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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 22, edition 000786, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- JATS ON THE WARPATH
- HISTORIC VOTE IN EGYPT
- GOOD IDEA, BUT BAD SERVICE - BIBEK DEBROY
- LOOKING BEYOND CHANGE IN BENGAL - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- AFTER LIBYA, IT COULD BE SYRIA - GWYNNE DYER
- WE SHOULD OPT FOR SOLAR, WIND POWER - SHIVAJI SARKAR
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- REALTY SHOW
- FINAL EIGHT
- KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE - VIVEK KULKARNI
- AN APTITUDE FOR REFORM
- ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL - JAY KUMAR
- MOMMY KNOWS BEST - SIDHARTH BHATIA
- INTO A ZONE OF UNCERTAINTY
- LEFT RED-FACED AGAIN
- MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE - SITARAM YECHURY
- A HESITANT HAMLET - NIALL FERGUSON
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- MINIMISING RISKS
- VOTE FOR TAHRIR
- IT'S NOT WEST VS THE REST - C. RAJA MOHAN
- THE STARS THAT NEVER WERE - SHUBHRA GUPTA
- MINES MIN FOR EMPOWERING NMRA TO REVIEW PROFIT SHARING MECHANISM
- PRIYADARSHI SIDDHANTA
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- DGH VERSUS RIL
- TINA TO SINGH'S RESCUE
- AFTERSHOCKS FROM JAPAN - STEPHEN ROACH
- AND NOW, RAJA MISLEADS THE AG! - RISHI RAJ
- OBAMA IN BUSH'S FOOTSTEPS
- THE TIGHTENING NOOSE
- BRITAIN AND THE LIBYAN CRISIS - HASAN SUROOR
- 2002 riots an 'internal Gujarati matter': Modi told American diplomat - SURESH NAMBATH
- WHEN MODI WAS DENIED THE VISA - SURESH NAMBATH
- CASTE POLITICS AT WORK IN GUJARAT - SARAH HIDDLESTON
- THE BEHAVIOUR OF GUILTY MEN: JULIAN ASSANGE
THE ASIAN AGE
- PILOT LICENCES NEED OUTSIDE AUDIT
- BLOOD IN BRAHMAPUTRA
- SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- DO BIGHA ZAMEEN, 2011 - RAJEEV SHUKLA
- MINORITY INTERESTS - MUJTABA KHAN
- NEED FOR COMPASSION - CHANDRIKA
- SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE
- SEMINAR ON TOURISM
- SHIVALIKS AND CLIMATE CHANGE - BY MAJ GEN GOVERDHAN SINGH JAMWAL
- AGROFORESTRY STABILIZES FARM PRODUCTION IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE - BY PROF (DR) R D GUPTA
- EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT - BY S N RAINA
- ACTION AGAINST LIBYA
- ILLS IN THE JUDICIARY
- IT'S RAINING SOPS!
- NEW IDEAS IN THE BUDGET - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
- INDIAN HOLI, US SOIL - BY MONA
- THE LITERARY FACE OF BHAGAT SINGH - HARISH DHILLON
- FOUR YEARS AFTER ROCK-BOTTOM
- FISSION, NOT FUSION
- CHOICES IN HARDWARE
- CHINA SYNDROME - FRANK SIEREN & ANDREAS SIEREN
- ANTONY, PULL THE PLUG ON THE MMRCA - AJAI SHUKLA
- SMALL CAN BE BOUNTIFUL - SURINDER SUD
- THE WIDE WORLD OF WOMEN WRITERS - NILANJANA S ROY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NOT SO SCARY
- OBSOLETE PATRONAGE
- BLOOMING CREATIVITY
- FISCAL BOOST TO MONETARY GOALS
- BRIDGE THE SUPPLY-DEMAND GAP
- GET REAL ON BANK LICENCES - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
- PILOT LICENCES NEED OUTSIDE AUDIT
- BLOOD IN BRAHMAPUTRA
- LIBYA: A VERY LIBERAL INTERVENTION
- DO BIGHA ZAMEEN, 2011
- BAT AND FIELD FOR GOD
- MINORITY INTERESTS
- LAST RED BASTION
- INTEGRITY INDEX
- VOX POPULI
- ON THE PRECIPICE - SUBHAS ROY
- PRO-ACTIVE FOREIGN POLICY WANTED - RAJINDER PURI
- THE UNOPENED LETTER - K CHANDRAMOULI
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- TOUGH CALL
- CENTRAL ISSUE
- INFLATION AND OPENNESS - V. DESAI
- UNRAVEL A BITTER TRUTH - MALVIKA SINGH
- THE STENCH LEFT BEHIND - BY A BURNING TRAIN
- RETHINK DECISION
- INEFFECTIVE POLICY
- PROTESTING TOO MUCH - B G VERGHESE
- OBAMA TREADING CAUTIOUSLY IN LIBYA - MICHAEL JANSEN
- DOING A BULL RUN - MAYA JAYAPAL
- A BLOW TO THE ARABS AND TO DEMOCRACY
- DANGEROUS INTERVENTION - BY YEHEZKEL DROR
- UNFIT TO RUN A KIOSK - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- THE RETURN OF COLONIAL THEOLOGY - BY YITZHAK LAOR
- ANYONE WHO HAS MERCY ON RAPISTS - BY NERI LIVNEH
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- AT WAR IN LIBYA
- A DANGEROUS PURSUIT
- NEW YORK'S PRISONS FALL SHORT, AGAIN
- SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE PROBLEM WITH PARTNERS - BY DAVID BROOKS
- WISCONSIN'S RADICAL BREAK - BY WILLIAM CRONON
- PLANNING FOR A POST-QADDAFI LIBYA - BY MAX BOOT
TIMES FREE PRESS
- UNDECLARED U.S. WAR ON LIBYA
- NO TO TENNESSEE INCOME TAX!
