN ABOUT-TURN ON KASHMIR. IN THE PROCESS, IT HAS DISCARDED THE VAJPAYEE-LED INITIATIVES OF 2000 TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE.

SHUJAAT BUKHARI

 

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the wheel has come full circle on Kashmir. Just six years ago, the party, then heading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had vowed to address the issue of Kashmir within the framework of "humanity." Now it has returned to the old rhetoric on Kashmir that appears tailored more to suit electoral exigencies.

In 2000, NDA Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during a visit to Srinagar, came up with the imaginative and bold promise that the Centre would resolve the Kashmir issue, " insaniyat ke dairey mein," or within the ambit of humanity. It was an important and attractive departure from New Delhi's previous position that the issue had to be resolved within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

 

During his tenure, Mr. Vajpayee took many steps that indicated that his was not an empty promise. He departed from traditional mechanisms in the government to deal with Kashmir. He also moved away from his party's traditional rhetoric of using the "iron hand" to contain trouble in Kashmir.

 

Dialogue with Pakistan

 

By opening a dialogue with Pakistan in 2000 he laid the foundation for a new phase of peace and reconciliation, which was considered a prerequisite for resolving the issue. At the height of the animosity between New Delhi and Islamabad, he even surprised his close associates by announcing "a fresh hand of friendship with Pakistan." He did this from Srinagar on April 18, 2003.

 

That announcement came in the backdrop of heightened tensions along the border in the wake of the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001. Mr. Vajpayee's initiative to break the ice with Pakistan saw a fresh beginning in relations between the neighbours and brought new levels of peace in the Valley. A ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), and confidence-building measures such as the launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, opened a new chapter of peace-making in the region.

 

The initiatives, duly approved by the NDA, led to a growing understanding on both sides. Many Kashmir-watchers are convinced that the process would have reached its culmination in the form of a resolution had not Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf got entangled in his own troubles at home.

 

Even the hawkish L.K. Advani, then the Deputy Prime Minister, could not remain aloof from the process. His

meetings with Hurriyat Conference leaders in January and March of 2004, indicated a changing mindset in the BJP. And this change was for reconciliation, not confrontation. The BJP government's initiatives were popular in Kashmir: even today people in Kashmir count that phase as one of the best in the history of bruised relations between Srinagar and New Delhi.

 

Moving away

 

But going by recent events, the BJP seems to have distanced itself completely from Mr. Vajapyee's carefully-fashioned Kashmir policy. A move being viewed with a growing sense of disquiet in Kashmir is the BJP's youth wing rally from Kolkata to Srinagar, flagged off on January 12 by BJP president Nitin Gadkari. The rally is to culminate in Lal Chowk on January 26 with the hoisting of the tricolour, recalling an identical tactic by the BJP in January 1992 under the leadership of Murli Manohar Joshi. On that Republic Day, militants intensified their attacks on the security forces in order to "send a message that hoisting the tricolour in this fashion would not mean conquering Kashmir for India."

 

The BJP's plan has seen Chief Minister Omar Abdullah lash out at the party, accusing it of attempting to stoke more trouble in the State. "If the aim of the BJP is to set fire in Kashmir, please tell them to come. But if there're any repercussions, I will hold them personally responsible. Then they shouldn't blame me if there is fallout to the situation," he said on January 5.

 

The Congress, his coalition ally, also accused the BJP of pursuing a policy of provocation. "This is the wrong way to do politics," said Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz. The leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, also voiced opposition to the plan, as did many others.

 

The former BJP president, Rajnath Singh, has written to President Pratibha Patil that hoisting the tricolour is the right of every citizen of India and that it should be defended. While this is true, in the backdrop of the past summer's unrest in Kashmir, the BJP's move is seen as a deliberately provocative plan that could deepen the alienation of the people in the Valley as well as the communal divide in the State.

 

Setting the tone

 

The tone was set for the confrontationist policy last month when the top BJP leadership made it clear it had turned its back on the Vajpayee-led initiatives. On December 24, 2010, the top brass made a U-turn from the course set by Mr. Vajpayee. They warned the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government against considering any solution to Kashmir along the lines of autonomy, self-rule and a return to the pre-1953 position, let alone humanity. Led by party president Nitin Gadkari, leaders including Mr. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad addressed an "Ekta Sankalp Rally" in Jammu. While on the one hand they vowed to ensure the unity of the State, on the other, they sought to stoke the flames of division along communal lines by raising the issue of "discrimination" against Jammu and Ladakh.

 

In the 2008 elections, as a fall out of the Amarnath land row, the BJP won 11 seats in the State Assembly, mostly in Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts, up from the single seat it got in the 2002 election.

 

The party's assertions about discrimination came at a time when the State Finance Commission (SFC) had concluded that Jammu, Kathua and Samba were among the top four districts in the State in terms of development. The commission had also found that Leh was a far more developed district than neighbouring Kargil. The SFC was formed by the Ghulam Nabi Azad government in 2007 to study the issue of alleged discrimination among regions.

 

What the BJP has now unveiled for Kashmir is in complete contrast to what it did while in power. The lone voice in the party to come out in defence of Mr. Vajpayee's Kashmir policy was Yashwant Sinha's, at a recent conference in New Delhi organised by the South Asia Free Media Association.

 

But on the whole, by reverting to a hawkish stand in pursuit of narrow vote bank politics, the BJP appears to have demolished its own contribution to a memorable phase of peace history between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. In the process, the party has ended up discrediting its own leaders.

 

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THE HINDU

DISCONTENT IN THE ARAB WORLD

PROBLEMS OF CHRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT, ENDEMIC POVERTY IN RURAL AREAS WITH NO TOURISM, RISING FOOD PRICES, INSUFFICIENT INVESTMENT, CORRUPTION AND A PSEUDO-DEMOCRATIC, AUTHORITARIAN POLITICAL SYSTEM ARE MORE OR LESS UBIQUITOUS ACROSS THE ARAB WORLD.

SIMON TISDALL

 

The official response to unrest on Tunisia's streets comes straight out of a tyrant's playbook: order police to fire on unarmed demonstrators, deploy the army, blame resulting violence on "terrorists", and accuse unidentified "foreign parties" of fomenting insurrection. Like other Arab rulers, President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali seems not to know any better. For this murderous ignorance, there is less and less excuse.

 

The trouble started last month when Muhammad Bouazizi, 26, an unemployed graduate, set himself on fire in protest at police harassment. Bouazizi's despairing act — he died of his injuries last week — became a rallying cause for disaffected legions of students, impoverished workers, trade unionists, lawyers and human rights activists.

 

The ensuing demonstrations produced a torrent of bloodshed at the weekend when security forces, claiming self-defence, said they killed 14 people. Independent sources say at least 50 died and many more were wounded in clashes in the provincial cities of Thala, Kasserine and Regueb.

 

Despite Ben Ali's assertions, there is no evidence so far of outside meddling or Islamist pot-stirring. What is plain is that many Tunisians are fed up with chronic unemployment, especially affecting young people; endemic poverty in rural areas with no tourism; rising food prices; insufficient investment; corruption; and a pseudo-democratic, authoritarian political system that gave Ben Ali, 74, a fifth term in 2009 with an absurd 89.6 per cent of the vote.

 

In this daunting context, Ben Ali's emergency jobs plan, announced this week, looks to be too little, too late.

 

Across the region

 

If this tally of woes sounds familiar, that's because it's more or less ubiquitous. Across the Arab world, with limited exceptions in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, similar problems obtain to a greater or lesser degree. Indeed, until recently, Tunisia was held to be better than most. In Algeria, days of rioting after sharp food price rises this month forced the government to use some of its $150bn gas export stash to boost subsidies. In Egypt, the problems dwarf Tunisia's but are similar: the population is booming, youth unemployment is soaring, 40 per cent of citizens live on under $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.

 

Add to this a growing rich-poor divide, a corrupt electoral system that bans the country's largest party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and President Hosni Mubarak's apparent determination to cling to power indefinitely, and the picture that emerges is both disturbing and largely typical of the illiberal, unreformed Arab sphere.

 

Failing or failed Arab governance across an arc stretching from Yemen and the Gulf to North Africa is not new, nor are the likeliest remedies a mystery, except perhaps to rulers such as Ben Ali.

 

Seminar

 

A discussion last month at the Carnegie Endowment identified high unemployment triggering social unrest, rapid population rises and slow growth as the key challenges facing poorer, oil-importing Arab states. Governments were urged to seek new export markets, increase manufacturing, and enhance competitiveness and jobs via education and labour market reform.

 

But analyst Marina Ottaway suggested the political will for reform was lacking as regional governments openly flouted calls for change. Other experts deplored a trend towards "authoritarian retrenchment" as Arab leaders used the west's preoccupation with terrorism, its energy dependence, and the Palestine stalemate to deflect external and internal reform pressures.

 

The striking under-performance of many Arab governments has been expertly charted in the past decade by a series of U.N.-sponsored reports. Ben Ali and his ilk would do well to study the 2009 Arab Knowledge survey produced by the Al Maktoum Foundation.

 

It says, in part: "Stringent legislative and institutional restrictions in numerous Arab countries prevent the expansion of the public sphere ... The restrictions imposed on public freedoms, alongside a rise in levels of poverty, and poor income distribution, in some Arab countries, have led to an increase in marginalisation of the poor and further distanced them from obtaining their basic rights to housing, education, and employment, contributing to the further decline of social freedoms."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

SLOAN DIGITAL SKY SURVEY CAPTURES UNIVERSE IN DETAIL

ASTRONOMERS RELEASE SDSS-III, THE MOST DETAILED DIGITAL PICTURE OF THE UNIVERSE EVER PRODUCED.

ALOK JHA

 

It is the culmination of a decade spent scanning the night skies and would take half a million high-definition televisions to view at its full resolution. With more than a trillion pixels, this is the most detailed digital picture of the universe ever produced.

 

It replaces an image that is now more than half a century old, created on photographic plates by the Palomar Sky Survey in the 1950s but still used by astronomers today.

 

By contrast, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's third and final release of data (SDSS-III) was created using a 138-megapixel camera attached to a 2.5 metre telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, in the south western United States. It contains 10 times as many objects — such as galaxies, stars and nebulae — as the Palomar survey and scientists hope it will be used for decades to come by astronomers hunting for everything from dark matter to planets orbiting other stars.

 

Half a billion objects

 

"There are half a billion objects detected in this image," said David Weinberg, an astronomer at Ohio State University who worked on the SDSS image. "About a quarter of a billion stars and a quarter of a billion galaxies." Each pixel contains data in five different colours of light. "That's green, yellow, red, redder than red and bluer than blue. We actually take five different images of each piece of the sky, looking through different filters," said Weinberg.

 

Each pixel is about one-three-trillionth of the sky, and overall the image covers around a third of it. "The way the telescope works, it takes its images in long stripes so that in one night it will get one big long stripe. That's why there are two big patches that are all filled in and then there are these other stripes coming out of it which are the other places where we extended into other parts of the sky but didn't fill everything in." For the brightest million objects in the survey, the SDSS team measured the full spectra of the light, effectively passing the radiation through a prism and splitting it into different frequencies. This allowed the scientists to measure the distance to the objects, which was then used to infer a 3D map of their distribution.

 

"The goal is to understand why the expansion of the universe is speeding up — that is the biggest puzzle in cosmology today, because all of our experience is that ... things fall towards each other," said Weinberg. "But, at the scale of the universe, gravity seems to be pushing things apart. In addition, we're monitoring the motions of about 10,000 stars to try to detect them wobbling back and forth to see if they're being orbited by giant planets." The SDSS data and images were released on January 12 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The 138-megapixel imaging camera that was used to take the millions of pictures that make up the latest image is being retired, destined to become part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian in Washington DC — a recognition of its unique contribution to astronomy.

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

BUDDHA BIRTHPLACE: ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY BEGINS IN NEPAL

 

An international team of archaeologists has begun a three-year survey of the archaeological vestiges in Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, in southern Nepal. According to The Himalayan Times, the team, which also includes experts from the Department of Archaeology and the Lumbini Development Trust, is working under the leadership of Robin Coningham, Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Archaeology at Durham University, U.K. According to UNESCO, Nepal, the panel will work to identify the locations of archaeological remains below the surface so that development of facilities for pilgrims does not damage valuable archaeological resources. According to the U.N. body, the archaeological endeavour is part of a larger project — Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha — launched in 2010 to address the issues and challenges facing the World Heritage Site. The project focusses on five components — evaluation and interpretation of the Lumbini's archaeological signature, conservation of the Ashoka Pillar, the Marker Stone and the Nativity Sculpture, review of the state of the sacred garden with respect to the Kenzo Tange's master plan, establishment of an integrated management process to preserve Lumbini's universal value in the long run, and improvement of knowledge and skills of local experts.

 

— Xinhua

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THE HINDU

KOREAN FACTORIES TO BECOME HAITI'S TOP EMPLOYER

JONATHAN M. KATZ

 

As former U.S. President Bill Clinton looked on, Haiti's government signed a deal on January 11 with a South Korean garment manufacturer to create an industrial park that will export clothing to the United States.

 

The deal on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Haiti's devastating earthquake will make Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. the largest private employer in an impoverished Caribbean nation desperate for work.

 

Officials said it will create 20,000 jobs, though many who work in Haiti's few existing garment factories today say their low wages are not enough to feed their families.

 

"I know a couple places in America that would commit mayhem to get 20,000 jobs today," Mr. Clinton said at the gathering in a Port-au-Prince industrial park.

 

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the agreement will help break Haiti's dependence on foreign aid as a substitute for a functioning economy.

 

"Aid had never been able to bring sustainable economic prosperity to any nation, including ours," Mr. Bellerive said. He called the signing "the best day of my life."

 

The deal was in negotiation long before the earthquake, moving forward after Mr. Clinton was named U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's special envoy to Haiti in 2009 and given responsibility for increasing private investment.

 

Identified as a key area

 

Garment factories were identified as a key area for growth because under the relatively stable rule of dictators, and before the political upheaval that followed their ouster, Haiti was an important regional manufacturer of cheap clothing and other goods.

 

The agreement will create an industrial park near the northern city of Cap-Haitien also open to other factories. It is scheduled to open in early 2012.

 

Sae-A said it will invest $78 million on equipment and agreed to adhere to International Labour Organisation standards.

 

The United States, represented at the signing by senior State Department official Cheryl Mills, will provide $120 million for generating electricity, housing for workers and improvements to the port.

 

The Inter-American Development Bank will provide $50 million for building factory shells and infrastructure. The European Union is separately spending to improve roads in the region. Haiti's government will own the park and contract its management.

 

Mr. Clinton said he hopes the deal will encourage other investors to move forward with projects in Haiti.

 

There are mixed opinions about the quality of life for workers in the factories. Few Haitians have formal work and many jump at the chance to receive any regular wage.

 

The key report by economist Paul Collier, commissioned by Ban and quoted in press materials given out at the signing, identified Haiti's low wages as a competitive advantage, saying it has "labour costs that are fully competitive with China."

 

The deal is one of the few significant plans toward the government's post-quake goal of reversing decades of migration from the desiccated countryside to Port-au-Prince.— AP

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

STOCK MARKETS HATE UNCERTAINTY

 

Some years ago, when the stock market was in one of its periodic crashes, the then finance minister was asked what he thought of it. He said he was more worried about Khan Market (in New Delhi) than the stock market in Mumbai, an indication that he was more worried about the common people than the stock market going up ordown, which is normal. He was on the dot. The stock market's contribution to GDP is negligible. Going up or down is normal and, predictably, no one complains when the market goes up at a scorching pace. But everyone complains when it goes into correction mode. However, the recent loss of over 1,000 points in the first five days of trading in the New Year was no ordinary fall. Its losses were steep even when compared to the global markets. Foreign institutional investors dominate the Indian stock markets and these FIIs have been net sellers in the New Year. India's domestic problems have made the US markets look more attractive, specially because there are signs of a recovery and a strong dollar. India, on the other hand, is in the throes of one crisis after another — high inflation, high interest rates, high fiscal deficit, a semi-paralysed government that has been putting off decisions on reforms, postponing decisions on the goods and services tax, on diesel prices, and even on the sale of Cairn Plc to Vedanta. The numerous scams and scandals involving top banks in the bribes-for-loans scandal have also taken their toll on the government and much of the sheen off the stock market. The stock market dislikes uncertainty and the government is not perceived as tackling this uncertainty decisively. Governance is at a discount in Delhi.


With the credit policy to be announced by the RBI on January 25, the uncertainty over whether or not interest rates will be hiked hangs over the market like Damocles' sword, and over the people in general, as housing and auto loans etc. will become more expensive. The extremely low index of industrial production released on Wednesday is being used by India Inc. to buttress its plea that interest rates should not be hiked as it would affect production further. But the government is in a catch-22 situation. The common thinking is that not increasing interest rates may aggravate inflation further. On the other hand, if rates are increased, the credit offtake will fall as industry will be squeezed of funds. But food inflation is the most worrying as it is a supply problem. Tinkering with the monetary policy will not help supply-side issues. Shortages are made worse by hoarding and, therefore, food prices are high. The bungling of the agriculture and food and civil supplies ministry has exacerbated the situation. The PMO should oversee this ministry with a sharp eye. The government may even need to take harsh decisions to show it is serious about tackling the problems affecting the economy and the stock markets. Till today, except for an inconclusive emergency meeting and lots of platitudes, nothing concrete has emerged. Even the new telecom minister seems more concerned with saving his party and contradicting the CAG rather than getting on with recovering from the telecom companies the money for excess spectrum and that lost from other acts of omission.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THINK NEPAL, NOT MAO

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

As India settles into its seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), it can look forward to a busy year ahead. Among the many vexatious issues on the agenda is the impending closure of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). Established in January 2007, UNMIN was tasked with facilitating the disarmament process

outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006. UNMIN's mandate has already been extended seven times and is now set to expire on January 15, 2011. In a recent report to the Security Council, the chief of UNMIN has warned that if the current stalemate is not broken, Nepal could witness a presidential intervention or even a military coup. But India has made it clear that the UNMIN has failed to accomplish its objectives and that it should be wound up. At the same time, New Delhi seems ready to step up its diplomatic efforts to overcome the impasse.

The prevailing gridlock in Nepal revolves around two related issues: integration of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army, and the drawing up of a new Constitution. The CPA placed the Nepal Army and the PLA on par. It also called for the formation of a special committee to "inspect, integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants". An accompanying agreement on managing the armies stated that this committee would determine "who are eligible for integration into the security forces". The committee was set up in the end of 2008 and a little over 19,000 PLA fighters have been verified. Differences, however, persist between the Maoists and the other major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML). The latter, with the support of the Nepal Army, insist that the number of PLA fighters to be integrated must be determined upfront by negotiations. They claim that the Maoists had agreed to a figure of 3,000. The Maoists deny this and insist that the numbers can only be fixed after ascertaining the wishes of every PLA combatant. Another area of disagreement is over entry standards for reintegration. The Nepal Congress, UML and the Army insist that current standards should be applicable. A third point of discord is over whether the PLA fighters will be inducted as units (the Maoists' demand) or as individuals.

None of these are insurmountable problems. And India can facilitate their resolution. But it would be best to tackle these as part of larger changes to the structure and composition of the Nepal Army. The CPA, which India was instrumental in arranging, specifically calls for "democratic restructuring" of the Army to make it "national and inclusive". The ethnic composition both of the officer corps and the rank-and-file has to be broadened. In particular, the Madhesis of Terai and Dalits have to be afforded an opportunity to serve in the Army. These changes will necessitate an examination of the existing standards for recruitment. Such an exercise should help crystallise new norms and standards that will also be applicable to the PLA fighters seeking reintegration. The issue of integration as units or individuals can similarly be considered in the light of the larger changes to the force structure.

The challenge for India is not to allow its approach to be shaped exclusively by the concerns of Nepal Army and its political backers. The Army's concerns are understandable. But persisting with the current set-up is not in the long-term interest of Nepal — a point that New Delhi understood when supporting the CPA in 2006. During the stand-off between the Maoist leader Prachanda and the Army Chief in 2009, India stood by the Army. This not only led Prachanda to step down as Prime Minister, but also called into question India's commitment to the principle of democratic control. New Delhi must now display more creativity in tackling this thorny but unavoidable issue.

This brings us to the larger problem of the defunct Constituent Assembly. Successive efforts to elect a Prime Minister and push ahead with the drafting of the Constitution have failed to make any headway. So far India has stood by the parties that oppose the Maoists' re-entry into the government. It believes that the Maoists' commitment to democratic politics is suspect. The internal debates within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) on the merits of entering mainstream politics and the deplorable conduct of the Maoist-affiliated Youth Communist League have deepened India's distrust. The Maoists, for their part, have made matters worse by repeatedly claiming that India's interference is the reason for the political deadlock and that India is the main enemy. Mr Prachanda's efforts to cosy up with the Chinese have not helped either. But there are divisions within the Maoist party on these issues. At a major party meet held last month, the party ideologue Baburam Bhattarai opposed the move to brand India as the key enemy. More recently, Mr Bhattarai was in New Delhi for consultations with the Indian government. Mr Bhattarai sought to assuage India's concerns about his party's fidelity to the democratic process and its sensitivity to Indian security interests.

But he also urged India to play a more constructive role. The problem, of course, is that Mr Bhattarai's stance may not be representative of his party's top leadership. It is essential that Mr Prachanda stops equivocating and openly affirms his party's commitment to the process.

India, too, should realise that an excessively suspicious attitude towards the Maoists is unlikely to advance its own interests. Allowing the Constituent Assembly to lapse in May 2011 will be a seriously regressive step. Picking up pieces thereafter might well prove impossible. Equally, India must resist the suggestions emanating from anti-Maoist parties for allowing the President, Ram Baran Yadav, to become the head of the executive branch with the backing of the Army. Such a move will have incalculable consequences for a democratic Nepal. In navigating these tricky shoals in Nepal, India's policy should be guided by its long-term interests and not just its immediate concerns.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

COLOUR-BLIND TERROR

SIDHARTH BHATIA

From Canada comes the news of the recent arrest of three men said to be part of a terror plot. Nothing unusual in that, except that immediately after the arrest the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called the Mounties (yes, who always get their man) met senior Muslim leaders in Ottawa and apologised to them for making the arrests during Ramzan.

Even given the politeness and political correctness characteristic of Canadians, this sounds a bit extreme. The police is supposed to do its job, and cannot possibly let the holiday calendar decide its schedule. One Right-wing newspaper called it "ludicrous". But Canadians are ultra-careful of hurting any minority, and it must also be pointed out that this was little more than a community-relations building excercise; there is no question of treating the three accused any differently.

And of course there is the older story of the Australian government apologising to Mohammed Haneef, the Indian doctor who was wrongly arrested for his so-called terror connections with those who tried to bomb Glasgow airport. Here in India, of course, there is no question of saying sorry or giving any explanation at all. India's cops, babus and netas do not do apologies. Immediately after the blasts in Malegaon in 2006, Noor-ul-Huda, said to be a member of the banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) was arrested. Ah, everyone said, the dreaded Simi is out to create terror in India.

Two years later the unthinkable (till then) happened — the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad picked up a group of people, including an Army officer and a "sadhvi", on charges of plotting and executing the blasts. They were all Hindus. Till then, no Hindu had been arrested for any such crime.

In informed police circles, however, there had been talk of a group of Hindu radicals who were forming terror cells. Hints of this had reached the media, though no one was ready to confirm anything officially. The idea seemed outlandish, even preposterous. After every bombing in Mumbai and elsewhere, the police and intelligence agencies had been quick in pointing towards banned Muslim outfits and the media bought these reports faithfully. After the train bombings in Mumbai, scores of young Muslim boys had been picked up for questioning and then quietly sent back home when no substantive evidence came to light. Muslim community leaders appealed to the police bosses not to detain suspects indiscriminately, but there was no major public hue and cry.

Two years after the alleged perpetrators of the Malegaon bombings were arrested it has become clear that "Hindu terror" is now a reality. If one were to go by the published "confession" of Aseemanand, now in police custody, a terror cell was responsible for blasts in Hyderabad, Ajmer and on the Samjhauta Express, in which 42 Pakistanis died. The bombings were carried out to "warn-off Hindus" from going to Ajmer Sharif and to generally take revenge against Muslims.

The term "Hindu terror" is a misnomer, just like "Muslim terror" would be. Perpetrators of such acts are evil terrorists with sick minds; religion is only an excuse. They may claim to be carrying out their nefarious activities in the name of religion or ideology, but whether green, red or saffron, terror is terror, and giving it a religious shade doesn't justify killing of innocent people.

This is where sections of the Hindutva parivar have got it wrong. While Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that the RSS does not condone such violence, there has been no strong repudiation of killing in the name of Hinduism. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) boss Nitin Gadkari, prone to making gaffes, has attacked the Congress for using the bogey of "Hindu terror" to distract attention from the various scams that have surfaced in recent months. This is as ridiculous as it gets and if Mr Gadkari thinks it will get him the support of Hindus he is mistaken. No one, except the lunatic fringe, will support mindless killing in the name of religion; the sensible thing for the BJP to do would be to unequivocally condemn all those who indulge in it and let the law take its own course. But is the BJP up to it? I don't think so.

As for the investigating authorities, they have a lot of thinking to do. Arresting Muslims cannot be the default option after a terror attack. The investigation should be colour-blind and take into account the facts, not prejudice. A retired police officer the other day said on television that there were "no prevailing mindsets" among cops about anyone; this is not how it looks to a lot of people, especially to those whose near and dear ones are in jail for a crime they did not commit.

To begin with, those who were arrested in connection with the Malegaon blasts in 2006 should be released if no hard evidence connecting them has been found. Keeping them detained even for a single day would be a travesty of justice. Next, systems should be put in place to see that such things do not happen again. And finally, the police should apologise to them for the anguish caused. Or is that being too optimistic?

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

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DNA

EDITORIAL

PRITHVIRAJ CHAVAN TAKES ON THE REAL ESTATE NEXUS

 

By recommending to the governor the suspension of information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari, a former bureaucrat who is accused of misusing his powers to benefit the Adarsh Housing Society in which his son has a flat, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan appears to be taking his comments about the politician-builder-bureaucrat nexus seriously.

 

If indeed Chavan is serious about taking on this nexus, he will be doing a favour to Maharashtra.

 

Ever since the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party of the mid-90s decided on the slum rehabilitation scheme in partnership with builders, the disastrous effect has been felt, not just by those affected by real estate in Mumbai city and parts of the state, but by those looking for governance in other sectors as well.

 

If Chavan adds the police to his list of those involved then he will truly have stumbled on the stranglehold which has been holding Maharashtra back since then.

 

What started in the mid-90s has been continued by successive Democratic Front governments and if Ashok Chavan lost his job as chief minister after the Adarsh Housing Society scam broke at the end of 2010, he was in a sense paying the price for following what his predecessors had been doing.

 

Tiwari's refusal to step down despite indications from the state government demonstrates the arrogance of the Maharashtra civil servants — and the power they wield. It is said that the bureaucrats felt that Ashok Chavan's sacking would take the heat off them. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for the state, the very opposite appears to have happened.

 

The chief minister has also brought up the idea of a regulatory body for real estate, which will have quasi-judicial powers. Urban development and housing were both key issues for UPA-II when it came to power in 2009.

 

Both are urgently required and in a city like Mumbai where real estate prices keep the lower and middle classes out of housing and force the working classes into slums, any effective move will provide immediate relief.

 

But Prithviraj Chavan's task is far graver when he takes on that nexus which he has discussed earlier this week. It is here where the rot has been allowed to set in and where the lure of money has led many to abandon their oaths and principles in order to grab a slice of the property pie.

 

As a result of this deflection of interest, Maharashtra now struggles where it once thrived. The state can only hope that the CM means what he says.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE POLITICAL BLOODSPORT ROCKING WEST BENGAL

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

On January 13, the West Bengal government will have to reply to the Calcutta high court's questions following last week's violence in Netai village in Lalgarh.

 

Seven people died and 20 were injured in an attack, allegedly by armed CPM cadres. Among other things, the court wants to know whether the Left Front government is thinking of a CBI probe into the killing and what it feels about demolishing armed camps in the area run by political parties.

 

Those of us horrified by the virulent bloodsport rocking Bengal would be very interested to know the answers.

 

In a mature democracy, people are not expected to seek justice through the barrel of the gun. And the bloody fight between the gun-toting cadres of the ruling CPM and the gun-toting cadres of the challenger Trinamool Congress represents an alarming failure of democratic governance.

 

Even more alarmingly, the fulcrum of the democratic process, the people's vote, is being used, not to stop the bloodbath, but to fuel it.

 

Both the ruling party and the opposition have been using criminal violence to clear the path to state elections in May. The winner will be determined not by democratic choices but by who sinks or swims in this river of blood.

 

The Lalgarh killings have exposed again how politics in the once progressive Bengal is now ruled by organised violence.

 

Just before the bloodbath, the Maoists' spokesman Bikram had officially revealed what was always suspected — that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool has been an ally of the Naxalites for some time. The Maoists even thanked the union railways minister for her support in their struggle.

 

Immediately thereafter, the ruling Left Front was revealed to have armed cadres — often called the harmad bahini or armed militia — who were blamed for the killings in Lalgarh.

 

Chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee had recently objected strongly to Union home minister P Chidambaram's use of the derogatory term harmad to describe his party cadres. But now, the CPM seems to be guilty as charged of arming rural thugs and raising a private army.

 

It does not matter whether the Netai incident was a massacre, as the Trinamool alleges, or a clash, as the CPM protests. Either way, well-trained gunmen of the ruling party seem to have used firearms on their opponents.

 

Did this criminal act, and the arming of the cadres, happen without the chief minister's knowledge? If so, can we trust one so oblivious to what was happening within his own party to know and act for the needs of ordinary citizens?

 

This crisis of credibility is not limited to Bengal. Lack of development and failure of justice has spawned private armies around the country, institutionalised through generations in states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

 

Political parties use party workers and the police as their musclemen. Over decades, this criminal process of undermining democracy by power-hungry rulers has been perfected.

 

To counter bloodbaths like the low-grade civil war brewing in the Naxalite belt of Bengal, we don't just need a change in government.

 

We need a commitment to governance and social justice from both the ruling and opposition parties. We need police reforms. We need a cleaner judiciary.

 

Till we make these changes, power will continue to flow from the barrel of the gun, as much for those seeking a revolution as for those seeking electoral victory.

 

The writer is editor, The Little Magazine

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

DREAMS OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF VILLAGE

 

Britain's Prince of Wales, Charles, is planning to build an ideal village near Bangalore.

 

What he is looking at mostly is, in terms of an eco-friendly habitation, arranging the different systems in a satisfactory fashion.

 

True to his unorthodox way of thinking, the British royal is an admirer of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, with its intricate systems in terms of resident's working patterns and dwellings.

 

Here is a person who is passionately thinking of solutions which keep people close to Nature and make them happy as well. He is as anti-modern as Mahatma Gandhi, though he is willing to use modern planning techniques to achieve his goals.

 

As a matter of fact Charles' plans should make many of us think of ideal villages as well. As there are urban planners, there should be rural planners as well.

 

If India lives in villages, then there is need to think of laying out good villages. The villagers should be encouraged to rethink the layout of their homesteads, to recycle their resources.

 

The reconstructed village then could attract even die-hard urbanites to return to rural haunts.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

BAD NEWS ON ECONOMY ADDS TO THE UPA'S WOES

 

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee who keeps his cool most of the time seemed a wee bit worried at the figure of 2.7% for November's Index for Industrial Production (IIP).

 

The inflation was hovering round 7.48% because of higher food inflation at 18.34%. He said the plunging IIP and rising inflation is not good news.

 

He has promised corrective measures, though it is not clear what he plans to do. The cabinet meeting that prime minister Manmohan Singh called on Tuesday to discuss food inflation also could not decide what to do.

 

Though persistent food inflation continues to be a constant irritant, it does not mean that the economy is in a critical condition. It is quite possible as planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that economic growth rate will not be affected by a temporary fall in industrial production or rising food prices. But that is of little solace to the common man.

 

It is not surprising that the Central government is blaming the state governments and the opposition parties are blaming the Congress party and the prime minister.

 

The Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi blaming coalition politics is not of much help either. The BJP leader Arun Jaitley did not let go the opportunity to point out that the economist Singh has not been able to contain rising food prices and though that is a legitimate political barb, it is not of much help.

 

It is beyond the powers of economists to maintain the price line. They can describe the situation or offer imperfect reasons for its occurrence but nothing beyond that.

 

It is easier for governments to take credit for economic growth even when they did not have much to contribute to its success.

 

They cannot escape the rap and the ire of people when the situation turns bad. There are measures that governments can take to ease the situation.

 

There is something government can do apart from wordy assurances. Press fair price shops into service and it will send a corrective signal to the market. Market fundamentalists may not like state intervention, but their fuming can be ignored at the moment.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

INTOLERANCE AND ILLIBERALISM ARE INCREASING IN PAKISTAN

ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER

 

Assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan, has unleashed debate both among conservatives and liberals about justification or otherwise of the blasphemy law in that country.

 

It is surprising that even conservatives are demonstrating in favour of the assassin. But it is shocking that 500 supposedly moderate clerics publicly threatened those who mourned Salman Taseer's assassination with the same fate and less shocking that when the alleged assassin was taken to the court many lawyers showered flower petals on him.

 

And neither this threat by clerics nor celebration of the assassination by, of all the people, a section of the legal community, attracts any action from the state.

 

Also, many Islamic scholars were appearing on TV and endorsing the action of the assassin and warning opponents not to condemn the assassination.

 

There is no mention whatsoever of a blasphemy law in the Qur'an, which is most fundamental source of Islamic laws. Qur'an only says to believers to invoke Allah's Mercy and Grace for the Prophet and that is why Muslims always write Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) in English and Sallal lahu alayhi wa sallam ('May Allah's Mercy and Grace be on him').

 

Also, the Qur'an describes the Prophet as rahmah lil 'alamin ie mercy of all the worlds. If the Prophet is mercy for all the worlds how can one kill in his name? The Qur'an, as pointed out above, does not prescribe any punishment for insulting the Prophet, let alone death punishment.

 

Those who support such a law argue that it is based on the sunnah of the Prophet and cite the story of a Jewish woman who used to write provocative poetry against the Prophet and Islam and according to this story Prophet (PBUH) asked his colleagues as to who will get rid of this woman and one of the followers killed this woman and reported to the Prophet and the Prophet praised him.

 

First, the question arises as to how authentic this story is. Second, even if it is authentic, this relates more to sedition than insult to the Prophet.

 

All Jews in Medina had signed a covenant with the Prophet that their rights to follow their religion will be guaranteed and their properties and lives will be secure and, in turn, the Jews will defend Medina, if attacked by outsiders.

 

This Jewish woman, by writing such provocative poetry which enemies of Islam were spreading throughout the Arab world, had committed sedition and the punishment for that anywhere in the world, even in the civilised world today, is death.

 

But when another Jewish woman insulted the Prophet by throwing garbage on him whenever he passed her house, the Prophet (PBUH) never punished her.

 

Not only that, one day when she did not throw the garbage he inquired as to why she had not thrown garbage and when informed that she was sick he immediately went in to inquire about her health.

 

She felt ashamed for throwing garbage at such a person and immediately embraced Islam. Thus, for personal insult the Prophet really showed that he is mercy for all the worlds and not only pardoned her but went to inquire after her health.

 

This is what is needed from a truly religious person. To avenge an insult is not a sign of religiosity but it is the worst human instinct.

 

The Prophet was so spiritual that he would never indulge in seeking revenge for a personal insult. He was sent by Allah as a model human being. And he really behaved as a model for others. the Qur'an repeatedly advises Muslims to suppress sentiments of revenge and anger.

 

In fact it was Zia-ul-Haq who brought this law to serve a political purpose. He was a military man who hardly knew teachings of Islam; a military man knows only to humiliate the enemy and seek revenge and this is precisely what he did, very unfortunately in the name of Islam, by enacting this law. He wanted to please the orthodox ulama to win their support for his dictatorship.

 

It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a modernist playing politics in the name of Islamic socialism, who resorted to the worst kind of religious opportunism. To please the mullahs he declared Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims.

 

It was during Bhutto's regime that Islam came to be seriously exploited for political power in Pakistan and it was Zia who captured power overthrowing Bhutto, who declared Pakistan as an 'Islamic State' and introduced the blasphemy law which is now grossly misused even for petty personal revenge.

 

Muslims are as much its victims as non-Muslims, particularly Christians. Fifty percent of those accused under this law are Muslims.

 

Also, like in India, Pakistani textbooks taught in schools are a part of the problem. It is these which inculcate an attitude of intolerance and illiberalism right from a very young age in the minds of children.

 

Future citizens are turned into bigots. It will take years, perhaps decades, even if the task is begun in all seriousness now, to make Pakistani society a liberal and modern one once again, as Jinnah wanted it to be.

 

The writer is a religious scholar and commentator on social affairs

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GET RID OF GUN

 

A sort of debate revived by Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Bhat's remark about the killing of secessionists "by our own people" can serve a useful purpose. There are certain riders though for taking it to the logical conclusion. There are three big ifs which need to be taken care of. One is that the discussion should be focussed. The other is that more and more separatist leaders should be willing to participate in the deliberations. Thirdly, they should be sincere and frank about what they say. Beating about the bush will not help. Instead, it will complicate an already complex scenario. For too long the separatists have lived in a self-denial mode. If only they pause for a while they would be much wiser. They would realise that they called the shots only as long as they moved in collusion with their armed colleagues. It can't be denied that the united Hurriyat Conference did take the matters into its hand in the valley for some time in the early 1990s. It dictated everyday life by mostly paralysing it. It was able to enforce its writ. The basis of such unprecedented sway was the sustenance it had got from its armed wings and their penchant for eliminating those who did not agree with them. In reality thus it meant that it exercised influence not because of its appeal or conviction but because of the fear it was able to generate. In normal times individually its leaders hardly mattered beyond their personal constituencies as was evident on more than one crucial occasion. Gradually, many of them lost their aura as they were deprived of their weapons. In due course actually they started falling prey to the arms on which they had thrived for long. This is what the articulate Professor has recalled at this juncture albeit in a slightly different language.

 

Almost all of them have lost their close relatives --- as close as fathers and brothers --- and yet not been able to call a spade a spade. One of them actually still believes that anyone backing their cause in any manner or regardless of whether or not he is son of the soil deserves their gratitude. This is bewildering so far as dispassionate observers are concerned. Viewed in this background it is good to see the Lone brothers --- Bilal and Sajjad --- carrying the discussion further. Mr Bilal Lone has endorsed Prof Bhat's assertion to the hilt. In an emotional reaction typical of him Mr Sajjad Lone has pointed to the prevalence of an environment in which they have been deprived of even their right to mourn. He has let it be known that there was a reason that he had withdrawn his accusing finger in the direction of Pakistan's intelligence agency, Inter-Services Agency (ISI), in the wake of the murder of his charismatic father. He had done so on being persuaded by his mother who was already distraught by the major tragedy that had befallen her and did not want to lose her son as well. The separatist leaders should not waste more time in confronting the truth as it exists. Their initial flirtation with violence amounting to gross disrespect for their opponents has not led them anywhere. It has proved to be counter-productive worsened by gradual decrease in their own mutual bonhomie; they have indulged in a game of one-upmanship and witnessed a split down the line in their ranks. In all this the gun has remained a disturbing feature and taken their heavy toll by way of fratricidal wars. They have been found helpless as and when they themselves have been caught in their own line of fire --- an anti-climax to a sense of bravado.

 

Too many wars between them have already been recounted in these columns. It is still not too late for them to come to the conclusion that they will help kicking the gun out of the State. In this context, it is relevant to note that hard-line Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called upon the youth against taking up arms and called for peaceful means to make the "freedom struggle" a success. His argument, however, is weird: "New Delhi has unleashed State terror to force the youth to take up arms…It is a conspiracy against our peaceful struggle and therefore the youth should restraint from taking any such step which will provide a handle to India to malign our movement." It is a typical case of the pot calling the kettle black. Who does not know that the veteran leader has been quite candid in lauding even foreign mercenaries for their role in the State? Whatever that may be it should facilitate the overall atmosphere if he truly wants the gun to be kept out. With Mr Yasin Malik of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) having denounced the gun years ago and Mr Shabir Shah having exhibited aversion to it right from the beginning Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq is the only separatist leader who has yet to join the current debate against it. The young Mirwaiz has suffered two serious personal blows inflicted through the weapon. He should, therefore, be doubly interested in its exit from the Valley in particular. Any delay in this regard can simply cause further harm. Sooner it is realised the better it will be for all of us. We should not lose sight of the fact that we have numerous hidden stores of arms and ammunition all over. Hardly a day passes when we don't catch hold of one or the other. Their detection would become easy once a desire for peace takes over all especially the secessionist camp.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NIP THIS EVIL

 

We may be blamed for having frequently used the headline above. Yet, it is unavoidable as long as its context does not change significantly. It will keep surfacing till we are haunted by the evil of narcotics in our picturesque land. Actually, it will not be an exaggeration to say that there is at least one instance every week. During the past seven days there have been three of these incidents: (a) seizure of 250 grams of charas from Baramulla; (b) recovery of as many as 450 intoxicant capsules (apart from 55 pouches of illicit liquor) in two separate happenings in Kathua district; and (c) the confiscation of 7.5 kilograms of raw charas and ten grams of pure charas in Budgam district in the Valley. If we look back we will find that these are regular occurrences. What can we say except that we ought to nip them in the bud?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A DIFFICULT YEAR AHEAD FOR UPA

BY SUNIL GATADE

 

With challenges at every step, the year ahead is a difficult one for the Congress and the UPA. It will need real bracing up for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi as they face the New Year.


This is because the New Year carries the 'baggage' of 2010 when the Congress and the coalition it is heading at the Centre found themselves in turbulence after being hit by scam after scam.


For Singh and Gandhi, who is also the UPA Chairperson, the year that has just rung out was one of their toughest periods in political life with party leaders caught in scams.


As the new year began,the volatile issue of a separate Telangana state has come to the fore and has started haunting the party.


There have been growing apprehensions that the politically key Andhra Pradesh is gradually slipping out of its hands due to revolt by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, son of late Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who has started the process of registering his new party.


Andhra Pradesh is no ordinary state as it is the only major state where the party has come to power on its own, thanks to the then leadership of YSR as the late Chief Minister is called. Andhra had a key role in ensuring Congress coming to power at the Centre during UPA I as well as UPA II.


The Bofors ghost has started to haunt the Congress again. As a leading daily put it so succinctly, it is typical of Bofors that at a time when its funeral rites are being readied.


It has risen from the bier. This time from the intervention of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.


A matter of great concern for the economistturned- politician Prime Minister was that the Congress plank of the 'aam aadmi' (common man) appeared to be coming unstuck. It is bringing onion tears to the Congress leadership, as price rise continues to give a tough time to the common man.


The remark of Home Minister P Chidambarm, who has held the Finance portfolio for long, that "there is no tax worse than inflation" and his question whether the Government has all the tools to rein in high food prices., tells its own story of the magnitude of the problem.


Last year too went into tackling price rise with much problem for the common man.


In the year ahead, Gandhi has much reasons to worry in view of crucial Assembly elections to West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Assam in a few months time.


Bihar polls witnessed the lowest ever score of four in a House of 243 in spite of the fact that Rahul Gandhi, whom the party projects as the future leader and potential Prime Minister, had virtually led the campaign charge.


The Congress had contested the Bihar elections on its own and something horribly had gone wrong.
The issue of alliance in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu is causing problems. In Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appears to be playing the big brother wanting the Congress to opt for far less seats if it wanted a tieup. In Tamil Nadu, the state unit is against continuing the tieup with the DMK which has been in crisis after the resignation of A Raja in the wake of the 2G spectrum scam.


The hands of the central leadership are tied as the 19 MPs of the DMK are crucial for the survival of the UPA-II coalition and therefore willy nilly the Congress is being forced to go with the Dravidian party.


A redeeming feature is that Kerala is expected to come the Congress way in the elections given the good showing of the party in the Lok Sabha polls and the failure of the ruling LDF to get its act together. In Assam too, Congress appears in not a bad position and its peace card by holding talks with ULFA is expected to help it.
This year Congress will also have to start preparations for the battle of the ballot in Uttar Pradesh as Assembly elections in the key state are scheduled next year. In the backdrop of the Bihar drubbing, Congress needs to take special care of Uttar Pradesh, is the refrain among the party leaders.


But the problem for the Congress and the UPA in the year ahead is expected to be realignment of political forces once the Left fail to come out with flying colours in West Bengal and Kerala.


After losing out twice in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has already set in motion the process of winning new friends by entrusting senior leader Jaswant Singh for the task. Last year had seen the opposition coming together on the issues of price rise and also on the demand for the JPC into the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
The issue of corruption could bring the opposition together as it had happned in 1989 in the wake of the Bofors case.


The stalemate in Parliament on the JPC issue is threatening to extend to the budget session next month after witnessing a shutdown of the winter session.


There is no end in sight to the confrontation on the JPC issue and like last year, this year too could be one of sleepless nights for the Prime Minister and the Congress President. (PTI)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

RURAL MIGRATION

BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA

 

The three great socio-economic revolutions, the industrial revolution, the agrarian revolution and transport revolution sparked off another revolution i.e., urban revolution. Higher urbanization is regarded as one of the indicators of development, because it is an integral part of the process of industrialization and development. Migration from villages to cities is an old and ancient practice. It is a known fact that migration alters the size and structure of the population of urban areas as well as that of rural areas. Rural urban migration is an important component of urban population growth. It is a movement of people from communities concerned with agriculture to other communities. Rural - urban migration is an indicator of regional and sectoral distortions in the pattern of development. Imparting importance to rural urban migration in urban growth. It is a fact that much of the growth is greatly aided by migration form rural areas. According to united nations that 60% growth of cities is because of Natural growth and 40% due to migration from rural areas. Migration is caused by the income disparity between rural and urban sectors. According to one study, males predominantly migrate to large cities, while females out number males in the case of smaller and medium towns. Population pressure and increasing educational facilities in the urban areas will be the major forces determining the future trends of rural to urban migration. Economic factors such as transportation costs, income and job opportunities significantly affect individuals decision to migrate to a city in a less developed country like India. Due to migration per capita income, degree of urbanization, literacy rates and workers in non agricultural activities have increased, developed states have absorbed proportionately more migrants than the less developed states. The fall in the cost of transportation and quick transmission of information are the two sole factors responsible for the rapid rate and huge magnitude of migration. Thirty six percent population of Maharashtra is migrants. The expansion of labor force, unemployment and under employment in rural areas forced people to migrate, unusually rapid rates of population growth and land less labourers are the causes of migration to cities and economic forces pulling migrants in to the cities are also responsible for urban growth, main cause of leaving the agriculture is lower income. Some social, cultural, geographical and physical factors are also responsible for migration in towns.


In case of our country, economic factors exercise a dominant influence on the rural - urban migration process. It is a fact that agriculture is the main occupation of the rural people of our country. About seventy percent of rural population earn their livelihood on the basis of agriculture and agriculture concerned activities. The agriculture sector is now overcrowded and the problem of unemployment has become very acute in this sector. Occurrences of droughts and lack of proper irrigation facilities are the causes responsible for the reduction of employment opportunities in this sector. In this era of globalization, agriculture is not proving a reliable source of income. High cost of cultivation, scarcity of irrigation water, stagnation of productivity in this sector and fluctuations in prices of agricultural products are the main factors responsible for converting agriculture in to non profitable sector of employment. In such conditions, rural labourers and farmers are forced to move from villages to cities, in search of employment and better livelihood.


The development activities are more concentrated in the big cities of the country. The expansion of trade and commercial activities, industrial development, better facilities of education and other sources of employment in big cities are the factors responsible for the rapid flow of migration in these big cities. Balanced and planned migration has many advantages. It reduces the burden of less developed places by providing employment opportunities at other developed places. The rural migrant people become aware and acquainted of urban life, urban culture and advancements. They can derive benefits of migration in the form of improving knowledge, efficiency and scope of employment and ultimately living standards. This migration is also helpful in equalizing social status and income of the rural - urban settlements. Migration has contributed towards higher earning of income, remittance of funds, large saving and asset formation by the migrant workers and their families. Unfortunately, cities have become unmanageable because of uncontrolled migration. The large cities of India have ceased to be places of congenial for living. The urban population of the country is concentrated in metropolitan cities. These big cities are engines of growth as they are not only creating opportunities for learning skills and earning wealth, but also generating employment opportunities for rural migrants but the problem is that these cities, growing uncontrollably, have generated unmanageable problems whose symptoms include slums, congestion, pollution and unhygienic conditions. Due to migration, these metropolitans have become the centres of the most brutal and in human living conditions, with large sections of the migration living in slum areas. It is estimated that one fourth of population in the country live in slum areas. This condition of cities compels us to root out the factors, which have forced the rural labourers to migrate to big cities so that the tide of migration to these big cities can be effectively controlled. Effective policy measures should be taken to check the flow from these rural areas to the big cities. Migration should be managed in such a way that it can play a positive role in the process of economic developments and can provide a sound basis for national prosperity. The adhoc policies related to urbanization and migration need to be replaced by a consistent, logical and systematic policy which can be sustained over a period of time.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CELEBRATE LOHRI

BY O P SHARMA

 

Lohri, a festival of rejoicings and dances, is celebrated with great fevour and festivity throughout Jammu region as elsewhere in northern India.


In the late evening, the people irrespective of caste, creed or faith gather round the bonfire and do traditional dances and sing songs of joy. They throw til, puffed rice and popcorn into the flames. The people dressed up nicely make merriment on the occasion by worshipping the fire and also the Sun God praying for warmth and prosperity.


Lohri marks the culmination of the chilly winter as at this time our earth commences inclining towards the sun in the auspicious period of Uttaryanran from which the cold begins to decline and the Poh month is followed by Magh. On the very next day of Lohri follows the Makar Skranti , another auspicious day.


This year the Lohri falls on January 13 and an elaborate programme of celebrations has already been drawn up by different communities and sections of society jointly as in this part of the country fairs and festivals are participated by all the people.


First Lohri

First Lohri is considered very important for the newly wed as also the new born babies in a family and the first Lohri is considered auspicious. The enthusiastic groups of young children used to go to every house and shops singings songs much days before the actual festival and the people would generally oblige them by giving them money , some eatables or even firewood as offering for the festival.


Logs of wood as piled up together for a bonfire in a busy chowks or a street corner and the people would indulge in singings songs and dancing which symbolizes a prayer to Agni (Fire God) for abundant crops and prosperity as this festival is also associated with the harvest season.


Festivities Unbound

Besides, Lohri festival is also held with a bonfire in every household where family members and relatives participate. They go around the fire three times, giving offerings of popcorns, peanuts, rayveri and sweets. They also sing and dance. Prasad of rayveri, popcorns, peanuts, sweets and puffed rice is distributed and feasts organised. Lohri is also an auspicious occasion for celebrations of newly born babies and new couples. During the recent past, Lohri celebration was more marked by dancing to the tune of drums and bag-pipe music. In some parts, Heerna dance or Sassi-Punno legend too are in vogue.


Pious Festival

Different legends are associated with this festival. One is worship of fire and Sun-god. It is gradual beginning of end to chilly winter and is also connected with prayers for better harvest leading to prosperity. Some stories are also connected with Dulla Bhatti in Punjab on this occasion.


Significantly, this year Lohri festival celebration have been planned by different Bazar Associations like Raghunath Heritage Bazar, Purani Mandi and as also in all major towns and villages in Rajouri, Poonch , Udhampur , Doda, Ramban , Kishtwar, Kathua, R S Pura , Akhnoor, Katra and other places such celebration really well-knit the different communities in bonds of brotherhood and unity.

Such festivals are moments for all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to the lofty principles of living and at the same time firmly resolve to root out the prevailing social and other evils. We must celebrate one such traditional festivals is acceptable to all sections of our society. Lohri, the festival of harvest and dances, can certainly lead us to harmony, progress and brotherhood for better tomorrows for all the citizens.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

REDEEM UNIVERSITIES

REGULATORS MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE

 

THE Supreme Court's directive to the Centre to issue show-cause notices to all the 44 deemed universities facing derecognition provides a breather to their students. The 44 institutions came under a cloud a year ago when the Union HRD Ministry accepted the report of an expert panel headed by Mr P.N. Tandon recommending that these institutions should be stripped of deemed university status. The panel had evaluated 126 of the 130 deemed universities on nine parameters, including faculty, research and governance, before declaring 44 of them unfit for the tag.

 

As early as 1948-49 the Radhakrishnan Commission had suggested the creation of deemed universities for promoting higher education. Accordingly, Section 3 of the UGC Act,1956, provided for the grant of university status to institutions doing specialised work of a high standard. Between 1956 and 2004 only 92 deemed universities were set up. But the next five years saw a 40 per cent increase in their number when Mr Arjun Singh was the HRD Minister. A former UGC chief claims he gave wholesale clearances under the minister's pressure. To no one's surprise, the Yashpal Committee has suggested the scrapping of the UGC itself.

 

None of those — the minister, the bureaucrat and the then UGC chief — who have done so much damage to the academic system and jeopardised the future of so many students and teachers — have been asked to explain either by the court or the government. Though there are academicians who want a new, effective regulator for education to check malpractices by private institutions, no system can work if those in charge succumb to pressure from the top. India needs many good private and public institutions to meet aspirations of its youth. The National Knowledge Commission favours the creation of 1,600 more universities. As the Centre and states face a resource crunch, the private sector has to chip in. Transparent and unambiguous guidelines ensuring autonomy and accountability have to be put in place to curb malpractices by private or public institutions. Any deviation must be dealt with sternly. 

 

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EDITORIAL

JAGAN'S WARNING

NO END TO CONGRESS' TROUBLES IN ANDHRA

 

Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has become a big problem for the Congress — whether he is in or out of it. His statement in New Delhi that the Kiran Kumar Reddy Government in Andhra Pradesh is "at his mercy" and that he is doing "a favour" to the Congress by asking his MLAs not to quit the party and oust the government is a warning signal to the party. Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari may have rebuffed Jagan's tantrums, but the presence of 24 MLAs and two MPs of the Congress at Jantar Mantar where Jagan had observed a day's fast ostensibly to protest against the "injustice" meted out to the state's farmers by the Krishna Waters Dispute Tribunal proves that he has the numbers to topple the government. In the 294-member State Assembly, the Congress has 156 members (eight more than the half-way mark), the Telugu Desam Party 91, the Praja Rajyam Party 18, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen seven, the BJP two, the CPI four, the CPM one and Independents three. Even if the Praja Rajyam Party and the Majlis bail out the government if Jagan asks his supporters to withdraw support, it will be a lameduck government.

 

Of course, there is no immediate threat to the government as Jagan says that he will not disturb it until the 2014 Assembly elections which he and his supporters will contest on his party ticket. (He has applied to the Election Commission for getting his party registered). However, the Congress leaders — in New Delhi and Hyderabad — are worried over the manner in which he is taunting them on their own turf by demonstrating that he is now a credible political opponent.

 

The crowds in Jagan's rallies prove his support base in the coastal and Rayalseema region but will these be translated into votes is the question. Even as the Congress is grappling with the Jagan factor, the Telangana problem continues to haunt it and is affecting governance. Predictably, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the BJP have rejected the Srikrishna Committee report. Nothing short of separate statehood for Telangana with Hyderabad as the new state capital is acceptable to them. If violence returns to the state, the Centre may be forced to clamp President's rule as an interim measure, but that won't help resolve the Telangana problem which may eventually change the political configurations in the state. Either way, the Congress will have to walk a tightrope. 

 

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COLUMN

'NEW' CHANDIGARH

UT ADMN MUST SAFEGUARD CITY'S INTERESTS 

 

After Zirakpur, Mohali and Panchkula, the Union Territory (UT) of Chandigarh is soon expected to have its fourth satellite township in Mullanpur. Located barely 2 km from PGI on the UT's northwest, the Punjab government has planned the Mullanpur Local Planning Area, which it has deceptively decided to christen as 'New Chandigarh'. Punjab's Housing and Urban Development Secretary's comparison of New Chandigarh with Navi Mumbai is inane to say the least considering that while Navi Mumbai is an extension of the same city in the same state, 'New Chandigarh' is not planned as an extension of Chandigarh and will be located in a different state altogether. If anything, Punjab is shrewdly seeking to encash on the brand name of Chandigarh.

 

The issue of the name apart, the development of this Mullanpur township is of major concern to Chandigarh, which is already burdened by three satellite cities. In the south is Mohali, which is set to expand to as many as 126 sectors extending as far as Kharar and Banur; on the east is Zirakpur, which is expanding further eastwards to Dera Bassi; and on the north east is Panchkula, which again is fast expanding towards Pinjore and Nadda Sahib. Mullanpur township will notably comprise a 1,200 acre Super Mega Mixed Use Integrated Industrial Park being built by DLF, a 170 acre mega housing project by Omaxe and a 400 acre urban estate being built by the Greater Mohali Area Development Authority. While the saving grace is that Mullanpur township has been planned and designed by a Singapore-based company, for Chandigarh and its residents there is a serious long term implication of the consequent burden on its infrastructure.

 

Indeed Chandigarh is paying the price for being a planned and affluent city, and also for possessing institutions of excellence. The governments of the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana have continuously been violating the Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act of 1952 with impunity. It is the duty of the UT Administration to be pro-active in safeguarding the city's interests.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

DARKNESS FALLS ON PAKISTAN

INDIA NEEDS TO PLAY STABILISING ROLE

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE deepening political gloom in Pakistan is fast darkening into a dangerous and uncertain night of medieval barbarism that threatens its very coherence and the entire neighbourhood. Two seemingly separate but related events last week point in this direction. Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat confessed in Srinagar that the Hurriyat had been living a lie. In Pakistan, a bold, liberal voice for sanity was silenced with the brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.

 

Professor Bhat told a seminar that Moulvi Farooq (the former Mirwaiz), Abdul Ghani Lone and other leading intellectuals were killed not by the Indian Amy or the police but "by our own people". The separatist movement needed such "martyrs" for the cause, which Pakistan has mentored, financed and armed. The present Mirwaiz, Umar Farooq, has disowned his father, who spoke in accents of peace as did Ghani Lone. Fear stalks Kashmir, where truth has been and remains a prime casualty: the ethnic cleansing of Pandits, the false charge of mass rape at Kunan Poshpora, the wanton destruction of Charar-e-Sharif by Must Gul and his thugs from Pakistan, the artificial frenzy whipped up over the alleged evil design to effect a demographic change through the machinations of the Amarnath Yatra Board, the Shopian incident, the more recent stone-pelting carnival and other events, all of which have unravelled. "Martyr's" are needed for myth-making

 

This is not to dismiss or condone human rights violations by the state in J&K. It is to underline the role the Big Lie plays in furthering the "Cause" by instilling fear and hatred of the "enemy" and putting it on the defensive. The separatists' silence after Professor Bhat's denunciatory truth-telling is eloquent. The counterpart is the BJP's wholly negative role in whipping up counter-jingoism. The latest gimmick is a planned long march to be climaxed by the hoisting of the national flag at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, on Republic Day in remembrance of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee's "sacrifice for the unity and integrity of the country". This is inviting trouble.

 

In Rawalpindi, Taseer was gunned down by a member of his own bodyguard (who had earlier been temporarily removed from the special branch duty on suspicion of being a security threat) while the rest of the security detail merely watched. Taseer's crime: he criticised the death sentence awarded to Asiya Bibi, a Christian woman, under Pakistan's obnoxious blasphemy law. The mullahs and religious extremists have applauded the murder. It was not easy to find a member of the clergy to lead the funeral prayers for the deceased. By volunteering to defend him, members of the Bar (who fought Musharraf's tyranny not so long ago) and powerful sections of the media have virtually upheld the assassin. The Lahore High Court said it would annul any pardon the Governor might grant Asiya Bibi.

 

A Senator, Ms Sherry Rehman, who has moved a Bill for the repeal of the blasphemy law, has been threatened. PPP ministers have spoken in favour of the blasphemy law (which makes a mockery of the due process and justice). Mr Nawaz Sharif has said Taseer should have acted more cautiously as both fundamentalists and liberals must speak with balance and moderation as "people here want the blasphemy law".

 

The clerics have raised their voice in Pakistan and democrats are in retreat. The Talibanisation of Pakistan has proceeded apace. Radical Islam has displaced the humanistic sufi, syncretic Islam of the subcontinent, as in J&K too. Rival fanaticisms feed on one another and threaten peace and social harmony. This was not the Pakistan Jinnah had envisaged. But he unleashed a tiger by championing a false two-nation theory buttressed by "direct action" that inevitably went out of control.

 

The rot started with the language riots in East Pakistan and the anti-Ahmediya movement in the early 1950s. Religious zealotry could not bind the nation. Nor was the new state able to define what or who it meant by Islam. Failing to develop an identity of its own, Kashmir (the theory of a moth-eaten Pakistan) and an ever more radical Islam became a political opiate, pushed long by Zia (with American/Western encouragement to battle Soviet communism) until Talibanisation was put on auto-pilot, bringing into being an enigmatic military-mullah combine. Afghanistan fuels this partnership.

 

American support for the military-mullah combine has been at the cost of Pakistan's ever-fragile democracy and civil society which has struggled to take root in a feudal, militarised society in which both the military and the mullahs seek legitimacy in battling a permanent "enemy" in (Hindu) India which "occupies" Kashmir. This denial of its own identity in favour of the "Ideology of Pakistan" has been the country's undoing.

 

However, deep down, the ordinary people of Pakistan remain liberal and yearn for democratic self-determination for themselves. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the newly formed Citizens for Democracy and similar groups symbolise this yearning. These are elements with which India (and the world) must engage even as we dialogue with the powers-that-be. Yet we have erected barriers against intellectual and cultural exchange on exaggerated security considerations. Unilateralism here would pay.

 

There has to be a serious national debate on how we engage with Pakistan and not only with its government. Let us try and get liberal Pakistan (and Bangladesh) scholars to join their Indian counterparts in writing a common, objective, popular social and cultural history of the subcontinent. Poisoned and parochial histories divide and build walls of hate and suspicion. These may be small beginnings, apart from finding common ground for partnership in matters of global trade, climate change and so forth. A liberal, united, stable, prosperous Pakistan is in India's highest interest. A sensible J&K solution (internal and external) is also urgently necessary to remove illusions and irritants. This is where Professor Bhat has blazed a new path.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HE TAUGHT STUDENTS, NOT SUBJECTS

BY VIRENDRA KUMAR

 

On October 29, 2010, I received a flash message calling on me to join as a panelist for an interactive session with a galaxy of 46 visiting Judges from across Canada on November 1 at 10 a.m. sharp. The two other panelists were Mr Justice R.V. Raveendran, Judge, Supreme Court of India, and M. Justice P.V. Reddi, Chairman, Law Commission of India. The venue would be the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi.

 

The invitation was indeed a pleasant surprise. May be it was due to my proximity with the University of Toronto (U of T) where I had the privilege of studying for my doctoral degree way back in 1969-73.

 

Since the exposure at U of T proved providential for me, I shared spontaneously some of the facets of my experience with the visiting Judges. I recalled what I learnt from one of the most distinguished teachers of the Law Faculty, Prof Albert S. Abel. He was a student of Professor Roscoe Pound, Dean, Harvard Law School, and a very dear associate of Prof Bora Laskin who rose to become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

Once on a summer afternoon I was with Professor Abel in his office for the periodical review of my doctoral work. While we were amidst intense discussion, a visitor escorted by the Dean of the Faculty walked into his room. The visitor instantly asked: 'What subjects do you teach Professor Abel?' Promptly he responded: "I do not teach subjects; I teach students."

 

Professor Abel occasionally delivered lectures on constitutional law that were meant for faculty and students across disciplines. During delivery, his eyes were invariably closed. Once on such an occasion, a distinguished judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his presidential address remarked, whether the 'closed-eyes' delivery prompted his students to play truant. Instantly came the response from one of the students in the audience: "Intense involvement in the progress of the lecture left no room for making an escape even if one wished to go on an errand!'

 

After successfully completing my doctoral thesis, I returned to India in January 1973. However, the U of T advised me to receive the degree in person at the university convocation to be held in June that year. The prompting factor was that the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science was being awarded by the university after a gap of more than two decades. My faculty also told me that I was the fourth person and the first Asian to receive this degree at U of T.

 

Before returning to India, I went to my revered teacher to pay my gratitude to him. In response, he gave me a copy of his book, Laskin's Canadian Constitutional Law (4th ed., 1973) by inscribing: "For Virendra — one of those students whose dedication to scholarship makes teaching rewarding for Albert Abel."

 

The late Prof Albert Abel was truly an embodiment of a great teacher and all the Canadian Judges present echoed the same sentiments, albeit by striking varying emotional chords.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE PRICE OF INSANITATION

WHY CREATE DISEASES THROUGH OUR DIRTY HABITS, AND WASTE OUR RESOURCES ON CURE AND PREVENTION?

SHAKUNTALA LAVASA

 

THE study of disease is really the study of man and his environment. The key to man's health lies largely in his environment. In fact much of man's ill health can be traced to adverse environmental factors such as water, soil and air pollution, poor housing conditions, adulterated, unhygienic and imbalanced food, presence of animal reservoirs, and insect vectors of diseases.  Most of these factors are man made from micro to macro level. It is the undesired daily human activities which create environmental hazards to human health.  The attainment of healthy environment is made more and more complex by man himself.

 

The dictionary meaning of sanitation is "the science of safeguarding health". In the past sanitation was centered on the sanitary disposal of excreta. Sanitation to many people still means only the construction of latrines.  In fact, the term sanitation covers the whole field of controlling the environment with a view to preventing disease and promoting health. A number of factors in environment like food, water, housing, clothing, disposal of excreta, waste disposal are controllable. These controllable factors are those included in the "standard of living". It is control of these factors which has been responsible for the improvement of the standard of living and disease prevention to a large extent in developed countries.

 

The purpose of environmental health is to create and maintain ecological conditions that will promote health and thus prevent disease. One of the most  essential  tasks is safe water and the safe disposal of excreta. More than one billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack adequate system for disposal of excreta. The most important diseases because of these factors — diarrhoea, the major killer, and intestinal worm infestations, the major cause for anaemia — account for 10 per cent of the total disease burden of developing countries. From various statistics it is an undisputed fact that we need to control our environment on a war footing.

 

Instead of telling the do's and don'ts, let me just inform my countryman about the consequences of insanitation. We know that majority of killer diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, malaria, dengue, tuberculosis, measles, swine flu, diphtheria, polio, tetanus etc are infectious diseases and all of them are preventable by our own efforts even at individual levels.

 

The prevention of all of them starts as soon as the baby is conceived. Taking two doses of tetanus vaccine during pregnancy and a safe institutional delivery will prevent neonatal tetanus which certainly is a very cheap prevention of this killer disease which arises due to unhygienically handled umbilical cord at birth. Later in childhood and also in adult life regular immunization will prevent it throughout life. 

 

Starting mother's milk soon after birth and exclusive breast feeding for at least six months of life will prevent diarrhoea and dysentery. Our unsanitary habits like introducing bottle feeding is killing so many due to diarrhoea! Even those who survive are surviving at a high cost to individuals and community. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics and many other medicines which are in fact detrimental. Injudicious use of antibiotics is a major concern in drug resistance besides the economic factors and health hazards.

 

Another form of insanitation results from giving apple, anar and palak juice to the baby with the hope of preventing anaemia. One can imagine the unhygienic method of making these unnecessary juices which no baby needs. Anemia prevention can be best done by  hygienically cooked  home food. The anaemia producing hookworms live in the soil which is littered with human and animal excreta. Therefore, not walking barefoot, not washing hands with "mitti" , thorough hand washing frequently, eating salads after proper washing etc are anaemia prevention tricks. Often water is inadequate in schools , offices and other public places. We must exercise our intelligence to somehow have access to clean and ample water which is a key to prevention of many diseases.

 

The disease producing microbes are all over in our atmosphere due to our dirty habits. The indiscriminate disposal of human and animal excreta, the waste from homes , the leftover organic and inorganic matter in front of shops, homes, sabzi mandis, the fecal contamination of leaking pipes ,the un- flushed excreta of blocked toilets, the ditches with stagnant water etc are storehouses for flies, mosquitoes and germs and parasites which the naked eyes cannot see but they are in the air everywhere clinging to us looking for opportunity to invade us for their survival. The result is all the above diseases. Diarrhoeas, hepatitis , typhoid , dysentery are waterborne, malaria and dengue are also indirectly waterborne as the mosquitoes survive in stagnant water.

 

Typhoid is due to dirty fingers , dirty fluids and flies which survive on feces. Look at the cost of treatment of typhoid. Germs are getting resistant. The treatment may not be available one day. The vaccine is available but how many parents use it regularly?

 

Even food handlers like people working in hotels and restaurants are not being vaccinated as a rule so that they do not pass on the hidden germs of their carrier state. Typhoid has a carrier stage. It means people may not suffer but they can pass on infection through  food. Indiscriminate spitting and similar dirty habits spread the germs of tuberculosis. BCG vaccine at birth prevents tuberculosis to some extent.

 

Hepatitis of many varieties is waterborne and comes in epidemics killing so many. Only for some forms of hepatitis we have the preventive vaccines which also has to start right from birth.

 

Easy solutions

One of the most essential tasks is safe water and the safe disposal of excreta.

The most important diseases because of these factors — diarrhoea, the major killer, and intestinal worm infestations, the major cause for anaemia — account for 10 per cent of the total disease burden of developing countries.

Starting mother's milk soon after birth and exclusive breast feeding for at least six months of life will prevent diarrhoea and dysentery.

Injudicious use of antibiotics is a major concern in drug resistance.

Not walking barefoot, not washing hands with "mitti", thorough hand washing frequently, eating salads after proper washing etc are anaemia prevention tricks.

Access to clean and ample water is a key to the prevention of many diseases.

Indiscriminate spitting and similar dirty habits spread the germs of tuberculosis.

The writer is a noted paediatrician and allergy specialist

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

STAGGERING COST

 

What were the total economic impacts due to inadequate sanitation in India? A study by the Water and Sanitation Program estimates that the total economic impacts of inadequate sanitation in India amount to Rs. 2.44 trillion ($53.8 billion) a year. This means a per person annual impact of at least Rs 2,180.

 

The methodology adopted by the study included disaggregating the economic impacts of inadequate sanitation into the following categories:

 

Health-related impacts: Premature deaths, costs of treating diseases; productive time lost due to people falling ill, and time lost by caregivers who look after them.

 

Domestic water-related impacts: Household treatment of water; use of bottled water; a portion of costs of obtaining piped water; and time costs of fetching cleaner water from a distance.

 

Access time impacts: Cost of additional time spent for accessing sharedtoilets or open defecation sites; absence of children (mainly girls) from school and women from their workplaces.

 

Tourism impacts: Potential loss of tourism revenues and economic impacts of gastrointestinal illnesses among foreign tourists.

 

The health-related economic impacts of inadequate sanitation, at Rs. 1.75 trillion (US$38.5 billion), accounts for the largest category of impacts. Access time (productive time lost to access sanitation facilities — shared or public toilets — or sites for defecation) and drinking water-related impacts are the other two main losses, at Rs. 487 billion (US$10.7 billion) and Rs. 191 billion (US$4.2 billion), respectively.

 

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major public health problem in India. India accounts for one-fifth of the global TB incident cases. Each year nearly two million people in India develop TB, of which around 0.87 million are infectious cases. It is estimated that annually around 330,000 Indians die due to TB, according to WHO India.

 

TB is one of the leading causes of mortality in India — killing 2 persons every three minute, nearly 1,000 every day, says the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Every patient who is cured stops spreading TB, and every life saved is a child, mother, or father who will go on to live a longer, TB-free life.

 

Since 1993, the Government of India (GoI) has been implementing the WHO-recommended DOTS strategy via the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP). The revised strategy was pilot-tested in 1993 and launched as a national programme in 1997. By March 2006, the programme was implemented nationwide in 633 districts, covering 1114 million (100%) population. Phase II of the RNTCP started from October 2005, which is a step towards achieving the TB-related targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Since 2006, RNTCP is implementing the WHO recommended "Stop TB Strategy", which in addition to DOTS, addresses all the newer issues and challenges in TB control.

 

Equally serious is the anaemia threat. Estimates suggest that over one third of the world's population suffers from anaemia, mostly iron deficiency anaemia. India continues to be one of the countries with very high prevalence. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) reveals the prevalence of anaemia to be 70-80% in children, 70% in pregnant women and 24% in adult men.