- DANGER IN COOLIDGE PARK
- GOVERNMENT FAVORITISM
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT – LIBYA IS NO IRAQ
- EU HELP NEEDED AFTER MILITARY OPS END IN LIBYA - SEMİH İDİZ
- THE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE GROUP'S PROPOSAL - TARHAN ERDEM
- IT'S BETTER TO BE MODERATE - ERDOĞAN ALKİN
- IS TURKEY MICROFINANCE INVESTABLE? - BURCU GÜVENEK ARASLI
- HAUNTED HOUSES - ÜMIT ENGİNSOY
- WHAT CAN YOU SACRIFICE TO GIVE UP NUCLEAR? - ROBERT RAPIER
- A DIFFICULT DECISION TO MAKE - YUSUF KANLI
- DEADLY MINES
- CHANGE OF GUARD?
- KARACHI CRISIS
- DEADLIEST DRONE STRIKE, BUT NOT THE LAST - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- THE RETURN OF THE 1990S - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- PETRAEUS ADVISES AMNESIA - ZAFAR HILALY
- LOOK, LISTEN AND UNDERSTAND - DR A Q KHAN
- NECESSARY, NOT SUFFICIENT - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- AFTER SENDAI - RICHARD FALK
- ARABS SHOULD SAVE ARAB LIBYA
- BHUTANESE PM FOR REGIONAL PROSPERITY!
- KARACHI BLEEDS, BLEEDS AND BLEEDS
- ISN'T PAKISTAN A CLIENT STATE? - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- INDISCIPLINE IN THE INDIAN ARMY - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- 23rd March 1940, what our youth must know about? - Faiz-Al-Najdi
- STAND-OFF BETWEEN PAKISTAN & US - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- WHY WAR OF CONQUEST IN LIBYA? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- WINNERS TO WRITE HISTORY OF MINING TAX?
- WHEN REFORM BECOMES A CIRCUS
- MIDDLE EAST UPHEAVALS PRESENT HOPE AND DANGERS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- BREAKING POINT IN REFUGEE LIMBO
- ACCOUNTANTS AT THE BLACKBOARD
- PRINCELY VISIT A WELCOME RESPITE
- IRRATIONAL DETENTION POLICIES' PRICE IS TOO HIGH
- LIBYA: MOVING TARGETS
- IN PRAISE OF … WINDOW CLEANERS
- SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: THIRTY YEARS ON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- TROUBLE IN BAHRAIN
- THE REJUVENATION OF TOKYO - BY SHINJI FUKUKAWA
- EGYPTIANS SHARE A DEMAND WITH CALIFORNIANS - BY KISHORE MAHBUBANI
THE JAKARTA POST
- STOP THE RENT SEEKERS
- GARUDA 'NOT RESPONSIBLE' FOR MUNIR'S DEATH - RAMAN R. SAMAN
- A PALESTINIAN WRONG WAY TO PEACE - NICOLA NASSER
- JAPAN'S CHARACTER MAKES IT STRONG IN THE FACE OF DISASTER - IKA INGGAS
- RELIGIOUS UNITY FOR POVERTY ERADICATION
- EGYPTIANS HAVE MADE A POINT
- IS AN ELECTION A 'VILLAGE TANK' TO MONITORS AND 'OTHERS'?
- CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM WORK AND THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
- MAHA – SENANAYAKE DEVIYO - BY HEMAKUMARA NANAYAKKARA
GULF DAILY NEWS
- STRONGLY AGAINST EVERYTHING ... - BY B COMBER
JATS ON THE WARPATH
WHERE WILL GOVERNMENT DRAW THE LINE?
The Uttar Pradesh Government's casual approach to the ongoing agitation by Jats seeking a caste quota that has led to major disruption in train services and inconvenience to thousands of travellers is shocking. That the State Government should have ruthlessly cracked down on protesting Samajwadi Party workers recently but used kid gloves to tackle the agitating Jats demonstrates a certain bias born of short-sighted politics. It is possible that the BSP regime is actually backing the demand for the inclusion of Jats in the Other Backward Classes list to benefit from reservation in Central services and then try and seek electoral dividends. This serves to explain the community leaders' decision to back out from an earlier commitment to end their agitation in view of the festive season. With Assembly election in the State scheduled towards the end of next year, Chief Minister Mayawati is clearly in the mood to exploit the situation regardless of the consequences — the law and order situation continues to deteriorate and existing beneficiaries of the OBC quota are beginning to get restless. Since the Congress is not averse to indulging in identity politics for electoral gains, it is likely that the Union Government will eventually strike a deal with the agitationists who have now been joined by Jats from Haryana. But for the moment, the Union Government cannot but be seen to be acting tough, if only to score points with Ms Mayawati. Already there are indications that the Union Government is contemplating a series of measures to ensure that essential services are restored at the earliest. A calibrated crackdown on the agitationists cannot be ruled out if they do not fall in line. If that happens, it would further delay conciliation.