 

Prevalence of anaemia in India is high because of low dietary intake, poor availability of iron and chronic blood loss due to hookworm infestation and malaria. While anaemia has well known adverse effects on physical and cognitive performance of individuals, the true toll of iron deficiency anaemia lies in the ill-effects on maternal and foetal health. Poor nutritional status and anaemia in pregnancy have consequences that extend over generations.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A HOMELESS SINDHI WOMAN

IN THE PAGES OF MY LIFE, POPATI HIRANANDANI CHRONICLES HER FIGHT AGAINST DOWRY AND EFFORTS TO PRESERVE THE SINDHI SCRIPT AND CULTURE

 

The autobiography of Sindhi writer, feminist, activist in the cause of Sindhi culture, Popati Hiranandani (1924-2005) has just been published by Oxford University Press in English translation. Titled The Pages of My Life, the autobiography is, in some ways, a pre- and post-Partition story. But it's also a story about her fight against dowry (she refused to "buy" a husband and remained unmarried), and her efforts to preserve the Sindhi script and Sindhi culture.

 

Inevitably, perhaps, this narrative,written towards the end of her life, is nostalgic. Popati Hirandanani was the eldest of seven children. All of them were beautiful/handsome, they all loved each other, their mother was also their friend. All the neighbours helped each other out, the teachers were kind and gracious.

 

 Post-Partition, in Bombay and elsewhere, Hiranandani found her colleagues in schools and colleges where she taught, "perfidious, rapacious, and self-centred". Students in Bombay were inclined to be rude and disobedient. Hiranandani writes, "Most of the male and female teachers of the school were like the stagnant water of a pond. They had no awareness of current events of the world. They had been teaching the same lessons in the same way for years, I had written a story that had a paragraph on female teachers. In it I had affirmed that a woman becomes a teacher only if she is a widow or has been unable to get married for some reason, or, having married late, has been unable to have a child. That's why she cannot bear to see the youthful frivolity, lively prattle, and the carefree exuberance of her female students. The female teachers of the school were furious…" Alienated, and alienating, Hiranandani titles a poem "A Homeless Sindhi Woman".

 

 Hiranandani doesn't think marriage is the ultimate goal of a woman's life, and she berates men who can't imagine that to be true, and spread rumours about why the woman in question did not marry. She's amusing on the subject of the kind of possible grooms her family arranged for her: "There were young men willing to abnegate the practice of dowry, but they were either bald, or followers of Gandhi, or Arya Samajis. There are many people in India who strive to attain their goals by pretending to be 'idealistic' and 'reformists'."
    One aspect of the volume (which includes some of Hiranandani's short stories) is the discrepancy in the way English is used in the translation of the autobiography and in the introduction (which includes a useful history of Sindh). Both are by Jyoti Panjwani, Professor of Postcolonial and Asian Studies in Eastern Illinois University. The English used in the introduction is fluent. In the translation of the autobiography it's closer to what we like to think of as "Indian English". Nobody who is fluent in English uses the word "mischiefs", for instance. Was the translator trying to preserve an "Indian English" flavour? She wasn't doing the author any favours by adopting this approach, which includes many errors in vocabulary and grammar.

 

Hiranandani's own style is sometimes quite old-fashioned. I'm prejudiced against over-blown expressions of emotion. The autobiography is full of these, and they are not memorable: About the death of one of her brothers she writes, "I feel my laughter had also gone to sleep forever from that time." The death of another brother made her feel that "the cloud that had brought messages of joy was now laid down as a corpse". After her mother's death she felt "that the roof of our house had been blown away"!

 

However, despite some flaws (a number of typographical errors among them) it's a volume worth reading.

Hiranandani (left) doesn't think marriage is the ultimate goal of a woman's life, and she berates men who can't imagine that to be true. (R) Her autobiography

 

EUNICE de SOUZA

 

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

COLUMN

PUZZLING TRADE TRENDS

COMPETITIVE MANUFACTURING BASE NEEDED TO BOOST EXPORTS

Recent trends in India's balance of payments appear counter-intuitive, with trends in exports and imports running counter to conventional trade theory. Despite the steady appreciation of the rupee by almost 8 per cent in 2010-11, exports have grown faster than imports. While trade deficit and, by extension, the current account deficit are lower than what conventional wisdom would suggest, the reasons underlying this peculiar behaviour need to be looked at more closely. Indian imports are generally price inelastic, implying that their behaviour does not directly reflect exchange rate movements. This has largely to do with the nature of imports, which are dominated by capital goods, food items and oil. Imports of food, both in terms of quantity and value, have increased over the past year due to lower domestic production and higher prices, reflecting global scarcity. Oil imports have continued to increase because of higher domestic consumption, and an expected hardening of global prices can only push the oil import bill up.

The slowdown in capital goods imports raises some worrisome questions about the pace of industrial growth. This trend dovetails with the generally tepid performance of the manufacturing sector in recent months as reflected in recent Index of Industrial Production (IIP) data. Capital expansion by the private sector has not been robust, which could, in turn, reflect a higher cost of capital and/or lukewarm expectations of future economic prospects. India needs a rapidly growing manufacturing sector for present levels of growth to be both more sustainable and inclusive. Year-on-year export growth of 26.2 per cent for April to November 2011, despite rupee appreciation, is cause for celebration and points to the success of aggressive government policies to raise India's export profile. In particular, the establishment of Free Trade Zones, the introduction of schemes such as the Duty Exemption Entitlement Scheme (DEEC), the Export Promotion Capital Goods Scheme (EPCG), the excise duty refund scheme on final products and the decision to expand trade with Africa and Latin America as a hedge against an economic slowdown in traditional trade partners have contributed substantially to export growth.

While these policies need to be persisted with, and even expanded, India needs to assiduously work on changing the composition of its export basket, which is currently dominated by primary products or low value added goods. An export basket which includes a significant share of value added goods is not possible without economy-wide improvements in productivity, where India lags even by developing country standards. Improvements in productivity would be dynamic in that they would engender a virtuous cycle with economy-wide benefits, including lowering the cost of capital due to scale effects.

Recent trends in export growth point to an inherent robustness, which is not predominantly dependent on an undervalued currency. India's integration with the world by way of increased trade can only be expected to increase in the days ahead. The current account deficit, presently 4.1 per cent of GDP, while admittedly restricting policy headroom should not derail this global engagement. It is the composition of the current account deficit that matters more than its relative size. For this reason, a fall in imports at a time of rising exports is a trend that needs further examination and explanation.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE IPL OPTION

THE VISIBLE MERITS OF TRANSPARENT AUCTIONS

The latest round of auctions of the Indian Premier League (IPL) have thrown up what appear to be surprising valuations for both domestic and international players. But individual cases aside, the larger trend is quite apparent. Youth comes at a premium and so does hitting power. All-rounders get a premium and so do those with "star" power. All in all, the national team selectors could pick some insights into what makes for a successful T-20 team — youth, the right combination of skills, and all round skill-sets. But beyond this not much else should be read in the way the players have been valued. Quite apparently, some less-than-average performers have gained tremendous valuations, perhaps because of greater "star" power and as a result of greater advertising revenues for their teams. In some cases, great talents have been ignored, perhaps because the shortest version of the game cannot tolerate individual idiosyncrasies like the longer formats can.

For the team owners, the IPL is business, and team performance combined with ability to draw viewership at stadiums and TV time will determine their own financial viability. Given the acrimonious relations between different stakeholders in the IPL, it was heartening to note that the auction itself was held without any hurdles and debate. A transparent mechanism that was held in the open and viewed internationally, led to a win-win situation for all concerned. It was also heartening to note that the teams were bidding a smaller share of their total bids on the top stars and were allocating greater shares to the younger and emerging names in Indian and international cricket.

 The previous seasons of the IPL have all shown that it is not the stars that lead to greater success or greater profitability but team performance. The younger members of the team, therefore, rightfully obtained greater valuations. There was, however, one minor flaw, the sequential nature of the bidding led to relatively lower bids for those who were "auctioned" in the initial stages than those who came in later. But the overall numbers were high enough, that this was at best a minor flaw, but something that can be corrected in later auctions.

All in all, cricket has once again shown the Indian government and people how great things can be achieved if transparent processes are combined with competitive forces. The IPL auction was not a simple one, where a whole range of bundled skill-sets (each player) had to be valued adequately by multiple players. But competition was encouraged, and auctions were fairly designed and held in a transparent manner where the rules were known to all much in advance. This time round, the IPL bosses appeared doubly concerned about ensuring transparency in the auction process. Clearly, there are lessons from this for telecom spectrum allocation. The 2G process could have been a far more easier auction, specially since spectrum does not have the same level of variation, or for that matter subjectivity in valuation. But somehow transparency and openness are something that Indian politicians are not very comfortable with.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

FEEDING FOOD PRICES

REFORM AND MANAGEMENT OF SUPPLY SIDE NEED OF THE HOUR

There is no magic bullet to kill the stubbornly high food price inflation, which jumped to an year's peak of 18.32 per cent in the last week of December 2010. This much was clear at the end of a high-level review of food price inflation chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday. It has now been clear for some time that unlike in the past, when high-value, protein-rich foods like pulses and livestock products drove up food prices, this time round non-protein items and perishables like vegetables are driving up the prices, which have gone up by a whopping 58.8 per cent in recent weeks. Some livestock products have also seen prices rising sharply. Prices of cereals have remained more or less stable and that of pulses, the most-consumed protein source, have dropped by 10 per cent compared to last year's peak. Though analysts tend to blame the recent unseasonal and, at places, heavy rains for the sudden price spurt, this can only be partly true. Hoarding, too, cannot be the main reason, especially for perishables like fruits and vegetables. Commodities like cereals, edible oils and pulses, which can be stored for some time, have not joined the price race, reaffirming that hoarding is not the main culprit. Of course, some structural factors, such as demographic and income changes which have pushed demand for high-value foods, seem to have contributed to food price inflation more recently. But this factor alone cannot sustain high inflation for long because production usually tends to respond to demand and prices.

So, who or what is the villain of the piece? Clearly, persisting market imperfections that enable traders to manipulate prices seem to have played a vital role this winter season. Imperfections in agricultural marketing and lack of post-harvest food management infrastructure, such as efficient transport, cold chains, agro-processing units — in short, the farm-to-fork chain — have largely contributed to the problem. This deficiency is apparent also from the huge difference between farm-gate prices and consumer prices. Besides, poor post-harvest handling of farm produce leads to substantial, albeit avoidable, losses, estimated at over 30 per cent in the case of perishables like fruits and vegetables. Moreover, needless and often mistimed government intervention in the commodities markets, by way of curbs on stockholding, movement, domestic trading, import and export of goods, usually sends wrong signals to the producers. At the time of sowing, farmers are seldom sure of what will be the fate of the season's output. Such flawed and knee-jerk policy reactions seem to stem partly from a lack of a reliable mechanism for foreseeing production and hence likely prices of crops. Both the Union agriculture ministry and several state governments have failed to act. Better market intelligence along with reform and liberalisation of agricultural produce and marketing committees would be one step forward. Here the responsibility devolves upon the Centre and state governments. Improved supply management appears to be the key to the current spurt in prices, though in the medium term, both fiscal and monetary policy must work in tandem to arrest price rise.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

NEW THREATS TO GROWTH

SHANKAR ACHARYA

Everyone knows about the "old" threats to sustained rapid growth in India, including poor infrastructure, dysfunctional labour markets, competitive populism, the weak record of human resource development, painfully slow reforms and the reduced dynamism of industrial countries, post-crisis. Despite these genuine handicaps, the resilience and recovery of the Indian economy in the face of the global financial and economic crisis was quite remarkable. At its trough in 2008-09, growth only slowed to 6.7 per cent, recovered to 7.4 per cent in 2009-10 and surged to nearly 9 per cent in the first half of 2010-11, with almost all forecasters now expecting full year growth at or above 8.5 per cent. The latest official estimates indicate that gross domestic investment stayed buoyant at 35 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2010-11, holding out the prospect of continued strong growth in 2011-12. And it has now become conventional wisdom to expect 8 per cent plus growth rates for the next decade or two as globalisation, "catch up" and favourable demographics continue to propel the Indian economy forward.

 All this is true. But developments during 2010 have spawned new threats to sustained rapid growth. First, there is the return of the "twin deficits" problem after almost two decades during which one of them, the current account deficit (CAD) in the balance of payments, was muted. Second, the latter half of 2010 has seen the resurgence worldwide of energy and food inflation. Third, the proliferation of major scams and scandals (telecom 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Housing Society, the Radia tapes and so on) has further weakened the government's ability to take and execute decisions in all areas, including economic. Fourth, an activist environment ministry has sharpened the conflict between development and the environment, including through a number of high profile retrospective challenges to major investment projects. Last, but not least, economic reforms appear to have stalled completely. Some of these merit elaboration.

Return of twin deficits

The twin deficits of the late 1980s precipitated the external payments crisis of 1991. Since then the CAD has hovered around 1 per cent of GDP, with a three-year foray into positive territory in the early noughties. In the five years prior to the global crisis, 2003-08, the CAD averaged less than 0.5 per cent (Table). The collapse of world trade during 2008-09 saw the CAD rise sharply to 2.4 per cent of GDP and further to 2.9 per cent in 2009-10. Despite the restoration of (new) normalcy and the recovery of exports, the CAD has risen disconcertingly higher to 3.7 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2010-11, prompting RBI to voice significant concerns in its December 2010 Financial Stability Report: "The current account deficit is widening while capital flows continue to be dominated by volatile components. External sector ratios have deteriorated…". The central bank omitted pointing out that the problem has been aggravated by its own 18-month old, unannounced (non-transparent?) switch to a policy of minimal currency market intervention, despite an unprecedentedly steep appreciation of the rupee in real terms. While CADs in the range of 3-4 per cent of GDP can probably be managed for a couple of years, they are unlikely to be sustainable indefinitely, given the predominantly domestic orientation of the India economy. And what can't be sustained, won't be! Something will give and it could well be growth.

Unlike the CAD, we have been used to high fiscal deficits since the mid-1980s. Interestingly, the most successful period of fiscal consolidation occurred during the five years 2003-08, which saw the combined (Centre and states) fiscal deficit reduce by more than half, down to 4 per cent of GDP by 2007-08 (see Figure). It is no coincidence that those were five years of low interest rates, an unprecedented increase in savings and investment, record high growth and low inflation. The populist burst of 2008-09 took the deficit back up to 8.5 per cent of GDP that year and even higher to 10 per cent in 2009-10. Given the global recession, such fiscal profligacy helped cushion India's economic slowdown in the crisis. But the case for renewed consolidation had grown strong by late 2009 and the government announced a gentle three-year path for deficit reduction in the Budget for 2010-11. In fact, the budgeted, modest deficit reduction for the current year is likely to be met only because spectrum auction revenues have been three times higher than budgeted (an extra 1 per cent of GDP). And the revenue deficit (roughly equal to government dissavings) is unlikely to drop significantly below the high level of 2009-10. Absent such enormous one-off bonanzas, further deficit reduction next year (and beyond) will be difficult in the face of expanding entitlement programmes and higher subsidies, implying that interest rates are likely to remain high and act as a dampener to investment and growth. (Click for grapfical view)

Energy and food inflation

For several months now, rising oil prices have been putting pressure on India's external payments, the government budget and the finances of the oil companies, which are obliged to sell most distillates (including diesel, kerosene and LPG) at subsidised prices. Even the recent freeing up of petrol prices is at risk. International institutions (such as the IMF and IEA) indicate that international oil prices are expected to harden further. Food inflation has spiked upwards in the last two months, thanks to a global surge in food prices and the unreformed structural weaknesses of Indian agriculture and marketing/distribution systems. All this threatens the already high levels of general inflation and is expected to trigger further policy interest rate increases by RBI. Higher interest rates will weaken investment and growth.

Other impediments to investment

The numerous scams and scandals that have dominated news media in the recent months have brought Parliament to a standstill and drained the limited capacity of an already weak government. As if this were not enough, a number of high profile rulings by the environment ministry have halted several major mining projects (notably in Orissa) and the Lavasa township project in Maharashtra, while raising significant issues with respect to India's most successful private port, Mundhra, in Gujarat. From an investment/development perspective, the questioning of large, completed projects sends a seriously negative signal to investors at home and abroad. "Animal spirits" are bound to be damped, to the detriment of investment and growth.

Such setbacks would matter less if economic reforms were proceeding smoothly and helping increase the productivity of available resources. Unfortunately, reforms have been on a slow train since 2004. Now, with Parliament stalled and government in a defensive mode on a variety of scams, the train seems to have been shunted to a siding. The political landscape does not augur well for an early resuscitation of economic reforms. The recent history and dim prospects for the induction of the long-heralded Goods and Services Tax are a good example. This continued hiatus in reforms will inevitably take its toll on medium-term growth performance.

So, while it may be comforting to read in reputed foreign publications about India's "transformative growth" to becoming the world's third-largest economy by 2020 or 2025, the actual strengthening of anti-growth forces during 2010 raises some serious doubts about the nation's long-term economic trajectory.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE RAPID GROWTH OF MICRO SEGMENTS

ARVIND SINGHAL

As the Indian economy grows on a much larger base (about $1,500 billion in 2011), it is interesting to see the emergence of new, very promising "micro segments" of different industries and services. Some of them are already much bigger than the conventionally high-interest ones, and many are creating jobs (and wealth) at a faster clip than many of the conventional ones. For example, the total size of the oral care industry in India is less than Rs 4,700 crore with an inexplicably low, single-digit growth rate of about 5-6 per cent. On the other hand, the market for beauty and grooming services has already crossed Rs 15,000 crore and is growing at more than 15 per cent per year. Personal care products and detergents markets are estimated to be about Rs 12,000 crore each and growing at about 10 per cent per year. Against this, the market for personal vehicles' repair and servicing has already crossed Rs 20,000 crore and growing at between 12 per cent and 14 per cent per year. The market for pre-owned cars is already Rs 45,000 crore, and growing at a scorching 20 per cent or higher rate, and the same for car and two-wheeler accessories is already more than Rs 6,000 crore. Indeed, notwithstanding the substitution of the watch with the mobile phone as the time-keeper, the Horological industry has already grown to about Rs 4,400 crore and continues to grow at between 8 per cent and 15 per cent with higher growth rates for higher-end watches. Many others, including the wedding planning industry, private and commercial catering and hospitality industry, industrial and civic waste management industry, event management industry, etc. etc., have also been doing quite well, though it is very difficult to put out an accurate estimate of their annual revenues and growth rate. At these growth rates, some of these sectors will touch Rs 75,000-Rs 100,000 crore mark by 2015, while others will touch or cross Rs 10,000 crore very easily.

This scaling up of many diverse, hitherto marginal, business segments has many interesting and important implications. First, from the government's point of view, it must start acknowledging and studying these fast-growing sub-segments of the economy and come out with specific industrial and fiscal policies which can provide further growth thrust to such segments. Each of these segments is already creating tens of thousands of new jobs every year, and many of them, such as automobile servicing and beauty and grooming, create such jobs across India (including rural India) and absorb Indians mostly from the less-privileged socioeconomic strata. Many, such as the Horological industry, also provide fresh opportunities for investment in manufacturing of precision components not only for the domestic needs but also for making India a hub for exports of such components and perhaps even the finished product (watches) in the near future. In many cases, such segments are incorrectly clubbed with other, traditional segments, thereby forcing them to operate under anachronistic policies (such as application of the "weights and measure Act" to watches, requiring compliance with irrational packaging regulations). Hence, it would be desirable if the government can create specific "desks" within the industry, commerce, and finance ministries which track such sub-segments closely and provide the requisite input for policy drafting and updating. It would also help if the chambers of commerce can strengthen their internal infrastructure to come out with white papers on these sub-segments since many of them may not yet find representation at the membership level, and hence it may not be possible to create "industry sub-committees" in all the cases. Relating to their job-creation potential, government as well as private entrepreneurs should also be focusing on creating appropriate vocational education businesses built around the skills needed in these fast-growing sub-sectors, have a delivery model which is aligned to the geographic distribution of such jobs, and have the capacity capable of meeting the present as well as the steeply ramped-up needs in the future.

For current and would-be entrepreneurs, as these sub-segments become multi-thousand crores in annual revenues, there is a plethora of new business opportunities to take advantage of. These can be both in the "front end", i.e. end customer facing, or in the supply and distribution side to the front-end business. Indeed, the next generation of India's multimillionaires and the "entrepreneurs of the year" could well emerge from these sometimes less well understood and appreciated but much faster-growing sub-segments.

arvind.singhal@technopak.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HOW ABOUT MOTHER CARE NOW?

DESPITE GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION, THE MATERNAL MORTALITY RATIO IS ALARMINGLY HIGH IN SOME STATES.

INDICUS ANALYTICS

According to the Office of Registrar General of India, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) declined from 398 per 100,000 live births in 1997-98 to 301 in 2001-03, falling further to 254 in 2004-06. State-wise estimates of maternal mortality for 2004-06 showed Kerala was the only state with less than 100 deaths per 100,000 live births. The three worst performing states with a high MMR were Assam (480), Uttar Pradesh including Uttarakhand (440) and Rajasthan (388). According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates published in The Lancet in April 2010, India ranks 127 out of 181 countries in maternal mortality, with Sri Lanka and China way more successful than India in maternal care. Despite government intervention to achieve a faster rate of decline, especially under the Reproductive and Child Health Programme, it appears unlikely that the Millennium Development Goal for India set at 109 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015 will be met.(Click for graph)

Women die as a result of complications during and following pregnancy and childbirth. While 80 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide are caused by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, obstructed labour and unsafe abortions, diseases such as malaria, anaemia and HIV/AIDS also contribute to maternal mortality. It is important for women to have access to health care solutions to prevent or manage complications. The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes, apart from access to antenatal care in pregnancy, and care and support in the weeks after childbirth, "it is particularly important that all births are attended by skilled health professionals, as timely management and treatment can make the difference between life and death". If we look at this last indicator across states in India, once again there is a large disparity. The District Level Household Survey (DLHS-3) 2007-08 estimates that 52.7 per cent of women had safe deliveries, that is, deliveries either in institutions or at home with the assistance of trained personnel. As many as 43.3 per cent of rural deliveries and 75.6 per cent of urban deliveries could be termed safe, pointing to the low access to health care in rural India. Almost all women in Kerala and Puducherry had safe deliveries. Goa, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep recorded more than 90 per cent safe deliveries. However, in 11 states, less than 50 per cent of the deliveries that took place could be termed "safe deliveries". The worst performing states, where less than one third of mothers had safe deliveries, are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, more than 80 per cent of deliveries were at home, with 7.2 per cent and 11.6 per cent of these home deliveries assisted by skilled personnel. Interestingly, Manipur and Punjab stand out as states with the highest share of home deliveries conducted with the help of trained personnel — 14.3 per cent and 13.8 per cent respectively.

MATERNAL CONCERNS

Country

 MMR 1990 

MMR 2008

Global rank out of 
181 countries (2008)

 Sri Lanka

52

30

60

 China

87

40

74

 Nepal

471

240

126

 India

523

254

127

 Bhutan

1,145

255

128

 Bangladesh

724

338

138

 Pakistan

541

376

142

Source: IHME, 2010; Maternal mortality ratio: the no. of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births

 

NURSING NEGLECT
Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births 

 

(2004-06)

INDIA

254

Assam

480

Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand

440

Rajasthan

388

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh

335

Bihar including Jharkhand

312

Orissa

303

Karnataka

213

Punjab

192

Haryana

186

Gujarat

160

Andhra Pradesh 

154

West Bengal

141

Maharashtra

130

Tamil Nadu

111

Kerala

95

Last year, the WHO reported India as the country with the largest number of maternal deaths in the world. Though the percentage of safe deliveries has increased from 48 per cent to 52 per cent between DLHS-2 (2002-04) and DLHS-3 (2007-08) at the national level, this rate of increasing coverage is woefully inadequate, especially given the wide regional disparities in the country.

 

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters

sumita@indicus.net  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

INDIA'S OTHER BIG CAT

AMITABH BACHCHAN HAS FUELLED A TOURISM BOOM, BUT GIR'S LIONS NEED A SECOND HOME

SANJEEV SANYAL

The sharp decline in India's tiger population has been, quite rightly, the focus of much media attention in the last few years. It is now estimated that barely 1,400 of them survive in the wild compared to around 40,000 a century ago. While this is very depressing, we hear very little about how India's other big cat, the Asiatic Lion, has been brought back from near extinction. At the beginning of the 20th century, India's lion population had dropped to a few dozen in the Gir forests of Junagarh (now in Gujarat). This is still the only place where the animal is found in the wild but the 2010 survey suggests that the population has grown to 411. Meanwhile, encouraged by Amitabh Bachchan's ad-campaign, the lions have become the lynchpin of Gujarat's aggressive tourism strategy with a 96 per cent year-on-year jump in tourists visiting Gir National Park during October-December 2010. Perhaps it's time to pay a bit more attention to India's other big cat. The royal lion
Every culture that encounters the lion has tended to give the animal a special status. We know that lions were considered royal game in Mesopotamia from the 2nd millennium BC and only the king could hunt them. The animal is represented in a multitude of sculptures, friezes and paintings in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. At Beital-Wali in Lower Nubia, a tame lioness is shown near the throne of Rameses II (1290-1224 BC) with an inscription: "Slayer of his Enemies".

Strangely, there is very little evidence to show that Indians of the Harappan period were aware of the lion. Harappan seals are full of tigers and other wild animals, but no lions. Why were the early Indians so lukewarm to an animal with such obvious charms?

The most likely reason is that the lion was not common in the subcontinent at that time. Till the 3rd millennium BC, north-west India was much wetter than it is today with higher rainfall and the Saraswati river in full flow. The lion is an animal that hunts in open grasslands and could not penetrate the tiger-infested jungles that existed in the region. However, the balance shifted as the climate became drier and the Saraswati dwindled. There would have been a savannah phase when lions from Iran could have made their way through Balochistan and then into the tiger territory. This explains why the earliest artifact depicting a lion in the subcontinent, a golden goblet, was found in Balochistan. As Harappan urban centres were abandoned and populations migrated to the Gangetic plains, the lions would have taken over the newly dry wilderness. Over time, they would penetrate as far east as Bihar, coexisting in many places with tigers.

Once the lion became a familiar animal, it was quickly appropriated by Indian culture. As in the Middle-East, it became the symbol of bravery and of the power of the state. The Mauryans carved them on their columns and the Mughal emperors hunted them near Agra and Ropar. So, when India became Independent, lions became the national emblem.

The last lions

Despite all the prestige associated with it, the Asiatic Lion nearly went extinct. The last reported sighting of a lion in Iran was in 1942. In Iraq, the magnificent Assyrian friezes are all that remain of a beast last sighted in 1917. British records show that there were lions in Haryana and Punjab till the 1820s. In Rajasthan and central India, they survived in the wild till the 1860s. Then they suddenly all but disappeared. What happened in the 19th century?

The popular view is that they were killed for sport but the real culprit was a loss of habitat to agriculture. A growing human population needed more food even as the newly built railways encouraged cash crops like cotton. All forms of wildlife were affected but the lions and cheetahs lost the flatlands they need to survive. The tiger did relatively better for the moment because it could survive in hilly and swampy terrain that is less conducive to faming.

By the late 19th century, there were reports that perhaps only a dozen Asiatic Lions were left in the wild in Gir. The actual number was probably somewhat larger, but at last alarm bells began to ring. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, heard of this and refused to go on a lion hunt in Gir during his state visit to Junagarh in November 1900. The Nawabs of Junagarh, with the support of the colonial government, now became the guardians of the endangered species for the next half-century. Note how the Indian cheetah did not attract similar patronage and went extinct.

Back from the brink

Thanks to the Nawabs, the number of lions had drifted up to around 230 by the time India became Independent. However, after some growth in the 1950s, the population plunged to just 177 in 1970. Faced with this crisis, the Gir Lion Sanctuary Project was born in 1972, a year before the better-known Project Tiger. At this stage, there were less than 200 lions and 1,827 tigers in the wild. Four decades later, the number of lions has risen to over 400 while the tiger population is down to 1,400. This is not to suggest that Asiatic Lions are out of danger. There was a spate of poaching incidents in 2007 and, just a few weeks ago, in mid-December 2010, the authorities arrested 25 members of a gang from Karnataka with lion body-parts. The lions of Gir also suffer from a very narrow genetic base and are susceptible to epidemics. Nevertheless, the overall effort is paying off.

Gir now has a problem of plenty as the lion population is too large for the existing sanctuary and the animals are drifting into the surrounding countryside. Lions are being seen along the coast near Kodinar and even as far away as Palitana. For years, Kuno in Madhya Pradesh has been proposed as a second home but, for a number of reasons, the authorities in Gujarat have resisted this. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan's advertisement campaign has fuelled a tourism boom that will soon exhaust the visitor-carrying capacity of Gir. The Asiatic Lion had barely escaped extinction but it now desperately needs space to flourish. Perhaps tourist dollars will encourage the creation of a new sanctuary within Gujarat. Perhaps Mr Bachchan will use his extraordinary charm to find a second home for India's other big cat.

The author is president of the Sustainable Planet Institute and honorary senior fellow of WWF

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GROWTH STILL INTACT

INDUSTRIAL SLOWDOWN IN NOVEMBER


THE slowdown in industrial production to an 18-month low of 2.7% in November is worrisome, particularly when it is accompanied by inflation. However, the sustained expansionary mode of purchasing managers' indices, robust import growth of 27% in December and strong rise in capital goods output even in the November slowdown suggest that growth will bear up, rather than give way. In combination with continued high expectations from agriculture, thanks to the normal monsoon, GDP growth in excess of 8.5% should still materialise this fiscal. The index of industrial production (IIP) numbers, once again, raise questions on the veracity of an index that is yet to dispense with alarm clocks and typewriters. Growth of industrial output, as measured by IIP, was revised marginally up to 11.3% in October 2010. It is normal for industrial output to soar in the month prior to the month of festival sales (Diwali was in November in 2010) and to slump in the actual month of festivals. Diwali in 2009 was in October, which laid the ground for weak output growth in October 2009, from which base the stepped up production of October 2010 to cater to the festival sales of November seemed particularly strong. That extra surge makes the slowdown in November — manufacturing growth was just 2.3% — all the more acute. The number was most disappointing for consumer goods, particularly consumer non-durables that saw a 6% decline. This is surprising, as the demand for consumer goods rises with income. The base effects could be adverse in the next two quarters, given the growth in industrial output was high, averaging 16.4% year on year between December and March 2010. The moderation in the HSBC purchasing managers index in December also suggests that factory output could slow down in January.

 

The slowdown in November does not warrant alarm or calls for either more fiscal stimulus or a halt to the central bank's steady march to neutral policy rates. However, appropriate policies call for robust data. The quality of data should improve, and fast.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TEJAS, FINALLY

DEFENCE HAS MUCH TO OFFER INDIA INC


THE ongoing induction of Tejas, India's indigenously designed and built light combat aircraft, marks a watershed moment for our military hardware capability. Reportedly, India will have a 200-strong fleet of the supersonic jet. The immediate gameplan is to replace the ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fleet, and increase the IAF's squadron strength with a potent strike force. But the larger objective ought to be proactive policy so that heightened defence research, procurement and attendant manufacturing positively impact and genuinely benefit the Indian economy as well. Note that semiconductors, supercomputing and even the internet are all spin-offs of US defence research. We need to better integrate hardware procurement with our high-potential industrial base and actively encourage the corporate sector to foray into defence production to rev up innovation, cut down on costs and also boost export potential in the bargain. This would require, among others, a transparent policy on competitive tendering and an end to the usual practice of simply nominating one or more of the nine defence public sector undertakings or 49 ordnance factories for the purpose.

 

Tejas — positioned as a fourth-generation fighter — developed by the state-run Aeronautical Defence Agency and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd with multiple public-private partnerships, has been 27 years in the making. Its development cost has escalated to . 6,000 crore, but it's a small fraction of the development costs for similar equipment abroad. Purists will point out that the aircraft uses imported avionics, airframes and a GE engine, and so is not wholly indigenous. But a future version of Tejas powered by Kaveri, the domestic aero-engine programme, complete with indigenised avionics and airframes, is in the works. And by upgrading its stealth capability, it should be possible to catapult Tejas into the select fifth generation international club in the future. In parallel, we need to strategise synergy so that Tejas provides a strong uplift for Saras, the indigenous civil aircraft programme.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OLD WINE, NEW HISTORY

HUMANKIND'S PRIORITIES UNCHANGED


THAT humankind's quest for intoxication probably predates other more worthy efforts such as inventing the wheel and domesticating horses is not surprising. Even today, there would probably be more takers for a good bottle of red wine than for more impactful tasks like solving the current food crisis. Judging from the site of the oldest winery yet to be uncovered — in Areni, Armenia — we had our priorities right: eat, drink, dress well and revel in rituals. Nor does it seem that the six millennia that separate the Copper Age human from today's Information Age one have changed anything. Prehistory, given that it had no ideologically stratified historians to give alternative theses, has the advantage of some certitude. Thus, if a 5,500-year old leather moccasin has been found in the excavation in Armenia, Tod's, Gucci and other loafers better acknowledge their Asia Minor roots. So must the snooty oenologists of the Burgundy region's prized Pinot Noirs, as remnants of fermented vitis vinifera grape juice at Areni apparently have links to the dry red French wine. Finding a soft leather upper in the same site as an ancient wine press, clay fermentation vat, wine-stained pottery shards and drinking receptacles point to bare-toed ancient vintners being pressed into action — a method still not entirely supplanted by post-Bronze Age technological advances. And the wine paraphernalia's proximity to ceremonial burial vessels also proves that ritual and libation have had a long association.

 

It is heartening to note, though, that archaeologists have not damned the ancients' efforts to make wine even as they faced imperatives like improving farming, industry and trade techniques. Perfecting the technology to ferment carbohydrates into alcohol, after all, has been crucial to prompting many eureka moments that have characterised human advance since then

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FARMERS AND THEIR SISYPHEAN TASK

TO BLAME RISING FARMER SUICIDES ON FACTORS SUCH AS INDEBTEDNESS AND LIBERALISATION MISSES A MAJOR PART OF THE STORY, BUT AD HOC SOLUTIONS ONLY POSTPONE ANY INSTITUTIONAL REFORM TO PREVENT THEM, SAYS NEERAJ KAUSHAL


THE Andhra Pradesh government has blamed microfinance institutions for the soaring number of suicides committed by farmers in recent months. Former state chief minister and Telugu Desam chief N Chandrababu Naidu is accusing the state government for it. Others have blamed liberalisation, commercialisation of agriculture, globalisation and related factors for the close to 2,00,000 instances of suicides among farmers in the past decade as per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics.

 

Who is the real culprit? Is it the government's neglect of the agrarian economy, the lending practices of microfinance institutions, liberalisation or globalisation?

 

Alarge number of studies conducted by social scientists across the country point to the following: there is no single culprit. Crop failure, debt burden, loss in nonagriculture activities and failure of borewells have as often been found to be associated with households with suicides as are person-specific factors such as alcoholism, gambling, property disputes and factors that point towards social problems such as burden of dowry, caste issues and other related social problems.

 

In a comprehensive study, Dr S R Deshpande of the Institute of Social and Economic Change in Bangalore investigated suicide among farmers in Karnataka and documented reasons that triggered these incidents as per the sources close to the victims. On average, the friends and relatives of victims provided three-four reasons per case as the likely causes of suicide.

 

The study computed proportional weights on the likely causes of suicides. These computations spring a number of surprises. With all the attention being focused on debt burden as the primary cause, the aforementioned study does not find indebtedness to be among the major reasons. According to responses from the friends and relatives of the victims, there was only a 3% probability that debt burden was the main cause of suicide. In comparison, friends and relatives considered that there was a 17% probability that crop failure led to the suicide. Note that this study found that almost every farming family was in debt, but this was not the reason for suicide attributed by a large proportion of family members and friends.

 

Personal habits like alcoholism, gambling and spendthrift had a higher — 20% —probability of being the cause of suicide and a chronic illness was likely to have pushed the victims to commit suicide with a 10% probability. As Dr Deshpamde states, suicide is a very personal act, and in most cases, a very confidential one as well. The opinions of friends and relatives are, therefore, just opinions. Moreover, most reasons reported by sources close to the victims are related; many of the personal habits, for instance, could have been triggered by factors beyond the control of farmers: e.g., crop failure.

 

Many studies have found that suicide households have loans from banks, cooperatives and microfinance institutions, but there is no conclusive evidence that indebtedness triggered the suicide. An investigation of 111 cases of suicide in Vidharbha by Dr Srijit Mishra of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research found that 84% of the suicide households were identified with indebtedness, but these households also faced social disputes, crop failure, addiction and marriage in family.

 

SUICIDE is a sad and complex phenomenon. Incidents of suicide among farmers are mostly localised in a few pockets in six states in the country: Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Kerala. It is not clear as to what is extraordinary about these states that trigger such extreme reactions from farmers. Quite possibly, economic, social and institutional changes in recent years are responsible for the high rate of suicide in some regions. At the same time, certain other societal forces that block modernisation may also be triggering such extreme reactions. Clearly, to blame suicide among farmers on largely external factors such as liberalisation and globalisation misses a major part of the story.

 

Politicians have often exploited suicide among farmers for political gains, and the recent indefinite hunger strike by Mr Naidu is no exception. Politicisation of suicides brings a small advantage and a big disadvantage. The advantage is that often it forces immediate policy action. Take the current situation in Andhra Pradesh that has attracted Mr Naidu's attention. A large number of farmers in the state have lost their entire crop due to untimely rains, and the state government has announced a paltry compensation of . 2,500 per acre, while the estimated loss per acre is approximately of the order of . 15,000. Mr Naidu claims that the other southern states have announced more generous packages for their farmers. In all likelihood, the ruling Congress party in Andhra Pradesh will increase the monetary compensation per acre. But will the government make sure that the compensation will be received by tenant farmers, who are the biggest losers of crop failures and not by the big landlords on whose land the tenants operate? What happens when a similar situation arises in future? While the Andhra Pradesh government may agree to a somewhat more generous package for farmers, it is unlikely that any action will be taken to avoid future instances of farmers' suicide.

 

This brings us to the disadvantage of the politicisation of this tragic phenomenon. It results in ad hoc policy solutions —e.g., temporary compensation for crop failure that may not necessarily go to the most-affected or loan waivers which distort the banking environment in rural areas or free power and electricity to farmers which is largely appropriated by large farmers, who often sell electricity to small farmers at commercial rates. Such ad hoc solutions also postpone any institutional reform that would prepare farmers and the rural economy for future instances of crop failures.

 

Agriculture is a very risky profession. Globalisation has made agriculture riskier. Almost all the burden of the risk, e.g., crop failure due to draught or excessive rains, falls on farmers. Instead of creating institutions that allow farmers to hedge their risk, politicians have opted for short cuts that provide instant votes, but not long-terms solutions that rescue farmers from the clutches of landlords, cooperatives, microfinance institutions and reduce risks on account of crop failures.

 

(The author teaches at     Columbia University)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

N EU RAL N ET

COVERING THE DEATH OF 'LEADER'

ULLEKH N P


IN THIS Hindu-majority country, most politicians are Hindus and they are cremated, not buried, when they die. The image we have of the last rites of a Hindu politician is a funeral pyre, with a setting sun in the background. Electric crematoriums might have replaced that to an extent, but their bodies are still burnt to ashes. Therefore, the good that politicians do is not "oft interred with their bones". Then again, literary allusions famously hold true in other ways. Some are more equal than others in the treatment they get in death, no matter how equally cantankerous they were in life. West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu died early last year with a "mixed legacy", and the media, rightly, also celebrated his follies. Well, he deserved a "mixed" response, you might say. And when S S Ray, Basu's one-time political opponent and Emergency-era eliminator of communists died a few months later, the response was a bit cold.

 

Congress patriarch Kannoth Karunakaran, who passed away a few weeks ago, was, for many, one of Kerala's most reviled politicians. But when he died, he acquired a halo. Like Jyoti Basu, this four-time chief minister of India's most literate state was merciless with the Naxalites and alleged sympathisers. Like S S Ray, this "wily fox" — an expression he secretly liked — was mean to communists, democrats all and sundry during the Emergency. He had to step down as CM over charges of "excesses" committed during the period. It was one of Karunakaran's henchmen, then state police chief K Lakshmana, who killed Naxalite leader Varghese point blank in a fake encounter in the forests of Wayanad in 1970. As fate would have it, months before Karunakaran died aged 92, his former acolyte was convicted, some forty years after Varghese's brutal killing.

Karunakaran was home minister when an engineering college student, P Rajan, said to be a Naxalite sympathiser, disappeared in police custody at the height of the Emergency. He was suspected to have been tortured to death and then dumped into a dam. Another version has it that Rajan was thrown into a huge vessel of burning sugar after he was killed during torture, so as not to leave any evidence. All this is part of history and tragic myth a generation of Malayalees grew up with. You just have to jog your memory on what became known as the Rajan Kola case (Rajan murder case) and it gives you the creeps.

 

Called "leader" by his followers and the media, Karunakaran had come under sharp attack even from his party men, especially by the likes of current defence minister A K Antony and the state leadership for nepotism, corruption, misgovernance, use of public funds to facilitate frequent visits to temples such as Guruvayoor. In the meantime, Rajan's father T V Eachara Warrier continued to fight a long legal battle against the authorities to bring to light the truth about his death, quite unsuccessfully. But the man accused of vitiating the Kerala police by co-opting his men — from Jayaram Padkikkal to Pulikkodan Narayanan and then Raman Srivastava — to "discharge" duties, had on some occasions turned the state into a "police Raj". Forget the Opposition, these were some of the accusations raised by his own party members.

 

But in death, the regional media made a martyr out of Karunakaran. It was the best (piteous) example of a craven eulogy Kerala ever saw. Dailies in Kerala just stopped short of calling the "Leader"— whom they see as the kingmaker behind P V Narasimha Rao's ascension as PM in 1991— the Mahatma. To be fair to the late leader, one must concede that in his prime he made the state Congress a relatively cohesive entity for electoral reasons. He also fast-tracked development projects. But it is a criminal oversight by the media to focus on his "winning smile" image alone and gloss over some painful realities of his leadership, including his failed efforts to groom as successor his son K Muralidharan, who later got expelled from the party.

 

Or perhaps the local media was right about his martyrdom. For, Karunakaran went down fighting for his son's political future. But what will you call that legacy? The wise, "edict" writers at the regional dailies should know.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CU RSOR

CALLING BENGALI/BIHARI V KURIENS

T K ARUN

 

RISING prices of vegetables and of other articles of food are a problem, of course, but also an opportunity to give a boost to the incomes of rural producers, with a little imagination and organisation. Two states that can deliver a swift boost in farm production and productivity are Bihar and Bengal, with their fertile soil and water ever present on the surface or just below it. Assam would also qualify, except for its greater logistical challenges in getting the produce to the rest of the country.

 

Policy is perennially schizophrenic when it comes to farm prices. Jai Kisan, shouts the government and promptly clamps down on exports whenever food prices turn up the political heat. Procurement prices are the same as minimum support prices, and the latter are hiked every now and then, and surprise feigned when food commodity prices go up. Except in the case of procured grain, the link between the price the consumer pays and the price received by the farmer is tenuous. Middlemen not only add on huge margins but also are in a position to inflate these margins at the slightest indication of a supply shortfall. A supply chain and trading system that give such enormous leverage to middlemen do serious damage of two kinds: one, transmission of the price signal arising at the consumer all the way to the farmer turns fuzzy and, two, the trader acquires the power to manipulate prices. An organised retail industry is the only thing that can tackle this.

 

Organised retail brings Wal-Mart to mind. But why? Mother Dairy in Delhi and its counterparts around the country in the cooperative sector are also organised retail. Amul is an example of an efficient, farmerfriendly supply chain management company that captures the bulk of the price paid by the retail consumer for the farmer. We need to build more such institutions.

 

Opening up organised retail to foreign direct investment has been a major area of debate. The energies wasted in this would be better spent in building up a wholly domestic retail chain with the farmer as the starting point. We launched Operation Flood when resources were meagre and technology rudimentary, but Vergehese Kurien's pioneering cooperative movement built India's dairy sector into the world's largest. Today, when the resources at our disposal are far greater and knowhow, far more sophisticated, we should be able to outdo Operation Flood. Instead, we have Paralysis Trickle.

 

However, Bihar and Bengal do not need to wait for a new distribution chain to be built to step up farm production and feed fast-growing India's rising appetite for food, superior foods and non-food agricultural commodities. In the short run, they can act to step up the output of vegetables of all kinds. The increase in supply will both find ready takers in the existing retail formats, and halt the rise in vegetable prices. Since reining food prices in is of immense political significance for the Centre, it should be possible for these states to negotiate special devolution schemes from the Centre, linked to time-bound delivery of additional food output. These should be able to cover most of the outlay the state governments need to make in the effort.
 

What is crucially needed is organisation and administration, and money plays a secondary role. The crop that is best suited for a production boost in each micro region has to be identified fast. In all probability, the data exists, in local farm lore, if not in the regional agricultural university or some colonial catalogue meticulously compiled to make the best possible use of India's resources.

 

The government could make the needed inputs available, including seeds, manure, micro-nutrients and crop husbandry practices, but without subsidy.

Organising scattered, small-scale producers into production units that use standardised farming practices and seeds and other inputs and do so in coordination with one another is one crucial task. The other is procurement of the produce, its cleaning, packaging, sale, despatch and delivery to bulk consumers with speed, hygiene and efficiency while realising the best possible price and kicking it back to the producers.

 

What these tasks call for are new commercial organisations. Farmer companies, in which all members have the same voting rights and are free to sell stake to outside investors, should be just as welcome as cooperatives of the Amul kind. Let multiple companies/cooperatives be formed in each region.

 

It would be a good idea to invite fresh graduates of the IIMs and IRMA to lead these enterprises. The challenge and the opportunity to prove their worth should be sufficient incentive for young talent, even if a chance to solve the world's food crisis and step into VKurien's shoes looks too daunting.

 

Enabling swift registration of companies/ coops, keeping at bay the tentacles of red tape and seed capital should be the states' contribution. Enthusing small producers to embark on a new adventure should be the prime contribution of political leadership.

 

Buddha and Nitish have little to lose by giving this a good try, and a whole new world to win, if they succeed. Let's hope they will.

 

Food shortage in India and the world is a huge opportunity to improve the lot of farmers in India, including small farmers


What they primarily need is a new organisational form in which to produce better and to market their produce
Bengal and Bihar are ideally placed to kickstart a new Operation Flood for food, moving away from Paralysis Trickle now

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

THREE CHEERS TO EQUALITY?

VITHAL C NADKARNI


RICHARD Wilkinson had just finished his Master's degree in epidemiology when he wrote an open letter to the then British Prime Minister in 1976. He demanded an 'urgent enquiry' into 'the largest social class difference in mortality then on record' in the UK. Three months later, Wilkinson got what he wanted — a working group chaired by Sir Douglas Black, which later delivered the Black Report on Inequalities in Health.

 

Four decades later, Wilkinson's concerns remain unchanged. In Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Good For Everyone, a recent book co-authored with Kate Pickett, he continues to argue that inequality is divisive, and even small differences matter a lot, in life and death terms.

 

He contends that inequality literally makes you sick. Lower status is linked to greater stress, more anxiety and less self-respect, which, in turn, are all connected to more physical and mental ailments; that means more self-destructive behaviour and more poverty.

 

Does that mean waving the magic wand of liberty, equality and fraternity enables us to usher in utopia; where the lion lies with the lamb ,indicative of ahealthful bonhomie on earth?

 

Wilkinson argues that inequality is indeed the root cause of social problems and it's not the other way around. Nor is he the first person to prescribe social engineering to achieve a 'historic shift'! But whether this actually works by blurring social rifts or whether enforced equality eventually leads to a dystopia remains a most contentious matter. In the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, Prince Arjuna plaintively refers to the latter prospect as sankara or mixture, the derogative Sanskrit equivalent of khichdi or hodgepodge. How conducive is it for the greater human good in terms of evolutionary success?

 

That reminds your columnist of an anecdote about Barbara Cartland, the late romance novelist who allegedly looked like 'a giant pink meringue sprung to life': When a journo asked Dame Barbara if the class system had broken down and she said, 'Of course it has, or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you.'

 

She herself purveyed a romantic vision of a class-ridden, bygone world that continues to entrance the madding crowds. Slate has a series called Great Divergence on growing wealth disparities all around. In its wake comes what's best described as Page 3 toffstalgia. Equality kills it. Curiosity fuels it.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DITHERING ON UREA DECONTROL

THE LEAST THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO IS TO FIX A TIME LIMIT BY WHICH UREA IS DECONTROLLED.

 

Is it not anomalous that the Centre that harps on economic liberalisation, fiscal prudence and subsidy reduction should choose to defer the assurance it gave — decontrol of urea and bringing it under the nutrient-based subsidy scheme (NBS) — but seek to buy time instead by referring the matter to a committee of secretaries? There surely is something more than meets the eye. Last April, the fertiliser industry received its first dose of freedom when potassic and phosphatic fertilisers were freed from price control with the expectation that it would promote balanced fertiliser application through new fortified products and encourage extension services by the fertiliser industry. But urea has continued under the government regime of price and movement control, that kept the maximum retail price frozen for eight years till a the 10 per cent price hike in April 2010.

 

It is obvious that the full benefit of the NBS scheme would accrue to the industry if and only if urea is also decontrolled. The industry's expectation that urea too would be quickly brought under the NBS scheme has now been dashed. Hopefully, this dampener is temporary. The least the government should do is to fix a time limit by which urea is decontrolled. This will remove uncertainties and allow entrepreneurs and fertiliser companies to explore market opportunities. The current bias in favour of urea because of its lower price deserves to be changed in the long-term interest of soil health. The market is looking for customised products to meet specific needs of crop/soil conditions. Flow of investment in new capacities as also expansion or modernisation is a distinct possibility. Delay in decontrol of urea also means that the Finance Minister's assurance during the last Budget (that the new NBS system would move towards direct transfer of subsidies to the farmers) will not be implemented any time soon.

 

Clearly, urea decontrol is a politically-sensitive subject. Already reeling under the unmitigated onslaught of food inflation, New Delhi wants to play safe. It is also likely that coalition partners are exerting pressure not to touch urea at this point of time as elections are due in no fewer than four States. Decontrol is sure to push urea prices higher, but would bring relief from high levels of fertiliser subsidies. In its wisdom, the Government seems to have sacrificed fiscal prudence for electoral or coalition compulsions. Despite rising fertiliser consumption, improving the marginal productivity of soil still remains a challenge. This requires increased application of NPK and proper nutrients based on soil analysis. Dithering on urea decontrol will hardly help.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TAKING A LEAF OUT OF MANU

MOHAN R. LAVI

 

IPL franchisees would do well to publish their annual reports every year as ManU does, and this may help them if they plan to tap the market.

 

After see-sawing precariously over the last year or so, the stage is now set for IPL IV. The two-day auction jamboree has resulted in revised market values for a few players, new franchisees for many cricketers and impairment of some veterans. Graft charges against the former chairman and ownership issues with a few teams are yet to find final resolution and would take time.

 

But IPL being a multi-million dollar brand, the show must go on. Two teams were barred from participating in the fourth edition on charges of transgression of share-holding and ownership norms till the courts and arbitrators brought peace. With the starting hurdles removed, the franchisees can utilise the time till the event begins to attempt being transparent in their finances and governance.

 

Working of IPL

 

The finances of the IPL are a maze of percentages and agreements. From what can be gathered, it appears that the mega bucks to the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) come from sale of media rights and sponsorship of IPL.

 

The media rights were sold by BCCI for $ 1.02 billion for 10 years; the broadcaster has to spend $ 108 million to promote the event over the decade. The media-rights agreement worked out a fixed payment for the first five years – based on television rating points (TRPs) and an accelerated payment over the next five, if the format is remunerative.

 

The media rights are distributed equally amongst the franchisees after the BCCI retains its pound of flesh while 60 per cent of the sponsorship rights are distributed to the franchisees. At the franchisee level, team sponsorships, gate collections, merchandise sale and other match day receipts provide additional revenue streams while the main outgos are on team franchise costs, player costs, marketing costs and stadium expenses. Depending on now hard a franchisee sells its brand, IPL can be a profitable venture.

 

Manchester United

 

Having been inspired by the English Premier League, IPL franchisees can get further inspiration by following accounting and finance practices that some clubs in England follow. The financial statements of Manchester United (ManU) — owned by private limited company Red Football - are filed with the Companies House every year and a recent Note Offering provided further details of its accounting policies.

 

The lukewarm response to the Notes Offering could be attributed to disclosures on risks made — the primary risk being the significant amount of debt that ManU carried on its books - £512 million including the Notes which would have increased considering creditor and hedging obligations. ManU clocked in revenues of about £278 million in 2009. It reported earnings before tax (EBT) of £48 million in 2009 as compared to losses in the previous years. The bloated debt took its toll on the profits too — EBT would have been £90 million if not for a charge of £42 million for net interest payable.

 

The balance-sheet of ManU doesn't look highly leveraged due to its use of International Accounting Standard 38 on Intangible Assets — £386 million as Goodwill and £113 million as player registrations add muscle to the Assets on the Balance-Sheet. In respect of player registrations, a further impairment review trigger event would occur when the player is excluded from income generation, for example as a result of a career-ending injury.

 

The Statements also include data on the management, owners and related parties something that our IPL franchisees can adapt.

 

The accounting policies provide further guidance on what constitutes a liability or provision — under the terms of certain contracts with other football clubs in respect of player transfers, additional amounts would be payable by ManU if certain conditions are met where a part of the consideration payable on acquiring a player's registration is contingent on a future event; this amount is recognised once it is probable, rather than possible, that the event will occur and is amortised from the date at which the contingent payment becomes probable. The Club has all the ingredients of a modern corporation — intellectual property, permanent employees and litigation too.

 

Transfers

 

The recent auctions were a part of the IPL Rules and Regulations initially framed — the first bids for players were for a three-year time-frame as the present bids will be too. In future, the format could permit transfer of players temporarily or permanently during seasons.

 

ManU states that where a sale transaction for a players' registration is in progress at the balance sheet date, but completed by the date the accounts are approved and the amount of net proceeds is less than the carrying value of that registration, a provision for the loss on disposal is included in the financial statements.

 

An assessment is made of directly attributable disposal costs and related onerous contract costs, such amounts are provided and included within the disposal of player's category in the profit and loss account. Proceeds from the temporary transfer of players' registrations to other clubs are offset against their respective staff costs.

 

IPL franchisees would do well to publish their annual reports every year, though not mandated by law.

 

The sheer size of the event, the ever-increasing quantum of funds required and keeping an exit option open for the owners could tempt some to access the capital market — when they would have to be more forthcoming in their accounting and governance policies and disclosures.

 

(The author is a Bangalore-based chartered accountant.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DON'T OVER-REGULATE STOCK EXCHANGES

ASHIMA GOYAL

 

The Jalan committee on stock exchanges has expressed concern over ownership patterns and excessive profits.

The best response to such market imperfections is to promote competition and tone up systems with better governance and technology.

 

The Jalan committee on Market Microstructure Institutions (MIIs) starts from basic principles, moderated by context. This is the best way to go about regulatory redesign. It discusses the evolution of Indian markets, the essential characteristics of market infrastructure institutions, and their responsibilities. The positions of interested parties contribute to domain knowledge, but only arguments based on principles can help reach an objective social- welfare maximising decision. What then are the committee's arguments?

 

TECHNOLOGY AND GOVERNANCE

 

It starts with the basic principles, but has not drawn the correct conclusions from them. As the committee points out, in the days of floor trading stock exchanges were set up as associations of persons. Exchanges were no-profit clubs of intermediaries distributing the rent among heterogeneous members. It was advantageous to have a geographical clustering of financial intermediaries.

 

But with new technologies, geographically dispersed intermediaries can provide liquidity as well. The governance structure of exchanges changes to a for-profit corporation. Profits help in improving technology, which is now the main avenue of competition. Better technology and processes attract more customers.

 

Fear of broker or insider dominance leads the committee to try and restrict types of ownership, and to make entry difficult. But such dominance follows from the first structure. Professional managements and good systems are sufficient to prevent it in any modern exchange, since structure follows technology. Therefore, in focusing on ownership, the committee is fighting the wrong battle. It is not that Indians are corrupt; it is systems that generate certain types of behaviour. The regulator should rather ensure better systems though correct governance principles.

 

NOT BY PROTECTIONISM

 

A corporation's rationale is to make profits. But in protected markets this new organisational form generates excessive profits. So its stance in favour of protection forces the committee to suggest restrictions on profits. But these are difficult to administer, involving too much regulatory intervention and interface, which creates incentives for corruption and regulatory capture, just as the earlier control regime did. Regulators are also fallible, so another basic principle of regulatory design is to minimise regulatory discretion. In a market-based system, the best way to reduce profits is to encourage competition; today's battle must be fought with modern weapons.

 

APPREHENSIVE OF INSTABILITY

 

But another principle, that of network externalities, suggests a potential risk from competition. Electronic markets work like a network, costs fall for the one that is able to attract more customers, so others also find it in their interest to migrate and the equilibrium tips over.

 

Having defined an exchange as an "essential facility" and a "public good", the committee becomes over- protective since it is wary of any instability in this space. Lessons from international experience suggest, however, instability may not be a problem. First, strong risk management systems make exchanges robust. Although many banks were in trouble during the global crisis, not a single exchange failed. Post-crisis, most countries are encouraging transparent, exchange-traded financial products.

 

Exchanges were stable despite the pro-competitive stance of regulators, who knew that managements, aware of the possibilities of tipping in networks, try to lock in customers in various ways.

 

For example, competition alone was inadequate, given the possibility of tying software, so the judiciary intervened in the famous Microsoft case. America's Securities and Exchange Commission has a "best-price" stock-handling rule to maintain competition across exchanges. Even if liquidity tips over in one product, an exchange can be competitive in other products.

 

Markets remain liquid if the transaction is conducted at the exchange offering the best deal. Customer service improves and transaction costs reduce. Exchanges are pushed to remain at the fast moving frontier of technology.

 

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

 

Since an exchange is itself a regulator, there is a possible conflict of interest. The committee fears that competition will lower standards in a regulatory race to the bottom.

 

An essential facility cannot be allowed to deteriorate like that. But the power of electronic systems in recording and making available all kinds of information enables the design of preventive, yet non-invasive, surveillance.

 

Exchanges may be individual entities, but there is a regulator above them to enforce standards. Designing random checks and reporting norms is not resource intensive.

 

Therefore, regulatory change must be such as to ensure competition, using the safeguards of better governance and better technology-enabled systems. India's past experience shows that overprotecting an industry is a good way to ensure it never grows up.

 

Dr Jalan himself wrote, in his 2005 book on Indian governance, that replacing "old and cumbersome administrative procedures" based on multiple discretionary approvals "by a rule-based system largely based on self-certification" was very successful in the regulation of the capital account. This lesson needs to be applied to MIIs also. That means the regulated use of markets with the minimum of arbitrary restrictions.

 

(The author is professor at IGIDR and public interest representative of the Forward Market Commission on the Board of MCX.)

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

FACEBOOK FACES THE BOOK

S.MURLIDHARAN

 

Companies Act needs to clamp down on private companies thriving with substantial public money.

 

Facebook is now faced with the same question which haunted another distinguished member of its broader fraternity, Google, a few years ago — whether to go public or not.

 

With Goldman Sachs, pumping equity of $ 450 million into Facebook and keen to palm off as much of this to wealthy investors through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), it is faced with an imminent prospect of being questioned by the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) as to the total number of shareholders it has.

 

An ostensibly private company but with more than 500 direct or indirect shareholders (hiding in large numbers inside a monolithic conduit) always faces the threat of being called upon to abide by norms applicable to listed companies, namely quarterly disclosure of results and publishing of audited accounts.

 

Google in 2004 thought it more prudent to go for listing rather than having to make such public disclosures despite being a closely held company on surface.

 

Goldman Sachs' SPV would be in addition to the existing shareholders of Facebook and obviously breach the 500 mark and hence the dilemma — whether to go public or not - the one that assailed Google as well.

 

Facebook's worry is that its revenue model is not as robust as Google's and any premature listing could be counter-productive.

 

The Indian company law too has been grappling with the issue of substantial public participation in ostensible private companies.

 

Earlier, Section 43A pummelled private companies with substantial participation in terms of various criteria such as at least 25 per cent of its capital being held by a public company, turnover of beyond certain threshold etc and practically made them public companies particularly for disclosure purposes so that public interest was served.

 

This section was unceremoniously jettisoned by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2000.

 

But simultaneously the definition of public company was amended to include private companies that were the subsidiaries of public companies.

 

The cognoscenti aver that the simultaneous amendment to the definition of public company has retrieved the ground only partially given the fact that more often than not it takes more than 50 per cent equity participation to make a company subsidiary of the investor-company.

 

In the event, today there are in India a large number of private companies with substantial public participation.

 

And we haven't addressed the issue of whether a corporate or institutional investor should be treated on par with an individual investor. A private company in India cannot have more than 50 members, excluding employee-shareholders and ex-employee shareholders provided they had become members while in employment. The latitude given to companies to enjoy private status despite having thousands of employee-shareholding is a tad difficult to understand and seems to be a terrible mix-up with the socialistic desire to promote employee participation in companies.

 

While employee participation is indeed desirable, this should be fostered through means other than through exemption from the regulatory and disclosure requirements of the law reserved for public companies given the fact that such exemption could be counter-productive to the very interests the law seeks to promote and humour.

 

The point is shouldn't the policymakers in India be worried about the size and reach of an investor, especially the monolithic ones, as Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) of the US is? How can, for example, a big, listed company which is a shareholder in a private company and a lesser mortal be counted merely as shareholder number one and shareholder number two respectively, especially if the former has substantial public participation which indeed is the hallmark of a listed company?

 

The Companies (Amendment) Act, 2000 while jettisoning Section 43A introduced a few balancing measures which unfortunately have proved to be feeble and weak. Deeming private companies, as pointed out earlier herein, as public if it happens to be a subsidiary of a public company is not good enough given the fact that the shareholding threshold for this threshold is at a fairly high level whereas even at a lesser threshold there can be a substantial public participation.

 

The other feeble placatory attempt made by it was insertion of a proviso to Section 67(3) that does not insulate a company from the strict requirements of issuance of prospectus through the glib assertion of 'private placement' if the offer is subscribed by 50 or more persons. While the amendment did have the effect of halting the farce of companies getting away with no disclosures even when thousands of persons participated in a private placement, it did not address the issue of huge institutional investors lurking inside the boundary placed for private participation.

 

The Indian policymakers are rightly incensed with closely-held companies enjoying listing status thanks to the measly public participation requirement of 10 per cent, and have read out the riot act to bring up the public shareholding to the 25 per cent level in a calibrated manner within three years. They should be equally incensed with another abuse — private companies thriving with substantial public money.

 

(The author is a Delhi-based chartered accountant.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

AUDITING ANTI-FRAUD CONTROLS

K.P. SHASHIDHARAN

 

Most critical deterrent factor in any entity is the tone at the top – a zero-tolerance to fraud, and strict adherence to integrity and honesty by the management.

 

Fraud in the Citibank's Gurgaon branch amounting to Rs 316 crore or more may remain a mystery. It may offer interesting lessons for the regulators as it has happened in a bank awarded for excellence in almost every sphere of banking activity, including best Internet banking and brand equity.

 

It was reported that the relations manager had got a forged circular in the name of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which claimed that the high return scheme was available only at Citibank's Gurgaon branch. He managed to open 18 fraudulent accounts and succeeded in swindling the investors' money . The top notch bank is expected to have robust computerised information system, enterprise risk management, application of BASEL norms. The foreign-listed bank is regulated by Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 in the US and its Indian counterpart is required to comply with the corresponding SEBI Clause 49 Listing Agreement. The bank is regulated by SEBI and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and is to be inspected and audited by senior management, internal audit and I-T audit teams, accredited information system auditors as well as external statutory auditors.

 

One of the objectives of SOX and Clause 49 compliance is to build adequate internal controls by testing, validating and overseeing their effectiveness to help the organisation prevent occurrence of fraud and material misstatements in the financial statements. It may be possible that controls may be there to prevent misstatements of financial statements, but controls restricting user access to sensitive functions, information and data and segregation of duties may be lacking.

 

OCCUPATIONAL FRAUD

 

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), after conducting a global study based on 1843 frauds from 106 countries, estimates that a typical organisation loses 5 per cent of its annual revenue to fraud in its 2010 "Report to the Nations on occupational fraud and abuse". The association worked out that the potential total fraud loss to the estimated Gross World Product in 2009 would be more than $2.9 trillion, giving the global perspective of the viral epidemic of occupational fraud.

 

Occupational fraud is committed by the employees of the organisation by misusing one's position for misappropriating its resources and assets. Basically, occupational frauds fall into three broad categories.

 

The first category is corruption that manifests in manipulation of purchase and sales, involving bribery, kickbacks, bid-rigging, illegal gratuities and economic extortion. The second type is cash or non-cash asset misappropriation. Cash misappropriation can be larceny, skimming and fraudulent disbursements. Non-cash misuse includes asset requisitions and transfers, false sales and shipping, purchasing and receiving. The third group is falsification of financial statements, exhibiting asset and liability overstatements,under-statements; revenue and expenditure understatements or overstatements; and manoeuvring of non-financial statements such as employment credentials, internal documents and external documents.

 

Most critical factor in any entity is the tone at the top – a zero tolerance to fraud by the top management by creating a control environment and style of leadership; and the way the organisation is run strictly adhering to integrity and honesty. It is important for any entity to have a well laid-out anti-fraud policy, formal code of ethics and code of conduct in place, known to all employees and administered in the organisation.

 

Inadequacy of internal controls and laxity in the existing control environment which permits overriding the existing controls lead to majority of frauds. The entity may not have positioned effective, competent personnel with inevitable oversight responsibilities. There should be employees support programmes, specific fraud training for the staff and executives, job rotation, mandatory vacation and employee-support programmes

 

(The author is a Director General, CAG Office)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

NEW ERA OF COMPETITION BECKONS

ASHOAK UPADHYAY

 

It would be difficult at this stage to decide on which company could set a new trend in 2011: the BM Munjal controlled Hero group has bought off Honda Motors' 26 per cent stake in Hero Honda with a market value of nearly $2 billion, or i-GATE's purchase of Patni Computers.

Analysts would like to believe that the Hero-Honda divorce deal helps Honda strike out alone in the Indian market but by the same token it leaves the Hero group room to find its own identity in newer products such as three-wheelers.

 

What it has done is a trend-breaking acquisition after a year in which many Indian blue chip companies especially in the pharma sector walked up to the negotiating table and then ran to the bank.

 

AGAINST THE GRAIN

 

The Munjal-led Hero group split from Honda Motor after a marriage of 26 years in which it rode piggy-back on the Honda name; now it has put its money on the line for an independent existence as a competitive brand; in the bargain it pitches itself against the Japanese giant not just in India but globally.

 

Cut to the IT sector and what we have is another instance of assertion, not one Indian company against a global name but an outsider of sorts nibbling at the heels of the top five Indian IT companies, now increasingly exposed to headwinds from newcomers like Philippines.

 

When i-GATE's Phaneesh Murthy acquired Patni Computers he did more than turn his outfit into a billion dollar company knocking on heaven's door. He sounded the first tocsin for the guiding lights of India's IT 'revolution'. i-GATE asserts a hope that India's IT sector will not become the ossified monolith that its manufacturing counterpart still is after all the liberalisation.

 

What has changed since the Monopoly Restrictive Trade Practices Commission's lethargic policing of an industrial landscape dominated by geriatric industry houses, other than the fact that it is now peopled by a smaller number of middle-aged industrial firms aging from a lack of competition in the domestic markets from below?

 

Consumers are what brands make them and Honda reigns supreme mainly because of its phonetic allure; with increasing standardisation what else distinguishes Toshiba from Phillips but the relative enchantments of their TV commercials? So when Hero decides to part ways it does something for that competitive spirit among producers that seems to have petered out in an age that glorifies it. Both Hero and i-GATE break the textual and rhetorical maze in which budding enterpreneurial possibilities invariably meet their anonymous fate in a placement in the top five. Not all the professors from American academe or the rash of Indian management schools can offer even the faintest clue as to what it takes for an entrepreneur to match the net worth of the Sensex 500. But capitalism's potential for individual enterprise has always lain in that possibility and someone like Facebook's inventor confirms that possibility.

 

But corporate India has always presented a dreary landscape of sameness; open the pages of some financial print media and the same faces stare out in bored arrogance or souped-up excitement shaking hands with a new minister of the environment.

 

What we witness in the Munjal-Hero buyout of Honda and the i-GATE purchase of Patni is more than just an assertion of Indian-ness, as if that mattered at all. What both reflect are the first gingerly steps towards a more dynamic corporate India, hopefully fluid in its constituency and with revolving doors.

 

RISK AVERSION

 

Why is it necessary, one might ask. For a nation of one billion and with a growing number of billionaires among industry, with Indian companies reaching out as global players, the record of inventiveness is pretty dismal; in large part, this is because of the same reason that allowed monopolies to flourish in the license raj: the aversion for risk, the comfort of success.

 

So long as the worship of the accomplished fact remains the abiding credo in mainline industry and in management schools among students, not all the Phaneesh Murthys and Munjals will change India's ossified climate for individual enterprise.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

AUDITING ANTI-FRAUD CONTROLS

SHODDY REFERENCE

 

What can be a dubious starter material to students of finance and accounting is ' Taxmann's Dictionary' by Dhruba Duttachowdhury ( www.taxmann.com). Addressed to 'chartered accountants, company secretaries, cost accountants and corporate professionals,' the book begins with 'A, A+, A++' explained as "the gradation certificates on project rating conferred by the Project Appraiser Board of India. They depend upon multi-dimensional facets of new projects in the fields of communication, agri-business, petrochemicals, electronics…" If you search for "Project Appraiser Board of India" in Google, the only result is from www.odisha360.com/yellow-pages, about a Bhubaneswar-based entity classified under 'Society - NGO and Charity.'

 

Fraud buster

 

Fraud is so much in the news these days, so if you thumb towards 'F' there is the entry for 'fraud buster.' It is not the CAG or CVC that finds place in the elaboration but "a kind of computer program used by Microsoft Excel to detect cyber fraud through statistical analysis." Thankfully Duttachowdhury has given a link to an article of 2003 in www.aicpa.org, wherefrom you will learn that 'fraud buster' is the name given the article's authors for a Visual Basic Application (VBA) they have developed.

 

Disappointed that 'scam' does not seem to figure among the entries, I move on to 'signpost' which is "a post with arms showing the direction of and distances to certain places," and that makes me desperate enough to look for the missing 'scarecrow'!

 

Interestingly, however, what follows the 'signpost' is 'silence as fraud,' about which the author says, "Mere silence as to facts likely to affect the willingness of a person to enter into a contract is not fraud, unless the circumstances of the case are such that it is the duty of the person keeping silent to speak, or unless his silence is in itself equivalent to speech." Well, if that make you wonder about the PM's silence, you may not be alone.

 

As for the book, it is heavy enough to be kept in impressive shelves that are rarely disturbed.

 

A systematic approach to improvement

 


What is the role of professional managers? To ever improve the performance of the system under their responsibility, says Oded Cohen in ' Ever Improve: A guide to managing production the TOC way' ( www.kkbooks.com). "This is what motivates managers to do a professional job; this is what is expected by their bosses and their companies. This assumption also serves as the basis for remuneration, bonuses, and career promotion," he adds.

 

Four elements

 

The author is of the view that becoming a professional manager is a conscious decision reflecting a self-selection process. He notes that good managers are not only capable, and confident, but are also willing to make the effort to make the difference.

 

Elaborating on the role of professional manager, Cohen lists four elements, viz. the area of responsibility, performance measurements, improvement, and continuous improvement. As for the first, he explains that once a manager is put in charge of an area, a sub-system, or a full system, the organisation expects a smooth running of the area and a positive contribution of the area to the goal of the company.

 

"While constructing a conceptual solution for improvement it is important to clearly define the area of responsibility. In many improvement methodologies the authority given to the implementer of the approach is limited, and so there is a danger of getting only a fraction of the expected or potential results."