Common sense suggests that the agitationists should come to the negotiating table and find a way out in consultation with the Union Government rather than force the latter's hand. The more they continue to cause disruption of essential services — it is not just travellers who are affected but the supply of goods and commodities is also hit, impacting other States as well — the further they will harm the cause they are supposedly championing. However, there is a larger issue: How far should the Union Government go in accommodating the demands of the increasing number of communities for reservations? Unless there is a policy decision on the matter, we will have one community or the other rising in protest and holding States and the Union Government to ransom. The Gujjar agitation for reclassification that began in Rajasthan spilled over to other States, causing enormous damage. The ghost of VP Singh who institutionalised OBC reservation continues to haunt India. Even those who had supported OBC quota have begun wondering if the demand for expanding the list by discarding the 'principles' on which this particular reservation was based is justified. The stated purpose of OBC quota no longer seems empowerment but entitlement. Let the Crisis Management Group of the Union Government, which is reviewing the issue, lay down a clear roadmap on the current demand and clarify whether the rules should be changed to accept the demand of the Jats of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, since public jobs and public funds are involved, let there be a nationwide debate.
HISTORIC VOTE IN EGYPT
BUT THIS IS NO GUARANTEE FOR DEMOCRACY
Millions of Egyptians who participated in Saturday's historic referendum have voted in favour of the proposed amendments to the country's Constitution and thus paved the way for early parliamentary and presidential elections. Egypt's first exercise in post-'revolution' democracy was largely peaceful, reportedly devoid of electoral fraud and hailed as an overall success. The chance to cast a ballot freely after several decades of autocratic rule brought out an unprecedented 41 per cent of Egypt's 45 million-strong electorate; more than 77.2 per cent of them voted in favour of the reforms package. The package included nine proposed amendments to the Constitution and voters could either accept the entire set or reject it collectively. These related to the Office of the President (unlimited six-year terms have been reduced to two four-year terms); requirements for Presidential candidates (rules have been eased for independents to seek public office); conduct of elections (judicial review of the election process has been reinstated); and the establishment of Emergency rule (if extended beyond six months, Emergency laws must be subject to a public referendum). The package that was prepared by a constitutional committee — which sadly included Islamist leaders but no women — was unveiled to the public on February 25, allowing three weeks for 'awareness-building'. Indeed, the whole process was horribly rushed: Partly because the protesters demanded immediate, radical change, and partly because the Army Generals who are currently in-charge are reluctant to get involved in the arduous task of nation-building.
As Egypt readies itself for parliamentary election in June and a Presidential poll in August, newly-formed political parties have little time to prepare and the tight schedule is bound to favour the former ruling party, the NDP, and the Muslim Brotherhood, both of which already have well-established networks and strong party structures. Naturally, these two had strongly campaigned for a 'Yes' vote while the young activists who organised the Tahrir Square protests had lobbied for a 'No' vote. The latter's fears that a dash to democracy could rob them of their 'revolution' is entirely real. The rise of the Ikhwan especially is a matter of concern. Under Mr Hosni Mubarak's rule, the Islamists were kept on a tight leash but since his departure, sectarian violence has flared in the most populous Arab country. Already, the Ikhwan has advocated the establishment of an Islamic state and maintains an ambiguous stand on the rights of women and religious minorities. Little wonder that the Christians who feel threatened by the Ikhwan and the urban folks who fear the return of the old guard voted 'No' while those in the Ikhwan's range of influence supported the amendments.
GOOD IDEA, BUT BAD SERVICE
The informal sector exists for reasons other than tax evasion. One of them is the organised sector's failure to provide reliable services to customers.
I just reduced the country's GDP. The incremental value of an individual's contribution is extremely marginal, but I mean the principle. Once in a while, one travels to the airport and on a few such occasions, the timing is relatively uncivilised. At such times, I don't ask my driver to drop me or pick me up. I use a cab. Not long ago, the choice of cabs in our cities was limited. There was the black-and-yellow lot and there were frightfully expensive air-conditioned cabs.
I stuck to black-and-yellow taxis, with all its trauma of haggling and quarrels. If you were travelling abroad, this was a useful yardstick to illustrate how under-developed India still was. Forget the US or Europe, even in Singapore or China, cab-drivers were relatively civilised. There was no need for haggling, fares were known, you got a receipt. You could even pay by credit card.
Especially in the road transport sector, it is impossible to ensure governance (interpreted as enforcement of laws), if there are innumerable small operators. It is far better to have a few (more than one to ensure competition) largish fleet-operators. This is true of buses, cabs and trucks. As policy, we seem to have accepted this principle for buses and cabs, but not trucks. Thus, Mega and Meru cabs arrived and the change was refreshing. When I used black-and-yellow cabs, I paid in cash and there was no record of the transaction.