 

Since every area and sub-system has to make a specific contribution to the organisation's goal, performance measurements become necessary. There are both implicit and explicit measurements; examples are balanced scorecard (BSC) and key performance indicators (KPIs).

 

Closer to the goal

 

Defining 'improvement' as taking the system closer to its goal, Cohen observes that KPIs are expected to provide the bridge between the long-term strategy of the global system and the short-term local actions and decisions made within every area. "Through the use of KPI, top management indicates what the desired level of performance is. Many times the KPI is presented as a gauge with clear zones that highlight if the performance is good, excellent, or not satisfactory."

 

The fourth element, that is 'continuous improvement,' calls for 'ever improving' the performance, meaning thus a commitment to never stop striving to find better ways for the system to run smoother and with higher performance, says the author.

 

As an example of what it takes to commit to continuous improvement, Cohen narrates his experience of working with a plant manager of a large engineering company in the UK, who was then just over 60 years in age but energetic, extremely charismatic, and a remarkable leader. "He told me: 'Every day that I walk through the gate of the plant, I have an idea how to improve the system. The day that I will have no idea to offer is the day that I should retire.' He was serious about his commitment."

 

When improvisations wear out

 

Since managers have the pressure to improve the performance of their areas, they develop 'solutions' – that is, ideas new to the environment, and changing the way they manage their areas. Conceding that many times the solutions do produce improved performance, the author instructs that a point is eventually reached when managers are not happy anymore with the return on their improvement efforts. This, he finds, is the time when the managers may consider looking at TOC (Theory of Constraints) as an alternative to the improvisation route.

 

Cohen describes TOC as the pivot that provides the bridge between the current and the future. For starters, the TOC way is based on the realisation that the performance of every system is governed by very few of its constraints; and the constraints block the system from achieving higher performance.

 

Through the TOC pivot, the author assures that we can indicate to the manager not only what to do differently but also, very strongly, what not to do. "We can summarise it as: Stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things!"

 

Right read for enterprises eager to recover faster than the rest.

 

D. MURALI

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

STOCK MARKETS HATE UNCERTAINTY

Some years ago, when the stock market was in one of its periodic crashes, the then finance minister was asked what he thought of it. He said he was more worried about Khan Market (in New Delhi) than the stock market in Mumbai, an indication that he was more worried about the common people than the stock market going up or down, which is normal. He was on the dot. The stock market's contribution to GDP is negligible. Going up or down is normal and, predictably, no one complains when the market goes up at a scorching pace. But everyone complains when it goes into correction mode. However, the recent loss of over 1,000 points in the first five days of trading in the New Year was no ordinary fall. Its losses were steep even when compared to the global markets. Foreign institutional investors dominate the Indian stock markets and these FIIs have been net sellers in the New Year. India's domestic problems have made the US markets look more attractive, specially because there are signs of a recovery and a strong dollar. India, on the other hand, is in the throes of one crisis after another — high inflation, high interest rates, high fiscal deficit, a semi-paralysed government that has been putting off decisions on reforms, postponing decisions on the goods and services tax, on diesel prices, and even on the sale of Cairn Plc to Vedanta. The numerous scams and scandals involving top banks in the bribes-for-loans scandal have also taken much of the sheen off the stock market. The stock market dislikes uncertainty and the government is not perceived as tackling this uncertainty decisively. Governance is at a discount in Delhi.

With the credit policy to be announced by the RBI on January 25, the uncertainty over whether or not interest rates will be hiked hangs over the market like Damocles' sword, and over the people in general, as housing and auto loans etc. will become more expensive. The extremely low index of industrial production released on Wednesday is being used by India Inc. to buttress its plea that interest rates should not be hiked as it would affect production further. But the government is in a catch-22 situation. The common thinking is that not increasing interest rates may aggravate inflation further. On the other hand, if rates are increased, the credit offtake will fall as industry will be squeezed of funds. But food inflation is the most worrying as it is a supply problem. Tinkering with the monetary policy will not help supply-side issues. Shortages are made worse by hoarding and, therefore, food prices are high. The bungling of the agriculture and food and civil supplies ministry has exacerbated the situation. The government may even need to take harsh decisions to tackle the problems affecting the economy and the stock markets. Till today, except for an inconclusive emergency meeting and lots of platitudes, nothing concrete has emerged. Even the new telecom minister seems more concerned with saving his party and contradicting the CAG rather than getting on with recovering from the telecom companies the money for excess spectrum and that lost from other acts of omission.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THINK NEPAL, NOT MAO

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

As India settles into its seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), it can look forward to a busy year ahead. Among the many vexatious issues on the agenda is the impending closure of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). Established in January 2007, UNMIN was tasked with facilitating the disarmament process outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006. UNMIN's mandate has already been extended seven times and is now set to expire on January 15, 2011. In a recent report to the Security Council, the chief of UNMIN has warned that if the current stalemate is not broken, Nepal could witness a presidential intervention or even a military coup. But India has made it clear that the UNMIN has failed to accomplish its objectives and that it should be wound up. At the same time, New Delhi seems ready to step up its diplomatic efforts to overcome the impasse.

The prevailing gridlock in Nepal revolves around two related issues: integration of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army, and the drawing up of a new Constitution. The CPA placed the Nepal Army and the PLA on par. It also called for the formation of a special committee to "inspect, integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants". An accompanying agreement on managing the armies stated that this committee would determine "who are eligible for integration into the security forces". The committee was set up in the end of 2008 and a little over 19,000 PLA fighters have been verified. Differences, however, persist between the Maoists and the other major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML). The latter, with the support of the Nepal Army, insists that the number of PLA fighters to be integrated must be determined upfront by negotiations. They claim that the Maoists had agreed to a figure of 3,000. The Maoists deny this and insist that the numbers can only be fixed after ascertaining the wishes of every PLA combatant. Another area of disagreement is over entry standards for reintegration. The Nepal Congress, UML and the Army insist that current standards should be applicable. A third point of discord is over whether the PLA fighters will be inducted as units (the Maoists' demand) or as individuals.

None of these are insurmountable problems. And India can facilitate their resolution. But it would be best to tackle these as part of larger changes to the structure and composition of the Nepal Army. The CPA, which India was instrumental in arranging, specifically calls for "democratic restructuring" of the Army to make it "national and inclusive". The ethnic composition both of the officer corps and the rank-and-file has to be broadened. In particular, the Madhesis of Terai and Dalits have to be afforded an opportunity to serve in the Army. These changes will necessitate an examination of the existing standards for recruitment. Such an exercise should help crystallise new norms and standards that will also be applicable to the PLA fighters seeking reintegration. The issue of integration as units or individuals can similarly be considered in the light of the larger changes to the force structure.

The challenge for India is not to allow its approach to be shaped exclusively by the concerns of Nepal Army and its political backers. The Army's concerns are understandable. But persisting with the current set-up is not in the long-term interest of Nepal — a point that New Delhi understood when supporting the CPA in 2006. During the stand-off between the Maoist leader Prachanda and the Army Chief in 2009, India stood by the Army. This not only led Prachanda to step down as Prime Minister, but also called into question India's commitment to the principle of democratic control. New Delhi must now display more creativity in tackling this thorny but unavoidable issue.

This brings us to the larger problem of the defunct Constituent Assembly. Successive efforts to elect a Prime Minister and push ahead with the drafting of the Constitution have failed to make any headway. So far India has stood by the parties that oppose the Maoists' re-entry into the government. It believes that the Maoists' commitment to democratic politics is suspect. The internal debates within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) on the merits of entering mainstream politics and the deplorable conduct of the Maoist-affiliated Youth Communist League have deepened India's distrust. The Maoists, for their part, have made matters worse by repeatedly claiming that India's interference is the reason for the political deadlock and that India is the main enemy. Mr Prachanda's efforts to cosy up with the Chinese have not helped either. But there are divisions within the Maoist party on these issues. At a major party meet held last month, the party ideologue Baburam Bhattarai opposed the move to brand India as the key enemy. More recently, Mr Bhattarai was in New Delhi for consultations with the Indian government. Mr Bhattarai sought to assuage India's concerns about his party's fidelity to the democratic process and its sensitivity to Indian security interests.

But he also urged India to play a more constructive role. The problem, of course, is that Mr Bhattarai's stance may not be representative of his party's top leadership. It is essential that Mr Prachanda stops equivocating and openly affirms his party's commitment to the process.

India, too, should realise that an excessively suspicious attitude towards the Maoists is unlikely to advance its own interests. Allowing the Constituent Assembly to lapse in May 2011 will be a seriously regressive step. Picking up pieces thereafter might well prove impossible. Equally, India must resist the suggestions emanating from anti-Maoist parties for allowing the President, Ram Baran Yadav, to become the head of the executive branch with the backing of the Army. Such a move will have incalculable consequences for a democratic Nepal. In navigating these tricky shoals in Nepal, India's policy should be guided by its long-term interests and not just its immediate concerns.

* Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LIGHTING UP HOMES WITH GRIT AND DREAMS

BY DAVID BORNSTEIN

When we hear the word innovation, we often think of new technologies or silver bullet solutions — like hydrogen fuel cells or a cure for cancer. To be sure, breakthroughs are vital. But, some of the greatest advances come from taking old ideas or technologies and making them accessible to millions of people who are undeserved.

One area where this is desperately needed is access to electricity. In the age of the iPad, it's easy to forget that roughly a quarter of the world's population — about a billion-and-a-half people — still lack electricity. This isn't just an inconvenience; it takes a severe toll on economic life, education and health. It's estimated that two million people die prematurely each year as a result of pulmonary diseases caused by the indoor burning of fuels for cooking and light. In vast stretches of the developing world, after the sun sets, everything goes dark. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 70 per cent of the population lack electricity. However, no country has more citizens living without power than India, where more than 400 million people, the vast majority of them villagers, have no electricity. The place that remains most in darkness is Bihar, which has more than 80 million people, 85 per cent of whom live in households with no grid connection. Because Bihar has nowhere near the capacity to meet its current power demands. But a fast-growing off-grid electricity company based in Bihar, called Husk Power Systems, has created a system to turn rice husks into electricity that is reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. The company has 65 power units that serve a total of 30,000 households and is currently installing new systems.

Husk Power was founded by four friends: Mr Gyanesh Pandey, Mr Manoj Sinha, Mr Ratnesh Yadav and Mr Charles W. Ransler, who met attending different schools in India and the United States. Mr Pandey, the company's chief executive, grew up in a village in Bihar without electricity. "I felt low because of that", he told me. He decided to study electrical engineering. He found his way to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York, where he completed a master's degree before landing a position with the semi-conductor manufacturer International Rectifier in Los Angeles. His job was to figure out how to get the best performance from integrated circuits at the lowest possible cost.

He bought his family a diesel-powered electric generator. "I was basically cruising through life", he recalled. "But along with that pleasure and smoothness was a dark zone in my head." He realised that he felt compelled to return home and use his knowledge to bring light to Bihar.

Back in India, he and his friend Mr Yadav, an entrepreneur, spent the next few years experimenting. They explored the possibility of producing organic solar cells. They tried growing a plant called jatropha, whose seeds can be used for biodiesel. Both proved impractical as businesses. They tested out solar lamps, but found their application limited. One day he ran into a salesman who sold gasifiers — machines that burn organic materials in an oxygen restricted environment to produce biogas which can be used to power an engine. There was nothing new about gasifiers; they had been around for decades. People sometimes burned rice husks in them to supplement diesel fuel, which was expensive. "But nobody had thought to use rice husks to run a whole power system", explained Mr Pandey.

When rice is milled, the outside kernel, or husk, is discarded. Bihar produces 1.8 billion kilograms of rice husk per year and most of it ends up rotting in landfills and emitting methane, a greenhouse gas. Mr Pandey and Mr Yadav began bringing pieces together for an electric distribution system powered by the husks and came up with a system that could burn 50 kilograms of rice husk per hour and produce 32 kilowatts of power, sufficient for about 500 village households.

They reached out to people in Tamkuha village, offering them a deal: for `80 a month — roughly $1.75 — a household could get daily power for one 30-watt or two 15-watt CFL bulbs and unlimited cell phone charging between 5 pm and 11 pm. For many families, the price was less than half their monthly kerosene costs, and the light would be much brighter. It would also be less smoky, less of a fire hazard, and better for the environment. Customers could pay for more power if they needed it — for radios, TVs, ceiling fans or water pumps. But many had no appliances and lived in huts so small, one bulb was enough. The system went live on August 15, 2007, the anniversary of India's Independence. Husk Power has since raised $1.75 million in investment financing. In 2009, they had 19 systems in operation; in 2010, they more than tripled that number.

For decades, countries have operated on the assumption that power from large electricity plants will eventually trickle down to villagers. In many parts of the world, this has proven to be elusive. Husk Power has identified at least 25,000 villages across Bihar and neighbouring states in India's rice belt as appropriate for its model.

David Bornstein is the author of How to Change the World and The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, and is co-author of Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know.

By arrangement with the New York Times

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE TELANGANA TINDERBOX

WE'LL SEE DIVISIONS ON FLIMSY GROUNDS

BY ABANI ROY

Yes, the Telangana issue does have implications for other states. This is why we are opposed to it. To begin with, we believe that the linguistic basis for the formation of a state should not be disturbed. If that demand is granted, it will open a Pandora's box leading to the division of states on many flimsy grounds. As it is, there are a lot of groups that are keenly watching the developments on the Telangana front. There are many applications for divisions of states pending with the Union home ministry. If the Telangana demand is conceded, the demand for bifurcation of states elsewhere in the country will become strident. That will cause law and order problems all over.

Secondly, dividing existing states into smaller ones will not serve any purpose. Look at the case of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

The rationale that smaller states make for better governance is not borne out. The above three states illustrate this perfectly. The division of a state to satisfy a few may lead to the formation of new governments and the construction of new buildings, but the lot of the common man remains the same. That is what gives room to disgruntlement and leads subsequently to riots. The main reason for demanding separate states is the lack of governance and absence of development. It is important to look into this aspect when we consider demands such as Telangana.

Besides, the creation of Telangana can lead to demands on other grounds. Caste groups, community groups and religious groups may start demanding separate states on the ground that they have no role to play in the existing set-up. If the government were to concede such demands, we can be faced with the disintegration of the country. That has to be avoided at all cost.

There is another aspect. Opinion is rife that taking advantage of the time taken for the administration in a new state to settle down, the Maoists would mingle with the common people and recruit cadres for their destructive cause. That brings the element of national security into the picture.

Then, we also have the issue of the cost involved in the setting up of a new administration. The amounts involved are mind-boggling. Expenditure on such purposes usually breeds corruption in government circles. At the end of the day, is there any guarantee that the lot of the people would improve? Why should we then entertain such demands?

It is now for the government to make up its mind. We have made our position very clear.

(As told to K.S. Jayaseelan)

* Abani Roy, Revolutionary Socialist Party MP

* * *

Don't add guilt to grievance

By Nirmala Sitharaman

This is an argument used today to deny the legitimate aspirations of the people of Telangana. For nearly six decades they have longed to have their rightful role in the national arena. Each time their voice reached a crescendo, the powers that be denied them Telangana by offering one or the other compromise formula. The Gentlemen's Agreement of 1956 was also patchily implemented at best.

Statistics may show that Hyderabad attracts great investments. Again, figures may show agriculture giving great yields in this semi-arid region, including of paddy, thanks to improved irrigation facilities. The condition of roads reaching the villages may be better here than in cyclone-prone coastal Andhra. Yet, it is here that the Naxals rule the roost, playing on the lack of basic infrastructure and opportunities for its youth. In nearly four out of 10 districts, the tribal people, the tribal and non-tribal tendu leaf pickers and the banjaras, feel that they are on the fringes. The real estate in and around Hyderabad is in the hands of non-locals. Viable agricultural holdings are with the moneyed.

The region lived under feudal oppression for centuries. In Telangana — 50 per cent of the region's population belongs to the backward classes, 17 per cent are scheduled castes, seven per cent are scheduled tribes — nearly 75 per cent of the population feels it is on the fringes of the economy and politics. And this explains "the sentiment" that most analysts palpably feel when they study Telangana. This proposition may be shot down by some as reductionist. But, in truth, it forms the basic explanation for the Telangana demand.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has consistently supported the aspirations of the people of Telangana because the party believes that small states are better administrative units. Within 10 years of their creation, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh are developing rapidly and comprehensively. The demand for Telangana is a legitimate, long-awaited, hope. As recently as 2004 and 2009, it was in many parties' electoral manifestoes. For long, the demand for Telangana has been denied due to coalition compulsions or lack of political will, not for want of legitimacy in the demand itself. Good governance demands inclusion of the aspirations of large sections of people. Telangana can't be held responsible if there are implications for other states. This so-called domino theory argument is being used as a scare in the present instance to once again deny people of the region their aspirations.

* Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP spokesperson

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SPIRITUALITY IN THE MUNDANE

BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA

What is spirituality? People visualise spirituality with the image of a person renouncing home and family, besmearing himself with ashes and chanting incantations or meditating in the Himalayas. At the outset I would like to dispel the notion of spirituality as any special or particular action. Spirituality is performing every action in a special way. Spirituality lies not in doing something special but in doing everything with a vision. Spirituality is a vision or an understanding of life and is indeed a great adventure.

There is an inherent difference between the vision of a spiritual person and a materialist person. The thinking of worldly people is always fragmented, not holistic but incomplete. Faced with problems, they focus on particular aspects arriving at solutions without taking the totality of a situation/issue into account; hence their solution is also partial and works only for a short time.

Most people would agree with a worldly man's thinking that "might is right". A spiritual person would say the very opposite — for him it would be, "right is might". With which one do you agree? Commonly, he who has the might — physical, financial or political — wields power and therefore his word is final. Most people would go with the tide, but there are a few brave ones who have the courage to stand by their convictions.

There is another point to be considered here. Nowadays we only hear of people fighting for their rights. Spirituality gives you a different perspective — in spiritual life we only have duties and one who remains steadfast in the performance of duties, automatically gains rights and the authority that comes as a result. He does not have to fight for his rights. Those who constantly fight and struggle only end up creating more friction.

All over the world, many are failing in their duties. They are busy fighting for their rights. They follow the policy of — I fight for my right and you fight for yours. Now, if people were to respect the rights of others and concentrate on the performance of their own duties, they would grow in stature, spiritually and otherwise. So more than our rights let us remember our duties and see what changes this brings about.

Whenever people speak of spiritual life they entertain ideas of renunciation, dispassion (vairagya), sacrifice and sanyasa. People do not like the word "renunciation". But is there anything we can achieve in this world without renunciation? We may not like the word but no growth or accomplishment is possible without renunciation or sacrifice. If you hold onto your childhood, will you become a youth? To gain maturity you have to renounce your childishness.

Life offers no choices on whether or not to renounce. The only decision is, what to renounce! If a seeker of knowledge, education and learning is also constantly wanting pleasure and comfort, he or she cannot be successful. Let us consider the vast difference between compromise and sacrifice. To give up higher values and ideals for lower gains is a compromise and to renounce lower gains for higher goals is a sacrifice. These parameters of respect hold true in all societies of the world. Everywhere, it is only men and women of sacrifice and never those of compromise who become ideals.

Please, never think that spirituality is running away from life or that it is very difficult. Spirituality is a complete vision of life. It is not a particular activity done specially, but every action done in a special way. We must act with the understanding of the totality of life, keeping in mind the long-term consequences of our actions. The actions will then be more responsible and not ad-hoc or impulsive. In this spiritual adventure, true importance lies in gaining a total vision of life and undertaking every action keeping that in mind. Swami Vivekananda said that just by doing one great action, a man does not become great. A great man is one who is great in every little action.

— Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya
Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.at drvenganoor@yahoo.co.in [2]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

INDIA & INDONESIA: A SHARED FUTURE

BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

The forthcoming visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono as the chief guest on Republic Day, January 26, 2011, should go beyond the ceremonial state-level visits of other dignitaries. Given that two decades have progressed since the initiation of India's "Look East" policy in the early 1990s, our bilateral ties with the most significant player in the region remain at a lower level than they should be. This visit by President Yodhoyono, the second since 2005, will have to move forward from the previous one during which the strategic partnership agreement was signed between India and Indonesia.

The commonalities that link India and Indonesia together are plenty — geographically, Indonesia is India's closest maritime neighbour, just 90 nautical miles. The western most tip of the Sumatran island, Banda Aceh, is the closest to India's eastern most outpost of Andaman and Nicobar islands.

While this geographical link is critical, there is a shared history as well. Both emerged in the post-colonial period as independent nation-states, though the early period of democratic politics in Indonesia gave way to a military rule, which lasted from 1965 to 1998, while India adopted a democratic polity which has sustained till date.

India and Indonesia also share ethnic, religious and racial diversity. India's motto of "unity in diversity" finds resonance in the "binneka tunggal ika" philosophy enshrined as a principle of Indonesian state policy in its approach towards managing diversity and ethnic plurality.

The 2005 visit by Mr Yodhoyono initiated the strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, with a focus on increasing bilateral trade and cultural exchanges. In fact, the agreement targeted trade to the tune of $10 billion by 2010.

In 2006, the volume of trade between the two was $5.5 billion, while our current economic ties have expanded to the tune of $11.7 billion. In October 2010, the two countries finalised the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods. Indonesia is the sixth country among the Asean with whom India has signed a bilateral FTA.

Given the energy demands that India is facing in order to sustain its economic growth, Indonesia could become a vital ally. Approximately 47 per cent of India's coal import comes from Indonesia. India is looking to offset this with imports in crude oil and natural gas. Under the India-Asean FTA, palm oil has been a major import for India. In the services sector, Indonesia looks to India for assistance in the fields of IT, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, even education. While the FTA in trade in goods will be beneficial to Indonesia, an agreement in services will be to India's advantage given that India is ranked 9th in the global services sector. On the political front Indonesia has become especially important since its transition to democracy in 1999, which is now in the process of consolidation.

The setback in Thailand and the opaqueness of Burma will continue to challenge the Asia-Pacific region, and it is in this context that Indonesia and the Philippines are going to be credible players as democratic allies in the region. For India, whose neighbourhood remains challenged with issues of democracy, there is need to look for political partners outside the South Asia region and in this context developing political ties with Indonesia will remain a key objective of our bilateral ties. It is important to remember that the crux of India's "Look East" policy remains economic relations, not so much political, strategic and security related aspects.

While India is a player in several multilateral groupings within the region, the real depth of political and security level ties is lacking. For both India and Indonesia this will become a critical factor given the rise of China.

While currently the relations between Beijing and Jakarta are cordial, there is concern how China's rise will impact the region. There is also fear that Beijing will play one regional power against the other, in its attempt to stay ahead. And this is a view that India shares.

India is being seen as a regional player and an emerging power whose economic rise will shape the region in the years to come. Indonesia, too, is once again being seen as a potential regional leader and it will be vital for India and Indonesia to further the promise of partnership between one another.

At the global level there is an interesting development. The United States is simultaneously strengthening its ties with India in South Asia and with Indonesia in the Asean region.

Unlike the 2005 visit by President Yodhoyono, this visit needs to take place with a greater promise of commitment to strengthening the bilateral ties. India has looked at the Asia-Pacific region as a significant part of its foreign policy. In that, Indonesia should be the most critical player.

* Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an
associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

COALITION ALIBI

RAHUL INDICTS MANMOHAN, MUMMY?

 

REMINISCENT of his father, Rahul Gandhi loves one-liners, opting for question-and-answer sessions with young people (often behind closed doors), rather than regular speeches. And when he does deviate into the latter in Parliament and party forums, he is strong on emotion but short on substance: even though party acolytes go into rapture. Hence it is difficult to get a "fix" on his policy preferences. Still, some significance must be attached to his telling a student-questioner in Lucknow that his grandmother was able to deal with corruption and inflation (not everybody would accept that contention) because she led a single-party government while UPA-II is a coalition. That, of course, is the line the Congress is taking to deflect attack on the government for its myriad shortcomings.

 

The latest example being to blame only Sharad Pawar for the rise in food prices; Raja, who reigned over the telecom fiasco was from the DMK. The subtext is that Congress leaders are pure as driven snow, super efficient to boot, and when an odd black sheep like Ashok Chavan comes along he is unceremoniously dumped. "Coalition Compulsions" is the current pop hit in 24 Akbar Road.


There is, however, another vastly different side to what Rahul confessed in Lucknow. It was an admission, nay an indictment of UPA-II at both political and administrative levels. While Dr Manmohan Singh is widely perceived as lacking the clout to keep errant ministers in check ~ and some of them hail from Congress ranks it must be noted ~ his weakness is now being seen as impacting on his administrative abilities too. Simultaneously, political-supremo Sonia Gandhi has been equally inept in getting coalition partners to walk the straight and narrow. Recent events may have brought the infirmities into sharp focus, but even in its previous incarnation the UPA allowed its reform initiatives to be held hostage by the obsolete-thinking Left. The Prime Minister made much of staking his office on the civil nuclear agreement with the USA, but only after Mulayam Singh Yadav filled the breach. Now the go-slow on cases involving Mayawati is essentially some contingency planning lest Mamata Banerjee finds associating with a tainted UPA an impediment to her goal of Writers' Buildings. Political manoeuvring does not equate with providing national leadership: and while abhorring much of what she did Indira Gandhi's critics conceded she led from the front. The parallel with Mrs Gandhi Sr may not have been drawn by Rahul, but he added emphasis to it unmasking UPA-II!

 

HELP THE HARASSED

NAC ON THE DOMESTIC SECTOR

 

A major loophole in the Bill to prevent harassment of women in the workplace ought now to be corrected with the National Advisory Council recommending the inclusion of domestic help. This vital chain in a functioning household will hopefully be incorporated in the legislation that was introduced in the winter session of the Lok Sabha. And without referring the issue to the Group of Ministers in the manner of the food security bill. There was no convincing reason for excluding this segment; women in the unorganised sector can be more vulnerable to harassment and worse. The NAC has quite plainly examined the matter from a sociological perspective; exclusion of domestic help from the ambit of the legislation will not merely enhance their vulnerability, but may even deprive them of protection. In comparison, the woman in the organised sector has a certain built-in security. The NAC has assessed the problem in a manner that the Union cabinet ought to have done. It's a pity that its recommendations aren't always followed up, a major reason why the food security legislation is yet to materialise. The respective GoMs seem to have emerged as an overarching  authority.
The very nature of employment renders the domestic help helpless. This is the fine print of Monday's recommendations of the NAC. "Their workplace ~ the confines of private homes ~ is prone to sexual harassment and abuse without access to any complaint mechanism or remedial measures." The inherent risks are serious enough for the cabinet to take a call on the Bill, specifically the NAC's suggestion to set up a working group to evolve a holistic approach to the issue. Enhancing security in the organised sector coupled with a short shrift to the unorganised is a contradiction in terms. The NAC, on its part, ought to re-consider its recommendation that the provision on penalty for "false or malicious" complaints be removed. The risk is substantial if the number of frivolous petitions in court is any indication. The Bill must be protective, with expressions of frivolity on the part of the "aggrieved" trashed at the threshold.

 

PROMISES OF PLENTY

BUT WHO'LL CALL THE SHOTS IN ASSAM?

A FEW weeks ago BJP chief Nitin Gadkari boasted of Assam having a party chief minister after the Assembly elections. Now he says a non-Congress government supported by his party will come to power. So far, the BJP has no electoral alliance with any regional party; recently it snapped its 2009 seat-sharing deal with the Asom Gana Parishad. Indeed, the party feels its prospects are bright since it increased its Lok Sabha seat tally in the 2009 general elections. Evidence of the BJP's determination to force a change in Assam was clear when it recently chose Guwahati ~ for the first time ~ for its executive meeting and people had the benefit of hearing top leaders making pre-election promises such as elimination of corruption, checking rise in prices, generating employment opportunities and expelling those living illegally in the state. Their promise to support the demand of six ethnic communities for Listed Classes status is obviously aimed at wooing this segment as they successfully did in the Darjeeling Hills by featuring Jaswant Singh in the 2009 general elections.


The AGP is yet to prepare its electoral strategy, and the Congress is in the same boat. The latter's ally, the Bodo People's Front, has time and again threatened to withdraw support on the excuse that the ruling Congress has done little to meet its demand for a separate state, which was its ultimate goal even when accepting territorial status in 2003 when the BJP was in power at the Centre. Before the 2009 general elections, smaller groups like the Nationalist Congress Party, CPI-M, CPI and Assam United Democratic Front ~ an organisation of religious minorities which won 10 assembly seats on debut in 2006 ~ announced the creation of a third front to fight a common enemy, the Congress, but it was a non-starter. The Congress is hoping to boost its image by starting talks with the Ulfa but that seems unrealistic as of now. What seems certain is that no single party will secure a majority. A lot of adjustments will have to be made at the time of forming a ministry.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

THE PIVOTAL OFFICE

STILL FAR REMOVED FROM A PERFECT BUREAUCRACY

BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT


THE bureaucracy is the backbone of a country's administration. The efficiency of the system depends on the honesty, sincerity,  and creative potential of the civil servants. A dishonest, corrupt and partisan bureaucracy can ruin the fabric of democracy and turn it into an autocracy.


Most of the countries today are "welfare states". They perform various functions that were unknown in the ancient period. The elected governments are hugely reliant on the bureaucracy. Of course, in a democratic country like India the President theoretically, with the assistance of the ministers, rules the nation. But the task would be impossible without the civil servants, who serve as rulers in at least in five ways.


First, they implement the policy adopted by the political executive. Second, they guide and instruct the subordinate staff to get the work done. A minister cannot possibly stay in touch with the entire staff of his department. The bureaucracy is the vital link in the chain. Third, it furnishes statistical and other data to the ministers. Fourth, these officers often provide valuable suggestions on the basis of their experience and, thus, make the task of the ministers easier. Finally, owing to time constraints the legislature formulates the broad outline, leaving it to the executive to give the finishing touches. The bureaucracy helps the government to enact such "delegated legislation".


The vast range of functions has made the civil service increasingly important. In theory, the ministers rule but, in reality, the civil servants do the primary job from behind the screen. Both the success and failure of the government depend on their effective functioning.


This system showcases a unique combination of democracy and bureaucracy. The ministers represent democracy as they are chosen by the people, but the civil servants are professionals by training. While the ministers provide the democratic element to the government, it is the bureaucrats who are expected to run it efficiently.


The ministers are amateurs in the sense that they are not well-versed with the technicalities and nitty-gritty of their departments. A minister often serves for a single term and demits office in the event of a change in the political dispensation. He may even be dropped should there be a rift with the Prime Minister. He has little opportunity to acquire technical knowledge or practical experience. On the contrary, the civil servants serve for a fixed period; they step down only when they attain the age of superannuation. They gather substantial experience in various branches of the administration. Above all, they are selected on the basis of a difficult written examination and interview. They are generally the brilliant, smart and intelligent products of the universities.


The ministers are primarily politicians with average calibre, and they have to follow the party line. And the party has no administrative obligations and can advance its proposals from a generic point of view. Nevile Chamberlain, once the Prime Minister of Britain, had said: "You could do without us. But I have an absolute conviction that we cannot do without you."


But the efficiency and success of the bureaucracy hinges on its integrity and neutrality. As Sir Warren Fischer, chairman of the Royal Committee of Britain, observed in 1929: "Determination of policy is the function of the minister and, once a policy is determined, it is the unquestioned and unquestionable business of the civil servant to strive to carry out the policy with precisely the same goodwill whether he agrees with it or not."
The minister may reject the officer's suggestion and adopt a different policy, but the latter has to implement it despite personal reservations. Governments may change over time. Ministers may come and ministers may go, but the civil servants, almost like Lord Tennyson's Brook, go on for ever. And, significantly, they have to serve their masters irrespective of the political dispensation. A doctor with a poor knowledge of war may become the defence minister and a lawyer may be asked to deal with finance though he may have forgotten the little that he knew of figures as a student. But it devolves on the civil servants to guide and serve them as best as they can so that the department can function effectively.


We have not been able to create a perfect bureaucracy. Sure, there are able and qualified men in the service, but, on the whole, our bureaucracy has many shortcomings of its own. As Padma Ramchandran, an IAS officer who subsequently became the VC of MS University, writes, "Nowadays, many civil servants simply look for what the minister wants and write reports or act according to it. Many politicians demand partisan action and civil servants who are straight, honest and self-respecting are becoming a rare species" (Public Administration in India).


The honest and upright officer has to contend with inherent risks. There are many instances of such officers being sidelined or  reduced to scapegoats. Those who are readily prepared to toe the line are promoted to coveted posts, often by superceding up to ten or 12 officers. The politics of fear or favour has affected the neutrality and independence of the bureaucracy. Though bureaucrats are expected to function from behind the screen, some officers like to be in the limelight for personal gain. They often appear before the media and express opinions which ought to have been made by the minister. Some bureaucrats have, after retirement, been made Governors. Others like DP Dhar, PN Haksar and Yashpal Kapur sometimes played the crucial role of "super-ministers". They were closer to the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, than even her faithful cabinet colleagues. This tendency destroys the independence and neutrality of the civil service by turning the bureaucrats into politicians. A democratic government can perform well only when, instead of creating a subservient bureaucracy, it allows the latter to act impartially. It must also utilise the wisdom of the able bureaucrats for the common good.


The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata

 

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THE STATESMAN

ZEALOTS WINNING IN PAKISTAN

 Jinnah's dream of a secular Pakistan stands shattered today. With the assassination of the liberal Governor Salmaan Taseer, the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of tolerance in the country, writes ml kotru

"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State." Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said these words as part of his 11 August, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly when Pakistan was founded.

I have with me somewhere the text of Jinnah's historic broadcast to his nation when Pakistan came into being but I can't find it at the moment. Well, that is inexcusable, losing track of historical documents. But what do you make of the people of an entire country, more than 160 million of them, who have chosen to ignore the Qaid-e-Azam's profound exhortation, which most Pakistanis perceive as no more than a call for a separate homeland for Muslims? It remains a fact that at the end of the day, India has the world's second largest Muslim population, next only to Indonesia. But that's not the point.

The fact is that Jinnah's dream of a secular, tolerant Pakistan stands shattered today. The pygmies who helmed the country after him ensured that his dream turned into a nightmare, that Pakistan became what it has become today ~ a land of bigots, with moderates and the civil society that believe in Jinnah's ideals, reduced to a dumb, helpless minority.

The bigots ~ the Jihadists ~ have the run of the country with the armed forces choosing to remain bystanders and police and paramilitary forces willing to do the bidding of the mullahs. The politicians, helpless as they seem, are only too busy protecting their fiefdoms. It's sad but true that at the moment, only the country's militarymen has it in them to put the rabid Jihadists in their place.

It's strange that the Pakistani army should be so passive even when police are attacking their own academies or when men on the security detail of assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer practically applauded when a colleague turned his gun on the Governor with the plea to be left alone till the deed was done when he intended to give himself up, anyway.

Taseer was among the more popular of Benazir Bhutto's close friends. A hard-nosed politician and a successful businessman who had seen many ups and downs, including prison sentences brought on by Gen Zia-ul Haq's ire.


Taseer, it appears, committed the ultimate sin of voicing sympathy for a Chiristian farmer woman who had been condemned to death for allegedly blaspheming Islam. The Governor  sought amendments to the country's blasphemy law. He also visited the condemned woman, Asia Bibi, in prison and urged President Asif Ali Zardari to grant her clemency. A liberal leader by any standard. A deviant by Pakistan's.
Which brings us to Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his ultimately misplaced hopes for a secular, post Partition Pakistan. Taseer's sympathy for Asia Bibi obviously did not go down well with the mullahs in whose eyes, the Governor's moderate views made him as much a blasphemer as the condemned woman. Soon enough, the zealots in his security detail made way for a fellow fanatic to pump in 27 bullets into the Governor.
In a moving tribute to her father that appeared in Newsweek Pakistan and the New York Times, Taseer's daughter wrote:  "It may sound odd, but I can't imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihood to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country's potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honour his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan's future, must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win." One couldn't agree more with the young Sheharbano who also wrote: "To say that there was a security lapse on Tuesday is an understatement. My father was brutally gunned down by a man hired to protect him. Juvenal once asked: Who will guard the guards themselves? It is a question all Pakistanis should ask themselves today, If the extremists could get the Governor of the largest (Pakistani) province, is anyone safe?"
My thoughts turn to the safety of Benazir's close friend and a minister until some months ago in the Zardari's government, Ms Sherry Rahman. She has moved a private member's Bill in Pakistan's National Assembly, seeking to amend the country's blasphemy law. A very bright woman, I can only pray for her safety given the current jihadist fervour in Pakistan. Like Taseer, Sherry too seems to believe that the strict blasphemy law instituted by Gen Zia has been frequently misused and needs to be changed. She too, faces the risk of being misunderstood as Taseer had been. When the slain Governor had merely sought a softening of Pakistan's blasphemy law, zealots had deliberately distorted his views to suggest that the politician had spoken against Prophet Mohammad.

There are many like Taseer's daughter who believe that with the liberal's assassination, the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of a tolerant Pakistan. Fears run rampant that liberal voices would now be silenced forever in the country. Taseer's daughter writes "we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others…" but we know how difficult it will prove to keep one's courage up in a country riven by us-and-them politics.

Thankfully, being a liberal in Pakistan does not necessarily mean that one is pro-India. And, for that, one has to thank Jinnah ~ whose liberalism was celebrated. It was those who succeeded him that ruined the country's tolerant fabric. The blasphemy law, for instance, was introduced by Gen. Zia and the ban on liquor was imposed, of all people, by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto ~ whose drinking bouts are the stuff of legend.
Taseer, by all accounts, was a true Pakistani who, like most Pakistanis, coveted Kashmir singlemindedly. Maybe his father, Dr Taseer's tenure as the principal of Srinagar's Sri Pratap College had something to do with it. Incidentally, Dr Taseer, had escorted Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq to Lahore to help them get access to the Muslim League leadership. When the mission failed, Bakshi and Sadiq were sent back to India. Dr Taseer chose to remain in Lahore.

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

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THE STATESMAN

NOW & AGAIN

FROM TREPIDATION TO EXHILARATION

MAHASWETA CHAUDHURY


Our daughter had sent us a gift voucher for Rs 1,500 for lunch at the Taj Bengal for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. I rang the hotel's different restaurants and found out that lunch at any one of them would cost Rs 1,500 each and only fish and chips could be had for that price. On the day of our anniversary, we nervously set out with the voucher, some money and a credit card to tide us over should the need arise. While looking for the fish and chips place, we came across a Chinese restaurant behind the grand foyer of the elegant building. We consulted the menu hung at the entrance and realised that most dishes each cost more than half the value of our voucher. As we started to leave, the restaurant in-charge stopped us. When told about our meagre budget, he said: "Please do come in. How can we possibly turn away any guest?" We entered the portal with trepidation. As academics, a lunch or dinner at this grand place had always been beyond our means. The few times we actually went there was to attend book launches or similar events.


When the welcome drink (the famous fresh nimboo pani) was served with some appetisers, I stupidly made a questioning gesture to which the waiter assured us that the treat was complimentary. Soon after a restaurant attendant had taken down our order, the food was brought. And every time a new dish arrived, I was telling myself "Another Rs 750!" Fortifying ourselves with the thought of the extra money and credit card that we were carrying, we tucked into the food. It was excellent and more than sufficient for two. All the time, well-groomed attendants were making us comfortable.


As they chatted with us casually, I told them that we were not regular visitors to the eatery and had only dropped in on our wedding anniversary emboldened by the voucher that our daughter had sent us. When the meal was almost over, a chocolate cake with "Happy Anniversary" inscribed on it was brought to the table.! Finally, as we sat amazed, came a bunch of beautiful roses and a card bearing the painting of a well-known artist. Both of us were overwhelmed (my husband later confided in me that he couldn't help thinking at that time if we would be charged for all this as well). The youngsters then wished us and requested me to cut the cake and give the first slice to my husband. I offered them the rest of the cake but they took only small pieces on the plea that they would break for lunch shortly. When I mumbled something about us neglecting to bring a camera, one of them waved one and took a picture of us with the flowers and the cake.       


At last, the bill was brought. To our surprise, it was only Rs 1,415 ~ well within the limit of the voucher! The waiters kept us talking so that (we realised it later) our picture could be laminated in the meantime and gifted to us mounted on a beautiful card. We never realised when our initial nervousness had slipped away to fill us with great pleasure for having experienced unforgettable hospitality.

 

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THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE CALCUTTA TICCA GHARRY


The order which the Chairman of the Calcutta Corporation has just issued, on his own authority, cancelling the arrangement made by the Hackney Carriage Committee for the identification of gharry horses, will cause much surprise and not a little disgust. The need of some method of preventing gharry owners from using horses which have been condemned as unfit has long been recognised. It is notorious that until recently the licensing of hackney carriages was a farce, because the proprietors, instead of using the horses which had been passed by the inspector, sent into the streets aged and decrepit beasts only suitable for the knacker's yard. Though this practice was unfair to the public who use ticca gharries and involved much cruelty to animals, it could not be checked because no means was provided by which it could be shown that the worn-out horses were beasts which had been rejected or were not submitted to inspection. To obviate this defect a proposal was made that the hoofs of licensed horses should be branded, but this plan was rejected by the Bengal Government on the advice of their veterinary officers. Ultimately, however, when the reform of the ticca gharries was taken up in earnest by a new Hackney Carriage Committee appointed at the instance of Mr Earle, it was decided that the horses should be identified by metal discs. There can be no doubt that the result has been a substantial improvement in the appearance and fitness of the animals employed. The owners were, of course much perturbed by a system which put a stop to the use of aged and feeble beasts. They had no other grievance. The metal discs do no harm to a horse, and cost nothing. All that these identification tablets did or could do was to prevent fraud and the ill-treatment of animals. Yet the gharry proprietors had the effrontery to agitate  for the removal of a check on their dishonesty, and their representatives in the Corporation, who are supposed to be elected in the public interest, laboured strenuously to have the tale-telling discs removed. The agitators have now accomplished their purpose.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

MORE WORK

 

Any sign that this country is actually growing civilized must be celebrated. And one marker of civilization is the removal of the cloak of invisibility from the most exploited and underprivileged sections of the population. The National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, has pointed out that domestic workers have been excluded from the purview of the proposed law against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The slip, obviously, must be corrected. The NAC has displayed a vision — and a civilized awareness of the existence of "poor, illiterate, unskilled" and "vulnerable" human beings — for which a huge percentage of poor working women may one day be glad.

 

In a less skewed society, lauding the NAC for doing what is only natural may seem quite silly. But that would be to ignore the fathomless hypocrisy of middle-class India. Dependent on these underprivileged, unskilled women for their everyday lives, dumping on them the offal of living from the most intimate spaces of the household, Indian householders also insist on ignoring their existence. For that is the best way to deny them their rights as workers, or even as human beings with lives of their own. They can be paid less, dismissed at will, denied weekly, or annual, or maternity leave, medical help and, when the worker comes in part-time, even the use of the bathroom. Housework being invisible in terms of value, paid domestic workers are thus enveloped in multiple layers of invisibility. It is as if the home is not a 'workplace', and those who work to maintain it are not workers. The unregulated system of paid domestic labour is one of the greatest disgraces of everyday life and culture in India, one of the biggest spheres of rights violations. Inevitably, this leaves domestic workers especially vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse. It is typical of this attitude that the proposed law should forget to notice the domestic worker. By whipping off the cloak of invisibility, the NAC has taken a major step in righting an age-old wrong. But this also means the start of serious thinking. A workable system of complaint and appeal, with adequate job security, must now be formulated to give women domestic workers the benefit of the law. And it would not be enough to set up official fora for complaints. Officials administering them must be trained and sensitized. They employ domestic workers too.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE PAST BECKONS

The right to dissent is one of the founding principles of any democracy. In Russia, a country with a singularly oppressive past, that right is glorified in theory. On the last day of every month with 31 days, the State allows the Opposition to hold small protest rallies in central Moscow to mark its faith in the 31st article of the Russian constitution, ensuring it the right to free assembly. Yet, what appears idyllic in concept often turns out to be a nightmare in reality. On December 31, 2010, the police detained the Opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, and arrested as many as 70 others, for taking part in an anti-Kremlin rally. Mr Nemtsov, who also happens to be a former deputy prime minister, was handed a prison sentence, along with three other prominent leaders. By brazenly undermining the constitutional right to protest, this crackdown by the Russian State merely brought to light the double standards that underlie Vladmir Putin's vision of a reformed Russia. There has always been more than a pinch of salt in Mr Putin's nationalism anyway. An avowed admirer of Joseph Stalin, the prime minister has never made a secret of his pride in the dictatorial legacy of Soviet Russia.

Yet, even as the rest of the civilized world vents its indignation at this act of outrage, there can be little doubt that not much can be done to make matters any better. It is sad but true that questions of principle tend to get trammelled, rather unceremoniously, by practical concerns. So it is unlikely that an angry David Cameron will call off his prospective visit to Russia just because a few rights activists have been jailed. Cheap energy and investment plans would probably prove too lucrative to be sacrificed at the altar of ideals. In any case, Moscow does not seem to care, one way or the other, if leaders from all over Europe and the United States of America disapprove of its style of functioning. Apart from wagering on the greed of Western investors, Russia is secure in the belief that Western politicians are too weak to stand up to it. After all, as a member of all significant geopolitical formations, it has a finger in every important pie. It is this overbearing confidence, verging on smugness, that needs to be put in place. And one of the ways of doing this would be by cancelling Russia's membership of the G8.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

DANGEROUS MISSION

INDIA'S GROWTH RATE CANNOT BE MADE A NATIONAL OBJECTIVE PRABHAT PATNAIK

While there will be general agreement that the judgment in Binayak Sen's case represents a gross miscarriage of justice, most people will attribute it to the overzealousness of a lower judicial functionary, or, at the most, to the prevailing atmosphere in the state of Chhattisgarh. If the trial had been held elsewhere, they would argue, Sen would not have got the verdict he did. They are probably right, just as those who attribute the bringing of sedition charges against Arundhati Roy and Syed Ali Shah Geelani to the overzealousness of the Delhi police, and against Sudhir Dhawale to the overzealousness of the Maharashtra police, may well be right. But such overzealousness, instances of which are multiplying alarmingly, thrives within, and derives sustenance from, a certain ambience. This consists of the increasing tendency, under the current neo-liberal dispensation, to see any basic ideological opposition to the parameters of official policy as anti-national. The tendency, in short, is to criminalize ideological dissent. Of course, one must not cry wolf, but one must not ignore this tendency either. To do so will be fatal.

No less a person than the prime minister, while speaking to probationers of the Indian police service in the capital the other day, invoked a curious argument against the Maoists. He did not just make the usual criticism — that Maoists were attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by violent means. He went on to add: "If we don't control Naxalism, we have to say goodbye to our country's ambition to sustain a growth rate of 10 to 11 per cent per annum". And this, he clarified, is because central India is where the bulk of the country's mineral wealth lies. In short, 10 or 11 per cent growth rate is elevated to the status of a national goal. Anyone who opposes policies that seek to achieve this goal is therefore acting against the national interest, and is ipso facto anti-national.

The reification involved in this piece of reasoning, as Karl Marx would have noted, is astounding. A nation can have objectives, such as the eradication of poverty or the elimination of hunger or the removal of illiteracy or the maintenance of full employment or the achievement of an egalitarian order. But the mere rate of augmentation of the mass of goods and services produced cannot possibly be a national objective. True, some, including the prime minister, would argue that this rate of augmentation holds the key to the achievement of the national goals just listed, but this is a particular ideological position. Others may have a different position on the relationship between growth and poverty. To posit the growth rate as a national objective is to sanctify one particular ideological position above all others as a nationally accepted one, and hence to decry anyone who opposes it as anti-national. Decrying those who oppose a particular ideological position as being anti-national is to implicitly criminalize dissent.

The prime minister, let us not forget, was not talking to a group of his party functionaries, but to budding police officers, whose job consists of identifying what constitutes criminal activity. He was, in short, articulating an official position. Besides, given his intellectual eminence, what he says both expresses and sets the trend for the thinking of the entire establishment. His remarks, therefore, have to be taken very seriously.

More than a century-and-a-half ago, John Stuart Mill, while theoretically anticipating a "stationary state" (that is, zero growth economy), had nonetheless remained unfazed by the prospect. He had declared that he would not mind a stationary state as long as the working people were better off in it. Mill had thus implicitly advanced two propositions. First, the condition of the working people did not depend upon the rate of growth of the economy, that it could be better even in a stationary economy than in a growing one. Second, what mattered to him, and hence, by inference, what should matter to society according to him, was not the rate of growth per se but the condition of the working people. Both these propositions of Mill, a liberal, are diametrically opposed to what the official neo- liberal argument advances today and wants to elevate to a national consensus.

The fact that Mill was right, that high growth may be accompanied by increasing poverty, is amply demonstrated by the recent Indian experience itself. Indeed, the empirical evidence for absolute impoverishment in the recent period of high growth is overwhelming. Let us briefly look at this evidence. The official criterion for the identification of poverty (until it was changed recently after the Tendulkar committee report) has been the intake of 2,400 calories or less per person per day in rural India and 2,100 calories or less in urban India. By this criterion, poverty has certainly increased. Direct measurement of calorie intake suggests that 74.5 per cent of the rural population was "poor" in 1993-94, and 87 per cent in 2004-05. The corresponding figures were 57 per cent and 64 per cent respectively for the urban population. (These figures, based on National Sample Survey Organization data, are from Utsa Patnaik, Economic and Political Weekly, Jan 23-29, 2010, and their veracity cannot be questioned.)

Foodgrain absorption figures confirm this conclusion. Per capita foodgrain absorption (defined as net output minus net exports minus net increase in stocks) which, in round figures, was 200 kilogram per annum in British India at the beginning of the 20th century, declined drastically to less than 150 kg by the time of independence. Strenuous efforts by successive governments in Independent India raised it to 180 kg by the end of the 1980s. But there has been a decline thereafter, marginal at first but precipitous after the late 1990s, so much so that per capita foodgrain absorption in 2008 at 156 kg, according to the estimate of the Food and Agriculture Organization, was lower than in any year after 1953. The period of high growth is precisely the one associated with reduction in foodgrain absorption, and hence with significant absolute impoverishment.

But the official position apotheosizing growth as a national goal and vilifying any opposition to it as anti-national, is not only a reification, and a vacuity, it is also dangerous. This is both because it criminalizes ideological dissent, and because it implicitly justifies corporate control over the State. If 10 or 11 per cent growth is elevated to a national goal, then obviously the agents through whom this goal is to be achieved — especially in the neo- liberal era when the public sector and public investment are frowned upon, namely, the domestic and foreign private corporations and financial interests — must be kept happy. The State must cater to their caprices, so that their "state of confidence" is kept high, and they undertake the investments necessary for high growth.

Since the alternative approach, of taxing the corporate and financial interests and using public investment as the means of raising growth, has been eschewed (even as growth itself has been apotheosized as a national goal), the achievement of this goal necessarily requires appeasing these interests by putting the entire State machinery at their disposal. It necessarily means corporate control over the State machinery. And when the prime minister talks of the need to get unhindered access to the mineral wealth of central India as the means to achieve the "national goal" of 10 to 11 per cent growth rate, he obviously means ensuring unhindered access to this wealth by corporate interests.

This is precisely what has been happening. The series of scandals that the nation has watched with stupefaction over the last few weeks is only one manifestation of the extent of this corporate control.

Such corporate control inevitably brings forth resistance. All such resistance necessarily threatens the "national goal" of growth, and hence is labelled anti-national, that is, criminal. The criminalization of dissent is immanent, therefore, in the corporate control over the State machinery, and the reified view of "national goals" is a justification for such control. Many have rightly attacked the draconian laws which have been introduced in the statute books in many states and under which protesters are punished. These laws, which are often attributed to the authoritarianism of this or that political formation, really spring from the authoritarianism inherent in the corporate control over the State. The renowned economist Paul Samuelson, a political liberal, had reportedly remarked that economic liberalism can be practised only under political authoritarianism. Contemporary India testifies to the truth of this remark.

The author is professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

MIXED RESULTS

K.P. SHASHIDHARAN

A recent report by the comptroller and auditor general on the functioning of the Brahmaputra board — an autonomous body exclusively established by an act of Parliament in 1980 for integrated development of the flood-hit northeastern region — provides useful suggestions for development planning and project execution. The findings of the report can be appreciated in the light of the information that the board has, so far, prepared master plans of various rivers and tributaries of the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems and eight rivers of Tripura and Majuli island.

Responsibilities of the board include carrying out surveys in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, preparation of master plans, detailed project reports and construction, operation and maintenance of multi-purpose projects for drainage development, flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, navigation and protection from bank erosion. Its jurisdiction extends to the entire region, comprising seven northeastern states, Sikkim and the northern part of West Bengal. In order to discharge its responsibilities, the board is expected to coordinate effectively with the Central ministry of water resources, all the states concerned, public sector undertakings like NHPC and NEEPCO, execute power projects in the region as well as consult the central water commission.

The performance report of the board covering the last five years explains the board's efforts in the implementation of projects giving due consideration to taxpayers' money. Though the board did not find it prudent to bind its activities within a time frame, it attempted 57 master plans taking considerable time to obtain approval of the Union government for most of them and leaving many pending for approval. To cite a few examples, the master plan on main stem Brahmaputra river was completed in 1986, but it took the board 11 years to get the Union government's approval. The master plan of the Barak river and its tributaries drawn in 1988 was approved in 1997. In case of two drainage development projects, Rongsai and Batha, included in the master plan, work started but had to be cancelled when the board realized that the state government had already taken up those projects

Slow progress

After the approval of the master plan, work begins for the preparation of DPRs. Out of 64 DPRs taken up by the board, it completed 34, and could obtain approval for 12 from the CWC. Of the 41 drainage development scheme projects, it prepared 22. Of the 14 multi-purpose projects taken for preparation of DPR, six were completed and the preparation of DPRs is in progress for the remaining eight projects.

Due to the delay, benefits of programmes like mitigation of floods, higher agricultural output and power generation could not be achieved. The loss due to the delay in completion of projects was estimated to be Rs 244 crore. Besides time and cost overrun, there were cases of undue favour, non-recovery of penalty from contractors and non-execution of projects due to unavailability of land. A high-powered review board was formed way back in 1982 to oversee the activities of the board, but it has met only five times since its inception and its last meeting was held in 2005.

As none of the projects has been completed on time, it is imperative for the board to realize its mandated responsibilities, fix time frames for its major activities like conducting surveys and preparing master plans, delineate responsibilities clearly, implement the proposed projects and coordinate effectively among the stakeholders and the authorities concerned. It is important for the board to prepare manuals containing standards and specifications for construction operation and maintain relevant data, use the latest communication and information technology for effective monitoring and implementation of its projects.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

SEVERAL ROLES CONVERGING INTO ONE

AREKTI PREMER GOLPO ASKS ITS AUDIENCE TO TAP INTO THAT PART OF THEIR PSYCHE AND CULTURAL HISTORY WHICH IS USUALLY KEPT HIDDEN AWAY, WRITES SANGEETA DATTA

A few weeks ago, a film opened in Calcutta which stirred much curiosity and debate. A much-loved and admired director was making an acting debut. Posters and hoardings across the city showcased a glamorous actor in drag. People on the streets and in cars stopped to take a second look at the heavily made-up face and bejewelled body. As the hoardings went up in Priya cinema, the local staff speculated about the "actress" and concluded it was Rekha. A few days before this, the CEO of Nandan had refused to show the film on homosexuality without a preview copy. The director refused to comply and withdrew the film from Nandan.

When Arekti Premer Golpo opened, most people were drawn to the theatres primarily by a curiosity factor — to see Rituparno Ghosh dressed as a woman. At the premiere, one got a sense of the somewhat embarrassed yet eager audience wholly uneasy about the premise of the film and what they were going to see. After the first ten minutes of sniggering and giggling, most did settle down and engage with the compulsive narrative and the predicament of the gender-bending protagonist. While the premiere took place, a very aggressive debate was aired on one of the prime television channels featuring both Rituparno and the CEO of Nandan.

In his striking acting debut, Rituparno plays the dual roles of a contemporary gay filmmaker and the period part of a young, cross-dressing Chapal Bhaduri. In a very complex and layered narrative, the roles of the filmmaker and his subject collapse into one. In actual fact, the roles of the actor and creative director Rituparno and his screen roles of Abhiroop and the young Chapal converge into a sharp cultural statement on third-sex identity and the power and vulnerability of androgyny.

This prevalent curiosity about Rituparno's sexuality (part of the city's lore), the hush-hush whispers about his possible sex change, the poor mimicry by a certain television host, the horrified response to his sometimes bold, sometimes provocative sartorial taste — all feed into the ambiguous attitudes and expectations of the audience. The filmmaker-turned-actor justifies his wearing of female clothes and jewellery as a very ancient Indian tradition, which most people have forgotten. Just as they have dropped the concept of androgyny from their frame of reference. And this is the challenge that the film offers — of confronting and empathizing with a third identity; in fact, it asks us to tap into this hidden part of our own psyche and our cultural history.

Having watched the film and introduced it to the London Film Festival audience, and then again at the Calcutta premiere, the grey premise, the compulsive performances, complex lighting scheme, the haunting music and the residual quality of the text all brought to mind another filmmaker whose life and works offer this dark, nebulous filter — the intriguing Guru Dutt. And I am thinking of his last films — Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) and Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962). Director and actor Guru Dutt was the ultimate outsider and tragic artist in the history of Indian cinema. Probably the first to make veiled, autobiographical films. Certainly the first to have his own life conflated with his tragic screen personae — Vijay in Pyaasa and Suresh Sinha in Kaagaz ke Phool. A sensitive artist, ill at ease in the material world of Bombay cinema, Guru Dutt questioned the role of the artist in society. His romance with then famous playback singer, Geeta Dutt, their troubled marriage and later estrangement, his involvement with co-stars, compulsive alcoholism, increasing depression and, eventually, tragic suicide — all spell out the Devdas syndrome which he had seemingly internalized. A filmmaker who was reassessed for his amazing talent only decades after he died. I see him as the vulnerable, androgynous artist unable to come to terms with himself or face the masculine, aggressive world of Hindi cinema.

Guru Dutt spent his formative years in Calcutta and was strongly influenced by Bengali literature and P.C. Barua's films. Devdas — the brooding hero who craves for the unattainable, takes to alcohol and destroys himself — was the model he shaped himself on, as well as his protagonists. The search for artistic truth, for idealism in an increasingly material world, the fickleness of the masses — these are his primary preoccupations. A closer look reveals a vulnerability, an uncertainty, an inability to grapple with the emotional, feminine side of his psyche and persona. In a revealing letter to his wife, dated June 25, 1952, Guru Dutt writes about his sense of inadequacy: "I sometimes wish I was not born, or sometimes wish I was dead or sometimes I wish I am not that what I am and didn't know you. Life is such a foolish struggle which never ends in peace. I want you — I don't get you. Like a madman I roam about trying to find solace which I don't get anywhere. I think it is better for a person like me to be dead for good."

As a young boy growing up in poverty, Guru Dutt loved dancing. He responded to a painting by his uncle, B.B. Benegal, by choreographing a snake dance that he performed in Eden Gardens. He put on make-up, tied a red turban on his long dark, flowing hair, and his uncle filmed him. Soon after, he wanted to join Uday Shankar's cultural institute in Almora. Benegal arranged for a scholarship of Rs 75, so he could go.

Uday Shankar had set up a unique centre for the arts where Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar were also training. In the famous shadow dance opera, Ram Leela (1943), the 17-year-old Guru Dutt played Lakshman to Sachin Shankar's Ram. Later, the troupe toured with Guru Dutt's own choreographed piece, the Swan Dance. In this protected haven, the young Dutt studied aesthetics, philosophy, music and dance. In Bombay, he joined Prabhat Studios as a choreographer. As he struggles as an actor and a director, one notices the shy, feminine, often indecisive, lonely artist whose tragic dilemma sets him apart from the successful, North Indian heroes of the time — Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar.

Through Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool and Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, we see the artist in an existential crisis, the idealist poet, Vijay, the driven filmmaker Suresh Sinha. These are dark, haunting narratives dealing with the fragile predicament of the artist. The alienation is worked out through the issues of class and the insider/ outsider model.

In Arekti Premer Golpo, Abhiroop is also an outsider. He is pitted against the world — the media link his work to his personal life, the crowd disallows the shoot in Chapal's house, the villagers stop the final shoot of Chapal in his attire of a female goddess. His alternative sexuality has placed him in a tortuous relationship. This makes him vulnerable, but, as an artist, he is uncompromising, and the search for the truth is effectively an inward journey from femininity to androgyny. He refers to the cult figure of Chaitanya as a rebel figure, who uses street music as a revolutionary concept. Soon after, Abhiroop shaves his head and visually becomes Chaitanya. One of the most enduring scenes in the film is when Abhiroop and Uday sit in front of the Gauranga temple. It is dusk, the priest has finished his arati and Uday is asking Roop to visit him in France. A new relationship starts — the kirtan refrain builds up full-bodied as Roop is iconized with a peacock feather in his hand, briefly becoming Krishna to whom the song is addressed: "Banamali hey, porojonomey hoyo Radha."

The powerful use of kirtan in this film also takes me back to that sensuous and erotic song sequence of all times in Pyaasa. A kirtan singer is performing on the street —Geeta Dutt sings — Vijay (Guru Dutt) has walked up to the terrace and Gulab (Waheeda Rahman) silently follows him there. The song of devotion is juxtaposed with the desire in Gulab for the man she is in love with. Sexual desire is subsumed in the spiritual power of the song: "Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo/ Janam safal ho jaye."

The drama and tension are played out through close-ups, near physical contact, and its eventual denial, casting a tragic pall on the two people locked in their own conflicts. And again, the line between off-screen and on-screen personae gets deliberately blurred.

The visual reference to Chaitanya, Abhiroop's detachment from his long-term partner, Basu, his manner of comforting Basu's wife, all feed into the newly "liberated" image of Rituparno, who, today, emerges as the messiah for the community he speaks for. He goes beyond that because today he has found a new humanism. This progressive direction sets him apart from the nihilism and tragic consequence of Guru Dutt when he worked half a century ago.

The magic of kirtan, the iconic Ardhanarishwar, the soil of Bengal, P.C. Barua, Uday Shankar, Devdas, Guru Dutt — the mind races through a complex frame of references which Arekti Premer Golpo has triggered. And that is what good art must do. After running to full houses, the film has now been declared a hit. Is it then tapping into a latent femininity that is an integral yet hidden part of the Bengali psyche? Is it a sufficient reminder of the power of the androgyne — the yin and the yang, the mythological Ardhanarishwar, who is at once the most destructive, most potent and most nurturing of all divinities?

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

EDITORIAL

CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY

'THE GOVT HAS TO GO BEYOND WORDS AND GESTURES.'


The UPA government, besieged and cornered by corruption scandals, has started a fire-fighting operation with the appointment of an eight-member empowered committee of ministers, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, to retrieve the political ground it has lost in the past few months. The government also is in difficulty because of the galloping inflation and its inability to check the prices of essential commodities. The effort to be seen as proactive in the fight against corruption had started with the Congress plenary meet in Burari, when Sonia Gandhi unveiled a five-point plan to minimise the scope for corruption in government. But there seems to be a contradiction also in the effort, with the government even going into the denial mode, as when telecom minister Kapil Sibal asserted that there was no loss to the exchequer from the 2G spectrum allocation.

The eight-member group has a brief to suggest measures to eliminate corruption in some areas which are known to facilitate it. The plan includes steps to ensure a transparent and efficient public procurement policy, fast-tracking of investigation and prosecution of officials charged with corruption, curbs on discretionary powers of ministers and a scheme for public funding of elections. Each of these issues has been discussed for a long time and there is no paucity of recommendations for action. The proposals that have come out basically involve new policies for administrative and political reform, but they call for a strong will to implement them. That will has been lacking. The committee is expected to recommend legislative measures also, but in a milieu where laws are flagrantly violated or sidetracked, new laws may not be of much use. In fact there are enough laws in the country to check corruption and punish those who indulge in it.


A new committee and some more recommendation will not help the government to improve its image and win back credibility. If it wants to be seen as sincere in cleaning up the system, it should be seen as acting. For example, it can take up the opposition challenge by going in for a joint parliamentary panel probe into the 2G scandal. It can implement a transparent procurement policy and do away with minister's discretionary powers without waiting for new proposals. If the commitment to clean governance has to be convincing the government has to go beyond words and gestures.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SUSTAINABLE PEACE

'VESTED INTERESTS ARE ACTIVE IN NORTHEAST BORDERS.'


Even as Assam celebrates the likelihood of the ULFA entering into talks with the Centre, violent clashes have broken out between the Garo and Rabha ethnic groups along the Assam-Meghalaya border indicating how complex the process of bringing peace to the region is likely to be. A dozen people have died in the violence so far and some 300 houses in Assam's Goalpara and Meghalaya's East Garo Hills district have been burnt in less than a fortnight. The violence has resulted in displacement of over 50,000 people.


Rabhas and Garos have had long-standing disputes over land and other local resources. While the recent clashes have been described in the media as riots, the violence was not spontaneous. The home ministry has revealed that the clashes were planned and organised. While the ministry's probe has refrained from naming underground groups that might have triggered the violence, security forces have arrested members of groups like the Rabha Security Force and the Rabha Viper Army for carrying out the attacks.


Conflict between the Garos and Rabhas has turned violent occasionally. However, to describe their relationship as historically conflictual is flawed. The Garos and Rabhas have lived side by side for centuries, interacting and co-operating with each other by and large. If clashes have erupted now, it is because vested interests have mobilised these groups along their primordial identities and triggered conflict between them.


The government has rushed additional forces to the area and issued shoot-at-sight orders with a view to halting the violence and arson. While this might quell the violence, it will not prevent it from erupting again. For sustainable peace, we need to build a culture of peace among communities. This requires a whole range of activities such as peace education, justice, reconciliation and so on. It requires building constituencies of peace. The Northeast has a long history of women being involved in peacebuilding. The role of the Naga Mothers' Association in keeping the ceasefire alive in Nagaland is well known. Sadly, the immense potential of women as a peacebuilding force has not been adequately tapped. Drawing on this rich resource will help build a lasting peace in the region. Sustainable peace cannot be achieved through an interaction of elites alone. The masses need to be drawn in too.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

THE HOLY VIP BY VIKRAM LIMSAY

THE ASPIRANT CAN ACHIEVE THE EXALTED VIP STATUS THROUGH INTERPOL NOTICE, CRIMINAL PROBE, CORPORATE FRAUD, MEDIA CULTIVATION, ETC.


"Do they belong to someone?" is one of the most common questions asked by a foreigner when he sees a cow on Indian roads for the first time. Not too sure whether it is acceptable to be exasperated at this live traffic snarl or to be respectfully accommodating of the bovines presence, one can sense a cautious restraint in the question because, after all, he has heard that in exotic India a cow represents divinity herself!


"Who exactly is a VIP?" is another such commonly asked question. A foreign guest asked me this as we were stuck in a hopeless traffic jam and he noticed an absolutely empty adjoining lane marked 'VIP lane.' Once again, I could sense a similar sense of guardedness; was it acceptable to be exasperated at the invisible VIP or was it politically incorrect social conduct to ask?


Now, it is quite commonplace to find an abundance of VIP cows and buffaloes in India that we seldom even spare a thought for them. Perhaps that is the reason we find simple questions such as these amusing and are jolted into thinking deeply about them. In my case the one concerning VIPs made a particular impression.

On some contemplation I concluded that broadly there are four types of 'persons' in our country. First, there is the 'Not (so) Important Person' or NIP, constituting the toiling masses grateful to be classified as persons at all. Second, the adjective less 'Person' or P, who harbours a false sense of importance only to satisfy his tax paying middle class ego, but who in reality, is just another NIP. Next is the 'Important Person' or IP, at the pinnacle in his chosen field and or in possession of enormous financial muscle. And finally the 'Very Important Person' or VIP who has a real or perceived ability to wield influence, positive or negative, over others.


Barring rare exceptions, a VIP is not born. Like nirvana, VIP is an achieved state. In modern times, the process of becoming a VIP has become simple compared to the classical when it was a slow process of metamorphosis. Today there are multiple routes. The aspirant can achieve that exalted VIP status through Interpol notice, criminal investigation, corporate fraud, media cultivation, marriage, sports betting, film financing, usurped real estate and other such avenues. Of course the conventional routes through legislature, executive and judiciary are also available.


Merely becoming a VIP is not enough. Others have to know and acknowledge the VIP status. After all, what is the use of becoming a VIP if no one knows you are a VIP? Hence it is incumbent upon every VIP to learn the fine art of propagating his VIP status.


Heralding arrival

As a first step in this direction the VIP has to become conspicuous. For this, he adopts the generally accepted class uniform; a red light on the vehicle, siren, posse of armed guards proclaiming him to be an enemy of many, dark glasses, chunky and precious personal embellishments and spartan white clothes. This is the reason why a VIP in spite of being convinced that everyone is out to get him, to an extent that he requires armed protection, not scared of announcing his presence with red lights and sirens instead of discreetly scurrying along to his destination in disguise.


Next, he has to learn to be a nuisance to others. For this he borrows liberally form that un-published bestseller, 'Zen and the art of being a nuisance.' He uses his VIP power to make systemic alterations to ensure others never forget him. He blocks traffic during chaotic rush hour, corners already in short supply railway tickets, skews in his favour the already hopeless bed to patient ratio, walks past airport security with disdain, acquires prime property at unimaginably subsidised rates and grabs the best seats at a cricket match or the republic day parade. Not only this, I am told, he even makes petty criminals in places of incarceration go green with envy by reserving a section with modern amenities for his privileged use from time to time!


Alas, a VIP's life is not bereft of its problems. His club is overcrowded and losing its sheen. Proliferation has resulted in diminished value and it is no longer aspirational to become a VIP. Not only that, unlike good old days, those who are supposed to be satisfied in their entomological existence have begun asking fundamental questions about the relevance of a VIP in a putatively egalitarian society.


This has to stop. A few VIPs have taken it upon themselves to address this and restore the club to its former glory. Conventional wisdom suggests creating a superset by adding another 'V' and raising the bar for membership. But that would not be ingenious. Perhaps there is a need for the VIP to study his bovine counterpart. They seem to effortlessly retain their position of respect in society despite their proliferating numbers. The answer may lie in the difference between a cow or a buffalo and a VIP. The former continues to remain useful by providing milk or pulling weight and avoids excessive parasitic existence.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

SUDAN ADVANCES TOWARDS ITS FUTURE BY THABO MBEKI, IHT THE SOUTH SUDAN REFERENDUM IS EXPECTED TO RESULT IN THE DIVISION OF SUDAN INTO TWO COUNTRIES.


The referendum currently taking place in Sudan will end a protracted period of deadly conflict in the country. During its first half-century of independence Sudan was at war with itself for 38 years. This situation could not continue forever. Sooner or later the Sudanese had to answer the question: What should they do to achieve peace?

Throughout the war years the answer was clear. It had been communicated by the southern rebellion which broke out in 1955. Colonial Britain had governed the north and the south as two different entities. The policies it pursued resulted in the relative development of the north and the absolute underdevelopment of the south.

Accordingly, the south feared that its integration in an independent Sudan would result in its domination by the north. It therefore took up arms demanding such autonomy as would allow the people of southern Sudan to exercise their right to self-determination, without this extending to independence.


The rebellion sought to make the simple point that for Sudan to exist as a united country, it would have to construct a constitutional order and a political economy that would respect its manifest diversity.


Discrimination

The north elected to reject this demand and suppress it by force of arms. Like colonial Britain, the northern Sudanese post-colonial ruling group implemented policies which discriminated against the south and used force to perpetuate the resultant gross inequality.


The sustained pursuit of this double-pronged strategy intended to maintain the unity of Sudan, but under the control of a dominant northern minority, persuaded the southern Sudanese that they had to go beyond the demand advanced in 1955 and fight for independence.


The force of the latter position proved so strong that it prevailed over the alternative perspective advanced especially by the eminent, long-time leader of the second north-south war, the late John Garang.


Garang argued that the objective of the southern armed struggle should be the creation of a New Sudan. This would be a united, democratic Sudan governed according to the constitutional order and political economy which would respect its diversity, as the southern rebels had demanded in 1955.


However that vision died with Garang, when, unfortunately, he perished in a helicopter crash in 2005, early in the life of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement he had negotiated.


With the demise of that vision it seems inevitable that the votes cast during the south Sudan referendum which began on Sunday will result in the division of Sudan into two countries, with effect from July 9.