I switched to Meru. If you booked through a call centre, you could book in advance, after payment of an extra fee. (If you booked through the Net, there was no fee.) If you were travelling early in the morning, you also booked in advance for black-and-yellow cabs. But there was no guarantee the cab would turn up on time. Particularly during winter, the driver would be asleep and you would have to wake him up.
Meru wasn't like that. You immediately got a SMS in acknowledgement and half-an-hour before the appointed time, you got another SMS informing you the number of the cab and mobile number of the driver. You could pay by credit card. Even if you paid in cash, you got a receipt. That made my CA happy. If you used the same telephone number to book cabs, Meru had a record of your address, so you didn't have to repeat it every time.
Contrary to a priori misgivings, Meru wasn't expensive. Barring the booking fee, I paid roughly what black-and-yellow cabs cost. That made me happy. I guess it made other people happy too and they switched. Why else should black-and-yellow cabs at Delhi airport go on strike to ensure that Meru/Mega switched from pre-paid to post-paid? They must have been unhappy at consumers shifting allegiance.
The only disconcerting element in Meru/Mega was GPRS and its terribly Americanised accent, with instructions for the driver. If you have noticed signs for toilets in T3, they have gone Indian. Why do we have American voices for flight announcements and stuff like GPRS?
The switch from black-and-yellow to Meru meant switching from the unorganised sector to the organised sector. Since Meru was a registered service, it meant a transaction that didn't necessarily show up in the GDP earlier was now a part of the GDP. After all, India has a large informal/unorganised sector and we make a complete hash of measuring and capturing it. This also has implications when we import policies from developed countries, where the share of the informal/unorganised sector is lower. As a natural process of development, the informal/unorganised sector becomes formal/organised. But in common with many other countries in the developing world, we aren't there yet.
To return to the point, organised doesn't necessarily mean higher prices, something we should remember when we contemplate FDI in multi-brand retail. (Of course, getting retail organised is conceptually different from making it organised through FDI and land costs in urban India are an issue.) Consequently, transition to organised can mean lower prices and better quality of service. The moral is no different from competition and choice driving efficiency in any sector. Nor is it the case that the informal/unorganised sector disappears. If it has a USP, it survives, sometimes by changing its line of business.
To return to Meru, there is something called the teabag principle. A teabag can only be tested when it is placed in boiling water. By the same token, you only know how good a service is when there is a problem. This wasn't that early in the morning, 8 am to be precise. Following my practice, I had booked the preceding evening. There was no SMS with the name and number of the cab-driver in the morning. Using the reference number, I rung up. They had goofed up and the cab would arrive half-an-hour late.
I would miss my flight. I legitimately thought that like pizzas, I ought to be entitled to some compensation — perhaps a free ride in the future, perhaps a waiver of the booking fee. (We did get a free pizza once.) That wasn't on. One moral of post-1991 India is companies don't pay adequate attention to software, by which I mean human resource. This doesn't mean CEOs, but call-centres (pertinent for many services), where customer-interface typically is. When customers have grievances, if the interface handles it well, 90 per cent of the time one no longer has a disgruntled customer.
However, Indian companies have yet to learn that lesson and this is true across sectors. They over-stretch themselves in an attempt to expand and pay no attention to such systems, banks and mobile operators being cases in point. In that sense, there is no guarantee that opening up of retail will necessarily improve service in the short-term.
Meru couldn't assuage me and I switched. No, I didn't switch to Mega. Nor did I switch back to black-and-yellow cabs. I switched to something that is worse, from the perspective of the GDP. Every local taxi-stand has private cars that run as taxis. Black-and-yellow cabs are at least registered. These are probably illegal and unregistered, which is why they don't possess commercial number-plates. I am certain Meru pays service taxes and I am certain these private cars don't.
We keep talking about an informal economy that doesn't get captured in the GDP and suggest it is a black economy because it doesn't pay taxes. An assertion that black and white are neat compartments is fallacious. They blur. I converted a black transaction to white and back again. An assertion that the tag of 'informal sector' is only because of purposes of tax evasion is also fallacious. There are other reasons for the existence of the informal/unorganised sector. If we only use a tax lens, we will not only make a mistake, but we are also likely to recommend wrong policies.
LOOKING BEYOND CHANGE IN BENGAL
To cash in on the prevailing mood of 'change' in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress is trying to put together a rainbow coalition of opinions and talents. Meanwhile, the CPI(M), after initiating measures for house-cleaning, has reverted to projecting the party above individuals. But this is unlikely to take the Left too far in this electoral raceWill the surge to change the stuffy stability that prevailed in West Bengal from 1977 lift the Trinamool Congress into the Chief Minister's seat in Writers' Buildings is the question that is haunting the CPI(M). The brutal indictment of the voter in 2008 panchayat elections, the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the 2010 municipal elections is being candidly acknowledged by the CPI(M) as a consequence of its failures as a political organisation and as leader of the Government. Curiously enough it is also what the Trinamool Congress is saying, albeit differently; the people want a change because the CPI(M) has failed to meet aspirations in 34 years.
Since change is the issue, the direction of the required change is important. The way West Bengal was governed in the past 34 years is being held to account. Governance is both a matter of policy as well as implementation. In terms of policies, the differences between the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) are slight, if not nonexistent. In terms of how policies are implemented, the Trinamool Congress has accused the CPI(M) of converting the administration into an extension of the party. It, therefore, needs to find a mechanism to demonstrate that it will function differently.
The Trinamool Congress needs to impress on the voter that it has the capacity to run the administration to perfection; hence the choice of a handful of retired bureaucrats and police officers as candidates; hence the choice of the former secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry as a candidate. The candidates indicate two things; first, that the Trinamool Congress intends to run an efficient, impersonal, apolitical and effective administration and second, that it has resolved its ideological issues over the processes through which industrialisation will be encouraged.
It is secondary that the choice of candidates from outside of politics can be considered as a measure of the Trinamool Congress's wide appeal. For the choices reveal a weakness and as well as a strength. It indicates that the Trinamool Congress needs to establish its credibility to administer through the induction of 'talent'. It also indicates that sections of people who would never have joined the CPI(M) nor been invited to do so are more than willing to back the Trinamool Congress.
Having disbanded the rainbow coalition that boosted its strength during the Singur and Nandigram protests, the Trinamool Congress is evidently trying to patch together a different coalition of opinions and talents. Even if the coalition of opinions, such as those represented by the former FICCI secretary general Amit Mitra, is confusing given the Trinamool Congress's original ideology that prioritised Government spending over private sector investment, it is nevertheless an interesting shift. The shift, however, needs to be backed up by the clarifications, first as policy and second as directions to the administration on subjects as politically sensitive as land use conversion from agriculture to industry. By taking on board a strong advocate of economic reforms, including Special Economic Zones and moreover someone who was critical of the Singur agitation and eloquently argued that the Nano project should not be disturbed, the Trinamool Congress will have to clarify exactly what its industrial policy is and how it intends to implement it.
Policies, programmes and promises are secondary to the Trinamool Congress's belief that the mood in West Bengal is primarily strongly pro-change. Placing its faith in the anti-incumbency mood of the electorate, the Trinamool Congress has taken the risk of nominating people who are not only from outside politics, but strangers to their constituents. One candidate summed up the situation by declaring himself a proxy for the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee. He claimed that the fight, for instance, in the Dum Dum constituency was not between the CPI(M) candidate, Housing Minister and articulate leader Gautam Deb and Trinamool Congress nominee playwright Bratya Basu; the fight was between the CPI(M) and Ms Banerjee.
The Trinamool Congress is obviously banking on the charisma and popularity of Ms Banerjee to produce the two-third majority in the 294 seats State Assembly. The CPI(M), on the contrary, is banking on its organisation to deliver sufficient success to avert a disastrous defeat. The Left as a whole has moved away from projecting personalities such as the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the star and has reverted to its real strength, which is the organisation. It has done so by initiating a house cleaning operation against those who 'treated the party as a trade licence issuing authority' on the one hand, and nominating candidates who are not 'stars' on the other. By mobilising long serving local leaders as candidates, the CPI(M) is sending out a message: The candidate is a person with roots and therefore accountable to the voter.
Challenged by the Trinamool Congress, the CPI(M) has used self criticism to undertake widely publicised course corrections and so establish that it has the capacity to 'change', or rather, reinvent itself. 'Change', therefore, has become a chain effect, radically different from the stifling stability of the CPI(M)'s famously long and uninterrupted tenure of 34 years.
AFTER LIBYA, IT COULD BE SYRIA
The UNSC has approved the use of 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians from Government forces in Libya. But would the UNSC approve similar measures in Syria? Or is the US-led intervention by the West in Libya a prelude to intervention in Syria?
Last Friday saw the first nationwide protests against the Baath regime in Syria. If these protests develop into a full-scale revolt, the regime's response may dwarf that of Col Gaddafi in Libya.
The last time Syrians rebelled, in the city of Hama in 1982, President Hafez al-Assad sent in the Army to smash the insurrection. Hama's centre was destroyed by artillery fire, and at least 17,000 people were killed.
The current Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad, is allegedly a gentler person than his father Hafez, but the Baath Party still rules Syria, and it is just as ruthless as ever. So what happens if the Syrian revolution gets underway, and the Baath Party starts slaughtering people again? Do the same forces now intervening in Libya get sent to Syria as well?
Syria has four times Libya's population and very serious armed forces. The Baath Party is as centralised and intolerant of dissent as the old Communist parties of Eastern Europe. Moreover, it is controlled internally by a sectarian minority, the Alawis, who fear that they would suffer terrible vengeance if they ever lost power.
The UN Security Council was absolutely right to order the use of "all necessary measures" (meaning armed force) to stop Col Gaddafi's regime from attacking the Libyan people. But it does move us all into unknown territory: Today Libya, tomorrow Syria?
The "responsibility to protect" concept that underpins the UN decision on Libya was first proposed in 2001 by Lloyd Axworthy, then Canada's Foreign Minister. He was frustrated by the UN's inability to stop the genocides in Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s, and he concluded that the problem was the UN's own rules. So he set out to change them.
The original goal of the United Nations, embedded in the Charter signed in 1945, was to prevent any more big wars like the one just past, which had killed over 50 million people and ended with the use of nuclear weapons. There was some blather about human rights in there too, but in order to get all the great powers to sign up to a treaty outlawing war, there had to be a deal that negated all that.