Sudan is now preparing for this eventuality. President Omar al-Bashir visited Juba, the capital of south Sudan, five days before the referendum and assured the southerners that he would join them in their celebrations if they chose to secede. Later he said the north, in its own interest, would assist the new state to get on its feet.

For some time now the Sudanese leaders have been involved in negotiations to reach an agreement on various post-referendum arrangements which would define the relations between the possible two states.


Further agreements are being negotiated relating to such important matters as citizenship, the national debt, the sharing of the oil revenues, currency arrangements, relations among the communities along the north-south border, and security arrangements. These negotiations will also determine the institutions that should be created to manage the relations between the two states in the event of the secession of the south.


At the same time negotiations will continue, to resolve the outstanding matters of Abyei and the demarcation of the north-south border.


Some commentators have persisted in projecting the view that Sudan may slide back into war. However the situation facing both the north and the south, and their fundamental respective interests, oblige them to sustain the peace ushered in by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


The reality is that there will be no war. The option of war has had its day.

The exciting possibility is that exactly because of its painful history, Sudan may very well teach the whole of Africa how to respond to the challenge of diversity which has informed many of Africa's conflicts, including those currently affecting the Ivory Coast and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.


In time Africa will therefore celebrate both the peaceful resolution of the protracted conflict in Sudan, and the accumulation of new practical experience which would stand the continent in good stead as it strives to construct peaceful and democratic societies based on the perspective of unity in diversity.


(The writer is a former president of South Africa and chairman of the African union high level implementation panel for Sudan)

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

LESSONS IN HISTORY BY GIRISH ANANTH

THE SPECIES WHICH EITHER ADAPT OR MIGRATE TO 'GREENER PASTURES' WILL SURVIVE.


There seems to be so much in common between human history and the history of animal and plant life on earth, and the lessons to be learnt therein, seem to gel so well with the laws of 'survival of the fittest,' expounded in Darwin's 'Origin of Species'.


Take the Vikings for instance. A recent subject workshop I attended drew our attention to a report which confirmed that the Vikings  were not just ruthless invaders, but quite a civilised community with ample talent for art, architecture, construction and engineering, displayed at times of peace after they had integrated with the local community. The report stirred up a discussion amongst those who attended the workshop — all eager to discuss the 'cuddly side' of the Vikings!


If these people had set out to sail to conquer unknown lands, they must have been adventurous. The human mind loves adventure, adventures of all sorts, be it setting out to sail and conquering distant lands or discovering new technologies. From a purely biological point of view, the Vikings, perhaps, did only what circumstances forced them to do — move out of their northern, perhaps somewhat impoverished land. Had the Vikings not set out to sail, they might not have continued to survive. I like to think of the Vikings and the Germanic tribes who also migrated extensively during this period (causing the fall of the mighty Roman Empire), as a community of people who, perhaps were responding to natural pressures and the demands of an ever increasing population in a land where resources were hard to come by.


Perhaps their migration was purely 'Darwinian' in nature.  Why should the Vikings be an exception to the rule — survival of the fittest? Perceived in that way, violence takes on a totally different meaning! The ultimate aim of any organism is survival. pwhich make survival possible. And the Vikings did exactly that. If we are willing to accept that the spirit of adventure in the Vikings is that same remarkable quality inherent in all successful species, we will not find it difficult to understand why, after a few hundred years, this same 'violent' community settled down peacefully with the local population.


This is not to say that we should condone the violence which has marred so many chapters in human history and tarnished many a nation. Knowing that natural selection has created a violent side in us might help us accept the 'Viking' in us. Hopefully then, we humans may well live at peace with ourselves and other species, instead of treading the path of extinction as the dinosaurs did.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

PRIVATISED HOSPITALS HURT 'AAM ADMI'


Aldona MLA Dayanand Narvekar has sounded a timely warning by threatening to launch an agitation if the government goes ahead with its quixotic decision to privatise the District Hospital at Mapusa. He has warned the government to change its decision by 26 January. At a time when food prices are rapidly increasing – by an average of 20 per cent a year over the past three years – any proposal to make ordinary people pay for essential healthcare can only be termed as extremely callous.


As Mr Narvekar has pointed out, the very concept behind the Mapusa District Hospital was to provide medical facilities free of cost to the people of North Goa. He ought to know, because Mr Narvekar himself was Goa's Health Minister in 2005.


In case Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane thinks Mr Narvekar is merely trying to score political brownie points, he needs to read the series of studies on India's health system published on Tuesday by the prestigious British medical journal, 'Lancet'. The report states that the poor in India are the most vulnerable to diseases, and are further burdened by having to pay for healthcare. One of the papers in the series – on chronic diseases and injuries – has Goa's own Dr Vikram Patel of the Sangath Centre, Porvorim, as its lead author.


It appears that our wealthy politicians have completely lost touch with the 'aam admi' in whose name they rule this state. At a time when even the free medical care given by public hospitals is burdensome for poor people, thanks to expensive medicines regularly being out-of-stock in our public hospitals, how these so-called representatives of the people can even contemplate privatisation of these institutions is baffling, to say the least.
Take the case of a person earning around Rs5,000 a month (and there are thousands in this state who earn even less). A single visit to a private medical consultant or establishment can cost anything between Rs500 to Rs1,500 – or even more. Is it at all affordable for people like this? Or do our politicians think that everyone in this state earns salaries based on Sixth Pay Commission scales?


They need to think not only about people like themselves, but also about those who work in shops and small establishments, who are security guards or drivers, or serve in hotels and restaurants. These are the people whom India's rapid growth rate and so-called economic boom has left behind. They do not earn five-figure salaries. And they certainly cannot afford private healthcare on a consistent basis.


What is most puzzling is that though the Mapusa District Hospital has been ready since May 2009, it is yet to go on stream. This is grossly wasteful. The government has so far spent (wasted?) Rs65 lakh on maintenance, Rs36 lakh on electricity and Rs7 lakh on security. The Hospital has so far cost Rs46 crore and, since it isn't functioning fully, the warranty on some super-speciality equipment has lapsed even before these have been used.


If money means so little to this government that they can waste it so carelessly, what's the big deal in treating the 'aam admi' free of cost?

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

DOG DAYS


On Monday, a stray dog bit eight persons in Margao, at the government quarters. Thanks to the complete failure of the government, the municipalities and the NGOs to effectively sterilise and vaccinate these animals, Goa is overrun by packs of stray dogs that pose a serious threat to the public. It's time for the government and the High Court to review their earlier decision, which has comprehensively failed to control the stray dog menace.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

IT'S ACTION REPLAY

JOURNALISTS AND PR FOLK HAVE BECOME FIXERS THAT INSTANTLY CHANGED THE WHOLE BALL GAME, SAYS ERVELL MENEZES


In this beautiful, bountiful, paradise of a state of ours, nothing seems to change and the New Year brings nothing new. It is like a musical record that gets stuck. Same problem, new players. Last time, it was Churchill's "Save Goa Party" (actually Save Churchill party) versus the Congress. Now, it is Churchill rebels versus Congress and the National Congress Party (NCP) with Churchill Alemao, as the common factor.
The bone of contention is Francisco "Mickky" Pacheco, one of the most controversial members of badly-tainted MLAs. Always in the news for the wrong reasons, and with a long list of dubious deeds behind, this moneybag (not sure of his pronounced figures) is a living example of the adage, that "money talks." And that is the USP of many of our MLAs, with Atanasio "Babush" Monserrate, probably coming a close second. These are the two "golden boys" of New Goa.

 

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, wanted Pacheco to be inducted in the cabinet at the expense of Jose Philip D'Souza and Nilkant Halarnkar. But this was objected to by 11 Congress MLAs (led by Alemao), who threatened to quit the party, if Pacheco was inducted. So the ding-dong battle is on between the two high commands (hardly the right word to describe them).


Now, we know the antecedents of both Agriculture Minister Pawar and Aviation Minister Praful Patel. Both of them figure in the 2G spectrum scam  and they also have designs of moving into Goa. Like Suresh Kalmadi of CWG Games notoriety, the fellow Maratha strong man, already has interests in mining, hotels and what not. May be this is their way of getting back at the Goans, after losing the opinion poll and shattering former Home Minister Yeshwantrao Chavan's "Zalach Paije" dream in 1967.


Pacheco may make tall claims of contesting all 40 seats in the assembly, but the reality is quite the opposite. The NCP is a coalition partner and instead of going along with the larger party, it is in collision mode. To add to their woes, both their ministers at the centre are involved in scams. Pawar should have been axed long ago, after the farmers' suicides, and the failure to control food prices. Being elected as Maharashra's youngest Chief Minister at the age of 38, he is now a pale shadow of his former self, which has been steadily declining in the last decade. His role in the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) hasn't helped.
Praful Patel has his own problems and skeletons in the cupboard and giving his daughter a push, is a feminine version of "the son also rises," which after Sanjay Gandhi, has been the raison d'etre of most of our esteemed Chief Ministers, the new maharajahs. How "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" – is a favourite phrase of my guru, Frank Moraes.


Oh yes, to get back, the Congress is no better and the Congress General Secretary and Goa Desk in charge BK Hariprasad has expressed the difficulty of the situation, and his helplessness. But he has been there for years. If he is unable to cope with it, he should be replaced, though in sympathy for him, I must say it is a no-win situation. I suspect that had God, in his infinite mercy and munificence, came down to earth, He would also have been helpless.


The very fact that Chief Minister Digambar Kamat has survived, only proves that the age of miracles is not yet over. You know my opinion of him but we shall let him off this time, because of the constraints of time and space. We know the stuff that politicians are made of, but with journalists and PR folk becoming fixers, the whole ball game has changed in a jiffy.


This was proved by the recent 2G spectrum scam involving Communications Minister A Raja, who had to he stripped of his portfolio after the hue and cry, which was raging for months. Even our "clean man" Manmohan Singh had to face the music and now has his head still above water, though his turban could have caught the spray.
It was Kenyan-British lobbyist Niira Radia (known as Niira with the two eyes), who became the focal point of what is now called the Radia Tapes. How journalism has changed, not necessarily improved and the "all's fair in love and war" adage can well be applied to us, sadly. This woman of craft has carved a new name for the term fixer. She has industrialists, journos, and PR folk, all eating out of the palm of her hand. And with what devastating results! Among other things (that is her huge bank balance) she made the covers of mags for weeks.
You name them, they were all there, the Tatas, Ambanis and others and what juicy snippets came out to the aam admi, who may have had his daily bread, but happily devoured cake in choking morsels.


Not to be left out, naturally, are our tribesmen, some of them already page 3 folks, thanks to a new journalistic development called "breaking news." They, at times, pen the headines first and then get the story to suit the headlines. Take Barkha Dutt, prima donna for some (those looking for glam), whose track record is pathetic to say the least. The Scarlett Keeling's murder mystery, the 26/11 terrorist attack gaffe (providing clues to the terrorists) comes quickly to mind. Like our ministers, she seems to have glue on her bottom. Barkha's liaison, sorry, connection with Vir Sanghvi, came out in the open.


There are some juicy, salacious tidbits but let's be mild on the fraternity. Veteran journalists, S Nihal Singh, whom this writer ran into in Paris, in 1985, had this to say about the changing role of our tribe.
Though he admits there were always some black sheep in the field their number and misdeeds were miniscule. He mentions former Times editor, Shyam Lal and his interview with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which she described as "well, he talked and I listened."    And his summing up of the change,"…in the print media, the TOI was the pioneer in trying to efface the distinction between editorial and managerial positions, and also erasing the line that divides a broadsheet, from a tabloid. Those who prefer titillation and gossip to news, join the growing ranks of tabloid patrons." And then he quotes Deng Xiaoping "it is glorious to be rich."
And still the TOI is Numero Uno, and is being aped by many others.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

JERUSALEM-CHELM-TA

TRANSPORTATION MINISTRY PLANNERS CONCOCTED A SCHEME WHEREBY A FULL LANE OF TRAFFIC HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS A TOLL LANE, WITH FLUCTUATING RATES THAT ARE CONFUSING IN THEMSELVES.

With exasperating consistency, whenever the denizens of Yiddish folklore's mythic hamlet of Chelm brainstormed to find a solution to a pressing problem, they ended up making a bad situation remarkably worse.


Their tradition apparently survives in our Transportation Ministry. Significantly narrowing the already chronically congested stretch of Route 1 between Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv's Ayalon Freeway (at the Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange) is a glaring new case in point.


The ministry planners concocted a scheme, in force for a week now, whereby a full lane of traffic has been designated as a toll lane, with fluctuating rates that are confusing in themselves – rising from the minimum of NIS 6 to a whopping NIS 75 at the height of the heaviest rush hours (when an express lane is actually needed).


Those rates render the toll lane unaffordable for regular use by average rush-hour commuters. And so, these commuters must now squeeze into an appreciably narrowed highway.


Near the Shapirim Interchange, Route 1's five lanes are reduced to four non-toll lanes. Further down the road to Tel Aviv only three lanes are left, and at the entrance to the city the entire accumulation of non-toll traffic is packed into a mere two lanes.


The resultant bottleneck was not hard to predict. It was inevitable.


As is the fact that while the bulk of traffic is compressed into fewer lanes, the costly toll lanes are conspicuously underused. In off-hours, the toll lanes are almost empty.


NOT ONLY has the daily torment of ordinary drivers been exacerbated, but this has also been done at their expense in another way as well. They are being deprived of the use of part of a thoroughfare that is legally theirs.

Toll roads may make sense in cases where private entrepreneurs are encouraged to construct highways and then recoup their investments via tolls – or even when the state constructs a new thoroughfare.


But Route 1 was not privately financed. It was constructed long ago on public land, which belongs to all of us, from taxes paid by all of us. Route 1 is public property, legally and unequivocally. To deny any of us access to any part of it is to deny us access to what is ours.


We are being double-taxed. We paid for this highway's initial construction and periodical expansions. We are now required to pay more to travel on sections of road for which we had already forked out.


This is spelled out clearly in the law. Most drivers may be unaware of it, but the Speed Lanes Act, as amended in 2005, stipulates that the prior approval of the Knesset Economics Committee is mandated before an existing traffic lane can be turned into an express lane or toll lane.


This was further underscored in June 2008 by then-Economics Committee chairman Gilad Erdan, who noted that the transportation minister may designate express lanes only in newly constructed highways. This cannot be done regarding a lane on an older road already in use without the approval of the Knesset Economics Committee.

Yet the Knesset committee did not vote on the new Route 1 arrangements.


The Transportation Ministry's reaction is facile and disingenuous: the number of lanes on Route 1 is unchanged. Physically that is so, but not functionally; there are indeed the same number of lanes, but one of them is no longer available for the unrestricted use of the public that paid for it.



The exacerbated bumper-to-bumper crawl at the entrance to Tel Aviv this week dramatically attests to the dismal, predictable outcome of a convoluted, expensive and improperly authorized scheme.


THE TOLL LANE'S key redeeming feature is that use is free for public transport vehicles and for vehicles with at least three (or four; it fluctuates) passengers. That, of course, should have been its sole purpose – in the manner of similarly designated lanes on highways in the US and elsewhere.


But that would have done nothing for the private company that runs it.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

HOW HAMAS STAYS IN POWER

BY EHUD YAARI AND EYAL OFER/THE WASHINGTON INSTITU 

 

Far from being crippled by sanctions and siege, Gaza's Islamist rulers have managed to develop growing local sources of income, mainly by exploitation.

Since Israel's August 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has evolved from a relatively small movement into a well-funded conglomerate. Instead of being crippled by sanctions and siege, the organization has found ways to surmount early difficulties – such as frequent payroll delays – and establish an effective system of governance, ever tightening its grip over its fiefdom. As a result, Hamas has been able to empower loyalists while leaving the main burden of responsibility for Gaza's 1.6 million residents to others. Unfortunately, both the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and international donors have tolerated this situation, effectively contributing, if indirectly, to Hamas's coffers.


Gaza's economy

Reliable data regarding Gaza's finances is very difficult to obtain. Hamas has tight lips, the IDF releases little information and international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank generally aggregate Gaza and the West Bank when presenting statistics. Much of the information in this article is derived from Palestinian news reports and interviews with informed sources in Gaza; accordingly, most of the figures below should be treated as rough approximations.


The IMF estimated Gaza's 2009 gross domestic product (GDP) growth at 12 percent, an impressive number. According to a September 2010 IMF report, the total Gazan and West Bank GDP was $7 billion, while the gap in per capita income between the two areas was 48%; this data, combined with other relevant statistics, implies that Gaza's per capita GDP was around $1,400, much of which derives from payments by the PA. Transfers and remittances added 50% more income, implying that average total per capita income was, in fact, $2,100. Yet much of this income does not represent productive economic activities, and unemployment remains high – probably around a third of the workforce.


One must also take into account the considerable trade conducted via the more than 800 tunnels into Egypt. Based on fragmentary evidence, this trade likely peaked at around $600 million-$850 million per year. Much attention has already been devoted to the goods smuggled into Gaza, such as fuel and cement. Less well understood is the fact that, in exchange for these goods, cash has been steadily exported out of Gaza through the tunnels, at a rate of roughly $750 million per year. Cash is also flowing out of Gaza – through the tunnels and via bank transfers – to safe havens in Persian Gulf countries and Europe.


The new wealthy class – many associated with Hamas – as well as established capital owners are concerned about keeping their money inside Gaza, preferring to move it abroad. And even with huge sums flowing out of the territory, there is still more cash than opportunities to invest it. In February 2009, for example, Gaza banks actually turned to the Bank of Israel with an odd request: to deposit excess cash reserves in Israel.


Where does all this cash come from? Many assume that substantial sums have been entering Gaza via the tunnels since 2008, but this can be only partially confirmed. Instead, the cash inflow seems to come primarily through banks. According to Palestinian banking officials, an average of $2 billion per year has been transferred into Gaza via the Palestinian banking system since Hamas's June 2007 military takeover.


The PA alone wires an estimated $1.2 billion per year into Gaza banks, much of it as pensions and salaries for the 77,000 employees kept on the payroll even though they are not working. In fact, this estimate may be conservative; according to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, 54% of the PA's $3.17 billion 2010 budget went to Gaza. Most of that figure appears to be salaries, although it also covers what the PA pays directly for electricity, fuel and water provided to Gaza by Israeli firms.


In addition, the UN Relief and Works Agency annually transfers about $200 million in cash to Gaza, along with $250 million per year worth of goods, grains and fuel. Cash is also transferred into Gaza by the 160 nongovernmental organizations operating there, by international organizations such as the World Bank and by foreign government aid organizations, although much of what they spend arrives in the form of goods shipped via Israel.


Hamas resources

Hamas officials consistently refuse to disclose budgetary details or any other information regarding their sources of income. One official, Jamal Nasser, claimed that the group derives only $60 million per year from fees and taxes, with the rest coming from gifts and foreign aid. That does not appear to be the case, however. According to IDF Military Intelligence, Iranian subsidies to Hamas total around $100 million annually, or less than 20% of the group's proclaimed budget, stated to be $540 million in 2010. Iranian funds are directed mostly toward the Hamas Political Bureau in Damascus, primarily for weapons purchases and shipments, rather than toward Gaza. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has offered a much higher estimate, claiming that Iranian aid is approximately $250 million-$500 million, but little evidence supports his figure.


Hamas likely raises as much as $250 million annually via taxes. It has imposed all sorts of new fees and taxes, such as charging NIS 3 on every pack of cigarettes (which may generate around $80 million annually) and an NIS 1,400 auto registration fee (which may generate an additional $25 million based on estimates of 60,000 registered cars in Gaza). Hamas also regulates many types of businesses – from street vendors to Gaza's 20 money-changing companies – requiring them to pay license fees. In addition, taxes are collected on "luxury" goods coming from Israel, and even on motorcycles and carts.


Hamas also takes a hefty cut from the Egyptian tunnel trade, imposing high "customs" duties and a daily fee on local tunnel contractors. Such trade has been dramatically reduced since June 2010, when Israel quadrupled the number of trucks permitted to bring goods to Gaza through legal terminals. To replace lost tunnel income, Hamas is reportedly taking advantage of the relative drop in prices on goods arriving via official Israeli channels, imposing new taxes on various items. For example, from early July to September 20, 2010, it barred the importation of new cars from Israel until the taxation issues were resolved.


Hamas is also exploiting its control over various Gaza resources, such as leasing government- owned heavy machinery to private contractors for a daily fee. This is one of many ways it has been able to indirectly benefit from the international reconstruction funds flowing into Gaza.


Hamas expenditures

In 2005, Hamas was a modestly sized organization of 4,000-7,000 military personnel, with a small charity and education network and a skeletal party bureaucracy. From 2006 to 2010, however, the funds at its disposal reportedly grew from $40 million to $540 million. At the same time, Hamas has gained full control over all government ministries and municipal councils in Gaza, as well as many civilian agencies. It also holds a monopoly of power over every security and intelligence service in the territory, such as the 10,000-strong "blue" police. In total, Hamas pays salaries to at least 35,000 employees, among them many of the 20,000-plus armed personnel.


Given this apparent payroll and an estimated average monthly salary of NIS 1,500, the group may be spending – according to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – as much as $300 million per year on salaries, a sum greater than the entire PA payroll. Hamas also claims that it allocates $30 million annually to its activities in the West Bank, without disclosing the methods by which funds arrive there.


To help curb illicit financing, the US has designated the Hamas Islamic National Bank and the Gaza Postal Bank as "terrorist entities," but it is not clear how much this measure has affected their operations. Both banks continue to conduct business in shekels, and they seem to have developed ways of working with moneychangers used by individuals who receive their salaries in US dollars. The Islamic National Bank even has sufficient liquidity at present to offer home mortgages.


This state of play demonstrates Hamas's major success in overcoming the system of blockade, boycott and denial of recognition and assistance imposed by Israel, the PA, most Arab countries (especially Egypt) and the West. In addition to its own direct spending, Hamas has been able to tap into financial resources transferred by the PA and aid agencies, ensuring payments to supporters who have replaced Fatah loyalists in government jobs. Lists used by donors to screen for terrorists include very few Hamas operatives; even if this problem were addressed, the screening of PA employees is largely done by Hamas sympathizers. In total, thousands of Hamas members, including many military personnel with fake civilian positions, are paid by outside donors.

The movement has also recently turned to purchasing all sorts of businesses and initiating new ventures, such as the Islamic Bank, the al-Multazim insurance firm, housing projects, hotels, a shopping mall, resorts, agricultural farms and a fish hatchery. In fact, Hamas's economic mini-empire is fast becoming the main player in Gaza's private sector. The group often forces businesses to close down in order to eliminate competition. It also coerces owners into selling items for cheap or "contributing" to Hamas either in cash or in kind (e.g., building materials). Frequently, new Hamas businesses are registered under the names of straw owners or individuals from Hamas cadres. The group has also taken over all the land belonging to the former settlements of Gush Katif, along with parts of the Gaza beachfront.



Conclusion
Soon after its 2006 electoral victory in Gaza, Hamas faced great financial difficulties, leading it to smuggle millions of dollars in cash through Egypt. Today, however, Hamas has managed to develop local sources of steadily growing income, mainly by exploiting the huge aid sums transferred by the PA and international donors to sustain the general population. No effective mechanism is in place to prevent the group from taking advantage of the constant cash flow into Gaza; as a result, a significant part of the money intended to help alleviate the hardship of the region's inhabitants has gone to waste. More rigorous measures are needed to restrict Hamas's ability to siphon off such funding for its own purposes.


This "Policy Watch" was written for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is reprinted by permission. Ehud Yaari is an Israel-based Lafer international fellow with the Washington Institute. Eyal Ofer is a researcher at the institute specializing in the Palestinian economy.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

MOST PRO-ISRAEL CONGRESS EVER? ASK ME IN 2 YEARS

BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD 

 

AIPAC's claim, long before the 112th Congress was even sworn in, that it is "expected to be the most pro-Israel Congress ever" was just plain silly.

Don't count your votes before they're cast. Up on Capitol Hill, all those proud protestations of faith and romance during the campaign don't amount to a hill of beans until it is time to make tough decisions and vote.

It's easy enough to get a slew of members of from one party to make a statement they consider pro-Israel, whether from Right or Left, and wave it around as proof that the absence of signers from the other party means it is anti-Israel.


Even though polls in the past two elections showed Israel was a decisive issue for only a tiny percentage of voters, candidates rushed to go on the record declaring their pro-Israel devotion.


Is it because the flame of Zion burns so brightly in the hearts of political outsiders who hate Washington so much they that they will spare no effort to get to Sodom on the Potomac?


Why are they so anxious to publish Middle East position papers, and who really writes them?


AIPAC's claim, long before the 112th Congress was even sworn in, that it is "expected to be the most pro-Israel Congress ever" was just plain silly. First, there's the question of how to define the term "pro-Israel."


A candidate can support the position of the peace camp – compromise, territorial concessions and Palestinian statehood – or the opposite – those things pose mortal threats to the survival of the Jewish state – and still lay claim to the term. There is enough diversity in the Jewish community and in Israel to validate both.

That doesn't stop politicians on both sides – more these days on the GOP side of the aisle – from hurling accusations about insufficient loyalty to the pro-Israel cause based on such legitimate differences, thereby turning a subject of national consensus into a partisan wedge issue.


If you read them carefully, candidate position papers are much more vague than they initially appear. They're full of the right phrases, like admiring Israeli democracy and common Judeo- Christian heritage, shared values, partners in the fight against Islamist terror, stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions, a commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge and making sure it is safe and secure.


But they lack substance and provide few hints of what lawmakers will actually do when confronted with hard choices. Only one word really counts, and it is "yea" or "nay" on difficult votes. All else is commentary.

 

There will be many legislative issues that groups like AIPAC may tally as friendly or unfriendly, but those that really matter can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the most important is Israel's $3 billion-plus foreign aid package.


That's where Congress has the greatest influence, and it's the real way to measure support, not all those resolutions, letters, speeches and 'gotcha' stunts that are either designed to embarrass the other party or to impress hard-line Jewish supporters and contributors by showing how tough a lawmaker can appear by doing a bit of Arab-bashing.


OVER THE past few years the foreign aid bill has sailed through, but that may be about to change as a new Congress elected on the Tea Party tide starts hacking away at unpopular programs – which is what the overall foreign aid program has been for years.


The 108 members of the 112th Congress freshman class are overwhelmingly Republican. Many won on their first try for public office, and more than half identify themselves as Tea Party goers. They are claiming a mandate to slash federal spending.


Few have any ties to the Jewish community much less Israel; many have negligible Jewish constituencies, so why bother issuing a position paper on a topic so few voters consider critical?


How can AIPAC boast that this could be the most pro- Israel Congress ever? It can't, really – but saying it is is a stunt meant to tell opponents it has this Congress locked up. The group bases its contention on position papers from the candidates, since few have any record to run on. The problem is many of those were written by or with AIPAC. I know because my staff and I wrote them for many years while I worked there, for congressional as well as presidential candidates of both parties.


The word is out that if you're looking for Jewish support – translation: $$$$ – you need to see AIPAC, and many candidates make the pilgrimage to lobby headquarters or meet with its members back home. As a matter of official policy, AIPAC does not "rate or endorse" candidates, but as a practical matter it does. It sends the word through a vast network of activists and lets PACs, bundlers and other big contributors know who needs and deserves their help and who doesn't.


Candidates want to know what they can do to win Jewish support; if they don't already have an influential Jewish supporter with ties to other leaders – a political "rabbi" – one can be assigned. They'll get help with their policy, and introductions to people who can help them. Bets are often hedged by working with opposing candidates.



What do politicians give in return? They sign letters, give speeches, show up at events, cosponsor resolutions or vote for amendments that spend no money. They show their loyalty and AIPAC shows its muscle.


But that's the easy stuff; the proof will be in the pudding. And this year, the pudding could be the foreign aid bill.

Bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

YES TO PROSECUTING SUBVERSION, NO TO MCCARTHYISM

BY ISI LEIBLER 

 

What is intended as an exercise to expose the foreign funding of NGOs indulging in anti-Israel activity will divide the nation, will be perceived as a right-wing government muzzling freedom of expression.

Even though empathizing with the anger and frustration of many in the face of the blatantly anti-Israeli activities of certain Israeli NGOs operating under the guise of human rights groups, I oppose the establishment of the Knesset committee to probe their funding. I do so recognizing that some of these bodies are indulging in activities which, in the context of a country under siege and effectively at war, border on or actually amount to subversion or even treason – a politically incorrect term that since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has been deleted from our political lexicon.


We largely have ourselves to blame for enabling our adversaries to succeed in embedding their false narrative into the consciousness of the world. Today, in contrast to our early years when we were portrayed as the plucky David warding off the evil Goliath, we are at the brunt of a globally orchestrated campaign to demonize and delegitimize us by depicting us as colonialists, occupiers, racists and fascists.


Our failure has been augmented by the small but influential far Left post-Zionist factions which systematically promote the Arab narrative and distort our position in our own media and universities. The newspaper Haaretz has a tiny circulation, but its English Internet edition has emerged as the most effective ingredient in the campaign by our enemies to portray us as villains. It is quoted extensively by the global media, and employed as a primary source by foreign ministries throughout the world.


In recent years, these domestic anti- Israeli forces have been augmented by flourishing local NGOs whose primary objective seems to be to depict us as racist warmongers.


There should be no misunderstanding. A genuine democracy must encourage the presence of organizations committed to exposing wrongdoing, and we can take pride in the legitimate bodies engaged in such activities. They are, however, a far cry from those NGOs libeling and defaming the Jewish state and thus paving the way for global boycott, sanctions and divestment initiatives.


Some of these NGOs are also directly responsible for the demonization of the IDF, which takes extraordinary measures to minimize civilian casualties in a manner unmatched by any other military force.


They succeeded in slandering soldiers as inhuman monsters and war criminals deliberately killing innocent civilians, and laid the foundations for the lies and distortions upon which the Goldstone commission findings were based. This also led to calls to try our soldiers as war criminals at the International Criminal Court.


What made these NGOs so effective were the enormous funds at their disposal. Much of this money originates from European governments and elements hostile to Israel exploiting these organizations as vehicles to blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of our country and undermine our global standing.


There is thus every reason to expose the sources of these funds, both to highlight the unethical activities of the governments concerned and to enable Israelis to appreciate that many of these NGOs, acting under the guise of human rights advocacy, are in reality promoting a very different agenda, funded by foreign political groups seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But here there is a caveat.


AFTER ATTORNEY-GENERAL Yehuda Weinstein declined to investigate the activities of these groups, Israel Beiteinu initiated legislation to investigate the sources of their funding.


My concern is that now that the Knesset has belatedly decided to deal with this issue, it is doing so in a boorish manner. What is intended as an exercise to expose the foreign origins of the funding of local NGOs indulging in anti-Israeli activity will divide the nation and is likely to be widely perceived as a right-wing government seeking to muzzle freedom of expression. It may in fact transform these groups into martyrs without effectively inhibiting them.


The term McCarthyism is continuously being abused by anti-Israeli groups seeking to prevent exposure of their activities. However, we should bear in mind that Sen. Joseph McCarthy's accusations against communist influence and infiltration were fully substantiated after his death. It was the methods he employed and the indiscriminate manner by which he labeled organizations and individuals that rightfully discredited him. In the long term, his campaign proved to be utterly counterproductive, and created considerable sympathy and cover for elements that really were engaged in subversive activities.


I fear that the same may also happen in this instance.


Yet clearly there is a need for transparency, and there is nothing like sunlight to expose groups involved in anti-Israeli activity while purporting to act as human rights activists.


What we need are not parliamentary investigative committees whose conclusions will be tainted as being politically motivated, but balanced legislation which will enable and oblige the state to prosecute elements engaged in subversion.


Laws concerning contributions to NGOs should not be selective, and should require all organizations – from the Right as well as the Left – to be transparent about the sources of their funding. Legitimate NGOs have nothing to hide, and such legislation would obviate the need to single out organizations in advance. As it is, nonprofit bodies are already technically obliged to reveal any contribution in excess of $20,000 and declare its purpose.

Likewise, public dissemination of information concerning the IDF which is proven subsequently to have been false, knowingly and maliciously disseminated for the purpose of demonizing or delegitimizing Israel, should represent grounds for prosecution or sanction. An example would be those who deliberately disseminated false tales of the IDF committing war crimes, which paved the way for the Goldstone libel.


Likewise, those calling on youngsters to evade the draft on political grounds, whether from the far Left or far Right, must be held accountable.


It also goes without saying that NGOs engaged in global campaigns to boycott or divest from Israel should be investigated and prosecuted.


If legislation obliging the state to act against such behavior were to be instituted, the objectives of those seeking to prosecute subversive behavior could be met without creating a witch-hunt environment.


THE LEFT has become apocalyptic, shrieking about McCarthyism, fascism and the burial of democracy. It alleges that the country is being transformed into a totalitarian state, and suggests that this Knesset initiative represents the first step toward imposing a Stalinist regime. An editorial in Haaretz went so far as to state that the government is transforming our society into one akin to China, North Korea and Iran.



But acting against such groups is neither Bolshevism nor fascism. It is a common- sense approach by a democratic government under siege from its neighbors and determined to defend itself. While freedom of expression must be protected, that does not provide a right to indulge in subversion or treason. The fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany prior to Nazism was a warning that a democracy which fails to suppress antidemocratic elements from within can be destroyed by such forces.


ileibler@netvision.net.il

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

RATTLING THE CAGE: STILL WANT TO BOMB IRAN?

BY LARRY DERFNER 

 

Meir Dagan's statement last week that Iran will not have nuclear weapons before 2015 was a game-changer.

If ever the term "game-changer" could be applied without fear of exaggeration, it can be applied to Meir Dagan's statement a week ago, on his last day as Mossad chief, that Iran will not have nuclear weapons before 2015.

And that's the worst-case scenario, he told reporters and Knesset members – that's if
Israel, the US and the rest of the world suddenly take the pressure off and let Iran go on its merry way to the bomb. If, on the other hand, the campaign of covert operations – i.e. sabotage and assassination – and sanctions continues, then, Dagan said, Iran will be unable to go nuclear for many years beyond 2015.


This is extraordinary news in and of itself, but also because it means that starting a war against Iran has just become almost impossible for Israel to justify. It means that Binyamin Netanyahu and other Iran hawks will have to think twice before rolling out the Holocaust imagery to make their case.


This is such an embarrassment for the war camp, starting with the prime minister. Before last Thursday, as Dagan was getting ready to leave office, all these tough guys were praising him to the skies, treating him like he was almost a god, a miracle-worker, and why? Because of all the daring, mysterious acts of sabotage and assassination he's assumed to have orchestrated.


After eight years of this at the Mossad, Dagan was the man – the single most revered figure in the security establishment, the unchallengeable last word on how to deal with the enemy. Then, on his very last day on the job, he showed not only his boldness but his lucidity, and explained that precisely because Iran's nuclear plans had been stymied so often, it was much less of a pressing threat than it had been in years past.


No one in the government wanted to hear that. And when Dagan restated his opposition to war, saying it would bring missiles pouring down on this country, and cautioned against bombing Iran's nuclear facilities unless "the sword is not just pointed at our neck, but cutting into the flesh," he suddenly became a nonperson among the political establishment. After all the glory they gave him, the hawks went silent, except for the grinding of their teeth.

Finally, on Tuesday, Netanyahu tried to neutralize Dagan and recoup his own credibility. The 2015 forecast was "only" an intelligence assessment, the prime minister said, one among many. "They range from best-case to worst-case possibilities, and there is a range, there is room for differing assessments," he told foreign correspondents.

PATHETIC. IMAGINE if Dagan had predicted that Iran would have the bomb in another six months, would Netanyahu have called that just one more assessment, nothing to get excited about? No, he would have ordered urgent preparations for "Operation Meir" and we'd all be lining up for gas masks again.


Still, there is one legitimate concern over Dagan's forecast, one that was expressed by Hillary Clinton – the concern that the world will now become complacent about the Iranian nuclear threat, specifically by easing off sanctions.

Yet Dagan is making just the opposite recommendation – he's saying that since sanctions and covert operations have distanced Iran from the bomb and proved a much safer, saner option than war, the thing for Israel, the US and the rest of the world to do is stay the course.


Makes sense, doesn't it?