The deal was that the great powers (and indeed, all of the UN members) would have absolute sovereignty within their own territory, including the right to kill whoever opposed their rule. It wasn't written quite like that, but the meaning was quite clear: The UN had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of a member state no matter how badly it behaved.
By the early 21st century, however, the threat of a nuclear war between the great powers had faded away, while local massacres and genocides proliferated. Yet the UN was still hamstrung by the 1945 rules and unable to intervene. So Lloyd Axworthy set up the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to popularise the concept of humanitarian intervention under the name of "Responsibility to protect".
It was purely a Canadian Government initiative. "You can't allow dictators to use the facade of national sovereignty to justify ethnic cleansing," Axworthy explained, and so he launched a head-on attack on sovereignty.
The commission he set up concluded, unsurprisingly that the UN should have an obligation to protect people from mass killing at the hands of their own Government. Since that could only be accomplished, in practice, by military force, it was actually suggesting that the UN Security Council should have the right to order attacks on countries that indulged in such behaviour.
This recommendation then languished for some years. The most determined opponents of "responsibility to protect" were the great powers — Russia and China in particular — who feared that the new doctrine might one day be used against them. But in 2005 the new African Union included the concept in its founding charter, and after that things moved quite fast.
In 2006 the Security Council agreed that "we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner... should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity." And there they are five years later, taking military action against Col Gaddafi.
Ten out of 15 Security Council members voted in favour of the action, and the rest, including all four of the emerging great powers, the so-called BRICs abstained. But Russia and China didn't veto the action, because they have finally figured out that the new principle will never be used against them.
Nobody will ever attack Russia to make it be nicer to the Chechens, or invade China to make it change its behaviour towards the Tibetans. Great powers are effectively exempt from all the rules if they choose to be, precisely because they are so powerful. That's no argument for also exempting less powerful but nastier regimes from the obligation not to murder their own people.
So what about the Syrian regime? The same crude calculation applies. If it's not too tough and powerful to take on, then it will not be allowed to murder its own people. And if it is too big and dangerous, then all the UN members will express their strong disapproval, but they won't actually do anything. Consistency is an overrated virtue.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.
WE SHOULD OPT FOR SOLAR, WIND POWER
The disaster in Japan has exposed the risks involved in setting up nuclear power plants. With limited coal supply throttling power generation, India should focus on renewable energy sources
While Japan battles to avoid one of the world's worst nuclear disasters after being struck by an earthquake followed by a tsunami, the accident is likely to imapct India's energy security plan. The tragedy calls for a new power policy with emphasis on renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy is neither a safe nor an economic option. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has effectively proved it.
If the nuclear energy policy is taken up for a review, limited availability of coal could trip India's mega power plan. An acute shortage in domestic coal production is threatening to destabilise new power projects in which developers have already invested about Rs 75,000 crore.
The Government can be faulted for not showing enough interest in creating clusters of renewable energy projects. It has reduced allocation for renewable energy research by Rs 42 crore from Rs 119 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 77 crore in 2011-12. The allocations on this sector have always been measly.
The Labour Government in the UK has recently faced severe criticism for jettisoning alternative energy programmes and trying to promote nuclear power projects, mainly along the coasts. The Labour Government has not only been accused of colluding with corporate houses to promote nuclear energy at the cost of public safety but also of sabotaging offshore alternative energy projects.
Though the Indian Government cannot be blamed for such collusion, its unwillingness to promote renewable energy sources on the plea that setting up solar photovoltaic cells or wind turbines are not viable economic options raises questions.
It will not be wrong to contend that the thermal and nuclear power lobbies are strong enough to pressurise the Government to formulate policies in their favour. The country has missed targets for creating installed capacity during every Five-year plan. The Eleventh plan will not be an exception. By 2012, the Government has set a target of capacity addition of 78,000 MW. The addition will be less than half of it.
The country's policy of reliance on large capital-intensive power projects is questionable. Many power projects are unable to meet their plant load factor. The overall PLF of thermal power stations during April-December 2010 at 71 per cent was less than what was achieved in 2009 (76 per cent). A major reason for low output has been lack of coal supply.
The new capacity target of 15,000 MW is likely to be stranded for want of coal. Coal India Ltd has promised to supply 92 million tonne of coal to these projects. Most of these were expected to be operational over the next one year. However, the CIL now says it can deliver only 13 mt. The available coal, which needs to be blended with imported coal, can produce barely 3000 MW of power.
The amendment to India's nuclear law to facilitate US companies do business here will serve the interest of the US only. Being out of business in their home country, the India-US nuclear deal has come as a prop-up for these companies. If India allows them to go ahead with light water reactors — like the ones that have been used in Fukushima — it should remain prepared for a Japan-like tragedy, possibly worse.
A major objection to such reactors has been their high requirement of water. This is the reason why nuclear plants are erected near the sea. But the risks that seaside reactors like Fukushima face from natural disasters are well-known. It became evident six years ago when the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 inundated India's second-largest nuclear complex, shutting down the Madras power station.
The nuclear plants are not as eco-friendly as they are touted to be. The fuel, uranium, is in short supply in India while the price of uranium is very high in international market. Thus, its operation cost is higher and not low as the nuclear industry propagates.