I have to say that Dagan's approach carries a lesson not only for hawks but for doves like me. We of the "containment" camp have argued that Iran is almost certain to get nuclear weapons, and while that's not good at all, neither is it the catastrophe that the hawks foresee, because Iran will be deterred from using those nukes by the vastly superior ones held by Israel, the US and the other nuclear powers. And since a nuclear Iran would not be a catastrophe, it would be preferable to our starting a war, which would be a catastrophe, and would just delay Iran's nuclear project anyway, not end it.


But Meir Dagan, the Answer Man himself, says we doves were wrong, too. Sanctions work, sabotage and assassination work; the proof is that Iran's nuclear project has been going backward.



Myself, I don't like starting fights, I don't like having scientists killed, even Iranian nuclear scientists. I don't like giving anybody a score to settle against my side. But coming back to the idea that a nuclear Iran, while not a catastrophe, would not be a good thing, would instead be a really bad, dangerous thing, then I have to say that although blowing up some Iranian facilities and killing a few Iranian scientists were risky acts of aggression, they were worth it. They contributed to the hobbling of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, pushed its goal off by at least several years, so these acts of sabotage and assassination were justified.


And they still are.


There's no way to overestimate the importance of Dagan's words (not to mention his actions). Hopefully, they will begin to ease the fear and aggression that grips this society. It's a new ball game now, and guess what? Iran is losing.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

WHEN NAPOLEON CONQUERS ACRE

BY SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF 

 

If Labor really believes, as its leaders profess, that it should not remain in the government unless there is a serious political process, why is it still there?

Every time the Labor Party leaders announce that "we shall leave the government if no progress is made in the political process," I feel like adding "or when Napoleon conquers Acre" (a line from a song by the Biluyim – a former Israeli rock'n'polka band – referring to Napoleon's failure to conquer Acre in 1799).

There is currently no progress in the political process (a laundered expression for "peace process"), and at no time since the current Netanyahu government was formed almost two years ago has there been a real political process, as opposed to empty political process rhetoric. Had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu really set his heart on a political process, he would have formed an alternative coalition made up of the Likud, Kadima, Labor and Habayit Hayehudi (together commanding 71 Knesset seats). But he preferred his current coalition – a perfectly legitimate choice, but not one congenial to progress in the political process.

What we have had in the past year or so have been some statements and gestures by Netanyahu designed to satisfy the Americans, but totally devoid of practical significance, though they did manage to anger the settlers and the more extreme right-wing elements in his own party.

 

Nevertheless, according to media reports, the Americans initially believed Labor leader Ehud Barak, who reassured them that Netanyahu was serious about the political process. However, they apparently concluded that this was not the case, and are reported to be furious with Barak for allegedly misleading them.

THIS LEADS one to ask whether Barak really believed that Netanyahu was serious about the process to begin with; whether, like Netanyahu, he too is more concerned with gimmicks and tactics than with essence, or whether his only motive is to remain defense minister at any cost.


Being serious about the political process does not mean one is willing to sell the country down the drain for the sake of appeasing the world. Nor does it necessarily require one to seek justice for the Palestinians. It doesn't even require one to believe the Palestinians are currently capable of reaching a viable peace agreement.

Being serious about the political process means one realizes that time is running out, and that if we do not do our damnedest to ensure that the Palestinian state, once it is established, will be the least harmful to our vital interests and concerns, we are liable to get a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, recognized by the entire world, even though (or even because) it does not take our vital interests and concerns into account.

Worse still, we are liable to convince the Palestinians that their best bet it to strive for our annexation of Judea and Samaria (and perhaps also the Gaza Strip), and then to demand that we turn into a binational state. Many Palestinians, including Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad, are apparently willing to consider such an option.

Hopefully the Labor Party (or what remains of it) is still serious about the political process, at least for realpolitik reasons, as was the late
Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s. But if this is the case, and if Labor really believes, as its leaders profess, that it should not remain in the government unless there is a serious political process, why is it still there?

Why are its ministers issuing statements that the party should leave the government in February, March, April or May, and not immediately? Are they wary of foregoing the perks of office, as the cynics claim, or are they afraid that Netanyahu might survive without them? He most certainly will – perhaps not until November 2013, which is when the next elections should take place, but at least for a while.


Netanyahu was chosen by the president to form a government after the last elections because, unlike Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, whose party received more seats in the Knesset than did the Likud (28 compared with 27), he was able to show that he could form a variety of coalitions, so even if Labor decides to leave, he can still bring the National Union into the government, and form a coalition with 65 Knesset seats.



Labor's job at the moment is not to pretend to save Netanyahu from his other partners, from whom he doesn't appear to want to be saved. Nor is it its job to try to save Israel's image abroad, by presenting its saner and more responsible face. Even if it were – its efforts in this respect are a dismal failure. Labor's job at the moment is to save itself, if it possibly can, and try to prevent additional defections from its dwindling lines, such as that of MK Daniel Ben-Simon earlier this week. There is no point waiting for Napoleon to conquer Acre.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

A CHAMPION OF TRUTH

BY JUDEA PEARL 

 

There are people whom you meet once and will never forget. Richard Holbrooke, whose shloshim falls today, was one of those people.

Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, passed away on December 13 at 69. He has been hailed by several Jewish papers as a friend of Israel, although not prominently involved in American-Israeli relations.


Indeed, in a column in The Washington Post two years ago, he wrote something we don't often hear from presidential envoys and State Department officials. Holbrooke wrote that president Harry Truman should be admired for having recognized Israel as a state on May 14, 1948, and that the State Department's attempts to undermine this decision was not something Holbrooke was proud of.

THERE ARE people whom you meet once and know you will never forget. I met Richard Holbrooke once, in Doha, Qatar, in April 2005 – a meeting I will never forget.


It took place at a high-profile gettogether called the US-Islamic World Forum. Organized by the Qatar government and the Brookings Institution, the conference was packed with more than 150 scholars and leaders from all sides who, for two full days, diligently discussed the needs and means for achieving democracy, reforms and renaissance in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, there was hardly a Muslim speaker who did not tie the implementation of such reforms to "progress toward settling the Israeli- Palestinian conflict."


From the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to Rami Khouri, former editor of The Daily Star in Lebanon, almost every speaker ended his or her speech with a reminder that the Muslim world is not ready to accept reform for its own sake; reform is, in fact, a concession to America, and will be granted if, and only if, it "resolves the Palestinian problem."


None of the speakers spelled out what "solution" meant to him or her; it was probably part of an unspoken agreement to avoid controversial issues for fear of spoiling the friendly atmosphere of renaissance and collaboration. It was only in private conversations that I discovered that, to most of them, the "solution" was unquestionably the same one proposed by Helen Thomas.


Richard Holbrooke spoke at the last session of the conference, addressing a large audience of Arab dignitaries, scholars and pundits. After repeating the great things that America can do for the Muslim world – in science, education, freedom, entrepreneurship and more – and after saying all the things that a seasoned diplomat would say on occasions like this one, he added one innocent remark that fell like a bombshell: "By now," he said, "two and a half generations of Arabs have been brought up on textbooks that do not show Israel."

The audience was stunned. I can still hear the pin-dropping silence as he calmly went on: "Such continued denial of reality, at the grassroots level, is a major hindrance to any peaceful settlement of the conflict." (I am quoting from memory.)


I watched Holbrooke's colleagues from the Brookings Institution to see how they reacted. Their faces were blank.

There were a couple of Palestinian women sitting next to me, and their faces looked like they had been caught cheating on an exam. One of them raised her hand and started to say something about checkpoints and occupation ("settlements" were not in fashion then), but in Holbrooke's presence, she sounded more like someone complaining about the video cameras that caught her stealing.


Holbrooke answered her politely and comfortably: "Your textbooks do not show Israel on the map, and that does not help the peace process."



There was no need for further elaboration. The elephant that everyone was pretending did not exist suddenly appeared in the room. Two days of hard deliberations, with Arabs pretending that "progress in the peace process" doesn't really mean the elimination of Israel, and Americans pretending they have no reason to doubt it, had ended with a refreshing spark of honesty.


AT THE end of the Q&A session, I walked up to Holbrooke and told him how much I admired his presentation and the way he handled the question. He looked at me with some astonishment and said: "This is obviously one of the main obstacles to peace."


He said it as if stating in public what everyone knows to be true – even in a place like Doha – is as natural as breathing .


This was the meeting I will never forget.


Richard Holbrooke will be remembered in the history of the Jewish people as one of the few State Department officials who had the courage to proclaim Truman a hero for overruling his own State Department.


He will also be remembered for teaching his colleagues how honesty can be an instrument, not a hindrance to effective diplomacy.


The writer is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), named after his son. He is a coeditor of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award. This article was first published in The Jewish Journal.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

THE PLIGHT OF AN 'AGUNA' REACHES CAPITOL HILL

BY RACHEL LEVMORE 

 

Spotlight on Aharon Jeffrey Eric Friedman brings phenomenon of get-refusal in Jewish media all over the world and in Washington.

Talkbacks (2)

A 1991 resolution of the Rabbinical Council of America regarding the aguna problem, where Jewish husbands refuse to grant their wives a Jewish divorce – a get – "condemns in the strongest terms the use of a get or the withholding thereof to extract concessions from a spouse."


This organization, the largest collection of Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, called upon its members to "use all means at their disposal to persuade recalcitrant spouses to agree to a get."


Twenty years later, a number of good men and women, acting on the basis of those resolutions, have focused the spotlight on one particular man, so that the abusive phenomenon of get-refusal is resounding in the halls of Capitol Hill and on the pages of The New York Times.


Aharon Jeffrey Eric Friedman, a member of Congressman Dave Camp's staff (Michigan) is refusing Tamar Epstein, 27, from whom he is divorced civilly, a get. Friedman's boss is described on his own website as "the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee" and "one of the most influential policy-makers in Washington."

A protest held outside Friedman's home, led by Jeremy Stern of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, made a simple point – loudly and clearly: "Aharon Friedman, give Tamar a get!"


That call has echoed through the streets, and been repeated thousands of times on YouTube, reaching the American Jewish press and websites, stirring the hearts of the Jewish community and some of its rabbis.


One such rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom – the national synagogue in Washington – delivered a sermon at the end of December entitled "No Excuses for a Recalcitrant Husband."


Encouraged by Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University, who called upon Aharon to release Tamar he courageously urged all "to let Aharon's employers know about his unethical behavior."


The sermon was read all around the globe, courtesy of the Internet, causing some to contact the congressman's office.

Breaking the boundaries of the Jewish world, The New York Times published the story entitled "Protesters Seek Woman's Religious Divorce" by Mark Oppenheimer (January 4), reporting that a "rabbi took the unusual step of writing to Mr. Friedman's employer, asking that he lean on Mr. Friedman to grant the Jewish divorce."


It appears that Friedman, an attorney working in the upper echelons of the most powerful democracy in the world, a Jew protected and empowered as a member of a minority group by the Constitution of the US, is acting in complete disregard for the universal principles and ethics which he presumably employs. That he does so in the name of Jewish law (against the call of leading rabbis) has caused outrage among many who believe in the ethics of Judaism.


IT IS time for the guardians of Jewish law, the rabbis, to put an end to cynical manipulation of that law. This manipulation not only abuses the "daughters of Israel," whom the rabbis are enjoined to protect, but it disabuses all people of the concept of Jewish morality. There are various tools which can be applied by rabbinic decree – for one, a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal.


The voices of all rabbis should be raised in a chorus, intensifying the 20-year-old resolution of the RCA. Rabbis the world over should join those who speak out for Tamar, not only for her individual relief, but for principled legislation within Jewish law to bring about a global resolution of the aguna problem. How much more glaring a desecration of God's name can the Jewish people withstand than to see Jewish law grievously distorted in the halls of the US Congress?


The writer is a rabbinical court advocate, coordinator of the Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis and the Jewish Agency, a doctoral candidate in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and author of Minee Einayich Medima on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE REAL RHINOS

BY OPPOSING LIEBERMAN'S ANTI-DEMOCRATIC METHODS, FOUR TOP LIKUD FIGURES HAVE EMERGED AS THE LAST REPRESENTATIVES OF THE LIBERAL TRADITION WHICH ISRAEL'S RIGHT HAS LONG SINCE ABANDONED.

Opposing Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman's inflammatory populist rhetoric against Arab citizens and human rights organizations, four top Likud figures stood their ground. These were ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

The four loyally defend democracy and uphold civil liberties, and they have emerged as the last representatives of the liberal tradition which Israel's right has long since abandoned.

The four took exception to Lieberman's proposal to create a parliamentary investigative committee to examine funding sources of human rights organizations that operate in Israel and in the territories. They opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has jumped on Lieberman's bandwagon of incitement. The foreign minister, however, was not satisfied with his parliamentary victory and the political profit he has reaped from it; he found cause to call the Likud moderates "rhinos."

In fact, they are the ones standing against the theater of the absurd being played out in Israeli politics, refusing to turn into the thick-skinned and intolerant rhinoceroses of the Eugene Ionesco play.

Lieberman's assault goaded them to take steps on behalf of saving Israel's democracy. Speaking to Haaretz's Mazal Mualem, Meridor said "When freedom of expression and the freedom to express an opinion are threatened, then Israeli democracy is also threatened. We have to fight against these phenomena to take care of ourselves so we don't fall into the kind of place I wouldn't want to be in. The bodies that work on behalf of human rights generally do very important and difficult work because they have to operate in times of fighting and tension between peoples, when there is not a great deal of tolerance for human rights."

In a speech to the Knesset, Begin spoke about the "decisive difference between government of the majority and the tyranny of the majority;" Eitan ridiculed Lieberman's ignorance and inflammatory rhetoric; and Rivlin stated "I am stubborn about not changing my views when it comes to the importance of Israel's democracy."

The four showed their associates, starting with Netanyahu, that the real rhinos are those who support Lieberman in order to curry favor with the public. Netanyahu attacked Lieberman, saying his party is not a dictatorship; but the prime minister has not opposed the foreign minister's anti-democratic positions.

Meridor and Begin have pledged to work toward voiding the parliamentary committee via another Knesset vote. Their colleagues should adopt the moderates' position, and scrap this disgraceful committee initiative. That would erase an ugly stain from the Knesset's record.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

HIS LAST 100 DAYS

IF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU INDEED HAS A PEACE VISION, HE WILL HAVE TO PRESENT IT TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.

BY ARI SHAVIT

When Benjamin Netanyahu raises his eyes, he sees a reality most Israelis don't see. The calm on the borders is not accidental, he argues in closed rooms. The calm is a result of the firm deterrence policy he has introduced. The economic growth is no gift from God either. The growth is a result of the reforms he generated as finance minister and the policy he is spearheading as prime minister.

The NIS 30 billion Netanyahu is designating for infrastructure is about to create a transportation revolution. The NIS 7 billion he is investing in teachers, schools and higher education are about to generate a vital revolution. Already the high growth (4.5 percent ) and new work places (120,000 ) are turning Israel into a good place to live in. Breaking the tycoons' control over our mobile phones and gas deposits is turning Israel into a fairer, freer place. Only the media remains as it was - hostile, persecutive, driven by ulterior motives. So the problem is not Israeli reality but Israeli media. Those who are supposed to tell the public the truth are twisting the truth to topple the government.

Netanyahu's defense sheet in the matter of the Carmel fire is very decisive: Had not the prime minister acted as he did, considerable parts of northern Israel would have burned down. The failure of the aerial fire extinguishing system is the failure of the Kadima governments, which the Likud government is now trying to fix.

In contrast, his defense in a series of other matters is weak. It has no acceptable answer to the weakness displayed by the prime minister's bureau, the government's make-up and the leadership problem. It offers no reasonable explanation for the dark, reactionary legislation, the incitement and racism. It does not come to grips with the sense of depression, of going nowhere, of disintegration.

In closed conversations with aides and confidants Netanyahu refuses to discuss the peace process. If he has a secret, he isn't disclosing it. However, prominent figures who recently met the prime minister are convinced he is working on something. He reads the map, knows his days are numbered and is trying for a breakthrough. This is why he sent several drilling rigs to several possible peace-fields. This is why he carried out several in-depth drilling jobs. So far peace has not burst out, but some of the findings are encouraging. The sea is stormy, the challenge is hard, there is no knowing what the outcome will be. But there is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu is making a supreme effort these days to surprise us.

Developments are to be expected in the next few weeks. Confidence-building gestures will be taken, some of them significant. The economic peace will bring about the inauguration of projects the like of which haven't been seen before. But these steps will not be enough. Netanyahu should know they must be followed by declaring a new Israeli policy. A Bar-Ilan speech B will be required.

If the prime minister indeed has a peace vision, he will have to present it to the international community. He will have to speak out clearly soon in the most dramatic way, in the most unique location.

Will the Bar-Ilan speech B lead to a breakthrough? It is not certain. According to the gathering testimonies, the strategic thinking of Netanyahu 2011 is surprising in both directions. In some areas he is considering astounding concessions. In other areas he is very rigid. He will not give up sovereignty in settlement blocs in the West Bank, he will not compromise on Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and he will try to spare the settlers. On the other hand, as far as land exchange goes, he will display readiness to go far.

Thus, if Netanyahu opens his heart, a storm will break out. New dynamics will be created. This will challenge Barak Obama, Abu Mazen and Tzipi Livni as well.

Time is running out. Lieberman is running amok, Labor is falling apart, the Palestinians are going to the United Nations. Netanyahu's only chance is to state his emerging truth and try to implement it. Will he have the strength to do so? The coming months are critical. For Benjamin Netanyahu, the next 100 days are the last.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

LIEBERMAN IS WRONG, LIEBERMAN IS RIGHT

A BODY THAT SEEKS TO HIDE FROM THE LIGHT OF DAY IS BOUND TO HAVE ROT OR TO DEVELOP IT.

BY ISRAEL HAREL

It is difficult to understand the strong opposition of leftist organizations and their supporters in the media and Likud to a parliamentary committee of inquiry. Strategic thinking, rather than the conditioned reflex with which they responded, would have taught them that such a committee would raise their status at home and abroad, and would only increase donations from governments and organizations abroad. The media, which decides what will be broadcast from the committee's deliberations, which statements to exult and which to ridicule, is, a priori (as the proposers of the idea may have realized since the start of public debate on the issue ) on the side of the leftist groups; especially the foreign press, which will derive particular delicacies from the hearings.

What Israel needs, and exists, for example, in the United States, is a "transparency law," which requires any body assisted by contributions from foreign organizations and governments to annually declare the source of those contributions, their purpose and beneficiaries. The law would apply to both left-wing and right-wing groups, Jewish as well as Arab; associations for the unification of Jerusalem and associations for its division; groups claiming that information they gave to the Goldstone Commission is the absolute truth and groups proving that the information is false and that the goal of the foreign governments and groups funding Breaking the Silence, a group that collects testimony from IDF soldiers and veterans about their service in the territories, is to prevent Israel from defending its citizens.

Transparency will also apply to groups that claim that the IDF commits war crimes and to those that prove that the IDF is pure and clean and that no army in the world comes close to the high moral standards of its combat - and that is true.

Those who work within the law have nothing to worry about the inquiry. Certainly that is the case for leftist groups that enjoy the backing of the High Court of Justice. It is, in fact, right-wing groups - which quite a few recent studies have shown are discriminated against by that body and, of course, by the media - that have to worry. A body that seeks to hide from the light of day is bound to have rot or to develop it. The fact that this time the media, which always uses that reasoning when other bodies are trying to prevent investigation, is standing up for the groups that want to hide the names of the foreign governments and entities that fund their activities - including those who fund the persecution of IDF officers - should be looked into, and more.

Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Reuven Rivlin know this is true. And therefore, along with their (justifiable ) opposition to investigatory panels, they must support a "transparency law." After all, Michael Eitan, their colleague in the liberal wing of Likud, has initiated it. If they also oppose such a law, it is a sign that there is something to the claim that they have been caught up by political correctness. And Avigdor Lieberman (some of whose statements are rightly criticized, but a fascist he is not ) is correct that Likud is not behaving like a ruling party. Indeed, it never has. Its leaders, from Begin to Netanyahu (except for Yitzhak Shamir ), have always sought legitimization from the left.

Is this a distortion that can be corrected? If Begin, Meridor and Rivlin will support, for example, the "transparency law," it could show Lieberman's claim to be baseless.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A RESPONSE FROM A 'TERRORIST COLLABORATOR'

THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY WITHOUT HUAMN RIGHTS GROUPS. SHOW SOME RESPECT, AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, BEFORE YOU VILIFY THEM.

BY GIDEON LEVY

Hello, Mr. Foreign Minister. As you are surrounded by 14 frightened mutes otherwise known as Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset members, you unleashed another of your horror shows against the left this week. An unwitting foreigner who just arrived here could be forgiven for thinking that Israel had a strong and influential left, so influential that the foreign minister saw fit to unleash such an unbridled attack against it. But let's put aside the cynicism in your choosing to target what remains of the left for a populist assault and to satisfy your voters. Let's instead delve into your ignorance.

You came to us from a different place, a different regime, the same one where you now spend your vacations. Not many statesmen around the world opt for Belarus of all places, one of Europe's few remaining dictatorships, as a vacation spot, but let's not fixate on your unusual taste. Apparently you feel comfortable in the former Soviet bloc because there is no B'Tselem, Haaretz, Physicians for Human Rights or Yesh Din to deal with. In these places, only one opinion counts, one voice, one school of thought and one newspaper, even if it appears under various names.

Over there, the regime murders journalists. Over there sits Vladimir Putin and his ilk, the kind of people you so wish to emulate. Oh how pleasant it must be for you to recall your mamaloshen, the dictatorial language of your childhood. Oh how you must want to resurrect it here. But, as misfortune would have it, since your childhood a new world has arisen in Europe, a world with a flourishing civil society flush with human rights organizations and protest movements. We call it democracy, a concept whose significance you have yet to grasp.

If you were the only one expressing these thoughts - just another poor sap who doesn't understand anything - that would be one thing. But you are disseminating your ignorance in every direction, and it's falling on fertile ground provided by a hate-filled society with a fragile rule of law. That's the danger you pose. You are surrounded by feinschmeckers - finicky types - as you put it, but not the ones to whom you referred. From the president to the prime minister to the opposition leader, everyone is afraid to come out against you. They are the real finicky types.

So we need to go back to basics. The organizations that you slandered and that you want to muzzle are the breathing soul of Israeli democracy. There is no democracy without these groups. Show some respect, Avigdor Lieberman, before you vilify them. The sensitive and refined language you employ to describe these groups is a testament to your baseness. Paul Kedar, one of the founders of Israel's air force, a former Mossad man and a retired senior diplomat, became devotedly active in Yesh Din even after his days of heroism. He doesn't need approval from you nor does he deserve an investigation as you propose. He is the compass and the conscience of a lost society, as are the activities of the other organizations you railed against.

Do they "deter the IDF from its fight against terrorism," as you said? They certainly do, for that is their job. Do you really want an army that operates without constraints, supervision or accountability? How will we know if soldiers shoot people carrying white flags unless B'Tselem investigates? How will we know if the "neighbor procedure" - in which soldiers use a "human shield" to enter a house before them - is being employed without testimony from soldiers who are members of Breaking the Silence?

How will we know if Israel is denying treatment to a Palestinian cancer patient if Physicians for Human Rights doesn't report it? Who will tell us about settlers who set fire to vineyards if not Yesh Din? Who damages Israel's image more? The soldier who shoots an elderly man in his bed in Hebron and a youth carrying a water bottle in the settlement of Beka'ot? Or the person who reports these incidents?

Would you prefer an Israel without Haaretz, an Israel that would gladly believe that the demonstrator in Bil'in died of cancer? Or would you want an Israel with Haaretz, which would cast doubt on this version? What kind of society do you want here, Avigdor Lieberman? Your Israel is certainly not our home.

You want to eliminate all this. You want to make do with the IDF Spokesman's Office and with journalists who parrot your prepared statements. You have abandoned all the others to their own devices. If they are "terrorist collaborators," then you would have to mobilize the elite units that, as you know, are perfectly capable of liquidating them.

"The volume of protest was without proportion," you carped, revealing your line of thinking, under which it's up to the establishment to determine the "proportionality" of protest against us. By what measurement was it without proportion? Certainly by the measurement of your worldview. In comparison to the danger you pose, it was negligible.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE VALUE OF VOLUNTEERISM

CHANGE IN THE TAX AUTHORITIES' POLICY TOWARD DONATIONS AND VOLUNTEERING WILL PROMOTE EQUALITY BETWEEN WELL-TO-DO DONORS AND VOLUNTEERS WHO ARE LESS WELL-OFF, AND ENCOURAGE MORE CITIZENS TO DO VOLUNTEER WORK.

BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM

This week the government of Israel thanked major businessmen from around the world for their willingness to donate hundreds of millions of shekels to the Birthright program. Were Americans to donate such funds in the United States, the U.S. government would classify them as tax deductible. In Israel, however, the only benefit a donor can expect is authorization of exemption of the amount he is due in income tax - 35% of the gift - as long as the donation does not exceed $10,000.

The situation for donors here is even better than for volunteers. At any given moment, one can find dozens of Israeli artists offering volunteer performances at charity events for various non-profit organizations; the Carmel fire underscored the willingness of tens of thousands of citizens to volunteer for the public good. Even if such efforts are worth considerable sums of money, they are not considered tax deductible expenses.

Four years ago, non-profits in Israel achieved a tremendous feat: Tax authorities agreed to recognize payments made to volunteers as tax deductible expenses, for the benefit of both the volunteer and the public institution for which he or she volunteered. Yet a large gap still exists between the ability to receive recognition worth even 12 NIS per guest for an event organized voluntarily for some NGO, and the ability to get tax exemption equivalent to 35% of the value of your volunteer work - whether you distributed food to the needy, donated your professional skills for some cause, or carried out some other volunteer service.

As part of the privatization process underway in Israel, the state is privatizing many health and social welfare services. Not in the sense that management responsibilities are being transferred to private bodies, but rather in the sense that matters are being put into the hands of citizens who donate funds and do volunteer work. Under such circumstances, tax regulations should be reviewed and revised, and donations and volunteer work should ultimately be recognized as fully deductible expenses.

To allay concerns about volunteers exaggerating the value of the services they perform, the non-profits themselves should determine in advance the value of various volunteer services they rely on. The evaluation of such services need not reflect their actual value. For example, a benefit concert staged by the "finest Israeli artists" does not need to be valued at tens of thousands of shekels per artist. But even crudely undervalued estimates of the services, or giving deduction points for volunteer work, will afford important recognition to the work done by individuals who choose to donate their time and talents to the community, rather than offering them solely for the benefit of their own bank accounts.

Some will complain that offering financial benefits will affect volunteers' motivation, and some psychological studies reinforce this concern. But there is also evidence suggesting that the need for personal gain can be channeled to causes that benefit the community as a whole. A conspicuous example can be see in states that have encouraged their citizens to develop savings habits via the use of saving accounts that do not provide interest, but rather enroll their account holders in lotteries that promise large cash prizes.

There is no good reason to fear the costs of volunteerism. A change in the tax authorities' policy toward donations and volunteering will promote equality between well-to-do donors and volunteers who are less well-off, encourage more citizens to do volunteer work, and offer valuable, official recognition of the significance of performing services for the community - while also detracting from the bitter grumbling of citizens who feel neglected or cheated by the state.

 

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

EDITORIAL

AS WE MOURN

 

It is a president's responsibility to salve a national wound. President Obama did that on Wednesday evening at the memorial service in Tucson for the six people who died in last weekend's terrible shooting. It was one of his most powerful and uplifting speeches.

Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents. The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside "point-scoring and pettiness." He rightly focused primarily on the lives of those who died and the heroism of those who tried to stop the shooter and save the victims. He urged prayers for the 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the rampage. Their stories needed to be told, their lives celebrated and mourned.

 

It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. The president's role in Tucson was to comfort and honor, and instill hope.

 

This horrific event, he said, should be a turning point for everyone — "not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation."

 

He also said that after a senseless tragedy it is natural to try to impose some meaning. Wisely, he did not try. But he was right to warn that any proposals to reduce this kind of bloodshed will remain out of reach if political discourse remains deeply polarized. Two of those essential proposals, we believe, are gun safety laws and improvement to the mental health system, and it was heartening to hear the president bring them up.

 

Mr. Obama noted that several of Saturday's victims were struck down as they performed public service. Ms. Giffords was engaging in the most fundamental act of a representative: meeting with her constituents to hear their concerns. Gabriel Zimmerman, her murdered aide, had set up the "Congress on Your Corner" event. John Roll, the murdered federal judge who lived nearby, came into the line of fire while thanking Ms. Giffords for helping to ease his court's crowded legal calendar.

 

Many of the other victims were performing one of citizenship's most basic duties: listening to and questioning one of their political representatives. Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old student council president who was killed, was brought there by a neighbor because of her interest in politics.

 

The president's words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that "journalists and pundits" had committed a "blood libel" when they raised questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people.

 

Earlier in the day, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, issued their own, very welcome, calls to rise above partisanship. It is in that arena where Wednesday's high-minded pledges will be tested most.

 

Mr. Obama said that it must be possible for Americans to question each other's ideas without questioning their love of country. We hope all of America's leaders, and all Americans, will take that to heart.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

AUTISM FRAUD

 

The report that first triggered scares that a vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella might cause autism in children has received another devastating blow to its credibility. The British Medical Journal has declared that the research was not simply bad science, as has been known for years, but a deliberate fraud.

 

The study, led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was published in The Lancet in 1998. It was based on just 12 children with supposedly autismlike disorders and purported to find a link between the vaccine, the gastrointestinal problems found in many autistic children, and autism.

 

While parents around the world were understandably alarmed, many scientists rejected the claims, including, eventually, 10 of Dr. Wakefield's co-authors. A high-level British medical group, after an exhaustive fitness-to-practice hearing, found Dr. Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and misconduct. The Lancet retracted the article in part, it said, because the authors had made false claims about how the study was conducted.

 

Now the British Medical Journal has taken the extraordinary step of publishing a lengthy report by Brian Deer, the British investigative journalist who first brought the paper's flaws to light — and has put its own reputation on the line by endorsing his findings.

 

After seven years of studying medical records and interviewing parents and doctors, Mr. Deer concluded that the medical histories of all 12 children had been misrepresented to make the vaccine look culpable. Time lines, for example, were fudged to make it seem as though autismlike symptoms developed shortly after vaccination, while in some cases problems developed before vaccination and in others months after vaccination.

 

Dr. Wakefield has accused Mr. Deer of being a hit man. But the medical journal compared the claims with evidence compiled in the voluminous transcript of official hearings and declared that flaws in the paper were not honest mistakes but rather an "elaborate fraud."

 

Some parents still consider Dr. Wakefield a hero, and others have moved on to other theories, equally unsupported by scientific evidence, as to how vaccines might cause autism.

 

They need to recognize that failure to vaccinate their children leaves them truly vulnerable to diseases that can cause enormous harm.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TUNISIA SEETHES

 

For 23 years, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has kept a tight clamp on his country's political life, marketing Tunisia as a tourist oasis while dangerous tensions built up beneath the surface. Now deadly riots have erupted over the bleak economic prospects facing the country's young people. Mr. Ben Ali's response has been to clamp down even harder, a course sure to lead to more unrest and bloodshed.

 

The protests began last month after an unemployed university graduate set himself on fire after police prevented him from eking out a living selling fruits and vegetables on the street because he lacked a permit. Word of his suicide and subsequent protests spread rapidly by new social media, end-running Mr. Ben Ali's heavy censorship. The government then reportedly hacked into the accounts of Tunisian users of Facebook, Yahoo and Google. The unrest has spread to Tunis, the capital.

 

With as many as 30 people dead and the country in an uproar, criticism has been pouring in from Washington, the European Union and the United Nations. France, Mr. Ben Ali's most influential ally, has so far remained shamefully silent.

 

Mr. Ben Ali is now, predictably, blaming unnamed foreign instigators for the riots. And even as he tries to quiet things with promises of new jobs for young Tunisians, he has ordered every school and university in the country to be shut down indefinitely. That will generate more anger and further damage the country's economic future.

 

Not so long ago, the United States and other Western countries considered Mr. Ben Ali, and other secular tyrants, indispensable allies in the fight against extremists. Washington now appears to recognize that Mr. Ben Ali's repression and deafness to his people's needs only add to the anger and make it more combustible. The challenge is to make Mr. Ben Ali see that truth.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEZBOLLAH'S LATEST SUICIDE MISSION

BY THANASSIS CAMBANIS

 

THE collapse of Lebanon's government on Tuesday signaled the final stage in Hezbollah's rise from resistance group to ruling power. While Hezbollah technically remains the head of the political opposition in Beirut, make no mistake: the Party of God has fully consolidated its control in Lebanon, and will stop at nothing — including civil war — to protect its position.

 

The crisis was precipitated by Hezbollah's opposition to a United Nations-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Some analysts speculate that the current Lebanese government — led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the assassinated man's son — could stabilize the political situation by rejecting the legitimacy of the tribunal.

 

Mr. Hariri really has no choice but to stand firm in Hezbollah's game of chicken: even if he could stymie Hezbollah in the short term by giving in, he would eventually have no authority at all were he to abandon the rule of law. He will have to insist on accountability for his father's assassins, even if he loses his position in the process. His coalition remains a viable alternative to Hezbollah only as long as it sticks to the pluralistic and law-based values that distinguish it from its theocratic and belligerent enemies.

 

Today's predicament in Lebanon mirrors that of much of the Arab world, where stability often comes at the price of justice. Furthermore, it highlights America's limited influence. Washington lent strong rhetorical support to the Hariri coalition when it came first to power in 2005, but was unable to stop Hezbollah's troops and their supporters from taking over the streets of Beirut and forcibly acquiring veto power over the government by gaining "the blocking third" — 10 of the cabinet's 30 ministerial seats.

 

It was Hezbollah's exercising of that power, with the resignation of the 10 opposition ministers along with one independent, that toppled the government this week just when Prime Minister Hariri was meeting with President Obama in Washington.

 

To an outsider, the crisis might appear baffling. More than five years after the car-bomb murder of Rafik Hariri, the international tribunal is still meandering its way toward indicting suspects. Hezbollah, re-armed and resurgent after the war with Israel in the summer of 2006, has had a string of political and popular victories. The influence of its sponsors, Syria and Iran, has only grown. And talks between Syria and Saudi Arabia that might have stabilized the government fell apart this week.

 

Why, then, would Hezbollah change the political dynamic now?

 

Simply put, Hezbollah cannot afford the blow to its popular legitimacy that would occur if it is pinned with the

Hariri killing. The group's power depends on the unconditional backing of its roughly 1 million supporters. Its constituents are the only audience that matters to Hezbollah, which styles itself as sole protector of Arab dignity from humiliation by Israel and the United States.

 

These supporters will be hard-pressed to understand, much less forgive, their party if it is proved to have killed a leader who was loved by the nation's Sunni Muslims and also respected by Christians, Druze and even many Shiites, who form Hezbollah's core support. That is why Hezbollah denies any role in the assassination even though it has unabashedly taken responsibility for destabilizing moves like setting off the 2006 war with Israel or pushing Lebanon to the brink of civil war in 2008.

But its excuses are wearing thin. Leaked evidence based on cellphone records has placed a Hezbollah team at the scene of the assassination. Hezbollah's leaders insist that its men were trying to protect Rafik Hariri, and that Israel was behind the killing. But if it is proved to have taken part in the Hariri hit and assassination campaigns against other moderate Lebanese figures, Hezbollah will look to many civilians like just another power-drunk militant movement.

 

What options remain for the younger Mr. Hariri? He leads a fractious and shrinking coalition that in 2009 won a majority of seats in Parliament but got fewer votes than Hezbollah and its allies. Yet his best strategy is simple, if he has the stomach for it: stick with the tribunal and let it air its evidence at trial.

 

It will be up to the international prosecutors to furnish compelling evidence that Hezbollah (or its Syrian backers) killed Rafik Hariri. For now, the prime minister must insist more convincingly that he trusts the process to be fair: If Hezbollah is innocent, it will be exonerated at trial; if it is guilty, then why should it escape?

 

The odds of this strategy succeeding are not great: Hezbollah is likely to emerge the end winner because it is willing to sacrifice the Lebanese state to maintain its standing in the Middle East and its perpetual war against Israel. But Lebanon's lonely prime minister has no better choice than to play the long shot for a just resolution; otherwise, he'll become a steward of Hezbollah's impunity.

 

Thanassis Cambanis is the author of "A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel."

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