Another perpetual cost is managing the waste for at least 5,000 years — that it is a difficult proposition has been exposed by the Fukushima blast. Much of the radiation in and around Fukushima has resulted from the exposed waste dumps.
India's nuclear operations so far are limited — be it in the field of research or building of power plants. Since nuclear power plants are operated by Government agencies, they adhere to high safety norms. The foreign companies, on the other hand, may compromise on safety aspects for raking in high profits.
In the Budget this year, there has been a moderate increase in the allocation to Rs 7,602 crore from Rs 6,534 crore, mostly for research purposes. No proposal for generation of nuclear power has been made. It has to come, as per Government plans, from foreign investors. In view of Japan's tragedy, a thaw in nuclear power projects is certain.
The thrust in future has to be on renewable energy sources. Germany has installed more wind power capacity than the entire nuclear capacity in the UK at present. It is adding to its capacity at a rate equivalent to more than one new reactor a year. In 2009, Germany has installed solar photovoltaic systems with capacity equivalent to approximately four nuclear reactors and the 2010 figures will be much higher.
India needs to learn from proper quarters instead of succumbing to US pressures to formulate its power policy.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The real estate sector's performance has strong multiplier effects for the economy. Yet this growth-driving sector has a shoddy reputation not solely linked to realtors' penchant for overbuilding assets, mainly high-end, and thwarting price corrections even in lean times. Last week, the prime minister acknowledged the ugly reality of black money in realty. He's not alone in calling a spade a spade. While describing India as one of Asia-Pacific region's emerging realty markets, a study by advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and Urban Land Institute of India says lack of transparency blights the sector. Another survey by global consultancy KPMG lists real estate as India' most corruption-friendly sector. Clearly, realty needs a clean-up.
The prime minister rightly suggests lowering stamp duty will help. With this tax varying between 4% and 13% in different states, value of property transactions is routinely understated. Encouraging tax dodges and illicit financing, it also discourages building of low-cost housing for which there's huge unmet demand. Following JNNURM's recommendation, some states have trimmed stamp duty but their 4-5% figure is still too high. To make transactions and registrations transparent and boost compliance, stamp duty cuts must be bolder, say, down to 1% or 2%, and applied countrywide.
Other reforms are in order as well. Several states have wisely scrapped the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act, boosting land availability. Laggard states need to catch up. Desired action is also awaited on rationalisation of property taxes, streamlining of cumbersome procedures for procuring land or starting projects, as well as land acquisition reform. Land records are a mess, facilitating fraud and property grabs. While these need digitisation, municipal authorities must also conduct proper market-linked valuations. We must change unrealistic floor space index laws impeding vertical construction, and junk outdated rent control laws that suppress the value and supply of rented properties by blocking fair, market-adjusted tenancy contracts.
The state and its entities hold land far in excess of requirements. Selling part of these assets on the market will help ease ever-growing pressure, courtesy rapid urbanisation, on land for housing and infrastructure. Cities being magnets for migrants, it's as crucial to incentivise low-cost housing including via PPP initiatives. Delaying realty's revamp at a time of hardening interest rates will hit FDI. In real estate and housing, it has already dipped to Rs 1,024 crore in 2010-11 from Rs 2,844 crore in 2009-10. Investors can't but be spooked by the realty market's chaotic, fragmented and opaque nature, which promotes red tape and graft and leads to costly and consumer-unfriendly project delays. Insurance and banking have watchdog bodies. Real estate needs a regulator as well to build accountability and professionalism in the sector and protect both consumers and investors.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
With India confirming their berth in the quarterfinals, the 2011 World Cup has reached the business end of cricket's biggest tournament. The competition so far hasn't been without twists and turns. Barring its disappointing loss to South Africa, Team India's performance has been satisfactory. But it falls short of the lofty expectations at the start of the tournament. Finishing second on the points table in Group B - South Africa, England and the West Indies being the other quarterfinalists from this group - the men in blue have a date with defending champions Australia - ranked third in Group A - in their first knock-out clash. Given India's current form, it should be their toughest test yet. With the exception of Zaheer Khan, the bowling has been lacklustre. Harbhajan Singh hasn't been at his potent best. R Ashwin's inclusion in the last group game against the West Indies did provide skipper M S Dhoni with greater control. But the off-spinner has little time to settle down at this late stage of the tournament.
The famed Indian batting line-up has its own problems. The middle order has been found to be brittle. Batting second, the team has looked far from convincing even against minnows such as Ireland and the Netherlands. There are major issues with the batting powerplay and India's approach needs to be questioned. India lost three wickets for 26 runs against South Africa and four wickets for 28 runs against the West Indies in this period with fielding restrictions. A repeat could mean exit from the World Cup. With Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dark horses New Zealand also in the quarterfinal melee, India have their work cut out.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE
In the budget, IT's golden goose - Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), the most successful Indian scheme copied by a number of foreign governments - was squashed prematurely. While India started its liberalisation process in 1992 with attractive tax incentives for the IT sector, the Chinese had instituted similar incentives for manufacturing in 1978. Thirty years later, in spite of conquering the manufacturing sector, China continues with its tax incentives. India's decision to end the tax incentive signals the impending decline of Indian IT.
In 1978, when China was in dire straits, Deng Xiaoping went to the US to plead for more foreign currency. China had depleted all its foreign currency reserves and did not even have enough dollars to buy return tickets for Deng's delegation. The Chinese People's Bank, with just 80 employees at its head office, was the only financial institution in the country with no linkages to the outside world.
But thereafter, China liberalised and announced incentives for manufacturing and SEZs. It reduced tax rates from 55% to 25%. For manufacturing, the policy provided for zero tax for two years and just 12.5% tax for another three years. Thirty years later, China has reserves of almost $3 trillion. Its manufacturing sector at over $2,500 billion is 12 times bigger than India's. In spite of this stupendous achievement, China continues with all its tax incentives till date.
With the world recognising Chinese supremacy in the manufacturing sector, we find the "Made in China" label on almost everything we see. Indians have even found it cost-effective to worship Ganesh idols manufactured in China. Today, China is in a position to charge higher prices for their products without affecting their business, because no country will be able to respond in the short run. Building infrastructure and manufacturing plants and training industrial workers take decades. In the next decade, the Chinese can happily extract exorbitant monopoly prices for manufactured products.
Just like China, India too ran out of foreign currency reserves in 1991 and had to pledge its gold in London to borrow foreign currency for day-to-day payments. It followed a similar path in the IT sector (IT, BPO and KPO). The sector was liberalised by the then IT secretary with an innovative scheme, STPI, which provided IT companies with a single window agency for all business as well as a tax holiday for 10 years. This incentive and STPI's support nurtured the IT industry, resulting in a tremendous surge: from 13 firms in 1991, to over 5,000 companies now in Bangalore alone.
In 1992, the government invested just Rs 2.75 crore in STPI, resulting in a Rs 3,00,000 crore industry, without taking a single extra rupee from the government budget. The STPI created a vibrant IT small and medium enterprises (SME) sector that currently employs more than a million professionals. India now has 58% of world market share in this sector. After nurturing these companies and making them world-class, this year's budget abruptly buried the innovative STPI scheme. Given the scheme's success, why did the government scrap STPI?
First, the government succumbed to the SEZ lobby. Real estate wanted tax incentives for only SEZs. Most SMEs have no voice or lobby with the government. Ministers are happier to meet large real estate players and pay lip service to SMEs. Second, large IT companies found it convenient to have their own SEZ and save taxes. Some Indian IT companies have turned out to be real estate players. As such, large companies with access to ministers encouraged SEZs and did not credit the STPI scheme with their initial growth.
Third, NASSCOM works primarily in the interest of larger companies. So they were not too concerned about looking after the interests of smaller IT players. They did not take up the cause of SMEs as Dewang Mehta did by lobbying in the initial STPI days. Fourth, IT industry captains declared that IT should pay normal taxes and implied STPI should be scrapped. Their companies simultaneously acquired large tracts of SEZ land to save taxes.
What does the future hold for IT? India will grow rapidly in the next few years, primarily due to the present growth momentum. However, it will soon begin to lose business to neighbouring countries. Currently India has a market share of 58% while China holds 33% share. But by next year, China is expected to increase its market share to 40%. By 2014, it will emerge as the world's IT superpower. Meanwhile, a small country like Philippines has already overtaken India and holds the maximum market share in the BPO sector. East European countries with a 6.5% market share will consolidate. With the incentives taken away, a large number of India's small IT companies will be forced to fold up. Consequently, India will face job losses running into millions.
Had the tax concessions continued, India would have grown faster and created at least a million additional jobs. Every IT job creates five indirect employment opportunities in real estate, commercial space, malls, entertainment etc. That is one of the main factors contributing to India's vibrant economy.
Japan, South Korea and China became rich via manufacturing. The IT sector was India's chance to become rich. But Budget 2011-12 has killed the golden goose.
The writer is founder, Brickwork, and former IT secretary, government of Karnataka.
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AN APTITUDE FOR REFORM
The Staff Selection Commission aims to rationalise screening for government jobs with its proposals for a single GRE-style aptitude test. The current system tests for rote learning, which is why it needs systemic reform. If the proposals are enacted, our civil servants will be selected for their ability to solve the problems of governance, rather than arcane knowledge about esoteric subjects. The benefits extend beyond ironing out the flaws of the current selection process.
The proposed reform won't stop at testing for new qualities but restructures the entire process. Anyone aspiring to a government job - IAS or lower division clerk - will begin the process with a common exam. Standardisation would eliminate multiple routes of entry to different types of jobs. Streamlining would save the government from duplication and candidates from having to apply, and go through, multiple - and often conflicting - routes. Of course, the aptitude test is only the first step and there would be differentiation based on jobs, but that would be at a later stage of a now uniform process. A common entry test also introduces a degree of equality into the competitive process and helps break down class and status barriers within the services. Furthermore, it would also mean that candidates who might not have even considered the elevated ranks of the elite gazetted posts might discover that despite self-doubt, they are suited to those jobs.
Meanwhile, the new test would just as effectively fulfil the purpose of separating the wheat from the chaff that is currently performed by the Prelims. But the task would be done much more effectively because candidates could seamlessly apply for less demanding posts throughout the bureaucracy depending on their aptitude. The proposals need to be implemented quickly, perhaps with a bit of fine-tuning. Doing so would go a long way in renewing India